It was on a bright, sunny morning that we approached our first Tuamotu, a lovely sight, with white surf crashing along the reef, green palms nodding in the trade wind and glimpses of bright blue water in the lagoon. After a couple of false starts, we located the pass and turned towards it, our assumption being confirmed by the almost-inevitable yacht anchored inside. This turned out to be a charming French/Tahitian couple with their little girl. A couple of days later, they moved to another part of the lagoon leaving us in solitary splendour.
We wasted no time in going ashore. The little island off which we’d anchored was well endowed with coconut palms, but there was no sign of either breadfruit or citrus. Even close to the old village, which only 20 years ago was still inhabited, only the palm trees remained. It makes one appreciate how much loving care the Polynesians put into their gardens when one sees how quickly the wilderness returns. However, coconuts have a lot going for them and the groves were beautiful with the sunlight filtering through the trees. We found enormous entertainment in the hermit crabs, which range in size from diminutive creatures in the tiniest of shells to the endangered coconut crab, which grows to such an enormous size that it can no longer find a shell to protect its unarmoured abdomen. They reverse down burrows – or climb palm trees – in times of stress, but this is of little use against human predators, who generally wipe them out in short order: they take 15 years to reach full maturity. Regardless of size, however, all these crabs shared a passion for coconuts, particularly for the soft, sweet spongy meat found inside a sprouting nut that has yet to root. We split two or three of these as we wandered along the beach; when we returned to them, they were covered in hermit crabs, with many more coming at a gallop out of the undergrowth, to enjoy the feast!
There were more than a few black-tipped sharks in the lagoon, which made me a little reluctant to snorkel far from the boat, but simply by looking over the side I could watch and wander at myriad beautiful, gaily-coloured fish swimming around the coral. We were so reluctant to leave this wonderful lagoon, that we stayed there until it was time to leave for Tahiti, where we had arranged to meet Trevor’s sister and her husband.
We disentangled our chain from the coral and set off on 11 July, in an ESE F3 to have an enjoyable sail past Tahanea and out through the gap between the next group of islands. We had a good run until we got into the lee of Tahiti Iti where we were completely becalmed. In order to make it in that night, we started the engine; even so, we ended up anchoring in near dark, having to drop our hook in 22 m – far more than we’d choose without a windlass. The following morning we pottered up to Port Phaeton, (17°44'S, 149°20'W) on the SW corner of Tahiti, back among the cruising boats.