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Saturday, June 26, 2010


Except for the hour or so it took to run the HF radio net on Wednesday we motored in light wind all the way to Apataki. Interestingly enough, at one point we could see Apataki ahead of us with Toau still in view behind us. We departed Toau at 0510 and were in the lagoon at Apataki by 1000. With light winds and a two meter swell, we had an easy entrance through the well marked pass.

We anchored in the lee of a small reef just inside the lagoon to make a quick trip to the grocery store in the village for a few supplies. Then we motored into a light wind the nine miles to the SE end of the atoll where there is a carenage (boat yard) run by Valentine's cousin, Alfred:


We were tired of motoring all day so we headed straight for the W end of the first big motu rather than continuing E to where four other boats were anchored/moored in front of the carenage ramp. It was very weird to see a mast and foresail in amongst the palm trees on shore. We anchored in 24', clear sand, and ended up in 40':

{GMST}15|33.780|S|146|15.343|W|South East motu in Apataki|Apataki 1{GEND}

Thursday morning we took the dinghy over to visit the carenage. This is a new business for Alfred, adding to their income from his father's pearl farm (Assam's). Of course it's a bare bones yard but the few boats there look well secured for cyclone season. We met with Alfred and his wife Pauline and their son, Tony, who has studied at jeweler's school for two years in Papeete (to carry on the pearl tradition), and they encouraged us to move to their anchorage to be closer. So in the afternoon we dropped anchor at:

{GMST}15|33.534|S|146|14.628|W|In front of the Carenage in Apataki|Apataki{GEND}

On our next visit ashore I made the mistake of asking Alfred about the availability of tomatoes (from the write-up in one of the guides which says vegetables are available) and he immediately took me out to the tiny garden behind their kitchen/dining building. Before I could stop him he plucked the only three Roma style tomatoes that were barely beginning to blush red and gave them to me. I felt terrible about it. Right now he's still in the "test garden" phase to see how things grow here, and they really don't have enough extra to sell to cruisers. His mother keeps chickens and sells their eggs, and they use the droppings for fertilizer in the garden.

This morning (Saturday) I had just finished adding brown sugar and milk to our oatmeal when Alfred pulled up in their work boat with his son, Tony, another worker guy, and Carolina, Tony's latest girl friend from Nice. They asked us if we wanted to ride out to their pearl farm right that minute. We were already dressed in our bathing suits, so I turned off the stove, we grabbed our snorkels and swim ladder, and jumped in their big panga style boat. It turned out that they were only pulling up pearl buoys and not any actual oysters so we didn't see anything we hadn't already seen at Toau. But it was nice of them to include us. Tony speared a grouper which they offered to us when they dropped us back at Nakia, but we told them we already had some fish we needed to eat. There isn't supposed to be any ciguatera here but why take a chance...

After two days of calm, sunny weather the weekend is forecast to be wet and windy. Last night the lagoon was so still it was breathtaking, and today we've already had a little rain. Assuming the rough weather passes by Monday, we'll leave for Papeete this coming week.

Saying goodbye

Leaving Gaston and Valentine and Anse Amyot was one of the most difficult things we've had do to in our cruising life. It ranks right up there with leaving Bahia de los Angeles after spending three summers there, and leaving our good friends in Mexico behind as we continued south and west. Anse Amyot is a little piece of paradise in amongst the rest of the jewels of the Tuamotus, and if it weren't for the 90 day limit to our visas we would seriously consider staying in French Polynesia through cyclone season just to spend more time here. We are having a terrible time leaving for the Societies. What if we get there and find that we wish we were back here!

We are so grateful to G&V for doing all they can to accommodate cruisers, and for being so warm and welcoming. For all the pressure we put on their peaceful lifestyle they honestly enjoy our company. In turn we have a responsibility not to overwhelm them with our presence. It's obvious that they sometimes have a hard time saying no and we need to be sensitive to their work load and the supplies they have on hand to feed and service the constant stream of boats coming through. As much as they appreciate what we do for them in return, they must heave a small sigh of relief when the last boat leaves in September!

We enjoyed a last happy hour and musical jam session on shore Tuesday night with all the boats, and it was impossible for me to say goodbye without tears. This is not a place like Mexico to which we could easily return some day. The next morning we dropped our mooring at the first glimmer of dawn and, as we headed straight away from Toau bound for Apataki, it was even harder to watch the atoll fade away on our stern. As John was comforting me up on deck we both saw a bright shooting star in the morning sky. I'm not sure what that means, but it was a lovely farewell gift.

