The dangerous archipelago – The Tuamotos

The time had come to move on from The Marquesas but on our last run ashore I managed to get a photo of one of the Marquesian ponies having a gallop along the beach – just magic. These are tough ponies and impressive jockeys. I also thought you would enjoy a photo of some lovely ladies making flower bands for their hair.

The Tuamotos are the largest chain of coral atolls (78) in the world. The quide book describes them as looking like pearl necklaces gracefully tossed in the ocean, and certainly on our charts this description seems quite apt. However, such pearl necklaces make for tricky navigation.

Each atoll has one or two passes and these need to be crossed at slack tide, with the sun either high in the sky or behind you and preferably no wind against tide should you be a little late. There are no tide tables here but an enterprising yachtsman has produced a “guestimeter” which is shared amongst our fellow cruisers along with various stories of woe! The guestimeter seems to do a good job and we successfully negotiated the passes to Kauehi and Fakarava. Actually Jack Sound, just off Skomer Island in Pembrokeshire, is much more frightening in our opinion.

We anchored in the south of the Kauehi atoll. This was an idyllic tropical anchorage close to various uninhabited islands or motos. The view at breakfast is just what you dream of and the sea was finally smooth representing a very positive change from the Marquesas where the swell and roll were constant.

What a view for breakfast

Anyway they say cruising is doing jobs in paradise and so we set too. First job was to change the deck organiser as the original was damaged. This involves taking down the ceiling lining and (the worst part) putting it back. The ceiling lining is about 3 by 2 metres, made of bendy plywood covered in fabric and must go in exactly the correct place to clip back up. This requires 2 people with at least 4 arms each! Ummm. Frustratingly the replacement part was just, ever so slightly different, as seems to always be the way. Fortunately in Julian’s supply of bolts there were a couple that were long enough to do the job and this will certainly get us to New Zealand or the next time we feel the strength to take down the ceiling lining.

The second job was cleaning the hull. The clear, non tidal waters made this an excellent spot for this never ending job.

We fitted in some snorkelling and socialising, and managed to trade some nearly overripe bananas with Ian and Manuela from S/Y MisterX. They then came to supper with banana cake and a bottle of champagne to celebrate our wedding anniversary – how wonderful it that?

The next atoll we visited was Fakarava. This, in theory, has the second largest settlement in the Tuamotos, but it is still tiny, and delightfully unsophisticated but as always beautifully looked after and really clean and tidy.

It was here that we were to encounter a new hazard unique to coral atolls – bommies. These are tall coral chimneys which grow from the sea bed. The anchoring in the atolls is relatively deep (about 10 metres) so it is often not possible to spot the bommies when anchoring. We managed to get our anchor chain wrapped around one of these and it took about four hours to extract ourselves and re-anchor in a better place. The next time we anchored we strung fenders off the anchor chain to (hopefully) keep it floating above any lurking bommies. Certainly the anchor lifted the next day. Whether this was because of the fenders or just better luck we will never know.

Note the bommies in the foreground

The Tuamotos are reknown for their black cultured pearls. We took our bikes ashore and cycled to a small pearl farm. The only road is flat, concreted and there is no traffic so although a fair distance in the heat, it was not too bad. We were so lucky as at the farm, the owner took us through the whole process and even opened an oyster and extracted a small pearl for us. I am now the proud owner of a shell and pearl necklace – just lovely and very in keeping.

We would have liked to have stayed a little longer in The Tuamotos but the winds were forecast to get much stronger and we felt it was prudent to leave and sail to Tahiti. As it happened we had plenty of wind (25 knots plus) for the 36 hour sail to Tahiti and spent a fair time sailing with three reefs in the main and no jib in order to slow down so that we would arrive in Papette at first light.

We are enjoying Tahiti. It is the first time we have heard road noise or had light pollution for three months, but it also the first time we have had a supermarket with choice, albeit at a price, so not all bad.

3 thoughts on “The dangerous archipelago – The Tuamotos”

  1. It is such an enjoyable experience following your journey. You are having an experience that we can only dream about. It is such a privilege to be able to share your experiences. Keep safe.


  2. Dear Julian & Trish,
    What an amazing time you are having! I’m not sure about the maintenance and negotiating tricky waters, but everything else sounds utterly magical.
    Thank you for the update and lots of love from Ali & Nick.
    Ps. Tristan put together a bed for Tess in her flat – how kind of him! He is such a gorgeous young man! Please tell him that I’m tremendously grateful and will reimburse him when I see him next. Xxx


  3. Dear Patricia and Julian,
    You are keeping up a marvellous standard of writing and photographing in your blogs. Best of all you manage to convey how much you are enjoying yourselves, which is delightful to read about.
    Lots of love,


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