6/2019: Makemo, Tahanea


It was cloudy in the morning so we went paddleboarding, exploring some shallow areas with nice coral heads around the boat. A blacktip shark got pretty interested in Lisa and we had to chase it around a bit before it left, and later on a lemon shark came by cruising the shallows. I paddled over to ID it and it was still quite relaxed even when I was right over it. A little spooky. We relaxed most of the day, and in the late afternoon went out in the dinghy to check out several areas by snorkel. I was interested in seeing some of the different environments in the lagoon and how their coral cover, visibility, etc. compared. The first spot was along the southern edge of the lagoon, where it dropped off from around 5′ to 20′. Coral in the shallows was very nice, and not so great in the deeper areas though still seemed better than we saw at the bommie deeper in the lagoon yesterday. Afterwards we went to an area inside the string of motus north of where we were anchored. Visibility here wasn’t great (40′ or so) and the bommies had very little coral and a lot of algae on them.


In the morning it was nice and sunny and we went diving at a nearby spot we call the blue pool, a circular area a few hundred feet across that is about 20′ deep and is surrounded by shallow water and sandy berms. This was a really nice dive, the bottom is mostly sand with lots of sea cucumbers, with some scattered bommies around. Very clear water made for some really pretty sights. Not a lot of amazing life, though there were a lot of bigeye scad hanging out in the pool, groups frantically swimming past us every so often. Just a nice relaxing time. Afterwards conditions were good for moving the boat so we left the anchorage and motored back to the east pass. Not long afterwards the copra farmers we’d met at the east end came by in a boat. They all came aboard and we hung out for a while; I talked with Gabby a while and we went through Lisa’s Crossing the Pacific book, exchanging the terms in english and tuamotan for all the sea creatures and birds in the book. Very nice time. After they left we went snorkeling at the pass —the swell had come down a couple days ago and the pass was flooding again. We arrived right around slack, and spent a while checking out the area in the gut of the pass where schools of fish tend to hang out. We saw large groups of bigeyes, a fair number of sharks, and groupers starting to mass for their spawning event in a couple weeks. I did some pretty deep free dives to check things out, some other nice fish like a huge barracuda. Nice to see all the great coral, it’s been a while since we saw such a nice spot.


In the morning we went diving, checking out the pass first but finding it ebbing pretty good. There were some waves on the outside but we were able to find a way around them and make it to the outer wall for the dive. We had a great time, this is still an excellent dive with great coral and lots of fish life. Especially nice was a large school of barracuda we saw several times in the dive and got to swim along with for a while. We mostly hung out on the boat the rest of the day, with a trip to town to visit some stores but finding them all closed midday. In the late afternoon we attended a potluck organized by some other cruisers. This was an interesting setup, everyone rafted their dinghies together and passed food around. While neat for people taking photos with their selfie sticks, this wasn’t very practical — dealing with food in the dinghy is annoying (especially when hot pots are being passed around) and we were only able to talk to the two immediate neighboring boats. When the conversation dried up we just sat there and couldn’t really talk to the other six or so boats at the potluck; pretty soon we got fed up and headed back to Magic, though we had a nice evening with just the two of us.


After doing some shopping, in the late morning we went out to dive the pass, aiming for slack at the beginning of the flood but finding ourselves a bit too late. We started in the gut of the pass and found it flooding lightly as we drifted pass marbled groupers hanging out and getting ready to spawn, then the school of bigeyes we’d seen a couple days ago. This school was absolutely gigantic, many thousand fish, the largest school of bigeyes I’ve ever seen. There were some sharks too, and some bigeye scad mixed in with the bigeyes in places, but pretty soon the flood increased in strength, we got swept past all the nice coral and fish and into the lagoon. This was still nice, the bottom transitioned from coral to limestone with little structure and coral, to a Dr. Seuss landscape of eroded coral heads with with some live coral and algae. We got a visit from a nurse shark that came close to both of us, and surfaced soon afterwards (Lisa was having trouble with her ears). I was hoping to go kiting afterwards — there was some nice wind earlier in the day — but winds were pretty light, averaging around 10 knots but dropping down to 8 occasionally. I decided to head out anyways, and had a really nice time. I stayed out an hour and a half, challenging turns in the wind but still lots of fun. Some of the lightest conditions I’ve kited in, small waves with no whitecaps, which felt very empowering. It helped that the wind was pretty clean; I dropped the kite in the water once (got it relaunched pretty quickly) but otherwise I was always able to deal with the brief lulls.


