|Toau Atoll, Tuamotus
|Update from Toau, Anse Amyot, Tuamotus, June 4th, 2005
We enjoyed the Marquesas and bid farewell to Nuku Hiva to head to the Tuamotus. We were
apprehensive about going to the Tuamotus (also known as the dangerous archipelago) because of what
some cruising friends were encountering as far as weather and anchoring challenges (among other things
- anchor chain wrapped around coral heads) . These atolls have lagoons that you can anchor in. You
must time your entrance into the lagoons through a pass at slack tide so that you are not fighting an
ebbing current nor losing control with eddies and such with a rising tide. Then once you get in the
lagoons, you must be vigilant for coral heads that are strewn all over the place. And if the wind pipes up
(which is does this time of year and for several days at a time) and you are in northern end of the miles-
long lagoon, you will be on the receiving end of wind-driven waves that are very hard on the anchoring
gear. There is not an option of moving to a more protected anchorage because you may not be able to
pick your way through the coral heads now that the water has been stirred up and visibility going to nil. In
previous years, there have been many stories of people losing their boats to the reefs. Although we are
adventurous to a point, we didn’t want the stress of this type of cruising, so we had made ourselves
content with the plan that if the weather was not ideal in the Tuamotus, we would keep on going to Tahiti.
We knew we would be sad to miss the Tuamotus—with its very clear water and fantastic snorkeling and
spear-fishing. But, we had decided that we weren’t in the right spirit to face the stress.
We had one stress situation in the Marquesas. We had to move the boat in the middle of a squall in the
anchorage in Nuku Hiva because another boat got way too close to us. We experienced reanchoring the
boat in the crowded anchorage at 3 a.m. with winds gusting to 30 knots , driving rain and anchoring in 60
feet of water. Although, Emily, Lou and I worked well together during this maneuver, we realized stress
prevention was the best medicine. Martin slept through it all. I handled the stress okay until the next
morning when I found out the other boat, who anchored the middle of the fleet, close to other boats, did
not have an operating windlass (the winch used to bring up the anchor). They neglected to share the
information about the windlass with us when we were communicating via radio, in the middle of the storm. It
was an important bit of information, because the unwritten boater’s rule is that if you are the most recent
arrival, you should be the one to move your boat if and when two boats get too close, unless you are
clearly dragging anchor. Fortunately, Lou and I were operating on the premise that all we cared about was
the safety of Ace and her crew—to heck with unwritten guidelines. Oh well, fortunately our encounters
with this type of inconsiderate and clueless boater have been rare.
We topped up on diesel (at $4.00 per gallon!). The passage from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus is only
550 miles. You like that ONLY—yes, our third longest passage, but hey, anything less than 10 days feels
like an overnighter. We had been gathering the data on weather and had seen a nice weather window,
although the forecast was for light winds. The light winds did us just fine. We had winds anywhere from 6-
15 knots outside of squalls. The most we saw in a squall was 25 knots. We were using our 25-year-old
spinnaker a fair bit, although we had decided not to fly it at night because of the squalls. Lou had noticed
some of the seams needed reinforcement. They had lost the double stitch. Next time we were flying it, it
ripped all the way across, in only 12 kts of wind. We hope to repair her soon. We never got into the nice
rhythm we have experienced on other passages. We had to use many different sail configurations. We
were having to watch for squalls. And basically, we were apprehensive about where we were going. And
yes, we had some more fights with Martin. (We are headed in a new direction now with Martin, Lou and I all
invested in making this work).
Our last night of the passage we had to slow way down so we would make our entrance during daylight.
We sailed through a squall that lasted about 2.5 hours. There was lots of rain and wind that came from
every direction and at every velocity (but max 20 knots).
We knew a couple of boats that were ecstatic about the anchorage at Anse Amyot, Toau. Why were they
ecstatic? The pass can be traversed at any tide. There are secure moorings. Anse Amyot is a cul-de-
sac. You did not have to negotiate through coral heads to get to the anchorage. And the southeast winds
were blowing (and were forecast to blow to 25 knots) and there wasn’t a fetch. Sounds like the place for
And now to describe this paradise: Think of all the shades of blue you can think of. You see all these
shades in the water surrounding the atoll and in the lagoon—deep blue (black purple), turquoise,
sapphire, aquamarine. And the sky is a clear blue dotted with puffy white clouds (that sometimes combine
with other puffy whites and make rain). I’m going to ask the locals if they have as many words for blue like
the Eskimos have many words for snow. The atoll is flat (which makes Emily happy—no hikes uphill!)
unless she wants to climb a coconut tree. And fish—let me tell you about fish—think of the prettiest of
aquarium you have ever seen—and that is where we are living right now!
This motu on the atoll of Toau is populated by 14 people There are two families living here. The
matriarch (Violet), her daughters (Valentine and Liza) and their husbands and families all live in an area
no larger than a city block. It is a family and they are living close together and they are living on land that
was given to them by their father. So, you know there are conflicts. But, they are very loving Every
morning they greet us with a bon jour and a kiss on each cheek. To heck with hugs—one of the things the
French do right is physical affection. So, watch out—next time we see you—we’ll be going for the
Valentine has a wonderful spirit. She found her salvation with the Pentecostals, even though she was
raised Santisto (similar to the Mormons). She had a challenging life before this, and like most of us, the
trouble was self- imposed. She officiates at church every Sunday in her house. She does a beautiful
job. And she really likes to live in gratitude to God for all that has been giver to her. She is a pleasure to
Valentine’s husband, Gaston is full of energy and does a lot of work everyday. Objectively, Lou thinks that
Gaston has a wonderful existence. Gaston does a variety of things everyday—building things, repairing
things, going to get fish, playing volleyball. The fish are in a trap. He goes to the trap and picks out the
fish du jour. Lou helped Gaston build the church on this motu. They had a good time working together
even though Lou’s French is non-existent and Gaston knows just a few words in English.
