Makemo Atoll – 7th October
Woooo Hooooooo we are here, finally. Talk about a horrendous passage, it was only 3 days but it was hard, I felt exhausted the whole time and nauseous on and off, except when we got in the lee of the islands (upon which I had everyone scrubbing the decks and cleaning up, it’s so good to feel normal again). Stu is a legend, I don’t know how he does it, at one stage I just had to rest and lie down (after a head in bucket episode), while he cooked dinner, cleaned up and sailed the boat all on little sleep under his belt! What a man he is, this is when I really appreciate him big time.
The passes into the atolls are notorious for being dangerous, known as the ‘dangerous islands’ for a few reasons. There are 67 low lying atolls, the islands can only be seen at best 8nm away on a clear sunny day, the north and west of them generally consist of little islands called motus which are usually covered in coconut trees but the south and somtimes east of the atolls are just a coral reef with waves smashing on it and hopefully not your boat if you don’t see it. We are sailing from the SE so encountering the reef side of the atolls at first. The current flowing in or out of the passes into the atolls is generally 3-7 knots and when your motors generally do 5-6 knots comfortably this can be an issue, plus there are apparently plenty of pics on the internet of boats grounding on reefs entering the atolls. Inside the atolls are littered with coral bombie heads which you will run aground on if your not vigilant. In Shelter Bay in Panama, Stu downloaded a programme called open CPN and imported google maps images of the atolls. He then bought a USB GPS to show our position on the google earth images (which is also a backup in case our chartplotter GPS stops working). This programme shows reef much more accurately than the charts we have (in fact all charts, as it hasn’t been surveyed in a long time), so our charts are not to be trusted for navigation.
We also downloaded an excel sheet from other cruisers on the net, that have spent a lot of time in the Tuamotos and have cleverly produced a slack tide guestimator! How cool is that! We studied it and crossed about 30 minutes prior to the guestimators predicted ‘slack’ current in the pass, as it looked ok. We motored up to the pass and could see the overfalls where the current was flowing hard out of the atoll through the pass, but the pass was wide enough to avoid that area and the rest looked ok according to Stu, so off we went feeling a little intimidated by the pass. I was on the bow on lookout and pointing where Stu needed to steer (on Neverland whilst at the helm the port side view is blocked by the saloon). Sienna and Alex were inside and instructed to stay there, so we could concentrate with Jake on the other helm looking out. Half way through the pass we had to enter the overfall looking current. Boat speed was 8 knots and our speed over ground was 4 knots meaning we had a 4 knot current against us, but it was ok – thank God. We felt a sigh of relief as we entered the atoll and out of that outgoing current, now to avoid the coral heads.
Stu’s CPN programme with google maps was great as we could see the reef on the computer and eyeball it as we passed, to confirm its accuracy. I had researched a potentially great spot to anchor from information from other cruisers and we headed towards the SE end of the atoll, to a place that looked like it was shallow and sandy. As we agreed on a spot to anchor, I was at the bow directing Stu at the helm, dodging loads of coral heads that were difficult to tell just how deep they were and the coral heads were about every 15 metres, it got stressful and we decided to drop anchor in 5m of water not quite where we decided to initially drop anchor, but with no hull scrapes – yet!!!! I managed to drop it right on top of a coral head – DOH, not my finest hour of anchoring. So Stu’s brute force managed to move the anchor just behind the coral bombie, yay and it was in a nice sandy spot well dug in. Another consideration with anchoring in the Tuomotos is getting your anchor chain wrapped around the numerous coral heads. We set out our rode (length of anchor related to depth) at 4:1 a bit shorter than normal, and we will rig up a fender to float the anchor chain to avoid wrapping the chain around the coral heads which can cause the chain/windlass/ bow roller to break. Plus, it’s not cool to wreck coral.
Yeeeeehaaaaaaaa we’re here and safely anchored, it’s a great feeling. Then you look around at the stunning scenery that’s got to be seen to be believed, the water colours are stunning from aqua colour right through the blue colour spectrum. The whole atoll is huge, as we were motoring up to the pass we couldn’t see the end of the island as it’s so massive and low. Now we are in the atoll, we can’t see the other side in some places! It feels a bit like we are in open ocean, except we have zero rolling, love it. The motos (small islands) are all individually named and covered in coconut trees, there is the occasional copra shed and house. The only other people we have seen are in dinghies and only one today.
Diving into the crystal clear waters was amazing, now this is Paradise. Cool waters but not cold, the sand is so white that it looks fluorescent when snorkelling. There are a few coral heads near the boat but only coming up a few metres, teeming with little blue, black and white and yellow angel fish. Covered in corals and very pretty. Stu saw a 6 foot ‘fat’ shark, so our first swim was a bit short and close to the boat! But as soon as it saw Stu it was off, I think it just wanted to see what the commotion was.