In the morning we went for some exercise ashore, with Lisa on a bike and me on a skateboard as we followed the road further than we had before, maybe 3 or 4 miles round trip. After relaxing on the boat we went diving again, timing our dive a little earlier relative to when we expected slack to be. This turned out be perfectly timed; the pass was gently ebbing as we started on the inside, we got swept into the main part of the pass as the ebb slowed and then stopped around halfway through the dive, then we saw everything again as the flood increased pretty quickly and carried us into the lagoon. We saw the bigeyes briefly, but the main stars were the marbled grouper, which seemed a good deal denser than yesterday. Many pockets of a dozen or so fish, swimming around looking at us with (as Lisa put it) endearingly dopey expressions. After the dive I went kiting for 1:15 or so. It seemed a little less windy than yesterday even, I had to work the kite a lot when launching, having it hindenberg once and dropping it in the watever several times while trying to do a deep stroke for some power. Once the kite got tangled up and it took a while to get it back up. Pretty challenging, but still lots of fun.


We did some more exercise and shopping in the morning, then went out diving at a similar time relative to the tides as yesterday. It had been windier earlier in the day and the pass was still ebbing pretty good. We waited about a half hour, sitting in the dinghy and floating around different parts of the pass, before the current slacked somewhat and we went in. The current on the bottom was pretty manageable, we floated out through the main part of the pass, narrowly avoiding a line that a fisherman was using to jig on the bottom — I watched a marbled grouper swim over to inspect the bait, then back off. We found ourselves in an area with very dense grouper, and spent the rest of the dive there. Lots of them swimming around and bickering with each other. It was still ebbing but was doing so very slowly, and slack came right around when we ended the dive. Winds were lighter after the dive so we hung out on the boat the rest of the day.


After doing some running and walking around town in the morning, there was some wind so I went kiting. It seemed nice at the boat but turned out to be pretty light. I was having fun and had to work the kite to get going much at all, trying to keep it out of the water. Eventually it seemed to slacken even more and the kite hindenberged twice. The first time I recovered, but when it did it again a few minutes later and fell in the water, I decided to call it and headed back to Magic after getting it relaunched. About half an hour in total. We hung out most of the rest of the day, then went out for a dive with the folks from a neighboring boat we’d talked to several times. We were aiming to start at the beginning of slack and were pretty much right on target, starting near the mouth of the pass with a very gentle flood. We moved into the pass, getting faster and faster and eventually getting shunted down the east arm instead of the middle one as planned. We missed this because we were distracted by the amazing display of groupers. Right from the start we saw areas dense with them, hanging out under ledges in groups of 10-20. They got even denser as we moved deeper into the pass, and after a while there was an almost continuous stream of them. While they weren’t covering the bottom of the pass so it was hard to estimate how many there were in total, it seemed like there must be several thousand (at least) around the pass. Very cool, much more extensive than I remember from Fakarava two years back (where the groupers were even denser, but only in a small area). As we got into the east arm of the pass the waves up top (where the other folks were snorkeling) got pretty rowdy and we ascended and exited in a hurry. Short dive (less than 30 minutes), but awesome.


After some walking around town in the morning, I went kiting for a while, doing six laps between two bommies in the anchorage (the same ones I used a couple weeks ago) over about 1:45. I was having trouble with transitions in the wavy conditions, around 15 knots of wind, but had a lot of fun doing long tacks upwind and downwind. Floating along on the foil when riding downwind feels really cool. Hung out and worked the rest of the day.


Early in the morning I went to scout the pass and found it flooding. We got ready to dive in a hurry and headed over. I thought that we were near the end of the flood, but in retrospect I think we were actually pretty early in it. The current increased over the course of the dive as we started near the mouth of the pass, drifted past the groupers and down the middle arm. We were going pretty fast through here, but it was an awesome scene. Clear water, a lot more scad than we’ve seen here lately, a fair number of scad predators hanging around including several very big dogtooth tuna and some rainbow runners. After 17 minutes we were past everything and started to ascend. With wind in the mid teens above and going against the tide the waves were good sized and very cool to watch from below. Not too bad getting back in the dinghy and we headed back to Magic. We hung out on the boat the rest of the day, the weather was kind of gross.


