Saturday, June 4, 2016

Goodbye Tuamotus, Hello Tahiti!

These atolls fill up with water, then empty again twice per day with the tides.  All the water must enter and leave through one or more passes where there are breaks in the reef systems that ring the atolls.  Cruisers have four chances to get across the pass when the water is slack, but only two occur during daylight.  A nighttime crossing by someone as unfamiliar as us would be very unwise.  If you miss the slack water, you might encounter some rough going with standing waves and turbulence. 
When we left Kauehi, we arrived at the pass early so the conditions in the photo below were the worst we saw, and it really wasn't that bad for a big heavy boat like Moonshadow.  Still, until you've experienced it, it doesn't look like something you want to try.

Our next destination was the town of Rotoava in the Northwest part of Fakarava, a very large atoll.  After we entered through the north pass (there is a second pass at the south end of the atoll), we had a short motor to the village where we found mooring buoys available for cruisers.  These buoys had just been installed in December and they are a welcome sight for cruisers wary of anchoring in deep water with unseen coral heads below.  In fact one of our cruising friends had to hire a diver to un-snag his anchor from between two large coral heads.

We enjoyed a few days here exploring the town, and some of it's small eateries.  A young french couple live here and offer up their front porch and internet connection, then serve fresh juices, coffee, etc. to their clients.  Basically it's a tropical Starbucks I guess.  But really, seriously different.  So cruisers find a place to park their dinghy and walk over to Yacht Services, the french couple call themselves, where it is possible to meet other cruisers, find out where the baguettes are fresh, and check out Facebook.

Another frenchman sells panini, crepes, and beer from his beach house here.

We are finally back in the mode we loved in the Caribbean where we move on to explore new places every two, three or four days, and we love it.  As we worked our way south down the eastern rim of the immense  Fakarava atoll, we had to keep a sharp eye out for bommies, which are individual coral heads that reach up from the bottom to anywhere from mere inches to a couple of feet below the surface of the water.  The best advice is to move with the sun overhead or at your back because on days like the one below, you can barely see anything below the surface.  We had the sun overhead many days, just never when we were moving from place to place.


After a few hours we arrived at Tukaega, an unpopulated stretch of beautiful white sand beach and aqua water.


With our friends Mark and Deanna aboard Speakeasy, we had the place to ourselves for two days.


Flowers seem to love it here.

Tukaega, it turns out has some really beautiful examples of South Pacific coral to explore through the lens of a snorkel mask, so we enjoyed a couple of trips below the surface.

This grouper might have made a good meal, but we weren't armed.

There was a beautiful sight around every corner.

And where there is healthy living coral, there are tropical fish.

They are remarkably well adapted to the particular type of coral they call home.

There were many species and colors of coral around.







Looks like this clam just ate something sour!

Really nice dive spot here.

But hey, we are in "move on" mode, so move on we did, down to the pass at the south end of the Fakarava atoll.  This is a tricky pass to navigate, and our plans were to exit the lagoon through it in a few days, so we did a little drone flying to understand the best way to get through.  

While we were here, a boat attempted to enter this pass at night.  There was no moon and as the skipper was trying to learn if the channel marker up ahead was red or green, he ran hard aground on the reef. We and several other yachties tried with our dinghies to help get the ketch free but we didn't have enough horsepower.  Fortunately for the owner, a dive boat operator showed up and was able to pull him off the coral.

West of the pass, among a labyrinth of reefs and coral bommies, is a stunningly beautiful place to anchor in 15 feet of water so clear you can see your anchor on the bottom 100 feet away.  The coral heads littering the sand bottom pose a threat to cruisers' anchor chains which can become entangled when the wind shifts.  We use a buoy to float the chain over large bommies, and that seems to work very well.








We took a flight around the anchorage here which shows the stark contrast between the deep blue pacific and the calm protected waters of the lagoon.  Click on the movie below for a look:

(after starting the movie click the box [ ] in the lower right corner to view full screen)


The plumeria trees here produce the most fragrant flowers which John can't resist picking for his best friend.  Ain't she cute with a flower in her hair?


