Saturday, June 26, 2010

Rangiroa - cheeseburgers and diving

Rangiroa Atoll, Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia

Rangiroa is the largest coral atoll in the world. And the most populated island in the Tuamotus (2500 people). And still, slow internet!! But...we have managed to get email via wifi on the boat, so we can't complain too much. And, if you're willing to connect in odd hours, you might be able to do a bit of surfing. You may also notice that I've managed to figure out how to add an image to the blog posts finally. Hurray!!

Rangiroa has been awesome. On our first day here, after our nap, we met a great crew of sailors, and enjoyed drinks on the quay with them. Since then we've enjoyed drinks, diving, and a few meals with them - it's been a hoot. We're looking forward to running into them again in Tahiti!

The village is spread out among several motus, connected by a roadway, with the airport about 1/2 way between the two ends. We had heard that the local super hotel ($300-800 per night) offered a traditional Polynesian
performance, which we thought would be fun, but the hotel was closed for renos. With a combo of hitch-hiking and bike rentals we explored the 10 km or so to the other end of the road. There were a few stores, one even had veggies - green peppers and limes!! Too bad we couldn't carry more supplies on the bikes. We also stopped at a few trinket stores and pearl boutiques. It was a nice morning of exploring. Back at the quay, we treated ourselves to beer and fanta and cheeseburgers!! Hmmm....pomme frites!!

Yesterday, we went for a dive in Tiputa Pass, a drift dive that is highly recommneded. Although they warned us that it would not be as beautiful as the colourful coral of Fakarava, this is the place where we are more likely to see the large marine wildlife. Although it was fun to drift with the
current - feeling a bit like Peter Pan as we flew through the water effortlessly - we didn't see too much wildlife. We did see sharks and the largest Napolean Wrasse big as me, I swear. But no manta rays. And no hammerheads. Too bad. Another diver took a video and gave us a copy, so we hope to be able to put a snippet on the blog once we get to Tahiti.

We're getting geared up to leave for Tahiti. Today I fixed our spray cloth that was blown out in last week's storm, and John prepared our sails and filled up our fuel tank. We need to be in Tahiti in order to attempt to renew our visas; we'd like to stay longer than the standard three months that are issued upon arrival. Hopefully that won't be a problem, but we're getting many mixed messages. It will take us a couple days to get there, but we're looking forward to being in a marina with showers and laundry for the first time since Mexico - almost four months ago!

Our Position (Rangiroa): 14°58.1'S and 147°38.2'W

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Blown away by Apataki

We were blown away by the atoll of Apataki. Literally. But, I'll start at the beginning...

Our last day on Toau was spent at the northern end of the atoll, close to the pass, so we would have a shorter passage to Apataki - our next destination. We left Toau before slack tide, and had the excitement of dealing with the current opposing the winds as we exited the pass, creating large standing waves. The current was in our favour, so we were traveling quickly, but the large swell made it uncomfortable, even if only for a few minutes. We were soon out of the pass, hoisted our sails, and set our course to Apataki.

Although there is a small village on Apataki, there isn't a suitable anchorage at the village, so we anchored a few miles away, in front of a pearl farm with a few other sailboats. As it turns out, several of these boats had found paradise, and had stayed in the area for a couple of years! For the next four days, we wandered the beach, chatted with the locals, and tackled a few boat jobs. Pauline and Alfred live here with their parents and their children. They have a pearl farm business, and we were able to watch as they went about classifying the pearls into grades for sale and export. They've also started a boat yard, with a huge trailer and ramp. There were three boats in the yard while we were there, and one was pulled out on our last day. Although facilities were limited, it would be a great spot to haul out, if we just needed to paint the bottom! John's scraped foot was still a bit swollen (from one of his lobster 'hunting' expeditions with Strahan), so he chatted with a Doc on another boat and started a course of antibiotics, but is trying to keep it dry. Not easy.

Our friend Chris on SV Namaste had told us that the snorkeling in and near the pass at the north end of the island was fabulous, so after a few days, we moved up there to check it out. Only a couple hours after we dropped the hook, the wind started to pick up. Within only a half hour, the wind was howling. We checked our weather files, and saw a system was supposed to be developing near Tahiti, but wasn't really supposed to be this far north. Clearly the weather files were wrong. Because we were up against a lee shore, we didn't feel it was safe to remain here. So we upped anchor (with some difficulty, in the large waves that had instantly developed), and quickly made our way out of the pass into the safely of the open sea. We were sad to leave here without getting a chance to experience the snorkeling, but we looked forward to the Rangiroa, our next atoll...and the largest coral atoll in the world.

It was about 80 miles to Rangiroa, an overnight sail. Throughout the night, the winds continued to build. We don't have a wind meter on board, but we guessed it to be consistently 30 knots with gusts to 35 or so. It was the most wind that we'd seen while underway on our journey so far. It was definitely the only time that we'd had waves crash over the side of the boat and into the cockpit. We had our full BC rain slickers on! We had only a very, very, tiny bit of our genoa (head sail) out - and we still were going up to 8 knots in the gusts (3-4 knots in the lulls). And although we were worried that the furling system would buckle under the strain, we realized that our storm sails were even bigger than the tiny bit of canvas that we were flying. The boat handled the weather fine. And we made it to Rangiroa in time for the optimum tide. Although the tide was rising, and it should have been an incoming tide, we still had a couple knots of outgoing current.

As a note of interest, during times of heavy wind and waves, the current and tides in the atoll passes can change dramatically. Normally, there is an ingoing and outgoing current in the pass that roughly follows the tide. During heavy weather in some atolls, there is a lot of water pushed over and between the small motus (islets), filling up the lagoon. This can create a continual outgoing current in the passes, even when the tide should be rising!

Throughout the storm, there was chatter on the radio. Two other boats had decided to leave Apataki when we did, and there were at least three other boats en route to Rangiroa from elsewhere. It was great to know that other boats were nearby. And we also got to hear what their wind indicators were showing - winds of 30 to 35 with gusts up to 39. WOW.

Our Position (Apataki): 15°20.96'S and 146°11.66'W