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Tuamotu Islands - Society Islands 21.7. -12.8.2002
updates: 21.7. 28.7. 1.8. 12.8.
The green tops and mountainsides of Marquesas were left behind on Sunday, 14.7., when we headed towards the Tuamotu Islands 500 miles away. We left from Ua Pou, the next island to Nuku Hiva. It was not our intention to visit Ua Pou, but the shifting wind had made the Taiohae bay on Nuku Hiva such a rolly place that sleeping was impossible.
Our route has joined with Cassandra again, where Iiro got crew from Marja, the spouse of Riku, the former skipper who broke his back. Cassandra took an early start on Saturday, but we left on Sunday after visiting a village party including some traditional dance performed by the local school children.
First the sailing conditions were absolutely perfect: Kristiina was making 6-7 knots through the waveless sea, and we made 140 miles in 24-hours. But the two last days were totally calm, the sea was literally covered with oil. Also the everlasting swell had disappeared. It was hard to believe that we were on the largest ocean of the world, and somewhere in the other edge a furious cyclone was spreading destruction. The calm night was unbelievably beautiful, the most beautiful we have ever seen on the sea. The stars and half moon was reflected in the water like in a mirrow, it was another sky around the boat.
On Thursday morning, 18.7., we motored through the passage into the Manihi atoll. The best time for entering an atoll is during or little after slack, preferably on the low tide slack, because then you get the current against, and the speed will not increase too high. The two knots speed we were making in the current was not too bad, because we touched ground just after the passage. A small boat and a snorkeling man in the middle of the channel made us to give way just a bit too much. Inside the lagoon it was easy to see the corals in the clear water.
Tuamotu Islands consist of 78 islands of which about half are populated. Only one, Makatea, is a real island, all the others are atolls. An atoll is a sunken volcano, where only the hard coral reef is left after erosion has eaten the soft volcanic stone. Somewhat circle shape atoll has a lagoon surrounded by various size islands and islets, "motus". In addition to coconut palms, also other trees and vegetation grows on the islets.
The formation of a coral reef is very slow, it rises from 0,5 to 2 meters in a hundred year. It is made of coral polyps, shells and skeletal remains of marine plants and animals.
In French Polynesia there are volcanic islands (Marquesas, Tahiti), barrier reef islands (Bora Bora) and atolls.
Coral begins to grow around a volcanic island, and finally only the coral reef is left
when the soft volcanic stone is washed away by erosion. In the middle a barrier reef island.
Atolls have very different sizes.
The biggest atoll on Tuamotu Islands is Rangiroa, which is the
second largest atoll in the world. The circumference is 100 miles, and the
lagoon is 40 miles long and 17 miles wide - you will not see the other shore.
The lagoon is surrounded by 240 islands and islets, and two passages leads in.
There are about two thousand inhabitants. Although most of the atolls are
societys of just a couple of hundred people, many of them have cars and an
airstrip. The former income sources, copra
and fishing, have been overtaken by pearl farming. Some lagoons, like on
Takaroa, are forbidden to enter by the foreigners because of the pearl farms.
Pearls are "black", i.e. grey-greenish.
In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl and his companions landed on Raroia on their Kon-Tiki raft after drifting 3,5 months and 4300 miles from Peru. Kon-Tiki landed on the unpopulated side of Raroia, and it took time before the people of the small village believed that the lights they saw on the other side of the lagoon were caused by man and not by ghosts. Some carbage and a shoe drifting cross the water helped the conclusion.
Another well known atoll is Mururoa, where France tested nuclear weapons in 1966-1996.
Our first atoll was Manihi. Also there exist several pearl farms, and they may be the reason for unclear water and dead coral. Hence, Manihi is not the best snorkeling or diving spot. Despite that we watched the various colorful fishes between two motus, where the water was clearer than elsewhere.
In the afternoon we went with Marja and Iiro to buy some pearls. We were hopeful after reading the logbook of another Finnish boat, Aida, that had got 100 pearls with some stuff they had onboard. But on Manihi were other prices. One pearl costed 50 euros. Marja was able to bargain six pearls for 150 euros. We didn't buy any. In the evening we had dinner together eating the tunafish Hannu had got underway.
On Saturday, 20.7., we arrived with the sun rise to Rangiroa. We motored in through the wide and deep passage, against so strong current, that at slowest we were making only half knot. We didn't have the tide table for Rangiroa, and obviously it wasn't slack, it was too early. Where outcoming water met the incoming waves the sea was rough, and you could see standing waves far out. It is easy to imagine what the passage is like on a heavy wind. We anchored, both Kristiina and Cassandra, front of a luxorious hotel, which is one of the few sheltered places on this vast lagoon. Actually, an inside sea would be better name than a lagoon, the other shore lies as far as Helsinki from Talllinn. It is funny feeling to be safely anchored in the middle of the Pacific, sheltered only by a small piece of reef. There are about 20 boats, both charter and cruising yachts. Water is much clearer here than on Manihi, and we are looking forward to some fine snorkeling. We also plan to rent bicycles to see the short distance, about 20 km, between the two passages.
