Baie Apu is at the southeastern corner of Taha’a. Our surveyor lives at this baie and suggested we visit it since we had not been there before. The first thing we noticed were a lot of boats on moorings. Hmmm. I am thinking we need to grab a mooring since it is pretty darn deep here (30-40 meters). Lucky for us there were several to choose from.
This is a really interesting baie because a reef outlines its edges making most of the surrounding land inaccessible. Unless of course you are a local landowner who has dredged and added a personal dock. In addition to the beautiful reef is a small motu or ilot in the middle of the bay called Ile Toapuhi.
We explored by dinghy and found the reef to be peppered with huge coral heads and lots of little fish. In the photo below you can see the lagoon (dark blue foreground, reef (brown) and then light blue (sand). Then we came across this really interesting tree that captured my heart.
Suri, a Super Yacht’s Toy Storage Vessel
We discovered this huge motor yacht called “Suri” in the back of Baie Apu. I think it is toy storage vessel for another vessel, but not 100% certain. There was an enormous slide that was calling my name but I didn’t think they’d appreciate me asking for a run. On the back they had a super beautiful, sleek speed boat, a fishing boat, several jet skis, paddle boards, 2 large inflatable dinghies and a fishing boat! It was registered in Bikini Island.
Looking back toward the anchorage. Can you spy Sugar Shack in the bottom photo? Lots of catamarans. In fact, there were 5 Catanas and 2 Otremers. Of the 22 boats moored here, 10 were in storage mode (nobody living on them).
Ile Tiapuhi is an unusual motu or ilot in the middle of the bay. It too has a reef around it making it difficult to access. However, we did find a small dinghy dock with a “prive” sign. There was a small beach, a copra farming area, and a small cleared area. I wonder if it is called Tabu Motu or if it is Tabu to go to this motu?
Baie Apu Onshore
We got up early to explore onshore. We pulled up to a dock that we believe belongs to someone we met a few years ago called Captain Richard. Although we did not see him, we did take advantage of his dock. He has a gorgeous house with a fully open concept. I loved it!
A short distance away is the Champon Pearl Farm which was started and is run by a family for the past 20 years. The mother designs the jewelry, the father and brother harvest and graft and the daughter gives the tours and assists with the jewelry. They have a gorgeous property on the corner of Baie Apu. On the property is their house (white wood in top photo), a stunning wood pergola, a tree house, sandy beach, and their pearl business. The pearl farm is actually located out by the reef where there is better water flow.
The actual harvesting of the pearls takes place in a small hut over the water (as it is a dirty business). Here they do the cleaning, harvesting, grafting, and growing.
This pearl farm has about 100,000 shells at the farm. They harvest 30,000 each year but only 20,000 are pearl producing. They are one of three active pearl farms on Taha’a.
Here are a few things we learned:
- They search for a clam shell with exceptional color. Once found, they “sacrifice” it to be the host for other shells. How do they do that? They take snippets of its black muscle (the lips of the clam) and insert it along with a nucleous into another shell. This helps the new shell produce a colorful pearl.
- They can harvest the same shell 5x before it is done. (We’ve heard this varies based on the pearls it produces but most shells are only harvested 2-3 times.)
- The 5th graft would be a very large pearl and can take up to 10 years to produce.
- One should note that the larger the pearl the more chance for imperfections.
- A pearl has to turn regularly inside the shell, in every direction to become a perfect pearl. However, often times a grain of sand or something will be inside the shell causing imperfections. For example, we have several pearls with rings around them. That happens when the pearl turns in the same direction while rubbing against a grain of sand.
- If the shell rejects the nucleous, they will leave the graft tissue inside to produce keshi pearls.
- 0-1% of the pearls produced are perfect pearls. They do not drill these pearls, but put them in beautiful “cages” to preserve their perfect status (see image below)
- 3% are considered “class A” pearls which have less than 10% of imperfections. Very difficult to see and can often be hidden with the jewelry clasp.
- 10-15% are considered “class B” pearls with 30% imperfections which are visible with the naked eye.
- Class C pearls either are lacking in luster or have many imperfections. Miva believes it is better to get a pearl with imperfections than to get a pearl with no luster.
Harvesting and Grafting Pearls
We’ve seen this done so many times that I honestly did not think we would learn anything new. But I was wrong! First, they showed us how a nucleous was born. They take shells, found in Mississippi, cut them in strips, then in strips are cut into squares and then the squares are rounded into a nucleous (see top left photo).
The 2nd row, left photo shows pearls cut in half so you can see how much is actually the pearl and how much is the nucleous. All of these are 18 months old.
These are the very pretty perfect pearls in their cage. You can actually open the cage and take the pearls out too.
Super cool day! This occurred on 25 September 2020. Our blog posts run 6-8 weeks behind our adventures.