Category Archives: Tuamotus Islands

Including: Tike Hau,, Rangiroa, Manihi

Yellow Fin Tuna

Wicked Passage: Tuamotus to Marquesas

Best laid plans change.  Sugar Shack, along with our friends on Maple, had planned on leaving Makemo for the 5-day passage on 3 November.  We checked several weather reports, routing apps, and guestimator for the slack tide at Makemo.  We were all set and excited to make our way to a new archipelago.  Little did we know that a wicked passage was in our future.

Before we left, I attended the local church service on the morning of our departure.  It was a lovely, old, wooden church with high arching wood slat ceiling.  They had several sea shell chandeliers that added to the ambiance as the breeze rustled through them.  The most amazing thing was the choir which had voices like angels.  I did not understand a single word of the sermon, but felt the presence of God and community.

Church on Makemo Atoll

Church on Makemo Atoll

Leaving the Makemo’s East Pass:

Matt and Daryl (Maple) had been out to the pass several times this morning to check the pass.  We were confident that a 10a departure out of the pass would give us an easy exit.  

$hit happens and weather changes.  A squall rolled in right at the time we needed to raise our anchor.  Both boats decided to wait until the storm passed so as not to encounter strong winds and current out the pass.  At 11a we raised our anchor and motored to the pass.  We did not actually get to the pass until 1145 and everything had changed.  Now, we had 3 kts of wind pushing the boat out and sideways.   It was a wicked pass and one that we hope we don’t ever have to repeat.

Enormous waves were crushing over and down on our bow causing the boat to hobby horse.  It was extremely scary and nerve racking but we made it safely.  Our friends on Maple had a much more difficult time as they have a smaller boat with smaller engines.  It was incredibly difficult to watch them pitch pole every which way.  One time a rogue wave caught their hull and they actually flew a hull like a race boat.  Terrifying, but they too got out safely.  Albeit, with more gray hairs.

Passage Making:

After we got through the weather system, we found the wind at 20kts and were sailing along nicely with 8-9kts of boat speed.  That’s really fast for us and we loved it.  Unfortunately, we left Maple behind and lost sight of them within the first 3 hours.

Starting on a tack at 071 degrees, we had a choice to make.  Go on the east or west side of Rarioia.  We preferred to go on the east side as it is shorter, but might not give us the angle we want with the current wind direction.  The weather models had 2 of them going east and 2 going west.  The west models added 30nm to our destination.  We decided to go east.  We turned 20 degrees to a new heading of 50 degrees which allowed us to barely skirt the Taenga atoll and make our way around Rarioa.

During the night, Matt tacked 3 times to avoid getting to close to shore and avoid the Takume atoll.  Now we are close to the rhumb line and should be able to hold this direction for the rest of the 430 miles.

Morning Day 2

The forecast was way off the mark, but we are not surprised.  It seems to me that the weatherman is the only person that an be wrong so often and still keep a job.  Matt looked at 4 different models for the forecast and not one predicted our current weather.  We had 20kts of true wind and 2-meter seas that were steep, choppy fuckers.  Sugar Shack was making an amazing 8-9 boat speed toward our destination which made our VMG (velocity made good) excellent.  But it did make me feel horrible.  Matt was convinced we would see a 200 nm day.  Would be a big day considering we made 86nm on day 1 and only 60% of that was VMG.  We had one reef in the main and 2 reefs in the jib (slightly reduced sail for my landlubber friends).

I felt wicked the entire day and spent my downtime in the fetal position.  As day turned into night our wind picked up and we were averaging 9-10’s which is a bit too much for a beam reach.  We de-powered the boat by taking in another reef in the main and jib.  Matt said it was “the worst sail trim he has ever seen and we are still doing 10’s.”

Morning Day 3

Another choppy, bumpy, bashing, wicked day at sea.  We continue to see high winds and big seas.  I’m still feeling like crap, but carrying on.  We are seeing a 2.8-3kt current pushing us sideways which is odd.  The arrow in the center shows the current, but it didn’t come out in the photo.  This is one of our instruments that we stare at all day and night.

It shows SOG (speed over ground) at 9.4, boat speed over water which takes into account the current at 8.1, True wind speed at 19.7 and our position.  The boat is rocking and rolling so much that the stupid iPhone would not focus on the instrument.  Ugh!

Instrument showing passage details

Instrument showing passage details

We noticed that the high winds are having an impact on our boat as well.  The sunbrella protective cover on the luff of the jib has torn.  That will have to be taken down and resewn.

