First landfall in Pacific: Taiaro. Exotic encounters, losing rope, swimming with white-tip shark.

Land o'hoy!
French Polynesia consists of following island groups: Marquesas (tall volcanic islands nearest the equator), Tuamotu (very low atolls stretched hundreds of miles NW to SE), Austral Islands (volcanic islands to SW from Tuamotu), and Society Islands (also volcanic, with protecting reefs, including Bora Bora and Tahiti). Society Isles are furthest West of the Tuamotu, before Cook Islands and the rest of Polynesia. I really wanted to check out all of these. Tuamotu translates as the Low, or Dangerous Archipelago. The circular atolls consist of coral and sand, and the coral reefs are hard to see. But if you have a GPS, updated charts and a cruising guide, then it's not a problem.

The atolls consist of round reefs that are just below water. Some parts of the reef protrude above water, and are covered by sand. Coconut palms grow plentifully there. The parts that are above water look like islands and are called Motus. They most closely resemble your ultimate dream of a South Pacific Island. So you will have a few of these small motus around a lagoon that is sheltered from the Pacific waves by the circular coral reef, where the water is 20 to 30 meters deep, warm, calm, and bright turquoise in color. Many of these have an entrance, so it is possible to sail into the lagoon. Often there are strong currents there depending on tide, and one should pick the right time to enter, otherwise you are doomed to fail as the currents can reach up to 9 knots. Some atolls do not have lagoon entrances, usually the small ones that are only a couple of nautical miles in diameter. To compare, the big ones can be 15 or mote miles long, so you cannot see the other side of the lagoon...

One of these small islands in Tuamotu is called Taiaro. Completely circular, with no entrance into the lagoon, and tricky unprotected anchorage outside. Strong currents, waves and plentiful coral heads can damage the boat, or make the anchor drag or get stuck forever. Despite that, I really wanted to visit it, and finally succeeded to go ashore, anchoring between coral heads and bringing a line onto the shore (I had to tie together all of the lines available to make it long enough!)

It was a once-in-a-life-time experience to step ashore after a month at sea. The atoll was a beauty, with a blinding white beach, plentiful coconut palms, so pretty and exotic. I did not know if anyone lived there, so I went in among the palms to look for the lagoon. There, I saw signs of civilization, and very soon after met the local people. They are 4 in total that live there, I got to meet two of them. Such an experience! First time for me to meet local Polynesians, and, well, first time to meet people generally for a very long time... and it turned out that they don’t get so many visitors either, so they were a bit surprised too. Only one more boat have been there since they had moved to Taiaro. They showed me the house with beautiful thin walls that were woven with palm leaves. They had some chickens, a dog, a Big Hairy Boar, and were quite self-sufficient. The locals seemed to be very happy living there. They gave me some beautiful shells as a gift, and I gave them sodas and cookies. They waved goodbye to us from the beach. An exotic experience like this is hard to beat.

I decided to get moving before dark. The line to the shore got entangled in some corals on the sea bottom, and I took the longest free-dives I have ever done, trying to free it. I have never been so deep down under water, looking up to the sea surface which is many storeys above, and it was easier than I thought. I lost a bit of rope, but could retrieve most of it to the boat, altogether a success. I swam under water towards the boat, and there it was - a white tip shark, a big one, straight under me! First time I was swimming with a shark. It was calm and not dangerous (but I did have a sailing knife unfolded, just in case...)

After this adventure, we moved on to the next atoll: Apataki. Read about it here!