“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.

John Lennon, et al

Halfway across the mighty Pacific Ocean, after weeks of sailing, diving and dodging squalls, we arrive in Tahiti – the largest island within French Polynesia. But we’re not here for long as our plans have changed. I’ll talk about that a little later on, but in the meantime, we departed Rangiroa to Tahiti…

Standing waves at Tiputa Pass, Rangiroa

Timing the exit through the Tiputa Pass at Rangiroa had us leaving one hour after high tide in the morning. The swell had eased so it was a good day to leave with no challenging huge waves to navigate; even still, our little boat pitched and rolled over standing waves and turbulence until we were spat out into the relatively calm conditions. It was an early morning exit and we had 230nm and two days to reach our destination – Tahiti.

For our passage we had easterly wind between 12-18kn – although at times we had to deal with squalls of heavy rain and wind up to 30kn. The last few hours we had to motor as the wind died to less than 6kn.

Typically cruisers head direct to Papeete, but as the anchorages and marinas are chock full of local and international vessels, so it’s not so easy to find a spot. The two main marinas – Papeete Marina and Marina Taina – don’t take reservations, so we decided to head to Baie Phaëton located at the ‘waist’ of the island on the south side, and close to the township of Taravao and not far from the surfing magnet of Teahupoo. We allowed ourselves a slow sail over two nights to arrive at Passe Tapuaeraha to the south of Port Phaëton, where we waited until sunrise to enter.

Tahiti is the first place we’ve stopped since leaving Panama where the population is greater than a small village. Here we have the opportunity to visit chandleries and large supermarkets stocked with food. Taravao has a Carrefour supermarket, a laundrette, McDonald’s, Nautisport chandlery, Ace Hardware, Sin Tung Hing Marine, and buses to Papeete which take around 1.5 hours – the bus is a good way to see the island. The anchorage is super calm, has a potable water tap a little way out of the bay, and it’s very easy to get ashore at the local Bouledrome where the locals toss their boules and give us a friendly wave and ‘ia orana’. It’s a good place to hang out and spend time researching for spare parts!

There are always boat jobs to do after sailing for months. First was to replace our blown watermaker hose. This was done with the help of Ramon at Soflex in Papeete, who had his guy make up the hose in about ten minutes. Meanwhile, our fridge has died – a slow and painful (for us) death. With temperatures inside the fridge as high as 15degC (sea temp around 29degC), it was wasting so much power through constantly running. I switched off its life support and put it out of our misery. And to add to the job list, we discovered our Raymarine autopilot had more serious issues than first thought. Fun fun fun!

With less than four weeks until our 90 day visa expires, our plan was to spend the remaining days diving around Moorea and Bora-Bora. However, this has now changed as my dear old Dad back in Victoria is having a hard time with his health, and I want to go home to support my family and be with him and mum.

Sailing from Taravao to Papeete

But it’s high season in these Pacific islands, and shivering tourists from the chilly south leave little room on flights to Australia from Tahiti. With our visa about to expire, we’ve made the decision (correctly or wrongly), to sail over 2000nm direct to Fiji where flights are more regular and the country is in a similar time-zone to Australia. So, on Monday 20th, we’ll sail away from Tahiti and make a direct route to Fiji. This should take us around 16 days, all being well.

In the meantime, after some days down at Taravao, we motored around to Papeete to organise our clearance and prepare for the voyage. We entered through the Taapuna Pass just south of Marina Taina.

French Polynesia offers transiting cruisers a duty-free fuel certificate and we’d already visited Customs on Motu Uta to receive our authorisation (this is free in Tahiti, but $160 in Nuku Hiva to obtain). There are only two places where you can get duty-free fuel in Tahiti and one of those is the busy Marina Taina. This was the first time we’ve added fuel since leaving Panama and we were intrigued to see how much diesel we’d used in four months. Only 195 litres since leaving Panama, which we think is very good. The duty-free price per litre was 100FP (around A$1.26 per litre) – the cheapest fuel we’ve had for a long time.

