L O G B O O K - by John Philp




THE TUAMOTUS


MON 19th JUNE - After loading on fresh baguettes from the shop at Hakahetau, Ua-Pou Island, in the Marquesas we sail around the island a short way to the Baie de Controleur.

It is a nice anchorage, what you would call beautiful in the normal sense of the word : unlike the rest of the Marquesas whose volcanic intensity assails the senses, compelling you to come up with imaginative new adjectives to describe places that are completely out of this world.

We swim around the rocky shoreline hoping to find lobsters but there is very little fish life and the water is hazy. Just before nightfall we depart in a south-westerly direction for the Tuamotus.

TUE 20th - In the afternoon we catch up to the Marquesan traditional sailing canoe - ‘Vaka-Moana’ which is making the crossing to Papeete for the annual Heiva Festival. She’s a beautiful craft with swift lines, making good time in the tradewinds despite her small sails. For a bit of fun the crew on Tau don Fijian sulu’s as we pass, removing all t-shirts and sunglasses and hats. The crew of Vaka-Moana are a little perplexed as we pass hailing - “Bula Vinaka!”.

THUR 22nd - At sunrise we are six miles away from the south-west entrance to the Manihi Atoll. It is a narrow, shallow passage and we launch the dinghy so Sefo and I can check that there is adequate depth for Tau to pass. We drift through a couple of times carefully fathoming the bottom with a lead line. In the end we decide that as it only allows Tau 12 inches of breathing space, and the atoll doesn’t look so special we will sail on a few miles to Ahe atoll which has a more generous passage.

Once into Ahe’s lagoon we motor a couple of miles across to a tiny town where three other yachts are at anchor. Ahe is one of the cultured pearl growing centres of French Polynesia and all the way across the bay there is an obstacle course of buoys marking out underwater pearl shell farms.

The motu’s (islands) on the rim of Ahe are not linked by road so everyone uses motor boats to get about the lagoon. There are a lot of motor boats in this town!

FRI 23rd - The anchorage is filing up now. Three yachts has become nine.

Thierry whom we met in the village yesterday picks us up to take us on a tour of the Kamoka Pearl Company, one of the twenty or so pearl firms here. Thierry’s wife is a grafter at the company. The manager, also called Thierry, is a grafter as well and speaks excellent English, taking time to explain how the operation works as he works, taking a pearl shell, prying it open and cutting open the gonad to insert an artificial nucleus into the shell. The workers at the farm are super hospitable, allowing us to browse their workplace, and later inviting us for lunch. Kamoka started from very humble beginnings but now has a colossal 800,000 shells in cultivation from which they harvest 200,000 each year.

It’s a spartan existence for the crew of Kamoka as water and supplies are in demand, but they are compensated for by the beautiful surroundings, the uncrowded surfing, spearfishing and scuba diving.

SAT 24th - Kristy and Monifa and I are invited over to the Kamoka for a party with the crew of the pearl farm and to spend the night.

SUN 25th - Kristy and Monifa go scuba diving with Thierry and his wife Caroline, while I go spearfishing with the boys. We are unlucky to anchor directly above a cave where six or seven white tip reef sharks are perpetually roving. The sharks are a nuisance and will swoop in and take the fish off your speargun if your aren’t quick enough. Around here they spearfish dragging large plastic tubs on the surface to put their catch into immediately, thus keeping them away from the sharks. If I approached a fish and a shark was very close by I would back off and leave the fish. The local lads would disregard the shark and shoot the fish anyway - one of them paid for his temerity when a shark attacked the end of his spear and made off with the fish he’d just shot.

Afterwards we returned to the farm and fried up the fish for lunch, then lazed around in the warm sun, hanging out. The farm is run in a loose way - the owner providing all the food, and the crew sharing it out, sometimes eating in a different house each night and even sleeping in different houses from time to time - usually either their house or the main operations building, which is a double storey stilted structure a hundred yards off the beach joined to the shore by a wooden walkway. The building contains the workshop, grafting rooms, diving equipment room, main kitchen, some accommodation and long slatted decking hanging over the reef for pearl shells to be hung off while they are waiting to be processed.

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