Friday, November 6, 2015

North Fakarava to South Fakarava

Mindful of the rapidly approaching hurricane season and the need to keep moving towards the Marquesas, we departed Cooks Bay on Monday, October 26th. On the way out of the pass we were amazed to see two whales casually feeding in the relatively shallow water. These were the first whales we’d seen in four years of cruising.

As usual, as we turned southeast the wind lightened up and was right on the nose. We had hoped to be able to sail this leg of the journey, but we ended up motor sailing the entire two days to Fakarava.  Since we hadn’t been on an overnight passage for over four months, it was a little hard getting use to the lack of sleep especially with the engine throbbing all night long.

Anchored in the shallows off Rotava in Fakarava.
The current Guesstimator software that we use to judge slack water at the passes was right on for North Fakarava and we motor sailed the three miles to the small village of Rotava, arriving in the mid afternoon. We got a call out from a sailboat called Libby that had heard us on the net and we made plans to get together with them at some point.

It was great to finally get some bike ridding time
You can tell which Tuamotus atolls have pearl farms by the general condition of the buildings and roads. Rotava featured well kept cement/stucco houses and well engineered roads. We ended up renting bikes from Fakarava Yacht Services and riding three or four miles south. There’s only one road on the island so it’s fairly hard to get lost. We stopped at a couple grocery stores (magasin’s) and got some fresh veggies. We also visited a beautiful church featuring a backdrop of local shells behind the altar.

This beautiful proa was designed and built by locals on Fakarava with help from grants from local companies.
The Catholic church in Rotava features a beautiful shell backdrop behind the altar.
Across the street we ran into an interesting young American woman who wanted to show us a newly built local sailing canoe. Some local guys had apparently gotten a grant to construct several of these using modern boatbuilding materials to promote sailing on the islands. It turns out the woman had crewed from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to the Marquesas with some friends of ours. Their trip resulted in some epic stories, including landing a 100 lb. marlin on a small Erickson 38 sailboat.

The unique cocktail tables at the Pension Havaiki.
A bit further down the road we stopped at a high end (for the Tuamotus) resort called the Pension Havaiki that featured it’s own mini pearl farm where for a $100 you can dive down and grab some shells and see if any have pearls. If you are unsuccessful they have some lovely black pearls in settings in small jewelry store, but at very dear prices. The resort also had some neat tables placed out in the water for drinks and fish watching.

We're always amazed at some the unique foods you can find in the small magazins in the Tuamotus.
On the way back we stopped at a small restaurant where we met Terry & Dena from s/v Libby, a beautiful Amel 53 sailboat. They were both former Cisco salespeople and had left San Diego the year before. They had formed a small start up company promoting a new video technology called virtual reality. You wear a ski-type google with a smart phone attached to watch a 360 video. The had a great sample video of a camera mounted on a drone flying through a resort hotel. If you looked up you could see the bottom of the drone, if you looked down you could see the hotel, etc. They also had some cool videos they shot of a mother humpback whale with her baby. Amazing technology!

On Oct 31 we departed Rotava with Naoma, Libby, and Fat Cat to sail inside the lagoon to Hirifa at the south end of the atoll. We chose to follow Naoma who stayed along the shore where a channel (of types) existed. The difficulty in all the Tuamotus atolls is that the inner lagoons are very poorly charted, at best. Sometimes the bommies are marked, sometimes not. And each chart maker has differing levels of detail on their charts. We typically run the MaxSea chart plotting software on our main navigation computer inside, and have an iPad running iNavx software out in the cockpit. The iNavx charts seem to have better detail of the lagoons than the MaxSea, but we typically mark any new bommies we see along the route on the MaxSea as we go.

It was a long, tedious day of motor sailing but we finally arrived at Hirifa at about 4:00 pm. Naoma was already there (they sailed the entire way) and anchored. The location turned out to be one of our favorites in the Tuamotus. There are only a few families that live this far south on the atoll and the scene was one of white sand beaches and swaying palm trees. 

With four boats anchored in close proximity we enjoyed sundowners on Fat Cat and got to visit the other boats over the next several days. Naoma was especially friendly and helpful to us and we really enjoyed our time with Ryan and Nicole. They are both very inspiring people. We took some long walks down the beach and around to the windward side of the island. There is almost no life in the various tide pools at low tide, such a change from fecund Puget Sound. The windward side of the island was totally covered with razor-sharp coral debris and you had to be very careful to not get cut if your foot slipped. This is not someplace I would wear flip-flops or other loose fitting shoes.

There was a restaurant of sorts on the beach where we had all hoped to have dinner, but the owners never showed up during our stay. We basically just chilled, read books, did some small boat projects, and made one more dismal attempt at baking bread. We can get it to rise once, but not again leaving a very dense, compact bread that we use mostly for open-faced sandwiches. We ask everyone we meet what their secrets are for bread making but I think we are destined for failure on this one.

On Thursday, Nov 5th Nomea and Flying Cloud sailed the short eight miles to South Fakarava to position ourself for the long passage to the Marquesas. The last time we were here there were about 30 to 40 boats, this time is was just the two of us. Ironically I ended up anchoring right off the stern of Nomea. It’s very hard to anchor in this area since it’s a mine field of bommies. I ended up jumping in the water, with the omnipresent black-tips swimming around, and repositioning the anchor with floats around a couple of bommies that the chain had become stuck in. The good news is even if your anchor dragged it would quickly jam up against another bommie and hold you fast.

Ryan on Nomea was very good about checking the weather and what we saw was not favorable. To sail to the Marquesas we needed the normally easterly winds to move a bit south, otherwise we will be sailing close to the wind (close hauled) which is uncomfortable as the waves hit the starboard bow and slam the bow down, making it wet and more difficult to steer. As it was we had 20- to 24- knot winds right in the anchorage but we were antsy to get going so we left the next morning a little late around 9:30 missing the slack and getting about 2 knots of current on the nose on the way out. No big deal but it did slow us down a bit.

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