Fakarava south to north

by Glen

French Polynesia, days 29-34, 12-17 May:
Having survived our stormy “night from hell” and woken up to “normal conditions”, sunshine and a gentle wind blowing us away from the beach, we surprisingly got a tad complacent again. The stormy night, we had dragged our anchor closer to the beach and with hindsight should have re-anchored further out the next day. But we had seemed to be safe and clearly if the anchor held in 60kt winds it wasn’t going to drag again any time soon. The only thing that could go wrong is if the prevailing wind did a complete 180degree and swung us towards the beach. But no forecast suggested that would happen, so we didn’t bother re-anchoring.

So what happened the following morning? You got it: we woke up with that exact change in wind direction and our stern now alarming too close to the beach! It was just a light wind, 10-15kts, but with the fetch from all the way across the lagoon, and now in only 4m of water, the waves were soon pitching us quite violently and further increasing in size by the minute. The catamaran next to us, now almost on the beach, was pitching even worse. Bugger! We must move, and quickly. And within minutes, all boats close to the beach were clambering on deck, attempting to get the hell out of there!

Now, lifting the anchor among these coral patches is always tricky. Oana, on the bow, has to guide me, at the helm, to maneuver the boat endeavoring to keep the chain vertical as she controls the windlass (anchor winch, used to pull the chain up). But now, not only does she have the added task of unclipping each of the chain floats as they come out the water, but she also has to do this with the bow pitching violently 2 meters up & down. Trouble enough for Oana, as she is almost levitated off the deck, but also a high mechanical risk. Because if, and quite likely, the chain got caught around coral at the same moment the bow pitched upwards, there would be an extreme force on the chain which could result in the windlass getting ripped violently out of the deck! But with a touch of luck, Oana’s anchoring skills prevailed and the anchor and chain all lifted trouble free, and we quickly and thankfully motored away from the beach.
We know cats have 9 lives, but how many do monohulls have? Whatever, feels like we used 2 lives in just the last 2 days!

Once 100m further into the lagoon, and deeper water, the wave size reduced, and we were comfortable again. At this point we decided we might as well just continue to our next destination, 29nm inside the lagoon to the main village Rotoava, in the north of Fakarava atoll.

After the pre-breakfast drama, I have to say we had the most wonderful gentle sail up the lagoon. As they say in sailing. If you don’t like the conditions, wait 5 minutes and they will change … and hopefully not worse!
Yes granted, we still had the task of avoiding numerous coral heads (boomies) using OpenCPN, but we are good at that now. The blissfulness was the totally flat water and just 6-7kts of breeze with AWA 40deg, providing a perfectly tranquil upwind sail, doing a steady 7.5kts. And the cherry-on-top: we were overtaking 2 catamarans, who could only dream about sailing with this wind speed and angle. Motoring, they gradually fell behind us. Love it! Oops, am I mean? Well, the glee is reversed when we are rolling in an anchorage and they are sipping cocktails, with their catamaran perfectly flat!

Three hours later, as we approached the village, we were suddenly aware of lots of white floats in the water. At first, we thought they marked fish traps, and there was a nice gap through them, apparently for us to transit through. But not so! Standing on the foredeck I suddenly saw a submerged rope from one side of the buoy-field to the other. Luckily deep enough for us to sail right over it. Phew! But almost immediately, there was another submerged rope connecting the next line and this one much shallower. I had no time to stop the boat and could only stand there, observing it hit and run under the keel then get caught on the rudder, then thankfully spring off, shaking the line of buoys. Clearly time for a sharp exit! Quickly furling the sails away, we gently motored out of the buoy-field back into the marked channel. So THAT explained why they clearly mark a channel up this particular atoll lagoon: to keep idiots like me out of the buoys! Later we learned the buoys were part of a pearl farm, where they hang pearl-producing oysters from ropes between buoys. Lesson learned. We just hope we didn’t cause any of the oysters to spit out their precious pearls! I later documented the farm on NoForeignLand, for others to avoid.

In the village of Rotoava we managed to find a free mooring ball. Nice to be relieved of any anchoring worries for once.
On our first walk through the village we couldn’t distinguish it from any other remote and quiet village in French Polynesia. But the next day we discovered the Havaiki Lodge. A very pleasant and nicely presented little hotel with wonderful hut-rooms right on a well-manicured beach. Oana instantly fell in love with it. We enquired availability and they had just 1 day available. So we treated ourselves to a night away from the boat and pretended we were on holiday! Enjoying an afternoon on sunbeds, sunset cocktails, a candlelit dinner, sleeping with air conditioning (OMG!), breakfast and then coffee on our little veranda, overlooking the beach. Bliss for both of us, and definitely a “battery-recharge” for Oana, who always relishes any time off the boat.
But it didn’t stop there. The best part of this lodge was the alfresco lunch right on the beach, where they served excellent raw fish poke bowls, the best French fries and … ice cream! Such are our depravities and cravings 🙂. For 3 days in a row, we had a very long lunch there socializing with tourists and other yachties alike. For instance, we met up again with our Danish friends, Brita and Kim and we went for a long sunset cycle ride with them, using the hotel’s bicycles.

Another highlight, as recommended by Kim & Brita, was a morning trip to the blue lagoon, on the NW side of Fakarava atoll. Departing at 8am with 8 others, first we snorkeled around 2 motos near to the north passage (moto is Polynesian for any island inside an atoll’s lagoon). Then we moved to the green lagoon. The boat dropped us off on a long sand bar, where we walked ashore to a palm shaded lagoon. Here the boat put out a table in the water and filled it with all manner of local goodies to eat and drink. Raw fish carpaccio, fruits, and various other delicious dishes. Then another short ride across very shallow water where we then walked through a palm covered island to discover The Blue Lagoon itself, a pool of shallow blue water sandwiched between palm fringed islands on the atoll rim. Simply stunning scenery. The best we’ve seen since the Exumas in Bahamas. And to think, anywhere else in the world this would surely be mobbed with tourists. Yet here we are, just 8 tourists in a single boat. This is remote French Polynesia.

All in all, we had a wonderful time in Fakarava atoll. Both south and north ends. We found lots of interesting things to do, several dramas and above all quite a social time compared to our reclusive normal. Now it’s time to move further west to Rangiroa atoll with a one night stop on the way, in the blind pass on Toau atoll.

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