Friday 5 June 2015

A Memorable Dolphin Encounter and crossing to the Tuamotus

Friday June 5th 2015

The Melon Head Dolphins we encountered on the way to Anaho Bay, Nuku Hiva. Photo by SV Seabbatical

Before I tell you about the Tuamotus I need to tell you about the Melon Heads ! 

Sounds like a the name of an 80‘s punk band but I am actually refering to  the huge dolphin pod we encountered on the East Coast of Nuku Hiva. On our Way to Anaho Bay, our last anchorage before the Tuamotus, we had a pleasant day sail where we first were greeted by a pod of small grey and white dolphins. They did their usual fly by, just enough to delight us, for about 10 minutes, but less than 30 minutes later we were surprised to see more dolphins appear at our bow, they were of a much larger variety, grey like Bottlenose dolphins but with very round heads, (that’s were they get their name: the MelonHeads!) These very social dolphins stayed with us for about 90 minutes !  This was a fantastic display that Meg and MC simply could not get enough of !  We abandoned school for the morning and sat with them at the bow of the boat. These guys were so much fun and they didn’t want to leave us !  At one point the wind died and so did our speed, the boat was almost stopped and we couldn’t believe it, but the usually speedy dolphins actually stopped too!  They slowed , turned around and came to hang out at the boat , swimming around and waited with us for the wind to come up again !  Making eye contact with the dolphins was a very special thing, every once in a while, one of them would turn to his/her side and look right into my eyes !  Meg and I were beside ourselves, and we even belted out a few songs to show the dolphins our appreciation What song do you serenade a dolphin with you ask ? Well, since we were dealing with highly intelligent animals, we chose everyone’s favourite classical: “Ave Maria” followed by “Edelweiss”. I think they liked it !  We didn’t scare them away anyways!

While in Anaho we enjoyed a hike over the hill to the nearby village where we visited another ancient archeological site and saw an enormous tree ! We then headed off to the Tuamotus !

Meg and MC sing to the dolphins

They stayed with us for more than an hour !

A most memorable encounter !

MC and Meg conversing with the 'Melon Head's at Amelie's bow (Photo courtesy of SV Seabbatical)

3 day crossing to the Tuamotus: Mark to the rescue! 

He says to me: "I think there's water in the engine". He looks grim. This is Day One of a difficult three day crossing towards the Tuamotus, a group of Atolls (reef islands) south of the Marquesas. Difficult crossing because we are close hauled (almost into the wind), the winds are 20 and gusting to 30, and the swell is bigger than expected. MC's seasickness has made an unwelcomed come back and generally everything seems ALOT more difficult than our 20 day crossing from a month ago! At any rate, Mark made the disturbing discovery about water in the exhaust when our engine would not start. He thinks the constant battering of waves hitting us from the side have pushed water back up the exhaust and made it into the engine....somehow..."How can that be?" , I ask, "These boats are designed to get hit by waves, and its never happened before?" 

We don't know how it happened, but one thing's for sure, this problem HAS to be solved within the next 48 hours, or we can't stop at the Tuamotus. It would be insane to try to navigate the atoll passes and reefs without a reliable engine, our PLAN B would be to keep sailing and head towards the Society Islands(Tahiti) another 2 days away . 

It is 4 pm and we have less than 2 hours of daylight left before sunset, Mark gets to work right away. He has drained the exhaust and turned the engine over by hand to ensure all water has been cleared from the cylinders, but wants to get the engine started to try to get any remaining water out, but there is a problem with the starter now. He looks worried. Even within the fog of seasickness, I am not. I have been married to to this guy for a long time and I have 100% faith that if there is a guy who can fix this problem out here, it's Mark. The starter for the engine is located in a difficult place to work on it, but he won't let that stop him, only stopping to eat dinner, he trudges on. At almost midnight, I can hear the roar of the engine at is starts. As I am lying in my bunk, I smile, he did it! 

When I come up for my watch at 03:00 am, he is visibly more relieved, although covered in cuts and bruises on both his arms and chest. This is the cost of doing work in heavy seas while underway. He deserves a medal. 