We left the anchorage around 8:30 and started sailing west towards the other end of the atoll. We were only using the jib to make things easier with dodging bommies and so forth. Winds were weaker than expected, and we went at about 3.5 knots most of the way. This was fun but at this pace we wouldn’t make it to the NW pass until late afternoon, and would have to go into the sun the last couple hours, making spotting bommies pretty much impossible. Instead, we stopped at an anchorage popular with sailors about 2/3 of the way along, tucked in behind some shallow reefs. We went snorkeling and I shot a couple fish (missing several more and injuring a couple, ugh), conditions were surprisingly nice this deep in the lagoon with pretty clear water, good coral in the shallows, and plenty of fish around.


We were hoping to move the boat to the NW pass, but it was pretty gray and gross in the morning with several squalls. Lisa went out for a solo dive from the dinghy (her first ever!), while I hung out on the boat. Afterwards, around noon the weather cleared, but it was too late to head to the NW (we would be going through an area with lots of bommies and the sun in our eyes). Instead, I went kiting for an hour or so, having lots of fun and working a little bit on riding toe side on the foil, doing little S curves and trying to keep enough air in the kite to stay up on the foil. It got a little squally and there were some strong winds and then lighter winds before I called it and went back to Magic. Afterwards I went spearfishing for an hour, getting one fish. They were pretty wary compared to yesterday and I was missing a lot, but it was fun to be out.


It was nice and sunny in the morning so we were able to move the boat. We sailed the remaining nine miles to the NW pass in very pleasant conditions, few bommies along the way and nice and relaxing. Once we arrived we scoped out the west side of the pass, which has a lot of bommies, and were able to pick our way in and eventually anchor off some buildings in a cove to the side of the pass, out of the current and with some protection from the wind. Lots of limestone under the boat, so we went diving and I installed a temporary mooring to keep the chain from getting too wrapped up. There were some parrotfish around but the rocks were virtually barren, hardly any coral at all. We talked to another cruiser last month who said that this area was hit hard by a crown of thorns outbreak some years back, I wonder if that’s why things look this way. There was a lot of SW swell and the pass ebbed strongly all day; I was hoping to surf and made my way through the maelstrom of currents, whirlpools, and small waves to get to the main part of the pass where the water was much smoother. The waves were tiny though, so I headed back to Magic after a couple minutes of watching. The buildings on shore looked abandoned (which we’d also read as well), and in the afternoon we went ashore to explore. There were a half dozen or so buildings in various states of decay, no one around or signs of recent presence. We checked out the area around the landing, then found our way through the palm forest to the pass and walked the beach for a ways. This was a nice hike, with some cool sights — several big crabs, one of which I caught and held for a minute, a moray out in the open, the usual hermit crabs and so forth. We were looking for coconuts to collect, but only a couple trees had any; none of the trees were banded and we saw a couple rats on the island (one which Lisa walked right past as it feasted on a coconut). It was interesting to contrast this with a place like Anse Amyot, which is similar in a lot of ways but has human caretakers who have gotten rid of or at least reduced the rats on the island, leading to what seems like a healthier ecosystem.


The ebb in the pass was rocking all day, so in the morning we went diving at a bommie away from the pass, to the west of our anchorage. Little coral here and lots of macroalgae, some nice schools of parrotfish I watched feeding (never on the macroalgae it seems, mainly just scraping thin algae off of rocks). There were hardly any fish when we started, but over the course of the dive more and more showed up, eventually with several whitetips and blacktips hanging around, along with several large red snapper. One whitetip was very bold and approached Lisa closely several times. She had to hit it on the head twice to get it to leave her alone, which was pretty scary and we headed back to the dinghy afterwards. We hung out on the boat most of the rest of the day. In the late afternoon I went to look at the pass from the inside to see if there was anything surfable (no), then went spearfishing. I was wary after Lisa’s encounter earlier and all the bold sharks we’ve seen at other times in this area. Within a few minutes of starting there were several blacktips around (and one small lemon shark I spotted once, which was way and left), but they left me alone and I was careful not to shoot at fish when they were in the vicinity. The water was pretty shallow (10′ or less most of the time) and the parrotfish let me get pretty close, but I had difficulty at first shooting them with all the waves on the surface. I ended up with two nice fish (one pretty big), but shot several more where the spear went right through their head and they swam away. Tiny brains on these fish it seems, and I need to find a way to keep this from happening.


