Raquel’s Birthday

The Tuamotus Diaries #34, Day 68 – August 4th 2016

 

On the evening before, we had one of the most beautiful and calm sunsets we’d seen, promising a beautiful day for Raquel the next morning. And it was fulfilled in all glory. A calm breeze coming from behind the palm trees, not a cloud in the deep-blue sky. Of all she got, that was the greatest present.

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We decorated Pesto with fish-shaped balloons and, among Ship Biscuits, Chocolate Fudge Cake, Strawberry Smoothies and Chocolate Balls (“Brigadeiros” in Brazil), we must have prepared at least 100,000 calories for the feast.

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Notwithstanding the sugar overdose, the b-day girl elected to hold part of the celebrations on the deserted beach, which was brilliant in colors right there in front of us. A wise choice, perhaps slightly compromised only by the time of the day allotted for it. At noon, the beach was maybe a little too brilliant, and at some point not even the fresh sea water was enough to keep our heads cool, and we returned onboard.

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There, another one of her presents was a Karaoke machine – and the rest of the afternoon and evening was spent to the tunes of Raquel and Paulo merrily exercising their vocal cords on the new contraption.

All in all, a great day of celebrations.

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Fakarava – First Impressions

The Tuamotus Diaries #33, Day 67 – August 3rd 2016

 

Having been in Fakarava for 24 hours now, I wanted to register my first impressions of it before they are no more.

Fakarava is a very large atoll – 30 miles long by 15 miles wide – and you can feel it once inside. From one of its rims it is impossible to see the other side of the atoll. Upon arrival we benefited from very pleasant weather conditions, which helped us create a positive first-impression. We arrived through the North pass, and then sailed down to roughly the middle of the atoll for our first days in. A navigable channel has been marked between the North and South passes of Fakarava, passing just a few meters from the atoll’s eastern rim shore, being therefore absolutely protected from the prevailing Trade Winds’ eastern direction. We sailed this channel for over two hours on the way down the shore, enjoying a lovely breeze just a tad ahead of the beam, on perfectly flat seas – I dare to say the best sailing I have EVER had. As we enjoyed sailing along the channel, the village and adjoining developments paraded slowly before our eyes.

Fakarava’s village spreads for at least two miles along the atoll’s rim. It also counts with a number of tourism developments – fancy small constructions which look like hotels or small resorts. In fact, as we sailed down the rim, we crossed with a number of powerboats laden with lobster-like, red skinned tourists. We saw a number of Pearl Farms – an economic activity common in the Tuamotus atolls. Some of these farms, we understand, cater to tourism often offering tours of their underwater facilities. We are looking forward to visiting one of them with the arrival of my sister in law.

We dropped anchor at a place more or less halfway down the atoll’s eastern rim, a place called Tonae. It’s a roadstead anchorage lined with white sandy patches interspersed with reefs, with the usual backdrop of palm trees and scrub. The wind is very light, the water still as glass, and we can only hear the roar of the ocean outside. If not as transparent as in Makemo, the water here is of a vivid, deep royal blue, like in a giant swimming pool, and we didn’t resist plunging as soon as the anchor was set. We had a deliciously tranquil night o’sleep.

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Having been for such a long time in Makemo, and having enjoyed it so much, it is impossible not to compare. To my eye, Fakarava did seem a lot more Developed and Touristy than Makemo. As Adriana, Raquel and Paulo praised this aspect, I still remain to get used to it – or convinced. With much fewer coral heads, and the navigable marked channel crossing it from North to South, I believe Fakarava is also easier to move inside. And the consequence of this is immediate – almost everywhere along the first half of the rim that we sailed yesterday could we see some form or another of human development, be it private or commercial. We also saw more cruising boats here yesterday than the total aggregate amount we’d seen during two months inside Makemo. Every now and then we see powerboats passing by us here at the anchorage, and there is definitely traffic in the radio channels – both of which were rarities on the other atoll. In a nutshell, if I were to summarize, Makemo is far more Raw and Wilder than Fakarava.