The first morning the kids decided to go on an adventure by themselves! The first time! Stu had 2 windsurf boards out (he was clearing and cleaning the hatch), they planned to paddle and snorkel to the shore and back by themselves! So exciting for them, and great for Stu and I too. Stu and I did boat jobs while they had a great time exploring ashore. I met them on their way back, and Jake showed me some super coral heads full of brightly coloured clams and fish. I found a massive very pretty cone shell. I carefully picked it up (some have a poisonous dart) with Jake telling me off and threatening to chuck it off the board! We were not sure if it was alive, we carefully took it to the boat. Stu said there was a creature inside so we let him go.
Stu’s job list today has been – trying to reglue the SUP board that exploded in the sun, this has proved a very frustrating experience for him especially as he thinks it will be a waste of time. Unpacking the toy hatch, pulling out a spare anchor and repositioning it in the anchor chain hatch, figuring out how to secure it so it doesn’t smash around whilst sailing. Designing and making anchor buoys.
MUM IS COMING TO VISIT US!!!! I can’t believe it, Aunty Rob and Uncle Ken booked it for her after much discussion I’m assuming, and now she’s coming in less than three weeks! How exciting, we have been buzzing around turning the boat upside down and inside out getting her cabin ready. It has had a little leak, so Stu took the roof off to access the leaks as he had to re-silicone the deck which took a few full days. The kids and I sorted and relocated/removed stuff from Alex and Siennas cabin which will be Nanny’s room. So the spare cabin full of stuff was re-sorted under various beds and boxes. The hard yards are done and the kids are now sleeping in our hull with Jake remaining in his cabin in the other hull.
We have a long list of things we hope Nanny can bring with her, especially Vegemite!…… I mean especially boat parts which Roy is very kindly hunting down from all over the globe for us, Mucho Appreciato de Royston! Hope Nanny has room for her knickers!!!!! He he. He is in the middle of renovating the kitchen which means the house would be turned upside down, plus old Pop has just moved into care meaning his house would need sorting – so thanks Bev and Roy for this big time. Thinking of you including Old Gran and Pop.
We have been here for about a week now the first three days were stunning, but we have had 20-33 knots, grey skies and rainy patches for the rest! I was actually cold in the wind today, amazing. Jake is funny, he loves being cold now, snuggling in his blanket. Last night during the strong winds we heard a weird new noise and went outside to investigate to find a beautiful little pure white turn upside down on the solar panels, obviously partly knocked out and with a possible broken wing. Stu quickly popped it into a bucket before it could roll off the solar panel into the water and drown. We covered the bucket and hoped the morning would bring a well and ready to fly off bird. Unfortunately, not so, so sadly the poor little birdie had a broken wing so after some hidden agenda conversation between Stu and I he took it off to shore to see if the locals on the motus could ‘help’.
Stu came back buzzing after meeting the four guys living and working there, one of them had hurt his hip and could barely walk so Stu said we would return with some medicine at 2pm, which we did and it was very cool. Just before we were to head to the shore Stu yelled out that the dingy was drifting out to sea!!!! It was not attached to Neverland but 1/2 km or more down wind and it was windy!!!! Stu was in in a flash with goggles and flippers donned, with our help. It was a long swim, just as he was getting close, the guys from the island came out to help in their big wooden dingy!!!! Far out how awesome are they. This is the third close shave we have had to almost losing the dingy, this time the rope snapped!! Though this was the closest to losing it we had come. Afterwards Stu checked the anchor and we set up the fender to float the anchor chain to lift it above the coral bombie we were snagged on, much to Siennas delight who has been busting to go for a swim for days. She was in helping Dad amongst shrieks of laughter and excitement, she’s such a happy little one.
We arrived on the island, timing it between rain squalls. They were all super friendly, one in particular was very welcoming. They helped us land the dinghy, then showed us the Copra they were drying, and invited us to try some, then lead us to their house. Apparently three of them live in the village an hour away and come here for 3 weeks to collect the coconuts, dry the Copra where they sell it to the ship that comes every few weeks bringing supplies to the island. We were offered coconuts full of coconut water to drink, more soft coconut meat and a plate with homemade coconut sweet bread for us to eat. WOW, we were not expecting this! So kind and generous of them, I think they baked the coconut bread for us!!! Can you believe!!!! As they told us what ingredients were in the bread, it was definitely a bit challenging chatting with them due to our non French speaking abilities and their limited English. It would have certainly been a much more fulfilling experience if we knew the language, but we all got by with hand gestures and it was very gracious of them to invite us knowing we didn’t speak French.
