A speedy two night sail from the Marquesas brought us to a whole new world. Escorted by hundreds of dolphins and a whale from afar, The Tuamotu Archipelago appeared like a blue desert. As high as the tallest coconut tree on them, the islands bathed in crystal clear waters ranging from turquoise to deep blue.
Approaching these paradise atolls, surrounded by coral reefs, was always quite tricky. Hearing reports of so many boats stranded and lost on reefs made us extra cautious.
The majority of the atolls have at least one break in the reef, acting as the front door to these mini-paradises. But the passes are often narrow and the tidal streams are very strong. Before approaching any pass, we relied heavily on tables estimating slack time, that is the moment when the current is nor entering nor exiting. We also had to take into consideration the swell and wind. Once in the calm lagoon, the next challenge was to bypass the coral heads (visible and awash) scattered throughout. A good lookout in the bow or higher up on the mast was essential. When we finally anchored and released our guards, we could finally soak up the beauty of the place.
Fakarava particularly charmed us with its motus of fine white and pink sand . The visibility in the water was so spectacular we could see exactly where the anchor dug in the sand. Within minutes Kazaio was surrounded by five black-tip reef sharks. At first we were slightly intimidated to join them for a swim but rapidly they became just another element from this postcard-perfect scenery. Fakarava was our playground. Gonzalo, Barbara and I did a few splendid drift dives in the famous north pass where a colony of 600 grey sharks were cruising around us. It was a very special experience to be amongst so many sharks and be able to observe them for a good 45 minutes. To add to the show, there were hundreds of groupers already settling in the pass for the mating season. Gonzalo and Olivier (from Zorba) went spearfishing a few times and had to give up their catches to voracious predators. They bounced back in the dingy at the sight of an agitated lemon shark and called it a day. Tito snorkeled and was stunned by the quantity of sharks and big Napolean fish. I began kite-surf classes with a fellow cruiser as a teacher. Kenza and Rocio built coconut forts and crab farms with their friends on the beach. Tristan, obsessed with hermit and coconut crabs, miraculously still has his ten fingers. The Tuamotus are the home of the famous Polynesian black pearl and we all enjoyed a visit to a cultured-pearl farm. We watched in awe as meticulous Chinese workers (or surgeons better said) made incisions in giant oysters to remove the pearl and implant a new nucleus.
We regreted our speedy passage through these picturesque islands of Polynesia but there is so much to see in this vast territory before cyclone season arrives! Next destination: Tahiti and the Society Islands (French Polynesia).