Protected from the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean by coral reefs, the blue lagoons of the Tuamotu Archipelago are what South Seas dreams are made of. But it’s not just the turquoise-hued water that makes these coral atolls so special. Add in white- and pink-sand beaches, swaying palm trees and a colorful underwater aquarium, and you’ll see why these atolls are a little slice of tropical heaven. (And why we had to abandon you for nearly a month … if only they had wi-fi, this really would be paradise!)
After spending weeks exploring the dramatic peaks of the Marquesas Islands, it was time to take advantage of a stable weather pattern and make the five-day run southwest to the low-lying coral atolls of the Tuamotus (where few things are taller than a palm tree). The passage was great, with only a few squalls to shake things up. Now this is a bold statement, but I think this was our best passage ever. It was fast and comfy, nothing broke and I didn’t even get sick! Right on.
Back in the days before radar and adequate charting programs, the Tuamotus were referred to as the “dangerous archipelago” by sailors. Countless boats were lost on the coral reefs that litter the ocean between the Marquesas and the Society Islands. And countless more were damaged transiting the turbulent passes from the ocean into the calm, protected lagoons. In many ways, the time we spent in British Columbia, Canada prepared us for navigating in these tricky areas where current runs swiftly and underwater hazards are everywhere. I’ll take Polynesia’s 90-degree water over Canada’s 45 degrees any day, though! (We still love you, Canada.)
We arrived at our first atoll, Tahanea, just before slack tide and were prepared to wait outside the pass if we saw standing waves or other sketchy sea conditions. But the pass was smooth, except for a few whirlpools, so we radioed our friends on s/v Estrellita who were waiting on the inside and headed on through. They’d been to Tahanea before, so they led us the 8 or 9 miles across the lagoon to their favorite spot. Transiting the lagoon is a bit stressful, I’m not going to lie. Coral heads and reefs lurk just under the surface, so it’s imperative to have the sun at your back and keep a sharp bow lookout.
Aaron joked that Livia and I were acting like a couple of hens in a henhouse, since we couldn’t seem to stop chitter-chattering on the radio as we followed them across. What? It had been a year and a half since we’d seen each other! We were just excited. After a couple hours (the last bit spent in silence, since we ran down the batteries in Estrellita’s radio), we made it across the lagoon and got settled, nestling our boats between coral heads over the sandy bottom.
With the anchors down, it was time for an Estrellita/Bella Star reunion! We had bonfires on the beach, went snorkeling, hunted for green coconuts, played games and generally had a blast. So much fun.
You know us; we’re always up for exploring. And the dozens of palm-tree covered motus found just inside the coral reef provided plenty of ground to cover.
It probably goes without saying, but we spent lots of time playing in the water, above and below. The water is gin-clear and warm, but I still never felt 100% comfortable. Why? Sharks! No matter how many times we swim with them, I have to fight my primal instinct to bolt from the water. Yeah, yeah … I know they’re just reef sharks, but still!
Believe it or not, up until this point in his life, Aaron had never touched a palm tree. That’s right, he was saving himself for just the right one. Apparently this lucky coconut palm measured up, and he decided to take the big step.
I lost track of the number of beach bonfires we had, but this one was special. Why, you ask? One word: s’mores.
So many islands to conquer, so little time. Add five more to our total! Poor s/v Palarran is never going to catch up. :)
After a few days, Estrellita needed to move on to another atoll to meet up with friends. We almost went with them, but the idea of having the lagoon all to ourselves was a treat we just couldn’t pass up. So we waved goodbye, knowing that we’d catch up to them in a few days on Fakarava. A few days turned into a week, but who’s counting out here? I don’t even know what day it is. Oh, wait. It’s Saturday. Right?
Next up, sailing through the pass on Fakarava after some engine trouble … and more sharks!