Leaving our friends in Tahiti we decided to anchor overnight near Pointe Venus, a calm, settled anchorage, resting before the two and a half days beat to Fakarava. Moving swiftly on we arrived in Fakarava via the Garuae (north) pass and anchored for a few days by the Pufana reef. A magical setting with the uninterrupted sunsets and the anchorage mainly to ourselves; peace and quiet for resting after a lively passage. Eventually we decided to return to civilisation and motored to the anchorage outside the main village of Rotoava, where we provisioned, socialised and awaited the arrival of Jaz and Liam.
The excitement was palpable on board Amelie. The flurry of preparation and cleaning was constant and then the best news of all……they had managed to get an earlier flight from Tahiti at no additional charge. We welcomed them, helped by Stephanie from Fakarava Yacht Services, with a couple of hand crafted Leis, croissants and then snorkelling.
Jaz had already celebrated her birthday in the UK but we were keen to continue the party. Baking is not something Debbie enjoys doing so a “No bake lemon cream pie” seemed like a good idea for Jaz’s birthday cake. Firstly Jaz had to rectify the base and then ended up making it. Unfortunately the skipper wasn't complimentary about it, saying it tasted like a bar of Dove soap and Liam was relieved he didn't have to eat it out of politeness. The Remoras attacked the slop as it was launched overboard and various comments were made about the after effects! The following three and a half weeks was spent mainly in the water, beach barbecues, drinking, eating, laughing and catching up on each other's news. Liam hadn't sailed before and we’re proud to report that he took to it like a duck to water.
We spent the first part of their holiday sailing in the Fakarava lagoon, finding wonderful anchorages, kayaking, walking and discovering the underwater world. The south pass was unbelievable and we snorkelled it several times, enjoying Jaz and Liam’s reaction to the diversity and health of the marine life. Jaz quickly got over her reticence of sharks and at one time was surrounded by Black and White tipped reef sharks. The Moray Eels decided to make an appearance together with tons of Groupers, apparently congregating for their spawning at the South pass in July.
Whilst in Hirifa and walking on the sand spit with the local dogs, we discovered an old derelict building with ancient ornate black coral gravestones. Further down the spit outside Eliza’s place, piglets were scurrying about, trying to chew Jaz’s reef shoes, with one of the adult hogs wallowing in the surf. The dogs didn't know whether to play with or chase the piglets. Our next snorkelling adventure saw Jaz upside down over the dinghy, still attached by her swimming costume. Mum’s poor needlework skills were retained to ensure Jaz’s future dignity. Later in the holiday, Liam sustained a lump on his head from accidentally coming into contact with the davits whilst trying to “bomb” Jaz. Poor devil didn't get much sympathy as we were laughing so much.
It was time to take Liam out into the Pacific and we had a wonderful sail to Toau, entering the lagoon via the Otugi pass in the east. Calm waters allowed Jaz to master the SUP and although the snorkelling wasn't the best, it was fabulous to be in the water. Leaving Toau was a different experience. We left early in the morning to get to Apataki during the daylight using the Otugi pass again. A totally different animal with huge breaking waves and at one point Amelie turned into a submarine, with water up to our knees in the cockpit. Thank goodness Debbie keeps the cockpit drains, debris free and checks the drainage flow regularly as the cockpit emptied quickly. Liam’s reaction was classic, he wanted to repeat it. I'm afraid the reaction from one of the crew members was unrepeatable. Laughing hysterically we once again realised what a truly brilliant boat we have. Debbie managed to do some acrobatics without the excuse of massive waves, just sheer clumsiness. Luckily Stephen and Jaz managed to pull her upright without further disaster. Another “Debbie Moment” (ask the kids). Stephen found Toau boring but the rest of us thought it was beautiful.
Apataki was the surprise. During a party last year, we met a family who raved about Apataki so we thought we'd experience it ourselves. The four of us were bowled over by its beauty, the bustling activity of the pearl farmers and the various colonial buildings dotted around the village of Niutahi on the south west Pakaka pass. We needed to use our eyes for navigating across the lagoons, not only for reefs but the many oyster farm buoys, some of which are submerged. We ended up anchoring behind a motu with amazing snorkelling. The various types of Parrot fish, many nesting Picasso Triggerfish and the icing on the cake, a Day Octopus, patrolling a coral head, slithering across the apex, keeping its huge beady eyes on us, eventually descending into a hole in the coral, changing colour whilst doing so. The only way to identify it afterwards were the eyes, blinking away. The movement of this huge creature was hypnotising and its smooth colour transition without any sharp changes was magical. Debbie had spent over a year trying to find an Octopus, looking out for its “dirty dishes” (discarded clam shells) suggesting its lair.
