The so-called Kon-Tiki Island. A small, simple monument to Heyerdahl’s expedition sits in a small clearing in the middle of the motu.

Two and a half days’ trip to get here from Omoa, Fatu Hiva. We skipped a final provisioning and beer run in Omoa, as once inside the bay we could see formidable-looking breakers pounding the shore around what looked like the town, and a powerful-looking swell surging onto the ramp that probably serves as the general-purpose dinghy landing. To boot, the landing was much farther outside town than would be possible to walk with an armload of supplies, and there weren’t a bunch of taxis, or any vehicles for that matter, milling around waiting for scruffy cruisers to take their chances getting ashore. So, no beer. Life’s tough all over, no?

We had 10-15 kt wind at the start, but within five or six hours we were motorsailing. The wind dropped off quickly, though; at one point we saw 2 kts or less. Then on the third night out (we left Omoa in the afternoon, aiming to time our arrival outside the pass at Raroia to occur at about 0800) in a spell of light and variable breeze after a sequence of squalls, we suddenly got hit with a 30+ kt blast from dead astern. Another squall.

Some background: In contrast to the massive volcanic peaks and crags and lush vegetation of the Marquesas, the Tuamotus are atolls. An atoll is a collection of reefs and small, low-lying islands (motus) forming a ring that represents the rim of a volcanic crater that barely pokes up past the surface of the ocean. Inside the rim is a lagoon. Many atolls have a navigable “pass,” or entryway, into the lagoon; some have two or three passes. Similar to navigating some spots in British Columbia such as Seymour Narrows, to get through safely you figure as best you can when slack water will occur, figure where the pass is deepest, and aim to get through at slack or preferably, with a slight current against you. (Motoring against a slight counter current allows for much better control of the boat than would be the case if the boat were being carried along by a following current.)

Once inside the lagoon, you still need to pay close attention – coral reefs abound, and while the lagoon might look completely open and hazard-free, you still need to wind your way around. Having a spotter or two on deck and having the sun reasonably high in the sky are essential. At least in this lagoon the reefs are obvious in good light – the water takes on a much lighter, turquoise color, making the reefs easy to spot.

And when you get ready to drop the hook, you need to do your best to avoid anchoring where many coral heads, or “bommies,” dot the bottom. You don’t want to foul your anchor chain on bommies, partly so as to not damage the coral and partly to make sure you can get away quickly at any time of day or night should the need arise. And it does arise – abrupt and strong wind shifts do occur, and you can suddenly find yourself on a lee shore or dragging down on one hazard or another.

Anyway, we made it through the pass just fine, powering through against about 3.5 or 4 knots of current, and crossed the lagoon over to near what’s known as Kon Tiki Island. It’s a motu (islet) on the southeastern edge of the atoll, known as the spot where Thor Heyerdahl’s raft came aground in 1947, ending his famous Kon Tiki expedition. He had sailed from the Peruvian coast to demonstrate that Polynesians could have migrated from South America, a contrarian notion to the more commonly held idea that Polynesians originated in Asia. No one really knows.

The Raroia lagoon measures about 7 miles across by 20 miles long. It’s entertaining to try to imagine the magnitude of the volcanic event(s) that occurred here x million years ago, given the size of the crater.

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