(June 24 to July 10, 2023) Fakarava Atoll! What a funny name! It sounds like the “F-Word” in a cute way to me.
Atoll is a coral island, with a ring of coral surrounding and a blue sapphire lake in the center. Boats inside the Atoll are protected by Motu (“the Tahitian word for a small islet on the coral reef.”), but there’s no protection against Cyclones, though.
Atolls are just above sea level, so they are not very visible from a distance. We chose to visit Fakarava Atoll because (1) there is a kite-boarding place, and (2) the Northern pass is the widest (1.6km wide) among all the atoll passes in the Tuamotu Archipelago.
We followed GPS charts to enter Fakarava Atoll. Sailing to an atoll requires extra planning. We had to know the slack tide and currents speed, in addition to the depth, coral bottoms around, wind speed, and wave heights. It is safer to enter an atoll during slack tide (between tide change), definitely during daylight.
In Tuamotu Atolls, slack tide lasts about 30 minutes in general. If you miss the slack tide, you may have to wait for the next tide change. According to Charlie’s Chart Book, “Flood currents average 3 knots and ebb, 6 knots. Small boats must wait for slack water or enter with a favorable flow. The width of the pass allows vessels with speeds of more than 8 knots to enter at any time.” This may not be an issue with a motor yacht. However, most sailboats have a small engine, so timing is important. We normally operate the engine at about 5 knots speed. Thus, it has to be during slack tide to bring Bad Bunny inside an atoll.
Sailing from Marquesas was enjoyable for the first three days. On Day 4, we set up the spinnaker pole and sailed downwind with the 2nd reef main and small Genoa. We realized we would arrive two hours after the slack tide (1 pm) at daylight. Because of that, we decided to sail slowly so we could arrive the next day at high tide (7:30 am). During the night, the winds were about 20-30 knots gusting up to 38 knots. Despite our attempt to slow down, we arrived at the pass entrance two hours early. There were other boats circling outside, waiting for slack tide. At around 7 am, just before slack tide, John decided to enter the pass with a slight incoming tide that gave us extra speed. I was nervous, but everything worked out very well. Later, the other two boats followed us.
There are three anchorages in Fakarava Atoll. The anchoring area is big but the depth drops quickly. We managed to find a spot with 40 feet of depth near the main town (Northeast) of Fakarava. Upon arrival in town, we went to the town hall and paid “Garbage Tax and Tourism Tax”. Again, I was thankful to get rid of our garbage in the town dumpster.
The anchorage bottom is mixed with bommies (outcrop of coral reef). The anchor chains can get wrapped around a rock/bommie. Many cruisers use 3-4 floating balls attached to the chain to prevent chain from wrapping around the bommie.
The next day, we first took care of some boat issues, which is a part of sailing life. As the days went by, I inflated my Standup Paddle Board and went to the shore. While walking along the beach, I saw many sharks swimming in knee high water, chasing fish. People told me that these sharks are not harmful. However, sharks are sharks, so I am cautious about my whereabouts. When I returned to the boat, I paddled as fast as I could.
Fakarava has less than 1,000 residents. Black pearl farms and tourism are the main business here. More people speak the Tahitian language than French here. I tried to practice some Tahitian phrases: “La ora na!” (pronounced yo-rah-nah, =Hello!) “Mauruuru!” (Pronounced mah-roo-roo, =Thank you)
Anchored close to the town, our Wifi hotspot worked better, ranging between 2G to 4G speeds. My friend emailed me about my Jury Duty Call. I went online and requested an exemption, which was granted the next day. I was impressed by the speedy reply from the employee at the Miami Federal Court. I also took care of my bank access problem which had been dragging on for more than a month. My bank had blocked my online access when I tried to transfer some money to another institution, which I pre-linked years ago and had previously transferred money without any issue. It was creepy that I was not able to view my credit card and bank statements during this time. After gathering and uploading all the requested documents to my bank, I was able to access my online banking, this time only by smartphone not via my desktop yet. Not wanting to have a possible complication while being overseas, I decided to resolve the access by my computer at another time. Luckily, prior to my Pacific crossing in April, I set up auto-payment for my credit cards. If it hadn’t done that, I could have had delayed payment issues as well.
Days later, we moved to new anchorage called Hirifa. This is my kind of anchorage: sandy bottom with crystal clear water, just like being in the Bahamas. No bommies! I was peaceful staying at this anchorage.
Upon arrival Hirifa Anchorage, we rendezvoused with other cruisers we first met in Marquesas. They informed us about the “Upcoming Pig Roast Buffet Night!” We reserved two spots. Someone also announced a cruiser’s beach gathering at 4:30pm. We went to the beach and enjoyed socializing with other cruisers.
The next day, I attended a Yoga practice organized by another cruiser. Lying (Shavasana = Corpse Pose) on the sand under the palm trees, I picked out the blue sky between palm fronds. The freedom and easiness of life at that moment, I came up with a word, heaven.
John did his long-awaited activity, kite-boarding. He launched his kiteboard at the sandbar during low tide. As time passed by, the sandbar disappeared. He had to stop kiteboarding before high tide. Some people launched their kite-board from their own catamaran boat.
Fakarava South Pass is well-known for “Shark Diving”. John booked a two-tank diving session with Enata Diving. Other cruisers highly praised the dive sites. While I worried about my ear problem and sharks, I was okay not doing it. Instead, I enjoyed watching fish and bird activities.
When we lived in South Florida, we often went to the Bahamas for diving and saw many types of sharks. After John’s diving experience in Fakarava, I was surprised by what John said; “the dive boat dropped divers about 8,000 feet depth at incoming tide by the South Pass entrance. Divers drift with current. He had never seen this many sharks and such abundant fish life before. Almost thousands of sharks just flowing peacefully like a group of fish. There are all sorts of huge and small groupers at the bottom. In between, there are a variety of fish.” He was glad that he did it.
For me, visiting one atoll was enough. I didn’t want to deal with timing issues and coral bottom problems. I’m sure my decision could be much different if I were 20 years or even five years younger. Maybe I’ve become a better sailor? The more I learn about boat and sailing life, the more cautious I become. John noticed that I am more timid than before. We decided to sail to Tahiti. I hoped for an available dock space in a marina in Tahiti.
***It says that there are 78 atolls in French Polynesia. Many of them have an airport these days. It is easy to visit an atoll by Air Tahiti. For example the flying time from Tahiti to Fakarava Atoll is about 70 minutes. For us, it took five days sailing from Marquesas to Fakarava Atoll.