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The Tuamotu Diaries: Chapter 18 - Sea Shells

seashells on boat deck


We moved anchorages yesterday. This is the first spot we’ve been that isn’t adjacent to a pass. But what brought us to this spot wasn’t what was actually in the water.

Our sail across the lagoon was nice. We fully sailed from anchor to anchor which was rad. Joshua even let me take over for the autopilot a bit so I could feel what it was like to drive. I don’t have much if any sailing experience so I’ve been trying to soak up as much as possible during this trip. I’ve helped pull sheets and lines and adjust sails. Really, I haven’t done anything too crazy but I’ve enjoyed trying to learn. I’m hoping when we get back to Hawaii I can help Josh fix up his sailboat and we can take it out of the harbor.

woman captaining sailboat

We sailed through a few small squalls on our three-hour journey. Reefs were put in the rails and the stay sail was rolled up. I think our highest winds blew twenty-five knots. It was nice we only managed to get rained on once.

Almost immediately after anchoring Rachel and I started to get ready for our adventure. We dawned sun shirts, leggings, high socks, sunglasses, buffs, hats and gloves. We sort of looked like we were getting ready to rob a bank.

There was a woman who used to ride her bike around my neighborhood when I was a kid. She would always be completely covered head to toe, even on the hottest days in Florida summer. My family used to joke maybe she was allergic to the sun. She probably just didn’t want wrinkles or skin cancer.

The boys came with us to shore but they wouldn’t be participating in our main objective. They ended up swiftly walking down the beach while Rachel and I scoured the sand for shells.

That’s why we came to this spot. The uninhabited motu with short fringe reef on the windward side was perfect for collecting seashells.

Rachel and I moved at a snail’s pace making sure to gaze over every grain of sand, in every tide pool, and next to every piece of rubble. We alternated between the high and low ground, taking turns checking close to and away from the water.

It reminded me a lot of some of my fondest childhood memories with my mom. Every spring break we would drive down to Palm Beach for a week. My mom and I would often take long strolls down the beach and look for shells. We would end up having long conversations about random topics, but I feel like those walks where we looked for seashells brought us closer together. I couldn’t help but think of how jealous my mom will be when I show her what I’ve found.

I got back last. Josh even walked over to gently urge me to finish my search.

As the sun set in the distance I worked to clean the sand from my bounty. Once the night took over I decided to finish up later.

Rachel made pad si u for dinner, we played hand and foot, and had long conversations about God and love and the Bible.


Have you ever walked for five hours through the desert? That’s essentially how Rachel and I spent our afternoon.

Everyone sort of woke up on their own schedule yesterday. There had been a few squalls overnight that left people in and out of sleep. Rachel also mentioned they stayed up late watching TV. Everything we watch is pre-downloaded to a hard drive since there is minimal access to internet.

I offered to make pancakes again. Everyone seemed on board but I’m not quite sure they were excited about it. This batch was far more successful than the last. No cakes ended up on the floor or in a pot of water. Plus, I was able to get the batter much smoother. In the end, they weren’t perfect but I would say pretty dang good by my standards.

Shortly after breakfast Rachel and I suited up in our head to toe sun coverage and we were dropped off on shore. We made the short trek through the trees and bushes to the ocean side of the motu. There was hardly a cloud in sight and we were already sweating profusely before we even made it to the beach.

The short, five minute hike across the motu is protected by trees yet still directly in the sun. The trees block all the wind coming from the ocean. In our genius we also decided to start around 10am so we could be walking in the heat of the day.

Breaking through the trees was glorious, but only for a second. The ocean air whipped across our faces and provided temporary relief from the heat. That is until our bodies got used to the wind and the sun took over all sensation.

We didn’t care too much. We were on a mission to find shells. The beach was made of mostly coral rubble. The sun dried fragments would extend down from the tree line (mostly bushes) towards the boulders and barrier reef. At the edge of the water the ground alternated between large grey stones and small patches of finely ground sand. The sandy patches always yielded the best shells. Shallow tide pools of water would be held in pockets of rocks where they reached closer to the ocean. Other sections had long stretches of barren ankle deep water that covered a bumpy plate of dark brown rocks. It likely used to be reef but the constant beating from the waves left it structure less. Wind produced waves crashed at the edge of the short barrier reef. They would send water across the reef and over the rocky plate to replenish the treasures we had just plucked from the sand.

As we walked along, our eyes scanned for spots of orange and dark brown standing out from the sandy background. Bright purple sticks and tiny pink or yellow circles were items of interest. A pair of white lips imbedded in the sand could be turned over to reveal a colorful surprise. Our brains started to look for these patterns and drown out the rest of the ocular information.

We were both extremely focused. Neither of us actually tried to engage in conversation. It was way too distracting from our task.

We walked in silence, sometimes together and sometimes apart, for nearly four hours. At that point, the beach was looking more rocky and less promising so we decided to turn around.

The majority of our walk was accompanied by an unforgiving sun. Rachel ended up with a major burn on her wrist on the side she was picking up shells with. There must’ve been a small gap between her sleeve and her glove. I managed to go unburned but I basically felt like I was cooking from the inside out for the first few hours. Storm clouds on the horizon taunted us from out at sea.

Around hour three we were blessed by patches of cloud cover. The wind previously over taken by the sun again felt amazing in the shade of the clouds.

Once we decided to turn back we were moving at a much faster pace than before. What took us four hours going out took us one going home. Just after turning around, the wind blew in the storm clouds that had been keeping their distance all morning. We were hit with a squall, think with rain. It wasn’t a peaceful rain. The drops burned your skin, like tiny bullets from a BB gun beating at your face. But the coolness of the water felt fantastic. The wind blew at an angle so my ear facing the ocean started to fill. Eventually, we both looked like we had been swimming. Our clothes were soaked and clinging to our bodies. As quickly as the clouds dumped their buckets on us, the sun returned to dry us out.

By the time we finished our walk, our feet were hurting from the uneven terrain and our legs were sore from squatting down to collect our prizes. Pain easily ignored as we looked at full bags of shells.

orange sea shells

The boys had spent the morning collecting coconuts and as Josh would say, “taking their spear guns for a swim.” I guess they went on a short mission to find parrot fish for poisson cru but didn’t get lucky. Joshua worked to grind and milk the coconuts they found while Josh still prepared poisson cru, just with fish we had caught previously. Dinner turned out great! The guys rally outdid themselves. I would leave JJ’s restaurant a great review on yelp.

“The food was delicious! Fresh coconut milk and limes made all the diference. Sustainably caught fish makes me feel better about my seafood choices. The cooks were pretty handsome too.”

We spent the rest of our evening doing basically nothing. I took a quick nap while others read or watched movies. The hatches were open and shut a hundred times as waves of rain came and went. We played more hand and foot. I’m doing much better this time around. Joshua made us all quesadillas for a post-dinner snack. Then we all just went to bed.

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