02-12-2021 – Fakarava, Tuamotus, French Polynesia

A New Year has come upon us, and with it for many, the sense that the future holds promise as a dark year has been left behind! Ours started out nicely, with a friend aboard Lungta for the first time in over a year.

Fabienne is a French nurse who is working abroad for 4 years in Tahiti. We met her on New Year’s Eve 2019, and her friendship was probably our most significant one throughout the year of coronavirus. We were all sad to part ways when we left Taravao in July, but she gets a long break from the school schedule over Christmas and New Year’s. She was with us for three weeks, which was long enough to sail down to Tahanea and show her our Favorite Atoll. Fabienne is a very athletic person and loves snorkeling, so she was in her element! Every day she was in the water, usually 2 or even 3 times!

She has taken the course for scuba-diving, but doesn’t feel confident in her skills, so we took her on several simple dives – for practice and confidence-building in a gentle environment. But our first attempt turned out to be more of an “adventure” than expected. We got all our gear together and loaded it in the dinghy first thing in the morning, then motored a couple of miles east to the pass. We sat in the dinghy, waiting for the tide to turn from outgoing to incoming, but it seemed to take much longer than we expected. Finally we decided to get in and give it a try. We spent 10 or 15 minutes getting everything on properly and swimming down to the bottom – and then realized that there really was no way the tide was coming in, regardless of what time the forecast said it was supposed to have occurred! There had been a lot of rain in the preceding few days, and we’ve heard it said that if there’s so much water coming into the lagoon because of rain or high seas causing breaking waves to come over the coral wall, then an incoming tide could actually look more like an extended but reduced outgoing tide. So now we’ve seen something new. 🙂 Rather than tow the dinghy against the current, we scrapped the dive. We piled back into the boat along with all the gear and headed back towards Lungta. On the way a big rain cloud overtook us, and we got drenched. Getting wet wasn’t actually a problem at all, but the visibility was so poor that we couldn’t even be sure we were heading in the right direction! We continued on and eventually Fabienne spotted Lungta’s silhouette through the rain, quite a bit before either of us were able to pick out even the faintest of shadows. We headed for home, laughing at the fragility of our plans.

We sailed off the next day to a new anchorage along the north coast that we had heard about. We spent a few days exploring the nearby coral bommies and the rough shoreline. On one hike, we found three more of the plastic floats that we’ve been using to “float our chain” (to keep it from getting fouled in the coral below the boat). Score! Fabienne has spent a lot of time snorkeling in the waters of Tahiti and knows the fish there quite well, but she was thrilled to see how many different fish live in the waters of the Tuamotus. We also spent a few days at our favorite anchorage in the south, enjoying more snorkeling and a visit to the tiny nearby islands, before deciding that we needed to head back to Fakarava before some stronger weather came through.

    

We relocated to the pass, in preparation for a late afternoon departure, but that afternoon two boats that we knew came in. Our friends on Moggy invited us for dinner, so we decided to delay our departure until the next day. It was great to reconnect with them after more than a year of drifting around different places. They had some exciting stories to tell (including an island wedding and an encounter with a “freak” wave that nearly sank their boat). We joined both boats (Moggy and Mat-Lau) for a long snorkel the next morning at the pass just to the east of where we were anchored. This is a place where we have often seen manta rays in the past, but not one showed up this time. Our working theory is that it’s a seasonal difference. As before, we drifted out with the light current and brought the dinghy with us, holding onto a rope to keep it close. When we started to get close to the rougher waves of the open sea, we piled into the dinghy, puttered back inside a quarter mile, and repeated the ride. We did that segment 3 times, until the current was moving in, and then we rode into the lagoon along the eastern coast. This was a new section for us, and we were blown away at the density of healthy coral and fishlife. It’s a shame it was our last swim before leaving, because we want *more*. We’ll just have to return to Tahanea to get our fill. 🙂

  

The night we were underway back to Fakarava sported a beautiful full moon. We had a very nice sail through the night and arrived at the south pass in time for a morning high tide. We anchored just around the corner from the pass so that we could dive it the next day. Nearby was a huge mega-yacht, with a big tender boat (kinda like a dinghy, but much larger, appropriate for also going ocean fishing), a helicopter and a big hold full of toys (like jet-skis). We’ve read that it’s a “thing” for the super-rich to be living on their yachts now, setting up a travelling covid-free zone with staff managing the legalities and the complexities of social distancing and quarantining. The helicopter took a couple of trips around the area that afternoon. We enjoyed watching the skilled pilot take off and land from the tiny landing zone on the third story of the ship!