The next day Mark spent doing oil change after oil change (3 so far, and he's planning another one after the engine has run a few more hours) as it looked like some water got into the oil. We keep all the used oil on board, for later disposal, and he had bought enough oil and filters back in Panama and Columbia so we are ok. Looks like we will be seeing the beautiful Tuamotus after all! Thankfully, it doesn't appear any damage to the engine was done, but he'll have to figure out how to prevent this from happening again, and we'll have the engine more thoroughly checked out when we get somewhere with better services. 

We are now anchored inside the atoll of Raroia. There are no words to describe this place. It is so immaculate that it looks fabricated. There is no one here, this island is mostly uninhabited, but there is a very small village about 6 miles from where we're anchored and one building where there is a pearl farm. We can see the buoys indicating where the pearls are to be found. Scattered around us there are outcrops of reef which create a wonderful spectrum of yellow, green , blue and turquoise at the surface of the water where they break. 

Last night we went for a short walk on a small motu (small island), and discovered hundreds of large hermit crabs and land crabs. When we turned the flashlight on them, they all moved together, like in a well choreographed dance routine: And, FIVE, SIX SEVEN EIGHT and ...LIFT claws up above your head,,, SLIDE to the left, three steps...,thats it....and .....STRIKE A POSE.... Freeze !" 

We were looking for the Coconut Crabs, the largest crabs in the world....and yes, they are big enough to haul away large coconuts and eat them. We will keep looking for them, but for now, this latest display by these smaller land crabs will have to do ! 

And now, the Tuamotus! 

The three day crossing was not much fun,  but the destination was well worth it !  We were anchored in such still water that it felt like we were in a lake. We spent nearly a week, resting and cleaning the boat, doing school work and catching up on laundry, reading and sleep. We were again surrounded by many of our friends , all 'kids boats', so there were plenty of water sports for the kids to participate in !  Meg had a go at windsurfing, with Justin from SV Misbehaving, a former instructor, giving all the kids an afternoon lesson. Meanwhile, Matthew enjoyed being pulled around on the paddle board. 

We also had a chance to visit the nearby Pearl Farm. I was really neat to see how the process is done: They implant the adult clam with a natural fresh water pearl; (Harvested in the USA, Mississipi river and then processed in Japan) and then allow the pearls to grow over a few months (they put the clams back in the sea water, all attached to one another in a long chain) until they are ready to harvest. While snorkelling on the reef near the boat we found a clam, probably a stray from the farm which had come detached, when we brought it back to the boat,  Mark was able to open it, and we found a black pearl inside !

Another neat excursion for us was to go and see the site where the famous Kon Tiki expedition ended (where the raft crashed into the reef) in 1947. There was a small plaque with all of the names of the men who had been part of this legendary crossing. Lead by Thor Heyerdahl, their crossing proved to the world that a raft launched in South America could make the journey all the way to Polynesia. We had seen the movie a few years ago, but seeing this site inspired us to re-watch it that night. Meg enjoyed it very much.

We are now anchored just outside the town on Makemo, another atoll island in the Tuamotus. Not since Tobago Keys in the Grenadines last July had we seen water this crystal clear !  It is like we are anchored in a swimming pool !  At 60 feet, I could still see the bottom !  We look forward to some more great snorkelling, already we have seen lots of  reef sharks, the usual multi-coloured fish, some turtles as well as giant clam shells. 

We will spend a couple of weeks here in the Tuamotus before heading off towards Tahiti. Where we are very excited to be welcoming some friends from Calgary on board Amelie, Megs best friend Olivia, her sister Alexis and their mom, our good friend, Sonia in July!

SV Amelie IV on sailing the coast of Nuku Hiva

Finding black pearls in the Tuamotus

Crash Landing site of the Kontiki expedition 

Meg tries windsurfing

Matthew practicing his "wake boarding"

The pearl farm in Raroia

The Pearl farm

Mooring balls with Amelie in the background

Mooring balls, Raroia

Photo taken by Mark from the top of our mast (65 feet up)

Raroia (taken with a GoPro camera that we attached to a kite!)

The breathtaking Tuamotus (Raroia)

Our anchorage in Raroia, taken by mounting a camera to a kite !


  1. I love hearing your stories. I hope you are planning on sharing your journey on the public speaking platform when you finally return home. Your stories are truly inspirational!!!

  2. I'm with Andrea. Only I need to add, "When you finally return home to visit" because whose blog are we going to follow if you return home for good? I can't see Mark's Conoco Phillips blog being quite this intense.