Ahe is a small atoll between Manihi and Rangiroa, just an overnight sail from Rangiroa. We waited for a weather window so that it wasn’t an uncomfortable long beat to windward. With no ideal conditions forecast, we settled for a period of no wind, meaning an overnight motor sail for 14 hours. We left the anchorage in Rangiroa at 15:14 and left the pass at 15:45. With a knot of outgoing tide we were through quickly and easily with flat(ish) water. One of the resident bottlenose dolphins came to say a bon voyage and we hoisted the main and were clear by 16:15. In this case Lesley said the anticipation of a rough and bouncy pass was worse than the main event!
The passage was relatively uneventful with no fish caught. However, there was a stunning night sky with shooting starts and some brilliant phosphorescence in the water. We did a four hour watch each and Derek on his second watch caught some rain showers that we had otherwise been able to dodge during the night. We arrived at the Passe Tiareroa into Ahe at 6:30am and it was such a flat and easy entry to the lagoon that he didn’t even bother to wake Lesley!
Ahe is known for fishing and pearls. We were told that there are 25 pearl farms here and certainly there are hundreds of pearl buoys around the atoll. We headed up the western side of the lagoon to where our friends Russ and Lisa on Uproar were anchored. After settling in and buoying our anchor chain, a first for us. We caught up on sleep and when we woke Uproar had gone – was it something we said!
Ahe is approximately 14 by 17 miles at its widest parts, with a well marked channel along the west side. Supply boats come here once every two weeks. If our timing had been right we could have clambered aboard to buy fruit and veg directly from the ship. The two restaurants we went to, get their supplies delivered directly from the ship to their beach! Before GPS this atoll was the mid stopping point between the Marquesas and Tahiti, since it is on the northern edge, and navigating through the middle of the Tuamotus at night prior to GPS was dangerous. Now it seems that not many yachts venture here. We were told that there were less than 20 this year but that is more than last year.
We explored a small area of the atoll which still has the original trees that would have been growing here before the clearing and planting of coconut palms for copra production. You could imagine the whole atoll being covered in the trees and ferns that were in this small wooded area.
Pension Raita (www.chez-raita.com) has set up some tables and chairs here that can be used for having a BBQ ashore. Great to be able to sit and watch the small black tip reef shark pups swimming around in the shallows. On the way back we found what seemed to be a cleaning station for the sharks with approximately eight sharks of varying sizes swimming circles in a small shallow reef area. They all had a shoal of tiny yellow fish around their mouths.
The next day, we headed across the lagoon to two private mooring buoys off another pension to join Lisa and Russ from Uproar. It transpired that they had moved when the wind dropped as they were starting to swing towards the reef and it became uncomfortably shallow.
The distance across the lagoon is only about 10 miles but it is riddled with the pinnacle shaped bommies, shallow reefs and pearl farm buoys. We kept a sharp look out for the buoys but even when we located and watched them it was imperative to have Lesley standing at the bow. There was never just one buoy. If you spotted one there were more, slightly submerged and strung together, presumably holding the ropes for oysters. They were a ghostly green below the surface so not easily seen. We backed off several to try and go around the last one in the chain but did manage to get over one line with the drive in neutral and drifting along very slowly under our momentum.
The small resort, Cocoperle Lodge run by Frank and his wife Francine was delightful and we had a very nice dinner with their guests and Uproar. They let us know about various areas of the atoll to explore and could not have been more friendly.
We spent several days on their mooring buoy in light winds and explored by dinghy from there, visiting a small pool area called the La Source where the sea breaks over at high tides, some coral gardens and some pink sand bars.
We walked on the outside of the reef for about 30 minutes from Pension Chez Raita to try and find the turtle nesting site. We think we located a small area of sand where they could haul ashore without going over the rim of the reef but there was little evidence to support that they were currently nesting at night. It was a great walk for shell collecting though and we also arranged to come back the next evening for dinner.
Raita and her family were most welcoming and even prepared chicken for Derek instead of the fish menu of oysters and grouper that the rest of us had! We were entertained by the family singing and playing local instruments.
Both restaurants were good, and different to each other but both were excellent hosts and made for wonderful evenings, a real treat from the hot galley onboard.
We have learnt some Polynesian phrases as we are always greeted when ashore with friendly smiles and ‘Ia oraana’ Meaning, good day or hello.
