The rain started early this year in the South Pacific. Rainy season normally hits The Society Islands in December. This November, rainy season in French Polynesia has already begun.
About The Tuamotus
The Tuamotu Islands are a French Polynesian archipelago located south and west of The Marquesas and east of the Society Islands. A natural progression for sailors is to visit The Tuamotus after landing in The Marquesas. Since we have a year in French Polynesia, we’ve already visited this area once, before Tahiti, and now again for part of cyclone season.
The motus (islands) are basically big sandbars interspersed with strips of coral. The atolls make nearly circular shapes, surrounding water, known as the lagoon, and creating nice protected anchorages. We visit the atolls with entrances, called passes, where the water between sandbars is wide and deep enough for boats to pass. While there are almost eighty islands, we can probably enter twenty on our sailboat.
These coral islands are flat as can be, renowned for the strong passes to enter the lagoons and the beautiful clear water within them. With a huge population of different species of shark, The Tuamotus are a divers paradise. We are getting in the water as much as possible between the rainstorms.
We left Tahiti for The Tuamotus in late October and since we’ve arrived it’s been grey and/or rainy most of the time.
Rainy Days in The Tuamotus
We’ve had to learn what to do with our days during rainy season in French Polynesia.
While we’re not strangers to rainy days in paradise, it is harder to handle in The Tuamotus. When the big cruise ship came to Fakarava a few weeks ago on an especially dismal day, we joked about what the passengers who wandered ashore would do. The main activities are all in, on, or adjacent to the water. Unlike Cartagena or the French Caribbean, there’s no theatre, museum, or even shopping mall. Fakarava is the archipelago’s second largest atoll, with a population of just over 1,600 people, so it’s a sleepy place. It has three groceries and about the same number of restaurants. When it rains, we stay on our boats.
Things to Do in The Rain
When I talk about rainy season in French Polynesia, I don’t mean passing showers. Not usually, at least. This is heavy rain for hours at a time. From our experience in the last few weeks, we’ve learned it often lets up for a few hours early in the morning, and sometimes just before sunset. Otherwise, it’s pouring. We try to go for a dive or get our errands on land done during these brief respites from the rain.
Other than that, what have we been doing during this early rainy season in French Polynesia? Spending a lot of time inside Sava trying not to go crazy!
Let me explain why we go stir crazy. Sava is a 46 foot monohull, with not a lot of interior space, so we spend most of our time outside. Usually, when one of us is down below working on a project, the other is outside because there’s not enough room. For the past month, we’ve been stuck downstairs with the windows closed because it’s raining out. Here’s how we’ve attempted to spend the time effectively.
In the Galley
Spending time in the galley is productive, but it gets hot. My first step was cleaning. I emptied all the cupboards and washed down the insides and what’s stored in there. It also gave me an opportunity to count our stores and update my spreadsheet. Low on black beans but high on patés. We’re not in Central America anymore. Welcome to France!
Our friend Anne on SV Pelican gifted us some sourdough starter so I’ve been trying new recipes. Sourdough pizza is amazing. I’ve also made bagels and English muffins. Good thing we can get propane fills here (side eye to The Marquesas) because baking uses a lot of it!
The weekly supply ship arrives in Rotoava, Fakarava’s main town, every Wednesday. Last week we ordered our own supplies rather than just rely on the store. In addition to a big delivery of wine from Tahiti, we ordered our own produce, which included 2kg of green beans. I didn’t know how many green beans that would be. Turns out, it’s too much!
The abundance of green beans gave me a project during the rainstorms. I made salads and sides, froze some of the beans, and pickled a lot of others. The pickle recipe said to wait 2 weeks for the flavor to work its magic, so I’ll update with how they taste. Otherwise, we’ve been eating well on Sava while we wait for better weather.
Before the supply ship arrived, we visited an atoll 20 miles away from Fakarava. Called Toau, this barely inhabited island is home to just a few residents scattered across its strips of land. We arrived planning to scope out the good dive spots by snorkeling them first, but the weather was not conducive. Instead we spent the first two days hunkered down in the cabin waiting out the rain.
Unfortunately for us, being uninhabited, Toau has no connectivity. Ok, once a day (or so) one of us would get a notification from whatsapp or instagram, which we couldn’t see. So we spent a lot of time reading our downloaded books. I read four books in four days. Having no internet is hard when it’s raining on a boat. I love to read but in moderation!
Sava is getting some extra love while we suffer through the pouring rain. We’ve been going through the less frequent boat maintenance projects like wiping down the walls and ceilings, deep cleaning the fans, and emptying out and reorganizing closets. I found an old pair of glasses and some towels I hadn’t seen in a while that way!
Brian did a big flush on our watermaker and replaced the pre-filter, so our water is fresh and clean. He’s also been working on our bilge pumps, but that’s been an ongoing process. When you move on a boat you travel the world fixing things, sometimes in the rain.
While we were in Toau, we had almost one day of partial sun when we managed to snorkel and take a walk on land during a couple of short breaks in the rain. In Fakarava north we got one morning of clear skies enough to dive with a shark and a beautiful but dangerous starfish. It was raining when we finished the dive, but at least we’re getting some bright spots!
Life on Sava is fine, and the work we had done in Tahiti is solid. Also, we are only halfway through our year in French Polynesia, including highlights like manta rays in Marquesas and whales in Moorea. People come for one week and just get rainy season; we know we have it good. It isn’t always sunshine in the South Pacific, but we are smiling through the rain.
Share your worst vacation weather stories, tips for rainy day activities, and sourdough recipes in the comments please!