Tuesday, June 24, 2014

And Then We Went in the Water

Occasionally we hear other boats arriving at Tahanea, talking to each other on the radio about conditions for entering the pass and where they might anchor once in the lagoon.

I want there to be a huge sign somewhere that says, "go to the windward side of the atoll!". That's where the beaches are sand, and the anchorages are shallow sand instead of deep coral. The windward sides of the atolls are the places where everything is languorous, and tranquil. The passes have the underwater life, but the windward motus are the shadows of paradise.

Once you get all the way to the Tuamotus on your own boat you're soooo close to the miraculous windward side of an atoll - a few miles, a completely inconsiderable distance compared to all the way you've come. But the cruising guides are very businesslike in their description of the many atolls: the passes and a couple anchorages near the passes get described for each island, but there isn't space, nor perhaps the appetite, to pursue descriptions of "shadows of paradise".

And, since the blessing and the curse of a traveling boat is to be forever in someplace new, without knowledge of local conditions, boats arrive from the Marquesas and are quite likely to pass through the Tuamotus without seeing just what is on offer.

I came up on the VHF a few days ago to offer a description of the conditions we had found to a pair of boats who were showing understandable concern over what they might encounter in the pass. One of the boats asked about navigation within the lagoon, an area for which most of us have no charts. "Come on down to the southeast corner," I said. "You need good visibility to do it but then it's easy. It's paradise down here."

They duly arrived a few days later - in a pack of five boats traveling together.

We reminded ourselves that we had arrived at the same anchorage with two other boats three years ago, although we did have the excuse then of gathering a mob of kids for Elias' birthday party.

And we reminded ourselves that we didn't have any special claim on the place. And that, among all the billions of people teeming about on the earth's surface, we were remarkably lucky to be where we were, and shouldn't expect to have the joint to ourselves.

But still - there were now nine boats in the anchorage, including ourselves, and including a catamaran that had stern tied to a coconut tree on the beach where we had been spending most of our time.

It's likely that every one of these boats was the home to some remarkable people whose company we would enjoy. But at this point Tahanea is a place where we'd prefer to tend our own garden.

So, hey presto - we moved. And found an even better spot, where we had never been before, anchored in sand off of a cluster of three motus. One of them is remarkable for having a soft sand beach around its entire circumference, and Alisa and the boys finally saw some Tuamotu sandpipers in this place.

And! we finally got around to putting on our snorkel gear to check out the bommies that dot the sand flats around us.

What a pleasure - a host of familiar fish species that we haven't seen since last winter in Tonga and Fiji. And, added bonus, while this atoll gets fishing pressure from visiting yachts, locals based on neighboring atolls and commercial fisherman serving the Tahiti market, it obviously gets nothing like the pressure that the reefs of Tonga and Fiji are under. There are actually a few larg-ish fish around on these shallow coral formations - emperors and groupers and trevally and parrot fish and reef sharks and even a good number of Napolean wrasse, that fish that is freak-of-nature big and therefore very scarce over much of its range. My inner ecologist is very pleased.

And so we have that whole other side of Tahanea to keep us busy. Alisa is ashore with the boys as I write this, digging in the sand with them or watching Elias climb the more forgiving trees to fetch coconuts. And after lunch, Elias and I have a date to do a bit of snorkeling. The light promises to be perfect for pictures. And I can't wait.

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