Monday, November 5, 2012

Paradise Found in the Dangerous Archipelago

Position: 10°28'S, 142°51'W

Manihi is just like those exotic desert islands you see in the postcards, with palm trees bending over white coral beaches and clear water gradually turning to light blue and turquoise.

We took the dinghy to shore and wandered between the trees and colourful shrubs that somehow manage to survive in the volcanic and coral soil. Small huts were hidden among palm trees; some inhabited, some long deserted. Here and there we stepped over fishing buoys and nets, remnants of the once thriving black pearl industry on the atoll. On the ocean side of the land, an orange plateau extended from the white coral beach for 100 metres before dropping off suddenly into the Pacific Ocean. The scenery would take your breath away in any part of the world and seemed even more impressive when we thought about where we were – on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere within a huge ocean! Photos to follow next week when we reach land.

The small population of Manihi is based mainly in the tiny village of Pauea which consists of two shops, a bakery, a town hall, primary school and a Catholic Church (and yes, we went to mass). We took a walk around one afternoon and admired the efforts that the local people have made to keep the village neat, clean and organised e.g. recycling collection points, colourful flowers and shrubs, whitewashed walls of well-kept houses. While the island is by no means affluent, we got the impression that people in Manihi have enough to get by and take pride in working together to make their island a better place to live.

Another day we sheltered from a sudden downpour in the bakery and chatted to a local lady about the island. She explained that the last thirty years have been very good on Manihi due to the black pearl industry (French Polynesia's pearl farming industry began here in the late 1960s) and the opening of a hotel resort on the island. At one time there was a daily flight from Tahiti to Manihi. However today the island's pearl farms have closed and the island's hotel closed in October. There is now just one flight to Tahiti every three days and many of the locals are moving to other islands to find work. It was sad to hear this but she seemed quite stoic, saying "Don't worry, something else will come along, it always does." Desert island living sure does toughen you up.

Many reports from other sailors mentioned the high risk of fouling our anchor (getting it stuck) on the coral seabed at Manihi lagoon so the Skipper dug out his snorkelling gear to check out our situation. We had already spotted lots of colourful tropical fish near to shore, darting away as we came close. However our encounters with sealife got a lot more interesting when a shark popped up from beneath the boat just as the Skipper was getting into the water. Lightning speed would probably come close to describing how quickly he jumped back into the cockpit, before realising that it was just a baby, a reef shark about 50cm long. Harmless really, but don't babies have Mummies and Daddies??? 'Reefy' hung around for a while but didn't seem to have brought his mates so Skipper got his game face on (now calling himself the Shark Hunter!) and braved a dive down to find that our anchor was fine, stuck on a coral head alright but removable.

We're back at sea now, slowly making our way to the Marquesas in easterly winds. It's taking longer than it should but the swell is slight, the sun is shining and we're enjoying some pleasant sailing.

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