Jaz and Debbie in “M” travelled across the lagoon to explore Niutahi, what a pleasure. A tidy, clean village with beautiful gardens, bursting with colour and fragrance from different types of Gardenia. Recycling was active here with every residence having wire baskets attached to posts for various discarded waste. The residents cheerily greeted us, with some returning to say “Hello” again. Very few cars were seen in the village, most people were cycling on tricycles with huge baskets for their daily shopping.
The next anchorage along the north was a disappointment as the water visibility was poor but we were closer to the northern Tehere pass, to allow us to exit Apataki. Our overnight sail to Rangiroa was beautiful & fast, we entered by the Tiputa pass early in the morning, travelling past the Motu Nuhi Nuhi and anchoring in the bay outside the Kia Ora hotel. The village was close by with a solid dock and the best provisions that we've come across in the atolls. We later found out this was due to the many supply ships and numerous daily flights from Tahiti. The high schools/colleges here teach many students from the other atolls.
Jaz and Debbie spent a lazy hour at Josephine's with her orange plastic thrones and Art Deco surroundings overlooking the pass, watching for the dancing dolphins. Unfortunately we were disappointed by their absence but the glass of Sauvignon Blanc was chilled, dry and in a proper glass! Stephen and Debbie returned several times and witnessed the famous dolphins playing in the waves. It appeared to us, the choppier the water, the more the dolphins entertained us on the shore. Towards the end of our stay we ventured out in “M” and were thrilled to see the Dolphins.
The natural “Aquarium” close to the anchorage was a delight with a “Bonaire-type” buoy-age system for dinghy mooring, to protect the healthy coral. The four of us returned many times to snorkel this area. We saw a huge diversity of marine creatures with Jaz and Stephen sighting a large Moray Eel travelling between lairs. The Titan Trigger fish were in large numbers and several species of Pilot fish surrounded us. Parrot fish came in all sizes, colours and shapes. The Coronet fish were camouflaged amongst shoals of smaller fish, hunting stealthily amongst their numbers. Diving in this area was fantastic despite being a shallow dive.
Hiring bicycles on this atoll was cheap and a great way to travel from pass to pass, with views of the lagoon on one side and the lively Pacific on the other. Debbie had trouble with the brakes on the French bikes……..back pedalling to stop on the left pedal. Several times an undignified dismounting caused hysterics in the rest of the party. A few miles along the road, the airport runway extends along the ocean side with a very smart arrivals/departure lounge open to the elements. Further down the cement road artisans were selling their local island handicrafts together with the black pearls. Our lunch stop at a Raira Lagon hotel was much needed, fabulous service from a friendly Polynesian lady, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch and sampled the very quaffable Coral Rose wine. It is claimed that Rangiroa is the only atoll in the Tuamotus that grows grapevines and produces wine. The ice cream sundaes were very tempting but alas we were too late in ordering. Apart from Papeete in Tahiti, French Polynesia magasins close down for lunch, kitchens stop producing at set times and there are very few bars near the beaches. Island/atoll time is slow, nothing happens in a hurry but businesses are dominated by the clock.
Liam celebrated his birthday on board Amelie with pre birthday cocktails at the Kia Ora resort across the water. The resort is beautiful but the tepid welcome discouraged us from returning during our stay. Birthday boy had sun, snorkelling, homemade cinnamon buns (obviously not baked by Debbie) for breakfast, lovingly made by Jaz and a huge barbecue in the evening. Partying went on late, a lot of alcohol was consumed, dancing and singing to some golden oldies and Dobby didn't do the dishes! We all got “Amelie'd”. The following day was a quiet, restful one with a visit from our friend, Christian on Gizmo. Hair of the dog does work!
Far too quickly it was time to say goodbye to the younger crew. Tears flowed as always but hopefully they enjoyed their time with us as much as we did with them. Amelie became quiet but very soon Stephen was out scouting, inviting other cruisers over to Amelie. Once again we have met some interesting, like minded people with stories of their own, enjoying their boats hailing from all over the globe.
