The mountainous islands of the Marquesas Archipelago are awe-inspiring. While the anchorages can be rolly and deep, hiking through rain forests to stunning waterfalls is truly magical. But all good things must come to an end – to make room for new good things!
For 4 days after leaving Ua Pou, the wind gods smiled upon us, delivering easy downwind and reaching conditions that carried us comfortably to the entrance pass at Ahe Atoll. Our timing, unfortunately, was poor as we arrived at maximum flood with a strong current filling the lagoon. With obstacles in the pass, we elected to wait a couple of hours for slack tide. This provided an opportunity to cook up a “curtain” around our diesel fuel injection pump in order to catch and re-use the small amount of diesel that was leaking from the pump. Our misfortune continued as we determined that slack water at 17:00 was too late to allow both entry and navigation to a suitable anchorage before nightfall. So, off went the engine, up went the sails, and Team Pazzo continued onward to Apataki Atoll, 12 hours further south.
Our return to Apataki was a fond one after visiting the atoll in 2004 with the family. We entered the pass against an ebb current and motored part way across the lagoon into the lee of Motu Rua Vahine, a tiny but idyllic south pacific motu sporting lovely white sand beaches and swaying palm trees. The motu is privately owned by a welcoming retired couple from Papeete. Nice snorkeling amongst lovely coral bommies and, of course, a great place to rest after a few days at sea.
The draw of this atoll was a visit to Apataki Carenage, owned by Alfred, an uncommon entrepreneur in Polynesia. We met Alfred in 2004. He had recently purchased a new bucket-loader tractor to build roads and help with development on the island. Over the years, he came up with the idea of a boat yard. He used his bucket loader to clear a patch of the island, built a haul-out ramp, bought a large hydraulic trailer, and hung out his shingle. Business was slow initially as the cruising community came to realize that Apataki Carenage was for real. Today, the Carenage is a bustling boatyard, catering mostly to catamarans looking for a safe place to sit out hurricane season. Project work is limited since supplies are both far away and expensive, but bottom paint is plentiful and he can offer a full complement of tools as well as unskilled labor. After we showed Alfred a photo of him hauling our young children around in his (now) old bucket loader, he was the consummate host during our 2-day visit to his boatyard.
Following our pleasant stay in Apataki’s lagoon, we overcame a 3-knot flood current in the pass and enjoyed a short sail around the corner to lovely Anse Amyot, a small cul-de-sac inlet on Toau Atoll. Hosts Gaston and Valentine were weathering the COVID storm at their primary home on Fakarava Atoll, but their substantial moorings were all vacant. Shortly after getting Pazzo squared away, a posse of 3 French catamarans arrived to share the anchorage. We were sorry to miss Gaston and Valentine as they were fine hosts to the greater Team Pazzo in 2004. After a couple of lazy days in Anse, “Edith”, a Danish charter yacht arrived. 7 backpackers and 2 crew aboard a 50’ monohull! Quite a crowd! The following morning, Maria, one of the backpackers dingyed over to ask if we could spare a roll or two of toilet paper. Apparently, they’d overlooked this small detail during their recent provisioning run. Major oversight! Fortunately, Cindy was able to spare a few rolls to save the day.
The following day, we sailed out of Anse to Passe Otugi on the opposite side of Toau Atoll. We arrived shortly after high tide but the water was already boiling out the pass with 6-foot standing waves in the middle. We took a line just north of the biggest standing waves and let Perky Perkins power us in against the ebbing flow. As the water on the edge of the pass shoaled, we had to divert to deeper water… and into the fury. Perky was up to the task and after 20 minutes we popped free into the lagoon. As we steered toward our anchorage, a local fishing boat approached and advised: “A course on the south side of center is a much easier entry against the ebb.” Now we know.
Motu Mako Mako is a post-card worthy uninhabited motu complete with a dense palm tree forest and pristine white sand beaches. Adjacent to Mako Mako, we found a tiny motu we named 3-Tree Island for the small stand of palms gracing it’s shores. Cindy’s camera got a good workout.
After a couple of days savoring our solitude in the lee of Motu Mako Mako, it was time to make our way back to civilization – internet, and baguettes at Fakarava Atoll’s Rotoava Town.
Fakarava is one of the largest atolls in the Tuamotu group and Rotoava is the principle village with a few magazins (grocery shops), a boulangerie, a yacht service operation who can help with basic repairs, and a fuel dock authorized to sell duty-free fuel to foreign yachts transiting French Polynesia. The anchorage off Rotoava Town is a popular cruiser hangout. The tether of the internet is a strong one, but the shore offers good protection from the prevailing trade winds so it’s a rather pleasant place to stay. The supply ship passes thru the archipelago every 2 weeks or so, creating a mad cruiser scramble to replenish fresh fruits and vegetables. The snorkeling is so-so at the north pass near Rotoava, but it’s world-class at the south pass, about 30 miles away.
We spent only a couple of days in Rotoava before moving to the south pass where a number of diving operations offer diving vacations to international travelers. In order to protect the coral from anchor damage, the French government has placed several moorings for transient cruisers while exploring the waters of South Fakarava. We snagged a brand new mooring so were able to confidently leave Pazzo for a couple of excellent snorkel adventures. While scuba allows divers to dive and spend time at depth, snorkeling along the surface is also magical. Drift diving is the hot ticket in the passes of the Tuamotus and in Fakarava’s south pass in particular. Drift diving involves drifting with the current – normally a flood current. We motored our dink (Ooo-Ha-Ha) out the pass against the flood and snorkeled back into the lagoon while holding onto Ooo-Ha-Ha. The coral is healthy and vibrant, offering a wonderful ecosystem for many different fishes and a large resident school of sharks – mostly black tips, but some grey sharks as well. The sharks are generally curious about the divers, but are not aggressive. They have many menu options aside from swimmers.
September 24 (2021) found Pazzo on the move again – this time to Tahanea Atoll. Tahanea is an uninhabited national park and wildlife refuge – the only one in the Tuamotu Archipelago. There’s a rare sandpiper who lives only on one of the fringing motus of Tahanea. We didn’t see one, but we did enjoy a number of drift dives. On our first snorkel outing thru Tahanea’s North Passe, I asked Cindy, “Where to you want to jump in?” “How about right here,” came her reply. No sooner had she dropped in when she bounced to the surface to report that 3 large manta rays were right under Ooo-Ha-Ha. She has the photos to prove it! We did several drifts through this pass and were rewarded with vibrant coral, some large black-tip sharks, and a large barracuda, but no more Manta Rays. Of course, no visit to Tahanea is complete without a dip in the “blue Pool,” a natural shallow lagoon within the lagoon with lovely white sand bottom and delightful sun-heated water.
Tahanea was our last Tuamotu before our 450 mile voyage south to the rarely visited Austral Islands, the southern-most island chain of French Polynesia.