Category Archives: Society Islands

Including Bora Bora, Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Ralatea Tahaa

Whales in Teti'aroa

A Whale of a Send Off: Passage Teti’aroa to Makatea

Teti’aroa is know for whale spotting, especially from July to November.  We had seen several spouts and watched a few charter boats do the dance around the entrance in search of a whale.  But we didn’t actually see a whale breach the water during our stay.  A little disappointed, we raised the main sail and released the mooring.  It was time to head to a new island called Makatea.  We unfurled the jib and put out our three fishing lines as soon as we left and were crossing the bay.  Then I heard Matt shout “whale.”  I ran back, grabbed the big camera and tried to capture these elusive beauties.

Under full sail with three fishing lines out we had to be careful about maneuvering the boat.  We could not just turn on a dime to go back which was frustrating, but I got a few shots of the mama whale and her baby calf.

Whales in Teti'aroa

Whales in Teti’aroa

We received a send off part just as we were passing Brando island.  A pod of dolphins came to play with Sugar Shack.  We weren’t going very fast, so I am sure it was not much of a sport to them.

Dolphins off Brando Island

Dolphins off Brando Island

Making Our Way to Makatea

We knew it would be a light wind motor sail, but we had hoped for a little more wind than what we got.  Regardless, we had full sails up, port engine running, and three lines out on our way to Makatea.

The moon rose as the sun set in perfect unison.  So gorgeous.

Moonrise and Sunset

Moonrise and Sunset

As we approached Makatea the next morning, we started preparing the boat for mooring.  I was setting the lines for the mooring while Matt brought in the fishing lines.  We caught nothing, zippo, nada during the entire trip!  As Matt brought in one of the lures, we understood why we did not hear the elusive “zing” of the line.  Someone ate our skirt as an appetizer.

Someone ate her skirt!

Someone ate her skirt!

Passage Details:

Miles Traveled:  110 nm

Duration:  20:30

Avg. Speed:  5.3 kt

Max Speed:  8.1 kt

Wind Speed:  8-10 kt

Swell:  .5

Makatea has soaring cliffs that jet into the sky from the sea’s surge.  Making a very imposing sight on entry.

Approaching Makatea

Approaching Makatea

Mooring in Makatea

There is no anchorage anywhere near the island of Makatea.  There are only three moorings that are maintained by the locals.  Lucky for us, there were no other boats when we arrived.  So we had our pick of the moorings.  A fellow cruiser told us that the mooring on the far left (red) is the best one because it is not moored in super deep water (50 meters vs 100 meters).   We circled around and found the painter sunk below the water.  We grabbed the line, threaded our two lines through loop and secured Sugar Shack.    The boat is maybe 8-10 meters away from the surge and the reef – freakishly close!

Surge over reef at Makatea

Surge over reef at Makatea

Long Lost Friends

A few hours after we arrived, we saw a boat on the horizon without AIS.  We could not determine their name so we just watched as they approached.  It did not take long for us to hear the roar of “Sugar Shack.  Hey, it’s Matt and Christine!”  Well they certainly know us….if we only knew them?  They slowly motored up next to us and it was Yves and Martha on Break Away.  We had not seen them since Las Perles, Panama (over 18 months ago).  Sweet!

We let them get settled on the furthest mooring before picking them up to go exploring in town.  We had to navigate the tricky pass that has a big surge over the reef. Lucky for us, Sweetie is equipped with a 25hp outboard.  We timed it between sets and made it in with no problem.  A quick bow anchor and stern tie to dock and we are off.  The photo below shows the surge over the reef between the two poles which is the entrance.

Entrance to Makatea Port

Entrance to Makatea Port

On Shore – Makatea

We found lots of industrial equipment, the le marie (mayor’s office) and a magasin with ice cream and wifi.  We decided to turn back before it got too dark and enjoyed sun downers on Break Away.

Old trains abandoned on the island

Old trains abandoned on the island

The map below shows the trail we will go on during our tour.  See Belvedere and Pot Hole.

Map of Makatea

Map of Makatea

The terrain was mixed between large rocks jetting from the ground to beautiful forests.  I am sure will learn more about this on our tour.

Lots of phosphate rocks on this island

Lots of phosphate rocks on this island

Returning to the port, we see our beautiful boat sitting close to the ruins.

Sugar Shack on her mooring close to the reef

Sugar Shack on her mooring close to the reef

Teti'aroa aerial view

Teti’aroa, aka Brando Island

Teti’aroa is an atoll (see last blog), which means there are islets or motus but no main island.  This particular atoll has no passe so we have no way of entering the lagoon.  But we were able to secure Sugar Shack to one of the five available moorings.  The five moorings are located just off the motu Rimatuu.  These are primarily used for charter boats who bring tourists here from Tahiti (33 miles south).  This is such a pretty spot that we decided to stay for a few days.  We had glorious sunrises over Rimatuu.

Sunrise over Teti'aroa

Sunrise over Teti’aroa

The tide exposes the plethora of rocks during low tide in the morning.  It still takes my breath away to see the surge breaking on the reef so close to our home.  The top photo shows the exposed reef as the tide goes out and the bottom shows the same spot with the incoming wave.

