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  • Writer's pictureTom

Tuamotus: Parties and underwater delights

Updated: Nov 13

After our anchor debacle in Makemo, we left for Tahanea, an uninhabited atoll which is now a nature reserve. This was where the Scandinavian boats were holding a mid-summer party and we had been invited. These celebrations are traditional and welcome in the 'season of fertility'. Houses, farms and people are decorated with foliage and maypoles are erected to dance around - more of that later.

The sail across was wonderful. Six hours of broad reaching in 17-20 knots with the company of three other boats. The next day was all about getting ready for the party. There were around ten boats in attendance and everyone brought their own favourite food and drink. There were Swedish meatball and so much more. Pickled herring was difficult but the local grouper had been pickled as the ‘closest alternative’. It turns out that drinking songs (led by Susan and Lars) with high alcohol content spirits are a big part of Scandinavian mid-summer parties . Tore (sv Song of the Sea) brought his guitar and serenaded us. And of course there was a bonfire. We enjoyed a really pleasant afternoon and evening.

Scandinavian Midsummer evening party, 2023, Tahanea
Scandinavian Midsummer evening party, Tahanea

The next day we moved to an anchorage next to the Tahanea north pass. This pass is famous for manta rays and is a favourite location for those (Annick) wishing to swim with them. It is best to go just after low water slack as the flood begins. The rays are then on the inside of the pass heading seaward, devouring all the plankton that swims their way. In our case that was around 1630 so the sun was not directly overhead (for optimum photography) but the experience was amazing

Manta ray, Tahanea (North Pass)
Manta ray, North Pass, Tahanea (see also videos on the 2023/Tuamotus web page)

Our next stop was Fakarava. It is worth saying that, generally in the Tuamotus, the main employment is either harvesting of cupra or black pearl farming. There is very little else and local produce is almost non-existent. There are few shops and, where there are shops, they can be very expensive. Therefore it is best to provision beforehand for your whole stay.

Fakarava is the exception. It has restaurants, shops and 4G! With UNESCO biosphere status, it is one of the most visited atolls in the archipelago. There is unique coral and Fakarava is known as a great diving spot. (The south pass is famous for its ‘wall of sharks’). There is also great kite surfing at rates half that of the Caribbean. We chose Fakarava as I had intended to go kite-surfing but, with my ruptured eardrum, I was advised to stay out of the water.

As there were a few days of relatively strong winds forecast, we chose an anchorage in the most easterly corner (Hirifa). There was lots of sand with only a few isolated, shallow bommies. We really wanted to avoid any anchoring drama!

Hirifa, Fakarava
Hirifa, Fakarava

The kite surf school is here, there is a restaurant and a dive shop which goes to the south pass and will pick you up from the boat. Annick booked her south pass dives with them. Unfortunately there are no photos as the dive shop did not take a camera. It was also quite difficult technically, with strong currents and deeper than we are qualified to dive (circa 24m). Without her personal buddy (the skipper), and although she saw lots of sharks, Annick found it difficult to relax and did not enjoy those dives so much.

Cupra is produced on most atolls. The husks from the coconut are removed and the 'white bit' is dried before being shipped to Tahiti where it is processed into coconut oils, soap, etc.

Cupra drying in the sun, Fakarava
Cupra drying in the sun, Fakarava

On Fakarava we intended to take a tour of a black pearl farm but we were in the main village at the time of the Independence day holidays and most places were closed. We did find someone to explain the industry to us.

Firstly, although all oysters have the ability to make pearls, only five species are used commercially. In Japan the Gulf Pearl Oyster produces large, white pearls (particularly around Hiroshima) whilst in the Tuamotus it is predominantly the Black lip Oyster that is used. In fact, before the 1970's the Black lip oyster was only harvested for 'mother of pearl' ,the iridescent inside of the shell.

This is because the skill of seeding 'cultured pearls' was confined to Japan. Very few (black) pearls grew naturally and, thanks to their rarity, could fetch thousands of dollars. In the 1970's Japanese technicians were paid large sums to 'seed' the black lip oysters. A lentil-sized piece of tissue from the mantle - the organ of an oyster that secretes mother of pearl - is placed next to the nucleus and this produces a reaction, much like a skin graft, whereby mother of pearl begins to grow around the shell nucleus.

With high prices and increased production, the first farms made a lot of money. Therefore they spread throughout the Tuamotus. Of course, the increasing capacity meant the price fell. To reduce costs the French owners made sure they acquired the techniques required themselves, before training (much cheaper) imported Chinese labour to replace the Japanese craftsmen. Today the industry is back in equilibrium. The pearl farmers complain that it is hard to make a living, yet there is no shortage of farms or people selling the pearls.

Annick, Fakarava
Annick, Fakarava

The main village was actually much smaller than we had envisaged. There were three small supermarkets, a few restaurants plus several 'holiday villages' along the road south. Water sports and sun are the primary attractions. As well as diving and kitesurfing we saw people in kayaks and also wind foilers.

Wing foiler, Fakarava
Wing foiler, Fakarava

The last atoll we chose to visit was Toau. There is a 'false pass', which is actually a bay, which is known to be great for snorkelling. The couple, who own the island and moorings, are unique in the Tuamotus in that they do not want to rely on a supply ship but provide everything for themselves and their restaurant either from their garden or from the sea. The lobster is especially good. Unfortunately this is based on cruiser reports - the owners had taken a two week holiday whilst we visited. The place was indeed beautiful, one of our favourite spots in the Tuamotus, and we enjoyed parties and underwater delights galore. Annick enjoyed the snorkelling including being scrutinised by an eagle ray who circled her several times trying to assess this weird creature in the water

Skyfall anchored in the False Pass, Toua
Skyfall anchored in the False Pass, Toua

In the evenings the boats often got together for variouss social occasion. If someone had a catamaran then they became the hosts (more space). This is Grant and Blair serenading us during an Antipodean evening.

Antipodean evening in Toua
Antipodean evening in Toua (on SV Te Kinge)

However, in the company of monohulls only, Skyfall offers more room on deck than most traditional cruising boats. So we hosted several cards and games evenings during our stay in the Tuamotus. The most popular card game turned out ot be 'Shit face', introduced to Skyfall by Ellen and friends during their week on Skyfall in Portugal.

But after five atolls it was time to move on. Tahiti and the Society Islands beckoned, together with spare parts shipped from Europe and a long list of (mainly electronic) boat jobs.

Skyfall's route through the Tuamotus to Tahiti
Skyfall's route through the Tuamotus to Tahiti

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