Looking west from Marina Taina to Moorea

With no berths or moorings available at Marina Taina, we continued north around the airport, making sure to call Port Control on VHF12 to obtain airport clearance beforehand. Within two miles of the busy Papeete Marina, I phoned the marina manager, Ken, who cheerfully told me that two boats had called ahead and wanted slips, but if we were closer the ‘first in; first served’ policy would apply. We managed to find a berth alongside the dock in the midst of a fleet of Outremers and other catamarans. The only other option was to anchor to the north of the airport and dinghy into town – about 3nm each way. Ugh!

Fortunate to get an alongside berth at Papeete Marina
Port of Papeete, Tahiti

So, here we are for a few nights only, preparing for the long 2,000nm voyage – half the distance of the Panama to Marquises trip, and still a long way. Final chores – laundry, grocery shopping, catching up with crews from Kismet, Hold Fast, and Gargoyle, and greeting other cruisers we’ve bumped into over the past 4000nm or so. I take the remaining time to walk around Papeete to enjoy the sights, sounds and welcome smiles from the friendly locals. The main Papeete Market offers all sorts of local produce, brightly coloured pareos, and woven baskets; women sit and chat as they make up Tahitian head-pieces. These flower crowns are not just for tourists, and many local women where the head-pieces or place a simple flower tucked behind their ear. Tattoos are as popular as they’ve ever been and some are absolutely stunning.

And that’s about it. In a couple of weeks, our little Blue Heeler and crew should be in Fiji. Soon after I hope to be hugging my family in Australia.

Until then…

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Rangiroa – The largest atoll in the Tuamotus, famous for some of the best scuba diving in the world. It also has a treacherous entrance.

Views of Tiputa Pass

Météo-France Polynésie Française provides regular bulletins on marine weather, including swell heights and tides throughout the region. We’d refer to this information daily during our stay to determine the currents in/out of the atolls.

With a normal sea-level, passes into atolls can generally be entered at slack water – low or high tide – but when the swell is higher than usual, this excess water comes over the reef filling the atolls, with drainage only through the narrow passes. Therefore, arriving at slack water doesn’t always mean an easy transit into the lagoon; often you can be fighting against a 5kn current just to get into the atoll.

Our arrival at Passe Tiputa was after low tide in the morning so we were expecting an ingoing current. We followed the leads and managed to stay east of the turbulent water coming out of the atoll. Even on a supposed flood tide, we still had 3kn against us, our engine keeping us moving forward at around 3.5kn. Obviously much water inside the atoll trying to flow out.

Blue Heeler transiting Tiputa Pass

The following day with a higher swell, and with more water flowing out of the narrow pass, we watched as boats struggled to enter on a flood tide, with 5kn current against them. The outflow only grew worse over the subsequent days, with Météo-France bulletins notifying of 4m swells coming up from the south and flooding the region. A strong outflow can mean a fast exit, but not always a pleasant one. The confused water and standing waves can cause vessels to flail and yaw, pitching and rolling as it navigates the turbulent current. The waves can knock the bow and push the boat sideways…not much fun.

We wanted to dive the pass, so each day we watched and waited, and waited, and waited for suitable conditions to attempt a dive in the Tiputa Pass. Wayne and Kevin (SY Kismet) each drove the dinghies out one day along the eastern bank, but conditions weren’t good enough to dive on our own.

Too much current to dive safely

The wind eased for a few days, but the swell was still around 2m outside – at least 1m higher than usual. Waiting for conditions to ease, we snorkelled on Motu Nuhi Nuhi along the Rangiroa Underwater Trail “The Aquarium” – loads of fish and healthy coral.