Thank you is MAURURO
Goodbye is I – NANA
Please is EE (EH-EH)
Lots of love is TE AROHA IARAHI
How is it going is EAHA TE HURU
Very well, thank you is MAITAI ROA, MAURURU
Cheers – Mauruuru
In true cruisers style we shared meals, stories, knowledge and CPN charts and films! Lesley also gave Derek a haircut and trimmed Lisa’s long curly hair, which was a first for her.
We discovered a Gecko on board. Really not sure how he got there unless a bird dropped him on deck. Lisa named him Gaylord the Gecko! Apparently it’s Norman French origin meaning joyful or high spirited. Well so long as he eats a good number of mosquitos he can stay.
We had also had a worrying night on the mooring buoy when the wind changed direction. We were very close to the pinnacle of a bommie that just clipped the rudder on one occasion. We watched it for over an hour by torch light as we swung like a pendulum across it. Luckily the wind died a bit and shifted slightly, the tide came up a bit, so that we could get some sleep.
The next day we said good bye to Uproar; they were leaving to get to another atoll to meet a friend flying in for Christmas. She was also bringing with her a new control panel for our solar panels which had broken. So actually ‘au revoie’ until later. We decided to move to the village and explore an area we had been told about near there, travelling across the atoll, again dodging shallows and pearl buoys. To add to the tension the light was poor because of a slowly approaching squall. We were accompanied by the sound of distant thunder and just as we made the sanctuary of the marked channel the heavens opened.
We circled the protected area between the reef and the concrete wharf by the village called Tenukupara, but didn’t find a big enough area for Ocean Blue between the bommies and coral to anchor there. We picked a patch further out away from the village and channel.
From here it was a 2 mile dinghy ride to an area in the south east corner of the atoll where there is a lagoon, within a lagoon. There is a reef separating another deep water area. This was interesting as the colours were more green than blue with shades from turquoise to emerald with an interesting lime coloured band. We think it was mostly influenced by depth but probably also the reflection and type of bottom substance.
In the evening 15 or so canoeists were out paddling around in their priorgs or Vaa a’s and two of the men invited us to go and see their pearls if we were interested the following morning. After breakfast we went ashore to the building that had been indicated and spent a lovely time learning about the pearl seeding and harvest. Luckily for us one of the ladies spoke perfect English having been educated in the USA as her mother was from Seattle and her father Tahitian.
They have young oysters here that they sell to neighbouring atoll pearl farms as well as growing their own pearls. We saw the small ball of shell that they use to insert into the oyster, which is approx. 4mm in size. This is used to stimulate the oyster which coats it with nacre to form a pearl. They are inserted when the oyster is between nine months to a year and not harvested from the pearl for up to another 2 years. The baby oysters have to be lifted and taken off the fine netting that they start life on and transferred to long rope, approximately 100 per rope hang into the depth. When they are inserting the seed and making the transfer they can deal with 1000 oysters a day. The plastic tassels that we had seen on the beach are used to deter the sharks, turtles and rays from eating the oysters.
We looked through the different grades of pearls to make a selection for potentially buying but would have to wait until the men folk were back to negotiate a price. Each bag was marked with the workers name so they can keep track of who has been working on which rope of oysters and can monitor which techniques for inserting the seeds produces the better pearls. We also saw the very small natural pearls that are created by the oyster if no seed is retained. They are very small irregular chips by comparison. Lesley also learnt how to look after and clean pearls.
A fun morning and as we left we were given mangos, a pineapple and an avocado! We waited for the negotiation. After the days work had been completed the men came by Ocean Blue and we followed them ashore. As well as buying pearls we were also given a large bowl of fresh oysters. That was Lesley’s dinner sorted!
We had wanted to go to the pearl house run by Patrick, but the area and dock looked unlikely for our boat and having bought from the village we felt we had probably done our pearl shopping, for the moment. We did anchor near the pass to wait for an incoming current and to snorkel the pass. Wow, it was worth the short wait, beautifully clear water and a stunning collecting of fish. A coral carpet, massive groupers and a sleeping shark. We timed our departure for an overnight sail to Fakarava to arrive at slack water for the pass there. However, it took us an hour and a half to get the anchor up, going backwards and forwards to unthread the 80 metres of chain from around the rocky bottom. The last 30 metres wouldn’t budge with this technique so Derek had to don his diving gear and go down to see what the problem was. The tip of the Rocna anchor had wedged itself into a small hole in the lava rock. Derek moved it a metre to sand and finned to the surface with a 3 min stop.
Back on board and showered again we were able to weigh the anchor without any further problems and got going. Our timing was good and Lesley steered Ocean Blue through the pass making it her first passage through an atoll at the helm.