French Navy as our neighbors

Makemo has a Haunting Surprise

We are slowly making our way northeast across the Tuamotus to give us a better heading toward the Marquesas.  We planned on being in the Marquesas for cyclone season and to participate in the large festival being held in Ua Poa.  Our last atoll in the Tuamotus is Makemo which is sort of in the middle of the Tuamotus chain of atolls.

Passage from Tahanea to Makemo

We pulled the hook around noon hoping to arrive at the pass during slack tide of 1600. The winds picked up and gave us a decent sail from the “C” anchorage toward the pass.  The lagoon is really large, but you have to be vigilant about looking for bommies as you sail across it.  Somehow, we managed to arrive at the pass right at 1600 as our friends on Maple were exiting. 

We both made it out of the pass safely.  This was the first pass that we actually sailed through and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves.  We did have the engines running, but not in gear, just in case. 

They had a 45-minute head start on us but it did not take us long to catch up.  We had our full main and a single reef in the jib.  They had two reefs in their main and a reefed jib.  We had a lot more canvas out.  Which means we were going faster but we would have to make a decision in the middle of the night.  We would either have to slow the boat way down and heave to at the pass waiting for slack tide.  Or we could continue on to the East pass another 45nm.

"C" Anchorage at Makemo

“C” Anchorage at Makemo

Super-fast sail

We decided to slow the boat down by “pinching” to the wind.  What does that mean?  We pointed the boat super close to the wind at about 17 degrees.  One side can pinch to 26 and the other pinches to about 38.  Both of these numbers are really, really good and cannot be maintained by most boats.  However, with us pinching at 17 it slowed the boat down to 2-3kts from 6-7kts.  We arrived at the pass around 0300 and hove to drifting at 1kt while waiting for sunrise (0500) and slack tide.

Maple showed up just as we were heading toward the pass.  Their sail configuration got them there in perfect time.  Our sail configuration was more fun :).   We decided to circle once to see if the outgoing tide would slow or change directions, but it didn’t.  Maple took the plunge first.  Then, we followed suit.  We both had lots of outgoing current 3-3.5 kts pushing us sideways.  Afterwards, we both agreed it was one of the scariest passes we’ve been through.  I grabbed my camera for one shot of the instrument display showing a 3 kt current.  Top is SOG or speed over ground of 2.7 vs bottom speed of 5.4 showing a 3kt current roughly.

Instrument showing current

Instrument showing current

Beautiful motus lined the pass as we entered.

Makemo pass at dawn

Makemo pass at dawn

We continued 9nm to the Punaruku anchorage where we happily dropped the hook at 0830.

PASSAGE DETAILS

  • Passage from Tahanea to Makemo
  • Miles to destination (as the crow flies) 50nm
  • Miles Traveled:  79.6nm
  • Max Speed:  10kt
  • Average Speed before we pinched: 6.2kt
  • Overall Average Speed: 4.0kt
  • Travel Time:  20.08 hrs

Punaruku Anchorage

The Punaruku anchorage sits in a small corner tucked in between a few motus.  There is only one house or family in this area.  Funny we should be in Punaruku this close to Halloween as there is a “ghost village” and a cemetery here.  We did find the cemetery which was very Tahitian.  They had beautiful shell rosary beads, shell crosses, and shell necklaces draped over the stones. Some headstones were just lava rocks at the head and foot.  Very simple, but respectful.

Cemetery at Makemo

Cemetery at Makemo

We think we found remnants of the ghost village, but to be honest are not sure.  We found what looked like to be parts of the foundations of buildings or homes, but it was not much.

Ghost village remnants

Ghost village remnants

Frankly, this motu was really sad to me.  I had an overwhelming since of sadness that I just could not shake each time we came ashore.  It could be because of the burnt surroundings, or the graves or maybe something altogether different?  They are doing a lot of copra production.  Once they dry out the coconuts, they have to dispose of the husks so they have tons and tons of burn piles all over the place.  Something was just off about the motu, but it is hard to describe.

