Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Tuamotus

We felt like we'd found the pot of gold - The Tuamotus are the South Pacific as we had dreamed.  We spent 6 weeks, visited 5 atolls and snorkeled pretty much every day. 

Typical motus (islands), scattered along the encircling reef of the atoll. The lagoons enclosed by the reef are much larger than we had visualized; as much as 30 miles x 10 miles in area.

The lagoons are generally 20 to 40 meters deep but dotted with numerous coral pillars (bommies) rising to the surface. Or often just under, which makes them very difficult to see. Good light and a sharp lookout are required!

In company with our Aussie friends on "Pelagic" we explored dozens of motus.  Most of the time there was no one else within sight.

The cairn that marks the spot where the Kontiki raft ended her voyage from Chile on the reef.  Thor Heyerdahl and crew were safe and proved that the Polynesians could have descended from early South American sailors. Later DNA evidence disproved the theory..

Weekly supply ship being unloaded

A real store!  We were able to find a couple of mangoes and a few potatoes. Too late for the baguettes. Very welcoming - they gave Cathy a frangipani lei.

In search of baguettes and brie. Nice road - all the larger villages have benefited from the French government's investment in infrastructure.  And they are kept very clean.

Hi from down under in the Tuamtous! 

A wet suit makes long, 2 hour snorkels more comfortable. OK we're wusses - the water temperature is 78 - 80 degrees F (26 C) 

Finally, the truley unspoiled, vibrant reefs teeming with more brightly colored fish over healthy corals than we could have imagined.  Sadly, the compressed, repressed and depressed images required for the narrow bandwidth available, seriously diminish the quality of the photos.

  Moorish Idol.  A common but reclusive fish.

A Dot Dash and a Speckled Butterfly fish cross paths.

This Bignose Unicornfish was enjoying our table scraps off the stern of 'Idyll Island'

Neon Chromis cloud the branching corals but slip instantly within when predator or diver approach too closely.

Twin Chromodoris, a 3.5 cm nudibranch which raises and lowers it's mantle (skirt) as it crawls along giving a doubled effect.

Very cute little guy about 1.5 cm

Raccoon Butterflyfish.

Orange Striped filefish

Sixband Wrasse (aka Candy Wrasse)

Chevroned Butterflyfish

Ornate Butterflyfish

Pearl oyster in the wild.

A very friendly pearl farmer gave us a tour of his topside operation.  The oysters are grown on buoyed longlines in the lagoon.  Another hazard for the boater to avoid, but a simple, eco friendly industry for the islanders.

This imported Chinese expert implants a plastic nucleus in the correct part of the oyster to produce a French Polynesian black pearl.  And yes, Cathy couldn't resist a purply-green iridescent pearl pendant.

Tridacna, a smaller cousin to the famed Giant Clam.  This species embeds itself into cracks in the coral. They are prolific on the shallow reefs.  Their mantles are jewel-like iridescent, blues, purples, and greens.

Tridacna settled in the reef surrounded by a stunning bit of coral.

Hermit crab feeding frenzy. These guys are everywhere - we even saw one 6' up in a tree! Here they clean up the remains of a coconut.

Can't quite fly yet but this little branch is getting uncomfortable.  Brown Boobie on shrubby motu.

Rescued by Iris and Graeme as our outboard seized in the pass at Makemo atoll on our way to a dive.  We still did the dive and it was fabulous!  Low, rolling, unending hills of live coral sloping into the depths, with masses of fish darting in and out every which way, other fish forming a 1 m cloud above the coral and larger fish appearing suspended in the transparent water above us.  Truly awe inspiring.  We know about 100 species by now but there are always new ones to look up.  For you Caribbean divers - Paul Humann and Ned Deloach have written guides for Pacific fish and invertebrates - hurray!  The Pacific Ocean is much richer in both numbers and varieties of species than the Atlantic/Caribbean and, they are more colourful.  These authors consider their substantial books as mere starting points for Pacific species identification.

It shrank! Derek running the tiny 3.3hp outboard so generously lent to us by s/v 'CD' when it turned out that our 15hp was not repairable - kept us mobile until we could get to Tahiti.  Thanks Dave and Cris!

Regal Angelfish

Orangespine Surgeonfish

Herd of Yellowfin Goatfish

Whitecheek Surgeonfish

Humphead Wrasse. About 1.5m long and must weigh 50kg. Just cruising slowly through the crystal water. Luckily they are completely docile.

Black Tip Reef Shark. About 1.5m in length. They were constantly cruising the reef.  Not at all aggressive but would always come by to check us out. Though when Derek tried spearfishing and shot a small gouper, 3 of them showed up in about 5 seconds!

Saddled Butterflyfish

Steephead Parrotfish and others, just hanging in the crystal water.

A shy Moray Eel keeping an eye on us.

A tasty little Peacock Grouper. Tasty, but you have to be aware of which atolls are ciguatera free before taking one for dinner. Ciguatera is a neuro-toxin found in some species of algae that is concentrated in the tissues of fish. 

You won't see a unicorn on land, but in the South Pacific, there are herds of unicorn fish roaming the reefs. This is a Spotted Unicornfish.

Just dove the South pass of Fakarava Atoll in the background. We glided through with the current while hundreds of Black Tip, White Tip and Grey Reef Sharks hung over the bottom. The little cafe suspended out over the water sold us their last 2 beers! 

Another deserted motu.

Small but tasty. A Peacock Grouper, one of half a dozen fish Derek caught in 15 minutes off the back of the boat. You want the smaller ones to minimize the risk of ciguatera.

