Sorry this has taken so long. We have been out in the atolls. Fantastic nature around us, reefs, fish, birds, and a complete lack of internet. Now we’re back online for the first time in weeks so here’s the first of the updates…
26th December 2018
Land ahoy! We sight the tops of the coconut trees at lunchtime, only eight miles out.
I have known about Ahe for many years.
The sailing legend Bernard Moitessier came to live here with his young family in the 1970s.
After a life of amazing sailing feats, he loaded his steel ketch ‘Joshua’ with a ton of topsoil and sailed off to Ahe to plant a garden and live a simple life.
He wrote of his love for the atoll and inspired a generation of Frenchmen to sail away to the coconuts.
Now I am finally here to see it too.
Outside the pass we assess conditions, we have read that the tide flows in and out at up to 6kts, kicking up overfalls and making the pass dangerous to enter.
It doesn’t look bad from out here, we drop sails and start both engines. These passes are spectacular. The clear ocean water flowing in over the reef, impressive surf peeling down both sides towards us, then the instant transition from open Pacific to enclosed lagoon. We are in, with eye-searing turquoise shallows on all sides.
You can only really navigate in here by eye, with the sun well overhead to see reefs, but it will be 4pm by the time we get to the village, that’s a bit late.
We have read that it’s possible to moor at Kamoka, Patrick’s pearl farm, close to the pass.
We call Patrick who directs us and says he will come out to meet us in his boat.
The pearl farm is a huge network of floating buoys holding up the system of ropes on which the pearl bearing oysters are grown. We find our way through that and Patrick leads us to a huge plastic hoop and ties us to it. A redundant bit of pearling gear, which is securely moored to the reef.
We survey the scene. Patrick’s motu has several shacks for farm workers, plus his lovely breezy headquarters built on stilts over a coral head.
Patrick was here in the 1970s and sailed into Ahe with Moitessier on Joshua. We hear stories of the old days, sailing cargoes of fish to Papeete and the pearl farm Patrick developed here.
He has had plenty of adventures and been shipwrecked on the reefs. He built an outrageous aluminium catamaran with an unstayed solid wing rig, which he sailed with his family and single-handed for thousands of miles across the Pacific. It now sits moored at Kamoka.
I think it would be reasonable to call Patrick slightly eccentric. He is great company. We are joined by his friends Claude and Marie on their catamaran Vahine, and Patrick’s daughter and grand daughter.
Patrick takes me spearfishing at the pass, my first time in these waters. He tells me there is no ciguatera here “You can shoot everything”. I shoot a few fish and swim quickly with them to the anchored boat, the sharks are getting interested.
We returned with grouper, parrot fish and soldier fish, which were cooked whole on Patrick’s smoker for supper.
Before we left Ahe, Patrick had supplied us with homegrown pearls, homegrown aloe vera, pieces of local art, a hanging basket made from a fishing buoy, and plenty of good stories.
Next stop was the Coco Perle Lodge on the northern side of the atoll.
Here we meet up with our friends Edward, Annabelle and family on the catamaran Mirage.
Coco Perle is a fishing lodge, a kind of bucket-list stop for keen anglers who travel from everywhere to fish here.
Owner Franck invites us on a fishing trip with his guests.
5am start. Franck’s open aluminium fishing boat speeds back to the pass and we start to troll lures from rods and outriggers. We are soon joined by a couple of yellow-fin tuna.
Then it’s time for a local style of deep water fishing I hadn’t seen before. Bottom fishing with rod, line, weight and a baited hook, same as we do in Guernsey, drop the weight until you touch the bottom, wind up a few turns to clear the rocks and wait for a bite. But here the weight is 1kg and water is 250m deep!
Franck is hunting for certain species that only live at great depth, and are very good to eat. He plays the braided line by hand and when a fish bites, he strikes to engage the hook, then pushes a button on the reel. The electric motor roars and the powered reel winds up the catch from 250m down, at two metres per second!
Back at the lodge, his wife Janine cooks up a fishy feast every night and we ate so well.
