We left Raroia for the 80 mile overnight trip, hitting slack water perfectly at about 1130hrs. Just as we left the pass, we had an unusual visitor. A big dolphin, swimming upside down started to rub itself on the port bow in an attempt to get rid of two Remora that were determined but obviously unwelcome visitors. It stayed with us for five minutes twisting, turning and bumping. The Remoras simply slipped position whenever it tried to hit them on the hull and as we were obviously no use as a scratching post, it moved off.
After two weeks of flat atoll water, it felt strange to have a sea running again, even the 1m swell we had. As we turned SW on course a front meandered pass and our chance of a simple sail disappeared. 13kts of wind from the E and 4kts boat speed lasted all of 15 minutes. The wind dropped to 5 then 3 then 2kts. We threw the parasail up for an hour and managed a whole 0.8kts SOG before giving in and switching on an engine as the wind moved into the W very briefly then S. It took three hours to flick back E but once it did the main and jib went back up for the ungenerous 8kts we got. We had a slow night but in the end we timed in pretty well. I was surprised to see a lighthouse guiding us in towards the entrance, the first one we have seen in a long time. I think the last one we saw marked the southern point of Haiti and DR. We spotted it at a range of 20 miles as we came around the southern end of Taenga. We arrived at the SE pass of Makemo at slack water but waited an hour for some proper light and were carried in by a current of around 4kts. There were a few standing waves as we went past the large, white painted but unlit leading marks, but nothing worrisome.
We decided to use the excellent village pier which is free to use and initially tied up where the ferry would come in before moving to a med style mooring further in as the onshore wind increased. A Swedish catamaran, Alexander, choose to anchor behind the pier and had a very nervous night as the SSE wind picked up to 30kts in gusts with just 30m of water behind them before they would be on the reef. They all looked tired when we met them ashore in the morning having had to do a double anchor watch. I slept beautifully.
ZigZag joined us the next morning. They had spent the extra day in Raroia trying to fix their watermaker. Sadly the patch Georg had tried couldn’t take the pressure and it had burst again. Their only solution is to buy a new pressure vessel which they think they should be able to get in NZ. We parked up together. With the wind howling and our wind generator trying to take off, there was no problem with power and our watermaker went on for some long runs to get them filled up as much as we could. To save us the heavy lifting, we organised our own “ferry” to take water containers back and forward. It worked well!
We waited three days for the reinforced trades to depart, safely tied on to one of the best piers we have seen, sitting in crystal clear water with lots of fish around. The water is a little colder here and it may be that reason that the reef seems far healthier than those we have seen so far. It was a bit like swimming in a fish tank. Georg and I both had a quick go at ridding ourselves of some growth on the hulls. Skylark was pleasantly clear with just a few barnacles on the rudders. The hulls have a little slime on them – nothing to worry about – although the primer is showing through the antifouling in a lot of places. I hoped it would last a little more than 6500Nm which is mileage we have done since we left Grenada nine months ago. Next time around, I’ll choose a hard paint or even better, an epoxy coppercoat……..
The girls had a great time rollerblading around, swimming and playing with the local kids, both Polynesian and French, the sons and daughters of the atoll’s doctor and nurse, newly arrived on the island for a two year posting. There was time for baking with licking the bowl out, as always, being one of the more popular activities.
The main village of the island is Pouheva, on the N side of the pass. It has a population of less than 300 which jumps to over 400 during school term times as it hosts the main school for the surrounding islands and the kids board. By size and population, it is one of the biggest atolls and it is used as one of the central hubs within the islands, Hao, Gambier, Rangiroa and Fakarava being the others. It is one of the few islands in the Tuamotus with a doctor appointed to it who is there to cover for the school and the surrounding islands as well.
We have been surprised and pleased at the shopping here. There is a proper boulangerie (bread available from 0900hrs on a Mon and Fri, 0530hrs the rest of the week including 0530-0700 on Sun) and a large shop which is an Uig size store, about half the size of the big Marquesas ones but very proud of the three shopping trolleys stored by the door. Both are reasonably stocked and have the normal range of red label goods. We even found green peppers and a cauliflower in the store and the boat hasn’t been here for nearly two weeks! They are close together at the W end of the village and are about a 10 minute walk from the pier. The big store has a restaurant beside it with a menu of fish and steak. There are another two shops, one right by the pier which has a far smaller stock and offers an expensive laundry service, and “Chez Flo”, opposite the church which has even less but which does have a small kitchen dinner and does single recipe dinners for 1000XFP a head. Although it is popular with the locals, we didn’t try it.
