Thursday, June 21, 2012

Toau blog

After just three days anchored off the village of Roatava near the north
 end of Fakarava's huge lagoon, we set sail for the atoll of Toau.  Several
 hours of pleasant sailing in perfect conditions positioned us outside
 Otugi Pass on the atoll's southeast side.  We had read reports of the
 channel through the reef being dangerous with strong currents and breaking
 waves often extending several miles out to sea.  Since our arrival did not
 coincide perfectly with slack tide, we did see a large area of water
 disturbed by the outflowing current.  Fortunately, negotiating the
 entrance proved easy enough by staying near the edge of the pass and
 avoiding the worst of the choppy water.  Once inside, we anchored off a
 picturesque motu among lots of irregular-shaped coral formations.  Once
 again, we buoyed our anchor chain to reduce the possibility of snagging
 and damaging the living coral.  We were soon joined by fellow cruisers
 aboard "Southern Cross", Gato Go", "Island Bound" and "Buena Vista".  The
 next several days would be spent snorkeling in the passes, beach combing and sharing
 good times with our friends.  During one morning's snorkeling excursion in
 the pass, where we let the incoming currents sweep us repeatedly through
 the entrance, flying like supermen over the colorful coral gardens, we
 were treated to an encounter with a large, curious Manta ray.  It seemed
 as interested in us as we were in it so we swam in its company for quite
 some time before it descended out of view.  We never grow tired of
 watching these amazing creatures "up close and personal".  Another close
 encounter though was a bit unnerving.  When separated a ways from Mark,
 Anne was approached by a sizable Lemon shark that came too close for
 comfort prompting her to quickly climb back into our dinghy and call out
 to Mark with concern.  When Mark approached and was informed of the
 presence of the shark, Mark's response was to say "cool... I want to see it
 ...which way did it go".  Maybe that was just another example of the
 difference between girls and boys or, perhaps, good commons sense or lack
 thereof.  Never the less, Mark was disappointed that he didn't get to see
 the magnificent creature.

 Soon it was time to leave the deserted motus near Passe Otugi and sail
 outside the atoll to a spot on the north shore known as Anse (cove) Amyot.
 The sail began with perfect wind and weather conditions that deteriorated
 as we approached our destination.  Dark clouds began appearing on the
 horizon all around us and soon we were overtaken by squalls with copious
 amounts of heavy rain.  We were, once again amazed by how quickly the
 squalls can materialize here in the tropical South Pacific and the
 intensity with which rain can pour from the skies.  Most often, the
 squalls pass quickly.  Unfortunately for us, the greatly-reduced
 visibility caused by the heavy rain was complicating our plan to enter
 Anse Amyot's narrow reef pass and moor in its sheltered water before dark.
 While waiting for the squall to pass, we hovered just outside the reef
 straining our eyes to see the channel markers ahead and the few other
 cruising boats already inside.  After a radio conversation with friends
 Craig and Bruce on the catamaran "Gato Go", who had preceded us by about
 an hour, we felt confident enough to proceed in.  Because of Anse Amyot's
 small size and shallow, coral reefs on three sides, anchoring there is
 difficult.   So, 12 moorings have been placed inside the cove by the
 couple who operate a restaurant there.   Our task would be to locate one
 of only two unoccupied moorings in the fading light and heavy rain and
 secure "Blue Rodeo" without hitting a reef or playing "bumper boats" with
 those already moored.  Fortunately, all went smoothly and before long, we
 were attached to a heavy mooring line by our nylon bridal and breathing
 soggy sighs of relief.