One of the highlights was lunching at Chez Lili, a sassy Madagascan lady who can cook like a dream, producing perfectly cooked fish and succulent chicken curries. The wine bottle is presented in a glitzy, stiletto shoe with Lili, sashaying around the tables checking on her clients, clearing the tables and flashing her electric smile.
Whilst the weather has been unpredictable…….torrential rain and slow moving fronts leaving the skies overcast but the heat remains, we have to take any opportunity to swim, snorkel and trips ashore, dodging the vast muddy puddles on the land. The only bonus is that Amelie is clean.
Meanwhile Amelie developed a few issues and it was necessary to stay put……we’re not complaining. The WIFI in Rangiroa is 2G therefore communications are generally poor and the marine industry is non existent here. Luckily Laurent from PYS has helped enormously with Eddie in the UK being a huge support. We are anchored securely, afloat, fridge and freezer full, cold beer and wine, Whatsapp messaging is working……..what more can you want?
The weather eventually allowed us to drift snorkel the Tiputa pass which was not what we expected. Unlike Fakarava, the coral is in bad shape but we did witness a couple of large Moray Eels transiting from one lair to another and a huge Eagle Ray gliding beneath us.
Once we had a favourable weather window and boat parts were collected from the airport and stowed on board, we left Rangiroa at dawn and enjoyed a beautiful sail back to Fakarava. This time it was for boat work at Pakokota. Mathieu at Pakokota Yacht Services is without doubt one of the best marine engineers we have met. He speaks great English, extremely funny, shares wonderful stories and successfully installed our windlass gearbox and motor within a few hours. His wife, Agnes runs a provisioning service every Wednesday, so we made the most of that, enjoying the 17 km drive along the sandy road, overlooking the Pacific. Agnes also introduced us to a new magasin out of town which sells amazing produce and different from the town supplies. Mathieu's neighbour grows fresh vegetables, which he sells to cruisers when he has excess. Another neighbour sells the best honey we have tasted. Hives dot his land, with the bees using nectar from the palm flower to produce dark, sticky honey. During our time in Pakokota we had a long awaited wifi booster installed on Amelie and this has transformed our internet needs, well this is Debbie’s version for the Skipper it was neither long-awaited or welcome - more IT headaches to come!. A fellow cruiser, Paul, solved a six and a half year old issue with our leaking galley tap without reducing the galley to rubble. The last two chores made an extremely happy wife. Paul and his family are now lifelong friends!
Mathieu persuaded us to replace our lead acid batteries with far more efficient lithium ion batteries with an associated inverter/charger combo. He will be installing them later in the summer and as we're an ‘electric’ boat, this will help with reducing our dependency on the generator. We will be able to use a new 5 kw inverter to power the AC systems which currently require us to run the generator. Ultimately if the generator fails during our long passages, then we can still cook but most importantly make water, charging batteries with either the main engine or Wally. Diesel consumption will be lowered, so the long term view is safer and more cost and energy effective.
Pakokota is busy but very sociable. We had a constant stream of visitors on board from all parts of the world and Mathieu was the gelling agent between us. Agnes is renowned throughout the cruising world for her wonderful suppers and we managed to enjoy an evening ashore with a lovely couple from “Let It Be”, guests of Pakokota Lodge and Mathieu and Agnes’s family. The supper reminded Debbie of her time in Amish country where the meals are taken “family style”, sharing various dishes with others at the table. Agnes had cooked for an army and her fare with limited products (together with looking after a toddler) was a well awaited treat.
Pakokota appears to have a constant transient flow of boats with dinghies flying around the anchorage. Meeting new people has always been a pleasure of ours and is one of the reasons why we stay longer in a place. Stephen is the braver one hailing anyone drifting by, often with the promise of one of his coffees or at certain times of the day, a stronger option. Debbie is slightly more cautious but after a short time relaxes with the many friendly, open people that we have met. One such time we were invited to a 40th birthday party aboard a beautiful catamaran. Our South African hosts were Anne-Marie the birthday girl and Mark. The birthday was a multi cultural get together with a group of South Africans, Kiwis, Texans, Germans and us. Stephen arrived in his James Bond tuxedo holding a bunch of balloons, this certainly broke the ice! We partied into the small hours, Springbok shots, fabulous snacks produced by the various boats and constant laughter rang throughout the anchorage. Long tales were shared often lengthened by the laughter of the storyteller. The following day was a much quieter one but the party scene picked up again after a few days.