Before we move on to Tahiti, we have to tell about Rangiroa. We were looking for some nice swimming and snorkeling, so one afternoon we went out to a reef by the dinghy. Water was much clearer than in Manihi. But that kind of magnificent coral we found in Cuba and Panama wasn't here. However, there were a lot of various colorful and different size and shape fishes, among them it was easy to recognise the napoleon fish and the trumpet fish. Suddenly, I saw a shark. Although I had been told about the harmless sharks, my first reaction was to escape. The poor shark was as frightened, and swam away. I was more calm when I met the second one, but that didn't turn away, it came towards me staring with it's small eyes. Scary! You feel so helpless in the water, that the knowledge of their harmlessness is quickly forgotten.
The next day we cycled to Aruata village 10 kilometers away. There are two churches, couple of stores, a post and a bank. We bought lunch in a French style: baguette, cheese and red wine, and had a picknick and a swim on a quiet beach.
On Tuesday, 23.7., we left Rangiroa, now crossing the passage at the right time, during the slack, and the passage was completely calm without any current.
The capital of French Polynesia, Papeete, is located on Tahiti, which belongs to the Society Islands. In fresh wind the 200 mile leg was over rapidly, and we were at Tahiti late in the Wednesday night, although we had estimated to arrive on Thursday during the light hours. The wind was perfect for Kristiina, this time Cassandra couldn't escape from us. The Papeete passage has clear leading lights, so we decided to enter in the dark. Three miles before the passage an anxious voice asked for help in the VHF. An American yacht had ended on a reef. They didn't know exactly where they were, but after listening for a while the conversation, we figured out that they are in an other passage before the main Papeete harbour entrance. We were close to the place, so we called them on VHF. I asked them to launch a flare, which secured the position. We were only two miles away. Also the port authorities had been called on VHF, but it took a while before they answered. Their first question was, if the boat on the reef is Kristiina. We had called them half an hour earlier telling that we are proceeding. The authorities couldn't promise any immediate help, and the lady's voice on the radio became more and more anxious, so we went to help. It wasn't quite clear what they needed, but obviously the boat was taking in water. We got closer the reef carefully. You cannot see reef on the radar, so it is really difficult to navigate in the dark. Now the man had taken over the radio, and he sounded calm trying to give us instructions of their location. Just when I asked him to light a handflare, the port authorities broke in telling that the rescue is on their way. Our help wasn't needed anymore. But it took a long time before they were evacuated, because we heard them after two hours in the VHF asking where the rescue is. There was no life threat, however, because they also called some other boats.
In the morning we heard that just a couple of days earlier an English concrete boat had ended on a reef when the engine didn't start. Concrete is a vulnerable material, so there wasn't much to do. We met the skipper later, whom we had met already in Panama. His sailing around the world was finished, boat was sunken in front of Tahiti, and he was waiting to fly back home. He had no insurance.
Although arriving to Papeete was exciting, being here is pure enjoyment. Papeete is the only city in 8000 miles between Panama and New Zealand. The city moorings (16 euros per day) are conveniently located in the heart of the town. We are not bothered by the traffic or the city noise, on the contrary, we enjoy the city life. There are shops, restaurants, pizzabars and ice-cream stalls. We have land power and water, it is easy to go ashore. The first night we went out for a dinner, because it was Hannu's birthday. This day, the 25th of July, is a multi-celebtarion day for us, since it's also the anniversary of Auli's parents and brother, and the name day of Hannu's brother Jaakko. And on the eve of that day we celebrate the name day of every Kristiina.
Cassandra's owner Ken arrived with his girlfriend Elissa on Thursday night. The two boats' voyage together has come to an end, because from now on Cassandra has a tighter schedule than us. We have no other rush than to arrive to New Zealand in November, away from the hurricane zone. Maybe we meet again in Melbourne, Australia. Thanks to Ken's brother Peter for nice comments on our web site, it's encouraging to hear that our sailing is followed in Australia!
Marja's holiday and crewing on Cassandra ended on Sunday, and we said sad farewell to a new friend.
In Papeete the boats are moored in the heart of the city.
Cassandra on the port side of Kristiina.
