This post is all about a family visit and it includes many photos and videos…my way of keeping a journal. Enjoy or skip. 🙂
I don’t think it really hit me that we were SO far from the U.S. until Frank traveled back for his mom’s 90th birthday in August. Frank left TTR from Fakarava, Tuamotus on a 2 pm flight one Tuesday. Assuming all went well, he would arrive in New Orleans, LA on Wednesday evening. However, due to bad weather in Houston, he was delayed and actually arrived in New Orleans on Thursday, approximately 41 hours after departing from Fakarava.
Fast forward to our eldest son’s recent visit. His travel time went according to schedule but it still took him 29 hours to arrive in the Tuamotus, not including the 2 hour drive time to the airport from his home.
I’m only telling you this because the effort required to reach us made me recognize just how remote we really are here in French Polynesia. Sure, plenty of people come here by sailboat or for a vacation, but it certainly isn’t as easy to come here from the U.S. as it was to fly to Mexico, California or even Hawaii!
So when family or friends make the effort to visit, we try our best to make certain they have an awesome stay and that the visit was worth the travel time.
When Hunter decided to visit, we wanted him to see more than one atoll while he was in the Tuamotus, so we planned for him to fly into Makemo and leave from Fakarava.
The day of Hunter’s arrival in Makemo, the weather was beautifully sunny and the water was a sparkling avenue of turquoise. I waited on TTR while Frank took Day Tripper to the beach across from the airport to meet Hunter.
Just minutes after boarding Ticket to Ride, Hunter had shed his long pants, donned a swim suit and dived into the water. After so many hours of travel, the indigo water was too inviting not to immediately jump in!
The wind had been howling for days so we quickly upped anchor and moved to an anchorage on the southeast side of Makemo. The anchor was barely set before a kite was inflated and Hunter took his first wakeboard set in French Polynesia!
Kiting was the focus of the first two days of Hunter’s visit. We even managed to find some butter smooth water between a sand spit and the atoll’s rocky, fringe reef.
Fortunately the weather allowed us to swim to shore and explore the coral heads that litter the shoreline in front of where we anchored. Sadly we didn’t find any octopuses but Hunter was introduced to some stunning coral, a variety of fish and his first black tip reef shark.
The morning of my birthday we were anchored in the northeast corner of Makemo which is referred to as The Blue Lagoon. However, there is so much purple coral that on TTR we call it Purple Paradise. Frank and Hunter spoiled me by going on a two hour snorkel; one of my favorite ways to spent time in the water.
My birthday dessert request was a white cake with white buttercream icing. Hunter was the cake chef and he did an excellent job of it. He was handicapped by outdated baking powder which caused the cake to be more like a white pound cake. Not to be deterred, he baked a chocolate cake as well and created a delicious white and chocolate layer cake.
A weather window presented itself so we moved Ticket to Ride to the north pass of Makemo where we would have an opportunity to dive the pass and to prepare to sail to the next atoll. When we dropped anchor near the north pass, the wind was a light 9-10 knots and Hunter pulled out the foil board.
Way back in the US Virgin Islands, our kids earned scuba certifications so we could all dive together. So far neither Hunter nor Clayton has embraced diving and it had been several years since Hunter had dived. We were excited to have him to join us and see the abundant life here in the Tuamotus. Drift dives sound intimidating and with so little experience, Hunter was a little apprehensive at first, but he settled in quickly and was rewarded with some gorgeous sea life.
The following morning we rose early and set sail for Tahanea. The wind was almost directly behind us, so we raised double headsails and skipped the main. The trip was a quick 50 nm of very comfortable downwind sailing.
Tahanea is an uninhabited atoll, well known for stunning dives at its three passes which are close together. We were greeted at the pass by friends who had just finished a dive of the pass. They told us they were disappointed they hadn’t seen any manta rays, but that the dive was still a good one.
As we continued into the pass on TTR, we spotted three mantas on the opposite side of the pass from where our friends had just boarded their dinghies. Hunter grabbed his mask and fins while Frank maneuvered TTR closer to the mantas and I yelled to alert our friends.
Frank dropped Hunter at the perfect spot to drift toward the mantas and get a close look at the giant, gliding rays. Compared to the manta rays we dove with in the Revillagigedo Islands, Mexico, the mantas here are very skittish and will swim away if approached by people. We have found that if we drift toward them or allow them to come toward us, we have more success getting closer to them. We do not touch them, but it is fun to get close and see them gracefully skimming along as they feed.
The following day we dove the north pass of Tahanea with Bruce and Alene of s/v Migration. Fortunately, we timed our drop well for both location and tide timing.
We were rewarded with huge schools of fish and plenty of gray reef sharks along the drop off and so little current that we could stay in one area for 10-15 minutes. I still find it amazing to watch the sharks calmly swim among schools of fish and all the players are tranquil and undisturbed by the predator in their midst.
The quiet wind only lasted two days, so we moved to the east side of Tahanea where the wind was clean behind a reef without any trees. Kitebaording, kiteboarding and a bit more kiteboarding were on the agenda for the next four days.
Kiting here was especially fun because friends on three other sailboats were anchored nearby with folks learning to kiteboard or wing foil. There is a nice shallow, somewhat sandy area where beginners can launch their kites and wingers can stand and get a feeling for the wind in the wing.
There was one other boat nearby with a young man named Luca on board who was an excellent kiter. Luca and Hunter had a great time getting big air and comparing tricks. We had wind in the 20-28 knot range during the days and gusts up to 35 knots in the evenings. I only kited in the lower winds, but Hunter and Luca loved boosting while powered up.
It was interesting to talk with Hunter about how different it is to kite behind the motu with its strong current compared to kiting in North Carolina where he does most of his kiteboarding. Apparently the currents here in the Tuamotus make riding upwind a little more challenging than in the Outer Banks of NC. On the plus side, the water here is beautifully clear and it is fun to see fish or turtles while kiting or move to the shallow areas and see the colorful coral just a few feet below the surface.
After 2 days of wind exposure, we moved TTR about 400 yards east behind the trees where we had better protection. This was a nice break because the waves disappeared and there was less wind at deck level. However, the wind up in the kite was strong enough to allow Hunter and Frank to launch and land at the boat.
Luckily, on October 6th we had a slight break in the wind which allowed us to sail to Fakarava where Hunter had a flight back to the U.S. We upped anchor around 6:45 am and sailed 60nm to the south pass of Fakarava. We arrived by noon and poked around the south area, trying to decide if a dive of the pass was a good idea. However, the water in the pass was rough when we came through and there were no dive companies out in the pass. We decided it wasn’t a good day to explore under water.
Since Hunter’s flight departed from the north end of Fakarava the following day, we decided to redeploy the sails and move close to the airport. We sailed the additional 30 nm to the north side of Fakarava inside of the atoll and were back on the hook by 4:15pm. A quick 90nm day of sailing to conclude Hunter’s last full day in the Tuamotus.
As always, our time with family passed much too quickly. We were sad to see Hunter leave, but we are quite happy he has a busy life of his own and was ready to return to his own home, friends, job, etc.
Hunter, thank you so much for spending your time and vacation with us. We truly recognize the effort it took to get to the Tuamotus and we are very appreciative. As always, it was wonderful spending time with you.
Thanks so much for reading our blog. Hopefully the photos are interesting enough to hold your attention while I journal about family visits. We wish you good health and fun adventures!