Rarioa, Tuamotus

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Our crew, including the pickle, thoroughly enjoyed a beautiful 2 1/2 day sail from Marquesas to the Tuamotus Islands. The first day we encountered high seas on our beam, but Tanda Malaika is so broad and sturdy that we moved well with the oceans rhythm. The Tuamotus have been high on my bucket list for so long now, and I was beside myself with excitement as I watched our miles slowly drop from 448, 250, 115…..

As we approached land, the islands reminded us of San Blas and Bahamas, where palm trees are the tallest thing in sight.

Rarioa is one of 78 atolls in the Tuamotus Archipelago, and is the atoll where the Kon-Tiki raft from Peru was stranded in 1947. The Tuamotus were once known as the Dangerous Archipelago due to the many shoals and low lying atolls, and it has only been since reliable GPS and radar have come into use that people can more safely navigate the waters. We still have to be extremely cautious, and only navigate during the day with all crew on deck watching for the many difficult to see reefs. About 20 miles x 9 miles is an average size for these atolls, and many of them only have one or two areas deep enough for a sailboat to enter through from open ocean.

As we entered Rarioa, we were met by a beautiful sight of little ‘islands’ covered in coconut palms.

Each small ‘island’ is connected by shallow reef that is completely exposed at low tide.

We grabbed our gear and jumped in once the anchor was set, and found ourselves in the most beautiful underwater wonderland. Healthy coral heads surrounded by the rich colors of reef fish with about 100ft visibility.

Clams in brilliant emerald green, purple and royal blue attached to coral heads close up quickly as we approached them.

Oysters hang in odd positions, attaching themselves randomly – like a child fallen asleep on the way up the stairs to his bedroom.

Within minutes we were surrounded by blacktip, whitetip and nurse sharks, as they curiously watched to see what new creature had entered their tranquil lagoon.

We explored around for a couple hours and there wasn’t one single minute during that time that there wasn’t at least one shark within a few feet.

Even Emma, who usually grabs my hand nervously when a shark is close by, felt at ease and swam among them like they were old friends. Though we are comfortable with these sharks that are for the most part, a docile species, we still have a great deal of respect for them and keep a close watch.

We motored to the northern most point of the lagoon the following day, and discovered one of the most picturesque scenes.

Light colored sandbars contrasted against intense turquoise water, and lazy palms gently swayed in the cool breeze. Quiet lagoons meandered through groupings of trees, filled with juvenile fish from the reef – a safe oasis for them to grow. I sat doing laundry on the stern and thought about how I have the most beautiful laundry room in the whole world. Just me and my bucket and the ever changing beautiful scenery. I wouldn’t change it for any fancy washer, dryer and laundry room in the universe.

The creatures picked a good spot on the beach, cleared it and built a fire at dusk. They played charades by firelight and ate some cookie bars that Emma had baked.

The next day we pulled dup anchor and moved on once again, exploring yet another spot in the Rarioa lagoon. The creatures and I took our places on the bow and watched closely for shallow reefs.

Even in deeper waters there are many random and unexpected shallow spots, and if the sun isn’t in the right spot and glare is bad, they are impossible to see until it’s too late.

While cruising along we caught 3 Crevalle Jack, and threw them back. They are so beautiful, like their fins have been wrapped in mother of pearl.

The last spot we anchored was loaded with sharks. They circled the boat while we were anchoring as if they were eager for us to come out and play…so we did. I jumped in and waited for Danny to join me and was instantly watched curiously.

At one point a remora swam over to me and looked at me then moved over to Danny and attempted to suction onto his belly, but apparently didn’t appreciate the hair on his belly and left with a disgusted look on his face. (Personally, I love his hairy belly.)
We explored for a while, picked up shells then explored more on the reef. If I could have just one super power, it would be to be able to breathe underwater, but I guess it’s best I don’t because I’m not sure I’d ever surface!

The Tuamotus have been everything I dreamed they’d be, and we’ve only visited one of the islands thus far. We retire to our beds exhausted from school/chores/work/play every day and wake excitedly ready to begin again each morning.

The next island we’ll visit is Makemo, and is about 75 nm away. We’ll keep you posted!

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