Still strong swells throughout French Polynesia

A couple of days later, we decided to see if a dive on the eastern bank was feasible, so we loaded the dinghies with our dive gear, donned our wetsuits and, joined by Kevin in his dinghy, we motored around to the pass. The eastern side of the pass is where the divers go, but this day no-one was out there. With our little dinghy and our 8hp outboard, no sooner had we rounded the corner, we were flowing very fast towards 1m standing waves! The timing was for an incoming tide, but the swell was causing an outflow of around 3kn. Wayne put the outboard into gear and with full throttle but we were going nowhere – the current stronger than our little motor! The only way out was to head diagonally towards the bank and get out of the current, not sideways otherwise we’d have no forward momentum and would drift into the huge waves. I knew we were in trouble when I saw the patrons of the nearby restaurant standing up and taking photos (I’m sure there’s footage of us on social media somewhere; just search for “Middle-aged couple attempt to dive Tiputa Pass in a small dinghy”). Eventually the dinghy began to gain ground, slowly. Kevin managed to motor his dinghy away from the current and eventually we got closer to the bank and away from the strong pull of the current. Phew!

The dive aborted, we dinghied to Motu Nuhi Nuhi and considered diving there, but with at least 2kn outflow there, and likely to be murky, we decided to call it a day.

Happy to snorkel when conditions no good to dive

A few days later, still watching the daily swell bulletins, which never quite eased, it was clear that the only way that I’d dive with dolphins at Rangiroa safely is to go with a dive group.

So, I booked a spot with The Six Passengers (they only take five divers and a dive-master, plus driver), and with 400hp had no problem driving through the pass to the outer reef. I used their SCUBA tanks and regs but I was more comfortable in my own fins, goggles and wetsuit.

By 8am the fast boat was speeding through the anchorage then out through the Tiputa Pass and to the east, dropping off on the outer reef wall into the deep blue. The water was choppy and there’s no way our little dinghy could’ve gone out there.

Visibility was extremely good and following the dive-master, the small group, including me and Kevin from SY Kismet, floated around 14m into the deep blue.

A huge photogenic Napoleon Wrasse swam by, plus a few Barracuda lurked in the shadows, but the main event didn’t happen until at least 35-40 minutes into the dive. A group of dolphins appeared and had quite an audience, as there were at least two other dive groups out there. The dolphins greeted the divers one by one; Kevin got some great footage of a dolphin, before it swam up to me. I rubbed my hand along its side and swam as fast as I could to keep up, but eventually the dolphin flicked his tail, slowly moving onto the next couple of people to greet. Other dolphins swam around us peacefully and stayed until we had to ascend. What a fantastic experience!

Huge Napoleon Wrasse
Friendly dolphin

Back on shore; a little bit about facilities for cruisers at Rangiroa. The anchorage is just west of the Tiputa Pass and most yachts anchor here. To the east across the pass is the village of Tiputa, and to the west is Ohuto. About 8kms west passing the airport is the village of Avatoru and the wider Avatoru Pass.

Each village has a small church, or churches, as there are other denominations too. Avatoru is the main hub, with supermarkets, post office, police, and tourist accommodation, while Ohuto has accommodation, a couple of supermarkets, and a few restaurants, including Les relais de Josephine which has good views of the pass and serves up reasonably priced modest lunches, as well as local cuisine. You can hire a bike for around US$10 for the day and ride the flat road to Avatoru. Just up from the wharf are big bins to dump recyclables and garbage skips right next to the wharf.

Ohuto wharf

A supply ship came during our stay and it wasn’t long before the produce filled the shelves, but it didn’t take long for these items to disappear just as quickly. Like the other atolls, baguettes can be bought first thing in the morning, and there may be some locally grown veggies (I managed to get 20 fresh eggs but you have to be quick). As this will be our last stop in the Tuamotus, we have enough produce to keep us going until we reach Tahiti where veggies should be plentiful.

Fresh fruit and veggies arrive

In Tahiti we have to order the high-pressure hose for our watermaker. We haven’t filled our water tanks for over two weeks, but with squalls and downpours we’ve managed to catch enough to keep us going.

Reports from other cruisers already at Tahiti is that getting a berth or anchorage at Papeete is problematic as there are many long-term yachts filling up the mooring fields and marinas. Doesn’t leave too many options for transiting yachts so we will have to be creative when visiting.

Tahiti is 230nm southwest of Rangiroa and we’ll take a couple of days of slow sailing.

