Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Last Stop in the Tuamotos, Apataki

Surf at Pakaka Pass, Apataki

After leaving Fakarava, we had a great sail over to the atoll called Toau, stopping overnight at the small inlet known as Amse Amyot.  There is no pass to get into this spot as it’s more a closed basin in the reef where an enterprising family has provided some mooring balls and will make dinner for cruisers if there are enough to make it worthwhile.  We got there just as the sun was setting and so had to pick a spot pretty quickly.  The wind had been in the 20’s all day, so there was a lot of water coming out of the lagoon – making it seem like we were in the middle of a raging river.  The family was motioning for us to pick up one of their mooring balls – which in the middle of a 4-5 knot current can be pretty challenging, but I’m happy to report the captain made it seem easy.  Trusting that unknown mooring ball overnight in the 4-5 knot current with winds still in the 20-30 knot range – not so easy!  I can tell you that I did not exactly experience a good night’s sleep, but thankfully it did hold and all was well in the morning.  Knowing the conditions were unlikely to change for the next two days, we decided not to push our luck and so left for Apataki.  

The town at Apataki
With winds in the 17-20 knot range and a 7 foot swell, we had a nice downwind trip to the south pass called Pakaka Pass.  The atoll of Apataki is about 18 miles (north to south) by 15 miles and we hadn’t heard much about it – except for the fact that the south pass can be pretty tough if the winds have been high (which they had).  After careful consultation on when slack tide would occur (and you know how successful we’ve been with that if you’ve read my last post!), we approached the south pass.  Seeing a local paddle out of the pass in his outrigger canoe, we decided to go for it.  Even though the surf was running pretty high, it looked passable.

Passing port to port...
Pakaka pass is actually a two part pass as there is the main outer reef, followed by an open area where the town is, and then there is another pass through a narrow reef which will actually take you into the lagoon.  We got through the outer reef with no issues – unless you count our hearts stopping when we discovered that the local supply ship had decided to exit the pass right as we were entering.  After a brief radio discussion, we passed port to port and thankfully had enough room – but it still made the heart go pitter patter!  

It felt like we went as slow as this hermit crab!
While the “town” area looked pretty nice, we had our sights set on the south end of the lagoon, which would be more protected in the high winds.  Unfortunately, we would have to get through the inner pass to get there.  The book we have reads as follows, “On the lagoon side of the pass it bends toward the south, with a coral bank of 6 to 7 meters provoking an acceleration of outflowing current.”  As we approached, doing our standard 2000 RPM’s on the engine, we started to experience the….um……”accelerated outflow “, especially pronounced by the excess of water in the lagoon due to the recent high winds.   About half way through we really started to lose momentum – five knots…..four knots……….3 knots……..2  knots…….”Um – honey, I think we need to bump up our RPM’s!”, but Brett was already there, pushing up to about 2800 RMP’s.  Unfortunately it’s not enough……1 knot…..1/2 a knot…..it’s not looking good.  Did I mention how wide it is here?  About 40 feet…..and the current is slowly pushing us sideways towards the reef.  There are no pictures of this part because we are fully focused on just trying to get through.  We bump it up to 3200 RPM’s and are now barely making about ½ a knot against the current.  After about 10 minutes of excruciatingly slow progress, we finally begin to pick up speed and make it through without hitting anything.  Phew!!!  

Our little slice of heaven!
I’m happy to report the inner lagoon was worth every minute.  Since Apataki is a little “off the beaten path”, we saw very few other boats and it was absolutely breathtaking!  After a short sail, dodging various pearl farm buoys, we found a little slice of heaven in the south end, behind a motu called Rua Vahine.  We stayed here for four days and even thought the wind was howling almost the whole time, the spot was well protected and we hardly felt any swell.  When we first arrived there was a catamaran a ways off with some hard core kite boarders that were out in that wind almost non-stop.  You wouldn’t believe the air they were getting – check out the photo.  Amazing!   

Look at the height this
kite boarder is getting - wow!
After some great beachcombing and a few restful days at anchor, we decided to move up to the southeast corner where the only boat yard in the Tuamotos is located.  There is something really strange about seeing a bunch of masts peeking out of the palm trees, but this yard is well run by Assam and his family – who also happen to sell some of the best eggs I’ve bought yet!  As we were hunting around for a good spot to anchor (trying to avoid the MANY coral heads in the area), Assam’s son came out and quickly led us to one of their free mooring balls – which we later dove and found to be well placed and very strong.  The whole family was incredibly nice and eager to help us with anything we needed.  We stayed here for two days and had some great snorkeling around the end of the motu Omira.  What a beautiful spot!  

Our snorkeling buddy...
Leaving Assam and family behind we traveled up to the NE corner of Apataki – where there was not a soul to be seen for miles.  We found a lovely little spot to stay the night and enjoyed a spectacular sunset over the lagoon.  Unfortunately it was time to prepare the boat for the trip to Tahiti as high winds were again being predicted and we fervently wanted to avoid a repeat of our passage to the Tuamotos.  So we decided to leave while the winds were lighter and ended up having a really lovely passage to the Society Islands – what a nice change!

Sunset in the north end of Apataki
We were sorry to say goodbye to the Tuamotos – they are unbelievably beautiful and if we had one piece of advice for future cruisers, it would be to spend less time in the Marquesas and MORE time in this area.  It’s relatively untouched, the people are very kind and not nearly as affected by the tourism, so it just felt like a more “real” experience rather than one tailored to meet certain expectations.  While it was a little windy and the passes can be challenging, the landscapes are everything you ever dreamt of – absolute perfection.  This was our favorite spot (by a long shot) in our travels thus far…

Goodbye Tuamotos!


  1. Hi Stacey,

    I was thinking of you, and if you and your husband were sailing..and indeed you are! Wow, what wonderful places you've been. Ii hope your doing great and love the blog.

    Your old friend,


    1. Great to hear from you Abby!!! Hope you are well - would love to know what you are up to these days! :)