The village has a bit of money in it, copra being the mainstay industry but with a couple of fledgling pearl farms and I suspect, excellent French subsidies. All the garden walls are painted purple and white, houses are in good nick, there are solar powered streetlights throughout the village and people appear busy. They are also very friendly with everyone passing giving a “Bonjour” and a smile. Their friendly nature and willingness to interact made me think of the people at Spanish Wells in the Bahamas. There are a few cars on the very flat concrete roads but most people use bikes or tricycles to get around. Mia fitted in well with her little balance bike and attracted a few smiles. The speed limit is a whole 15kph – which of course gives everyone the chance to be sociable as they drive on by. The only down side is that all the dogs here seem to be big mastiff/pitbull crosses which are a little off putting.
We stayed one extra day to see a church procession walked around the village. The town boasts the largest church we have seen in French Polynesia and in some of the guide books, it is talked about as a cathedral. It is certainly impressive and as always in the islands, with religion taken seriously here, the church is a focal point for the locals. Georg and Irene, both of whom describe themselves as lapsed Catholics, were interested to watch a ceremony that both had been part of as kids back in Germany. Even though the service was all in Polynesian, Georg was able to tell us the individual prayers at each of the six procession stops around the village.
Having coped with the excitement of the procession and had a good explore of the village, we finished the day with sundowners and crisps by the lighthouse before moving back for dinner aboard ZigZag.
After loading up with bread and milk, we headed down to the SE corner of the atoll. Once you get within a couple of miles of the end of the atoll, the number of small bombies increases to the point I felt we were slaloming around them. You need to keep the speed down, go in the late morning to get best light and have a very good look out. Most would not be dangerous to us with our 1.2m draft but the odd one would have stopped us cold. We anchored in 20’ at 16 23.42S 143 23.64W and buoyed the anchor for the first time. We had to change the floats around to get the chain off the ground and I think we will need more buoyancy on the first float going forward. However, our first night had us turning as a front went over us and we woke unwrapped and pleased with ourselves. We made sure that we kept a good look out on the anchor, checking it daily to ensure a good hold and that we were doing no damage to any coral as we swung.
ZigZag’s luck continued to be rotten. On the way down to our new anchorage, their auto pilot and anemometer both decided to roll over and die. Georg and I had a morning of taking the autopilot apart, checking connections and we had Eleanor up the mast cutting some fishing line inexplicably caught around the spinner. Although we got wind measurements back, the autopilot failed to spark. Raymarine 6001+ spare anyone? Their saving grace is that they have a windvane steering system so they will survive as long as there is wind. We managed a few days exploring the motu we were anchored off, playing in the shallow warm water behind the reef. The girls enjoyed more babysitting duties, looking after the smalls.
We were visited a couple of times by pie eyed locals down maintaining the coconut groves and drinking homemade coconut hooch, presenting us with fresh coconuts each time. We reciprocated with some yogurt cakes that we dropped off with them. Copra is still the major source of income here and the undergrowth in the groves is cleared out to maximise the trees output. It also means very few bugs which means a beach day is a very pleasant affair.
With the wind scheduled to increase and their need to move on quicker than us, ZigZag left us on the day of the full moon to run up to Kaeuhi. They will spend a few days there before jumping down to Tahiti, hopefully to pick up new equipment to replace what is broken. They left with full water tanks after a final water run and a breakfast on ZigZag to say goodbye. A big thank you to Irene for forward planning a big can of Heinz Baked Beans for us to enjoy, some of the stock she put on nearly two years ago in Germany. Wonderful foresight! There were a few tears from the girls. They have enjoyed having Mia to play with and the chance to haul out lots of Barbies, something they haven’t done for a while. Hannah gave Mia her Princess pink fishing rod and we hope that it will have been a success by the next time we see her.
We will be sorry to miss Noah’s first birthday at the end of the month but we enjoyed watching his first steps outside the Mayor’s office in the village. By the time we next see ZigZag, in NZ in November, he will be truly off and running. I’ll also be missing Noah shouting across to Skylark, wanting a conversation with us each morning. It was always a good excuse to go across and enjoy a cup of coffee. And yes, the water is that colour here before I get accused of photo-shopping!
