Tuesday, May 10, 2011

From the Southeast corner of Makemo, Tuamotos

So have you been able to find the Tuamotus on Google Earth yet? Formerly known as The Dangerous Archipelago, because they are so hard to see from the sea, the Tuamotus are some of the oldest islands... well...er... atolls in the South Pacific. Formerly volcanic islands, the volcanos eroded away and coral reefs were formed around the volcanos feeding on the nutrients of the eroding volcanos. As the extinct volcanos continued to sink from their own weight, eventually only the coral reefs were left and where the volcano peaks used to stand are now large lagoons! The lagoons are about a hundred feet deep with interspersed coral heads reaching all the way up to the surface in some spots. When sailing across the lagoons, someone has to stand up on the bow to watch for the coral heads because some are just under the surface of the water and all of them are unforgiving to a boat that doesn't see them! Oh- FYI the water temp is 82.6 degrees and the air temp was about 80 today!

We are anchored in more hues of blue than I ever knew existed! We can see exactly where our anchor chain and anchor is laying in the water and on the bottom. Unfortunately we can see that the chain slipped underneath a coral shelf when we were backing down on it, so we may have to stay here forever! I understand that a major past time of cruisers visiting the atolls is untangling anchor chain from coral heads. Fortunately we are near several boats who have dive gear on board...

The coral rim of the atoll is dotted with motus or mounds of coral where there are coconut palm trees growing and a mangrove type tropical tree. I don't know how anything can grow in the coral sand- really- there is no dirt anywhere. Coconuts must really be hearty. In between the motus are reefs of- you guessed it- coral and we can see huge waves crashing on the outside of the reef from where we are anchored. When the seas get big, the waves come right over the reef into the lagoon. There would be no protection here from a tsunami.

Believe it or not there is a village of about three hundred people on this atoll! We went ashore when we first arrived and the village is neatly laid out on a grid with concrete streets, a school, a church and a couple of well stocked grocery stores. The community is completely dependant on The Supply Ship for everything, except fish and water, which is collected from the rain. Oh yes, they have their own coconuts too! The main industry here is pearl farming and copra (from coconuts). Every single person we met on the street said hello to us (or rather bon jour!) and a few kids tried out their English!

This afternoon, after cleaning "the beard" off of the hull of the boat, we set off in the dinghy to find one of the BIG coral heads and do some snorkeling. One of us stayed in the dinghy while two of us snorkeled (then we traded spots) and we swam in circles around a HUGE head of coral. All around the coral were hundreds of brightly colored Tangs, Angel Fish, Butterfly Fish, Hawaiian Sergeants, Moorish Idols and Parrotfish. The coral itself had clams and all kinds of sea shells attached to it! We were having a great time until two sharks.... yes... reef sharks, came wandering through! They were totally uninterested in us but we just felt like we were in their space and wanted to give them lots of it! Snorkeling session, ended!

I feel like we are anchored in a post card or in a sailing calendar! Every time I go out the hatch the beauty which surrounds us takes my breath away. The brilliance of the day, the dark squall clouds which drop huge stinging drops of rain, the colors of the water and the colors under the water, the night sky with a milky way so bright that it casts a glow on the water all announce what an incredible planet we live on! I think I also know my place as a human in this incredible scheme of the universe, and I don't think it is at the top. All three of us, Neal, Corie and I, feel very fortunate to be living in this close encounter with nature and we feel a huge respect and humbled.

R of Rutea
At 5/11/2011 6:46 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°42.57'S 143°27.87'W

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