Sunday, June 11, 2017

Tuamotus: Raroia Atoll

[Kyle]Once inside the lagoon at Raroia, we were alert to the vast uncharted areas and the need for eyeball navigation. We had done this in a few places before where a six-foot bottom is peppered with four-foot coral heads only a few boat widths apart. Raroia’s lagoon was 40 meters deep and the big coral bommies were about a quarter mile apart. The turquoise and lime green patches were easy to spot in contrast to the dark blue of the deep water once we were within a mile of one.

The middle of our first Atoll: Raroia

We sailed for the thin green horizon at the other side. After an hour, we approached several little islets (called motus) with white sand beaches, waving palm trees and a fringe of water of that impossible tropical blue. We looked around for a while and eventually settled on a sandy spot right in front of one of them. We were the only boat there. Holeee Cow! Welcome to Paradise! We have GOT to go snorkeling!

We saw all kinds of cool stuff. First, that our anchor was buried in the sand and nowhere near any coral. Then we went to the coral and were treated to a huge variety of colorful fish living in the perfect 3D landscape of coral for hide and seek. Embedded in the coral were also lots of clams, each with scalloped lips in a variety of sparkly florescent colors. We also saw a couple of reef sharks, which explains the hide and seek.

We swam to the motu to circumnavigate it on foot and to get a glimpse of the crashing breakers outside the atoll. We wanted to go to the next one to have a look at it. As I mentioned before, water is always flowing into the windward side of the atoll, so the little channels between the motus are fast flowing rivers. This made for some big fun. To cross, we walked as far upstream as we could, dove in and swam to the other side. As we did, the current grabbed hold of us and took us downstream ten times as far as we swam, zinging us past coral heads filled with fish that, unlike us, were having no trouble staying in place against the stream. We would climb ashore on the next motu at the downstream side and cross over to the opposite upstream side to repeat our motu hop.

As we were finishing up our fun in the last of the light, three other boats came in and anchored near us. One was from Norway and TWO from Belgium. Each of them later admitted that that’s the first time that’s happened to them since leaving home.

2nd day – We spent most of the day going for beach walks and drift snorkeling. On our swim back to the boat we were called over by a fellow cruiser (Belgium) and invited board for a cup of tea and a coconut. Dreis gave us a lesson on how to open one more effectively than our smash-it-open-with-a-hammer-and-go-scurrying-for-the-pieces method.

Memories of Raroia

3rd Day - In our last morning, the Norwegian couple swung by in their dingy and said they were off to see the Kon Tiki monument which was just a short trip in their fast dinghy– so we joined them. Kon Tiki was a raft built using traditional methods by the explorer Thor Heyerdahl. It’s purpose was to demonstrate that it would have been feasible for the ancestors of the Polynesians to have migrated to the islands on similar craft. He and his crew of three managed to cross huge sections of the Pacific before finding themselves windward of Rarioa without the maneuverability to go around. The Motu where Kon Tiki ran aground and broke up in 1947 now has a small monument erected on the 60th anniversary of the grounding by Olaf Heyerdahl, Thor’s grandson, and others. Our new Norwegian friends were especially happy to be there because Kon Tiki had also flown the Norwegian flag. They left their tattered one in tribute along with various other little mementos left by some other boats. It was in such a condition, I wouldn’t be surprised if subsequent visitors think it was the very flag off Kon Tiki herself.

Just before we left Rick from the other Belgium boat swung by to say hi, too… Yes – two Belgium boats in the same anchorage – and only one American boat – that doesn't happen so often!

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