Until then…

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A few days of calm weather wasn’t so good for sailing, but was perfect for diving. The distance from the north pass of Fakarava to the top of Toau is around 37nm along the eastern coast of the atoll and slightly longer along the western side.

With the few days of calm weather, we decided not to enter the atoll, in favour of going to Anse Amyot, a small cul-de-sac on the northwest of the atoll where diving is supposed to be excellent on the outside of the atoll.

With little wind we motor-sailed all day to arrive at around 1pm, grabbing one of the ten moorings – large yellow buoys with heavy spliced rope seem sturdy enough. Already five vessels were on moorings and it wouldn’t be long before the rest for taken. There’s also room for anchoring. The inlet has good leads to guide incoming vessels through the narrow pass, and is well charted on Navionics.

After lunch we dinghied ashore and were welcomed by local inhabitants Gaston and Valentine – both available to offer humble services. Valentine speaks English so we chatted to her for a while; she told us about how Gaston had to swim for six hours after he was knocked out of his boat in rough sea conditions; how she can free dive to 25m, Gaston to 40m and how they live here in the middle of nowhere surviving on lobster, coconuts and fruit and vegetables. They produce honey and sell it to passing vessels. Rotoava at Fakarava is where they go for supplies, but it’s a long way in a small runabout boat. We’d read previously that there’s a fee for grabbing a mooring – the price seemed to vary depending on who was asking, but we were happy enough to pay 1500F (Around US$15) for three nights. Gaston also catches lobster and these can either be bought for fresh, or Valentine can put on a meal for paying guests. She even said they had pigs and if there were enough people, she would prepare one for dinner.

A number of dives are marked on Navionics Community Edits. Our first dive was on the outer reef, about 1.5km east of the entrance at the dive named Yellow Dog. There are no longer any dinghy moorings on the outer reef dives, so we dropped the small dinghy anchor in a patch of sand in around 10m. For safety, we went as a group of three – Wayne, me and Kevin – Alpha flag flying high from the transom.

Community Edits marking dive spots on the outer reef

The narrow strip of coral reef around the island drops off steeply into depths hundreds of metres deep (you can see the contours on the image). It’s a little daunting to say the least, but we didn’t go any deeper than 25m, nothing but deep blue beneath us as we swam over abyss and huge walls. Even though, over 50 minutes our average depth was around 10m. It was a good dive, with great visibility – I had hoped to see Manta Rays or Dolphins, but just a couple of sharks and plenty of groupers and fish varieties. This dive was in the morning, so afterwards we filled the tanks while we had lunch and prepared for a second dive.

The contours showing the steep walls of the outer reef

The second dive that day was fairly straightforward. We swam in our SCUBA gear to the entrance of the pass and expected to drift in on the incoming tide. Turned out there was virtually no current and visibility was murky. On a nice day, it would be a good dive as the bommies were dotted on the sandy bottom; much like a Japanese garden. We dived for around 35 minutes, 20m to an average of 10m, and saw large groupers, a cleverly disguised octopus and a couple of large moray eels tucked inside caves.

The next day we filled the cylinders and by 10:30am were motoring 1.5km west of the entrance to a series of coral grottos on the outer reef. Once again, the distance from the reef to drop off with depths >100m was about 15-20m wide. Having another calm day to dive was a bonus, otherwise the swell could wash us onto the reef. I jumped in first to look for a sandy spot to drop our anchor – immediately behind us the vertical wall descended into the daunting depths of the deep blue ocean. We dropped the anchor in 8m on a sandy patch, and the three of us dived down and poked around the grottos of this narrow shelf of coral. Small fish darting in and out of the coral trees reminded me of ‘Finding Nemo’ as my goggles appeared above their little homes. Kevin spotted a nurse shark lurking under a ledge and we saw wrasse, grouper, and a large tasty looking snapper. A huge scary moray eel was exercising his jaws and poking his head out a bommie.

The entire dive depth averaged only 6m – this was good as we can stay longer, ultimately diving for over 70 minutes still with one third of air remaining. It’s a great depth to poke around as there’s plenty of fish life, sunlight and colour.