Ripped jib edge

Ripped jib edge

As the afternoon approached our boat speed slowed down to 7-8kts which was a bit more reasonable.  The waves were not as angry but still choppy.  We did manage to catch a yellow fin tuna that will feed both of us 3 meals.  He was a little guy but thick.

Yellow Fin Tuna

Yellow Fin Tuna

We had a choice to either changing course and heading to Ua Poa or continuing on to Nuku Hiva.  Ua Poa 25 miles closer and we thought we could arrive at daylight.  Whereas we’d have a night arrival in Nuku Hiva which is never good when you approach an anchorage for the first time.  As we got closer, we decided to continue on to Nuku Hiva.  The wind shifted and forced us to pinch so much that it slowed our boat speed down to a respectable 5-6kts.  We’d arrive either anchorage at night and the Nuku Hiva anchorage is known to be a big wide-open bay.  Much safer to arrive in the darkness.

Arrival – Morning Day 4

What a pleasant surprise arriving to a mountainous island, after spending months in the Tuamotus where the atolls are all flat.  The atolls are only as tall as their largest palm tree.  Of course, it was dark when we arrived so all we could see were the outlines of the mountains in the setting moon.

Moon setting behind the mountains

Moon setting behind the mountains

As we entered the bay at 0100 it was another pleasant surprise to see the many lights on shore.  It looks like a pretty bustling village, Taiohae. 

Village lights pre-dawn

Village lights pre-dawn

I am sure you can imagine my relief to set the hook!  We found a 12-meter spot and dropped the hook onto the muddy bottom.  After opening a few hatches, I set to bed while Matt enjoyed a nice frosty and well-deserved beer.

Wicked, Wicked Passage Details:

  • Passage from Makemo, Tuamotu to Nuka Hiva, Marquesas
  • Miles to destination (as the crow flies) 504 nm
  • Miles Traveled:  549nm (around atolls and a few tacks)
  • Max Speed:  12.2kt
  • Average Speed: 6.5kt
  • Travel Time:  84:57

Despite my many comments on the “wicked passage” we arrived safely with very little damage to Sugar Shack.

Welcome to the Marquesas archipelago.  First stop, Nuku Hiva.

Nuku Hiva Island

Nuku Hiva Island

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. 

Tahanea Anchorage with Easy and Rhapsody

Exquisite Tahanea

Tahanea is an uninhabited atoll known for its active passes teaming with manta rays, sharks, large fish, and beautiful coral.  Many of our cruising friends proclaimed this to be their favorite spot in all of French Polynesia.  We were looking forward to experiencing this rare beauty for ourselves. 

This atoll is considered uninhabited. However, locals come four months out of the year to harvest copra and one man lives here as the “guardian.”  During our visit, only the guardian was on hand.

We were in need of some fun after our productive day of repairing the port shifter cable and windlass remote.  Matt and I went exploring on one of the close motus.  It was low tide which meant we could walk out to the reef.  Most of the motus are covered in broken coral and shells with very little sandy areas. But we had fun walking around and found a ton of eels hiding under rocks in less than 3” of water!

Tahanea Motu in all its beauty

Tahanea Motu in all its beauty

Happy hour on Sugar Shack

We invited our friends on Rhapsody (Ada and John), Easy (Mike), and Imani (Doreen and Mark) over for happy hour.  We had tons of tuna and wanted to share.  Mike came over to help us clean the fish.  We had some great fun feeding the left overs to the sharks off the back of the boat.

Sharks eating our tuna leftovers

Sharks eating our tuna leftovers

We’ve had some rain storms.  But, after each one we were rewarded with rainbows.  The top photo is Rhapsody and the bottom is Easy.

Rainbows of Tahanea

Rainbows of Tahanea

The wind has been squirrely.  Sometimes we have no wind and our floats bunched together.  Which is not good for scope.  The proper way the floats should be all in one line (top photo).  The bottom shows them all bunched up.

Crazy floats not always doing their job

Crazy floats not always doing their job

Manta Rays:

We gathered the troops (Rhapsody and Easy) and headed to snorkel the pass which is known to have Manta Rays.  There was a light incoming current as we drifted from the sea into the lagoon.  It was brimming with beautiful coral, fish, and sharks.  We were on the hunt for manta rays.  After an hour, we headed to the other side of the pass.  Still no luck. We had been out for about 90 minutes and were a little pruny.  Just as we were organizing everything in the dinghy, we spotted a manta ray – the hunt was on! 

The manta rays use the pass to feed on plankton.  They open their expansive mouths, collect their food, and glide away.  Their fins or wings are so powerful that they create a stream of light bubbles off the tips (bottom photo).  It was so amazing I nearly cried.

