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Black Pearls of the Dangerous Archipelago Previous Log
Date: 15 May 2008 Next Log
Pacific Ocean > French Polynesia > Tuamotu > Manihi Log Menu

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The Warm Glow of Radar - Squeezing between two atolls at night!"And the lone seaman all the night
Sails astonished among stars."

- Emerson

The green glow from the radar casts sinister shadows on our faces. The atoll comes into view on the screen; a thin ring flashing on the console is our only warning of the danger that lies ahead. Ten miles away in the pitch black, razor sharp reefs lurk just under the surface while waves crash and pound on the coral just as they have for the past million years.

Approach to Manihi - The Dangerous Archipelago lurks..This is the Tuamotu, historically known as the Dangerous Archipelago, once home to an ancient 800 km-long range of rumbling volcanoes. When the volcanoes emerged, coral began forming in the surrounding shallows. Over time, the volcanoes began to erode back into the sea, but the coral continued to grow, leaving a footprint of the long-lost volcanic island's shore. Eventually, fluctuating ocean levels, sand deposits and organic debris have built up above sea level, leaving ringed islands, some 20 km in diameter but only about 6 feet high - hard enough to spot during the day, and virtually impossible at night.

Typical Tuamotu Digs - Also where you can buy pearls.Many wrecks of the past lie here, drawn onto the reefs by the romance of mystery and adventure. Today, the Tuamotu are famous for two things; French nuclear testing and Black Tahitian Pearls. Rare and exquisite, the pearls are plucked from the heart of the Pacific Ocean and keenly traded for Ecuadorian rum. The nuclear testing, meanwhile, has not been as big a hit.

Black Tahitian Pearls

Black Tahitian Pearls are highly valued gems because of their rarity; the culturing process for them dictates a smaller volume output and can never be mass produced. The particular oyster, Pinctada margaritifera, often rejects the irritant which causes the pearl and they are quite sensitive to changing climatic and ocean conditions.

The Money Shot - Black Tahitian Pearl.The value of the pearls in jewelry is determined by a combination of the luster, color, size, lack of surface flaw and symmetry. Generally, larger and rounder pearls are the most highly valued.

The exception is in their presentation. For example, finding a collection of irregularly-shaped-but-nearly-identical pearls can be quite a challenge, and making them into an interesting, chique necklace may fetch a very high price in the boutiques of Paris.

Last of the Trickle or First of the Flood?

That brings us back to a close encounter with one of the atolls, Manihi, which is the original home of the Pearl Farm - If this shack's a shuckin', please come a'knockin!Black Tahitian Pearls and an epicentre of high seas adventure.

My latest ride is with a couple of fellow "Buscaderos de Gusto" - an American, along with his Swedish friend who can take me as far as Tahiti. We have decided to stop here for a day or two to trade with the locals and soak up the Polynesian atoll experience.

It seems that with every passing yacht, the world-famous Polynesian hospitality here disappears just a little more, although their business sense is still strong. As I visit more of French Polynesia, I see the locals' eyes glazing over with disinterest to visiting yachts.

Got Hammock? Did I use that line already? Ah well. Rum drinks in paradise kill creativity braincells.Polynesia was a place where only 40 years ago, a small trickle of sailors passing through encountered canoes and flowers and waving girls wearing grass skirts when they arrived, but as time went on and sails began to appear almost daily, that playfulness waned.

So as I sail under that astonishing star-filled sky, the question that I keep repeating to myself is, are we the last of that original trickle? Are we still living on the edge, in a world where solitude and playful innocence are out there, somewhere just over the horizon?

Heart of an Atoll - As you can see, the lagoons inside atolls are quite large. Frankly, I was shocked.Or are we just riding on the first wave of the flood, desperately trying to stay ahead so we can experience something before it's hopelessly drowned?

(pause for dramatic effect)

This story is to be continued...

Shuckin Shack
I'm not a oyster shucker, I'm an oyster shucker's son. All the day he shuckas til all the shuckin's done!
Did I ask you if you brought your hammock?
Manihi Parking Lot
Ghost Town?
Nope. Manihi during siesta.
Outside an Atoll
This is the outer edge of the atoll. A sheer drop off into the deep blue - no continental plate here. Fascinating.
Red Light District
Midnight navigation in the thick of danger..
Can You Spot the Atoll?
If not, it's already too late...
:: Inukshuk ::

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