05-21-2019 – Fakarava, Tuamotus, French Polynesia

We had a great visit with Kathy’s sister Jean and her boyfriend James. They were only able to stay two weeks, but we enjoyed every minute. 🙂 They flew into Pape’ete and spent the night before taking a domestic flight to Fakarava. We picked them up at the airport, but didn’t need to take a taxi. There’s a small dock alongside the parking lot, where we tied up our dinghy. The plane was about half an hour late, which seems to be typical. 🙂 The airport is tiny; it’s a one-room building, with one area marked off for the check-in agent and baggage handling and another for a snack bar. There were no gates, just a single doorway which was used for both arrivals and departures. The public intermingled with people who had already checked in and were waiting for the plane to arrive. The runway runs along what feels like a peninsula but is actually just a portion of the long, skinny island which forms the majority of the atoll of Fakarava. There’s a gate for airport vehicles to travel along the runway, but since there are also private homes at the end of the island it’s rarely closed. The same guy who checks passengers in also opens the door to the tarmac for arriving and departing passengers.

Jean & James both had limited space in their luggage, because they were carrying several items for us. No matter how well we plan during our nearly-annual visits to the States, we always end up needing spare or repair parts along the way. We kept it to a minimum, but they brought filters for our generator, a circuit breaker for our 110V panel, 4 feet of 1/2″ brass for our windlass, a replacement pump head for our watermaker. James also brought 4 beautiful custom mugs that he had made for us, each with unique logos including the Ohm and the Knot of Eternity, which we have used in various places around Lungta and our web-page.

The next morning was slow and relaxed. We went for a snorkel at our “house bommie”, a coral garden near our boat. It’s the prettiest we’ve found in this town. Jean noticed a creature that we had never seen before, and there were dozens, as if a clutch of eggs had recently hatched. It has a head shaped like a seahorse, but it’s body is long and snake-like. They move slowly and awkwardly along the coral surfaces, but when spooked will swim freely. When we looked it up in our fish identification book, we learned it is called a networked pipefish. So now we know! Every time we’ve snorkeled at that reef since, they’ve been around.

We moved the boat at the end of the day to a new-to-us anchorage right near the north pass, in preparation for an early morning departure, on our way south to Tahanea, our favorite atoll (so far). We had a nice passage the next day. In the afternoon we were watching a big flock of small black birds that were fluttering in a tight cluster for quite a while. Clearly there was a ball of small fish below that they were feeding on. From time to time the birds would disperse a bit before relocating somewhere nearby. After a while we got fairly close and then – bang, one of our (two) fishing rods let out a whizzing sound indicating that there was a fish on the hook! James is an avid fisherman, although mostly freshwater, and was excited to play the fish and reel it in. Before he was done, though, our second lure hooked another, and then we had two fish in play, one on each side of the boat! We brought two beautiful yellow-fin tunas aboard and took them down to the kitchen sink for cleaning and dividing into portions. While that was underway, we caught a third one; all three were 10-15 lbs, and we packaged up somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 servings into our freezer. We decided to stop fishing because we couldn’t squeeze one more bit of fish in!

We sailed through the night and arrived early the next afternoon. After dropping the anchor, we had enough time to take a little dinghy explore along the shore and a short walk on the beach. We contacted our German friends on Kamiros who were already in Tahanea. They had just relocated to the eastern anchorage for better protection from an upcoming blow, which hadn’t yet appeared on our forecasts. We looked at a longer-range forecast and found that there was going to be a big blow in just a couple of days that was expected to last a week, and was going to kick up some seas that we would not want to be out in. If we decided to just stay put and wait it out, it was possible that we would be unable to get Jean & James back to Fakarava in time for their return flight. What a disappointment! We rearranged our plans, deciding to stay in the anchorage nearest the pass, rather than join our friends half a day’s sail away, and head back to Fakarava after only two days of exploring Tahanea. But we made the most of that time, snorkeling and beach-walking each day. It was a short but lovely stay.

On the third day we retraced our steps through the pass and returned to Fakarava, but this time we entered through the South Pass. Because we were preparing for the strong weather, we tucked into the SE corner where we hadn’t been before. More than 20 boats were already there, and a few more arrived over the next 24 hours. A pair of the boats is owned by a couple who run a kitesurfing school. There were half a dozen kites flying, with surfers of various levels of accomplishment below. 🙂 Some were doing jumps way overhead, while others were being dragged downwind and needed to be retrieved periodically. We dinghied over to watch the action and wander a shallow sandbar roughly in the middle of nowhere. Later we walked around a small island that was part of the outer barrier of the atoll. We found a bamboo raft that had been washed ashore which intrigued us. It had a beacon of some sort attached to it, which was sturdily built to withstand the elements and had solar panels inside to keep it powered up. It was labeled with a serial number and some initials. Dan decided to take it home, perhaps disassemble it a bit, to see if we could figure out what it was for, but we haven’t yet made much headway on that project. 🙂 Later we found a similar raft without the beacon washed up on a beach further north on Fakarava.