Bastille Day celebrations on Fakarava. A whole morning of coconut based competition. Here the winner is finishing up the 30 coconuts he has opened and extracted the "meat" from - in about 5 minutes!

The winner of the coconut frond weaving competition.  We didn't stay for the second day of coconut sports.

After 6 weeks its time to leave the Tuamotus for the big city of Papeete and the Society Islands. Wish we could have spent another 2 months lost amongst the atolls!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

French Polynesia

The Marquesas

We had some excellent sailing from the Galapagos to the Marquesas.  Here we are doing 11 knots (about 20kph) on a reach with the screecher up. Had done 13.5 the day before - not bad for a fat cat. Wind is about 20 knots, seas 2-3m - difficult to see in the video.

Relaxing at the helm on a night watch.

A day in our life out here: We’re doing 6 hour night watches; Cathy takes 2000 to 0200 and I take 0200 to 0800. That way we get a decent sleep plus we each have an hour or two nap during the day. So far fatigue is not an issue and we’re both feeling good. In the morning, after clearing the decks of any squid and flying fish that have joined us overnight (one night we had 2 dozen of each, but a bit too dried out to be on the menu for breakfast), we do a scheduled radio net with other boats out here and check our SSB email for weather info.  We have breakfast together then I take my morning nap from about 1030-1230. Lunch together, then Cathy lies down for a couple of hours. That’s when I usually throw out the fishing lines; score so far, 2 tuna and 3 mahi – we’ve had as much fish as we want to eat, and there's more in the freezer. Download some more weather info and check satellite email, then dinner together. Last night Cathy did a great mahi-mahi curry! Then its time for Cathy to take her watch and for me to get some sleep. We get into a real rhythm, time just slides by with lot’s of reading (we both have Kindle’s and a friend provided us with 1000+ ebooks), some emails, music, a few boat chores and sailing.

Sailing across the Pacific in the moonlight.

0430 sitting out on the side deck listening to Dark Side of the Moon as I watch the silver bright ¾ moon’s shimmering path on the dark sea ahead of us.  We’re sailing along at 8 knots, the sensuous shape of the full sails shadowed in the moonlight. The wind is blowing from the east at about 15 knots and its 30 degrees warm. I’m sipping on a mug of good coffee and thinking about life, the universe and everything, and how lucky we are to be here.
A band of clouds slides slowly across the moon like a smokey silk scarf and its dark, allowing me to see the stars above and the flashes of luminescence in the black water sliding past the hull.  Man, what’s in that Panamanian coffee…?  Actually it is pretty magic out here. We have about 900 miles left to go of this 3000 mile journey. Its been very good so far.

Landfall - Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas!  We've had a great passage:
Nautical Miles Sailed: 3100 (approx 5500 km)
Elapsed Time: 17 days, 4.5 hrs
Amount of time using engines: 20 hrs
Average daily run: 180 nm
Average speed: 7.5 knots (approx 13.5 kph)
Max Speed: 13.5 knots (about 24 kph)
Maximum wind: 28 knots (approx 50 kph)
Largest seas: 4 m
Fish Caught: 2 tuna, 3 mahi-mahi, 1 wahoo (4')
Equipment failures: 0
Best Part: Night watches with full moon, sailing fast on a reach with sparkling waves all around, the rhythm of the days at sea
Worst Part: Steep, confused seas from 3 directions for first week - like a washing machine on "heavy duty cycle"
Number of other boats seen: 2

Fatu Hiva, Hanavave Bay (the Bay of Virgins, originally named the Bay of Phalluses due to the massive rock spires guarding the valley beyond, but the missionaries thought that inappropriate...).  Whatever the name, its a stunning spot. We hiked to a jungle waterfall and swam in the pool beneath until chased out by a large freshwater eel (serpent?). Tried trading for fruit but the men seemed to have cornered the fruit market and only want to trade for alcohol.... Had a great evening aboard a friend's boat with all of us who had sailed across together, some of whom we had only talked to before by shortwave radio on the passage. Saw spinner dolphins and manta rays in the bay.

A tiki welcome to each village

Those hips really sway!

Off for a jungle hike - four boats from as many countries.


 Party on "Sete Mares".  Thanks John and Marie Andree!

Different tikis at each village.
There are churches everywhere, even the smallest village. Some beautiful singing on Sunday mornings.

A family we met at a little village on the north side of Hiva Oa. They were bathing in the rock pool behind them. The woman offered us a big bowl of fresh banana fritters that she had made. Delicious! Note extensive and intricate tattoos on the husband and wife - the norm for adults here.

They also insisted on giving us a stalk of bananas. Kept us going for weeks!

Cathy with a couple of fresh loaves of whole wheat bread she has baked. If you're anchored off a village and get to the boulangerie early (before 0700), you can buy delicious fresh baguettes for only $0.60 a loaf. But whole grains are pretty much impossible to find in the French islands and we are not often near a village.

It was good to get back in the water. Lots of new (to us) fish.  And the corals are amazingly and encouragingly healthy looking, especially compared to what we've seen in the Caribbean. Trumpet fish.

Redfin butterflyfish.

Convict Surgeonfish - often in massive schools.

Blue-lined surgeonfish.

Time to leave the Marquesas and head for the Tuamotus, 450 miles away.  The Tuamotus are a chain of 100s of sparsely inhabited low lying atolls. We plan to be there for over a month so need to stock up on as much fresh fruit and veggies as we can , before leaving the lush Marquesas. We've been told that the best market is at 0430 (that's really early), so we pile into the dinghy in the pitch dark with our friends Iris and Graeme, and go shopping. The picture looks a little out of focus, but so were we....