Marquises to the Tuamotu Archipelago
Fred and Chris Caron
Our passage from Fatu Hiva in the Marquises to Ahe in the Tuamotu Archipelago was like a dream. We enjoyed high following seas that pushed us along for the entire 502 miles. We averaged 6.20 knots, consumed 1.38 gallons of fuel per hour, 0.22 gallons per mile at 1,350 RPM.
Our world is filled with endless contrasts. When we arrived in the Marquises in French Polynesia from Mexico, we could see the islands from 40 miles out. Mountains seemingly floating on water reaching into the sky, lushly vegetated and acting like far off bright green beacons to all those who had been at sea for weeks.
Just 502 nautical miles southwest of the Marquises, we found the Tuamotu Archipelago, also part of French Polynesia but a much different country. It is comprised of 76 atolls and two islands that are spread over 150° of Latitude and extend in a line almost 950 miles long in a SE-NW direction. You'll not find mountains covered with lush vegetation reaching into the sky in this place. The volcanic mountains that are here are found deep underwater with just the very tops of their ancient craters exposed, craters that can be 15 miles long and ten miles wide.
Atolls are low-lying and usually coral covered islands surrounding mineral rich saltwater lagoons. The atolls ring each of the craters like a pearl necklace lying on a beautiful light blue silk pillow. Most of the atolls are only a few feet above sea level and have little greenery except for palm trees and some short grass. Atolls present a safety hazard to any vessel that unexpectedly comes upon them because they cannot be seen with the naked eye until you are right upon them. Even during the day, sounds of the wind and sea tend to conceal the roar of the ocean breaking.
The most important piece of safety equipment on board any vessel cruising in these waters is radar. Without reliable radar, this place is simply too dangerous. It is fair to ask, "Why would a cruising couple who normally go way out of their way to avoid taking risks at sea visit the Tuamotu's?" Well, we have good radar, a reliable vessel, and this is the "path less traveled."
We selected the atoll as our first stop. We arrived at 14:00, so we had good sunlight to thread our way through the many coral heads exposed and awash between the entry channel and our anchorage, four-mile inside the lagoon.
We anchored within a very safe, very comfortable, and very beautiful slice of heaven. Before we had time to plant the hook, we were invited to a party at one of the local pearl farms (Black Pearls). We were the seventh boat in the anchorage and everyone was invited. The pearl farm employees even offered to pick all of us up in their fast boats, take us to the party, and bring us back. The only catch was, crossing the lagoon after dark can be dangerous. It's 13 miles by 5 miles with a multitude of coral heads and pearl floats so the partygoers were all planning to spend the night and sleep on the beach, then come back in the morning. That would have been okay with us, were it not for the fact that we had just anchored for the first time in coral and I was dealing with my habitual concerns about dragging. Also, we were tired after almost four days at sea, and then there's Dusty, our loyal 13-year old Yellow Labrador. Dusty travels everywhere with us.
Snorkeling among the coral heads in the exceptionally clear lagoon water was a wonderful experience; every color and shape of fish and coral was represented. For the six days of our stay, we enjoyed beautiful blue skies with a scattering of white clouds, air temperature of 84°, the water was 83°, and no bugs.
The pearl industry is very big business on most of the atolls. The lagoons are mineral rich and ideal incubators for growing cultured pearls. The specialty is the black pearl. Before we departed, we visited one of the fifty pearl farms in the lagoon. It was fascinating for us to learn about how cultured pearls are made, the labor-intensive steps involved and to learn that this one farm produced 125,000 pearls last year. It is one of fifty and there are 75 other atolls, some smaller, some larger, but most grow pearls. After you do the arithmetic, you have to ask yourself how many pearls the world can absorb?
Friday, July 13, 2001
Hello from Arcturus! We are anchored at Rangiroa in the Tuamotu Archipelago of French Polynesia. What a spectacular eye popping place! It is reputed to be the second largest atoll in the world with a lagoon 40 miles long and 17 miles wide. It's like a placid saltwater lake in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It is so big you can't see the other side. It's like standing at the end of Navy Pier in Chicago trying to see the Michigan shore - you just can't do it. The State of Michigan is 40 miles from Navy Pier and this lagoon is 40 miles long. That may help put things in perspective.
