Friday, 9 June 2017

Marquesas to the Tuamotos - Guest Blog by Pippa and William

Ua Pou spires
Following three flights from the UK and a hairy moment of driving our hire car into a storm drain in
Tahiti, we arrived on Nuku Hiva on 26th May where Nicky, Carlos, Roger and Dinah had been waiting for us for over a week, making Calliope the tail-end Charlie of the Rally. Of our 50kg of luggage over half was spares and repairs for the boat along with gruyere, gin,  Reeses Peanut Butter Cups and a precious bottle of Chablis.

The Marquesas Islands are volcanoes and, as the first chance that the easterly wind has a chance to rise means they are very wet and very verdant. Straight off the plane and we were ushered on to four "small, fast ponies". Pippa's pony didn't like yellow. Not ideal when you are all wearing yellow rain ponchos. We had a great trek around the crater of the volcano which gave us some good, damp views. The next day was the first day of the Mothering Festival. It's not so much a Clintons Card and box of Ferrero Rocher here: more a buffet of plantain cooked nine ways accompanied by a Mother's Day Beauty Parade. We felt rather awkward as we were required to rank the competitors in each age category as they danced and catwalked for us. For the sake of Operation Yewtree, we should also note that there were lots of younger dancers too and they were all very good and everyone took pictures of them and it was all innocent (except maybe the bearded guy in the corner with the long-lensed camera who appeared to be on his own).

Pippa and William in Makemo
On the morning we left Nuku Hiva we had the alarming sight of 50 or so giant manta rays (up to 3 metre diameter wingspan) swimming round the murky waters of the bay putting everyone off taking a dip. We then sailed down to Ua Poa where we had a nice dinner and a refreshing plunge in a waterfall after a hike blighted by mud and lots of biting midges. We left Ua Poa on Monday 29th a couple of hours before sunset with a 450NM sail to the Tuamotos islands ahead of us. Raroia was the target, but very good wind (and an uncomfortable night's sleep) had made progress too good to arrive at Raroia
in the hours of light so the bearing was re-adjusted to Makemo, another atoll slightly further west. What can we say about the passage? Both of us were glad we had opted in for "passage-lite" - three nights and two days is
quite enough!

Known as the dangerous isles for their uncharted shallow bottoms, lots of bommies (columns of coral), and strong currents at the passes into the
atolls, we all had our work cut our as spotters once inside Makemo's enormous lagoon (40km by 10km). Upon arriving at our anchorage of this
postcard-perfect palm-fringed atoll we could hardly believe the intensity and the variety of shades of blue water. We spent three wonderfully calm nights in the lagoon, the first of which we were completely alone without
Drone testing on Makemo
any other life form for ten miles. On the beach were lots of hermit crabs gorging themselves on fallen coconuts and the odd wild chicken strangely enough. During our stay on Makemo we kayaked, played beach tennis, played with the drone and (always letting Dinah jump in first to take the edge off their hunger) went snorkelling with lots of marine life, including various reef sharks.

Fakarava South Passage
Fakarava was always an intended destination for its diving, known to be one of the best spots in the world. William was thus told to get his PADI qualification in a fairly short time frame (it is no mean feat), and after a weekend at Wraysbury dive centre just below runway 2 at Heathrow he was all set to join Pippa and Charles for the first south pass dive on the 6/6/17. Our ex-heroin addict dive instructor was long in confidence for women, but short in communication skills and it all started rather a bit too quickly.
Towards the end of spending 40 minutes in the film set of Finding Nemo where
we saw 100's and 100's of sharks, groupers, rays, tropical fish and felt like we were falling through space as the currents tumbled us over huge gardens of coral......our instructor Eric remembered that air tanks run out.  In a bit of a panic he tried to round us up for the 3 minute stop at 5m, but no one really knew what was going on. Charles was some 10m away and deeper busy taking pictures and not particularly bothered by Eric's commands. Eventually he decided simply to inflate his BCD and charge to the surface with no regard for the decompression stop or decapitation by propeller.  Fortunately he survived though Eric was left banging his forehead in frustration. In the end we completed three dives at Fakarava South.

This has definitely been the highlight of the trip. The snorkelling here is nearly (but not quite) as good so Nicky was not left out. For William (as ever) a golf analogy was required - his diving experience is the equivalent of going to the driving range a few times and then booking a round at Augusta. Will he be content to dive less rarefied corals in the future?

We have had a fantastic time in this exceptionally remote part of the world - 8 days without phone signal or internet, 6 days without seeing another soul and no shopping at all! We wish them well in the rest of their trip and we wish Roger and Dinah a relaxing shore-based recovery time. Now for
the 34 hour journey home...

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