In the morning we went hiking for a while on shore, circling most of the island we were anchored off of before cutting back through the interior on a trail. Nice time, there were a lot of sharks on the inside with a big nurse shark we saw several times and several adult blacktips. On the outside it was very calm and at one point we crossed the narrow reef flat to walk around on the calcifying algae that forms the barrier between the flat and ocean. Waves were washing over it with some regularity but never forcefully, and it was very cool to check out this unique part of the reef, a beautiful contrast between the blue water and red algae. Later in the day I tried to go kiting; winds were in the high teens or around twenty and I was using my 7m kite, but it wasn’t holding air and I came back to Magic after 10 minutes or so, fortunately still under my own power. It needs new bladders and I’ve been remiss about not getting them. Afterwards we went snorkeling, ending up at a spot near the boat and separated from the pass by shallow coral, the only place we could find with that wasn’t very wavy due to all the wind. We had fun and it was neat to go around free diving and looking at the fish and a curious moray up close, they let me get a good deal closer than when I’m diving.


During the night the winds piped up to the low 30s, and during the day they veered between the mid 20s and around 30 with several squalls passing through. Owing to the gross weather we stayed on the boat all day. I spent most of the day doing some experiments with electrolysis.


The strong winds continued all night and day. I was getting a little restless midday and went to check out the wave (still puny) and then went spearfishing at a bommie close to the anchorage, catching two fish and injuring a few more. The sharks were pretty interested in me, though never aggressive, and at one point I gave a little poke with the spear to a whitetip that would not leave me alone. It swam off but came back several minutes later, staying further away this time.


It was still very windy and very squally as well all day. We hung out on the boat and I did some electrolysis experiments.


It continued to be pretty squally and windy in the morning. Around noon I could see the pass was flooding and I decided to head out diving, right after a white out squall with 30+ kt winds passed over us. Topside conditions were mellow in the pass and out along the outer wall, and it was very relaxing as I dropped in to great visibility and calm underwater conditions. Nice fish and coral, with the most interesting sight being a bunch of marbled grouper either hanging out on the outer wall or steadily heading away from the pass. The full moon was a couple days ago, which is the time when the grouper spawn is supposed to happen. While we never had a chance to check out conditions in the pass before the full moon, it seemed here that the spawn had ended and the groupers were making their way back home. Other sights on the dive were a school of twenty or so jacks that stayed with me for a little while, and a nice school of unicornfish. Afterwards the wave on the east side of the pass was looking nice, but I stayed on Magic the rest of the day to hang out with Lisa. Shortly after getting back a couple guys came over, who had been staying on shore at the decaying but apparently not fully abandoned copra camp the last few days. They gave us a couple fish they’d just shot and we talked a few minutes, such nice people here. The weather improved a good deal in the afternoon and we had a great night of sleep, quite the relief.


I left the boat around 5:45 to check out the wave, finding it a good deal smaller than yesterday afternoon. I decided to give it a shot anyways, and ended up having a lot of fun. Over 50 minutes or so I got eight rides, most of them very nice, mellow waist high surf but a well graded shoreline with few threatening coral heads. At the end I went for a wave on the small side and hit the middle fin on a rock and cracked the board (really need a board with a heavy construction for these shallow reef breaks). Afterwards we went ashore to give some bread Lisa had baked to the folks ashore, and show them the weather forecast. We talked some more, and then they showed us a coconut crab they’d found and put in a barrel. After telling us how to cook it we put it in a copra sack and they gave the crab to us. Back at Magic we put it in the bin I’ve been using for electrolysis experiments, eventually having to cover it up with a plastic board and some dive weights to keep it from clambering right out. It’s a fascinating creature, huge claws and awkward movements. After repairing the surfboard and some other boat tasks we went diving on the outer wall in the early afternoon, shortly after it had started flooding. The dive was a lot of fun, a great variety of fish on the reef, big school of hungry parrotfish, good visibility and so forth.

