Tuesday October 21st, 2020
Here we are, back in the Tuamotus, more specifically, in the lagoon of the atoll, “Fakarava”. I’ve been looking forward to making it back this direction since we last sailed away from Tahanea to Tahiti in early June. All of the archipelagos of French Polynesia are absolutely beautiful, but they are all so very different. The Marquesas are rugged, rigid, hard and absolutely stunning. Their dry rocky shorelines clash with the ocean and make you feel and experience the contrast of the elements of land and ocean. The Society Islands are still rugged, but have softer edges in comparison, largely due to the reefs and lagoons that surround the center landmasses. The Tuamotus, are very thin rings of life, made of a foundation of coral and peppered with small islands or “motus”, which often contain rows of coconut palms and scrubby maritime vegetation. The combination of the turquoise blue waters of the lagoon and the white sandy beaches topped with palms, looks like a scene from a stereotypical poster with the words “Paradise” that you’d find on the wall of some waiting room. It’s true, is a great place to hang a hammock. The reality, however, is that land is hardly above sea level and just outside of reef and the motu, is absolute deep blue ocean. The atolls of the Tuamotus are absolutely isolated from any other form of land. If you check out Google Earth and type in the location, the first thing you will see is just ocean. Zoom in, more ocean. Continue this several times and you will still have the same result. These atolls are the epitome of isolated. Although they are beautiful, life here can make me feel absolutely exposed.
The isolation is what makes these atolls spectacular. The ocean rises to land, from five thousand feet to three feet above sea level in the matter of one hundred meters. The contrast attracts an astounding amount of wildlife. The reefs here are some of the most healthy and vibrant in the world. Within the ring of coral reef are often passes or cuts that allow water to rise and fall in the sheltered lagoon. As the tide ebbs and flows, massive amounts of sea life travel in each direction. Aligning with the rugged nature of atoll, the transit of these narrow passes can be a treacherous undertaking if done at an inopportune time. I have never seen anything like the clash of the ebbing lagoon and the Pacific Ocean. It makes nearly any boat look like a toy.
The Lagoon within the atoll is absolutely something to behold. It is arguably the most incredible part of the atoll. Protected by the reef, the water is typically flat, usually only short chop has the opportunity to develop on windy days. The low elevation of the motus and reef surrounding the lagoon, often give the appearance that the flat water extends on into the ocean. As clouds glide overhead, they often have a subtle green hue from the reflection of the water below. The depth of the lagoon varies largely ranging from shallow sandy shorelines where we can anchor in 20 feet of water, to hundreds of feet deep just off of the beach. Peppered throughout are large and small “boomies” or coral reefs and structures. The calm waters are ideal for navigation, however the boomies can make transit within the lagoon treacherous. Many of these structures are unmarked and uncharted. Boaters are left to navigate by eye. A common practice is to navigate west in the morning and east in the afternoon, so that the sun is always behind you, lessening the glare of sunlight on the water. Once safely anchored, the terror of the boomies transforms into a snorkeling and diving paradise.
All said, the Tuamotus in an impeccable place to live and observe life. Over time, however, you will experience its true, highly exposed and isolated, nature. We still have several atolls to pass through on our way to the Marquesas. We’re looking forward to the bountiful coconuts, fish and crab as well as the beautiful sheltered anchorages within the shield of the reef.
As always, thanks for following our journey.