Tuamotu: Apataki. From uninhabited island to family feast. And a shark incident

View from the boat
The next point to stop was Apataki, located between Aratika, Arutua and Kaukura. I had heard there was a small boat yard, so I wanted to check it out. It’s not usual to find boat yards around here, except for on the big touristic islands that everyone sails to, like Rangiroa. I passed the village in the Passe Pakaka, which was very different to all other villages I have seen - houses on poles in light turquoise water, a few very low buildings on land, many palms, a satellite dish, a lot of boats, and few people. The village air smelled of coconut and bonfires. The lagoon waters were calm, protected from waves but not the wind – perfect for sailing, kite-surfing or wind-surfing! Only there were no surfers there. Only locals and us.

First, I stayed there in the lagoon, on anchor outside the little motu called Rua Vahine. It was my own little island, nobody else was there. One could walk around it in 20 minutes. It had a beautiful beach shore a lot of coconut palms, a small uninhabited house, and not much more. I picked coconuts and drank tasty coconut water from them (and brought some home and cooked coconut curry). I tried waving some baskets from palm leaves and also to catch some crabs. I did snorkeling and hunted Parrot fish for breakfast when coconuts would not be enough. The water off the motu was warm and transparent, and there were some black-tip sharks, big ones, circling there. So I did some snorkeling with them.

I stayed there for about two days. The view from the boat was incredible. It was like being inside one of those computer background pictures, you know, the perfect paradise island. A magnitude of friendly sharks and fish were my company. The Tuamotu felt extremely calm, full of harmony and positive energy, a very special place to be at. And a small island just to oneself is dreamlike. I would have liked to just stay there. But finally, I weighted anchor, reluctantly. I had more adventure in front of me. But first, I would go and try to find that boat yard.

Aiming for the passage between the motus. Another sailing boat is seen! Civilization! Also means that I will be able to monitor the possibility to pass...
The Apataki Boat Yard (Apataki Carenage) proved to be a reality. Two boats were bobbing on FREE moorings, and several masts were visible on the hard, behind the coconut palms. I was welcomed by a Polynesian family, that run the little boatyard with haul-out, and also take care of the sailors. They offered hot meals, cold beer, reparations etc. On the hand-written menu there were baguettes and Pastis (it’s French and no other Polynesia, remember?), and info about laundry. There was water and diesel, that I didn’t really need, but incredibly enough they could fill all kinds of gas bottles! So now I could cook properly again. The family had some goats, rabbits, chickens (fresh eggs!), grew flowers and tomatoes, and also ran a small black pearl farm. The son in the family had a jeweler education and made very nice pieces. Black pearls are grown throughout Polynesia, and are possible to buy in all kinds of qualities, sizes, shapes, and finishes. They were much more expensive than I thought; but extremely beautiful. A lot of people sell them at more touristic locations, and the prices are sky high, so I guess that purchasing them at smaller islands,directly from the farm and from the jeweler is much better.

I met several very nice sailors there, and ended up staying a little more than planned. A couple of them were leaving for France, and of course a party was thrown, everyone bringing something nice for the table. I baked some bread and made salad, there were grilled Parrotfish, a goat stew, a pumpkin pie and a lot of French specialties. I had an absolutely great time, and since everyone else at the table were French it sometimes felt like a big family meeting near the French Med coast, with plenty of sun and good food, full of laughter, noise, completely disorganized and very cozy.

A fun incident happened just before the party. It was already dark, and most people were drinking beer or fussing with the food in the big kitchen – it’s half open, and everyone seems to be welcome everywhere by the locals (suddenly you find yourself in the middle of the Apataki family life just when you have barely stepped ot of the dinghy). Anyway, I was running around and playing with their dog – a small adorable creature that seems to believe she is a cat or a teddy bear. In the middle of the running, I tripped and fell on the coral grovel, cutting up my hand. Nothing that would kill me of course, but it bled a bit, so I went to the beach to wash it up in clear sea water. All the motus are so peaceful, both day and night, and very beautiful, and I was enjoying myself as I crossed the white sand beach and took a step into the warm water which now was almost up to my knee. I washed the blood away, and looked in front of me. I thought I saw something in the shallow dark water, maybe some small fish? I looked closer. And then I realized I was face to face with a shark, that was as big a I was, laying still in front of me, only the fin cutting the water. Looking me straight into the eyes. I was so close to it I could have kissed it on the nose.

Now I know that its not a dangerous shark. It is a fish-eater. But try to think those rational thoughts when you have that dark shape with the typical fin right in front of you, and you are standing in the water and washing the blood of your hand. I must have had an interesting face expression! I backed out carefully, with a much higher pulse than after running around with the dog.

The combination of civilization and deserted paradise was great, I loved the Apataki boat yard and was hoping to return to there even before I left. I decided to skip Tahiti, as most sailors say its very different from the rest of Tuamotu - a lot of people, a lot of industry, traffic, poverty, and materialism. I also skipped several other touristic islands. But some are just not to be missed. Like Bora Bora. Read about how I sailed there and what happened!

This photo is here to show the feeling of being in Tuamotu. Piece of soul, gentle lagoon waters, sun and happiness. Photo creds to Linus Nylund