We left Rikitea about 11am on 13th April after I had popped ashore to pick up a bag of baguettes and a keishi bracelet I had reserved a couple of weeks ago with the lovely Taina. Andrew wasn’t happy about the delay but I wasn’t leaving without it! You can’t come to the Gambiers without getting pearls!
|Last sunset over Iles Gambier|
|Sailing North West|
The forecast was for light winds but unusually it ended up being even lighter than we anticipated meaning we ended up motor sailing an annoying amount of the 500 miles to Hao. We did however have very calm seas too and a lovely day of sailing on the third day but just as I came on watch for our third and final night the wind dropped out again. It felt like we spent most of the passage worrying about the time of the pass at Hao – a pass that can be problematic if you get it wrong…. The problem was every data source we had conflicted with one of the tide charts being completely opposite to another. In the end we opted to go with the old rule of thumb from the British admiralty that suggested slack was 4.5 hours and 2 hours before moonrise and 5 and 3 hours before moonset – we were a little early and had a mild 2.5 knots coming out so the pass was super easy. We were relieved to have that passage out of the way as the longer you leave it to leave the Gambiers the more likely you are to experience bad conditions – it really is quite a long way south.
|Approaching the pass at Hao|
|Hao Pass - easy close to slack water|
We hadn’t decided on Hao as a destination until the last minute but the draw of 4g internet was too much, even though it reportedly wasn’t as pretty as nearby Amanu – our other choice. We spotted friends on AIS as soon as we arrived and got a little anchoring advice before dropping the hook just off the small town of Otepa about 4pm – our first impressions were that it looked a little rustic – we liked that as it felt real, not all picture perfect but where people lived and worked. There were only two other boats at anchor. We relaxed with a cold beer of course.
|Sailing in the lagoon is fun - the ship channel is super wide|
|Our anchorage in Hao|
First thing the next morning we went ashore – Saturday morning but people were busy heading to the supermarkets and a group of friendly ladies were ‘covid’ cleaning the church. We had our own mission- to check-in with the Gendarmes – a squall hit though and torrential rain had us sheltering under a porch until one of the nice ladies bundled us in her car and dropped us off. She was super chatty on the short journey and we learned of Portuguese descent but had never met her grandmother who still lives in Portugal. At the Gendarmes office they were also really friendly and very pleased we had come in. Next stop groceries – after the lack of fresh veggies in the Gambiers we were bowled over by the supermarkets in Hao – yay treats galore. Infrastructure on this atoll is much more significant than you would expect but the reason is that it was the base from which the French carried out nuclear tests on the neighbouring atolls of Mururoa and Fangatauta – until as recently as 1996. The airstrip is actually 2km long – such that the latest project here is for the Chinese to set up a fish farm in the lagoon and fly fresh fish to China….
|On the weekend there's free wifi from the Marie|
|The church where we met our driver friend|
|One of the best supermarkets in Tuamotu|
|The small port - shallow but great for leaving the dinghy|
The next evening Slingshot organised a curry night – this turned out to be the best pot luck ever….. Everyone brought really delicious curry’s and accompaniments – what a total treat! Thank you to Slingshot, Due South, Perigee and Burisari for a really great evening. The kid boats Slingshot and Due South had made quite an impression with the local girls and it was fabulous to watch them all playing together on the quay and sailing their dinghy around the lagoon.
|Great evening for dinner ashore|
|Cruiser Curry pot luck in Hao|
|So much yummy food|
|Great to be poled out again - heading to Tahanea|
We only spent three nights in Hao – although I could have spent longer, with no tourists it has a very different feel to much of French Polynesia. However, we were keen to take advantage of the favourable winds for some diving at the atoll of Tahanea so upped anchor at 9am for to exit the pass at slack water at 10.00 on 19th April. We had two options – sail really fast for one night or sail really slow for two… we opted to go slow as the wind was light when we left, but typically we ended up with much more wind than was forecast and struggled to keep our speed down. We ended sailing poled out in lovely conditions but up putting in some wide angles to make the distance further and arrived at Tahanea Pass at 06.30.
We did see the supply ship anchored off the atoll of Hikueru – we heard that on some the atolls that have no pass that the kids swim to the boats anchored off the beach to get to school – can you imagine that happening in your town or village?
|Our anchorage in Tahanea|
|Tahanea - picture perfect|
Tahanea has long been on my list of atolls we must visit – there are three passes on the north east side of the atoll – the north pass tempted us with reports of great diving. We anchored behind a motu in the middle of the two most northerly passes with three other boats; including one other Oyster; Kaizen and their friends on Fenice. We were quite popular when we sheltered the Kaizen crew from a huge squall and fed them coffee and the kids TimTams. We spent the day snorkelling and then had drinks on Kaizen that afternoon- they were leaving next morning for Fakarava. We ended up having Tahanea all to ourselves – wow!
Next day and our first dive was amazing but didn’t quite go to plan when our compass got stuck and the current changed a bit earlier than we thought. We were busy admiring sharks and water so clear you could see for over 40m, while tied to the dinghy above. Then we realised the dinghy was bouncing more than when we got in. The current had changed and was now going out into the ocean and we had also swam along the reef rather than drifting in….. gosh we were lucky – we did a quick ascent; no safety stop but luckily, we weren’t that deep and quickly got back inside the pass. Very happy with our new outboard on this occasion as we rode through very rough water. Back at Askari we dropped back in with our gear on, calmed our nerves and did our safety stop.
|Squalls with west wind - not good!|
It is not always perfect out in these atolls – we had a couple of squalls in Tahanea which brought winds up to 30 knots from the west, which put us on a lee shore. We were pretty happy to be in deeper water but did sit on anchor watch as each passed marvelling at the lightening in the distance. One was of course at 0300 the other in the afternoon which gave us a nice rainbow.
|Brightening the day??|
The next day we snorkelled the other two passes while waiting for the north pass to have another – more controlled dive. This time we got it nearly perfect but dropped in just a little short of the drop off- its hard to judge exactly where to enter the water in the current. However, the water was so clear we took it in turns to swim out to the drop off while the other held the dinghy stationary behind a rock. We both came back totally exhilarated. The final day was the goldilocks dive – we got everything just right and wow it was just one of the best dives ever. We even got treated with a manta ray on the way back into the lagoon and then a bait ball. We felt we had done the best dive we could do at this point so the next morning – 26th April - we lifted the anchor early and exited through the same north pass we had dived in, Motu Puapua to give it one last look. It was a little turbulent with 1.5knots of current going out to meet the ocean swells but no problem.
Watch some of our diving footage here