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Most of this difference, I believe, stems from two specific aspects that differ between the two atolls. Having a lot more coral heads inside, navigation is far more hazardous inside Makemo (and the marked navigable channel built in Farakava further augments this difference). But perhaps the most relevant aspect: Fakarava is oriented Across the prevailing wind direction, whereas Makemo is oriented mostly Along it. Even the slightest Trade Wind will create quite a chop inside Makemo, whereas in Fakarava it does not stir the water at all.

As calm as it feels inside here, though, Fakarava’s sheer dimension is keeping me uneasy. As tranquil as it is inside with the prevailing wind directions, there is a lot of fetch for all other directions, and should the wind decide to blow “from the wrong side” conditions can deteriorate significantly inside of here. But this is something we will have to learn to deal with over time.

For now, we are having a good time, resting from the passage, and getting ready for Raquel’s b-day.

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Fakarava Intro

The Tuamotus Diaries #32: INTRODUCTION TO FAKARAVA

Ok, we have just completed our series of Diary Entries from Makemo, and are now inaugurating a new chapter of our Journey in the Tuamotus: Fakarava.

Makemo was our first atoll in the Tuamotus. We had not originally planned to go there. Moreover, we stayed there for more than 2 months. As such, Makemo had plenty of opportunity to surprise us in many ways, as it did.

Fakarava was a different story. Being one of the largest atolls in the Tuamotus, and one which is a popular (and convenient) stop for cruisers, Fakarava was always a centerpiece of our cruising plan for the Tuamotus. So, not only did we arrive there with expectations, but also with a strong benchmark – set in Makemo – to compare it with.

Differently from Makemo, Fakarava is easy to sail inside, and move around we did. We entered it via the wide North Pass, headed to Tonae – a roadstead anchorage roughly midway down the atoll – where we celebrated Raquel’s birthday. We then came back North to the village in Rotoava for internet, provisioning and to pick up my sister in law who was arriving for a two-week stay with us. With her we sailed down to the South Pass area – where we did some awesome snorkeling in the company of sharks, a lot of them – and then on to Hirifa at the very SE corner of the atoll – a truly lovely setting, where the reef forms huge pools of the purest brilliant seawater we’d seen. Adriana then left with her sister, and I stayed with the kids for another two weeks, when we repeated the same circle again: Village-South Pass-Hirifa. The attached picture shows the location of these places (Fakarava’s dimensions are roughly 25 miles long by 10 miles wide). This will be all dully covered in the posts to follow, of course.

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We hope you will enjoy our upcoming series of Diary Entries from our stay in Fakarava. Stay Tuned, and Thank You for following us on our Journey.

From Makemo to Fakarava

The Tuamotus Diaries #31, Day 66 – August 3rd 2016

The day cleared up on Sunday afternoon (August 31st), consistent with one of the forecasts we had, and I decided that if it remained like that until Monday, coupled with another benign forecast, then we would go.

As mentioned previously, we wanted to be in Fakarava for Raquel’s birthday, and the arrival of my sister in law. But now I had another incentive: a massive Depression (technical name to weather systems which, for practical purposes, are often as strong as hurricanes) was moving in from New Zealand. Whereas the depressions pass us well to the South, they generally spawn Cold Fronts and Troughs that end up affecting the weather here – and I wanted to be in Fakavava before any of these happened. Anyway, back to the story.

The passages between atolls are like Appointments – with tight times for departure and arrival. The reason is the atolls’ Passes – small fractures on the rim of the atoll through where water transits between the inside of the atoll and the open ocean. Kind of the Atoll’s “breathing organ”, if you will. As the tides go up and down, the direction and speed of the water flow vary accordingly – often reaching extreme figures. Vessels need to use the passes to go in and out of the atolls, and must therefore do so at the times when the water flow is at its minimum so as to avoid nasty conditions. Accordingly, we reached Makemo’s pass at 2PM on Monday and crossed it without a hitch.

