Time in the Tuomotus - Part One



After our eventful sail to the atolls of the Tuomotus, we were ready for some fun in the sun.  That’s exactly what we got as we traveled throughout three of the atolls.   In the Marquesas, tall mountains drop straight down into the sea along the coast, making anchorages very deep.  The scenery there was beautiful, but we found that we didn’t do much swimming in the deep, dark waters.  (If we can’t see the sharks clearly, then that means they can’t see us clearly and might mistake us for dinner!)  But inside the atolls, we found beaches with crystal clear, shallow anchorages, reminiscent of the Bahamas.  Our shallow draft catamaran could nestle close to the palm tree-lined shore, offering shelter from the winds. 

Calm water inside the atoll, and crashing waves from the open ocean right on the other side.

The kids LOVED the shallow, clear water!


Tahanea was our first stop.  The entrance was fairly wide and deep, but we still had to monitor the tidal currents to ensure we would be entering at ‘slack tide’ (the calmest time as the tide changes direction).  We did not want to be pushed through the pass, losing full steerage, or pushed against strong current, losing momentum.  Thankfully, our friends beat us there and could offer first-hand knowledge to get us inside safely. 

Tahanea is not a well-known atoll, so we nearly had the place to ourselves.  Our time here was low-key and rejuvenating.   We built bonfires on the beach at night with friends, collected shells and coconuts,  and SNUBAed.

Our re-enactment of Lord of the Flies with 4 other kid boats
Mark teaching a SNUBA class to our buddy boats!
Turning a quiet anchorage into a paddle board playground!
The next atoll was Fakarava, where we entered through the southern pass and exited out the northern pass a little over a week later.   This place was full of reefs, and Mark had to be the lookout on the bow to prevent us from hitting any of the hard coral.  At one point, he tried to bring us across the reef, dodging coral heads.  Our friends on s/v Dafne who were following us saw where we were heading and opted to go around the reef instead… hmmm.  Meanwhile, we wound between coral heads until we couldn’t go any further and suddenly, frantic hand motions from Mark (along with a few choice phrases) demanded a quick reverse and pivot to back up.  Around the reef was better after all.   As we pulled into the anchorage, I used the hailer on the VHF radio (basically a bull horn on deck) to lighten the mood.  “I LOVE YOU, MARK SILVERSTEIN!  I LOOOOVVVEEE YOU!”  To which my dear coral cowboy responded with a tropical ‘bird’.   

Watching for "bombers" as we head to our anchorage
Reef sharks swimming around our boat

In cruiser guides and blogs, we had read about fantastic diving at the southern pass, and it didn’t disappoint!  This was the best snorkeling and diving we have EVER done.  It was like swimming around in someone’s aquarium but with sharks, too!  Now, I’ve never been too fond of the idea of swimming with sharks.  We’ve watched documentaries, listened to lectures, and heard personal accounts from other divers about how beautiful and harmless reef sharks actually are.  However, to hear all of that is one thing, but to be swimming alongside them with two small children is quite another!  The first few moments underwater were full of prayer... earnest prayer... prayer without ceasing.  The kids and I held onto the rope from the dinghy (the current wasn’t quite slack yet) and bobbed in the water as shark after shark passed by, not interested in us at all.

Reef Shark hanging out on the sea floor

'Selfie' by E
Eventually, we stopped paying so much attention to the sharks and started to look at the fish that swam underneath us.  So many fish!  Tiny, electric blue-colored fish popped in and out of the coral.  Boldly striped butterfly fish meandered through the current in pairs.  Crowded schools of schoolmaster snapper swirled around and around each other in a wall of silver and yellow.  Elizabeth is becoming quite the underwater photographer these days!  Most of the photos you see here were taken by her!









But then we saw the most massive, most unusual fish we’d ever seen.  A Napolean Wrasse.  It was deep turquoise with shades of bright green and vibrant purple throughout, but the color was not what made it unique.  It was its size.  From head to tail, it was at least 3 feet long and about 2 feet tall (bigger than the pillow I sleep on at night!).  As the woman on shore dropped chunks of baguette into the water, its mouth telescopes out like in Alien with Sigourney Weaver.  It was bizarre and creepy - and absolutely amazing!

It was hard to drag ourselves away from that spot, but we had to move on.  The last atoll we’d see on our way through the Tuomotus would be Toau.  Tahanea had offered rest and rejuvenation, Fakarava had offered underwater wonders, and Toau would offer us a connection to the people of the Tuomotus that I will never forget.   In Part Two, you'll meet Gaston and Valentina, our new friends who live on a tiny piece of paradise...

Here is a video of our time in the Marquesas.  Enjoy!

Comments

  1. We met your Napolean Wrasse's cousin, the Humphead Maori Wrasse, in Manta Ray Bay (top of Hook Island, Whitsundays) only yesterday. Took some convincing to encourage my 8 year old daughter to get in the water after she saw him from the dinghy but she was totally captivated once she was in. On the outer reef you'll find some Grouper up to 3m long....awesome to swim with.

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