After a couple hours relaxing on Magic, it was time to dispatch the coconut crab. I was pretty conflicted about this. These crabs are from my understanding pretty rare, but locals eat them, and the crab was given to us with the expectation that we would eat it. I’ve also always had a kind of fondness for arthropods; when I was a kid I had a hermit crab in a saltwater aquarium, and one night when we had lobster for dinner I just sat in front of the aquarium watching the crab instead of eating. I got over these feelings and killed the coconut crab, stabbing it a few times in the face with the spear from my speargun. We cooked it in a pot it would barely fit in, watched it turn bright red, then ate it. The crab was incredibly delicious, claws and legs full of sweet and tender meat. We picked it clean over 45 minutes or so, deploying a cutting board, three pliers, and a hammer to get the job done (the claws were very hard to get into). Quite the meal to remember. I wouldn’t hunt for a coconut crab (not a hard temptation to resist, they are nocturnal and I am definitely not), but would eat one again.


In the morning we went ashore to hike for a bit, and otherwise got the boat ready to leave. We pulled up the anchor and headed out through the pass around 1:00, when the pass was near slack. Winds were in the teens from the north, and we headed SW towards Tahanea, gently sailing along with just the jib. We only had about 50 miles to go and had to arrive during daylight, so we had to maintain an average speed of less than three knots. This was fine for a while, but during the night the wind speed increased to the mid-20s, waves built and the boat was jostled around a lot as we tried to maintain our speed and course.


We were traveling a little faster than we wanted to, and had to lie ahull for an hour or so as we got closer to the middle pass of Tahanea. This was the first time we had to do this, but even in the big seas it was quite comfortable, as we drifted downwind at less than a knot. We were pretty close to the pass when it started getting light, and we could see that things around the pass weren’t too gnarly, though it was ebbing and there were some steep waves in the middle of the pass. We snuck in the side and got in the atoll without problems, anchoring at the spot we used here last year. After relaxing a couple hours, I went out surfing. The wind was NNW, very unusual, and I was interested in how the spot I surfed on the west side of the middle pass was looking. It turned out to be really nice, waist high waves rolling through with some regularity. In about 2:10 I got 24 rides, lots of them really nice and tons of fun. After getting back to Magic we went to check out the west pass for snorkeling. It was flooding, but the winds were so strong that the snorkeling wasn’t much fun and we headed back to Magic to relax the rest of the day.


After doing some experiments in the morning we left in the late morning for a very pleasant 6 mile sail on a broad reach to a spot across the atoll known as the 7 anchorage. The eponymous ‘7’ is a large bommie that offers good protection from the sout through east; strong SE winds are expected by tomorrow, and we wanted a nice place to sit them out and see a new part of the atoll. After getting in and anchoring, winds were pretty nice, and I went out kiting. As I prepared to kite the winds were dropping, and by the time I started they were in the 8-9 knot range, barely enough to keep the kite in the air. After dropping it in the water several times and having very difficult relaunches, I managed to get going and make it back to Magic under my own power, which felt good, but I was only out about 20 minutes. Oh well. In the late afternoon we went out in the dinghy to a nearby motu. Lots of birds on the motu — frigate birds in the trees, boobies flying around (one nesting), plenty of faerie terns, and a friendly sandpiper we didn’t recognize (there is an endangered sandpiper that lives on the motus of Tahanea but I don’t know what it looks like). After exploring part of the island from the beach, we tried to launch the drone to see more, but it started raining and we aborted and returned to Magic.


