We left Oa Pou in the afternoon expecting a pretty slow, most likely a motor assisted, passage to the Tuamotus. The weather predictions were for light winds from the east and several other boats were waiting for the winds to increase the following week to head south. We wish we had the luxury of waiting for optimal weather like that, but we only have a month to explore the Tuamotus, so we needed to get going, wind or no wind. We will wait out bad weather, but we can't wait forever for perfect winds. It was 450 between Ua Pou and Raroia, and that would take us a minimum of 3 days. We motored in the lee of Ua Pou for 10 miles or so and then as soon as we cleared the island we had constant 12-17 knots of wind on the beam the whole trip. It was fast, we averaged over 6 knots, and because the wind wasn't too strong, we had relatively flat seas. In fact, it was one of the best sails we've have had to date. Our only complaint was it was hot the moment the sun came up and with the seas on the beam we were reluctant to open hatches, afraid of a rogue wave, so it was stifling down below. Although, at night it cooled down nicely, the moon was up about half of the night and then we had a beautiful star show. We didn't have any real squalls roll through, it was by all accounts a great passage. More passages like that and I may call myself a sailor!
The Tuamotus are all low atolls, most are comprised of a string of small motus that connect forming a ring around a lagoon, (an extinct volcano). The islands are protected by a coral reef that rises out of the abyss, and even once we closed the coast of the islands and were as close as a quarter of a mile our depth finder still couldn't find a reading. It is literally a coral wall that descends down into thousands of feet. The larger atolls have at least one pass that if you time correctly allow you passage into a protected lagoon. Most cruising guides suggest passing at slack tide, but unfortunately the slack is not always predictable. You have to take into account the normal tide, but in additional depending on how much water has entered the lagoon on the opposite side (wind, waves), you have to calculate how much will be exiting through the pass. If you are patient the passes are easy, but if you time them wrong they can be deadly.
In the nineties, when Mike was down here visiting on the World Discoverer, he witnessed a poor passing that was ultimately fatal. They were visiting an atoll that did not have a reef entrance big enough for the big ship. Instead, the passengers were ferried in via large inflatable zodiacs. Mike's driver motored through he pass without incident. The second driver miscalculated the reef entrance and was coming in at an angle. Once he realized his error, he tried to compensate, but at that point the waves hit them broadside. The zodiac flipped, the driver was instantly killed, another woman ultimately died and several people were life flighted to Tahiti. That was obviously a particularly bad story, but it sure keeps Michael and I on our toes. We don't take these passes lightly!
Fortunately, we managed to time our arrival close to slack tide and after lining up the range markers, we were able to enter the lagoon without difficulty. Some lagoons are really shallow, but this one has over a hundred feet of water in the middle. The winds were about 15-20 knots and we didn't want to anchor on a lee shore, so that meant crossing the lagoon and anchoring on the far side. We were a little tired, but we knew we would have a more relaxing visit if we weren't worried about our anchor dragging. To date our main anchor has never dragged (knock on wood), but it is always a concern. We crossed the 6 mile lagoon, dodging the pearl farm buoys and the coral heads that appear out of nowhere. The Tuamotus are known as the Dangerous Archipelago for good reason. For early mariners without GPS, the atolls were low on the horizon and often difficult to see out at sea. Once inside the atoll it is advisable only to travel around when the sun is high and at your back. Otherwise it is often difficult to see the coral heads. The Tuamotus claim 3 or 4 sailboats every year and we are determined not to be in that bunch. The coral heads are the danger inside the lagoon. The depth sounder will read a steady 100 feet and then a coral head appears a foot below the surface seemingly out of nowhere. They are easy to spot with good lighting and we plan only to travel around in those conditions. The kids love being spotter on the bow, so it works out well. Anyway, we crossed the lagoon and anchored in the lee of a palm strewn island, with just enough breeze to keep the night cool. After a quick ride to shore, a soak in the aquamarine water and a belly full of food we all slept like the dead. It was probably the calmest the boat has been since we were in a Marina in Colon back in December.
Our first full day in the Tuamotus was one of those "brochure days". We snorkeled some of the closer corals, getting to see new species of fish, giant clams and the kids's favorite: the black tip reef sharks that parol the waters around the coral. We also visited a pearl farm, explored the island that the Kon Tiki went ashore at after Thor Heyerdahl's epic raft crossing in the 1930's. We also did some drift snorkeling; catching the incoming current through a shallow reef entrance, and passing coral heads and fish at about 4 knots. It was super fun, but if you saw something you wanted to take a closer look at, there was no way to fight the current back. After a fun filled day, we returned to the boat and after re-fueling, the kids all wanted to get back in the water. Out came the tinker and sail, the paddle board and the kayak. At one point I was the only person on the boat, and I can count the number of times that has occurred in the last year on one hand. It was quite blissful to relax seeing Zander sailing around the lagoon, Mike exploring a few other motus by dingy and I could just barely hear Porter and Ana playing on the paddleboard. I asked Ana if she was afraid of the sharks and she replied in a very snarky sarcastic voice "what part of R E E F shark don't you understand". Apparently she is not afraid of them! She doesn't get that from her mom. I don't mind seeing them when I am snorkeling, but I don't love seeing them circle the boat when I'm just swimming without a mask. Of course, I'm also the person that used to be afraid of sharks in the deep end of the pool!
As you can see, we are doing well and very happy to be in the Tuamotus.
The following pages chronicle the journey of the sailing vessel Pelagic and her crew. We are a family of 5; Michael, Amy, Zander, Porter and Anakena, taking our 42' Hallberg Rassy as far as we can comfortably go in three years. We left Oregon in September 2014, participated in the 2014 Baja Haha, continued on through the Panama Canal, into the Caribbean, up the coast of the US to Maritime Canada and from there crossed the Atlantic. After an arrival in Ireland we toured Scotland, then sailed down to France, Portugal and on to Morocco. In January of 2016 we slowed down considerably and enrolled the kids in a local Spanish school in Sanlucar de Guadiana for a few months. In the spring of 2016 we crossed the Atlantic towards the Caribbean. We are now in the Pacific, officially on our way home, albeit via a very circuitous path. We are currently in French Polynesia and looking at weather windows to Hawaii before finally making landfall back in the Pacific Northwest.
Currently our exact location is not available. Our spot coverage will pick us back up in Hawaii towards the end of May, 2017.
Our favorite sailing quote:
"If anythings gonna happen, it's gonna happen out there boss!" Captain Ron