Manta Rays in Tahanea

Manta Rays in Tahanea

These were not ginormous, but they were huge creatures.  It’s as if I could swim into the valley of their mouth and be swallowed hole.

Looks like they want to eat me, but they just like plankton

Looks like they want to eat me, but they just like plankton

The manta rays are curious and swim close to you, but then turn away as they had business to attend to – feeding.

Come back, I am not done playing with you

Come back, I am not done playing with you

It was truly a magical and mystical experience for me.  These creatures are majestic and so smooth as they casually fly through the sea.  I will always remember this amazing experience!

Maiden Drone Voyage

Matt has tried and tried and tried to fly the new drone.  Unfortunately for us they have no instructions.  Believe it or not, they send you to YouTube to watch instructional videos.  All sounds good until you don’t have wifi!  Lucky for us, Matt was able to download a few videos before we left the wifi zone.  Then we could not fly it because we were in no-fly zones (near airports) in Rangiroa and Fakarava.  Seriously?  Finally, we arrive in Tahanea with no airports, no wind, and space to take the maiden voyage.

Lots of controls on the game boy type remote.  Matt did a great job for his first time out.  Can’t wait until he gets better, smoother, and in more control.  Stay tuned for more great aerial shots!

Sugar Shack floating above the water

Sugar Shack floating above the water

The beauty of Tahanea from the sky

The beauty of Tahanea from the sky

Rock Art

We grabbed Mike and went to explore another motu off Tahanea.  It is located near the middle pass which we used to enter the lagoon.  We had seen some beautiful rock towers and wanted to check them out.  Mike and Matt in dink and on shore working on flying the drone.

Matt and Mike flying the drone

Matt and Mike flying the drone

Some people, most likely cruisers have been busy!  Can you see what is hidden in the top photo?

Rock art on Tahanea

Rock art on Tahanea

Our friends on Rhapsody took this amazing photo of Sugar Shack at sunset.  No wind, still, and breathless.

Sugar Shack Magestic Shot

Sugar Shack Magestic Shot

New Friends on Imani

We met some new friends on a boat called “Imani.”  Doreen and Mark have raised their two kids and lived on the boat for the past 25 years.  Mark is an artist and jeweler and graciously invited us over to look at his work. He converted one of the hulls into a workshop that had a buffer and metal press to create all sorts of amazing jewelry.  You can check out and order his work on etsy (etsy.com/marcgounard/shop).

Imani's jewelry work shop

Imani’s jewelry work shop

His jewelry is incredibly unique and one of a kind.  He works with stones, gems, pearls, metal and more.

Rhapsody, Imani, and Easy all decided to head to Makemo while Matt and I stayed in Tahanea but went to a different anchorage.  We hope to meet up with them on one of the northern atolls or the Marquesas.  We motor sailed the 7nm to the “7” anchorage.  This spot got its name because it looks like a “7” from the Google Earth imagery.

The 7 Anchorage in Tahanea

The 7 Anchorage in Tahanea

Boobies!

What an incredibly peaceful and serene spot.  We dropped the hook in 3 meters of sandy water and did not have to use the floats!  Thank goodness.  What a striking spot.  Turquoise waters, small islets covered in towering palm trees and a large variety of birds.  We explored the two small motus and admired all the beautiful birds. 

Motus in Tahanea

Motus in Tahanea

Brown boobies, red boobies, sandpipers and more make this atoll home.

Boobies in Tahanea

Boobies in Tahanea

I loved capturing these birds in flight.  The contrast of their translucent white wings against the blue sky was striking.

Beautiful bird sanctuary of Tahanea

Beautiful bird sanctuary of Tahanea

We found another motu at the “C” anchorage that had lots and lots of babies.  The red boobies (with red feet) nest in the low trees whereas the blue boobies (blue feet) nest on the ground.

Mama red foot boobie with her fluffy baby

Baby boobies

Baby boobies

This is a juvenile blue foot boobie who has yet to lose its fluffy baby feathers

Teenager boobies

Teenager boobies

We found lots of babies, both red and blue foot boobies – they are all fuzzy white and so cute.  We even found some eggs in a nest on the ground.

Baby boobies

Baby boobies

Its so funny to see these young palm trees.  The coconuts fall off trees, go into the ocean and land on the shores.  Then the start to grow and eventually plant themselves.  These young trees all planted where they landed.

Palm trees growing from lost coconuts

Palm trees growing from lost coconuts

Sugar Shack at the “7” anchorage sitting pretty and owning it.

Sugar Shack

Sugar Shack