We will carry fond memories of Valentine's happy laughter (which could be heard all the way out to our boat); Gaston's endless energy and nonstop activity; Valentine's enjoyment in playing S/V Freedom's Marquesan ukulele during our happy hour jam sessions; Gaston's love of pancakes with peanut butter; listening to the B.B. King CDs we gave them while Valentine and I worked on making my necklace; the friendly dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens; Philippe's Tahitian songs on the guitar; and many more sights and sounds of Anse Amyot.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Saving Pursuit

Good grief, time sure does fly when you're basically doing nothing. Since our last blog: John made final (hopefully) repairs to our wind vane; he cooked another pancake breakfast for Gaston and Valentine with Soggy Paws and Jack, a 24 year old American who's been traveling since he was 17 (mostly by hopping freight trains until he ran out of railroad tracks in Costa Rica), as invited guests; and we did some more snorkeling and reef walking. Last Friday the weather turned wet again and we spent all morning catching water and doing laundry (which I threw into the shower wet since it was still too rainy to dry). John made bread and we spent the afternoon watching some of the Horatio Hornblower series for a second time.

Saturday morning I put the laundry out on clotheslines to dry and we went in to shore to see G&V. But they made a last minute decision to take the yellow bomber (their go fast boat) to Apataki to get gasoline, a propane bottle for us, and misc groceries. It was a nice day so we burned our paper garbage. I gathered coconuts into large groups under various trees and dragged palm fronds onto piles for burning later. John had brought tools in to fix Valentine's washing machine which wouldn't spin. After he fixed that he helped another cruiser figure out the problem with a broken portable generator. While he was busy with that I borrowed an axe from Philippe to open some coconuts to feed the pigs and then I let Bula (a rotweiler mix) and Lulu take me for a walk out on the point. By that time we were hungry and the laundry was dry.

John spent most of Sunday transferring propane from the big Apataki bottle to two small bottles for us and Soggy Paws. While he was on shore he attended the Father's Day church service which this time was mostly translated to English since there weren't as many French speakers in attendance. I stayed on the boat to bake brownies for the Father's Day potluck that afternoon. Gaston grilled chicken for those who hadn't brought their own meat in for the BBQ, and Valentine made donut sized "rolls" by flattening dough into thick pancakes which were then nested in between two special leaves and put on the grill to cook. The weather looked threatening so we set chairs for 20 people inside the restaurant and by the time we managed to tear ourselves away from the fun, it was just beginning to rain hard. I'm always surprised at how cold it can feel here when rain is pelting down and the wind begins to pick up.

We woke to more rain Monday morning but John and I went to shore to have G&V take a look at my 40 Kauehi pearls to see what could be done with them. I had arranged them all in a row, attempting to place the ones I thought were best in the center of the necklace. Gaston got his special machine out (not a Dremel tool) to drill holes in all of them for me. But I soon realized that it was hardly worth putting holes in the worst of them, and I asked Valentine if she would use her judgment for how best to use them. She knew how much I admired the necklace she always wears, and so she began designing something similar for me. While her necklace is mostly kaishi (natural pearls) mixed in with various decorative beads, she used 15 of my cultured pearls and from her own supply added kaishi, beads, and small Japanese cream pearls, plus two of her own pearls since she couldn't find enough of mine to match up well enough. She directed me in helping her find what she needed from her stores and we had a great time working together on it. I gave her my unused pearls to use in decorative projects but before we left they asked John if he wanted a "surfer" necklace. John picked out one of our pearls for Gaston to drill and then put it on a black cord to wear tied up close on his neck with a slip knot. Valentine said that's what all the Tahitian surfers wear. So now we have the most treasured souvenirs we could ever hope to receive from two of the nicest people we've ever met.

That night we went to bed early since it was too rainy and windy for a happy hour ashore. Which was a good thing because we woke at 10:30 to a call for help on the VHF radio. Pursuit had broken the line to their mooring and was aground! John immediately put his wet suit jacket on and lowered our dinghy in the pouring rain and howling wind to go to their aid. More cruisers in dinghies soon joined him and the rest of us stood by the radio waiting for updates and watching with binoculars as they struggled to free Pursuit from the coral. We learned later that boats with anenometers (wind indicators) recorded gusts up to 50 knots, but at 11:10 the wind suddenly died down enough to make better progress kedging the boat off with a stern anchor. The dinghies finally managed to push the boat into deep water. After the wind died Gaston was able to launch his big boat to come out with Jack to tow the disabled boat back to its mooring where it was resecured. By this time it was 11:40 and John was amazed to hear later that the whole ordeal hadn't taken longer. Pursuit's prop had lost a blade, but the next day another boat was able to loan a spare which will get them to Papeete for final repairs.

