Since Scott and I chose to stay one year in French Polynesia, in early April ’23 we headed from the Marquesis directly to the Tuomotus. We sailed Sea Bella from Fatu Hiva, aiming as high on the wind as possible, sailed 3 days and landed in Atoll Amanu, a darling sleepy village which had the youngest Mayor in all of France. Two highlights; the children were so playful and engaging and the small reef in the middle known as Star Island was a colorful dream.
After a few weeks and not much for provisioning, we headed to the atoll Makemo, which also has a quaint happy town. This is our favorite atoll for snorkeling the many coral heads. Their colors and formations are vivid and just so healthy, not to mention the intense blues and purples of the clams. A quick change in weather had us running to a safe anchorage at the most south corner, but the fetch and craggy bommies were still an issue. Some boats’ had their windless’ break and others’ bridles broke, not to mention some lightning damage.
Ready for change, we had an excellent downwind sail to Tahanea with a few boat friends. What an amazing atoll for diving or drift snorkeling all 3 passes. The coral reefs were healthy and such fun to snorkel daily in. Its very important to always note the tides in the passes and snorkel on slack to incoming only. Enjoying the quiet anchorages with just 4-5 boats was pure bliss for us nature lovers, but it’s not for every cruiser since there is no support, village or local people to be seen.
Needing some fresh vegetables and fruit we headed next to the atoll Kaeuhi, which had a tiny market but nothing fresh. We stocked up on canned and frozen goods and found most of the basic essentials. This is typical in these remote islands with only one village of a few hundred locals, maybe 1 market, a bakery and 1 small restaurant. They don’t grow vegetables here because its all sand or rocky coral. A supply boat will come every week or two, but often that is not when you are at the village. Wind shifts occur weekly, possibly making cruisers take cover many miles away from town.
So, although breathtaking, we chose to move on to Fakarava, a well known dive spot of the Tuomotus. We spent 4 weeks at a must see anchorage Hirifa and a must do scuba dive spot at the South Pass. Most cruisers have their own dive gear, and its simple and cheap to refill your tank at the dive shops. Small guided boat dives are also available daily. Hanging out with 30-40 other International cruisers; diving, snorkeling, beach games, bonfires, wind sports all was an excellent time.
Again, needing fresh foods and since we had some lightning damage, we needed marine services in Tahiti, so went to the docks for a month. We found the mechanical services and supplies to be excellent. But, we did not care for Tahiti much, kind of a big city, pricey, very spread out with confusing bus schedules. After provisioning for another 4 months, we stopped over at marvelous Moorea and back to the Tuomotus.
Our first stop was Tikehau for a week, unfortunately it was upwind, so we motorsailed. There are two must see spots, but possibly seasonal. One is a snorkel spot where the graceful reef mantas get their mouths cleaned by little blue fish. The other is an amazing group of thousands of fish just outside the pass. The best advise with finding the special secrets on the Islands is to ask a local, they are thrilled to help or even take you there.
The next atoll on our list was Rangiroa, well known for its excursions. The majestic Blue Lagoon (below) was stunning and a dive with dolphins, who playfully jump in the waves of the passe. Again, we found the people, village, anchorages, beaches all a peaceful delight.
After a few weeks, we sailed upwind to Toau, pleasant, small, and simple. If you glance at a map of the atolls, you will notice they are mostly in a line that follows the trade winds. Good for going NE but more tricky to go SE. If a cruiser is planning on heading back to the Marquesas for storm season (which seems to be the most popular and safest option) route planning and weather watching is a must. Which is exactly why we island hopped back upwind to Fakarava (3 weeks), Tahanea (3 days) Makemo (2 weeks ) and Raroria (1 week).
Overall, these sandy atolls were very similar and we thoroughly enjoyed the slow pace, meeting the locals, swimming daily in 80 degree waters, and communing with the cruisers. Since the sailing season ends in October, it seems that most boats had either hussled on to Fiji or circled back to Marquesis for cyclone season. I learned that you can either cruise slowly or fast through the Tuomotus, but no medium speed due to their remoteness and the strong trade winds.