Back on board, we filled our cylinders, washed the gear in preparation of departing the next day, using minimum water from our dwindling supply. Our next destination, Rangiroa – the second largest atoll in the world and recognised as a world class diving location. With 100nm to reach the Tiputa Pass, we had a slow overnight sail to arrive at low tide slack early the next morning. At least we thought it would be slack. With the swell pumping across the South Pacific causing strong outflows at the atoll passes, would we have the conditions to dive?

Until then…

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From the northern pass of Makemo, we motor-sailed 80nm, passing south of the Katiu Atoll continuing on to the Passe Tumakohua at the southern end of Fakarava. We had thought of stopping at Tahanea atoll, but the timing of the tides, coupled with weather forecast, we decided to time our entry into the atoll at the top of the high tide. Conditions were calm and there was little current as we entered the pass. Patches of splashing and turbulence which I thought were whirlpools, turned out to be sharks in feeding frenzies! And we’re going to dive in that?!?

The Navionics charts were good for this entry, but the reef is close to the narrow dogleg route. I imagine this entry might’ve been rough a few weeks ago during the blow.

Once around the north cardinal marker, we headed towards five other vessels already moored.

There are five moorings available and all but one taken, which we quickly tied onto. A shipwrecked yacht on the nearby motu, and a dodgy looking sixth mooring, had Wayne diving below to check out the mooring. The tackle was solid enough, and we were told they were reasonably new – heavy chain with thick rope and a protected spliced loop with two yellow floats. This was to be our home for a week. There is no cost to take one of these moorings – a bonus nowadays.

Mooring at South Fakarava

Fakarava is recognised as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO and the atoll is famous for groupers, mantas, turtles, and of course sharks. Our plan was to dive the Wall of Sharks! After a nap to catch up on sleep from the overnight sail, we motored the dinghy back through the pass, jumping in the water to snorkel to see if we could see any sharks, but we only saw three. Well, that was a little disappointing. The next day in our SCUBA gear, we dinghied to the southern outer entrance of the pass (conditions still quite benign) and jumped in, Wayne towing the dinghy this time. Diving to a depth of around 20m, we drifted in with the slight current, but towing the dinghy wasn’t so easy and the slight wind blew the dinghy in a direction we didn’t want to go in. After 45 minutes we were a little off course and ended up on the other side of the pass. Although we saw a lot of sharks, we weren’t really in the best place.

Back on board, Wayne cranked up our dive compressor and filled the SCUBA tanks. Besides the five boats on moorings, a number of other vessels turned up and anchored to the north of us. Including the large ‘Arctic P’ – a converted tug owned by the Packer family. I read that James Packer listed this for sale in September 2021 for $283 million – can’t imagine there’d be too many buyers. This massive superyacht has a slippery dip from the heli-pad deck and we can hear people squealing as they slide down (I wonder if it was James?). A couple of sleek black support tenders raced over the water transporting the vessel’s guests to the dive locations; in the evening loud music blared across the water as the on-board nightclub turned up the volume to eleven. During our time at Fakarava, we’d see a few other superyachts enter the lagoon. On our boat, we watch movies on our iPad sipping boxed wine – a less opulent lifestyle, but we have the same views nonetheless.

The Arctic P – complete with slippery slide!

The next day, we organised a second dive, this time with Kevin from ‘Kismet’, and dinghy support from Brian of ‘Hold Fast’ and Mayda from ‘Kismet’. The three of us, Wayne, me and Kevin, jumped in with our dive gear at the outside entrance to the pass and followed the eastern wall on a rising tide. Now this was a good dive! We saw hundreds of sharks, literally. Not all at once mind you, but there is certainly a wall of sharks drifting by, underneath and above us. Not daunting at all, in fact quite peaceful down there. I’d be concerned though if someone threw in a lump of meat from above. This dive lasted only 30 minutes as we had entered on the last third of the flood tide and we drifted in the 1-2kn current right into the pass and around the village into the shallows. What a ride! We arranged to do it again the next day.

