s/y Nine of Cups
Archipel des Tuamotu
June 2009
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From Iles Gambier, we continued west and north to
the Tuamotus. The Tuamotus are the heart of
French Polynesia comprised of about 78 atolls.
Many of the islands are not approachable by a
sailboat, nor do they have a pass into their lagoons.
Originally dubbed the "Dangerous Islands"  by
French explorer Bougainville, these low-lying islands
present a challenge because of the difficulty in
navigating around them. This is not an area to sail at
night nor without a good bow watch for coral heads
and shoals. Although we're finding that our chart
plotter and electronic charts are an excellent aid to
navigation, we're spending lots of time on deck
paying attention to what's going on around us.
An atoll is a ring-shaped coral island nearly or
completely surrounding a lagoon. The Tuamotus
are the largest group of coral atolls in the world.
Tahanea Atoll - 16S51.67 / 144W40.16
Our first stop was Tahanea Atoll, about 700 miles from the Gambier. Since we only have
90 days in French Polynesia and we spent nearly a month in the Gambier, we need to get a
move on if we want to spend some time in the Society Islands (Tahiti et al). We had a great
downwind sail...fast and akin to a sleigh ride and covered the distance in 5 days. The
passage time could have been less, but we slowed down to time our approach through the
pass into the lagoon near slack tide and in good daylight to see coral heads.  
As you can see to the right, the approach to an atoll doesn't look like much: low-lying,
palm-treed islands with natural passes through the surrounding reefs which can't be sighted
until you're very close. Luckily, the pass was well-charted, wide, deep with no obstructions.
We found a pleasant anchorage for Cups to the
east of the pass entrance.
A lagoon within the lagoon was a pleasant place
to relax in the warm water and explore.
Exploring on the reef, we found this eel stuck in
a small tidal pool and not enjoying it a bit.
An uninhabited atoll, signs reminded us
that this was a now natural reserve.
The crabs were aggressive! Their beady red
eyes got all fired up on our approach, they
spread their claws, pincers open wide and
hissed at us. No fear!
Lots of sea birds around including frigates,
tropic birds, noddies and this gray-backed tern.
Our booty from an afternoon of beachcombing
along the reef on Punaruku island...mostly
cowries and cones.
The Tuamotus were first discovered by
Ferdinand Magellan, during his circumglobal
voyage in 1521.
At the beginning 18th century the first
Christian missionaries arrived. The islands'
pearls penetrated the European market in the
late 1800s, making them a coveted
possession. Following the forced abdication of
King Pomare V of Tahiti, the islands were
annexed as an overseas territory of France.
The Tuamotus made headlines around the
world in 1947, when archaeologist Thor
Heyerdahl, sailing from South America
reached Raroia on his raft, Kon-Tiki. More
recently the islands have made headlines for
French nuclear weapons testing on the atolls
of Mururoa (sometimes called also Moruroa)
and Fangataufa.
The little village of d'Otao is currently
abandoned, used now only for copra
harvesting and fishing.
Two large covered cisterns provided us with
water for laundry and washing.
Though uninhabited at the moment, a small chapel and well-kept graves await the locals' return.
Further exploration of little, shallow inner lagoons rendered closeup photos of threaded butterfly fish and reef black tip sharks.
After a week at Tahanea, we headed for the south entrance of the Fakarava Atoll. We left early one
morning and bounced our way through the ebbing tide at Tahanea and had a glorious 50nm sail to
Fakarava arriving around 4pm with sufficient light to maneuver our way through the Tamakohua
(South) pass. Above left, huts at the entrance to the pass. Above right, Cups at anchor.

The next day we did a drift dive through this same pass at slack water after low tide. This experience
was incredible as we hung on to our dinghy and drifted with literally hundreds of fish and sharks...all
colors, sizes and shapes ... through the narrow pass entrance. Sorry, no underwater photography. :-(
Fakarava is the second largest atoll in the
Tuamotus. This 20x50 mile lagoon is
surrounded by the typical coral reef and
flanked by 80 coconut-covered motu
(islands).
We find exploring the reef very interesting. The water is clear and warm and
teeming with colorful fish, giant clams, crustaceans and lots of shells.
After several days in the south, we finally had
a sunny day for reading the coral and moved
north along the coastal route to the little
village of Rotoava. The view from the dinghy
dock was pretty impressive.
Leaving the dink dock, we came upon the
Fare Biosphere which provided information
about local fish (e.g. which ones were good
to eat and which had ciguaterra
The town is neat and tidy with the requisite
elementary school, medical clinic, church,
gendarmerie and a few magazins (mini-marts).
There were some pearl farms here. Quite
picturesque, but not as plentiful as in the
Gambier.
Obviously, these folks see more retail trade
as there were several black pearl jewelry
stores with comparatively high prices.
We did our usual walk about town and
found the cemetery and then roamed the reef
for awhile beachcombing. Lots of cowries.
The local geckos were plentiful.
While beachcombing, we met a young
crab which was intent on shaking hands
with David.
OR  click here to travel
along with us to the Society
Islands!
On our walk, we found several ripe
coconuts and brought them back aboard.
As we are prone to do, we change our plans
on a whim. We had heard about the
Tahiti-Moorea Sailing Rendezvous, but
had no intentions of attending and then...we
changed our minds! So we were off to Tahiti!
Rotoava, Fakarava   16S03.46 / 145W37.36
Fakarava - South anchorage 16S30.42 / 145W27.44