Wednesday, May 20, 2009

From s/v Circadia

If God was a slacker, or believed in working smart not hard, the world would be like the Tuamotu Archipelago.
A coral atoll is an ecology starter set: slide a tectonic plate over a tropical oceanic hot spot, throw rain at the resulting island for a few hundred million years until there's nothing left but the surrounding coral reef. Let the coral build on itself, creating a protected inland sea, where life flourishes and washes up on the shore, making land on which a few species of plants can get a toehold; watch the plants drop pieces of themselves, grow and die, making more soil. Throw in a couple of species of land crabs that scuttle around in the undergrowth, digging burrows. Wing over some birds, which evolve into few species of fruit dove, a blue lorikeet, and a Darwin's finch-like collection of drab but eloquent reed-warblers and you have the perfect world:
gentle beaches, shallows filled with brilliant fish, and a forest where you can harvest heart of palm and coconuts. If you grow tired of fish you can eat the crabs, which taste like coconut fed lobster. (We haven't had crab yet, but Tavish and Farlyn collected heart of palm and hand extracted coconut cream from fresh coconuts the other day).

We are on the island of Apataki. We shot through the northern pass three days ago and have been sailing its inland shore-kind of unnerving, as great heads of coral turn up randomly, in twenty feet of water, in fifty feet of water, a mile out
They are like reefs back home except with knife edged serrations which, sailing along slowly at 5 or 6 knots, can open a hull. Tavish climbs up onto the first set of spreaders on these passages, scanning the water ahead of us constantly.
Apataki is eight miles wide and fifteen miles long. At times the ring of land dwindles to open reef and white sand bars which barely hold back the outer ocean, a line of white surf suspended above the radiant blue of the inner shallows. At other times the far shore disappears and it seems we are sailing to the edge of an infinity pool.

Most of the island is uninhabited. But last night we went out to dinner. We anchored in a bay where boaters can go to shore and have dinner (not coconut crabs or heart of palm, but steak frites) prepared by a local family. The main livelihood of the family is cultivating pearls, an industry which sustains much of the Tuomotus though it is has its ups and downs. A handful of black pearls is irresistible-they are cool and dense and have the dark iridescence of gasoline: purple, green, blue, copper. Most get shipped to Tahiti then on to the international pearl market in China. Two tiny ones will be coming home with me.
Tomorrow we will stop to provision in the local village before leaving the atoll for the open passage to Tahiti. Should be a couple of days sail to Papeete. Talk to you then


canayjun/elain said...

I dont know why, but I haven't checked in for a while. My friend Anne was over, and asked if you were giving any courses this summer and it triggered me to finally made it! Such great memories for no's, and the humidity! there were days I blessed the air conditioning in my small cabin. Take care of those small cuts and stuff.. you don't want to end up like me! Sweet memories of those amazing volcanic peaks of the Marquessas, and I am glad you got a peak at the Aranui, my home for two weeks.

Alison Watt said...

hi elain
we're in Papeete now. Say hi to Anne for me. I plan to send out my course schedule once I get to Hawaii, (late June) thought it was just too hard for people to get back to me until then. I'm still thinking--might do a painting in the garden weekend and (will definitely) repeat my 3 day, painting the large canvas.
ps cuts and bites are mending..

Julie Zickefoose said...

CSN's "Southern Cross" is playing in my mind as I read this. I love your timelapse description of an atoll island.