We had a few more days of strong wind and we were glad to be behind the reef as it looked distinctly unpleasant outside. The underlying swell in this part of the Pacific seems to be about 1.5-1.8m in height. Reinforced trades when a front comes through (20-25kts rather the normal 12-18kts) will quickly build that and this was about 3m. The most we have seen inside an atoll was a short 1m sea on a long fetch from the W which lasted an hour. Most of the time it is less than 15cm. What we have noticed is with the constant trade wind having a southerly component, whistling up from the Southern Ocean, the air temperature feels far colder than in the Marquesas. Our jug showers are done out of the wind, we have moved inside for our evening meal and bedtime includes PJs and blankets again. Of course, the temperature doesn’t drop below about 78F but it is all relative. Out of the breeze the sun is as warm as ever, somewhere in the low to mid 90Fs.
The snorkelling at the SE corner of the atoll has been excellent – some of the best we have had. We have stuck to the warm shallows and have finally managed to find areas that aren’t completely covered with young Sea Cucumbers which makes the bottom look as if it is covered with small turds. We have spotted some gorgeous fish. The list of new ones we have seen is impressive and it feels like the Bahamas again. There we were amazed at the number of new fish we saw each time we went into the water. It is even better here. Just today’s list included Exquisite Wrasse, an Achilles Tang, Blue Damsel, Neon Damsel, Pale Tail Chromis and a couple that we are still working at identifying. The number of Giant Clams and amount of hard coral types around has been impressive too.
We have also been joined by some juvenile sharks in the shallows and adults around the bombies in the deeper water around the boat. Sleek and efficient, Hannah doesn’t like them much as they wander in for a look before gracefully disappearing back out of sight. We still haven’t seen anything other than Black Tips. Lou’s and the girl’s legs are in the background. The sharks don’t come any closer than about 3m.
After my birthday on the 23rd (Shona will be pleased to know that although a tube of Smarties didn’t materialise, mush and a BIG can of beans did!) and a last long walk along the edge of the reef, we moved back up to Pouheva to allow us to get some internet and contact with home. Although we are on the other side of the world, we were able to dial in to talk to my parents before their Golden Wedding anniversary party. Although we were sad not to be there to celebrate the momentous day, it was great to catch up with them and Emily. The invitation to family, hopefully passed on by Dad, stands for those that want to visit the exotic Pacific and see places the tourists will never find. Remember we will only be here for a little time next year before we head home. Send us a mail and we will tell you where we will be.
There has been a certain amount of grooming going on. My hair poses no problems these days; No2 all over, minimal effort and quickly done. Lou’s on the other hand, has been suffering as there are no other women to trust with the scissors. Her proper last hair do was by Jennie from So What, so long ago in Saint Martin. In the end, Hannah got to attack the back and take a bit off and then I got to do some styling with the clippers. Lou seems pleased with both our attempts but then she can’t see the back since the girls broke the one hand mirror we had on board!
We stayed at Pouheva for another few days as we realised that if we wanted to be organised for New Zealand, we had to start planning ahead. Both girls need new passports and so internet applications were made out. We still need to send in new photographs and finding somewhere to take correct ones may be difficult. My new driving licence has been ordered. I don’t think Lou has any wish to drive all the time in NZ and fixed that without me even asking for it. We are also looking at doing some volunteer work, staying with a family outside Auckland and working on a farm. Something different!
We found that in our absence, hiding down in the SE corner of the atoll, civilisation in the shape of a brand new ATM had arrived and been installed by the Post Office. This is a very big deal as it makes it one of few atolls (we think three or maybe four, spread over the whole of the Tuamotus) to have one. It will be a point in their favour in attracting more of next year’s boats travelling through looking to replenish funds.
As we have readied ourselves to move on, we have been having fun with all the fish surrounding us back on dock. Drop a few crumbs of bread and you end up with schools of fish appearing. Every time I see one of these unicorn fish, I have flash backs but can’t make up my mind if they are from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life or one of the weirder Beatles videos. Someone put me right please!
We have loved Makemo and the mix that this atoll offers. The people of the village are happy and welcoming, our ability to reprovision with more than just the very basics was a pleasant surprise and the solitude offered in the SE corner of the atoll is glorious. And the water, crystal.