Tahiti, On Schedule

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Approaching Tahiti under sail

We left Kauehi a day earlier than planned, and we still arrived in Tahiti on schedule. The passage from Kauhei to Papeete took us longer than we expected. That’s mostly because of the weather, but also because of a broken engine mount. Continue reading

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Kauehi Atoll

We decided to sail to this atoll after abandoning our original plan to stop at Raroia atoll because the wind was unfavorable for that landfall. Kauehi was a good second choice: It has only one navigable pass, but it’s an easy one for coral pass first-timers, which we were. Initially, we anchored in the southeastern part of the lagoon. After about a week in this fairly isolated anchorage, the weather and wind changed and we moved to the northeastern part of the lagoon to anchor close to the village, Tearavero. We had better protection from the wind and chop there.

The small motu off of which we anchored. These are areas of the atoll's reef that are high enough to have vegetation growing on them. We walked around this one in about an hour. Larger motus can have villages on them, and sometimes air strips. Most of an atoll is submerged reef, however.

The small motu off of which we anchored. A motu is a small island. These are areas of the atoll’s reef that are high enough to have vegetation growing on them. We walked around this one in about an hour. Larger motus can have villages on them, and sometimes air strips. Most of an atoll is submerged reef, however.

 

Ashore on motu. Velic is in the background.

Ashore on motu. A delightfully easy beach landing after the Marquesas. Velic is in the background.

Beach "sand." These shells, and broken coral, is what made up the white part of the beach.

Beach “sand.” These shells, and broken coral, make up the white part of the beach.

Close up of "sand"

Close up of “sand”

Walking around the motu. This is the beach along the channel between two motus, looking toward the ocean. Most of these channels are shallow and have strong current flowing in and out with the tide. A deeper and wider version of this is what we came through to enter the lagoon.

Walking around the motu. This is the beach along the channel between two motus, looking toward the ocean. Most of these channels are shallow and have strong current flowing in and out with the tide. A deeper and wider version of this is what we came through to enter the lagoon.

Walking around the Kauehi motu

This is the shell of some creature similar to a sand dollar but shaped like a football instead of being flat.

This is the shell of some creature in the sea urchin family,  similar to a sand dollar but shaped like a football instead of being flat.

Looking out from the ocean side of a motu.

Looking out from the ocean side of a motu. You do NOT want to approach an atoll from THIS side!

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More views of the ocean side. Another, smaller, motu in the distance.

Coconut sprout

Coconut sprout.

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Another channel between motus. Looking toward the ocean.

Thousands of these hermit crabs on the motu, ranging in size from smaller than your little fingernail to about as big as your clenched fist.

Thousands of these hermit crabs on the motu, ranging in size from smaller than your little fingernail to about as big as your clenched fist.

An example of the interior vegetation growing on a motu. There's not much soil, but a surprising variety of plants and trees can grow on the larger motus.

An example of the interior vegetation growing on a motu. There’s not much soil, but a surprising variety of plants and trees can grow on the larger motus.

A chunk of natural "concrete" on the beach.

A chunk of natural “concrete” on the beach. This is a naturally formed aggregate of shells, coral and sand and is quite hard, almost as hard as actual concrete. Another reason to avoid the rough side of atolls if you’re in a boat.

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Lots of these little moths or butterflies in the brush. Lots of other insects, too, of course. But Ruth was captivated by the colorful spot pattern on these moths’ wings, so Randy took a closeup.

Tree house we found on the motu near a fishing shack.

We spotted a tree house near a fishing shack on the nearest motu. It was a nice place to hang out for a bit, in the shade and the breeze during the hottest part of the afternoon.

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Randy, cutting into a coconut.

We brought water and snacks from the boat when we went ashore, but Randy couldn't resist cutting down a fresh coconut or two!

We brought water and snacks from the boat when we went ashore, but Randy couldn’t resist cutting down a fresh coconut or two!

