Saturday, June 05, 2004

Kauehi, Tuamotos

May 28th – June 5th , 2004

After entering the pass, we hosted our sails and SAILED eight miles across the atoll to the village. Yeah that’s right we sailed. The cruising fleet had all discussed their fears of coral heads reaching out of the depths and ending their trip and I added my Murphy’s attitude on top of that, so the last thing I expected to be doing was sailing across the atoll. However the people already anchored had done it, and there were two boats ahead of us acting as coral bombie locators, AND I was standing in the rat lines (webbing tied 5-6 feet in the rigging to get a better viewing angle) just to double check that they didn’t somehow just barely miss one that we would then smack into. Of course we made it across the atoll without incident and anchored in front of the little village.

Now this was paradise!!! The water was the most incredible azure blue that I have ever seen. This was surrounded palm trees, coral reefs and a very “cute” church at the center of the village. We anchored in 35’ of water and could watch the anchor hit the bottom (turns out that this was not even the best visibility). The difference between the Marquesas was like night and day. The Marquesas were awe inspiring because of the amazingly green landscape and mountainous volcanic creations unlike anything we have ever seen.

The Tuamotus were exactly what you would expect to find in a south pacific postcard. The black volcanic sand of the Marquesas was replaced with white or pink coral sand, and the temperature/humidity was much more acceptable.  We spent a couple of days exploring the village area, which literally sat just above sea level. Our first nights sleep was the deepest we have EVER had, dead flat calm, cool breeze and no bugs. On our first day, we relaxed and enjoyed our tranquil anchorage and did a little snorkeling off an abandoned pearl farm. I actually found a couple of shells (more like scallops than oysters) but there were no pearls inside. Our friends following us arrived just at dark and had to spend the night hove-to in the lee of the atoll. On Sunday we paddled to the village and enjoyed a quick walk around the little village, the one store had a couple of shelves with really no provisions (no beer or bread). The church was made out of coral blocks sealed with coral limestone and was, as usual, the centerpiece of the village.

I really wish we had learned French prior to our arrival. Our French friend François has such a different experience. He camps in the villages, usually in someone’s yard and becomes part of the village and part of a family. Luckily we have our kayaks, which seem to be a huge hit with the kids. We spent a couple of hours playing with the kids using the universal language of laughter and smiles to make our basic connections. It is so much fun to watch the interactions between all the kids, our function was to make sure that everyone got an equal chance (including the little ones and the girls). We met a younger Dutch couple on Max who had left Holland in October and had already sailed 10,000 miles on a boat they had bought just before they left. We pulled out some canned Gouda cheese from Holland (that we bought at Sam’s Club in Mexico!!) to share and found out they are giving themselves two years to sail around the world. They had been diving in the same spot and had found three black pearls in four shells… I was determined to find my own pearls the next day.

KT and I swam back over to the area, where I was sure that I would find my pearl. I must have spent three hours looking, opening shells, and finding nothing. KT gave up on me and went back to the boat, when I arrived I was so water logged I must have looked like a 90 year old man (with no pearls). Ugggghhhh! Our friends had settled into an anchorage on the southern end of the atoll where there was no village, so we decided to join them and sailed back across the lagoon (a different way than before).

It was blowing a good 20-25 so I was up in the ratlines the entire time, even though the chart showed there were no hazards on our course. We had the music going enjoying the sail, when I happened to look down at the exact moment the knot to the ratline I was standing on started to undo. I stepped over to the mast just as it gave way, KT and I stared at each other with the “wow that was close” look. I re-attached it; leaving a little more tail this time, and re-assumed my position. I took a look forward with the monocular, and noticed a huge uncharted coral head just off our starboard side. It rose straight from 100 feet deep to inches below the surface, I was thankful we ignored everyone’s advice that there were no worries and you didn’t need a lookout (a few more “black box” points for Billabong).

The southern end of the lagoon was like a Hollywood set of an uncharted island. There were three other boats (Emerald, Bobulona, and Waking Dream) anchored off of four small motus (little islands), we could each have our own private island if we wanted. The water clarity was amazing and we went ashore for some snorkeling in a beautiful coral area that felt like we were diving in a fish bowl. Ben from Waking Dream got out his Hooka hose and KT and I both got to take a turn. Even though the water was shallow (15 feet) it still made a difference for KT because she gets to stay down on the bottom and enjoy everything in more detail. She’s a natural underwater and the divers are all suggesting she take it up.