 Our stay at Anse Amyot would be made especially memorable by the charming
 couple, Valentine and Gaston, who live there and operate a small pearl
 farm and simple, open-air restaurant.  Other cruisers had informed us that
 the opportunity to have a meal ashore with them was not to be missed.  The
 morning after our arrival, we took our dinghy ashore for introductions and
 were soon invited, along with the other cruisers in the cove, to share a
 wedding anniversary dinner with our hosts that night.  Dinner proved to be
 quite the extravaganza with cruisers bringing dishes to share and
 Valentine and Gaston providing grilled lobster, octopus curry, and a
 seafood Paella.  When we arrived, a table for nearly 30 had been set under
 a backyard tree.  Dinner lasted well past our bed time but we had a fine
 time meeting a number of European cruising couples and doing our best to
 communicate in common languages.  Fortunately, English was spoken by most
 but we have vowed, once again, to devote some time and effort to learning
 to speak French.  During the meal, several small, but intense, squalls
 with strong wind gusts sent us scurrying for cover and crowding under a
 patio awning.  The next morning we would learn that a boat, sailed by a
 couple from Finland that we had meet at dinner,  had broken free  from its
 mooring and nearly ended-up on the nearby reef during one of the squalls.
 We all shuddered to think how close they came to losing their floating
 home.  After diving later to examine the failed mooring, it was determined
 that the coral head, to which the mooring was chained, had actually broken
 off sending the boat adrift.  Thoughts of this sort of thing can sure lead
 to some sleepless nights out here.

 Over the next several days, we did a few SCUBA dives outside of the
 atoll's reef where we enjoyed the clearest water we've yet experienced in
 the South Pacific.  The great visibility allowed us to view the dramatic
 contours of the coral reef and underwater canyons that would drop away
 into the nearby abyss.  Our only disappointment was not seeing any large
 sharks or pelagic fish cruising by in the deep water.  Is it possible that
 we are getting too accustomed to diving with sharks?

 Before leaving Anse Amyot, Anne would spend several hours ashore examining
 Valentine's assortment of beautiful, black pearls and watching her implant
 (graft) nuclei into live oysters around which pearls would form.  We even
 had the opportunity to open our own oysters and recover the small,
 iridescent treasures inside.  Rather than buy more pearls, Anne was able
 to trade men's shirts, scarves and food items from "Blue Rodeo's" galley
 for a few that will always remain as precious mementos of our visit to

 With a rendezvous in Tahiti with fellow "Pacific Puddle Jumpers" planned
 for June 22nd, it was soon time to prepare "Blue Rodeo" for another open
 ocean passage.  Our last day at Toau concluded with slipping away from our
 mooring, raising our sails and heading south west as the late-afternoon
 sunlight illuminated the atoll's palm-covered motus.  Tahiti here we come!

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Our seven- hour, day sail from Tahanea to Fakarava’s south pass was one of
the most pleasant we’ve had since leaving Mexico.  Sailing downwind, wing
on wing (jib poled-out to one side with main sail on the other), we were
pushed steadily along by winds of 15-20 knots, surfing slightly as each
passing wave lifted us from behind.  While under sail, we were joined by 3
hitchhiking Boobie birds that landed on top of our solar panels.  They
peered curiously down at us while taking a break from over-water flying.
The 50 mile passage was completed by 1:30pm positioning us to enter
Fakarava’s enormous lagoon through the reef pass with ebbing tide and
about 2 knots of current.

Once inside the lagoon and clear of the shallow reefs that guard the
entrance, we proceeded cautiously to an anchorage about one-half mile east
of the pass.  Even though the bottom there has little sand in which to set
an anchor and large coral heads that are notorious for snagging anchors
and chain, it is the closest to the pass where the best SCUBA diving takes
place.  We anchored there amidst several familiar boats, using three
inflatable dock fenders to buoy our chain up from the irregular bottom.
When we were settled, friends Mark and Vicki, who had arrived two days
earlier and had already done two dives, were quick to share what they had
experienced.  After a less than perfect experience trying to do a drift
dive through the pass while towing their dinghy, they had signed-up for a
few guided dives with a commercial dive operator (Top Dive) located on a
motu near the anchorage.  In addition to providing transportation to the
dive site and invaluable, local knowledge of the tides, currents and
bottom topography, the operator’s small, but modern, facility had fresh
water showers and tanks for washing gear after each dive.  As soon as we
had launched “Blue Rodeo’s” dinghy and attached our outboard motor, we
headed to shore to meet with Matias, the personable, French, dive master,
and sign-up for a package of dives.  The package was fairly priced and
unused dives could be done at a later date at any of their other
locations.  Mark especially welcomed the break from the daily chore of
filling SCUBA tanks, transferring gear back and forth from our boat to the
dinghy and having to rinse off salt water from everything each afternoon.

