Fr. Polynesia Pages
Click the map for an overview of the Tuamotus
Language: Tuamotian, French
Population: About 300 Polynesians in one village
Money: French Polynesian Franc
Landscape: Low coral islands (motus) set in a ring around an inner lagoon. Typical Pacific atoll.
Visited: July 6 - July 12, 2003
History: The history of all the Tuamotu Islands is found on the Tuamotu map page.
Also, check out the newsletter we sent out while we were in Makemo!
(Jon) We really needed a rest after the last few days of the difficult passage down from the Marquesas. We were lucky that the current in the pass wasn't too bad, but the wind was howling from the SE, making the anchorage uncomfortable and unsafe, with a lee shore just behind us. I did not need this! I wanted a nice, quiet anchorage where I could sleep for 3 days!
Village on Makemo atoll as we enter through the cut
Then we noticed a little French catamaran tied to the concrete pier. We don't usually go to piers. They're often expensive, and they can have sharp protuberances that gouge our hull, or oily tires that mark our topsides, or rats, cockroaches, and other creepy-crawlies that try to climb on board. But in this case, we were desperate, so Sue got on the radio to ask what the story was. The catamaran came back (there was no harbor-master) and told us there was no problem at the pier, no swell from the waves, and no charges either! So we tied off to a bollard (using long lines to avoid creepy-crawlies) and started catching up on lost sleep. (Not that I can relax long when there's exploring to do.)
2 of the 3 excellent fish we caught in Makemo
One of the amazing things about Makemo was the fishing. We'd heard about a nice anchorage about half way down the atoll, so we eventually left the village, unrolled some jib, and drifted down the lagoon. Since this was our first sail inside one of these lagoons, we kept a sharp lookout as we could see coral heads just under the surface. We passed some of these quite close by, and realized that they must come almost straight up from the bottom, as our depth sounder would give us no warning of an approaching coral head. Coral just under the surface is easy to see if the sun is shining brightly, but this day was full of clouds and even a few squalls, which cut visibility to almost nothing. Nevertheless, we put a couple fishing lines out, as we always do when day-sailing. Over the next hour, we pulled in 3 fat tuna-type fish, which yielded something like 20 lbs of boneless fillets. We hadn't had such good fishing before (or since).
Sunset in a tropical paradise (Makemo)
Makemo was the first of the Tuamotus we arrived at, since the weather had not
been favorable to go to Raroia, our initial destination. Like the other
Tuamotus, Makemo is not a single island, but an atoll of low, small islands made
mainly of coral and sand. The pass where we entered the atoll has a small
village with a large concrete pier, which we tied to. Surprisingly, there was another
cruising catamaran tied to the pier, and they had a teenage boy on board! The
family was very friendly, inviting us for drinks and taking Amanda and me out to
play football (soccer) with the local kids. (Time to practice my French!) That
was a lot of fun, though since we were so much bigger, they never let the teams
get too close to being even. We lost, but it was still very enjoyable.
We spent a few days on the pier, during which we checked our land e-mail (though with too slow of a connection to update the web site), got some fresh baguettes and croissants, saw some Makemo dancing (not the same as the Marquesan dancing) and moved so a supply freighter could come in. After that, we sailed down the atoll to where some other cruising boats were anchored. Since Makemo has no ciguatera (a nasty reef poison), we dragged lines and caught three large fish along the way! We held a party on Ocelot the next night, serving some superb drum and other reef fish, then went down to the west pass for one more night before sailing to Tahanea.
Amanda practices tossing against the wind
After a hellish sail from Nuku Hiva, it was nice to get into the somewhat protected
anchorage by the main town on Makemo. We were really at the wrong side of the
atoll, though, as the wind was coming from the south and we were on the north
side of the island.
We had a hard time anchoring there, so as my dad said, we tied onto the pier. We had to move once, when a re-supply ship came in, and we made a bit of a botch of that one, so my dad had us out practicing throwing ropes.
Girls apparently don't play soccer in the Tuamotus, so of course I had to go show all the kids what they were missing. One miscalculation I had was that we were playing on dirt... actually more like coral rubble. I forgot myself, went down on my knees to stop a shot to the goal, and came home with bloody shins. Quite fun! Nonetheless, all the local boys were enthusiastic to meet us and talk to us and have their pictures taken, and... basically they would surround us as soon as they saw us, and not go away. It was fun, in an interesting sort of way. My major problem was that they would start yammering at me in French, and I'd have to grin and shake my head.
Makemo kids gather around us foreigners
As Jon said, this wasn't a very relaxing arrival at our first Tuamotu,
finding ourselves on a lee shore and poor holding. Thank goodness there was room
on the concrete pier for us to tie off. Given that it was blowing over 20 knots,
it was tricky throwing the mooring line into the wind. So after getting well
tied off, we took turns practicing our rope throwing against the wind. It
was great to meet a French cruising family and spend some time together. The mom
on Citoyen du Monde (translated: Citizen of the World) was a Scuba instructor
and told us about the great diving in the passes.
The dancing was lovely, though not as lively as Marquesan. We wanted to have supper ashore at one of the little food shacks, but were shocked to learn that no one sold fish. The only offerings were Steak Frite (steak and fries) for FPF1000 (about US$10). We contented ourselves with boat food every night and then went ashore to see the dancing. They were dancing not only for their own island competition, but to choose a group to represent them later in July at the large festival on Fakarava. We sure made a hit with the little kids who clustered around to see their photos on the digital display of our camera.
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