Typically we had to drag ourselves away from this happy anchorage so that we could do an overnight sail to Ahe.
Before we met, individually we had a dream of sailing around the world and staying in beautiful places, living aboard a boat. This wish has come true for us and continues to astonish and amaze us that we are living the dream. Further more we both love reading the beautifully written books by Bernard Moitessier, a French ecologist, writer and one of the famous sailors that took part in the first solo non-stop race around the world….the Golden Globe, 1968-1969. He sent his reports for publication during the race, via slingshot onto decks of passing freighters. Moitessier was expected to win but he decided to give up the glory and money to continue half way around the world again, arriving in Tahiti in 1970 and settled in Ahe (1975-1978). He lived on Poro Poro Motu, growing vegetables and fruit and tried to encourage the Ahe inhabitants to shun the expensive materials brought in from Tahiti to build “European” style houses and return to their roots. He suggested everyone should set aside their prejudices and habits and try. The locals called him Tamata which means to try. He ringed his coconut palms with metal sheets to prevent the damage caused by rats eating the coconuts, which effects copra production. He also made his Motu mosquito free by dribbling kerosene down the sand crab holes, reaching the water table. He brought mango and avocado trees to be planted on the atoll and kittens to reduce the rat population but after 18 months he realised that “his foolish generosity and his dream to teach the Paumotus to use their ecology” was pointless. He left the atoll for Moorea, disheartened.
We arrived via the only pass, Tiareroa early in the morning and sailed across the lagoon to anchor in an idyllic anchorage just off the village of Tenukupara, protected by a horseshoe reef. The white sandy holding with obvious coral heads was spectacular, spookily just a few metres from Moitessier’s motu. He must be turning in his grave as on the tiny motus are “European” constructed dwellings.
We met a young Belgian family living this dream who gave us valuable advice about the atoll and it’s many characters. They shared a Coconut Crab with us, stocking our ‘fridge with fresh coconuts and offering us a batch of passionfruit, plucked from a tree near the school. The way of life in Ahe is predominantly Paumotu, fishing in the early morning, canoeing later in the afternoon and making time to stop and speak to friends along the sandy streets. Sitting on Amelie we watched several dogs at low tide, strutting across the exposed spit to catch fish to eat. Apparently this is a common sight in Ahe. The two shops are heavily stocked with canned goods, mainly tinned fruit, mackerel in tomato sauce and corned beef. Fresh vegetables and fruit are ordered a week in advance from the supply boat coming to the wharf and has been the most expensive box of fresh items we have ever bought. The whole village greets the supply boat and many dinghies from outlying motus make their journey across the lagoon to collect their orders.
Stephen helped a stranded fisherman to get to calmer, shallow waters and was rewarded with a huge side of fish for his rescue. Another day a guy in his boat pulled alongside offering to sell us trays of eggs. Allegedly he is the most successful spear hunter on the atoll. Everyone waves as they pass Amelie, flashing huge smiles. Wifi here is poor if not non existent despite having all the paraphernalia on shore. Ahe have been waiting three months for an engineer to connect two things together. This has been typical of our experience in the Tuamotus, everything happens slowly, with equipment installed and not working due to a license not being issued or in Ahe’s case, a recognised human being plugging two things together! The other issue is the lack of maintenance of various life enhancers on the atolls. The solar farm on Ahe has been poorly maintained since its build and recently had thousands of dollars invested in it again. We saw this in Makemo with their disintegrating wind farm and many new buildings are left unfinished and left to deteriorate.
The strong winds abated allowing us to traverse the atoll following channel markers and tied up to a buoy just off the Cocoperle Lodge. Mushroom coral heads with their individual ecosystem surrounded us, with the sound of crashing waves filtering through the swaying palms on the shore. The colours of the lagoon changed as the daylight eased into twilight, the subtle lamps of the lodge made shadows on the beach and then we heard the blow of a whale. Close by Amelie we saw the wake and a darkened bulk slithering into the lagoon, giving a last blow before it descended beneath the surface. Over the next few minutes this behaviour repeated until the darkness swallowed up the vision and the noise. Several days later during a sunny morning, the Humpback Whale visited us again but much closer. It glided under “M” and Kitty Kayak and then turned around to swim under Amelie several times. The whale breached within a couple of arm lengths away from us, showing its barnacled tail fin and curved dorsal fin before blowing and then fluking it’s tail as it dived. A thrilling sight and probably our closest encounter of this magnificent beast. Later in our stay Debbie saw a lone Manta Ray under Amelie, somersaulting off into the depths. Stephen’s distance vision is poor when the water quality is not perfect, unfortunately he couldn't make out the Manta.