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Plastic trash. We find plastic trash on every beach. Mostly bottles, but other stuff too.

Randy sailing the dinghy around the anchorage.

Randy sailing the dinghy around the anchorage.

Randy sailing the dinghy.

And then the weather changed …

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After about a week, the weather changed and the wind started to back from SE to the E and then to the N. Our anchorage became uncomfortable and looked to become unsafe, so we decided to pull up the anchor and move to the village anchorage, which offered some protection from the forecast winds.

The inter island freighter Mareva Nui approaching us as we were anchored off the village. We weren't sure how close it would need to come and whether we would need to move or not, but it anchored just beyond us and we got to watch the crew off load cargo and lighter it ashore as the evening's entertainment.

The inter island freighter Mareva Nui approaching us soon after we had anchored off the village. We had been here only a couple of hours when the freighter showed up, steaming toward us. We weren’t sure how close it would come and whether we would need to move or not, but it anchored just beyond us and we got to watch the crew off load cargo and lighter it ashore. It was our evening’s entertainment.

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Offloading cargo onto a flat barge that was powered by a couple of large outboard engines. This barge then motored to the village wharf, where cargo was put ashore. We wrote about this process in an earlier blog post.

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Taking cargo ashore on the barge.

We soon rowed our dinghy ashore to explore the village.

The main street for the village. Notice the large black tanks; every dwelling has two or more of these above-ground "cisterns" to collect rainwater from the roof gutters. Rain water is the only source of water for these dry atolls.

The main street for the village. Notice the large black tanks, these two yet to be installed; every dwelling has two or more of these above-ground “cisterns” to collect rainwater from the roof gutters. Rain water is the only source of water for these dry atolls.

The small concrete wharf serving the village on Kauehi. Our dinghy is beached to my left, out of sight in this photo. Behind me in the distance is a structure that is part of one of several pearl farms in this lagoon.

The small concrete wharf serving the village on Kauehi. Behind Ruth in the distance is a structure that is part of one of several pearl farms in this lagoon.

Village wharf and some boats.

Notice the satellite disk behind the water cisterns. Most houses, even the most modest, have satellite TV.

Notice the satellite disk behind the water cisterns. Roof gutters all lead to cisterns. Most houses, even the most modest, have satellite TV.

A new roof for the village mairie, or town hall. This village also had a nice school and a small health clinic. Two very small stores, called "magasins" served the village. In them you could find a limited selection of canned and dry foods, some basic household supplies, and freezers with some packages of meat, vegetables, and ice cream. No fresh produce, though.

A new roof for the village mairie, or town hall. This village also had a nice school and a small health clinic.

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Two very small stores, called “magasins” served the village. In them you could find a limited selection of canned and dry foods, some basic household supplies, and freezers with some packages of meat, vegetables, and ice cream. A few times a week you would find fresh eggs. No fresh produce, though a surprising bit of Americana once in a while.

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Work boats typically are suspended under cover like this one, where they can easily be lowered into the water. Some boats are just pulled ashore, but most are stored like this.

Work boats typically are suspended under cover like this one, where they can easily be lowered into the water. Some boats are just pulled ashore, but most are stored like this.

A small outdoor chapel at one end of the road through the village. For some reason, we didn't get a photo of the main village church, which was built in the 19th century of coral blocks.

A small outdoor chapel at one end of the road through the village. For some reason, we didn’t get a photo of the main village church, which was built in the 19th century of coral blocks.

The weather remained unstable for several more days, with winds from the wrong direction. We waited until we had a forecast of favorable winds to sail on to Papeete on the island of Tahiti.

Weather bound in Paradise

Kauehi Atoll, Tuamotu Archipelago
Monday, June 6, 2016

Yesterday we moved from a gorgeous anchorage on the southeast corner of Kauehi, where we had been for 10 days, to the anchorage near the village of Teavero on the same atoll. It’s a pretty spot. The small village is larger than we expected with buildings and homes spread out along the waterfront amongst the trees. Kids swim in the lagoon, the white sandy beach is their back yard. A white church in need of some paint dominates the town, rising a bit above the tall coconut trees. Five other cruising boats are anchored nearby representing at least New Zealand, Austria, Australia, and us from the U.S. and one boat showing no flag.

