A mini adventure

Thursday 5 May
Sometime in the early hours of Wednesday morning the VHF briefly came to life with some brief commands in French. When we awoke a few hours later a tiny supply ship, the black hulled Dory was tied to the quay on the inside western edge of the pass. Later as we were ashore buying baguettes from the boulangerie, opening hours 5 am to 9 am, we were amused to see Dory’s forklift trucks making deliveries to the two shops. 
Tiputo village is small but extremely friendly, everyone greets everyone including us with an “iorana” or a “bonjour”. After buying bread we sat in the post office and quickly retrieved an updated weather forecast; the wifi connection was good and because it seemed we were the only ones online reasonably fast plus the PO had AC and comfy wooden benches. The post mistress behind her desk was friendly and her customers chatted away whilst queuing or watched the tv (yesterday Kevin joined two local guys and the postmistress to watch the closing minutes of the European Champions semi final between Bayern & Madrid). With its plants, remnants of children’s Christmas decorations (a series of hand prints in the shape of a tree and a branch draped itch cotton wool and paper lanterns) this was a complete contrast to the dreaded British PO counters cramped in the back of a newsagent or minimart.

Around 09:30 Temptress weighed anchor, we were off into the unknown for the day. Rangoroa lagoon is on our main electronic charts a gray uncharted area, however our iPad back up uses different charts and they showed the lagoon as partially surveyed. SHOM, the French Hydrographic Office have done a satellite survey which wrapped in warnings that it may be incomplete showed that away from the outer edges the lagoon is mostly 20-30 metres deep. The skipper expressed his uncertainty to the point of doubt that we should be undertaking such a trip without good reliable charts but agreed to go anyway; shades of the shortcut over rocks at high tide to Morlaix or the passage through the islets off Dingle when both times the skipper was extremely unsure whether his pride and joy should be put to such a risk but pressed by an enthusiastic navigator armed with a waypoint or two and in both those cases detailed charts agreed under duress to give it a go. Here we had the SHOM satellite survey, a waypoint for the anchorage and a route described in an out of print guide.

Initially we kept a close eye on the water around us for signs of it shallowing (paler blue) or coral heads (dark greeny brown) but after an hour relaxed everywhere away from the edge was over 20 metres deep. The electronic scanned extract of an older guide we’d acquired described a dogleg route across to Motu Faama which it described as having rose pink sand and shallow waters. After 3 hours motoring though some heavy rain we reached our goal, a completely deserted spot and dropped the hook in pale blue water just a hundred metres or so from the palm fringed shore. 

The next big motu along looked to have a house or two tucked in amongst the palm trees and the charts showed a church there but apart from a single light at night it too seemed deserted. A quick trip by dinghy into the winding hoa west of Faama took us into another world. The trees, mostly palms grew right to the pale aqua waters edge. The rose sand was submerged but visibly pink along the shore, it’s caused apparently by microscopic pink tinged algae that lived in the coral. 

There was the constant muted roar of the Pacific breakers on the windward side of the reef beyond the thick woodland. As we pulled the dinghy onto a patch of coral beach and anchored it to a convenient bush (quite literally as the skipper wedged the little kedge anchor over a fork in its branches) the current in the hoa suddenly upped a gear from a gentle flow into the lagoon to a rip roaring torrent, we had been warned about the suddenness of the tidal changes but couldn’t quite believe what we saw. At least heading back to Temptress would be quick.

The ocean shore was a complete contrast. The huge grey boulders we’d spied from a distance through the binoculars turned out to be the last remnants of the volcanos responsible for the atoll, a wall of jagged spikes of bubbly lava still showing the effects of hot molten rock meeting the ocean. The edges were extremely sharp despite the passage of thousands of years. Beyond the huge waves reared up some distance off; as the largest ones piled up and just before they broke, the sun turned the tops a brilliant shade of palest blue against the black stormy sky. Then with a roar, the white foam rolled up to the shore pouring over and through the volcanic formations into the hoa. The ominous sky soon sent us scurrying back across the coral shingle to the dinghy, despite being dressed for snorkelling we really didn’t want to be out in a windy, tropical downpour.

As we motored back through the hoa a voice hailed us from behind a little ramshackle hut on a small motu tucked between the end of Faama and the reef. We stopped to say hello. A middle aged stringy guy in grubby shorts and a once white tshirt was drying copra spread out on a tarpaulin on the coral. Short posts with a line strung between them crossed the middle of the area and another tarpaulin lay rolled up on the edge so he could cover his smelly coconut meat crop before the rain came. We had a stumbling brief conversation in Pigeon French; he lived on the next motu west where we’d spotted a house and the darkening sky meant rain which was a nuisance. Copra is the main export of the atolls, the supply ship carries it away to Tahiti for processing and the French government apparently from what we’ve read subsidises its price to keep the islands inhabited.

He had both a bicycle meaning the motu must be larger than we thought or connected in some way to Faama and, on the shore one of the tin boats with an outboard that we’d seen everywhere since arriving in French Polynesian. (For those who know it these metal motor boats are very similar to Dennis’ Tinman at Minima, some larger some smaller, hence Temptress’ crew refer to them as tinmen or tintins). Time for him to cover the copra and for us to depart for Temptress hidden round the corner – he had wondered if we’d crossed the lagoon in our dinghy!

Our little bit of paradise remained very wet and soggy on and off all the rest of the afternoon and though the very dark night, no stars, no moon, no streetlights meant we couldn’t see the shore, it was all a bit disorientating. Definitely the most remote place we’ve ever anchored, the boating equivalent of what the French term “camping au savage”. The waves roared on the far shore but Temptress was snug, scarcely bobbing in the flat protected waters of the lagoon whilst the trees protected us from most of the wind. In the morning the sun made a pale appearance through ragged grey clouds but there was still the odd shower. Not a day for drying the laundry we desperately needed to do.