During the night the winds swung around from NW to SE, though they were in the low teens and not at their expected strength yet. In the morning we went back to the same motu, this time just with cameras and no drone. We walked around the entire motu and explored inland a bit where we could find use paths. Lots of nice bird sights with the faerie terns and black noddies in the trees, lots of frigate birds up in the air, and several more sightings of friendly sandpipers. The jungly interior was fun to explore as well, as this motu has not been cleared and has dense vegetation in most areas. Back at Magic I went out kiting for 1:30, staying near the boat as the ‘7’ bommie provided enough proection to keep the waves small. I had lots of fun, working on riding downwind and toeside on the foil, just playing around with different ways of riding and crashing a fair amount. Later in the afternoon we went snorkeling from Magic to check out the protected areas inside the ‘7’. This was very nice, we spotted a turtle and spotted eagle ray among other critters, and the shallow areas (less than 5′ depth) had a lot of nice Acropora colonies, including some larger than I’ve seen except on the outer walls.


Hung out on the boat all day, doing some experiments.


It was kind of windy from the SE and in the morning we went snorkeling near the anchorage, finding some bommies with very nice acropora on them. It was pretty wavy though and we didn’t stay out too long. I went kiting later, having a great time for about 45 minutes before the wind suddenly dropped from a passing squall, and I had to swim a short ways back to the boat. Later in the afternoon we went hiking at the island we visited a couple days ago, to spend some more time with the birds. This was nice, with an especially good sighting of a sandpiper (now identified as the Tuamotu sandpiper, an endemic that is rare in the tuamotus except apparently at Tahanea) drinking from a flower.


In the morning we went snorkeling near the anchorage again, checking out part of the ‘7’ this time that had some nice coral and fish (including a comparatively huge butterflyfish) but not nearly as nice as the other spots we’ve seen lately. Winds were relatively light afterwards and we dinghied a couple miles NW to the next island along the rim of the atoll. This was very nice, lots of nesting brown and red footed boobies, and lots of Kirarahu (aka faerie terns, we’ve started using the terms for animals we’ve learned in Tuamotan) with one chick spotted sitting placidly on a tree branch. We walked along the south side of the island, which had a wide beach, avoiding the north side as we saw a lot of brown boobies nesting on the beach there and didn’t want to disturb them. As we checked out the island the wind built to the mid teens, making for a somewhat bouncy ride back. I went kiting in the afternoon for 1:15, having lots of fun and practicing riding downwind and a little bit of toeside stuff.


During the night the wind shifted to the north, and we were pretty exposed to it. It was bouncy in the anchorage and we got ready to leave, heading out in the late morning to motor sail nine miles east to the SE end of the atoll. This was a pretty nice trip, cloudy conditions made it hard to spot bommies though and we had to keep a vigilant watch. On arrival there were a couple other boats anchored off the several motus here, but we found one where we had things to ourselves. We went to shore and walked around the motu in the late afternoon. This one was pretty different from the ones we’d just seen by the ‘7’ anchorage, but still very nice. We saw a couple Kirarahu, but no boobies or frigate birds on the island. Instead, there were many goios (aka black noddies) flying around the island, some of them very friendly and giving us close passes soon after we landed. We saw them nesting in several trees scattered around the island, and spotted one juvenile with its parent in a tree close to the ground, very cute. Otherwise, the sandy beaches on half of the motu were really nice, lots of hermit crabs wandering around and some coconut palms close to the ground, one which I was able to get a coconut from using a boat hook.


The trip over to the motu was very easy for Magic and we visited it several times over the course of the day, focusing on the beach facing the lagoon. We got some footage of the goios, Lisa flew the drone, and I tried unsuccessfully to get more coconuts using two boat hooks lashed together.


In the morning we visited another boat in the anchorage, Malisa, whose boat Lisa got some nice drone photos of yesterday. We stayed a couple hours and had a nice time hanging out, then did some snorkeling near Magic. We looked at some scattered bommies in the sand with nice coral on them, then floated a channel next to the island with light current carrying us towards the lagoon. This was nice with lots of mullets in the shallows, some parrotfish, and a small nurse shark resting on the bottom. I’d tried spearfishing in both these areas without any luck, then went again off the back of Magic where the water was deeper and the fish not as wary, ending up shooting two marbled grouper and a tiny parrotfish. The folks from Malisa came over to Magic in the late afternoon for drinks and snacks, another nice time.


It was pretty windy and kind of gross all day. We did some walking around on shore looking at the nesting goios in the interior of the nearby island (spotting several chicks we hadn’t noticed before), but otherwise we hung out on Magic and I did some electrolysis experiments.

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