Not only were we ready for a change of place, but the weather was also changing. The past four days had been dominated by clouds, rain, and gusty squalls. Making the best of it, Ruth collected almost 15 gallons of very pure rain water for our tanks. But the wind began to shift from the southeast to the east, and then to the northeast. With the wind forecast to continue backing to the north and then the northwest, we would no longer be protected in the lee of the motu, but would be anchored on a lee shore with coral just behind us. The village is in the northeast corner of lagoon, offering better – if not ideal – protection from north and northwest winds. Actually, it’s not the wind that worries. It is the sea state that the wind generates which becomes uncomfortable, and can be dangerous in the worst circumstances.

Weighing anchor with coral heads awash in the choppy waves just a few yards to leeward was exciting, to say the least. We reviewed each step of the maneuver before we began, as we always do. Randy raises the anchor on the foredeck; Ruth steers the boat and controls the engine in the cockpit. A set of hand signals makes quick communication easy and efficient. (Randy is a firm believer in skillful women driving, leaving the dirty work to men on deck.) Possible ways for events to go sideways were discussed, with preventative and alternative escape scenarios laid out. In the end all went well. Ruth did an excellent job steering and using the engine to control the boat in the wind and heavy chop, steering Velic into deep water and away from the coral heads as soon as the anchor came off the bottom. Randy gamely cranked the manual windlass.

After a somewhat wet and rough motor to windward, we were rewarded with a very pleasant anchorage near the village. Afternoon entertainment began after soon lunch and a short nap, while Randy was below making coffee and cutting a plate of brownies. Ruth stepped up into the cockpit and gasped: The small inter-island cargo ship Mareva Nui was less than a mile away and steaming right towards us! Even at that distance it looked huge, and was moving fast! Ruth called Randy up for a quick consult: Are we anchored in the middle their channel? Do we need to move? A Kiwi cruising boat was anchored nearby, and we could see them carefully watching also. But, no worries, the ship slowed and dropped anchor a safe distance away. A small, flat barge was lowered into the water. Using cranes, cargo was lowered onto the barge and taken to the quay ashore – the first load being a small forklift which was then used to off-load the barge at the quay. By dinner time bags of copra were being loaded from shore onto the ship. The process of “lightering”, using smaller boats to off-load and load ships anchored further offshore was once the most common method of moving cargo for large ships before the industrial wharves and mega-cranes of today. It is still used in some of the major ports of the world: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Singapore for example. Lightering enables ships to service these smaller islands and atolls where water at the quay is only a few feet deep at best, ending in a white coral beach. Watching the process was the evening’s entertainment while we sat in the cockpit sipping warm drinks and lime juice.

The sun returned today. It is warm and breezy with the predicted northwest winds filling in. Velic is a bit bouncy at anchor as small waves and wind chop roll past. A passage to the next, and larger, atoll of Fakarava is planned for Tuesday or Wednesday. All depends on the weather pattern as the wind is predicted to back to the west – directly against our course to Fakarava! When it backs even further to the southwest, as predicted, we can go. Similar to crossing the Columbia River bar, timing entrances through the passes of coral reefs into the interior lagoon is critical. It’s best to transit the pass at slack current – usually within an hour of high or low tide. And, due to coral heads dotting the sandy bottom inside the lagoon, it is advisable to select an anchoring spot during the mid-day when the sun is high overhead and visibility into the water at its best. So, we wait for weather and tidal current times to make the crossing from Kauehi to Fakarava.

In the meantime we catch up on reading, naps, and boat husbandry chores. We hope to go ashore when the wind abates a bit, perhaps tomorrow morning.