Liza is a character. I like her. She likes to laugh and that is one of my favorite things to do also. When
she asks me about the US, she doesn’t ask about the USA, but she asks about how things are on our
island. Now that is a different perspective. The biggest piece of land she has ever been on is Hawaii. Isn’t
that amazing? It is for a Kansas girl!
On the first day we arrived, we were invited to a feast that they would prepare for us for $20 per person.
The children were free. Yes, that sounds pricey, but that is the way it is in French Polynesia. And Yum
what a feast we had. There was lobster, curried clams, BBQ clams, coconut grouper, coconut cake and
Polynesian dancing by the daughters. Martin brought his guitar and we sang! My favorite song to sing
with them is Michael Row Your Boat Ashore! They really harmonize on the “Hallelujahs!”
One of the cruisers does Yoga every morning on her boat. We started going into shore every morning
and doing yoga with the local women (moms and daughters). We also had a Polynesian dance class.
Emily came along and I thoroughly embarrassed her. In the afternoon, they play volleyball. It is a very
competitive, intense 10 games (at least) volleyball. Lou enjoys playing. I enjoy having the boat to myself!
When the winds were blowing, it made for a wet dinghy ride into shore. We would put on our raincoats to
try and stay dry. The winds kept it very cool on the boat—relatively. It was strange not to be sweating so
We traded some things for several black pearls. They have a black pearl farm on another family-owned
motu a few miles away. They seed the pearls with a Mississippi River mussel graft. It takes about 18
months to form a pearl. Lou and Martin got to go help work on the pearl farm. And I had a blast trading
stuff for the pearls. I have no idea what they are “worth”, but they are very special to me now.
Martin has found a new passion- spear fishing. He has a new spear that is just his size. And he has made
a new friend, Hei Mana (Mana for short). Mana is 22 years old and is the nephew of Valentine. Martin
loves to go spear fishing with Mana. Mana can free dive to 50 feet, and he tows a half-barrel with floats
into which he throws his catch. If Mana isn’t available, Martin and Lou also have a good time getting our
dinner. Mana lives on a little shack right on the water, with a dock for his boat. Martin envies the way
Mana does dishes. He throws them off the back porch into crystal clear, shallow water, where the fish
clean them for him. He collects them the next morning and lets them air dry. Voila, dishes are done.
Emily is very pleased that they have a bike on the island. She is planning her circumnavigation of the
island, but will need to clear quite a few coconuts from the path! She also has had a great time with the
local girls/young women (ages 16 and 21). They have taught her Polynesian dancing (without mom
around!) and how to make coconut bread. She loves to swim with the other kids at the dock. Since she
and Martin are the smallest, they get launched into the air and come splashing down.
We have eaten the coconut crab. This is a land crab that eats coconuts. It is a very oily crab, because of
its diet. You don’t have to dip it in butter. We have also hunted for and eaten the varo. We’ll include a
picture with this update. It is one of the most prehistoric critters you have ever seen. It lives in a hole that
it digs underwater in the sand. The hunter (in this case, Gaston the brave!) must lure it out of its hole with
bait and then grab it and hold on to it so it doesn’t whack him with its pincers. Yikes! The meat is similar to
Lou and I snorkeled in a pass that had 100-150 foot visibility—moorish idols (my favorites!), wrasses,
groupers, convict fish, squirrel fish, butterfly fish, parrot fish, white tipped and black tipped sharks—were
among the creatures we were swimming with. It was beautiful!
There is a lot of drug use in French Polynesia. I think specifically it is alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.
French Polynesia has criminalized the use of marijuana and the dealing of marijuana. It always makes me
ponder whether we are treating this disease correctly—with punishment versus prevention. Prevention in
the form of giving people the tools to help them cope with the challenges of life. I believe these tools are
spiritual, mental and emotional. As far as we’re concerned, the people living in these islands have a
wonderful existence. They have a beautiful place to live and wonderful food from the sea. It is difficult to
grow very many fruits and vegetables in the Tuamotus. So, their diet is not very healthy. And the biggest
travesty was the nuclear bomb testing that was done in these beautiful atolls . Liza’s husband worked on
the motu of Moruroa (where the testing was done) about 25 years ago. His job was digging holes—deep
holes into the motu. He did not know what he was helping to make. There seems to be a lot of cancer in
the Tuamotus. I think the correlation is being ignored.
Lou and I read “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel, Mary read Isaac’s Storm (about the 1900 hurricane that hit
Galveston) and The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
Emily is reading Lord Brocktree by Brian Jaques, and she read “Blue is for Nightmare” by Laurie Stolarz,
and “Crusader” by Edward Bloor
Martin is reading “Pacific Island Legends”.
|Valentine and her husband, Gaston,
carting a huge water tank back to their
island from another motu.
|Emily and one of the young women
who lives on Toau, Vaya, taking a
yoga class led by our friend TIna, from
the boat Scud.
|Martin meets their pet grouper, Nicola!
Gaston walked out on a broken pier,
and started slapping the water. He
then walked back to the boat, with this
little fella following him! Nicolas is tame
and would even let us pet him!
|Vaya, Emily and Kate, making peanut
butter cookies! Yum!
|Valentine, surveying the pearls they
collected at the pearl farm.
|Martin and Heimana, filleting the fish
|Lou with the varo that Gaston plucked
out of it's hole.
|One of the other motus near Anse
|A gorgeous morning dawns in the
Tuamotus, with the sky reflected on
the glassy water.
|Mary and Davina, Valentine's
daughter, who is a beautiful
dancer and taught all the ladies
some Polynesian dancing!