We managed to see the last performance of the Tahiti Heiva, Tahiti festival. It was superb: 500 performers in an old cult place among the forest 20 kilometers from Papeete. There were singing, drumming and dancing joined loosely together with a plot that told about an ancient royal abolution rite. Very often you see photos of the colorful and beautiful Polynesian woman dancers, more often than men, despite the men have as central role in the dance performance, maybe even more central. Auli had our digi camera, and for some reason we have photos only of the men dancers:
The end of the week in Papeete has been mainly work, more precise washing things. Endless running water is rare on these islands, so we have used it and washed the pilge, bimini, cockpit cushions and all the cloths. Hannu has gone through both the Perkins and the outboard Yamaha. Auli has cleaned all the closets. Although we bought so much food in Panama, that it should last until New Zealand, the temptations of the shops have made us to spend a lot of money on delicatesses. But who can resist a feta salad, lamb steak or cafe au lait with a croissant, when it's ages ago you had it last time! Papayas, that make an excellent breakfast, are fairly reasonable in the shop, 1.70 euros per kilo. The locals seem to buy imported apples, 4.50 euros per kilo. Icecream is unbelievably expensive, 3.50 euros for an ordinary thing.
The exotic Tahiti, at least seen from the capital, has been buried under the commercialism and global supply. Here is even MacDonalds not to speak about pizzerias.
A week in Papeete is enough and it is time to move on to the next islands, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea and Bora Bora, which has been said to be the most beautiful island on the Polynesia. We'll see that soon.
Papeete market offers vegetables, fruits, fish and also souveniers.
We got feedback from Pekka O. about the development of atolls. He writes that in addition to the erosion, also the movements of the continental platforms are essential in the formation of an atoll. Thanks for the addenda, it's good to notice that our radio reports and home page are followed with a though.
We spent four days on Moorea, an island next to Tahiti. Two of them were spent in the Cook Bay and two in the Oponohu Bay, which both are two mile deep cuts on the Northern shore. In the Cook Bay we met a Swedish boat, Caminante, with Gustaf and Tina. The boat draw our attention, because it has a big roll of rope on the aft deck and a chimney stood in the middle of the boat. Obviously not just a warm water cruiser. We had it right, they had arrived from Cape Horn. So we shared an interest and had a lot to talk, we telling about Greenland and they about Chile and Patagonia.
On Moorea we took the Helkama kickboards for use again.
The best on Moorea, besides walking and kickin around, was swimming with the stingrays. The animals come to a certain place, where tourist boats stop. They are lured by raw fish. One morning we drove there with our dinghy. About twenty stingrays were on the spot. They are fabulous creatures, flat and round like a rubber dish, and they "fly" through the water. They dont't have typical small fish fins, but their body-long fins are integrated to the body. They are white underneath where the mouth is placed. Eyes are on the brown upperside. The tail is long and narrow, like a whip. There are several ray species, devil rays can be as big as seven meters. The ones we saw were about one meter in diameter. The stingrays were pushing people, who stood in the water, begging for fish. Sometimes they got up to the surface. It was fantastic to look at them under water through the mask, although the water was so clear that you could see perfectly also from the surface. Hannu had his Sony videocamera (TRV 320 E) in a watertight box, and these photos have been picked out from the video tape:
From Moorea we motored over the calm
night to Huahine, 80 miles away. The first day was rainy, so we
spent that in the boat reading and sleeping away the tiredness of the former
night. We were - rarely - alone in a sheltered and idyllic bay. If you didn't
look so closely on the palm trees you could imagine being in a Finnish lake.
Some smoke smell in the calm air, flies buzzing and birds singing. The
background noice of the sea could be changed to a locomotive - an endless
though. The next day we moved into an anchorage in the Southern tip of the
island. There were about ten boats. The variety of nationalities were wider than
usually: a Norwegian, an Italian, a Dutch, a Canadian as well as Americans and
French, who are the majority in French Polynesia. Here was the first Norwegian
boat we have seen since the Northern Atlantic, a couple of Danes have been
around, and before Caminante we have met some Swedish boats on the Atlantic
From Huahine it's only 20 miles to Raiatea and Tahaa, which locate inside the same reef. Atoll formation is in a phase where there is deep water inside the barrier reef. We sailed around Tahaa, which was really nice without big ocean waves. We wanted to go out for dinner on our last night in French Polynesia. Therefore we took a mooring buoy in front of Marina Iti. With big expectations, Auli wearing make-up and a dress, we entered the cosy open restaurant in the evening. The starter, poisson cru, raw tuna in lime-coconut cream, was okay, but the main course, pepper stake, was outrageous salty. We couldn't eat the food. French speaking chef just ignored our complaints, so what else we could do than return to boat, very dissappointed.
On Monday 12.8. we are going to stop in Raiatea main harbour to take water, buy some fresh food and update this site. After that we have 1100 miles ahead of us, to the small island of Niue, which is an independent country. From there we'll continue to Tonga.
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