But without doubt, the best reason to visit the south pass is the drift dive that can be done once per day on the flood or incoming tide.  We snorkeled here three times.  Yachtie/cruisers take their dinghy out to the mouth of the river then jump in and let the current transport them over the coral canyon walls on the side of the pass.  It is like you've suddenly awakened to find yourself in a huge tropical fish aquarium.

These fish have the most exotic coloring patterns

Some are bigger than the others.


For more views of the snorkel dive we did, 
click on the arrow below to watch the movie John made.


(after starting the movie click the box [ ] in the lower right corner to view full screen)


 After three dives in the pass, we were ready to move on to Hirifa which is tucked into the southeastern-most corner of Fakarava.  Navigating inside the lagoon can be hazardous, but the process is fairly simple.  Place a babe on the bow to look for coral, then watch and take pictures.










This time we followed Speakeasy with the morning sun in our face.  At least we knew anything we might hit would be at least 3 feet down.



That thing about having the sun at your back is good advice inside the lagoons.  Compare the two photos of the same day marker.  With the sun in our face the silhouette of the marker appears to be in deep water.  







But after we motored past and looked back with the sun at our backs, voila: that same marker is sitting on a reef about 2 feet below the surface!



Hirifa doesn't have great snorkeling in the anchorage area, but it has lots to appreciate.

Like a long white beach, beautiful women on paddle boards,


 ...and Liza.

Liza runs a small beach patio dining establishment for cruising yachts.  Liza is the real deal.  She is a warm touchy person who instantly feels like part of the family.  


Liza's marketing plan?  Put out a sign and welcome visitors with open arms.

Liza is a sweatheart.

Liza is a hugger.

One look at the place and we knew we had to find out more.  

Our second dinner there was a party with ten people from five cruising boats.  

And Liza!

Four of the boats crew seated at this table shared dinner in La Cruz, Mexico shortly before departing for the Pacific Puddle Jump.  Such reunions make this cruising life so rich.


Next time you drop the hook at Hirifa, stop by and say hello to Liza from John and Deb aboard Moonshadow.  Don't forget to look for Moonshadow's San Diego Yacht Club Burgee hanging on the wall.   Chances are you'll never want to leave.


Did I mention that Hirifa has a palm tree chair?

After studying the charts and looking at our drone pictures of the pass, we figured we were ready to take Moonshadow through the tricky waters during the slack tide at daybreak.  We were pretty nervous about this one, but then a miracle occurred.  The small freighter "Cobia 3"  stopped to drop and pick up supplies, then transited out through the pass, so we quickly snapped on our chart plotter and followed the trail left by his AIS transponder, placing waypoints on the electronic chart every time Cobia turned.  Next day at the crack of dawn Moonshadow followed Cobia's track within 20 feet right or left and reentered the Pacific to continue on to Tahiti.

Along the way, this skipjack tuna nearly bent our fish rod in half while we were streaking along at 10 and 11 knots.  We had to stop the boat to get him aboard, but finding he was just a skipjack, we tossed him back.

Our trip to Tahiti was one of our fastest passages, clocking 219 miles in 24 hours and arriving at Marina Taina before noon the next day.  

Now we must transform our two huge storage lockers back into staterooms to provide living quarters for guests visiting Moonshadow.  First our son Scott and his fiancee Deanna will fly down to Papeete for a trip aboard through the Society islands to Bora-Bora, then in July our other son Ryan and his family, Shelly, Brandon and Natalie will join us.

No doubt we will have plenty of material for the next blog!!

In the meantime we'll try to find time to reflect upon our brief time in some of
 the most beautiful islands in the world.  

Goodbye Tuamotus!




5 comments:

Penny Schilling said...

Aaahhhhh. Paradise!!!!

Byron Nelson said...

John, just love the pictures! Great job.

Robert Carrier said...

Some of the best images you've captured yet!

Dewey said...

Great pictures. John, what camera are you using underwater?

John and Deb Rogers said...

Dewey, The underwater photos were all shot with my GoPro Hero 2. They came out with an underwater case and a flat lens (in lieu of the original fish-eye lens) which makes the underwater photos come out clear. Before that, it was useless underwater.

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