The house was a hut built from sticks for supports, long woven coconut leaves for the roof and the walls were partly corrugated iron partly woven thatch, amazing. Sand floor with hammocks for beds. The four dogs and the food kept the kids happy and entertained. After around an hour, we headed home with an invite to come back tomorrow so he could take us for a walk along the island!!! Yeeeeees we will be there! So they loaded us with a coconut, copra and 5 more coconut pieces of sweet bread!!! While the main man took our garbage bin from our dingy, we didn’t even ask!!!!! We were blown away by their generosity.
We left Perth just over a year ago! We left on the 13th of October, far out! A whole year we have been on Neverland! It almost coincides with our Nieces 5th birthday, Sienna made Abby a very cute card today, not that we were able to email a pic of it, Sienna has certainly missed little Abs and so have we she full of fun and mischief!
Oh my goodness I am spinning out after our visit to Ubere’s house!!! Talk about absolute generosity, we have just been totally spoiled by a total stranger (well not a stranger now!). After yesterday’s generosity we brought them some yeast, a pamplemousse and lemons not really knowing what they needed. We were stoked that poor Douglas got a good nights sleep, the neurofen helped his hip pain and he certainly looked happier while was standing a little every now and then.
Rushmore led the way to Ubere’s place. This narrow moto is jam packed with coconut trees has the tranquil stunningly coloured waters on the inside of the lagoon with the roaring windy massive open ocean waves crashing on the reef on the other, all visible along this short walk. As we approached there were green tropical trees (poisionous Manshoneel trees as pointed out by Jake) with numerous homemade massive hammocks hung invitingly underneath. Little winding sand paths lined with plants and driftwood with decorations of shells, coral, crabs and other collections that had drifted ashore, led to numerous sitting areas. He showed us inside his huts which were made from corrugated roofing and the rest of the materials were all from the island – drift wood and coconut palms woven into mats. He had 2 kitchen areas one with an oven, the second larger hut had a dining table (of sorts) and a sectioned area with around 4 beds and foam mattresses.
We later learned that the Copra workers stay there at times. As we greeted Ubere in the larger hut, he gave us presents and by the end of our stay we had – 4 hand made straw hats (of which we initially took one then another after he kept asking if we would like the other 3 hats he had made), 10 black pearls yes you read right PEARLS!!!!!!!, hot coconut bread that is so yummy the kids were in heaven, offers Stu homemade beer to drink and take home and gave the kids cool giant barnacle shells he pulled off a buoy, whilst gesturing they make really cool toothbrush holders!!!!!!!! By the end of the visit we had all these presents and were spinning out, especially the pearls. I gave him 2500 francs ($USD 25) which he reluctantly took. Later after some conversation and the guys saying he gets paid in food by the locals that stay there, he gave me back 1500 francs, which I reluctantly accepted as he looked a little upset when I gave him the money in the first place. It was difficult to know whether to accept all his gifts as we didn’t want to offend him but we felt bad taking so much from him. We kept asking what he needs, as by that stage we realized money was useless to him, he and Rushmore said nothing over and over. So very generous, I kept telling him he was generous, which he seemed to appreciate.
We communicated via the help of google translate, broken English – French and gestures and learned some cool stuff. Ubere said the boats of all the nationalities are welcome to visit him, except the Italians! He said the Italians transport Ice, as in the drug Ice! They said Marijuana is really common in Makemo village and the gendarme (police) turn a blind eye. We spoke about what you can and can’t eat here. There are many Trochus shells here, and they are good to eat along with oysters and another type of shell. He walked out to a small bombie reef knee deep where he pulled an oyster shell out for Stu, which Stu said no thank you and gestured for him to return it, as it’s an easy meal for him that we don’t want to take his food. They have massive coconut crabs here apparently, they wanted to go hunting for one with us but we said no as it was raining and I think they were being hospitable as we knew they would get soaked. Maybe another day. As we were leaving they invitied the kids to come back in a few days when the rain stops to help with the coconut husking and collecting – how cool. Tyrone asked if we had a charger for his phone, which we gladly took and luckily we had one thanks to Jakes kindle.
We all had a great day even though it rained for 90% of it and it is still raining, it’s like doldrums rain not frontal or squally just a drizzle. Kids had a day off school much to their delight and Sienna and Alex have finished level 2 All About Reading. They are so happy to start the next level. Stu and I actually had a sleep when we got home, I never sleep during the day (unless on passage or recovering from one) but I guess I needed it. Quite relaxing here, and really nice to know there are great people close by. 13 sleeps till mum gets here! I need to send her an urgent message, we need vegemite and worm tablets (in case of another infestation –urgggggg, patting the dogs today reminded me.)
Thanks for reading, we appreciate it.
Neverland crew xxxxx