Our third dive in the pass was the best. We dived further down the wall and seemed to be swimming through the sharks – sharks above, to the sides and below us. They moved slowly, seemed more curious, as were we. With my trusty little Crosstour camera, I got some close video of sharks and we stayed down for almost 50 minutes – 20 minutes more than the previous day as the current wasn’t as strong. It was great! There are dive shops at Fakarava so if you want you can join a local operator for around US$70 a dive or get your tanks filled for around US$15.

The wind picked up that day and happy enough with our three dives, we threw off the mooring lines and motored 6nm east to the more protected sandy anchorage at Hirifa. This was a pleasant spot with a long sandy beach to wait for the wind to ease.

We spent a couple of hours rinsing our dive gear and filling the cylinders, then Wayne ran the watermaker to fill the water tanks. A loud clatter, and a mist of water sprayed out of the cockpit locker. A high pressure hose had blown on the watermaker. Ugh! After purposely constructing the watermaker for the Pacific passage, we now have no way to make water! The Tuamotos is not a place you want to be without water, so we began rationing our usage, more than usual, that is. At least the watermaker had been running over an hour before it blew so there was a good chance the tanks were almost full. Just another little hiccup in the life of sailing…

Coral bommies not always easy to see

The next day we sailed north 17nm, following the channel, but still looking out for bommies. We anchored for a night before continuing the next day onto the main village of Rotoava. The village is a little bigger than Pouheva in Makemo with around 850 inhabitants. The tidy village streets are lined with hibiscus, bougainvillea and frangipani and the humble homes generally have a dog or three roaming around. The locals offer a welcoming “Iaorana” along with a friendly smile. The village has the usual facilities – post office, town hall, small supermarkets, etc. Fortunately for us, it’s one of the few places in the Tuamotos where you can get potable water. We dropped anchor in around 10m on a big sandy patch away from bommies.

Dinghy dock, Rotoava, Fakarava
Rotoava church
Fakarava lighthouse

Our goal was to replace the blown hose (fixing boats in exotic places, yawn…). We contacted Soflex in Tahiti and they said they could make up a hose and courier it to Fakarava. However, since we could fill our jerries with water, we decided to wait until we reached Tahiti to buy the new hose. We should have enough water until then.

Tumoana market near dock. Water available at building to east.
Potable Water available for a small fee at the Town Hall

The Town Hall is next to the Post Office and yachts are required to pay a fee for garbage disposal and water if needed (which we did). It’s not much to pay, considering we don’t have to pay anchoring fees. The Tumoana market is close to the dinghy dock and has a good selection of products. Boulangerie Havaiki had a small amount of fresh produce so I grabbed tomatoes, egg plant, onions, and even some crispy New Zealand apples. Chicken pieces tend to be in frozen 2kg blocks but once thawed, they cook well on the Cobb. They also have fresh local eggs and baguettes in the mornings if you’re quick. Most of the shops and services open early but close by 11am or 12 noon until around 3pm.

Chicken on the Cobb!

Fakarava Yacht Services run by Aldric and Stephanie offer laundry, wifi, sail repairs, gas fills, and bike rental, amongst other things and you can dinghy close to their location or walk from the town dock. We took our almost empty gas bottle and had Aldric fill it with butane, and had a load of laundry washed too.

Getting some overdue exercise, we took our bikes ashore and rode south along the flat narrow road until we reached Teviru and popped in to purchase some virgin coconut oil. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden so it was good to be outside again, although the hot weather sapped our energy. On the way back, we stopped for lunch at Snack Elda and enjoyed a tasty fish meal with fried taro root, washed down with a large Hinano beer, watching reef sharks circling underneath the verandah.

Tasty local cuisine

On Wednesday a supply ship arrived from Tahiti and the locals gathered to grab their pre-ordered products and supplies. Shops commence filling the shelves with fresh produce and the anchorage seemed a little fuller as boats arrived to take advantage of the available items.