Over the next several days, we and several cruising friends did 4 SCUBA
dives in the pass.  3 were with Matias and another was unsupported.  During that
one, we towed our own dinghies using 100’ long, nylon lines.   The first dive
took us to about  80’ in an area where the coral reef transitions to a
sandy bottom.  We timed the dive to coincide with the beginning of the
flood tide and were rewarded with the spectacle of hundreds and hundreds
of sharks gliding by in the current just a few feet from us.  Matias later
explained that rising current in the area gave the heavy, muscular sharks
an opportunity to glide along with minimal effort and rest while being
cleaned by smaller fish.  We all did our best to control our breathing so
as to produce few bubbles while exhaling and allow the sharks to come
closer and closer.   We recognized Black Tips, White Tips, Silver Tips and
Greys and, even though they were just a few feet away from us, we felt
no threat from them.  In fact, they showed not the slightest interest in us.  The
dive lasted about an hour and when it was finished, we felt exhilarated and filled
with excited anticipation of what we'd see on our next dive.

 During a dive in deeper water the following day, we encountered 2 large
dolphins that appeared to be engaged in courtship behavior with one
swimming upside-down below the other.  We were again treated to the sight
of sharks and tropical fish of every shape and color imaginable.  After
SCUBA diving each day, we would spend hours with our friends snorkeling in
a shallow area known as the "swimming pool" near some bungalows and an open-air
restaurant built over the water.  In the crystal-clear water we would see numerous sharks,
many varieties of tropical fish and two large Napolean Wrasse.   One, whom the
locals have named “Jo Jo", was the size of a car door and was often
accompanied by a smaller one known as “Josette”.  They would follow our
dinghies into the small cove and swim in 2-3’ of water, sometimes with
their dorsal fins exposed to the air.   They were often within arm’s
length of us swimming back and forth and, seemingly, posing for pictures.
The curious creatures have bump-shaped heads with magnificent coloring and
markings and human-like eyes that followed our every move.  We never tired
of seeing them.

While most of our time anchored near Fakarava’s south pass was spent in
the water snorkeling or diving, we also enjoyed socializing with other
friendly cruisers.   A very special evening was spent sharing a pot luck
dinner with crews from 7 boats aboard the spacious catamaran “Gato Go”
owned by friends Craig and Bruce.  It was quite an international affair
with the USA, Canada, France, Britain and Switzerland represented.

All too soon, it was time to move on and we motored just two miles to
another shallow anchorage on the other side of the pass for a day of beach
combing before heading 28 miles north through the center of Fakarava’s
enormous lagoon to the village of Roatava.  There we would find a few
small stores in which to by some fresh fruit and vegetables and internet
access for the first time in many weeks.  While catching up on computer
work, we resisted the temptation to delve into news and current events from
the States.  While we do certainly miss our family and friends back home,
we don’t miss the nearly-constant barrage of negative news stories that
seemed to be an inescapable part of our lives there.

Please note:  The fine underwater photos on this post were taken by our good friends Bruce and Craig from the catamaran "Gato Go" during dives we did with them.

Monday, June 4, 2012


As with most passages in the Tuamotus, our sail from Raroia to the
deserted atoll of Tahanea required careful planning in order to exit and
enter the reef passes when currents were manageable and the sun high
enough in the sky to allow us to see shallow areas in the water.  The 140
 mile distance between the atolls meant an overnight passage, but also
 having to keep our speed in check so as not to arrive too early.  With
 brisk trade winds pushing us swiftly along, even under reduced sail, we
 found ourselves approaching Tahanea several hours too early and were
 forced to heave to (stall the boat by pointing it into the wind with jib
 and mainsail tightly sheeted on opposite sides) in order to kill some
 time.  When the time came, entering the pass was without drama and we were
 soon in the protected waters of the lagoon approaching a small group of
 anchored cruising boats.  We had been communicating by radio with new
 friends Mark and Vicki, on the vessel "Southern Cross", who were already
 there and anxious to share with us what they had discovered about diving
 Tahanea's three reef passes.  While we maneuvered in the anchorage
 scouting the bottom through the crystal-clear water, for a sandy patch to
 drop "Blue Rodeo's" anchor, an ominous dark cloud moved overhead and
 proceeded to dump rain on us with such intensity that it seemed we'd be
 drowned from above.  The word torrential comes to mind when searching for
 adjectives to describe the deluge.  With the rain came wind gusts in
 excess of thirty knots and reduced visibility down to as few hundred
 yards.  We had no choice but to use our motor to hold our position, with
 bow into the wind, while waiting for the squall to pass.  Fortunately,
 within minutes, the small, but intense, storm moved-on and we were able to
 drop our anchor.

