Raroia, Tuamotus, French Polynesia

The passage to Raroia was three days of brutal sucky sailing, with beautiful bookends. We got out of Ua Pou’s wind shadow, got the sails up, and had maybe two or three pleasant hours of sailing, as we toasted crossing the 10,000 mile mark on our GPS, on Jazz’s birthday…

…before the waves started to murder us. They weren’t huge, maybe six feet or so, just at an uncomfortable angle that kept the boat constantly rolling and jerking unpredictably. For the first day we were tight to the wind, which is usually uncomfortable, but by the end we were sailing at 80 degrees to apparent and still rolling and crashing. The toilet water intake was breaching so soften that it became unable to pump water in, and we had to flush with a bucket, carried precariously across the boat from the galley’s salt-water foot pump. One our our wire shelves finally gave up the ghost. We managed to eat food mostly only because we’d cooked it ahead of time, a ham and bean stew fortunately thick enough to stay in the bowls. Captain, here, has the right idea; or did, until he peed outside his litterbox, which was presumably too loud and uncomfortable with the litter pellets all bouncing around.

Despite the lack of comfort, the sail went beautifully in the sense that we nailed our timing, and arrived at the Raroia pass only a few minutes after the slack tide we’d been aiming for. Light was good and current was light, and we made it in and across the atoll without incident. We anchored on the east side in the lee of some small motus, in a nice big patch of sand that seemed far enough from any coral. This was more tricky than it should have been, because it’s been a while since we’ve had water this clear, and we’re not used to the big dark patch that follows us around. By which we mean the boat’s shadow, which sleep-deprived Jazz, watching from the bow, kept trying to direct us around. “Shadow coral”: the enemy of all two-hour-sleep-night decision makers. That said, it’s pretty great to be able to see our shadow so clearly in 30 feet!

We were the only boat, not just in that anchorage but in the entire atoll. There is an anchorage in the town, but we gave it a miss, because alone in the beautiful is basically where we set out on this trip to be. (See that shadow under the boat?)

Our first day started out rainy, so we spent it putting the boat back together, planning our next pass timings with the Tide Guestimator, and cooking up some of the experimental veggies we had bought in Nuku Hiva.

Captain spent the day doing his usual thing, alternately lounging, begging, and zooming.

When the weather cleared up we took a dinghy trip to land. The little motus were mostly coral rubble rather than sand per se, and we were glad we’d brought water shoes.

We found a brilliantly-colored lobster carcass (thanks, birds!), a huge stack of thick rope, and some baby coconut trees. We’d never seen them spawning before!

Back on the boat, we improvised a cabbage salad and were treated to an excellent sunset over the atoll.

The highlight of this stop was the water, though, and we snorkeled several times. Maybe ten seconds after we jumped into the water, this manta ray came cruising by, with a sharksucker riding along.

The story of the nearby area was scattered coral heads in a sand floor, and we saw a ton of life. The visibility was great, especially compared to our swims in the murkier Marquesas.

The coral was mostly pillar-shaped bommies as above, but there were also some of these structures, which looked like smooth round plateaus.

The fish in the Pacific remain excitingly new and different to us. Even the familiar families come in new variations, like these peacock and camoflauge groupers.

Some of the most common sights are these colorful giant clams, and big schools of humbug dascyllus: absolutely the best fish name we’ve run into so far.

The sea cucumbers here have neat little circular marks all over their bodies, and often coat themselves in broken coral and rubble.

In slightly more unusual sightings, here’s a piano flangblenny, and a grainy-but-it-happened shot of what we’re pretty sure is a striated frogfish. We were super excited and snapped a bunch of photos, and it took a while to run away, and still it was so deep in shadow that this was the best we could do.

The stars of the show, however, were the black-tipped reef sharks, just cruising around all casual.

We were also super excited to see these two day octopuses, though neither was interested in coming out of its lair. At least, beyond poking an eye out to watch us warily.

Other common but neat sightings included these threadfin and pennant butterflyfish, and the sharksuckers that had decided to make our home their home.

After seeing an octupus on every day snorkel, we figured we’d try a night dive. We apparently did not get the timing right, because the water was very silty and visibility was much worse than it had been in the daylight. So we just visited the reefs near our boat, where we saw much larger surgeonfish and groupers than had been there during the day.

There were also a number of these translucent… cardinalfish? And the paletail or whitemargin(?) unicornfish on the right, with its giant nose poking out. Stupid-looking fish.

There were also a number of these banded sea urchins, which hadn’t been visible during the day. But the thing that really cut the dive short was that this shark kept making closer and closer passes. Not that he’d probably eat us or anything, but we were pretty far from help if he decided to try for a nibble.

Knowing it was time to leave, which would be a night passage, we did some food prep. Which ended up being a lot of food prep, because Andrew doesn’t know how to make stew in small batches. Lentils and fresh tortillas, and it was time to go to Makemo!


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