Saturday, 4 July 2015

Tuatmoto Islands

Tuamoto islands 14 April to 21 April

We picked Manihi as our first stop in the Tuamoto Islands since it was on route to the other islands and just a four day sail away. The Tuamoto Islands are Atolls, essentially the top of the crater of volcanos that have sunk. They are very low lying, three metres above sea level scattered around in a giant circle creating a lagoon in the centre protected by the reef. There are only a few entry points into the lagoon and so the large volume of water in the lagoon comes in and out through tiny gaps. 

Although the tide is only 0.5 metres, the tide rips through the small gaps at up to 6 knots, with steep standing waves making entry precarious. We arrived at 30 minutes after high water (advice is to arrive at either high or low water) and we struggled against the flow of water out of the lagoon. It was rough!


We celebrated my birthday here

We anchored at first attempt although the anchor did drag before it bit which we thought nothing of at the time – we know better now. The island has 600 in habitants living on an island that is 2 miles long and ½ mile wide. It does have some supermarkets (or small corner shops as we would call them) and two small caf├ęs. As it was my birthday when we arrived, we celebrated with a meal in one of the Cafes. Choosing a meal or drinks was easy since there were only 5 things on the menu. Afterwards we spent an hour walking around the island (a complete tour) but we loved the island. The people were so friendly and we could get some basic provisions in the supermarket, including much needed beer.

The main road in Manihi

Surprisingly they had cars on the island even though it was only 2 miles long – all French cars of course.

We went across to one of the other islands, and on advice from the local Baker, we hailed a passing boat to take us across. He would not expect any payment and it was just part of what they do. The island was a coconut farm with a few families living in some nice houses, all with French cars. Coconuts are their only export and they send them to Tahiti on the weekly supply boat that brings in supplies to the island

We left to go to Fakarava the following day after some assistance from another boat to haul up our anchor. The reason the anchor suddenly bit was that the chain wrapped itself around a coral head, jamming it tight. The only other boat in the anchorage offered some assistance and fortunately had air tanks and they dived down the 15m to free the anchor chain. All this took 30 minutes to free and we would still be there but for their help! But it also meant that rather than leaving at high tide as we planned, we left an hour later when the tide was ripping out of the lagoon – we shot out there at 9 knots but at least we could retrace our steps to keep clear of the shallows. With only 2m depths in places it was still heart stopping going at that speed with only 40cm under the keel.


We headed for Fakarava because Andy and Emma had emailed us to say how good it was. Originally we were going to avoid it since it was the most touristy of the Tuamoto islands. It has one hotel and a cruise ship visits there twice a year. The entry was challenging since the lagoon is 30 miles wide and 15 miles across and that the water flows in and out through two entrances and very fast. As we approached we could see the standing waves and we aborted our first attempt as it was too rough. We found a route through, going into the shallow water which brought its own anxiety as it was only 30m from the reef.

There were five other boats from the Arc and we spent five wonderful days exploring the island and meeting up with the other boats. It felt like we were on holiday. And best of all there was a mooring buoy which the locals allowed us to use as we did not have an anchor windlass. What a relief that was after our last experience in Manihi of pulling up the anchor.

Stop for a quick drink on route - again!
We hired bikes with Andy and Emma to tour the nearest island (only 15 miles long and ½ mile wide) visiting the airport (weekly flight from Tahiti), Pearl Farm and every bar only the way – all three of them. It does have a couple of hotels but seemingly very few guests. Lunch was in a bar with a wooden terrace built over the water and the burgers were excellent.

While we were in the Pearl Farm, Andy and Emma went to the local supermarket to buy some beer and wine to take back to the boat (they had already been to the Pearl Farm so did not go in with us). We found them outside sitting on a beach overlooking the reef watching the waves crash over.
Make shfit wine glasses
So we had a few beers on the beach and then Andy decided that we should have some wine. So with a piece of Coral, he cut the top of the beer cans and fashioned some wine glasses. We cycled back the 10km, drinking red wine out of the makeshift wine glasses, until we reached the hotel which Andy insisted we should visit as it was a beautiful setting which indeed it was.
Sharks swim along the beach
We spent many a day at the hotel after that, swimming in the sea with 2m sharks swimming around us. The first time was scary although we knew they were only reef sharks but they are huge and look menacing. We took out some canoes one day and had lunch and dinner there on other days. The views were stunning across the lagoon.

We spent one night on Aretha, invited for dinner with Andy and Emma also (who had been working on the boat that day). Casper cooked a leg of lamb with roast potatoes and vegetables for all 11 of us while Nicola (his wife) cleared up the boat after the day’s work (tools everywhere, cushions up – just like when we do work on our boat). Casper is sailing with his wife and three children (3,7 and 10) around the world with the Arc which makes you feel that anything is possible. We had a very good evening.

Leaving Fakarava was easy since we were tied up to a buoy and Pentagram (Andy and Emma) left at the same time to go to Tahiti. Just a two day sail. As we approached the pass I decided that we would put away the mainsail since it looked rough, the wind had risen to 25 knots and the boat is more manoeuvrable under motor so we could avoid the worst of the waves. Just as we started into the entrance, the engine alarm went off (overheating) so we had to switch it off.

With 25 knots of wind behind us and 3 knots of tide against us and standing waves all around us we were in a slightly tight spot. We unfurled the genoa to punch us through the tide but that was not enough and we were getting swept towards the reef at the edge. We managed to get out enough of the mainsail (with 25 knots of wind behind us – not easy) and we sailed out into safe water. Phew!

With a two day sail to Tahiti, it gave me some time to fix the problem since you cannot sail into Tahiti harbour because of the conditions in the entrance. I found that we had lost all our cooling water in the engine but could not find the leak. So we filled up the water again and tested if the engine would last 1 hour since that is how long I calculated we would need it to get into the harbour in Tahiti and tie up in the marina. It all worked out OK and we safely tied up with a huge relief.

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