Fakarava, Tuamotus, French Polynesia

The sail to Fakarava was a night passage from Tahanea. We left a bit after sunset to catch the slack tide, and had a nice easy exit and a great sail along the coast, comfortable and flat. When we got past the protection of the island it got less comfortable, but nothing like our last couple of passages. We had to slow down a bit at the end to make the slack tide timing, but we got there roughly when we wanted to and motored uneventfully through the calm pass. There, we picked up a mooring ball, where we were the only boat in sight.

Just kidding! We got the second-to-last mooring ball, and a bunch more boats joined and anchored over the next couple of days. Still a pretty place, though.

We dropped the dinghy and checked out our new neighbors. The anchorage has lots of sharks, unsurprisingly as that’s what Fakarava is famous for. A little more surprising was how recent the wreck just off shore is: it still has solar panels and a jib, both of which we’d expect to be stripped off for salvage in fairly short order.

We went into the dock, hoping that the resort bar over the water by the pass would be at least a little social. It was not, but it was still cool to look out at the sharks swimming through foot-deep water. We also got a close pass by a big “Napoleon” bumphead wrasse. We had gone in to talk to the dive shop at the resort, but it turned out that they were temporarily(?) out of business, as all their staff had quit the previous day. Also there was maybe a problem with their permits, we never got a clear story about that. Regardless, their exit from the dive market created a scramble for the remaining dive shops to pick up the extra demand.

We did get in the water, but that’s a separate story. Captain had fun adventures here too: he saw a bird on the boat, and he got another dose of paddleboard exposure therapy. We paddled a couple of times, as the water was glassy and beautiful, perfect conditions. It was interesting going from dead water to being pushed sideways as we passed the little cuts between the motus.

The water was so calm and flat on day three that we could see the bottom, forty feet down. Right, the mooring we were tied to; left, our latest innovation for washing Captain’s litter pellets. Our previous efforts had used a bucket, which was annoying as the water had to be changed many times, but we hadn’t come up with a system we trusted to keep the pellets safe overboard. But two lingerie bags to retain the pellets, inside a dive bag to take the weight, with some noodle to keep the whole thing floating, and we were in business for the easiest litter-cleaning ever.

We had just gotten back from our dives when we found a crack under the bathroom sink. Ruh-roh! This is right down at the waterline, so that could be a big problem. We looked under the boat first to make sure it didn’t go all the way through (in which case we’d be hauling out to fix it), and we found nothing, so we got out the grinder. And by grinder, we mean dremel, because that’s what we have. Fortunately, it turned out to be relatively superficial: rather than a crack in the hull, what we were seeing was the cabinet trying to escape from the hull. That’s an easy fix: some epoxy and new fiberglass and we were back in business.

When we went to coat over it with gelcoat, however, we found another unpleasant surprise. The catalyst that makes the gelcoat harden had eaten its way through the two containers we’d left it in, rusting out the outer one and leaving only a tiny amount of clean catalyst in the inner one. The other ingredient, the parafin that causes the outermost layer to cure, had also almost all evaporated away. We had enough of each to make one attempt, so we gave it a try, but a couple of spots didn’t cure fully. So we’ll have to add at least another layer of gelcoat when we’re somewhere we can buy it.

While we had everything out of the bathroom, we figured we could do another messy project and renew some of the polyurethane on the woodwork. The door was the most glaring, but the strip above the sink was also looking a little peaky. Here are the two pieces sanded, and Captain enjoying the clear counters as he examines the finished product.

It was nice being on a mooring, but with our dives done and our boards paddled, we had pretty much tapped out of things to do. So we broke out the spinnaker and sailed to the north end of the atoll. Captain, of course, took up his customary place of protest the moment the engine turned on, and chilled out again once we were sailing across the flat water of the atoll.

We dropped anchor outside town and went in for a walk. There’s Villa! We also found Sava again, and joined up with them for dinner, and real cocktails for the first time in ages, at the dockside restaurant.

The next day, Sunday, nothing was open and we went for a morning walk. We went north along the beach on the ocean side and then back through what was clearly a tourist-centric park and (closed) pearl store. They’ve decorated the trees with pearl buoys. If Andrew looks cranky here, it’s because he’s just discovered the problem with the gelcoat, and even a blue chunk of lobster shell can only cheer him up so much.

The next night, we attempted to go out for pizza, but found out that the shop was closed. Instead, Sava had us over for dinner: Brian made pizza, which was delicious. And we got to see their cat, Domino, and read some of their favorite recipes. This gem is from a book they’d bought in an Antiguan fundraiser, with family recipes collected from residents of Jolly Harbor(?). Adam tried really hard.

We arranged dives for the next day, luckily getting fit in at the last minute. We had worried about getting space, because a cruise boat was due to dock, but the dive boat left before the crowds descended. After the dives, we walked around shore a bit, and found (seemingly) all the rental bikes on the island parked outside the one beachside restaurant-bar.