This is one of those events that truly brings cruisers together and we all met the next night for happy hour, relieved that no one was hurt and no serious damage had been done.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Still in Anse Amyot

I'm surprised to see that my last blog was written a week and a half ago, but life in Paradise has been keeping us busy.

We have been enjoying daily snorkels and/or reef walks and occasionally both in one day. I still can't get over the variety of fish we're seeing here and I continue to struggle with identifying as many of them as I can in our Reef Fish book. My new game is counting eels and yesterday I had a personal best of 11 morays including two little ones. During our reef walks John found several unoccupied cowrie shells to add to our collection. After one walk on a motu in the eastern section of the lagoon we dinghied out to a small motu with some pearl farming attached to it. We did a snorkel circumnavigation of the little island and it was very nice with tons of clams and live coral including a bit of brain coral which we don't see often.

One afternoon Gaston and Valentine took a French couple out in their work boat and returned with pearl oysters. The rest of us gathered on shore as Gaston split open the oysters to pop the pearls out into a small bowl filled with wet salt to clean them. We could see how labor intensive it was, but they ended up with nicer pearls than we'd seen in Kauehi. They cleaned each animal to harvest a nugget of meat for their meal later. They had also brought back a dozen purple pencil urchins. We didn't see what they did with the insides and they are now out drying in the sun.

The weather has been particularly calm and John ended up putting the rocker stopper out for a few nights. But the swell has been low enough recently that he pulled it back out of the water. We had a few days of lots of clouds and overcast rolling through with no appreciable rain fall. The last few days have been crystal clear and calm enough for several trips to snorkel while our friends dove on the outside of the atoll. I don't find these trips particularly interesting because most of the fish are in deeper water and there's not much nice coral, but the upside is that we've seen fish out there that we don't find in the cove. One day we snorkeled in through the pass on our way back to Nakia and saw a few white-tip reef sharks, a barracuda, and a free swimming octopus.

Our evenings have been busy with various social activities. There was a potluck birthday dinner on shore one night, happy hours on friend's boats, a lobster dinner to pay for our second week of mooring, a happy hour ashore with Philippe on guitar and Valentine on ukelele, and the big dinner on Saturday prepared by Gaston and Valentine to celebrate their wedding anniversary. That morning we heard the final squealings of a small pig which was turned into blood sausage and pork stew for dinner. This was accompanied by more parrotfish poisson cru and baked parrotfish in tin foil packets on the BBQ. The cruisers all pitched in with canned fruit, juices, and various bottles of alcoholic beverages to make a potent fruit punch, and we didn't get home until 11 PM.

John helped install a few new moorings with Soggy Paws and Gaston to bring the total to 13, with three additional spots sussed out for anchoring. Yesterday we had a high count of 15 boats in the cove, but I don't know if that's a new record or not. Gaston and Valentine have been hard pressed to keep up with the increase in visitors and the quality of two of the meals has suffered as a result. There have also been problems recently with getting gasoline, which is always a scarce commodity in the these remote atolls, and Gaston hasn't been able to do any game fishing this past week. About a week ago Valentine's sister, Liza, and her family returned from Fakarava to run the pension a few doors down from G&V's place. The next day four men came out to build a fish trap not far from Nakia's mooring and the area we snorkel. They come out multiple times throughout the day to harvest mostly parrotfish and grouper, and today someone saw them take a Napoleon wrasse. They throw back butterflyfish and others, and morays eels are speared and thrown out of the trap. This morning John was so upset to see them spear seven morays that he went in to talk to Valentine about building a fish trap the eels can get out of, but he couldn't bring himself to broach the subject with her. It's hard to watch, but it would also be presumptuous of us to suggest they change what they've been doing for generations.

Last Thursday John cooked a promised pancake breakfast for G&V. At the last minute their three French friends showed up as well. Soggy Paws was invited, and John was kept busy in Valentine's kitchen flipping flapjacks and cooking eggs to order for everyone. We brought all the supplies including syrup, but G&V preferred their pancakes topped with peanut butter and I got raised eyebrows from the French when I buried mine in syrup! Sherry and I did the cleanup while the guys went off with Gaston to fix another cruiser's outboard.

Yesterday, as a courtesy for all of their hospitality, a number of us sat through a two hour church service conducted by Valentine. Gaston and Philippe were the only other locals in attendance, while there were 13 adults and four children representing seven cruising boats. Six adults spoke English and everyone else spoke French so the service was conducted in French. There was lots of singing accompanied by Philippe or Valentine on ukelele, and Valentine read passages from the bible for discussion. Of course this was the morning after the big anniversary party so everyone's head was a little thick and it was hard to keep from nodding off!