  

The weather was less dramatic than we had worried about, so we decided to make another hop to a place halfway up the atoll that we would have all to ourselves. It wasn’t the most comfortable sail ever, but it wasn’t bad. We ended up stopping in a new place just a little bit south of where we took Marine the previous week. This new place has now become one of our favorite spots in Fakarava. There are a few really nice bommies to snorkel, some good shoreline to poke around, and a short but slightly-overgrown trail to get to the outside shore of the atoll. We spent hours walking the beaches on both shores and collecting purple sea urchin spines that make a pleasant tinkle when they bump together, and just might become a wind chime/mobile one of these days… Jean & James have now made a pair of bracelets from these spines as a souvenir of their visit. Kathy and Jean swam out to a remote bommie one afternoon and enjoyed a sisters’ snorkel.

One day about halfway through their visit, we had a frustrating failure of our freezer. The motor just stopped running. It seemed to be the compressor that was the problem, but since it’s virtually new we were reluctant to jump to conclusions. We sent out a couple of emails asking for help/advice but didn’t have much confidence that we’d get anywhere. Kathy’s nephew (and Jean’s too!) Nick has completed a program on HVAC, and he responded pretty quickly with some useful observations about a proposed course of action and the tools we have on hand. Unfortunately, it didn’t look encouraging for a field repair. We decided to just eat what we could from the freezer over the next few days and return to Tahiti to work on it after the visit. We were surprised at how slowly the freezer warmed up, enjoying three evenings of ice cream for dessert and lots of fresh-caught tuna. A couple of days later we got another response to our emails, from the guy who had helped install the new compressor. He suggested that the problem might be a plug of ice from some water vapor in the tubing, and that if it had melted it might be worth trying to run the freezer again. So we did, and it worked just fine. It’s not often that a major equipment failure repairs itself!

We returned to the town of Rotoava the day before Jean & James’ return flight. We spent some time being tourists in the town, visiting a shop that has locally crafted souvenirs (mostly jewelry featuring pearls and seashells) where Jean found a few nice baubles for herself and some friends back home. Dan also bought a beautiful necklace for Kathy with mother-of-pearl beads. We also returned to the reef on the outside for one last beachwalk, enjoying bleached starfish and gathering cowrie shells. It was sad to say goodbye, but exciting that Jean & James both expressed an interest in coming back next year.

After they left, we started making plans to go back to Tahanea, but the winds had blown themselves out for a week or more. So we settled in for a bit, and began a biggish boat project that we’ve been threatening for a year or so: refinishing all the wood in the pilothouse. We had installed wood flooring before leaving Portland in 2011, but made a rookie error that had been troubling us for all these years. We didn’t allow for the wood to expand as it got wet, so when it did it buckled. We needed to remove it and trim it down, giving it room along the edges. In addition to stripping and varnishing the floor, there was another (roughly) 50-60 square feet of walls and cabinets to sand and oil. It’s taken us a couple of weeks to complete this project, but it’s coming together beautifully!

We’ve run into a boat that we met in Nuku Hiva last June. Moggy is a newish catamaran that has been beautifully updated by Lyn & Dave. Their attention to detail is phenomenal, perhaps even a bit obsessive. 🙂 While still in the Marquesas, they purchased a second catamaran which had been confiscated by the government after a drug raid that recovered roughly $17 million worth of cocaine. The boat sat un-cared-for for 18 months and was in poor condition. But not any more! Dave & Lyn have worked their magic and are hoping to sell the boat for a nice profit before leaving French Polynesia. In the meantime, they each sail one of the boats whenever they travel. We visited them one evening for “sundowners” and met a woman from yet another boat whose husband was away for a few weeks for a family emergency. (In fact, he left on the same plane as Jean & James.) Marta is from South Africa, but her parents were Belgian & Dutch. She married and embarked on the cruising life nearly 40 years ago. She’s full of sparkle and stories, and we’ve enjoyed spending a few evenings with her as well.

We have also recently met a couple of young British men in the internet hotspot who had been suddenly kicked off of the boat they had been on for more than 3 months. They had expected to reach Tahiti before leaving, knew no one in Fakarava and had nowhere to stay. We invited them to stay on Lungta for a few days while they regrouped. One of them (Ben) already had an airline ticket from Tahiti to London for a week later, but the other (Fin) had no additional plans. We spent a day lining things up, including getting a domestic flight for Ben to Tahiti, and then took them on a short trip to our new favorite anchorage that we had “discovered” with Jean & James. We spent another fun three days snorkeling and enjoying the beach with them. We had a small bonfire one night, complete with marshmallows, which was fun. Fin and Ben are both extremely considerate crew mates, great in the kitchen and pleasant to hang around with. Plus, they’re anxious to help with our boat projects and learn to sail! It was sad to see Ben disappear so quickly, but it looks like Fin will be with us a while. We’re about to try our luck again with a jaunt down to Tahanea, and hopefully spend some time with our friends on Kamiros again. All is well aboard Lungta – hope each of you can say the same about your life!

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