Burnt motu from copra production

Burnt motu from copra production

We walked over several motus to get to the ocean side and found a completely different landscape.  Lots of lava rock and dead coral, but also pools of electric blue water.

Makemo on the ocean side

Makemo on the ocean side

Motu Opareke

The next anchorage is Motu Opareke which is the main village in Makemo just off the East pass.  It is not the best anchorage as the seabed is littered with bommies and there are parts of a boat wreck.  We anchored near the new pier in 5 meters of water.  Sitting happily for 24 hours before the French Marine Nationale decided to med-moor to the pier.  We were astonished they didn’t ask us to move.  The captain expertly maneuvered this large ship, dropped two anchors, and backed in to the dock.  They were so close that when they used their bow thrusters it pushed Sugar Shak sideways.

French Navy are our neighbors

French Navy are our neighbors

Onshore, we met some locals who invited us over for more hooch or Tahitian punch.  It was ridiculously strong!  After a sip, we buggered off as we needed to provision.  They sent a few kids to show us the way.  The village is not very big as you can see from the map below.

Makemo map and our tour guides

Makemo map and our tour guides

The locals post signs as you cross from one motu to another.  See above photo with one motu name crossed out and the new motu on top.

As we came in from Punaruku we saw some structures on the shore.  We could not figure out what they were so we went to investigate.  We crossed over from Motu Opareke to Motu Tamara and then to Motu Moturama to get there, about 2.5 miles. What we discovered was an old, defunct wind farm. They had 6 wind machines that fold down during high winds or cyclones, rather creative.  Unfortunately, they look like they had not been functioning in a while.  We later found out that the farm stopped working back in 2010.

Old wind farm on Makemo

Old wind farm on Makemo

Marine NationaleFrench Navy

We found the “notice board” at the wharf and learned that the Marine Nationale was allowing visitors the next day.  Sweet!  Our friends on Maple joined us for a cool tour of this ship.  There are 23 crew and 4 officers that operate this vessel that is based in Tahiti.  It navigates the French Polynesian waters along with 5 other vessels including an aircraft carrier (2200 crew), 2-Frigate boats, (90-200 crew each) and a patrol boat (25-50 crew).  The crew are on for 3 months at a time and then work at the base in Tahiti while another crew works the boat.  After a 3 year tour they can be reassigned to another boat in the FP fleet or they can go back and work in France.  This young woman is an assistant Petty Officer.  She is one of 3 women on the boat.

French Navy Officer

French Navy Officer

Bougainville is the name of this ship and it is only 3 years old so it has all of the modern technologies.  The 2ndphoto from the top shows a smaller vessel on the aft deck that can be beached (to bring vehicles on shore).  The 3rd photo shoes the enormous lines they use to dock the boat.  The 4th photo is a special flat bottom boat that can go over reefs without damaging them.

French Nationale

French Nationale

They have lots of ribs and life rafts on board.  The center photo is of their two windlasses which are massive as well.

French Nationale

French Nationale

Little About Makemo

Makemo  is translated to “atoll of perfection.”  As the third largest atoll in the Tuamotus (behind Rangiroa and Fakarava), it is famous for its spectacular undersea landscapes, pristine motus, and unhurried pace of life.  With 824 inhabitants in Makemo and another 625 inhabitants in surrounding atolls, the total population for the area is roughly 1,500.  Neighboring islands send their children here to attend boarding school which is the norm in French Polynesia.  They offer regular school for children 4-12 and “college” for children 12-15.  The small inter-island airport opened in 1976 which has brought a little more tourism and visiting Polynesians.  They received their first ATM in 2016.  Prior to that year, the poste office dispensed cash.

It was deemed an ideal picture-perfect atoll by a French navigator in 1926.  The interesting thing is that an English pearl merchant visited the atoll over a century before, in 1803.

There are two navigable passes to the fourth largest lagoon in the Tuamotus.  Makemo receives a supply ship every 3 weeks to refill supplies.  The main village is in Pouheva where the police, Le Maire, school, college, lighthouse, and main church are located.

Integrated paint scheme of purple, green, yellow and white on many continuous cement balustrades that line the main streets. 

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