12 20 South. 139 38 west. Sunday 1 November 2015

French Polynesia, Tua Motus to Marquesas

We are on passage: 490 NM from Tuamotus to Marquesses. So far 2days boisterous sailing close to the wind but fast. Very uncomfortable....even the kitchen drawers slid open! (A first)

We loved the Motus. Stopped in Fakarava, Kauehi, Katui, & Makemo.

One anchorage in Makemo away from civilisation Jan went shell hunting. Dave went snorkelling in his B'day suit. A small remora (12-18") swam under him and saw his dangly bits and thinking it might be a fish took a peck at his penis....no damage done. Remora have suckers on top of their heads to attach under a boat or a big fish and dash out when food bits come past.

Then Jan's time to snorkell and Dave sat on the beach watching a rat eating a coconut. She had just got to the edge of the reef, still quite shallow, when round a lump of coral came a 5 or 6 ft black tipped reef shark. It looked as surprised as she was...circled around. Although they are considered harmless to people it was enough to spook Jan and sent her dashing for the safety of shore.

There are a couple of other boats, whom we have not met before, traveling Makemo to the Marquesas at the same time. We talk on SSB radio twice a day. We are faster than them. One has an 11yr & 15yr old on board with them and they also live in Calgary.

You may not have heard, but in Kauehi, we found over 100 litres of diesel in the starboard bilge. After much pumping, filtering, and discussing ideas by email, we concluded the 25 year old alloy tank is either cracked or corroded. It will need to be removed next year, but for now, we have almost emptied the 700 litres of diesel from it and rigged up the engine to run from plastic Jerry Jugs.

The Atolls in the Tuamotus are rings of low islands up to 2 or 3 metres above sea level with palm trees and scrub. Each Motu, or island is usually about 100 yards wide, but the chain joined by a shallow reefs can link into a loop 30 miles long. Each atoll has zero, 1 or 2 navigable passes, and the water rushes in or out of these at up to 9 knots depending on the tide, wind, and size of the waves hitting the outside of the reef.

They are the sites of ancient volcanoes eroded down to sea level & and taken over by corals. Outside the reef, the water drops off to 1 to 3 km depth at about 45 degrees. Inside the reef the flat water is mostly dark blue, turquoise over shallow sand, and vivid yellow where the vertical "bommies" of coral heads poke up.

There is also usually one single isolated village of a 50 to 300 people, with a post office, a church (often elaborately decorated with shells), often a small shop, (usually potatoes, garlic & onions are the only fresh vegetables) and sometimes an airport with a weekly flight to Papeete. Copra (dried coconut) and pearl farming are the means of livelihood. Fresh fish & coconut abound. These isolated communities are usually very friendly and neat with a clear community pride.

Dave was taken out fishing by a fellow with a throwing spear - about 10 or 12 ft long. They walked about 100 yards into the lagoon in knee/thigh deep water. Dave brought bad luck. They watched wrasse, sharks, and a turtle come for a look but nothing close enough to hit. The fisherman talked continuously in Tahitian and sometimes banged the water to attract the fish.

Navigating the passes is an exciting event. Seeing if we have timed it right and will our engines power us through if going against the current. Hoping that the charts & navigation lights are accurate. We certainly kept in the middle leaving Makemo at 3am.

Going in and out of Katui was a disaster. It is the narrowest pass we have tried. The first anchorage is in the pass beside the village dock. It did not have enough room. A collection of people on the dock waved at us to tie up. But it looked exposed & with adults, excited children, dogs, and a worry of rats coming aboard we decided to go on through an even narrower passage to the big open lagoon. Half way up this passage there was the dreaded sound of our starboard side scraping coral (it was the dagger board). Edging back to the other side, the dreaded sound again! Dave quickly backed us off and we got through. We spent a couple of nights there. Dave scouted out the narrow passage in the kayak and thought we should fit back through.

Time came to leave and sadly although everything had been carefully calculated we touched bottom on the port side kicking up the rudder. We came out of it all with minor damage to morale and slight scrapes on the dagger boards. We plan to haul in Papeete next spring at which time the damage can be repaired (morale has already recovered).

We plan to leave Dulcinea on anchor in the Marquesas safely out of the tropical storm area under the care of an ex cruiser who has opened a small yachting/diving business & is now living there. We shall fly back to Canada early December.

Currently sailing along on a flat sea at 8 knots. We hope to arrive in Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas sometime in the early hours of the morning under the light of the silvery moon.

Best wishes from Jan, Dave, and Dulcinea