We snorkeled in the south pass the next day, and also poked around an area that’s designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which (among other things) means it’s off-limits to anchors. We had been there previously and remembered it as absolutely spectacular. This time, though, what was most spectacular was the dark clouds that menaced overhead. 🙂 We didn’t stay for long and ended up getting back home just before those clouds opened up and dumped on us! Fabienne is quite a photographer, and one of her passions is dramatic weather. She had her fill on this trip – a mixed blessing if there ever was one!

We spent another three days at a spot we think of as the “halfway spot”, and then a couple at a new-to-us place east of the town. Ho-hum, lots of pretty coral & fish, good meals, interesting places to stroll along the coast. 🙂 Eventually it was time for Fabienne to return home, but with her coffers full of new memories. I predict she’ll be back…

When we provisioned for her visit, we found a couple of items that brought us many meals of pleasure. One was a large bundle of basil, which had a strong aroma that lingered in the galley for a couple of weeks – until we processed the last of it into pesto and popped it in the freezer. The other was a full bunch of bananas, called a “regime” in French; makes me think of a militia standing in ranks. We hung the whole thing from a rope in the middle of the back deck, hoping that it would be safe from bruising as it swung around while on the ocean. It was somewhat successful, except for the ones that fell off and hit the floor. 🙂 As a surprise bonus, we found two small geckos had hitchhiked aboard, hidden among the ranks of the bananas. We have had numerous sightings of one in our food pantry, but we don’t know if it’s one or both of them. More recently we saw another one, but really tiny. We have no idea whether this one also hitchhiked in or whether the previous two are breeding. Either way, we’re thrilled whenever we have a Gecko Encounter! (But Dan would still prefer a puppy!)

The supply ship that normally restocks the grocery store weekly is only running once a month now, during the “low season”. It took us a little while to figure out the change and to “synchronize” to the new schedule. Confusingly, it seems that there are at least three ships that are coming in here, and each has its own characteristic types of freight. The one we’re most familiar with seems to be the only one that carries fresh fruits & veggies, and we recently learned that we can get a 25-pound sack of bread flour for about $5 from them directly. We were pleased when a different ship came in that replenished the gasoline tanks at the local gas station. We filled up 5 jerry cans, probably enough to last us for 6-9 months!

Our washing machine broke down (a couple of months ago, now) and we’ve been trying to figure out how to replace it. It’s complicated and expensive to purchase one from the States and have it shipped. Anything we get in French Polynesia would be 220V, though, which means a somewhat more complicated installation. Then there’s the question of getting one aboard and installed downstairs. There’s nowhere local that we could purchase one; we’d have to get it from Tahiti. We’ve investigated the possibility of purchasing one from a store in Tahiti and having them ship it to us here, and of course there’s the option of sailing back there to get one. And if we were able to travel freely, we might also have had the option of sailing to American Samoa on our way to New Zealand and getting a 120V washer there. So far we’ve been doing small loads in a bucket or the bathroom sink by hand, and it doesn’t seem onerous. We’re leaning towards getting one shipped from Tahiti (a friend has scouted out the available options at the nearest place to the anchorage, and could help with the purchase so we don’t have to deal with the complexities of money transfers), but it’s still a project that we’re noodling around. 🙂

So now for a little bit of disappointment. With the discovery and spread of the handful of variants of coronavirus which are even more contagious than the original, many governments are putting in place more stringent measures to reduce the flow across borders – including French Polynesia. With very short notice, the government here has shut off all tourist travel again, effective February 3rd. Although the border closure order is open-ended, they intend for it to be short-duration, likely only 2 or 3 months. They did not introduce any additional restrictions internally, so it doesn’t affect our ability to continue moving around this area as we have been. The sad part is that we had been looking forward to the visit of our friend Jonnie, who had airline tickets to arrive on the 17th. These tickets had been delayed from an itinerary last spring just a the coronavirus was erupting around the globe. We all hope that she will be able to reschedule again at a later point, but for now we are again waiting.

We’ve settled into a very pleasant holding pattern, using the town of Rotoava at the northeastern corner of Fakarava as our “home base” (although we don’t use that term!). We come here to replenish our food stores, especially fresh produce, and to catch up on internet communications and other tasks (like preparing our annual tax forms). Once (most of) our goals are accomplished we head somewhere else less populated for a number of weeks. Sometimes it’s just halfway down the same atoll if we only have one week until something draws us back to town; sometimes it’s a full 24-hour day’s sail to Tahanea if we have a month; and the nearby atolls of Toau and Kauehi are other options. We’re doing less boatwork these days, but still doing a little bit (almost) every day. We’re watching more sunsets and playing chess and reading together more often than had been our habit a year ago. We feel very fortunate to have ended up in this part of the planet when the coronavirus arrived and changed all the rules. And we also look forward to the day when things open back up and we can resume our “previously scheduled program”. 🙂

  

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