“The big question is whether you are going to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” -Joseph Campbell
It was a three day sail to the Tuamotus. The internet tells me they are the largest group of island atolls in the world. I thought I had made progress with being seasick but we hit rough weather and when Karin asked me to come up front and help reef (shorten the sail to slow you down), that was enough to have me hanging over the side. Let me tell you, being slightly seasick for 4-5 months is a great weight loss plan. I’m going to market this when I get home… I’ll be rich!
Honestly, sailing into the atolls I thought they looked a little creepy. It was a cloudy day and here were all these small barren and deserted looking spits of land. I couldn’t help wondering why we came here. When we got to Rairoia we walked around a bit and almost immediately Tatiana and Regis found us and invited us over for dinner. A local couple that were very friendly. You might call them the welcoming committee and maybe also the town drunks. We went to their place and had some drinks and conversation until late into the night (at least late to us sailors, like midnight). She told us all about their pearl business and its decline while insisting we drink Chet a very strong (and I think toxic) peppermint liquor. The next night she caught us again and this time invited us to her cousin’s house for dinner and a bonfire. This was a great night. We met a lot of people and were not forced to witness Regis drink wine straight from the box again (while riding his bicycle). The next night when Tatiana called on the VHF Ez and I bowed out, but the Swedes went off to keep “making a party.” There had been some Norwegians earlier that supposedly hung out with Tatiana and Regis for three days. Not to be outdone, the Swedes were off, and Ez and I got some much needed time by ourselves.
Before we left we wanted to snorkel the passage (only way in and out of an atoll). Ideally you do this at slack tide. We went with a Brazilian boat that arrived and drifted from our dingy over the corals. I’d never seen anything like it. It looked like a field of brilliant coral with channels running through. This was my first snorkel with sharks which was really cool but also made me nervous. The Swedes kept telling me not to worry, but the night before our host showed us his shark bite that made him afraid to swim for years (his job was a pearl diver and spear fisher) and the Brazilians were snorkeling with knives. Reef sharks are harmless… I’m still not sure I buy it.
On our way to Fakarava we had a scary night. The wind was really strong and this was the only time we put in all three reefs. In the morning we passed a freighter who told us the forecast would continue to be high winds. So we headed south to Makemo to wait out the weather. Here we swam to shore to look for baguettes and walk around a bit. We motored to the opposite end of the atoll the next day which was a task in heavy rains and someone always on the bow watching for coral heads to avoid. We had a drink once we made it to the other passage to celebrate. (At least Ez and I did. The Swedes, or the Sweets as we started calling them because of their love of sugar, had hot chocolate and a whole bag of marshmallows.) This was on the 4th of July and after a long cold day Karin made us an American meal with our limited ingredients… pumpkin soup and popcorn.
We finally made it to Fakarava! It had a beautiful pink sand beach, sharks everywhere (four always swimming around our boat) and baby black tips swimming in the shallows. We had a bunch of picnics, snorkeled the passage with lots of sharks, barracudas and Napoleon Wrasse. It was incredible! There weren’t enough sharks for the Swedes so we took the dingy out further in the ocean where we found a bunch of gray sharks. I jumped in for a minute to look but I was cold without a wetsuit and nervous of the current and bigger swells without any flippers on. (I had a good pair at home and was too cheap to buy new ones.) Oh alright, ALL the sharks made me a bit nervous too.
Our last night we had a bonfire on the beach which was a perfect end. I wasn’t sure that I really liked the atolls until we came to Fakarava and it changed my mind.