Pearl collection and birthday celebrations in the Tuamotus
We’ve found paradise! The atolls of French Polynesia are beautiful. The Tuamotu archipelago consists of 76 islands and atolls spread over more than 20,000 square kms. Born from coral, emerging just enough to create the most mythical lagoons in the world. They offer a Robinson Crusoe lifestyle that dreams are made of. Manihi is an elliptic atoll containing a stunning lagoon sprinkled with pearl farms. We arrived off the entrance to the Turipaoa passé after a 3-day sail from Nuka Hiva at 10am. The tide was still ebbing quite strongly but as that slowed us down it ensured we could enter at a controllable rate without bumping into anything. Once inside the view was breath taking. The water was an amazing azure blue which matched the sky perfectly. There were already 2 BWR boats there and another 5 followed us in so it was a bit crowded.
Our sailmail email server is run by sailmail who have radio broadcasting stations throughout the world that enable emails to get from the internet to our boat using our SSB radio. One of those stations is based on Manihi and Xavier who runs it welcomes visitors. Ian from Lucy Alice and David from Enchantress and Bill were very keen to see it. Glenda, Susan and I wanted to see the house he’s building on one of the atolls. We jumped in the dinghies and motored for about 30 minutes to his atoll.
Xavier and his wife bought one of the atolls (didn’t like to ask for how much) and they are building a home on it in true Robinson Crusoe style. The building behind us houses the kitchen with the bathroom off to the left. It’s built on stilts in modules; the bathroom was wonderful with its outside shower.
The island has it’s own borehole for water and is self sufficient for power. There are 3 forms of power, a wind generator, a massive bank of solar panels that tilts towards the sun as it moves and a mini water turbine powered by the water flooding over the reef. These all feed a huge bank of batteries giving him 1000’s of amp hours. The men were fascinated. Xavier was a wonderful host and gave an interesting guided tour accompanied by Fletcher Christian, his beautiful cocker spaniel. That evening all the crews joined together on the beach for a bbq followed by a Camomile quiz. The teams were English men, International men and Women. The women won.
The next day Fernando, the local pearl farmer cum baker cum Mormon preacher cum Chinese delivery man, picked Ian, Glenda, David, Susan, Bill and me up from our boats to take us to his pearl farm in the middle of the lagoon. We were enjoying the ride in his fast boat when he suddenly stopped and tied it to a buoy. When we asked where the pearls were he pointed down below. So Bill, Susan and Glenda got in the water, Ian, David and I can’t swim under water. Bill went down first and found a string of oyster shells 4m below the surface. After several attempts he brought a string to the surface.
Susan was next and, with Fernando’s help, also produced a string. Glenda was next and bravely tried but Fernando did it for her. Everyone got back in the boat and then we headed back to his pearl farm on stilts on the edge of the lagoon. The deal is you pay per person for the trip and keep the oysters that are produced from your shells. The next step was to cut them out. Glenda cut open 2 of hers first but sadly they were quite small.
Next it was my turn. It was very hard because the shells have been in the water for a year or more and have lots of barnacles growing on them. Fernando helped me and hey presto the most beautiful black pearl emerged followed by an equally beautiful one in my next shell. We continued in turn until Glenda, Susan and I each had 6 or 7 beautiful pearls of varying quality.
Later we went back to his house where he had 1000’s more in bnoxes to purchase at cost price. I choose another 10 to go with mine in varying colours and size and I’ve sent them to Claire to make into a necklace and ear-rings.
The next day was my birthday and our best friends David and Susan, Ian and Glenda joined us at the Pearl Lodge resort across the lagoon for a sumptuous birthday lunch. It was wonderful and I was so lucky to spend my birthday in such a beautiful place with such good friends.
After lunch we got changed and relaxed in their infinity pool for the afternoon. We went back to the boats where we were joined by quite a few of the other crews making 13 in total, Glenda produced a lovely chocolate birthday cake, Peter from Bali Blue brought some rum, others brought more alcohol and, from what I can remember, we all had a great time … I think!
The next day Enchantress, Lucy Alice and Camomile motored inside the atoll to the other end, which was known as the Blue Lagoon. We had difficulty finding it expecting the water to be bluer but I think we were in the right place, the water was still very blue and it’s had some large coral heads which we all explored with our snorkels. We watched a black tipped reef shark doing a circuit and the colours of the coral create a superb underwater landscape. We had the place to ourselves and enjoyed a lovely walk along the beach and across one of the gaps to the edge of the reef on the other side. The breakers could be seen crashing onto the outer edge of the reef.
We stayed for 2 days but then decided to move on to see another atoll. We left together and motor-sailed back down the lagoon to the passé. Enchantress went through first followed by Lucy Alice and then it was our turn. The ebb tide pulled us out with hundreds of fish beneath us. Fernando waved us off from the quayside as we sped by.
We put the twizzle up and enjoyed a wonderful overnight sail to Tikehau. We arrived at 4pm the next day along with the other two boats and we were joined by Norsa.
Tikehau is about 15 miles across the middle. It’s full of coral heads but there’s a buoyed channel around the edge. We came in through the pass with about 2kts of tide against us. Unfortunately the wind picked up and was creating quite a swell within the atoll. We were anchored in the southwest corner and the wind was coming from the northeast so it was creating quite a fetch across the lagoon. We were next to the Pearl Beach resort with it’s over water bungalows looking across the atoll. The residents paid £100s if not £1000s for this view and we have it for free. As it was Friday and ‘Friday night is quiz night’ the others came over to Camomile for a trivial pursuit evening. We mixed up the teams but it was too clever for us and it went on long into the evening. I’m afraid to say alcohol was involved again!!!
We stayed for 2 nights but decided to leave and make our passage to Tahiti.