The atoll has the last remaining primary forest in the Tuamotus on Motu Manu, just over a mile from our mooring, an ideal kayak trip. We followed the coastline towards the islet, avoiding submerged coral heads with colourful fish darting between the rocky dangers. Our visual senses were overloaded by the many hues of the lagoon and the beauty of the white beaches, shadowed by waving palms and the odd traditional fare with dogs barking and the occupants stopping to wave. Eventually we found the “landing strip” for kayaks and dinghies and beached Kitty. All around us were trees and squawking birds with a well trodden pathway leading us into the ancient forest. Looking up Boobies, Terns and Noddies were chatting away, busily tending to their compact nests and telling us off for being in their vicinity. We walked slowly through this magnificent wooded area, astounded about the variety of trees growing on a dry, coral islet, including the imposing Pisonia Grandis with it’s huge gnarled trunk, piercing the leafy canopy above and dazzling us with filtered sunlight. We returned with our decent camera and “Happy Hour” drinks and sat on the sandy beach and watched a Tahitian Stingray forage in the shallows, afterwards we walked the footpath, capturing the birds and their nests in sunny splendour. Ahe is full of surprises and our expectations of this tiny atoll have been exceeded in every way.
Cocoperle Lodge is owned by Frank and Jeanine, offering traditional residences on a soft white beach. Frank is front of house with his dazzling smile and friendly character, a well read tour guide for the atoll, while Jeanine is behind the scenes preparing mouth watering dishes with beautiful floral touches. The drift wood art and sculptures around the Motu are an example of Jeanine’s artistic talent together with the elaborate shell and coral displays on the veranda and in the dining area. They grow most of their fruit and vegetables behind the Lodge and catch fish in the lagoon and the pass. Despite not being residents at the Lodge we were given freedom to use the beach and hao plus Frank gave us lots of advice on where to explore. Leaving the mooring we were presented with a bag of vegetables from their garden and a homemade Brioche. Their kind hearted attitude towards us was an unexpected pleasure.
We travelled across the lagoon warily to visit another character in the lagoon, Bernard Moitessier’s friend, Patrick at his pearl farm. Patrick is a slight, sprightly, elderly man with a puff of white hair which is caught up in a man bun. He has passionate theories of everything, sometimes conspiratorial and mostly unique. We wanted to hear about Moitessier from his lips but he wasn’t forthcoming. We were hoping to enjoy supper with him as stated in some of the literature we had read but he refuses to feed cruisers anymore. Why……we didn't get to the bottom of that one! Despite this he was very sweet to us, sending out a couple of guys to help us moor up to his gigantic buoy close to his oyster buoys and then sitting us down in his open air sitting room for a chat. He refused money for the buoy but instead showed us some of the pearl creations in his studio. Thankfully supper was not an option as the state of cleanliness was poor and very smelly. Patrick relies on people working on his run down pearl farm for food and “lodging” and states that he only employs one person. We had tried to visit Patrick earlier in our time in Ahe but the wind direction was not favourable to us. The wind needs to be north of east to allow for a settled and safe mooring here. The next morning the wind had turned unfavourable and we released the mooring lines quickly to get out of the developing chop and headed back to the settled natural harbour off the village, ready to explore the much talked about inner lagoon near by. The inner lagoon was a huge disappointment, dead coral, murky water and few fish..
This location would be our last before leaving Ahe to travel back to Tahiti for our annual visit to the UK and also to catch up with friends, particularly Jaye and Irwin, who to us, are known as the “Intrepid Explorers”. They had just returned from Penryn without an engine, in big swells, strong winds at times and without communications except for their SSB. They remained positive and chirpy throughout and had a massive welcome when they sailed unaided through the pass by Marina Taina.
Our passage from Ahe to Pointe Venus on Tahiti was fast and furious, cold, wet and grey, so we were both relieved and exhausted when we finally anchored in Matavai Bay just before midnight.