20/04/2014 – Cruising the beautiful Tuamotus

First an apology for the long silence. I thought I had written a blog when we arrived in Fakarava but the computer thinks otherwise. Also, happy belated birthday greetings to Phil. We were a tad busy on the 16th but did think about you, explanations in the next blog. The Tuamotus are low lying atolls, typically a string of coral islands joined together with coral reefs to enclose a relatively large area of water. There are often only one or two passes inside the reef, often tortuous though sometimes wide and straight. What they have in common is a strong current which creates standing wave so you really need to get the tides right even though the tidal difference at springs is 30 cm! Fakarava, our first destination in this group of islands, had probably the easiest pass, wide and straight with buoyage inside the lagoon to lead us safely to the anchorage. The lagoon is huge, roughly rectangular in shape and about 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. The land, on the other hand, is often less than 100 metres wide! The town was quite pretty with lovely flower gardens in front of many of the houses. The major drawback was that both shops had run out of beer. There was some very good snorkelling around a reef close to the anchorage though we only went once. At least we got the tides right for the pass though managed to miss slack water. A short day sail away, we made our next landfall on Apataki which was a smaller atoll, about 15 miles long and 12 miles wide. The entrance was challenging, especially as the current was against us. Following the leading line was fine except that the front marker is firmly ashore on a reef and you have to alter course by about 60 degrees to follow the channel. There are port and starboard markers but they only have their bases in very shallow water so you need to keep an eye on the depth gauge. Land is clearly at a premium here as they are building some flats over the water on a reef about 50 metres from shore, with no link to the land. Their design borrows heavily from Mississippi riverboats. One advantage of our brief stop here was that the shop had beer, the second advantage was that John managed to buy 100 litres of diesel which should be enough to get us to Rangiroa. Pulling up the anchor was difficult as it had caught under a coral head just in front of the boat. John snorkelled over the chain and gave me instructions to get us free, the next 45 metres of chain came up with no trouble. John had asked about slack water, we didn’t quite find it but the exit wasn’t difficult as we could follow our inbound track on the chart plotter. Rangiroa was our third and final stop in this fascinating group of islands. Yes we got the tides badly wrong and had to fight our way in against a 4.5 knot current but the sea was fairly calm once we crossed the standing waves offshore. The anchorage was idyllic, opposite a beautiful, expensive hotel development. The snorkelling in The Aquarium, an area of reef right in the middle of the pass, was exceptional. I wish we could have stayed longer or, at least, spent more time enjoying the island but sadly ‘boat maintenance in exotic locations’ took precedence. I will leave our tale of woe for another blog! Joyce

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