The Other Side, But Not of the Coin

Saturday the wind is still blowing hard, but more steadily and the cloud are no longer dripping rain all day. Early morning we once again weigh anchor and this time we’re trying to get a head start on things by motor sailing the first leg of the shipping channel. Since the sun raises in the East visibility of underwater features is almost none, so we’re once again blindly following spots marked electronically on our GPS. It’s a slow affair heading into the fresh breeze with only the weaker of our two outboard motors working, but by ten o’clock the result of our strategy is paying off and we are able to shut the motors off. By now the light blue and green coral patches are clearly visible in our path. They appear as a thin line in the darker, deeper water just underneath the horizon and as Aluna draws nearer to them they spread out into an impressionist painting of the most vibrant colors just underneath the surface. As dangerous as they are to navigation as beautiful they are to the eye. Some sport only a single dark yellow head while others are so wide we had to tack in front of them in order not to have to turn back away from the wind towards where we had just come from. Towards mid afternoon it was once again becoming clear that one day is not enough to sail across this immense lagoon, but this time we were armed with the knowledge that we could anchor for the night along the Northern shore. Since it was Sunday the following day however we would have to stay put until Monday in order not to offend the delicate local Christian doctrine. So we were now sailing straight towards that strip of coconut palms to the North. The closer it came the more it started to take on the air of the perfect South Sea vacation travel agency calendar picture. We were now in the lee of it, the water flat as a lake and the winds just puffing peacefully. The color of the water turned from dark blue to lighter tones, the coral heads now instead of being lighter than its surroundings started to appear as darker spots, but by now they were actually just small protrusions on a smooth sandy bottom that slowly rose up from the depths of the lagoon, which at places surpasses seventy meters, towards the white beaches under the palm trees. I had Beatriz take the wheel and stood anchor in hand on the fore beam, looking down into the blue green tapestry for a suitable spot to plant the hook. There was enough to choose from.

Our main anchor, a Bruce claw type, still stuck in the coral outside the pass where we had to abandon it, we were now anchoring with a Danforth, which is a plate anchor with two triangular flukes pivoting on a rod that protrudes quite a bit on either side, pivoting at the crown of a shaft. I like them for their graceful way of descending through the water like a glider or a kite of our childhood, with the chain appearing weightless like its tail trailing behind. A little tiny mechanical manta ray too, maybe.

The sun was now setting in its usual spectacular way and the night was peaceful, quiet and calm and we felt safe enough to truly rest for the first time in almost a month since leaving the protection of Hakatea Bay back with our boar hunter friends. So we decided to side with the local discipline and took Sunday off, from work that is, not from having fun! It was exploring time. With our trusty old inflatable canoe we paddled over to the beach and set out exploring this lonesome stretch of the atoll. Behind the thicket of palm trees we found to our surprise a series of small lakes with coffee colored water, which terminated on the other side in fields of study knee-high bushes. Those grew over a bed of dark grey coral junks, sharp edged enough to make walking over them akin to a circus act. We tried hard to traverse them Cirque du Soleil style, not exposing any animals to the unnecessary danger of cutting their shins and elbows when stumbling and falling down on them. To the North of us those junks slowly became smaller in size and rose up to a moraine of bright white coral rubble, from where we could finally see the sea, crashing heavily white onto a ledge of rust colored coral reef. Inside of the breaking waves there is always a stretch of shallow reef, where the waves disperse every joule of energy they incorporated in their long journey across the oceans, rippling over pools between the most hallucinating shapes of dark brown lime stone sculptures. Black sea cucumbers with a coat of grey sand on their skin call this their home and with little tentacles protruding from their good end they seem to be grazing like aphonic cows on a pasture land up in the alps of Switzerland. There are green blue parrot fish too, busy grazing themselves on coral critters, dislodging minuscule grains of the reefs limestone skeleton and therefore helping to create those lovely white beaches the herds of honeymooners love, and the sandy seafloors in front of them too, where the cruising folks love to nest because it holds their anchors tight. Many smaller fish of any imaginable color dart around and there goes even a black tipped reef shark pursuing its prey of opportunity in barely half a foot of water!

On the way back my machete slammed into the husk of some green coconuts lying around everywhere and we drank the delightful milk. A couple more strokes of the bush knife and we scooped the tender meat, which is most delicious where it has the translucent color of white jellybeans. Our friends the tupa crabs were also plentiful, hiding in their dug out homes as soon as we came in sight. We had feasted on them back in the Marquesas, here they seemed to be smaller in size, not worth the while to pursue gastronomically. Eating these critters is a laborious way of nurturing he human body and diminishing in size they definitely sink below the threshold of culinary interest. We would learn the next day though that they do make good bait for hooking tasty white parrotfish that live right under our anchored boat!

This place was so peaceful and the resting so sweet, we decided to stay on Monday and do a small repair at the upper tip of the small main sail, which had started to come apart, its area of tarp obviously having been exposed to the sun and shaken in the wind too long. We were just getting to the task of sewing on the patch when an outboard powered aluminum skiff comes riding our way from the village of Tautua, which we can see from where we are. After all, we’re probably just a mile and a half away from it and they must have been curious about us visiting their wilderness. The visitors are Saitun, one of the village elders, Rosalyn of girly age, and Larry, skipper of Tao 8, a Canadian flagged sailboat that has been anchored at Tautua for the last couple months. Apart from having come over to check us out they also came with a much nobler mission. They wanted to make sure that we had enough to eat! So Saitun inquired about our fishing gear and insisted in putting it to maximum use. Soon we were skipping over the wavelets up and down the beach under a dark grey sky what had begun to drizzled softly with one of my last remaining lures trolling behind. After just one turn the line stiffened and we hauled in a sizable fish. The thin line on my cane was not up to the task though and shortly before being able to land our catch it broke away. Saitun resolve was unbroken. “Let’s get some bait!”, was his predicament. We landed on the beach and stumbled across rotting palm fronds looking for tupa crabs unfortunate enough to have ventured too far their burrows to hide in a quick spurt when spotting us with their elevated eyes, a sideway spurt that is, of course, as any crab motion is. Little Rosalyn was best at it and Saitun crushed three specimen, then assembled the mush in a rusty tin can found also lying around. Back aboard Aluna the nimble hands of this heavy set man assembled a simple hand line with swivel, hook and lead weight, each hook baited quite heavily with dripping crab meat. He sat down on the after deck on the port hull, and before Larry had a chance to present his case in any way or form a howler came from back there requesting a bucked for storing the first of three fish he would land in less then ten minutes. Two white Parrotfish and one sizable Surgeon lie gaping in the bucket, two of which would later decorate our dinner plate, while the third left in the hands of Larry for feasting on it with his wife Angie.

Nurtured by this local nutrition we were now ready for the final leg of the journey across the lagoon. We started once the sun had sufficiently risen above the horizon to make the coral heads visible under its path, which is pretty much where we were headed. Although the taking angles meant that we never had to sail directly into the sun and after an hour or two the sun was high enough up in the sky to allow visibility all around. It was a beautiful sail, with the big mainsail proudly up in the light breeze. The little houses of Tautua slowly grew bigger, but so did the dark squall cloud right behind them. But we did make to the beach in front of it just in time to drop the anchor into the clear and turquoise waters and lower the sails before the wind and downpour hit. Sheltered behind the fringe of palm trees however, the effect of that squall was practically nil and lunch was delicious below deck.

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