Afterwards we all gathered on the beach and enjoyed eating some coconuts and playing with the hermit crabs, the beach was literally covered with them.  I have a new found respect for the coconut, what an amazing feat of natural engineering. They carry their own water, food stores and protection (another tough fiber coating that covers the nut) on board, yet still float to remote places. Everywhere we looked there were coconuts floating in the water and seeding on the beach. We enjoyed eating the green, mature, and germinating coconuts. The green coconuts have an amazing juice that seems to have a sparkling essence to it and the flesh is soft and gelatin like. The mature coconuts are like the ones you get in the states, harder meat and milkier liquid. I used one of these to make coconut cream for a curry dish that night. You grate the flesh (inner meat) of a mature coconut and then add warm water. You kneed the mixture for a while and then squeeze it through cheesecloth (ps. It’s easier to buy the cans). The germinating coconut has the liquid inside replaced with a soft foamy ball known as a coconut apple. It has a light coconut flavor to it, which I enjoyed but others didn’t (mostly a texture thing). We all made coconut spears to break through the outer husk using the techniques we learned from Daniel in the Marquesas. The divers were planning a pass dive for the next day and invited me along. It had been about 10 years since I dove so I wanted to make sure it would be a relatively easy.

The next day we set out on Bobulona towards the pass entrance. There was a good breeze blowing and the fetch across the atoll made the swell uncomfortable enough that Dennis decided not to anchor the boat for the dive (he stayed aboard). Dennis brought Bobulona through the pass and we got KT and Lisa loaded into the dingy as diver pickup people. When I first looked into the water I couldn’t believe my eyes. From the edge of the reef on the surface it dropped down at about an 80-degree angle to about 150 feet deep, where it dropped off like a sheer cliff to 3000 feet. The visibility was easily 200 feet, and at first I was disoriented because I didn’t recognize that I was actually seeing Rick and Corbie from Emerald clearly at around 75 feet. The quantity of sea life was incredible, we saw hundreds of small tropical fish close to the reef, with a spotted eagle ray suspended at about 50 feet not even moving his “wings”, followed by a huge school of barracuda that were being “worked” by a couple of sharks. I can’t describe how small I felt around all the sea life, like I was part of the world’s largest fish bowl. We dropped to 90 feet where we ran into more sharks. Then the current started sucking us back into the lagoon at 3-4 knots. We go sucked up to 30 feet and then pushed back down to 90 feet again by the current. Shari from Bobulona broke hear ear drum, got vertigo, lost her sense of direction and had to be helped to the surface by Ben. I stayed down with Rick and Corbie as sharks in the murky water surrounded us. It was kind of strange because I have always been afraid of them, but I was in awe as they swam around to check us out. Corbie was funny because she was pointing out one or two in front of her and I had to tap her to get her to see the 5 or 6 behind her. We took a long time rising to the surface and the sharks kept circling. When we finally broke free we were in 4 – 5 foot standing waves caused by the current against the wind. After we were done Rick said that it was the most dangerous dive he had ever done in 30 years of diving. I reminded him that he told me it would be easy and would let me get back into diving slowly, He just smirked and smiled.

We spent the next day kayaking around the motus near the anchorage. I tried to “hunt and gather” for us and realized we would probably die in about a week after being stranded on a dessert island, because I needed another coconut to recover the fluids I lost to sweat trying to open the first one. Oh well, glad we had the boat, refrigerator and water-maker.

The next day Waking Dream organized a beach potluck, complete with a small quiet generator that provided music and Christmas tree lights for the trees. We all brought in chairs, hung out around the bonfire playing various musical instruments. It was a great night as we celebrated our private paradise and the adventures we had experienced getting here. On Saturday I did some boat maintenance, while KT recovered from the festivities. We left early the next morning for Fakarava, about a six-hour motor sail away. We took advantage of the extra power to rip my CD collection into mp3s and KT worked on journal entries/picture organization

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