 The anchorage at Tahanea, like many in the Tuamotus, has a sandy bottom
 with scattered, jagged coral heads known as "bommies" rising up from the
 sea floor.  Anchoring in these areas requires special techniques to avoid
 damaging the live coral and to prevent entangling them with a boat's
 anchor chain in such a way that raising the anchor becomes impossible.  As
 we paid-out our anchor chain, we tied three of our inflated, vinyl, dock
 fenders to it at intervals so as to sufficiently buoy it up from the
 bottom and, hopefully, keep it from snagging on the coral.  As we finished
 the anchoring exercise, Mark and Vicki returned from a snorkeling
 excursion and told us what they had learned about the diving at Tahanea.
 Before long, we began to feel like "old friends" and plans were made to
 SCUBA dive one of the reef passes with them the next day.  As we settled-
 in for the evening, we finally had a chance to survey our beautiful
 surroundings.  The anchorage, at the edge of a huge lagoon, features water
 of swimming pool-clarity and patches of colorful coral that, in some
 places, rise to surface level.  It is exactly the tropical paradise that
 we had, for years, been dreaming about.

 Our dive the next day required that we take our dinghy about a mile and a
 half to one of the three reef passes where we hoped to drift with the
 incoming tide from outside the atoll back into the lagoon.  With four of
 us and all of our SCUBA gear crammed into our dinghy, we pounded through
 the wind-driven choppy water to our dive site taking copious amounts of
 water over our bow, nearly swamping the small rubber boat.  Fortunately,
 both wind and water were a comfortable 85 degrees so the incoming water
 was mostly a nuisance.  Prior to our dive, we went ashore at the ruins of
 a tiny village for some exploration and were greeted by a friendly cat
 that was the motu's only resident.  Although craving some human attention,
 the cat appeared healthy enough and was, no doubt subsisting on sea
 creatures, bird eggs, mice or rats and rain water.  Vicki knew that the
 cat was on the small island and brought along some powdered milk and
 mixed-up a batch for it to drink.  The grateful animal happily lapped it
 up.  With Anne's soft heart for animals, she had a difficult time leaving
 the cat alone and hoped aloud that some cruising sailor wanting a pet
 might soon rescue it.

 Over the next several days we would enjoy several fine dives seeing a
 multitude of colorful and interesting, tropical, reef fish, Barracuda,
 dolphins and dozens of sharks.  On one reef pass dive with friends Don and
 Deb from the vessel "Buena Vista", we had a bit of an adventure when,
 after enjoying a peaceful drift across a spectacular reef, we found
 ourselves in a current that pulled us away from the reef  into deeper
 water.  Fortunately, Mark was tethered to our dinghy during the dive by a
 long line which kept it nearby when we surfaced.  The current though had
 swept us away from the protection of land and into choppy water where we
 had to remove our gear, climb back aboard and motor slowly back into the
 lagoon.  We were thankful that our dinghy was of a sea-worthy design and
 powered by a reliable motor.  Afterward, we vowed that next time we would
 go to even greater lengths to assess the timing of slack tide and current
 when diving in the passes.