Supply ship in dock, Rotoava

Tanks filled with water, fridge with a reasonable quantity of veggies and meat (yes, the fridge is playing nice lately), we departed Rotoava anchorage and motored 5nm west to the North Pass. Here there are four moorings available, which we added to the Community Edits in Navionics. A good place to wait for conditions to exit the pass, or in our case, a good place to leave the boat while we dive the north pass. This pass is much wider and has a stronger current than the southern pass.

Four moorings at the north pass Fakarava

The following day, joined again by Kevin from Kismet, and support crew Mayda and Brian driving and towing the dinghies, we drove out to the entrance to the pass and drifted into the atoll at an average depth between 15-20m. This dive took around 45 minutes, and we saw a nurse shark, black and white tipped sharks, red emperor, and a huge variety of large groupers (I believe it’s spawning season), and many other pretty fish. The current was around 1-2kn and it was a pleasant enough dive, but somehow diving with hundreds of sharks is a hard dive to beat!

With our gear washed in fresh water, dried and stowed, the next day we departed Fakarava and headed north to the top end of Toau atoll to Anse Amyot. Here we would do wall dives looking out into the big blue depths.

Until then.

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From Nuku Hiva, and filled with as much locally grown produce as we could buy, we sailed 28nm to anchor at Baie de Vaiehu on the western side of Ua Pou. This anchorage is a little daunting with a swell lifting the boat beneath a cliff while the waves crash on the banks, but the anchor held and we had a comfortable night. There is no access to going ashore at this anchorage, perhaps if it’s very calm.

Baie de Vaiehu, Ua Pou

The following morning, the sky was clear, giving us a great view of the rugged peaks of the small island as we sailed south.

Ua Pou, Marquises

This was Friday 22nd April and the wind was blowing in from ESE. As much as we would’ve liked to visit Hiva Oa, the consistent ESE wind would not allow us to sail in that direction. Our destination was Makemo atoll and we had to reach there before Tuesday 26th when a huge blow was coming in from the south east. The distance is 480nm from Ua Pou so we had to plan our arrival into the atoll, as the passes can be turbulent and possibly dangerous if entered at the wrong time of the tide.

Blue Heeler sailed from Ua Pou at 4pm and in 10-15kn set an easy pace in perfect conditions to make sure we could enter Passe Arikitamiro on the low tide slack on Tuesday morning. A steady sail averaging 5.5kn had us arriving two hours before slack water so we waited outside with three other yachts; all arriving at the same time from different locations.

The tidal race outside the passe was fairly boisterous even in the calm conditions. We sat and watched as the outgoing current clashed with the ocean until conditions settled and the tide reversed. Blue Heeler took the lead and Wayne navigated our entry. We had 1kn against us and it wasn’t long before we had made it through and made our way around to the anchorage outside the small village of Pouheva. The Navionics charts were good and the channel markers were in place.

Makemo is one of the largest atolls in the Tuamotos, and Pouheva has a small population of around 600 people. The anchorage is filled with coral bommies so anchoring in sand is a feat, but we did find a sandy patch for our anchor to hook into.

That same day the wind began to pick up and would increase over the next three days. While there is a small reef and wharf to help temper the fetch of waves coming across the atoll (it is totally exposed to the south and south east), conditions did get a little wild over the next three days. Mostly, the wind was from ESE consistently blowing between 20-30kn, at times hitting 40kn. Our anchor held but there was no way we were going to leave our boat in these conditions on a dodgy coral bottom, particularly on a lee shore. Others did though…

Fishing dock, Pouheva

Once conditions settled, we could relax a little and headed ashore to check out the village of Pouheva. We made sure our anchor was okay and added a couple of floats to keep the chain from snagging the coral in the lighter winds.

Floats to keep the chain above the coral bommies

The village of Pouheva is tidy and the locals smiling and friendly. It is low-key – not ‘in your face’ boat boys or people flogging souvenirs like some islands in the Caribbean. As visitors, we respect their small village and try not to intrude on their daily lives. Walking around we are greeted with ‘la orana’ or ‘bonjour’ by children and adults walking or biking along. A couple of times we stumbled upon a couple of groups playing guitar and singing beautiful harmonies. Perfect.

