Rangiroa is the largest atoll in the Tuamotus and one of the largest in the world. Approximately 43 NM long and 18 NM wide. The 240 islets string together in the ocean for more than 110 miles (177 km), completely encircling a deep lagoon
Several scuba diving operators will take you to dive the pass. Whales, manta rays, and sharks have been seen, as well as the resident pod of dolphins that stay here.
We took to regularly snorkelling off the motu Nuhi Nuhi by the Tiputa pass, known as the ‘aquarium’, which had an abundance of fish and colourful coral. There are also some informative markers there, under the water about the reef and fish!
There are two main villages of Avatoru and Tiputa which offer several magasins (shops), selling pretty much everything you need for the day to day simple life are restocked twice a week when the supply ship has unloaded. There are also churches, craft centres, local restaurants(snack bars) and even a boulangerie.
The strong winds and torrential rain limited exploration for a few days. Work and boat jobs continued though, a rain canopy for the aft hatch so we can still keep it open at night and get some ventilation through our cabin was made, the wind scoop fixed, cookies cooked, software written and training courses updated!
With calmer weather we took a day trip to the blue lagoon. This is an area on the western side of the atoll where the shallows are a nursery for black tip reef sharks and the shallow water is gin clear.
With prevailing winds from the East and the Blue Lagoon on the West, you need unusual weather to make a stay there comfortable, since the chop builds and makes anchoring uncomfortable and potentially dangerous, especially at this time of year where we have frequent squalls with wind coming from many different directions. We took friends, Frank and Sophie from Anastasia for the day trip, leaving at 8 and returning by 5 to motor across the atoll in the well marked channel. A great day out and well worth the visit.
Our dinghy is our transport between the boat and the shore, or the boat and any other adventures we undertake. In most places we anchor every destination is reasonable distance away. Sometimes just a few hundred metres but often much further, sometimes a few miles. Recently the dinghy outboard motor has been playing up.
Modern fuels in most parts of the world are made with more and more ethanol content every year. Whilst there are some good environmental arguments for adding ethanol to petrol, it also has some nasty side effects, including eating fuel hoses, seals and other rubber stuff that were manufactured prior to the high ethanol content being used. Ethanol is also hygroscopic, whereas petrol is hydrophobic, or in simple terms Ethanol absorbs water and petrol repels it.
Therefore in the humid marine environments we live in, we get a lot more water in the fuel than is good for the engine. We use additives to minimise it, but after leaving the outboard for a while, invariably the water from the fuel will have caused some crud to form in the carburettor meaning the engine doesn’t want to idle and a quick stripdown and clean of the carburettor jets is needed. It is so frequent that Derek can do this now in less than 10 minutes!
However the latest failures of the engine perplexed Derek for a good few weeks. The engine seemed to be running rich, using loads of fuel and cutting out at high revs. Even more strange was that the oil level rose and overflowed the dipstick! After sleeping on the problem, Derek identified it as a fuel pump problem. The rubber diaphragm had perished and the fuel was being pumped straight into the engine crankcase rather than the carburettor – not ideal!
That gave us a problem. We carry many many spares on board but not a fuel pump. There are virtually no chandleries or engine supplies in the atolls and an email to the Mercury dealer back in Tahiti got a quick answer stating it will be one to two months before they can obtain a new pump for us. Then we must organise it to be shipped to wherever we are somehow.
That’s a long time to wait and not go ashore or go and visit anything. Later that evening Derek proclaims:
‘Why do we need a pump anyway? We only need a pump if the petrol storage is lower than the carburettor. Gravity should do the job otherwise, that doesn’t break!’
The next morning, the pump was bypassed, the fuel can raised high and the starter chord pulled. Its not ideal, it does require a little use of the hand priming pump in the fuel line from time to time, but the engine runs, and we can at least get around until the new pump arrives. We have ordered one from the UK to be sent to Tahiti by DHL and then we will somehow hopefully get it sent on to wherever we are. Times like this make us eternally grateful to family back in the UK who can assist with shipping etc.
With the dinghy operational again, on Saturday we went ashore early, to get bread for breakfast and found a bustle of activity. There were small market stalls with clothes and fishing gear as well as dried snacks and general stores. The supply boat was also selling fresh fruit and vegetables directly on the quay. We purchased, mangoes, oranges, carrots and tomatoes but there were also cucumbers, limes, potatoes, onions and cabbage. The fridge was refilled!
With the wind forecast to drop and the arrival of a large cruise ship on Sunday, we decided to sail across the lagoon to the southeast corner for a few days away from the relative bustle of the village and a potential influx of tourists (its all relative!).
The area is called Tevare, Sables Rose and is famed for its pink sand. We had a light wind of 8-12 knots and had a glorious sail most of the way, before reverting to the engine for the last hour picking a somewhat torturous route through the bommies to the beautifully calm sheltered spot where we dropped anchor. Charts are somewhat lacking, within many of the atolls so Derek had his first go at producing a satellite image chart (something we had got used to using in the San Blas), so we tested its accuracy for bommies – very useful it was too, clearly showing all the shallow bommies that we encountered.
We stayed here for several days exploring the environment and enjoying the peace and quiet. Nature was close by, with the small bommie behind us being a nursery for juvenile fish. The flats to the pink sand banks had numerous black tip reef sharks and we saw eels and rays whilst walking through the shallows.
On another excursion we we took the dinghy as far as we could, waded through a soft bottom to get to the coral shore and followed the cairns to reach the outer Pacific shore. This gave us a very clear appreciation of the dramatic underwater coastline. We stood just metres from the reef edge in the crashing waves, and could see that less than 30 metres away the reef dropped off to depth of thousands of kilometres almost vertically.
There are a few dwellings along the shore where the inhabitants produce copra and collect shells to sell. We were told that they didn’t live there permanently, just stayed to do the work then returned to the villages. The upshot of this is that there was virtually no light pollution at night. When the skies cleared all we could see was a myriad of stars in a perfectly black sky. We saw stars and constellations that we haven’t been able to see for quite a while.
We read in one of the guides that there was a tiny Motu (Nao Nao) about halfway back towards the village anchorage that had good diving, so we took the opportunity to stop off there on the way back and enjoyed a lovely shallow dive with a great array of colourful fish. This was followed by a clean of the hull before returning to the anchorage as dusk fell and the light faded.
Knowing we would be leaving soon, we planned a quick shop for fresh bread, vegetables and fruit but found the shop had delayed its opening for a special event. They were launching the European lottery ticket sales! Free nibbles, ice cream and local dancing. Plus we could get our shopping!
And today we move on. Rangiroa grew on us as we stayed here. Due to its size, the anchorages can be rather exposed. If the wind picks up and has any south in it, the main village anchorage gets lumpy but then there are other places to anchor on the southern side. However its not a short hop across the atoll and does require good light.
Rangiroa does has a lot to offer the cruiser. The local hotel we anchored off (The Kia Ora) is welcoming and when we emailed them to ask, they were happy for us to drink at the bar and watch the Polynesian entertainment. There is even some wine production here and a tasting tour at the Dominique Auroy Estate which is nestled within a coconut grove. It produces three grape varieties. We didn’t explore this but we saw the wines for sale in the local magasin.
We have enjoyed our time here but look forward to the next atoll, which if the wind is as forecast will be the much smaller Ahe, just an overnight sail away.