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From the Field
Expedition: Dangerous Archipelago
Kayaking French Polynesia's Tuamotu Islands

Explorer Jon Bowermaster sends dispatches from the deep South (Pacific).

Dispatch 3: The Miramu and Wave Trains

September 23, 2002

[Note: Nationalgeographic.com does not research or copyedit field dispatches.]

We've moved to an atoll called Toau, about 350 miles [563 kilometers] east of Tahiti. It's 15 miles [24 kilometers] long by five miles [8 kilometers] across. Ten people live here—all of them related. They live off the fish that they catch and grow and the coconuts that they harvest. That's it. Pretty remote and pretty isolated.

We've also been met by what is known here as Mara'amu, which are seasonal winds out of the south and east. They've arrived a little early this year. The way that impacts us is we have a lot more gray skies, a lot more clouds, a lot more rain—something I didn't anticipate here in paradise. I thought we'd just have blue skies and our biggest trouble would be staying out of the sun.

The evidence of how it impacts us was most strong yesterday when we paddled down the length of the atoll, to look at a shipwreck on the ocean side. When we came back we had to cross the two passes that allow water in and out of the lagoon inside this atoll—just two passes on the entire atoll, which means that all the water that comes in and goes out goes through these two narrow passes. Which means lots of [heavy] seas, moving water, plus tides and current and winds during various times of day.

As we paddled back across the lagoon side of this pass the tides were being sucked out. At the same time, very strong currents were pumping in. We had 15-25 mile per hour [24-40 kilometer per hour] winds and rains in our face. The danger was that if someone was to get too close to that pass line, he could easily get sucked back out to the ocean through these big wave trains of sea moving out of the lagoon. At which point you'd be out on the ocean—maybe in your boat or out of your boat, depending on the circumstance—and be in pretty tough shape.

So despite the fact that I think that sometimes we do regard such places as paradise, there are definitely dangers. Every day we get a sense of why the early folks who arrived here did call it the Dangerous Archipelago, because of the unpredictable winds and unpredictable currents and tides and these incredibly mysterious and hidden coral reefs.

—Jon Bowermaster

Next: Dispatch 4: Manta Rays and Black-Tipped Sharks >>

Photograph courtesy Jon Bowermaster

Click map to enlarge

Look for Jon Bowermaster's feature article on kayaking the Dangerous Archipelago in a future issue of Adventure. Subscribe Now and Save 62 percent off the cover price >>

Funding for this expedition was provided by the National Geographic Society Expeditions Council. For more information on the Council, its projects, and grants, e-mail ecouncil@ngs.org.


Photograph courtesy Jon Bowermaster; Map by NG Maps
  The Team
  Photo Gallery
  Dispatch 1
  Dispatch 2
  • Dispatch 3
  Dispatch 4
  Dispatch 5
  Dispatch 6
  Dispatch 7
  Dispatch 8


Video: Tuamotu Storm (0:42)
Watch: RealPlayer 56.6

Audio: The Miramu and Wave Trains (2:11)
"We have a lot more gray skies, a lot more clouds, a lot more rain—something I didn't anticipate here in paradise."
RealPlayer: 28.8 | 56.6

Download RealPlayer

Related Web Sites

Ask the Expedition Advisor
Jon Bowermaster fielded reader's questions on planning an out-there adventure.

Descending the Dragon
Hear Bowermaster's dispatches from his kayak odyssey down the Vietnam coast.

Dispatches From the Birthplace of the Winds
See photos and hear dispatches from the expedition that inspired Bowermaster's new book, Birthplace of the Winds.

Video: Bowermaster on His Aleutian Odyssey
Find out what it took to take Alaska's Islands of the Four Mountains by kayak.

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