The thrill of being on passage is indescribable. We feel as if we have emerged from a warm, safe cocoon into the vast void. The sky looks different from that of our beautiful anchorage in Nuku Hiva. The stars seem brighter and closer. The many satellites skim across the night sky, blinking their coloured lights and the few rain squalls loom like monsters on the horizon. Dawn appears earlier, it seems, while at sea. From 2am the sky starts to lighten and by 4am the red night lights inside the boat are switched off. Our internal lights have an option for red illumination, this helps our night vision when scanning the horizon regularly for any traffic. During the days that we were at sea, the sun blasted down on us sailing slowly in a very calm ocean, which was a novelty in our time in these waters. The first day we witnessed the formation of a water spout, fortunately way in the distance and travelling away from us. The spout diminished and disappeared after a while and we settled back into our routine. That same day at sunset, Debbie witnessed a double green flash which was the perfect ending to our first day at sea in months. Stephen being colour blind had to be happy with a description.
Good food is an important factor in our lives and this doesn't change when we are at sea. We continue to eat from our everyday china plates, no plastic for us. Several meals are prepared for the first few nights and then we alternate in cooking duties for the rest of the passage, as we do so at anchor. The restaurant on board Amelie is pretty good on passage ranging from Paella, risotto, the odd roast, sometimes duck confit (a Stephen special), lasagne, vegetarian options, grilled meats, stir fries with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, to name a few.
Pakokota in Fakarava was our first port of call. Mathieu installed our lithium ion batteries for us one year ago and had some software updates, so we used the opportunity to revisit our friend and enjoy the beautiful lagoon. No sooner had we made this plan, then a strong NW wind warning was issued. We raised the anchor and sought shelter in the airport anchorage. We ended up having the anchorage to ourselves with the other boats anchored in the Rotoava village anchorage. We were happy with our choice, as we had tried and tested it during Christmas 2019 with far stronger winds for several days. Eventually we returned to the old hunting ground and within a few hours the software updates were completed and the batteries are now working better than ever. Sharing a beer or two with Mathieu is always a pleasure, his quirky sense of humour and catching up on the local news. Beluga was also in “town” and we spent a memorable day with them, starting off with coffee, upgrading to wine and then homemade pizzas and Octopus tapas in the evening. Carola celebrates a special birthday soon after we leave the lagoon, so in true Amelie style a card and balloon was delivered to the birthday girl, together with a beautiful handmade sarong by Annabella from Nuku Hiva.
Time for us to depart for new adventures. Many cruiser friends have raved about Tikehau, a small atoll close to Rangiroa and we had hoped that in 2019 that we would visit this exquisite Polynesian gem with Jasmine & Liam. Time constraints and boat issues ruled out this possibility but with our change of plans, this option was now open to us. We were very excited about this opportunity and programmed Tikehau waypoint into the Furuno and off we set into kind seas, slightly overcast skies and a constant steady wind. A full moon gave us twilight during our night watch and as Stephen remarked “ this type of sailing sells boats”.
We enjoyed a fabulous wind behind the beam sail, with a reefed Yankee and full main sail all the way to Tikehau’s western Tuheiava pass. The final night at sea had thrown a number of squalls at us which drenched the boat but getting closer to dawn we spotted lightning in the distance, a sailor’s nightmare. Amelie and crew were keen to get within the lagoon. We entered the pass with 3kts against us and then, we were hit by yet another squall. 32kts of apparent wind, poor visibility and then the lithiums tripped, rendering us with no electronic navigation. Thank god for the navionic's programme on the iPad and the passage through the pass and across the lagoon was uneventful. We laughed about the meaning of the name Tikehau, which means “peaceful landing” in Tuomotuan. The ancient name for this atoll is Porutu-Kai. The atoll is oval shaped and measures 27km in length, width 19 km, lagoon area of 461 square kms and highest point is 8 metres. The atoll consists of two major islands and numerous islets. The first European (allegedly) to visit the atoll was Otto Von Kotzebue, a Russian sailor. The Wilkes Expedition passed by Tikehau in September, 1839. This was an American exploratory and surveying expedition of the Pacific Ocean, from 1838-1842. Tikehau today is a tourist destination with an airport linking the other atolls and Tahiti.
