Pacific Crossing 2010-11
Makemo, May 30th – June 13th
Mid-day on Sunday the 29th of May, Amigo, Shango and Spirare headed out the Pass at Raroia. For Shango and Spirare the destination was the atoll of Makemo, seventy-nine miles away. There are two unavoidable details you have to plan around when cruising the Tuamotus. The first is daylight. The sun needs to be high enough in the sky that you can see the coral heads that lurk in your path. You can’t travel due east in the morning, nor due west in the afternoon. The second unavoidable detail is the current in the passes. The best time to go through a pass is at slack tide. If the weather is lovely you get a fudge factor. If the weather has been blowy and there’s a sea running you are going to have an interesting ride. When you combine these two factors you have to make some tough choices. We left Raroia at noon, close to low slack and were aiming for a ten a.m. low slack at Makemo. This meant we had almost twenty-four hours to cover seventy- nine miles. It’s painful to think about going that slow and even harder to implement. We decided to go with a triple reefed main and nothing else. Nice and slow, but uncomfortable in the swell. It was a very long night, interrupted by the occasional rain shower. By early morning on the 30th we were reaching out and back off of the entrance to Makemo. At ten we gladly headed through the pass without a hitch.
Once again the village was located on a lee shore so once again we headed toward an outer motu. It seemed we were destined not to see any Tuamotan villages. The trip to the eastern motus was about ten miles. We made our way through the lagoon, dodging the occasional coral patch. The depth was generally over one hundred feet unless you hit coral. We poked around the area where we wanted to anchor, trying to find a spot that was not too deep and simultaneously not loaded with coral. We were finally forced to drop the anchor as a wall of rain water completely wiped out our visibility. When the sun returned several minutes later we were relatively happy with our spot and decided to stay. We were the only cruising boat within sight.
The next morning we attached a fender and a stray pearl farm buoy to the anchor chain to keep it suspended above the closest coral heads. This trick seemed to work pretty well. After chores we headed out to explore the sand bars and tide pools behind the reef. We saw lots of small sea cucumbers, several small eels and a fair number of small black tipped reef sharks cruising around the shallows. The light was beautiful and it was fun to splash around with the critters.
In the evening we heard from Spirare, anchored across the lagoon, that Quicksilver had turned up from Hao Atoll at noon. It was good to have them back in the neighborhood.
There was a certain amount of fraternizing once Spirare and Quicksilver turned up a few days later, including an exotic dinner aboard Quicksilver.
A “super high” was forecast to arrive Sunday night the 5th of June. This translates into a fair amount of wind that goes on for several days. Quicksilver was anxious to relocate to the anchorage seventeen miles west of the village so they set out bright and early Sunday morning in about seven knots of wind. Unfortunately they made it only as far as the village before the clouds moved in. They dropped the hook and were promptly ensnared in coral. At least they weren’t going to drag. Meanwhile we and Spirare were hunkered down in the east end, getting pummeled by rain, playing dominoes and drinking red wine.
After several days the wind let up a bit and we made our way to the anchorage beyond the village. Quicksilver had found help in the form of Yaringa, an Australian boat, to free them from their snarl in the village and we all met up at the anchorage which was behind a coral spit fronting a beautiful sand beach. Everyone was happy to be in new surroundings. The four boats celebrated with a pot luck supper on the beach Thursday afternoon the 9th. With the crew of five on Yaringa we added up to quite a crowd.
By Sunday the 12th of June we had been in Makemo for almost two weeks. It was feeling like time to go. The wind was still a bit strong so when Quicksilver and Yaringa made their way to the protection of the small reef anchorage near the Northwest pass we decided we’d wait. On the chart there didn’t appear to be a lot of room in the anchorage and we didn’t want to anchor out in the fetch near the pass. On Monday, with the others already through the pass and the visibility pretty good we headed west. We arrived at the small reef anchorage at about 11:30 in the morning with good light. The anchorage was indeed small and particularly reefy. Neither we nor Spirare were that comfortable with the spot and the decision was made to catch that afternoon’s slack and head for Tahanea, our next destination.
After a flurry of passage prep and several extra minutes while Spirare unwound themselves from the coral we were on our way. We hit the pass at 3:45 and were out in a flash, ready for another long slow night. Spirare was cheered after their anchor incident by catching a small tuna on their way out.
Tahanea, June 14th – June 22nd
After being hove-to for eight hours we completed our fifty mile journey at nine a.m., making our way easily through Tahanea’s wide, uncomplicated middle pass. We bore off to the west and dropped the hook amongst the ten other boats already anchored by the pass. The anchorage had plenty of protection given that the forecast was for very little wind.
Tahanea is an uninhabited atoll which has been designated as a park. There was once a settlement next to the eastern pass but these days it is occupied only when the copra is being harvested. There are three passes in a row in Tahanea, each one noted for its beautiful coral and sea life. Boats anchor next to the passes for just this reason. The diving and snorkeling is wonderful.
The afternoon of our arrival we snorkeled on a patch reef behind the boat. There was very healthy coral and it was loaded with an amazing variety of fish. The next day we moved the boat to the anchorage adjacent to the eastern pass to do our first drift snorkel. The idea is that you catch either the beginning or the end of the flood through the pass. You are tethered in some fashion to your dinghy and you enter the water at the outer end of the pass and simply drift into the lagoon with the current. The passes attract the big fish so they are generally more interesting than snorkeling around coral heads. That morning we saw extremely healthy coral in an array of colors, huge shoals of fish and some fairly sizeable sharks. It was a great experience. Also of note that day was Roger’s fishing success. A lovely mystery fish was caught while we were heading to the anchorage before our dive and in the evening we were able to feed ourselves as well as Spirare and Quicksilver. The festivities also included a rum drink tasting, with each boat making their specialty.