We went back to the boat briefly, then back out for another attempt at pizza. This time the shop was open, and we walked away with an extra dessert pizza because the idea was hard to turn down. Andrew almost fell in the water trying to get this sunset photo.

We went out the next day to rent bikes (now they the cruise boat was gone and bikes were available). Andrew may have forgotten that pants happen before you leave the house. On the way to rent the bikes, we passed a church where the chandeliers and decorations were made out of long strings of shells.

The nominal destination was the Hinano pearl farm, which had been written up in our guide as giving a great farm tour as well as selling pearls. The second part turned out to be true, but the farm had been decommissioned. Still, we got talked through the farming process, and managed to get Jazz a late birthday present. Check out the size of the shell piles!

Our bike ride also took us past a small vegetable farm. Earlier in the day the proprietor had passed us and asked, “are you boaters? Do you want lettuce?” Which of course we did. So we arranged to meet in the afternoon, and she sold us five HUGE bags of lettuce, which we were very excited about. Lettuce is practically unheard of on these islands; even in the relatively verdant Marquesas it was hard to come by.

For our post-ride lunch, we stopped in at the local beach resort, where we had delicious burgers and then retired to palapas with submerged seats, where we watched the fish and the sharks swimming by.

Then back to the boat for a lovely moonrise and sunset. Captain approved.

The next morning the supply ship arrived, and we headed to the gas station slash grocery store to check out the produce selection. That’s right: you buy your produce at the gas station. The lady in front of us had bought the last of the avocados, but we still came away with leeks and grapes and fresh broccoli. That was our fault: we’d thought that they would take time to unload, so we took our time getting in, and then two other boaters tipped us off us that everything was out and being scooped out. #avocadoregrets

The next day was not as good. This was the start of festival season, so there were dance performances on shore, but there was also an unpleasant shift in the wind direction. The atoll is round, and you anchor along the edge, so when the wind blows at you across the shore, you’re happy, and when it blows across the length of the atoll, it has space to kick up some decent waves and make you uncomfortable. We saw it coming on the forecast and elected to ride it out, and it was rocky enough that we didn’t feel comfortable dropping the dinghy and going in to the night’s festivites.

Sometime in the next morning, we started hearing a thunk coming from the rudders. Our first thought was that the new hydraulic ram had failed somehow, so we opened up the compartment to look. Sure enough, the ram was fine, but the rudder tie bar had sheared clean in half. The waves slapping the boat sideways were enough force to tear the steel, though it had to have been wearing at that point for a while. The tie bar is original to the boat; we know because there’s no way to get a bar that size in without cutting a hole, and we’d be able to see the scar. Still, it took a decent storm to break it; two other boats in the anchorage had their anchor snubbers break, and several others got wrapped around coral heads and couldn’t move until the waves died down. Better to break in the anchorage, but still no fun!

We taped a splint on to keep it from banging around and damaging the rudder itself, using the emergency tiller to hold the detached rudder in place. While we were doing that, Captain got into the compartment where we keep the emergency tiller and his spare cat food, and tried to chew his way into a new bag, despite having plenty of the exact same food in his bowl. Cats.

So here we come back to the lettuce: when we came back with our five giant bags, we saw another boat anchoring, and gave them a head of it, and some advice about the anchorage that we’d wished we had. They sent us a thank you message and an invite for sundowners on their boat, Companion, which we’d happily accepted. Later, when we told them about our broken tie bar, they offered us a spare piece of pipe that turned out to be just the right size to fit inside the broken tube. So we were able to get a more durable fix than our sketchy splint. The repair bar is galvanized, so we’ll eventually have a corrosion problem, but this buys us plenty of time to get to a good shipyard and get a new tie bar made.

But that fix came a bit later; with just the splint on the tie bar, we wanted off the boat, so we managed to drop the dinghy and make it to shore for the end of the heiva. There, we got to watch some local kids dance groups and chat with some other cruisers.

The festivities continued the next day, with the traditional fruit-carrying races. There were three guys in the first race, then two girls in the second. Then, they recruited volunteers from the audience of maybe twenty people (mostly cruisers), and the tourists took a turn carrying the fruit, along a much shorter route. With Andrew and Jazz both dealing with minor injuries, we opted to sit this one out and watch from the sidelines.

There was also a javelin throwing contest involving trying to hit a coconut at the top of a long pole.

In the afternoon, they held canoe races. There were several categories, mens and womens group and individual races, and we had a front row seat from Villa’s cockpit. Captain was not interested in the passing boats, but he hung out with us in the cockpit and played with the ropes.

We made it in one last time, the next morning, for a short walk and a stretch on the grownups’ outdoor playground next to the previous day’s competition field. We got to play with the leftover fruit logs, and picked up some grilled food from the apparently-weekly Sunday park vendors. There were lots of locals out playing boccie and generally enjoying the beautiful weather.

And that’s what we did as well, because it was time to sail off to Toau!

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