You probably haven't heard that there is a general strike in Papeete where the international airport and the commercial shipping ports have been closed for a few days. We still need to get gasoline and are hoping that the Thursday supply barge into Fakarava with carry some. We will probably leave Anse Amyot on Wednesday for the short hop to civilization.


Thursday, June 03, 2010

Anse Amyot, Toau

We sailed dead downwind (DDW) to get from Kauehi to Toau, and two opposing wave trains made it next to impossible to get any decent sleep but we don't mind so much when it's only a one night passage. We arrived at 0700 Monday morning and Soggy Paws helped tie us to a mooring buoy. The family here has really turned their little cove into a business with up to 10-12 moorings and an informal restaurant. I say "cove" because the entrance is what they call a blind pass where you can't actually cross into the lagoon because of an interior reef blocking the way. Gaston and Valentine charge a fee to stay on a mooring, or you can buy a couple of dinners instead. So this is a bit unusual for the Tuamotus, which are otherwise free of charge, but the family has a very good reputation for their hospitality and friendliness towards cruisers. And I think more boats can be fit into the cove by using a mooring system, which is useful since it's such a popular place. There are no hassles with tides/currents to get in and out, and the entrance is short and easy with both sides of the reef marked and a lighted range on which to line up for your entry.

{GMST}15|48.222|S|146|09.110|W|Anse Amyot Toau|Toau{GEND}

Our first night was crazy with tons of lightning and thunder in the distance and wind gusting to 40 knots. Makes us kind of uneasy to be in severe weather on a mooring we know nothing about (John didn't have a chance to thoroughly check it out our first day here), but all five boats held just fine. And on Tuesday morning's net we learned that a few boats in both the village and the SE Kauehi anchorages dragged, so we feel pretty good about things here. It had rained off and on all night but was too windy to put the rain catcher up. While we were having our coffee on deck in the morning, enjoying a break in the rain, we watched a big black cloud mass coming towards us. John quickly put the rain catcher up, plugged the scuppers on the side decks, and we got out all the jugs and buckets to do some laundry after we filled our tanks. I threw all the wrung out laundry in the shower until the sky lightened enough to hang it out to drip dry. You can't imagine how great it feels to know we have more water than we could probably use before we have to leave the Toots for Papeete!

We are now on two informal HF radio nets, one at 0800 and one at 1800 (6 PM) to talk to other boats. We used to listen only to one for boats in the Tuamotus, but now we're starting to listen to one which was created by the Puddle Jumpers (the boats coming down from Mexico). It's a good way to track how many boats are in each place, and trade info on weather, good anchorages, tide info for pass entry/exit, etc.

Soggy Paws made a reservation for us to join the other boats for dinner Tuesday night at the restaurant. We were a party of nine with people from Argentina, Finland, Italy (Milan), and Australia. Fortunately for us Americans everyone spoke excellent English and had traveled extensively in the U.S. The little restaurant is charmingly decorated with shells and signs of cruiser memorabilia. Valentine and Gaston had been working hard all day preparing the meal. After a short happy hour (BYOB) we sat down to a meal of foccacia topped with garlic and wahoo as a starter, coconut bread, rice, wahoo sashimi on a bed of shredded cabbage accompanied by a delicious sauce, breaded and fried mahi mahi, parrot fish poisson cru (raw fish in coconut milk), lobster au gratin, topped off with a rich slice of coconut cake for dessert. Our arteries are probably choking to death, but it was all delicious and there was plenty of it. We'll just have to spend lots of time snorkeling to pay for it!

Except for an absence of colorful clams the snorkeling here is some of the best we've seen because there are many different kinds of fish, an occasional small black-tip shark, coral, and huge green moray eels. And this is all right from the boat - we don't even have to get in our dinghy. We did do one outer reef snorkel after the weather had calmed down on Wednesday. This was interesting from the standpoint of being able to see the steep drop off that our friends were diving, but there are loads more fish to see (and at a closer vantage point) right here in the cove. Visibility is best on an incoming tide so we did a morning snorkel today, but we were in the water after high tide and the visibility dropped significantly by the time we got out again. The only negative we can find is that the boat rolls in the small amount of swell that makes its way into the cove, but not enough for John to get out the rocker stopper yet. Usually there's enough breeze to keep us pointed into the wind which lessons the effect.

We are enjoying our stay here and are in no hurry to leave yet!