Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Raroia Part 1 blog

With eager anticipation we departed Daniel’s Bay in the Marquesas for the
450 mile leg to Raroia Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago (Tuamotus).  We
knew that this area of low-lying, palm-covered motus (small islands)
sitting atop coral reefs that surround sheltered lagoons would be one of
our favorite stops on our South Pacific odyssey.  The reefs and motus are
all that remain of once tall, volcanic islands, much like the Marquesas.
Over the eons, the mountainous islands subsided into the sea floor leaving
just the surrounding reefs and islets.  Many of the atolls have gaps in
the reefs that surround the protected lagoons created by fresh water
rivers that flowed down the slopes of the original mountains.  These
passes allow boats to enter the lagoons and find smooth, flat water that
is buffered from the surrounding, wind-driven seas.  Many of the motus are
uninhabited while some feature small villages where residents farm black
pearls, harvest sea food or cater to a small, but growing tourist
business.  Due to the poor, mostly sandy soil, little grows on the motus
except coconut palm trees and scraggly shrubs so the residents rely on
supply ships that call periodically from Tahiti bringing fresh vegetables,
fruits and meat.  Depending on when the ships last visited, the selection
of supplies at the few small stores can be either adequate or severely
limited.  For this reason, Anne had go to great lengths to stock-up in the
Mexican supermarkets and the much smaller stores in the Marquesas.
Despite her best efforts, our time in this area would be spent creatively
rationing out our supply of rapidly-ripening fruits and vegetables.

Our passage to Raroia started well with favorable winds and smooth seas
but we were soon greeted with a few squalls and an uncomfortable, cross-
swell from our port side reminiscent of our passage from Mexico.  The
winds, however, pushed us toward our destination with such great speed
that, once again, we were faced with the task of making “Blue Rodeo” slow
down so as not to arrive too early at the atoll’s only pass through the
reef.  Since the rise and fall of the tides alternately fill and empty the
sizable lagoons, water is often swiftly flowing either in or out of the
narrow gaps in the reef.  This can sometimes make them impassable.  Not
only did we have to synchronize our arrival with slack conditions near the
turn of the tides but also a time of day when the sun was high enough in
the sky to help us differentiate between the deeper, navigable channels
and the jagged coral reefs and outcroppings that have claimed numerous
vessels over the years.  This area, in fact, was known as the “Dangerous
Archipelago” due to the low-lying hazards in the days prior to GPS
navigation and electronic charting.  Even with these modern devices,
sailors must still exercise great vigilance to avoid an unpleasant
encounter with one of the reefs.

While enroute, we were pleased to hear from friends on the vessels “Island
Bound” and “Buena Vista” who had left the Marquesan island of Ua Pou the
same day we did and were also headed for Raroia.  Having adjusted “Blue
Rodeo’s” speed as best we could, we arrived off Raroia just a few hours
before a slack tide and adequate sun angle.  In the company of “Island
Bound”, we sailed slowly back and forth in front of the lagoon’s reef pass
entrance until we felt conditions we safe to proceed.  Before long, we
were at anchor in front of Raroia Atoll’s only, small village.  We spend
the remainder of the day cleaning and straightening up our boat and
getting caught-up on our sleep after our triple-overnight passage.

The next day, while Mark worked at changing our auxiliary motor’s oil,
Anne went ashore with Bill and Kat from “Island Bound” to explore the
village.  A brief note here that while the three were having an enjoyable
walkabout and meeting a delightful and friendly, local family, Mark was
experiencing one of those boat maintenance nightmares that can make bring
grown men to tears or, alternately, unleash a string of expletives that
would make even the most hardened of dock-workers wince.  After using a
transfer pump to suck the motor’s hot, dirty oil out via a small tube he
attempted to reverse the pump in order to move the oil from the pump’s
reservoir to a container for storage.  Unfortunately, during the process,
a hose connection came apart allowing the black, messy oil to spray all
over him and much of “Blue Rodeo’s” engine room.  At that point, Mark had
no choice but to begin a two-hour cleanup using nearly a full roll of
paper towels and half a bottle of Simple Green.  Needless to say, When
Anne returned, he was not a happy camper.

Cruising friends who had visited Raroria before us had spoken of the
wonderful time they had getting to know the family that Anne, Bill and Kat
met during their walk.  The folks were so welcoming, in fact, that they
insisted that we, and newly arrived friends Don and Deb on “Buena Vista”,
all come to their house for a meal that evening.  So, that night, we took
our dinghies ashore bringing a few things that the girls prepared to
contribute to the impromptu dinner.  At the clean but simple home
featuring plywood walls and a corrugated metal roof, we dining on Chinese
chicken with rice, pulled pork and Greek salad and shared conversation
with Tatiana, Regis and their 7 year-old daughter Kiva Hei.  Both Tatiana
and Regis spoke English and were very entertaining.  Although Kiva Hei
spoke little English, it was clearly evident from her huge smile and
sparkling eyes that she enjoyed meeting our group of ocean-crossing
adventurers.  The meal concluded with a delicious chocolate cake that Anne
had prepared to help celebrate a birthday that Kat had the day before.
Before we returned to our boats, plans were made to go, the next morning,
with Tatiana, Regis and Kiva Hei in their motor boat to their private motu
across the lagoon for a day of spearfishing, beach combing and a BBQ

We would all sleep well aboard our boats that night and awake early the
next morning for another day of adventure shared with friends

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