Despite all the great time we had inside Makemo, it also felt liberating to be out in the open ocean again ! From Makemo we sailed between Katiu and Tuanake still before dusk, and then skirted Katiu and Raraka’s western sides along the night. We had a fair breeze all along the way and, except for a quick squall in the middle of the night, it was an uneventful passage. Our only challenge was slowing Pesto down, in order to reach Fakarava at the estimated Tide Slack at 9:30am the next day.

Pesto was however too happy to be sailing in those conditions and we reached Fakarava’s pass at 7:30am, two hours before the ideal time. We approached the pass to check the possibility of entering, but big standing waves almost 2 meters tall stood as sentinels all across the entrance, and made sure we understood the message. We resorted to tacking near the pass, outside of Fakarava, awaiting for the better conditions of 9:30am.

As we were doing so, though, a fierce squall approached us so quickly that I hardly noticed its arrival. As I scrambled to reef Pesto’s sails, I didn’t notice our drifting towards the area where the standing waves were. The squall hit us right at the same moment as we were wrapped by the waves. It was quite a show.

Adriana came back from her slumber disoriented. Raquel, who had been managing her seasickness all through the night, finally came on deck to discharge her agony. Even Paulo, who is normally the “cup-half-full” kind of guy during passages, got uneasy as Pesto jumped from one wavetop to another. It was not unsafe, but certainly uncomfortable, and anxiety-boosting. Adriana and Raquel were very kind and noble to not voice their thoughts for me having thrown Pesto into that mayhem.

Luckily the squall wasn’t long. By the time it had passed and the sun started to cut through the cloud cover again, it was 9:30am, and the standing waves receded almost miraculously in front of us – proving that my estimate of the slack tide’s timing was on the spot, which helped a great deal recover my internal reputation.

As we crossed the pass into the lagoon, it was already a glorious day, with placid waters and just a gentle breeze blowing. Perfect conditions for us to enjoy our first impressions of Fakarava – but THIS, I will save for another post.

Click on the image below to watch a short video we made during this passage:

THANK YOU FOR WATCHING !!!

Stuck

The Tuamotus Diaries #30, Day 64 – July 31st 2016

 

Makemo doesn’t seem to want us to go.

Since Friday we have been waiting for a weather window to leave Makemo towards Fakarava. But, instead of a window, it’s a “weather brick wall” of sorts that we have been seeing since.

A cold front approached us at the end of last week, and I thought it would be our opportunity to leave. A couple times before, when cold fronts passed above us here, the weather got settled afterwards with a spell of many cold, dry days of fair winds. Idyllic conditions for an overnight passage in between the atolls.

Not this time though. Since Friday all we’ve had has been brisk, gusty winds and rain. LOTS of it. I was hoping that conditions would start to improve today – Sunday – but instead we woke up to a gloomy morning. Even the waters surrounding us, which have normally kept their clear blue attitude even in the worst of times, is of a murky green tone today.

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The deck is soaking wet most of the time, and so is the cockpit, and we are thus confined to the cabin. The air inside is damp and warm, for we are forced to keep all portholes and hatches closed, and we are using candles to help improve the ambiance.

Without much to do, reading has been of order. The kids buried out a large collection of Brazilian cartoons that they had read nearly a year ago, and started reading ‘em all over again. Adriana has been nourishing her Yoga and Meditation skillset, whereas I finally started a great book with a compilation of epic stories about the sea – I have been keeping this one carefully since departure from Mexico, and decided it was now the time to get started with it.

When not reading, we play cards or dedicate ourselves to culinary. Special delicacies have been coming out of the galley, and my waistline has already started to show off the impacts of it.

Reading, Eating and Playing Cards isn’t a bad routine, but Raquel’s birthday is approaching and we would like to be in Fakarava already for it (or at least not in a passage). And perhaps an even harder deadline is that fact that my sister-in-law arrives to Fakarava in a week from now. That all adds a bit of suspense to the plot.

I keep on downloading weather forecasts, but they have been of plain literary nature only, without much attachment to the reality around us.

So we wait, and look to the west at times, hoping for a large expanse of blue sky to envelope us and give us the lead to go.

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