 Several more days were spent at Tahanea snorkeling, exploring the motus
 and enjoying the beautiful surroundings.  We wished that we could stay at
 anchor there for a month or more but, with so much more to see and being
 limited by the time limits of our visa, we were soon forced to move on.
 Such are just some of the bitter-sweet  challenges of cruising the South

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Raroia Part 2 blog

Our second day at Raroia Atoll was made special by a trip across the large
lagoon with new, local friends Regis, Tatiana and their daughter Kiva Hei.
They own a nearly-new, outboard motor-powered boat and picked us up from
the anchorage at 8:00am.  Our cruising friends from the boats "Buena
Vista" and "Island Bound" joined us for the outing.  While carefully
watching for shallow patches of coral, Regis maneuvered his boat at high
speed across the lagoon to Kon Tiki Island where, in 1947, Norwegian
explorer Thor Hyerdahl and his crew were driven ashore by the winds and
current ending their attempt to sail across the Pacific from South
American to demonstrate the possibility of how the area could have been
originally populated.  Mark remembered reading the book written about the
voyage when he was a young boy and believes that it planted one of many
seeds in his mind of what adventures there are to be had in our incredible

After visiting the island and going ashore to read the inscriptions on a
memorial plaque, we continued to another motu owned by Regis and Tatiana.
Their small, picturesque island resembled the classic South Pacific image
often seen on the cover of travel brochures.  The palm tree-covered island
is surrounded by beautiful beaches and clear, azure-blue water.  Regis
secured his boat to a coral outcropping just feet from a beach while we
unloaded supplies for our planned picnic.  After unloading, Tatiana and
Kiva Hei escorted the girls on a tide pool walk while Regis took the guys
to a reef in the middle of the lagoon to spearfish for our lunch.  Our
efforts provided the group with several fish that Regis bar-b-qued over a
wood fire back at their island.  During the tide pool hike, Tatiana and
the girls scoured the rocks for clams, snails and other edible delicacies.
When Tatiana came across an octopus, she quickly dispatched it with a
blow from the hammer she carried causing Anne to turn away with tears
streaming from her eyes.  We have often played with octopus while diving
and know of their high level of intelligence.  For Anne, it was especially
difficult accepting that people here regard them tasty treats.  This, and
the fact that residents of these islands will, sometimes raise dogs for
food, served as just another example of how our eyes are continually being
opened to customs far different from what we have experienced in the
United States.  It is difficult, from our perspective, accepting what is
normal in the lives of these people.
 After a lunch of fish, clams and sea urchin roe, Kiva Hei treated our
group to a dance and spoken history presentation about Raroia and its
people that she had performed, winning first place at a competition in
Tahiti.  Wearing a palm frond headdress and skirt over her beach attire,
she greatly impressed us with her grace and powerful vocals.   Before
long, it was time to head back to our anchored boats for a quiet evening
aboard.  Before turning-in, we made plans to take our dinghy, the next
morning, to the reef pass where we first sailed into the lagoon to SCUBA
dive.  Diving in the passes is often the most spectacular as clear ocean
water floods into the lagoons through channels in healthy, live coral.
The coral reef areas are home to an amazing assortment of diverse and
colorful sea creatures including a variety of sharks.  Unfortunately, when
we awoke the next morning, the wind was blowing with such force that the
nearly two mile dinghy ride from the anchorage to the pass would be rather
miserable and towing the dinghy with us as we dived and drifted with the
incoming current through the pass would be almost impossible.  We decided
to forego the dive and went instead to visit Regis and Tatiana to give
them a few small gifts and examine the selection of black pearls that they
had for sale.  Arriving shortly before noon, we found them already
blending batches of pina coladas.  While we sifted through bags and bags
of pearls, we shared the tasty drinks and talked at length about their
lives.  It was such a pleasure getting to know these exceptionally
friendly and interesting people and learning more about what life is like
in this tropical paradise.  After carefully examining hundreds of pearls
for color, shape and natural imperfections, Mark selected three that we
purchased for Anne to have made into ear rings and a necklace when we
return to the States.   Even more so than the beauty of the jewelry will
be the beautiful memories of where the pearls came from and the grand
adventure that has made obtaining them possible.  Rather than from a trip
to the nearest jewelry store, these keep-sakes come as a reward for having
worked hard to prepare our boat for the trip and sailing across more to
3,000 miles of ocean to get here.  Though we paid a modest amount for the
pearls, they and the memories of our passage will, to us, be forever