Lazy Days in Makemo

Makemo makes all the effort of sailing worth it. We left the village Sunday of last week, dodging bommies for three hours as we traveled northwest along the interior coast of the lagoon to a remote anchorage 15 miles away. Bommies are coral heads, and they’re everywhere, massive crescent reefs rising from the lagoon floor, knobs dotting the beach. They’re colonized with fish and make for amazing snorkeling, and the water is clear and comfortable, swimming is a dream, but since many rise to a height of only a foot or two underwater they’re treacherous for a boat underway.

We left early, so we’d have morning light astern, providing ideal conditions for sighting bommies. The wind was extremely light so we had to motor the whole way. Given the danger of unmarked reefs just below the water line, and potentially disastrous effects of hitting one, the three hours underway involved constant vigilance: one of us at the bow in full sun protection gear spotting bommies with a fervor we should really reserve for pirates, and the other at the helm, avoiding the larger bommies that are charted on our GPS plotter.

Luckily the viewing conditions were good and all but five of the approximately 50 bommies we spotted were marked on our digital charts, so Helios made the trip unscathed. We arrived at the anchorage and dropped the hook with five other boats, a mix of old friends from Nuku Hiva and new faces. We went for a walk along the beach. The picture of the island involves five stripes of color, deep blue water, turquoise shallows, pinkish sand, green palm trees, cyan sky. We had a bonfire that night on the beach with our fellow cruisers, and the next morning we snorkeled the detached reef flourishing on a sand spit that stretches a perpendicular quarter mile out from the beach.

The coral and fish are exquisite. There are so many kinds, needle fish and moorish idols, trigger fish and a handful of black tipped reef sharks. During our first snorkel session we saw both a smaller, three foot shark that made a wide loop around us—maybe curious about the enormous masked mammals in the water, maybe interested in the butterfly fishes on the bommy. The larger was five or six feet, and seemed oblivious to our presence. Despite Dominic’s dive knife and hand spear, we remained peaceful and attempted calm. Seeing sharks is like seeing a near-miss on the freeway, there’s danger and people’s lives involved, wide-eyes and the feeling of heart beats, but in a moment it’s over and fine and a tense moment goes swimming away. The sharks weren’t spooked by us, but they showed no real interest and both promptly fled the scene, leaving me feeling like things are low on the danger scale overall. A feeling I’m grateful for, because snorkeling is a favorite activity for both us.

We hiked across the island to the exposed shore, finding a rocky, coral beach featuring tide pools, eels, and hermit crabs, as well as an assortment of plastic bottles, crates, hard hats, and a scuba diving GI Joe washed ashore. We found a turn of the twentieth century cemetery and a staked stone foundation. We returned to the dinghy to find that all the other boats in the anchorage had left, and aside from a few locals harvesting coconuts on the beach, we had the place to ourselves.

We celebrated by taking the next two days off and hanging out on a a beach just beyond the reef. It is a perfect sliver of sand, dividing the palm trees from hundreds of yards of shallow, warm, translucent water. We brought our novels, water toys, plenty of snacks, and took it super easy, chasing a baby shark in the shallows and using our dinghy anchor to keep our floaty chairs from drifting away.

We were planning to leave Saturday, but the weather picked up Friday night and has spent three days blowing like snot, 30 to 35 knots. Luckily, it's just reinforced easterly trades blowing offshore. At our current anchorage, the wind chop is tolerable since we are well protected. Moving on from our current location, we realized, would not be safe nor fun with so much wind, requiring us to exit Makemo and enter the next atoll in heavy conditions, as well as avoid other small atolls along the way. Plus, the winds extend throughout the archipelago, so we would have a sketchy trip, and then we’d be sitting at anchor there just as we are doing here. While waiting for the wind to fade, Dominic performed a little dinghy surgery, and we’ve been getting caught up on the SSB net, reading, writing emails, swimming, relaxing, and enjoying paradise.