Today the air temperature is 82° and the water's about the same. Chris and me are taking the Kayaks to shore to have a look around. Last night we went with some other cruisers to the beautiful five star Kia Ora Village Hotel and sat on the deck of the bar and watched Tahitian drummers and dancers put on a show while we very slowly sipped our $11.00 drinks! I should have had beer it was only $7.00! The show was spell binding. The eight drummers were so loud and the dancers so coordinated we couldn't take our eyes off them.
Later today, I hope to dive in the pass. It's best to hire a dive master here because they know all the best spots. Friends who left here this morning told us of seeing eight-foot manta rays, giant turtles, a million fish of all colors and sizes, and of course sharks. These are the blacktip reef sharks of six to eight feet and almost tame. I say almost because one never knows when one of the beautiful creatures is having a "bad hair day" so it's best to keep your distance. Although to be perfectly honest, in the water, 20 or 30 feet is a weak defense against 300 pounds of teeth, muscles, and cartilage coming at you at over 40 miles an hour. But, as I said, these guys are not known to feed on swimmers. Back in Hiva Oa, hammerhead sharks visit the anchorage; they are a whole different ballgame. Hammerheads can be very aggressive and are often considered man- eaters. Actually, they don't usually eat all of you, just fifteen or twenty pounds!
Several boats left this anchorage at dawn today. They needed to catch the same slack tide that we needed when we arrived two days ago. Most are headed for Tahiti and the big festival, which began on July 1st and culminates on Bastille Day July 14. We plan to visit Tahiti but to be honest we're not in a big hurry to get there. We have already heard of a cruiser who had his pockets picked. For us, today's reality is more in keeping with the islands we have visited, simple places, simple life styles, uncomplicated people, and being on the water aboard a boat that can take us anywhere in the world we care to go. The longer we're out the more hesitant we become to visit big cities. We don't really want to get up close and personal with big city problems.
Looking back, we have both changed quite a bit since we began this adventure. Things once so important to us hold little value today. Some were small things like, cell phones, or daily mail delivery, or newspapers, or watching or perhaps planning our next vacation. Big things too - running our businesses, the jobs we were doing, satisfying our customers, developing new ideas or ways to do it better. Our home, our cars, our property personal and real. We had been conditioned by our chosen lifestyle to want more and our response was to work harder to get it. To that end, we were very successful but ours was a conditioned response. Ring a bell and we'd eat or watch TV, or make a cell call, or read the paper, or buy a new car, on and on. Pavlov? Conditioned Response. We were the dogs of Pavlov!
Accumulating a lot of stuff means less today than it did then and I think it will mean still less tomorrow. Some would say that we've grown spiritually others would say we're NUTS. I would never say we've not gained from our life's experiences because we have - we've gained in every way. But, we were locked in a pen with a lion and we ran as fast as we could to stay out front of it even though we were running in a circle. Over the years, we didn't even notice the lion had left the pen - so we just keep running and running and running. Where? Who knows? It just happened - it wasn't planned but after years of doing it we you found a strange false security in running - rather we become insecure when we weren't running and looking back at things that wasn't a good thing.
We're back from my dive. I saw a million fish of all colors and sizes, 16 blacktip and one whitetip sharks. None of the sharks appeared to be having a bad day. The dive was good, the water perfect, and I need more practice. My breathing is off, I was gulping air at 90 feet and wasting way too much of that precious resource. I've taken great pains to control Arcturus' fuel consumption now I need to concentrate on my breathing. That doesn't surprise me because practice makes perfect and I'm a little rusty. I just need more time under water. I'll dive more now that we're down here.
We've decided to pull the anchor and head for Tahiti on the early tide tomorrow. As you will no dought recall, we are still running with a damaged autopilot. I was able to drill out the broken stud and replace it with a bolt. It's not perfect but it might work. I was also able to email for a replacement part and it should get to Tahiti in about a week. That's all for now! Fred and Chris Caron (and Dusty)
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