Location: The Tuamotu Islands, French Polynesia
Date: 4/25/99 - 5/4/99
Cruising has been a lot easier for us in the last month. Night watches are now done in shorts and a t-shirt instead of two layers of polar fleece and foulweather gear. Oh what a change 20 degrees of latitude can make! Our first atoll landfall is Hao, the former supply base for the French Nuclear testing facility on Mururoa. Hao is now open to visitors and we found the remaining military personal very friend and helpful. After checking in with the Gendarmerie, we hit the local grocery store/bar for our first cold drinks in the South Pacific. We invited Futuro to raft alongside for dinner and enjoy grilling out. The next day we took off for Amanu, a small atoll 15nm from Hao. We enjoyed two days here, swimming with the sharks and entertaining the local children. The kids really got a kick out of the little Zodiac dinghy. Five of the little boys took me for a small lagoon tour, showing me the "haunted" house on the other side. It gave me a great chance to practice my Very Under Used French without complete embarrassing myself!
The next day provided one of the more interesting south sea cruising predicaments for
Futuro. As we're leaving Amanu today, Que Sera Sera gets their anchor rapped around
some coral heads and asked us to stand by as they may need a diver. Now I'm hoping at this
point that they can get it undone as the shark population in the lagoon is pretty high.
We've seen both gray & black tip reef sharks there. After about ten minutes, we see
that the anchor is coming up and Don, (Captain, QSS), signals to us, "Lets go."
As we're leaving, Futuro is still hauling up their anchor and I see a couple of people at
the bow. I call on the radio to see if they want us to standby. "No we have it."
is the reply. OK, so we leave the pass with QSS and once again I call on the radio to
check on Futuro and Miriam, (Futuro, cook), says "Chris, (Futuro, captain), thinks he
has it, we'll be out in 2 minutes." Fine. We're about 5 miles out, sailing on a broad
reach in 20kts of breeze when I hear the radio, "Risque Risque, Futuro" Now I
know what Miriam is about to say but ...sure enough, "LJ could you come back, we need
a diver, we can't get it unstuck." We're all saying "Oh Boy" why didn't
they ask for help in the first place. So, turn around, reel in the fishing lines, reef,
sail upwind back to the island, go through the pass, stand by Futuro, put our dinghy back
in the water, get out the outboard motor, all the diving gear, blah blah blah..Chris has
Hannes, (Futuro, first mate), get all the anchor chain out and tells him to put a fender
on the end of it and chuck it over board so the chain will be slack for us to work on it.
Chris swims over to Risque and he and I get into the dive gear. He mentions when we're
putting it on that we may need knives as Moanna, (Futuro, crew), has been down already and
saw 5-6 sharks. Great, thanks, just what I need. So, on go the knives and we look over for
the fender marking where the anchor should be. No fender in sight. Hannes and Miriam have
chucked the anchor chain over without the fender attached and now we're not quite sure
where the anchor even is. This gets Chris a little more angry, I'm thinking to myself,
"This is going to be a real side show." We go down, see one shark on the way,
yikes, then down to the bottom (25 meters) where we pickup the end of the chain and follow
it to the snags. Rapped 3 times around 1 coral head and once more around another. I don't
now how but... We get all but the last snag undone, the last one seems to have pinched the
anchor chain to the bottom as a coral head broke and tipped over on it. Bad news. Chris
goes up to get a line so we can try and pull the chain out from under it and I stay down
and clear the rest of the chain to the anchor itself. One more shark just watching me
work. Now Chris comes back down and we tie onto the anchor chain and go up as we're both
very low on air. We hope this will work as we're out of air (all 4 bottles used) and Chris
and I can't dive anymore because of the nitrogen buildup in us. They try to haul in but
Chris has used a nylon line that just stretches. There's nothing more we can do so we take
off again, leaving Chris with a set of diving gear in case he can get a bottle filled back
at Hao, 15nm away. I just got off the radio with him, they got it undone with the help of
3 local divers, 8 lines down there and 4 more hours. A real Polynesian mess.
Now heading to Tahanea for a day before sailing to Tahiti!!
Our next stop was Tahanea, one of the best spots we've been to so far for swimming and diving. Unfortunately after the little problem with Futuro two days before, I don't have any air left in my tanks to scuba dive. The snorkeling turns out to be better anyway so no great loss. Ralph and Anne from Harmonie drop me off outside the pass into the lagoon and I drift in with the current, diving on the coral as I go. I saw for the first time, five black tip reef sharks swimming below me and I now realize that by the time you see them, it's too late. They can swim so fast that if they want to get you, there's little a person could do by swimming. Luckily, black tip reef sharks are not known to be man-eaters, some people claim you can even pet them, ya right!!
We're in Kauehi now, home to one of the largest cultured black pearl industries in the South Pacific.