Escapade and Mirage sat off the Coco Perle Lodge for days. The New Year came. The murmur of ocean surf breaking just other side of the motu, but we’re in a lake.
A soft breeze in the mornings for my foiling practice, slowly improving. Levitating on the lightest zephyr, the foil so quiet I can hear the wind breathing over the sail.
Benoit arrived for a few days, an expert spear-fisherman and regular visitor. He shoots fish all day, towing a small raft for the catch, and delivers the haul to Janine’s kitchen. Edward and I joined him for a marathon spearfishing session lasting several hours. We shot so many fish and the skin on my chest was raw from reloading the speargun. Benoit knows all the species, their behaviour, which are best to eat and how best to catch them. His free-diving is impressive, lying motionless at 15m waiting for his target to swim close enough for a shot. He also explains the shark risks in Ahe, we see mainly black tip and white tip reef sharks, up to about 5 feet long.
They can be inquisitive but are generally timid and will not approach a diver, but things can change quickly if you are dealing with a bleeding, struggling fish on your spear. The sharks pick up the vibration and the scent of blood and arrive very quickly. We aim to get a speared fish to the surface and into the raft as fast as possible. We dive in rotation, one hunting, one towing the raft and the third on shark look-out, reloaded and ready to dive if necessary. If there’s a problem retrieving the speared fish (spear tip stuck in rock), the sharks may get a snack. They will sometimes chase the shot fish (and diver) to the surface, good to have someone watching. Occasionally the bigger grey sharks appear.
They are less timid, and also territorial, so if you shoot a fish on their patch they will try to take it from you. They may then come back to bite you, for trespassing. The day before this trip Benoit had run into a big grey while diving alone. The shark took not only his speared fish and the spear, but also the whole gun, and disappeared into the depths with it all. So Benoit had to borrow a gun for today.
And he’s the expert.
Our friends Jon and Charlotte are coming to visit us from Australia. We have arranged to meet in the Marquesas, but those islands are 500 miles NE of us and the wind is blowing solidly from that direction, so one day we gave up on waiting for a fair wind and diverted them to Ahe. No big deal, (except that they were really looking forward to their holiday in the Marquesas) there are two flights a week from Papeete to the little airstrip on Ahe.
So one morning their plane lands and our old friends are here with us in the wilds for a week. Along with a new supply of fresh fruit and veg flown in from Tahiti.
We all had a ball, snorkelling in shark-infested waters, spear-fishing (I shot my first octopus, delicious.)
And we made music. Jamming with Dawn on ukelele and Jon on Ed’s guitar.
Charlotte and I joined in with percussion, then there were our four part harmonies under the stars, can you imagine the late night sounds across the lagoon..
We explored the motus, an ancient forest, collected tasty sea-snails from the reef flats, trekked across Ed’s motu wearing coconut helmets (designed to aid survival in case of a direct hit on head from a tall coconut palm).
On a visit to Ahe’s village of Tenukupara, we were approached by a young lad on a bike who challenged the four of us to a game of beach football against his ‘équipe’.
After a quick limber-up, we trotted out onto the huge sandy football pitch in the village. Our opponents arrived, some small enough to run through our legs, followed by every other child in the village to support them.
They donated one player to us and a five-a-side contest was underway. Our guest player had a great left foot and she became our main attacking strength, while we ran up and down the pitch in the soft sand and hot sun which proved a real test for our stamina. I was eventually given a ‘carte rouge’ for picking up a particularly troublesome seven year old who was between me and the ball. I think the final score was 5-4 to the Ahe kids, but team Escapade were badly in need of a cold drink and a lie down by then.
So a week of music, seafood, snorkeling, sunsets, stargazing, SUP-yoga and lots and lots of laughs.
All over too soon, we waved Jon and Charlotte off again on the little plane to Tahiti and home to Melbourne. A la prochaine!
It was time for us to go too. The wind direction looked good for an overnight sail to our next atoll, Makemo.