Surge and reef at Teti'aroa

Surge and reef at Teti’aroa

Charter Boat Hysteria

The charter boats come to Teti’aroa from Tahiti.  We had heard that the mooring balls were owned and operated by the charter boats but that cruisers could tie up to them if one was available.  We had tied up to the last one furthest away from the entrance.  Mainly because it was available and because it was not as close to the reef as the other available one.

At 0730 the next morning, the skipper from one of the charter boats came by and asked, “how long we planned on staying?”  We told him a few days and he mumbled something about “owning” the mooring.  He said that a lot of boats would be arriving later in the morning and he may have to tie up behind us.  We said, “no problem” and he went on his way.  We had heard that this might happen.  But what we were told was that we would have to give up the mooring and tie up behind the charter boat – which was not ideal.

By 0945, 6 charter boats had arrived.  Keep in mind there are only 5 moorings and we were on one and another charter boat was on another.  So, what happened you may ask?  The strangest thing we have ever seen.

The Game of Musical Chairs:

A Poe (name of charter) 40’ Lagoon tied up to a mooring.  Then a Poe 38’ Lagoon tied up to the first one’s stern (using their bridle and a line tied to one cleat on the stern of the first boat).  Then another Poe 40’ Lagoon tied up to the 2nd one’s stern.  What?  Yep, 3 boats tied on to one mooring.  Then a “Moorings” boat came in (that is a charter company called “Moorings”) and he tied up to a new mooring ball closest to the entrance.  And then a 70’ charter cat came in and tied to the 3rd Poe’s stern.  If you can believe it, then a Tahiti Tours Fountain Pajot came in and circled the group of boats.  It seemed to me a certain understanding was going on that we were not a part of.  The charter cat that was here the night before with the skipper who talked to us, left his mooring.  What?  Why would he do that?  He left the mooring for the Tahiti Tours boat and went behind the 70’ cat and tied up to him.  So, now 5 boats are tied bow to stern all using one mooring ball!

5 Charter boats on 1 mooring ball

5 Charter boats on 1 mooring ball

This is absolutely not advisable.  I am assuming they know their mooring and the strength of the lines, but still who would take this chance?  The captains spent the next 90 minutes ferrying their guests to the beach.  They only take 2 guest per dinghy ride in order to get up on plane to safely cross over the reef and surge.

Morning Swim?

We had lots of Teti’aroa friends protecting the boat throughout our stay at this atoll.  Several black tip sharks and lemon sharks swam around checking out our undercarriage.  The waters around Teti’aroa were brimming with sea life!

Protection from the sea

Protection from the sea

These sharks are relatively harmless.  They are not aggressive, but we still respected them and gave them their space.  No swimming or showering off the back of the boat for us.

We had hoped one of the boat captains would offer to bring us to shore since we did not want to risk damaging Sweetie.  However, they were very occupied with their 75+ guests so we stayed on board.

The next morning, we had swung around to have our stern pointing at the reef.  Now we were only 45-50 meters away from the breaking surge.  Still, nerve racking.

Surge over reef feeling really close

Surge over reef feeling really close

This was a truly gorgeous atoll.  We would have loved to explore the shore and sea of Teti’aroa a bit but the conditions were just not right.

Making of an atoll

The Making of an Atoll: The Subsidence Phenomenon

Every single island in the Tuamotus, and a few islands in the other archipelagos, are atolls.  So, what is an atoll?

An atoll begins to form when a volcanic island becomes inactive.  All of the islands in French Polynesia are slowly sinking and moving west.  Some have just been sinking a lot longer than others.  The volcanic islands in the Tuamotus are some of the oldest in the region.

The volcanic island sinks or subsides under its own weight.  At the same time, a coral reef forms around the island.  This takes about 6 million years.  The coral reef can be between 0 and 200 meters deep.  Anything deeper than 200 meters soon dies as it does not have enough light to survive. 

Over time, the volcanic mountain disappears completely.  The coral proliferates as the volcano slips into the ocean.  New colonies spring up on the skeletons of the old ones, constantly renewing the calcareous crown of the surface.  Eventually, what remains of the mountain is an underwater basalt platform covered with a thick calcareous crust.

This display is a good example of the making of an atoll.  The image up front shows the volcano, the center shows the mountain sinking and the furthest one is an atoll.

Making of an atoll

Making of an atoll

Typically, there is a passe that allows vessels to enter the lagoon that is surrounded by the coral reef.  Some atolls have no passe which makes them impossible to visit.  Other atolls have a dangerous passe which has to be navigated during a certain time (slack tide) to avoid damaging your vessel.

Teti’aroa’s atoll

Teti’aroa has no passe.  There is no way to bring the big boat into the protected lagoon.  However, there are 5 mooring balls located near the reef buried in over 50 meters of water.  We were able to secure one of these moorings.  The photo below is from our Navionic app which shows a light gray reef all the way around the atoll.  The yellow spots indicate the motus or islets and the blue (inside the gray) is the lagoon.  The gray represents the coral around the motus.

Teti'aroa motus

Teti’aroa motus