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Sailing The Dangerous Archipelago – The Tuamotus

First stop Raroia

We pulled up the anchor and bid a fond farewell the the Marquesas as they disappeared off our stern. The next islands on route were the Tuamotus, a group of low lying atolls (rings of reef) 450 miles away. Previously known as the dangerous archipelago due to the danger they posed to shipping, many boats have ended their journeys here. Although modern technology has made the islands more accessible, great care is still needed when navigating the area due to uncharted reefs and huge currents which can cause large standing waves in the entrance to the atolls.

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When planning our route, the first difficult task was choosing which atolls to visit. Although there are 77 atolls in the group, not all have large enough gaps in the reef to get a boat through. Once we had an idea of where we were heading, we needed to calculate what time we could get through the pass safely with the slack current and manage our speed so we arrived at the right time.

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The Kon Tiki

We chose to visit Raroia first, the atoll where Thor Heyerdahl crashed the wooden raft that he and 5 crew had sailed from Peru, onto the reef in 1947. With good charts, GPS and a reliable engine, we hoped we would fare a lot better.

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Sunset on the Sail to Raroia

The 4 day sail to our first atoll, Raroia was initially much faster than anticipated. This meant that we needed to slow right down at the end of the passage, to wait for slack tide in the pass, in order to enter the lagoon. Hanging around the pass as the sun came up, we spotted two other yachts arriving. We hoped this was a good sign that our calculations were correct, and kept a watchful eye on the sea state in the pass. As the slack tide approached one of the yachts volunteered over VHF to go first. We politely accepted and happily followed them through. Although we were only making a couple of knots and the water was boiling in places, we made it through without any issues, even with the appearance of a couple of dolphins and some leaping tuna trying to distract us from our route.

Tired from 4 days at sea, we headed to the closest anchorage near the atoll’s only village. A short walk was all that was needed to see the entire village, which was mainly deserted, as most of the inhabitants were out working on the black pearl farms in the lagoon, the main source of income in the Tuamotus.

The next morning the wind picked up and we needed to find a more sheltered anchorage, so we motored 7 miles into the wind across the lagoon to its uninhabited side. The lagoon is full of coral heads which reach to just below the surface and many of them are uncharted. With Matt on the helm and Amy part way up the mast, looking out for a way through the reefs, we made it safely across and anchored behind our own palm covered motu (a motu is a small island on the reef).

All of the planning, waiting around for the right conditions and careful eyeball navigation was worth it a hundred times over when we looked around us.

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Diving over the side into the inviting clear turquoise water, we found the best soft coral we have ever seen, teamed with tons of beautiful reef fish and giant Pacific calms. The healthy reef life also brought plenty of grey, black tip and white tip reef sharks. We had seen a couple in the Marquesas but this was the first time we encountered multiple sharks every time we went for a snorkel. We found spotting them whilst swimming both exciting and terrifying. They are not huge or known to attack unprovoked but seemed as curious about us as we were them, often circling around us for a closer look. We took the dinghy with us to a deeper reef in the lagoon so we could get out if they came too close for comfort. It was lucky we did; a couple got particularly curious and Matt made a new speed record of getting out of the water into the dinghy, head-first into the bottom. Amy had already made her exit and we watched them circle the dinghy for a while. It didn’t matter how much we told ourselves they were just curious, we were not getting back in with them.

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The motu we anchored behind was attached with coral reef to a string of others, all begging to be explored. We sailed the dinghy a couple of miles from Florence to the site where the Kon Tiki crashed on the outer reef. A small monument, erected by Thor Heyerdahl’s, grandson was placed near the site a couple of years ago.

We explored the outer reef flats (the dead coral surrounding the island) on foot during the day and once at night, in search of lobster. Although we didn’t find any lobster, the shallow water at night was full of thousands of tiny hermit crabs and hundreds of not so tiny eels.

We ended our stay in Raroia, with a cake, the last bottle of bubbly we had saved from the UK and a roaring fire on the beach. With both our birthdays, 1 year of living aboard and our 10 year anniversary all within the last two weeks, we had good cause to celebrate and felt incredibly lucky to be doing so in such an amazing location.

With very light winds and slack tide, the route back out of the pass was an easy one. The dolphins we spotted on the way in came to play with us as we were coming out. They had Amy in hysterics as they swam alongside the bow upside down, rubbing their bellys on the boat for minutes at a time. Matt however was more concerned about the anti-foul paint they were rubbing off!

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2 thoughts on “Sailing The Dangerous Archipelago – The Tuamotus”

  1. Gorgeous pics, you really know how to wait for the best light. And happy birthdays as well as the anniversary of your first year as liveaboards and the 10 years together. July sounds like YOUR month.

    Liked by 1 person

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