S/V Aspen – May 11, 2010 – Log #40
Position: 17 degrees 30.0’ S 144 degrees 30.0’ W
The Dangerous Archipelago - Tuamotus
5 days of ocean sailing brought us to the atolls of the Tuamotus, home to beautiful turquoise water, calm anchorages and black pearls. We decided to enter the lagoon of Rangiroa, the second largest atoll in the world, to have a look around.
Entry into an atoll's lagoon involves either battling your way against a current that is stronger than your engine or shooting through the pass faster than your boat has ever gone before. That is what makes these atolls a challenge now that GPS has identified exactly where they are. In days of old, the location of these 78 now drowned islands was a mystery and the number of wrecks strewn against their shores is legendary. This is the largest group of atolls in the world.
In case you were wondering, an atoll is unique in geological terms. There was once a high volcanic island surrounded by coral reefs. Then the island sank beneath the ocean leaving the ring of coral that once surrounded the island to protect the island that has sunk in the center of the coral. Where the island disappeared is now a lagoon full of clear water, more fish that in an aquarium and little villages perched on the coral rising about 3 feet above sea level.
The blue water reminded us of the Bahamas Islands with their spectacular colorful water. But here the amount of sea life is beyond description. Fish of every shape, color and size swim freely about in the lagoon and in the passes of the Tuamotus. Dolphins, some over 15 feet long, jumped all around Aspen to welcome us as we entered the lagoon. They had plenty of time to jump and spin around us since a baby could crawl faster than we could go against the raging current!
Once inside and anchored we were amazed at how peaceful life is inside the lagoon. We tied the dinghy to a small mooring and snorkeled with thousands of colorful reef fish and the ever present black tipped sharks. The coral was alive and healthy, something we have not seen in a long time.
One day we decided to take a trip to the other side of the atoll, in an organized excursion. The small open boat zoomed across the waves at breakneck speed, flying high into the air as we shot off the tops of 5 foot waves. And this was inside the lagoon! It was a ride that took an hour to get to the other side to a place called the Blue Lagoon. We were drenched and pretty beat up when we finally arrived. We were then able to wade ashore with black tipped sharks circling us as we went.
The Blue Lagoon was a lagoon within the main lagoon. Palm trees swayed in the gentle breeze, live polynesian music filled the air and the scent of open air fires cooking our lunch wafted past us. We waded in the warm water, snorkeled amongst the coral and just enjoyed a peaceful day in a spectacular setting. All too soon it was time to feed the sharks, literally, and then wade back to our speed boat for the hair-raising trip back across the big lagoon. And we paid money for this trip!
Black pearls come from the Tuamotus. They are carefully grown and cultivated inside the lagoons of these atolls. It takes care and luck to grow a black pearl but the end result is a piece of art. Maria is still searching for the best ones!
Over the horizon Tahiti called us. We needed to fix some important things on Aspen like the generator and battery charger. Trying to properly time our exit from the lagoon and through the pass was a challenge. But we managed not to hit any coral and literally shot out the pass at 8 miles per hour, surfing with the waves until we were engulfed by the huge seas waiting for us on the outside of the pass!
So after too short of a time in the Tuamotus we sailed the 200 miles to the vibrant capital of French Polynesia, Tahiti - land of tall mountains, fragrant flowers, enchanting culture, friendly people and of course French restaurants!
We are now in Marina Taina, hooked up to electricity and able to use our air conditioning for the first time in many months. It is wonderful to actually feel cold again! There is a huge French grocery store just down the street and a McDonalds with a waterfront view and french desserts outside the marina. Lunch at McDonalds costs a little over $20 for two burgers! Ahhhhhhh, this must be paradise.
Sail on sail on Aspen...