On our third day in Tahanea we moved the boat back to the first anchorage and did a drift dive through the western pass. I was a bit disappointed when I first got into the water. The clarity was not as good as it had been during the dive at the eastern pass but I soon forgot my disappointment. Out of the gloom there appeared four giant manta rays, all in a line. At first they arced downward following their “leader”, and then they headed back up toward the surface before rolling off to one side like a rollercoaster ride. For thirty minutes the rays appeared, mostly in pairs, and swam toward us and then below us. They would swim in tight little circles following each other, all while we looked on from above. They seemed to be completely comfortable with our presence. We all felt very lucky that afternoon.
A new high was forecast o arrive on Saturday and many boats opted to head to Fakarava atoll to hunker down before the blow. We decided that Tahanea was our last opportunity for relative solitude for a while. Our next two stops, Fakarava and Anse Amyot would both be more crowded. The protection behind the southeast motus was good so we, along with Spirare, opted to stay. Quicksilver and Yaringa headed out.
When we arrived behind the largest eastern motu mid-day on Friday there was one other boat at anchor. We had met the German boat, Forty-Two, several months earlier in the Galapagos.
It was a beautiful spot to hang out for several days, but when the wind began to diminish it was time to head back to the anchorage by the pass. Our next stop was the south pass at Fakarava atoll. The trip was fifty miles and we were not eager to do another foot-dragging overnight. We decided that we had gone back and forth across the pass so many times that it might be possible to make an early morning departure and arrive in Fakarava for the afternoon slack. Tahanea’s middle pass is straightforward even in the dark. We pulled up our anchors and within a short while we were back out in the Pacific Ocean.
Fakarava, June 23rd – June 29th
As we arrived at the south pass of Fakarava in the afternoon the wind decided to pick up to about thirty knots. A quick drive-by of the entrance revealed an ugly scene of large seas and poor visibility. We were over an hour early for slack so we headed out to wait for tide and wind to cooperate and to go over our options. As the wind howled and the seas threw spray over the side of the boat we had pretty much decided that we’d be spending the night hove to offshore. It would be crazy to go into the pass in these conditions. But after an hour the wind dropped to fifteen knots and we headed back in to take another look. Naturally, as we arrived at the entrance, the wind once again piped up to twenty-three knots but the seas and tide didn’t look as bad as they had previously. It was decision time. Do we turn around and head offshore and try again in the morning? That was the most conservative option. Instead, after several minutes of discussing the pros and cons we decided to try the pass. Incoming tide (near slack), twenty-plus knots of wind and some seas were the facts. All three forces of nature were moving in the same direction which is generally better than the alternative. We could see that the seas were no longer steep and that they diminished even more between the flanking motus as did the wind. In addition the visibility had improved. All’s well that ends well. We entered the pass with trepidation but once in we knew that the decision was ok.
We worked our way into the anchorage southwest of the pass, threading our way around a large reef. We, along with Spirare, anchored near three other boats and called it a day. Whew!
On Friday the times of slack water were not good for a drift through the pass. Saturday would be the day. We spent the Friday doing chores and visiting. We had dinner aboard Spirare with their French friends Yves & Reine from the boat Zeecada. It was a fun evening delving into politics and travel.
Saturday morning Roger, Serge and I headed toward the pass, trying to discover a short-cut through the reef to get there. No such luck. The outer end of the pass (once we finally got there) was quite deep and the sharks hanging around the bottom looked like catfish. As we drifted into the pass a bit further the water became shallower and the visibility and the light improved. Beautiful, colorful coral carpeted the bottom and we drifted slowly above an amazing array of fish and other sea creatures. The sharks were mostly gray reef sharks with a smattering of black and white tips. Sadly we don’t have an underwater camera so we had to commit it all to our memories.
On Sunday all hands (Shango, Spirare and Zeecada) loaded into our dinghy and headed toward the tiny village (three residents) of Tetamanu. Once again we sought a short-cut through the reef. Zeecada had found one but it was apparently good only at high tide. Once again the dinghy had to be led like a mule through the shallows. After a fashion we reached our destination and had a nice (dry) walk. Tetamanu was once the Capitol of the Tuamotus. Its grass “streets” are bordered with stones and there are a number of very old building shells. There are two Pensions in Tetamanu if you are interested in getting away from it all on your vacation. For about $200 a day per person you get an all-included paradise experience. A “rustic” cabin overlooking the lagoon, meals, diving and tropical sunsets can be yours. Don’t forget anything at home though because you can’t buy ANYTHING here. There’s a dog to pet and several chickens and roosters to amuse you shore side and sharks patrol the waters surrounding the over-water restaurant/bar. Don’t get drunk and fall off the boardwalk.
On Monday June 27th we decamped towards the north end of the atoll. We stopped about half way after a great sail. We anchored behind the eastern motu and splashed around in the shallows all afternoon. Tuesday brought us to the north end and the village of Rotoava. Rotoava is a fair sized village with a population of about five hundred people. We chatted with the woman who runs the bakery in town. She says that the population has dropped in the last several years due to the relocation of several pearl farms. Because Fakarava is such a large atoll there is less protection for the shells which contain the pearls. Wind driven sea and current cause the shells to fall from their “strings”. Smaller atolls don’t suffer from this problem.
At Rotoava we were able to do some shopping for the first time in six weeks. Unfortunately there were no eggs to be had. Our two eggs will have to last until Tahiti.
Next stop: the Anse Amyot anchorage at Toau Atoll.
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