French Polynesia, days 34-36, 17-19 May:
After two wonderful fun and drama filled weeks inside Fakarava atoll, it’s time for ocean sailing again. Our next passage is 145nm west, to the biggest inhabited atoll, Rangiroa, breaking the journey with a day’s stop in Toau atoll.
We depart from our mooring after breakfast. Fakarava’s north-pass is just 5nm across the lagoon and we time it to perfection, with zero in/out flow. By 8am we are in the ocean again. The downwind sailing in 10-13kts of wind is very gentle and for once the waves are kind to us. Almost hard to think we are in the ocean.
Two miles behind us, and hot-on-our-heels, is Zsel, our newly met friends Jamie, Fiona, and crew Gerard. Zsel is a sleek 67ft monohull and we are curious if little Cloudy Bay can keep ahead of her. They lose a bit of time going into the wind to hoist their mainsail but soon they are sailing 1kt faster than us and catching. Time to tweak Cloudy’s sail trim 😁, the race is on! On the initial broad reach, they gain a mile on us, but once we are level with Toau and turn downwind we are slightly faster, with our genoa poled-out, sailing it fully powered-up by-the-lee at 130AWA.
It proved to be an entertaining little morning race (for me at least!) and 40nm later we arrive at Toau’s “blind pass” with Zsel 3nm behind us, and Cloudy’s prestige still intact.
On the way we had caught a big fish and slowed the boat for a while. But alas, as is often the case in the Pacific, our catch was too big for our gear (and/or my skill) and after a 2-minute fight the fish took off with our lure and leader. Looks like it had bitten through the leader line. Zsel said they had a similar situation too. It seems there is a lot of “… the one that got away” stories related to fishing in the Pacific.
On Toau’s east side there is a navigable pass into the lagoon. But we instead decided to explore the northern “blind” pass. The blind pass through the atoll rim is deep, but immediately inside the lagoon it shallows over coral making it impossible for yachts to enter into the lagoon. But the pass itself, accessible from the outside, is like a sheltered bay, along with 10 very new moorings.
There is just one other boat in there, Impulse, the Danish boat with our friends Kim and Brita on board. And 20minutes later, Zsel joins us to be the 3rd boat.
It’s a bit odd that in the more popular spots there are no moorings, yet here, in this tiny remote bay there are 10! But we find out why later, when we go ashore.
Meanwhile the snorkeling is very good on the pass edges – lots of colourful fish as usual. And the view of the pass from the drone is quite special. From deck height you really don’t get the perspective of these incredible coral atolls – they just look like any sandy palm-tree island. But from the air the scene comes alive, and you realise the enormity of how, over thousands of years (even millions?), coral has managed to perch itself on top of these sub-sea mountains and grow into this extraordinary ring with shallow lagoon in the center. We always love our drone shots to get that different view of where we are.
Later in the afternoon we go ashore. There are just a few huts and a rickety wooden dock. We are greeted by Valentina and her husband Gaston. They have lived here all their lives. Having spotted a very out-of-place French phone booth in among the palm trees we ask: how many people live here? “Just three” Valentina says “but with you both, that makes five!” And we quickly realise she is quite a character. We see that she has a plate of food so apologize for interrupting. “Oh, no – these I made for you” she replies, as if she knew we were coming! And thrusts towards us the plate overflowing with pancakes and honey. They are delicious. And it’s honey from their own bees.
Valentina is soon sitting with us explaining her interesting family history, their life on this remote atoll and how she and Gaston had laid the moorings to protect the coral from anchors. And later had asked the French administration to service them. Which they did, by renewing them all just a year ago. We have a joke or 2 about the lonely phone booth, which apparently hasn’t worked for a while now. Then out comes the pearls. Hundreds of them. She and Gaston used to farm them but recently gave up. “Doing both fishing and the pearls was too stressful” she says. Hard to imagine anything being stressful here!
As we are out of honey and Oana wanted to buy some of Tuamotu’s famous black pearls, it seemed Valentina was a good find! Oana sorts through them picking out the best shapes and prettiness. Payment needs to be half money, half trade. She tells Oana what food she is short of, and we vow to return in the morning. 11am we ask? “Oh no, that’s the slot for the Danish, you’ll have to come at 10”. She clearly got us all lined up and pegged for business!
The next morning, we return with our cash, tins of food and pasta, and walk away with what seems like a very good deal 😄. Pearls and honey.
The second part of the passage is 102nm to the pass into Rangiroa. We cannot do 102nm in daylight hours. Whenever we have more than 80-90nm, we tend to depart late afternoon, night sail and arrive in daylight the next day. And it seems we all have a similar idea. Zsel is heading SW to Tahiti while Impulse is going to Rangiroa with us. They depart at 4pm while Zsel and us depart just after sunset, sailing out into the usual beautiful golden dusk light, just as the stars start to appear.
It’s another westward downwind leg, so before we left the mooring we had already set the boom out to port with gybe retainer and pole to starboard with guys. That meant the minute we were out the pass the sails were out and set. Such is life with our push button furling 🥰. We don’t think we’d ever want to own another cruising boat without in-mast furling.
For the evening and night we have a wonderful 15-18kts TWS, giving us a healthy 8kts boat speed, very stable and no banging and clanging of sails. Perfect. And to add to the sailing joy, we have lots of competition on this bright starry night. 7nm ahead is Impulse, along with 2 other yachts, and a catamaran Second Set on our starboard beam. Needless to say, during the night Cloudy smoked-‘em all!
But as a result of Cloudy’s blatant sportiness, we arrived to the Tiputa pass 3 hours early, when it was maximum outflow conditions. Hmmm, what goes around, comes around!
On OpenCPN’s sat image, and as advised by Kim’s captain, there were less standing waves if we stuck tight to the east side. This we did, entering with 15m water as close to edge as we dared, huge (2-3m maybe) standing waves just on our starboard side. With the strong outflow we were only doing 2-3kts forward while actually doing 9kts through the water.
While we slowly edged forward, we were given an amazing display of unadulterated showing-off by local dolphins! They were either surfing out of the wave faces or just jumping clean out the water and pirouetting in the air right next to us, then belly-flopping back into the water with a painful sounding slap! This pass is famous for them. But sadly, because we had been anxious about our pass transit, we were not prepared with any cameras, and the show was over before we could grab them.
20 minutes later we were through into the lagoon, both relieved and also elated. We even questioned: “should we go back and do it again”?!
Once inside we turned right and were quite shocked to see at least 30 yachts anchored next to the village. By 8am we were number 31. We have arrived at our last atoll in Tuamotus.