We were welcomed via the radio by Mark and Isabel on Jolly Dogs with a supper invitation which we enthusiastically accepted. We try to welcome sailors into the various bays that we have been anchored in and it was a nice feeling to receive this experience. Our anchorage, planned for a few days was by the Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort on Motu Aua, which is described as “swanky”. The wind blew hard from the NE but our views from Amelie were stunning. White and pink coral beaches, swaying coconut palms and various shades of bright blue waters. A great place to rest after a passage. The stormy weather front appeared to hover over us preventing us from exploring the lagoon. Time was ticking towards Christmas and our rendezvous with our friends.
We read that in 1987, Jacques Cousteau (famous French explorer, co-developed the Aqua-Lung and a marine conservationist) visited Tikehau to study the ecosystems within the lagoon. He was surprised to discover that the Tikehau lagoon was the home for the largest diversity of fish species in the whole of French Polynesia. We were keen to get snorkelling although we had heard that the visibility is not always crystal clear.
Poor weather means Amelie gets a thorough clean inside and one of the projects also happened to be THE pet hate onboard Amelie……cleaning the blinds. Stephen heroically removed the blinds, maintained them and put them back in situ, whilst swearing. Meanwhile Debbie scrubbed the window frames, windows and carefully cleaned the fabric of the blinds. The blinds are totally impractical for cruising except for blocking out fierce sunlight, nosey neighbours and protecting the wood and upholstery within. The company suggests dabbing the mound spots on the blinds……this does absolutely nothing, they obviously haven't lived with them. One day these pesky blinds will be replaced with a user friendly, practical set, until that day, Debbie can occasionally have the odd moan.
After ten days of horrendous weather keeping us on board, the sun came out, blue skies appeared and we lowered the dinghy and took off for the beach. The clear shallow water swishing over the rose coloured coral sand massaged our feet as we waded over the reef towards the angry Pacific Ocean. A tiny black tipped reef shark was very inquisitive but wouldn't behave for the camera. We felt as if we had been set free. There remained a choppy sea within the lagoon but Debbie had been spying a marked shallow patch close to Amelie while boat bound. After our walk, Stephen dropped Debbie off by the shallow marker for snorkelling. The deeper water is not as clear as the shallows near the beach but the experience was worth it. The massive coral head was alive with hundreds of fish of different breeds, darting about due to the human disturbance. Prior to us leaving the anchorage we dinghied over to the site of an old pearl farm, to visit the Manta Ray cleaning station. Our first day we saw plenty of fish who were tolerant of us, a magnificent turtle suspended in our track and a large black tipped reef shark, checking out his territory. This shark had mobile dental hygiene from some yellow and black striped wrasse as he gently glided past us. Alas the rays were elusive. Visitors are always welcome on Amelie, after all we are known as the “party boat”. It was a great pleasure to see Susan and Brian from S/V SeaRose again. We first became acquainted with this lovely couple in Nuku Hiva, Susan with her hearty laugh and Brian’s gentleness. Socially distancing we enjoyed chats from the dinghies and a happy hour on board SeaRose. We snorkelled as a foursome close to our boats in rough seas, although the visibility was okay, the coral was dead and very few fish in our vicinity. In the shallows we enjoyed chatting with the lusty wind pummelling us and the water like a warm bath. It’s amazing how prudish some of us Brits are but we happily enjoy activities and a beer, wearing next to nothing, sometimes with complete strangers!
Our last day in the atoll was spent with Susan and Brian at the Manta Ray cleaning station. The SE wind had blown hard all night and the lagoon was rougher. Nevertheless in two dinghies we ventured over to the Manta Ray site. Soon after we arrived the tourist boats started to appear, so we swam hard in the breaking waves to find large coral heads where the cleaning happens. We were rewarded by the sighting of a large Manta Ray repeatedly circling and hovering over a huge head. Attached to its underside was a Remora and frantically cleaning on its upper side was a tiny wrasse. The giant did not appear to be bothered by us but we gave it some space. The cephalic fins were shining like an expensive iridescent shellac, the downward slant of the Manta’s mouth did not make it look unhappy, simply content and enjoying this underwater spa treatment. The view so close up was completely hypnotic with the Ray displaying slow mesmerising wing movements, gently gliding through the water. It was with a great effort that we forced our way back to the dinghy. We followed up this wonderful experience with coffee and cake back on Amelie, baked by Susan, quickly followed by beer o’clock. This lovely couple have been living their lives on the ocean since 1988 and we wished we had more time to listen to their amazing experiences but we had a weather window the following day to move on for Christmas.
