Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cruising the Apataki Lagoon

May 27, 2008--Mid-afternoon today we completed our circumnavigation of the lagoon here at Apataki. On Friday, we departed from the main anchorage around 11 o'clock and slowly motored along the southern border of the atoll. The wind was, of course, on the nose, but we needed to charge the batteries and make some water so it was fine. There were several lovely motus filled with palm trees and sandy beaches that we passed by. Around 2 o'clock we arrived at Rau Vahine, which is a lovely motus very close to the fringing reef. We anchored in 25 feet of crystal-clear water and immediately put the dink in the water.

The motu has a very nice house on it; however, the guide book states that no one lives there full time. We went ashore and walked around the island. The house is well built with glass windows, which is rare here. Steve was interested in the shallow waters inside the lagoon behind the fringing reef. He read that at night you can stand in knee-deep water and catch lobsters so he wanted to check out the terrain for that evening. We found that the most entertaining thing on the motu was the hermit crabs. We would be walking along and shells of all sizes and shapes were moving in different directions in the sand. Steve spotted a fairly large hermit crab in a shell and was able to get a pretty good picture. After we returned to the boat, Steve worked on our spotlight, but could not get it to work, so we had no bright light to attract the lobster. I guess we will have to postpone that adventure. Instead we just sat in the cockpit in the late afternoon simply enjoying the sunset in this incredibly beautiful spot.

We left fairly early in the morning and continued around and began to go up the east side. This shore is very barren with no motus, just the fringing reef. There are two shipwrecks on this piece of the reef. You can still see some of the steel structure but much of them is gone. Steve and I were discussing what it must have been like to be in the ship when it hit the reef--how terrifying.

A little bit further up the east side we came to Mr Assam's Pearl Farm. We read about him in the guide book and wanted to stop by. We arrived on Sunday around noon so we just enjoyed the afternoon on the boat since we didn't want to interrupt their Sunday. Monday morning the workers were hard at it by 6 a.m., but we waited until 8 o'clock to go ashore. As soon as we pulled up, one of the young men asked if we wanted Mr. Assam, and we said that we did. He pointed to the house, so we walked up the beach and there we met Alfred Assam, the son. He greeted us warmly and took us to meet his mother. Mrs. Assam was a lovely woman who was so warm and friendly. She spoke limited English but smiled all the time and tried very hard to converse with us. Mr. Assam was working somewhere so Alfred got us drinks and we sat down at a table on the beach. We spent about an hour talking with him about the business and the history of how his family came to Apataki. He then invited us to tour the workshop. He explained every step of the process and took us inside where two young ladies from China were performing grafts and implanting the "seed." Then the oysters are tied inside a plastic mesh cylinder to protect them from fish--about 30 to a cylinder. They had loaded the boat with cylinders, and Alfred asked if we would like to go out in the boat with them. We were thrilled to join them.

We went out in a boat much like the pangas in Mexico. Alfred was driving and there were four young men (one of them was Alfred's son Tony) as well. Tony and another young man went into the water, and as they were handed two cylinders at a time, they would dive down and attach them to a line that runs under the water at a depth of about 6-10 feet. We believe they put in about 30 cylinders. After that, they began pulling other cylinders up from the lines. Obviously, these oysters were ready to harvest pearls. Alfred explained that it takes about five years for the oyster to fully mature to produce a pearl. We also learned that each pearl farm is very protective about the details of its business.

We returned to shore, and Alfred went and picked up coconuts. He then cut the tops off and brought them to the table. Mrs. Assam brought us straws, and we sat and enjoyed fresh coconut juice. We then met Mr. Assam. He took us to tour the chicken pens, the drying racks for coconuts and a seed that is used for body and facial oils, and their garden containers. They also had date palms, avocado trees, olive trees, pompelmoose, which are very much like grapefruits, as well as banana, mango, and papaya trees. Mrs. Assam had herbs growing in containers. Steve then went out back with Mr. Assam to help him husk coconuts to be shipped out of the village the next day. Steve really enjoyed that task. By now, Alfred had to get back to the oysters, and it was time for lunch so we thanked them for all their hospitality. Before we could leave, Alfred gave us three lovely fish for our lunch. We thanked him again and said goodbye.

We are our lunch and then pulled the anchor to head to the northeast corner of the lagoon for the night. We arrived around 4:30, which is getting a little late in the day to spot the coral heads in the water; however, we made it with no problems. We had had a full day and were tired, but we enjoyed every minute of this day.

We got underway around 8:30 this morning so that we could make it back to the village by afternoon, but we were able to sail despite winds that were running between 5 and 10 knots. We got out the spinnaker and had a lovely sail for about 2 hours. We then motored for awhile because the wind died way down. When we turned to head south again, the wind was on the beam, so we pulled out the jib and had a lovely beam reach the rest of the way back.

In the morning we will head to Toau atoll for a couple of days.

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