Boat work in Tahiti :
-Repair Generator (Diodes) (lightning)
-Mast repair (Vang Bracket)
-Replumb boat freshwater system to Pex
-Repair Tohatsu (ignition system)(lightning)
-New Anchor Chain
Whoa! What a two weeks on the dock. Sea Bella went under the microscope and the knife as we needed to address some of the deferred maintenance.
Cruising isn’t all sunsets and cocktails. A good rule of thumb is the maintenance on a cruising boat can cost an average of 10% of the boat value. We got off pretty easy the last two years but we definitely spent some $$s this time.
Some of the items on our list was due to damage we encountered by a lightning strike that happened about a hundred yards from us on shore. Diodes fried in our generator, battery operated fans, B&G wind instruments including the wire in the mast and the ignition coil in the outboard motor, all fried. Crazy as the boat did not take a direct hit.
These are all the items we checked off the list! We even made it to the dentist and dermatologist, all good!
-New Snubber (backup)
-Two new dock lines (2 chaffed through on the concrete dock we were on)
-Oil Change Perkins
-Sand/revarnish Freezer lid
-Spare Genoa Halyard
-Replenish Dyneema reserves
-Anchor Depth markers
-Repair/replace fans (1 lightning)
-Clean/Lube port staysail winch
-New furler for Staysail
-Repair Dinghy Chaps
-New Canvas for forward dodger
-New phone for Kathy (old one didn’t like the saltwater bath)
-Find/repair all deck leaks (about 3-4)
-Rebed 2 cabin port holes (more leaks)
-New Faucet in main galley
-R&R counter top
-Sand/repair varnish hatches
-Repair/replace port water tank level sensor
-R&R multiple wood finish in cabin
-Launder all cushion covers inside and cockpit
-Replace Watermaker timer
-Food Provision for next 6 months
….and dozens of small stuff to small to list
Very interesting creature the Coconut Crab. The one below is a small one, maybe 4 pounds. Imagine an 18 pound Crab! This guy was on a leash for the next days dinner. You have to see and taste one. Delicious flavor. Just travel to the South Pacific, most any Tuomotu Islands and have the local villagers take you on a sunset exploration in search for a Coconut Crab! BBQ it along with a local pig. It has a Lobster flavor! Islands near Tahití, Fiji, Tonga, Bora Bora usually have these creatures climbing the palm trees in search of…you guessed it, Coconuts! Google it for more facts. Wikipedia has some good detail as well.
Kathy here, I did it! Finally I conquered my irrational fear of scuba diving! Yesterday I dove 93 feet! Years ago in college, while in the cold waters of Southern California, I got certified to scuba dive and I hadn’t put a dive tank on in 30 years. My fears hadn’t been of the unknown or scary creatures, it’s been more about breathing and claustrophobia while scuba diving. It became kind of a big “thing”. I have been enjoying snorkeling so much these last few years, I just put it off. Finally I just went for it. A few practice dives under our boat in 20 feet of water and I realized that all is well and to stay focused on the beauty. Well, French Polynesia is the perfect place for scuba diving. So clear, such beauty, I love it! Fakatava South Pass is a famous dive location and Top Dive filled our scuba tanks daily. Most friends back home are amazed at the hundreds of sharks and overwhelming amount of healthy coral! Our scuba diving friends and bloggers on We Sail showed us a cool cave, too. Going back for more today.
Here are a couple of scenes from Fakarava South Pass. We scuba dove daily for 4 weeks. Snorkeling too. Its so beautiful here with 85 degree temperatures and 80 degree waters. July is in the winter months here at about latitude 17 degrees south of the Equator. Rainy season is French Polynesian Summer, but still beautiful and warm. But, look out for Cyclones in December through March in the South Pacific Islands.
But what was really exciting were the SHARKS!!
Tahiti is next. Look for beautiful Island photos and posts about Heiva, the fantastic annual Cultural Festival.