Tidy streets of Pouheva

The streets are swept clean, and skinny dogs in various states of producing offspring roam for scraps, while a pleasant whiff of burning sandalwood fills the air.

After the recent storm, the swell is pumping so much that it has filled the atoll and the outflow of water from the atoll is running at around 4-5kn on the incoming flood tide. We watched as yachts attempted the rough passage into the atoll motoring at just enough speed to pass through; so much different to our unremarkable entry.

Makemo lighthouse
Peaceful after the blow

If you’re heading down this way, make sure to stock up well with fruit and veggies from Nuku Hiva. While the best supermarket in Pouheva is the Opareke Market, there’s a definite shortage of fresh produce. The market has a good variety of dry and canned goods, and some items are reasonably priced due to subsidies, while others are expensive. Eg: A packet of muesli was around A$15; potatoes around A$9/kg. Whereas a can of coconut milk was around A$2 and a packet of self-raising flour A$2 – coconut milk on pancakes for breakfast seem like the way to go!

Opareke Market – best in town

Fortunately, the supply ship came in during our stay so I managed to buy 2kg of potatoes, two cucumbers, bok choy, three packets of fresh ham, and a couple of other things for 4000FP, around A$55. Not cheap, but it was nice to have a fresh ham and cucumber sandwich. Unfortunately, it seemed the cucumbers must’ve been frozen or chilled, as they didn’t last long in my fridge and started to dissolve. Making the most of my dwindling stock of veggies, now is the time we start to work our way through the canned stuff I’ve been squirrelling away for the past year.

Supply ship
Supply ship

Across the bridge from the supermarket is an egg farm and I bought two dozen fresh eggs for 1000FP – about A$12.50. There is a boulangerie, but I make my own bread so we didn’t buy any from there. I bought a 2kg box of frozen chicken legs for around A$10 – they came up a treat on the Cobb BBQ. Wayne thought he’d hit the jackpot when he found Twisties – a clue we are getting closer to Australia!

From my reading, I understand the economy is supported by copra and pearl farming. Besides a College, Town Hall, Police Station, there’s a large undercover sports pavilion near the fishing boat dock to keep the kids happy. Many of the locals have reasonably new battery powered bicycles – a great way to get around the small village. Once the weather calmed down, teams of young people in outriggers paddled hard to beat the other teams, laughing and squealing as they sped by. Life seems idyllic here.

Post Office, Pouheva, Makemo Atoll

Pouheva has a small Post Office with an ATM and I bought another Vini SIM card and top up cards. Vini has 4G here so while hunkered down during the storm, we at least had access to internet. The ATM was a problem for me; two attempts at withdrawing money came up with a declined message and no money discharged, but it turns out my bank thought otherwise, deducted the second attempt from my account. The lady at the Post Office was super friendly and tried to help me (she also speaks English), but there’s not much she could do at this point, so I’ve left it with my bank to sort out.

We stayed on a few days more and snorkeled on the nearby reef and enjoyed the peace after the wild conditions; even got the Cobb out and cooked up some chicken pieces to share with the crew of Kismet who we invited over for supper.

Leaving Pouheva, we motor-sailed through the maze of bommies 16nm until we reached the motu of Punaruku. Navionics charts are okay and the Community Edits do identify some bommies, but eyeballing the bommies is the best way to navigate through the maze. I stayed at the bow for four hours as we made our way north, spotting bommies that weren’t marked and noting them on my iPhone Navionics app which I’ve added to the Community Edits. The depth was typically 20m .

Pouheva to Punaruku through the bommies

The next morning after a peaceful night and a tasty pizza cooked on the Cobb, we motor-sailed 9nm to the northern Passe, again keeping watch for bommies, and exited in calm conditions with 3kn of current spitting us out of the atoll. From here we planned an easy 80nm overnight sail to the south pass at Fakarava.

Pizza night at Punaruku
Eyeballing the bommies – you don’t want to run into these!

One of the world’s best diving places.

Until then…

Special thanks to SV Soggy Paws for the useful info on their blog. http://svsoggypaws.com/files/

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