Our visit to Tikehau has been hampered by bad weather, so we haven't visited any other anchorages or sites of interest. What we have seen has been beautiful, the colours of the lagoon are far more vibrant than some of the other atolls that we have explored. Tiny motus with a variety of trees and bushes, masses of seabirds, some with derelict buildings and some with living quarters add to the magnificence of this place. It still amazes us that a shallow and at times narrow reef keeps the vast, powerful Pacific out of these atolls but in such a harsh environment, there is so much life not only in the water but on the breaths of sandy mounds, cropping up here and there. Tikehau…….a small atoll with a huge heart.
We do not like deadlines with sailing as you can make horrendous mistakes and “cut corners” just to get somewhere on time! Our philosophy is give yourself plenty of time, use the favourable weather windows and most of all stay safe, even if you are delayed. The first favourable weather window allowed us to up anchor and sail to Raiatea spending two nights at sea and entering the pass mid morning. Sophrosyne, a few years ago introduced us to a great anchorage only a mile from Uturoa, a short dinghy ride to the magnificent provisioning on offer in this bustling town. Within a few days we were provisioned to the gunnels with mouthwatering treats, restocked our freezer, ‘fridge, beer and wine supplies and then we went Christmas stocking shopping. El Mundo arrived after an overnight sail from Papeete, Tahiti and then Christmas began.
We motored to the anchorage by Motu Tautau, where the famous coral garden is located. Debbie was celebrating her sixtieth birthday on Christmas Eve and we planned to have lunch in La Plage restaurant at the resort. During the OWR, we had enjoyed a few lunches there with the Babes and a few others and we wanted to return. Shoes were not required and we were greeted by a heavily tattooed Polynesian gentleman serenading us, strumming on his ukulele and guiding us to the reception. His earlobes were pierced and in one lobe, he carried a small vial of Rum, for his Christmas tipple. The various Christmas trees were designed using coconut husks, the presents under the tree were wrapped in tree bark and the sight and aroma of the many floral displays was magnificent. The boardwalk that took us to our table meandered around the beach, giving different views of the lagoon. Finally we were seated in the shade with our feet in the sand and enjoyed a leisurely meal, every dish a piece of edible art, the service was attentive without being overpowering and lots of smiles. Tinged with sadness that Debbie couldn't join with Jaz, Jon and Liam for the festivities as planned, their phone call made the day very special, lots of banter and laughter, as normal.
The following day after our flurry of calls to the UK we entertained El Mundo with a typical British Christmas feast minus the crackers, mince pies,brussel sprouts and Christmas pudding. We spent the next few days eating and drinking with the highlight being a full moon party on the beach, barbecuing fresh swordfish gifted by another boat and swimming in the warm, shallow waters in the moonlight. The weather turned soon after this with thunder and lightning, strong gusts and monsoon like rains. Once again, we waited for a weather window and although the sun was seldom seen, we had a fast, comfortable sail to Bora Bora. Our friends from Nuku Hiva who we hoped to see over the coming days, suggested a route to the south eastern part of the lagoon. Following El Mundo and Debbie elevated on the front of the boat, we slowly mooched through the shallows towards the anchorage. At times the depth under the keel was a “breath holder” and the coral heads looked closer than they were. The skipper likes the first mate to point away from the hazard, to a safer route and at one point during this trip, Debbie asked the skipper to turn sharply to avoid a “bommie”, which turned out to be an Eagle Ray! Safely anchored proved to be a relief to the eye muscles, brain and we both let out a huge sigh. It was New Year's Eve and we were celebrating on El Mundo, watching the various firework displays from the resorts dotted around on their private motus. Magical with the backdrop of the dark, stormy skies and luckily no rain.
The following day we organised an impromptu feeding frenzy and get together on Amelie, inviting our good friends from Nuku Hiva and El Mundo. What a great day, the excitement of meeting up after seven months, gravitating back in the comfort of our friendship, laughter, stories and naturally a catch up on all the gossip that we had saved for this day. It was as if we hadn't ever been apart. One of the youngsters gave Debbie a big hug and said “its like we've come home”, what an accolade and coming from this guy, it meant a lot.
Normality, if there is any on Amelie, had to resume at some stage and most of the anchorage went back to their boat chores, helping others, laundry, shopping etc. The next few months are going to be busy ones, getting Amelie prepared for her long passage and the crew getting mentally and physically ready for the trip.
2021 feels as if it is going to be another good year for us.
Happy New Year from the Amelies.