Yesterday I had the 4 a.m. – 7 a.m. watch. After four days of sailing from Nuka Hiva, we were due to make landfall at Apataki atoll at 8 a.m. None of us had ever seen an atoll, nor had we sailed through a group of them. From what I’d read, I expected nothing more than a few reefs awash in water, with maybe a few palm trees scattered on some broken coral sand.
As the sun rose I could see a low mounds of land in the distance, not more than a few feet above the water. Yet as we got closer, I noticed in the binoculars that these mounds of land were covered in vegetation. As we got closer still, I realized that rather than an underwater reef, we were sailing toward a ring of white coral sand upon which thousands and thousands of coconut palms are standing, among some other low lying brush.
Sailing to an atoll is not like sailing to a volcanic island, like Hawaii or the Marquesas. Rather than the land being the main attraction, with its cities and hiking trails, here the water is the main attraction. There isn’t land, per se, but rather a ring of white coral, not more than 100 feet wide, that hovers just feet above the surface of the water. If it weren’t for the palm trees that grow thick on this coral ring, we could see the ocean right over the top of the atoll. Inside the ring of coral is a lagoon with crystal clear, turquoise water and loads of different types of coral blanketing the floor.
Around 8:30 a.m., we left the Pacific ocean in our wake and sailed into the lagoon through one of the two “passes” on Apataki, or areas where the coral ring has broken up enough to traverse through. As we entered the lagoon, I was struck by how calm the water was and by how big this ring of coral is. At it’s widest point, Apataki is 14 miles across. As we came in through the pass, it looked as if we were entering another stretch of ocean… There was water for as far as we could see, and we couldn’t see the other end of the atoll.
We made our way to the anchorage, which is really just a patch of sand about 150 feet from the beach. We were greeted by birds chirping on the shore and manta rays jumping out of the water. And, best of all, we’re the only boat here. Our view from the cockpit, of turquoise water lapping gently on the white sand beach, could be on a postcard: “Come to Apataki, where the water isn’t yaaki.”
Yesterday we had an amazing day: we dove among coral and reef fish, we sat on the sandy beach and in the warm, clear water, and we made a campfire on shore and ate a wonderful meal of tuna and cous-cous. This is someplace I could stay for a very long time… Lounging in a hammock on shore, taking long walks along the reef, swimming with the brightly colored fish. We heard that here is a pearl farm on the south side of the lagoon, so we’ll probably make our way down there today or tomorrow. Other than that, the plan is to have no plans and to just relax and take-in the beauty of this place for a while.