We had a stressful last couple of days, probably the most stressful of our whole time cruising. Five days ago we were anchored behind some motus, in the lagoon, on the northwest side of Makemo. We were near the reef pass and we thought we were in a great spot to sit out some northern winds. The first day we were there it was wonderful. We explored the islands, but the favorite activity was definitely spear fishing in the pass. The boys waited until the pass was at slack tide, grabbed all their Hawaiian slings and fishing gear and dove in. Mike later told me it was one of the best dives/snorkels he has ever done and of course I was immediately jealous. Apparently there were a lot of big grouper and parrot fish, so everyone came back with fish, but there were also inquisitive reef sharks everywhere. Reef sharks rarely bother you, but the kids were careful to bring their speared fish up to the dingy as quickly as possible and not leave a trail of blood in the water. Several of our friends have returned with half a fish when an inquisitive shark decided to take his fair share. Hard to argue with a top predator when they want to collect on a "reef tax". When the slack tide started to flood, they passed coral heads, more sharks and brightly colored fish. They came back raving about the dive and anxious to bring Ana and I back the following day.
The next day we woke up early, hoping to catch the morning slack. Well, we waited, watching the pass from our vantage point about 100 meters away at anchor. The rushing water looked like class five rapids. We were looking forward to the change in tides because at anchor we were seeing 2-3 knots of current pass the boat increasing to about 8 knots at the "falls" not too far away and definitely not as far as we would have liked at that point. Noon came, no change in tide, if anything it looked stronger. We decided to take a look by dingy and see if we could snorkel an eddy along the wall. Going out was no problem, and even from the dingy the water was inviting. I could see the wall and the bright corals. It was all I could do to stay in the boat. Unfortunately we decided there was still too much current to safely snorkel with the family. On our way back, we avoided the standing 6 foot wave that looked much too close to our boat, and threaded the needle between two small reefs. Granted, our 10 HP engine doesn't go very fast with all of us in the boat, but we had full throttle on and we were barely moving. At one point Mike considered dropping Zander and I off on a reef to get Porter and Ana back safety and then return for us. It is unnerving not to have enough power when you need it and if we could do this over we would purchased a bigger engine. It was a little scary for a moment and I was happy I had the kids wear their life jackets, because we don't always do that when we are just puttering around. We started to make just a little gain and eventually we all made it away form the turbulent water and back to the boat. At this point, the current was strong, but the winds were light and from the north and we were protected by the island and after a dive on the anchor we knew the anchor was in a good position, we just didn't like being so close to the pass that had now only ebbed for the last 3 tide cycles. We weren't aware that a scenario of no tidal change was even a possibility in the lagoons. We knew the slack tides were hard to estimate when excessive water came over the reef, and the slack tides could be delayed significantly, but no where did we read or were we told that the slack may never come. It was a bit of a nail-biter night knowing we were anchored right upstream from what looked like a waterfall, but we have a solid anchor, it was firmly hooked, we had 120 feet of chain out and we felt like we were secure even if we still had butterflies in our stomachs.
We decided we would try to leave the next morning to go to Tahanea, about 45 miles away. After a 6am rise, a look to see that the water was still ebbing ant it still looked like it was moving anywhere from 6-10 knots we got everyone in place to pull the anchor up. We were anchored between 4 small reefs, each about 200 meters away in every direction and we knew we couldn't drift much once we got the anchor up. Well, it turned out that that was not a problem, we could not get the anchor up! Mike tentatively got in the water, hung on to the anchor line and tried to descend enough to see what was going on. The anchor had dug in and was firmly attached to a huge rock under a little ledge of dead coral. We weren't going anywhere soon. We tried motoring around, pulling from other angles, but the anchor wasn't going anywhere without us physically dislodging it. We had mixed feelings; we weren't going to drag, but we also couldn't up anchor and leave. Any other time Mike would have gotten in scuba gear and untangled the anchor, but with the strong current, it seemed like a dangerous option. If he lost his way from the anchor and chain he would never be able to swim back to the boat against the current and would eventually get sucked in to the falls and eventually out to sea. We hadn't peaked at the waves on the ocean side, but the previous day there were 8 foot breaking waves where the water that would normally be flooding in, was meeting the stronger outflow from the lagoon. Pelagic could have easily made it through the waves, but the dingy would have been hard pressed to and I certainly didn't relish the thought of trying to fish Mike out of the water in those conditions. We'd have to wait until the current subsided, at least a little. So, wait we did. The dark skies opened up regularly throughout the day pouring rain down on us and during those times the wind always piped up. By afternoon the winds had clocked around from the northwest to the southeast and we had sustained gale force winds. We were now on a lee shore, with a reef between us and the island, we were watching the wind speed creep up into the mid 40's and probably the most unnerving thing was the wind direction was now coming from the SE, which meant straight up the lagoon, creating more fetch than was comfortable. It is the fetch that is hard on anchors and ultimately what causes anchor failure during big storms. The short steep waves caused the bow to pitch and it constantly pulled on the anchor chain. With sustained wind, but no fetch, the catenary effect (a curve in the anchor chain that takes the pull of the wind, absorbing the energy and saving any pull on the anchor itself, at least that is my definition of it), and 4-5 times the depth out in chain is more than enough to keep the anchor set, even in gale force plus conditions. With the fetch our bow was pitching more than we wanted, but there wasn't much we could do about it. Mike checked the snubber line periodically throughout the day to make sure it didn't show signs of chafe, and when it did, he changed the position a little. He also added a second snubber line to fall into place if the first failed. He rigged our second anchor on the bow in case we needed it. We knew our anchor would hold, but we worried that the chain could break (normally unlikely, but if a chain wraps around a coral head tightly, they have been known to snap).
All day we kept the kids busy watching TV and baking treats for them, but I knew it was going to be another nail-biter of a night. With our boat on a lee shore, we were never in personal danger, but it felt tense. We had a couple of strategies to contemplate. First we could dump all our chain, marked with a buoy, leave the main anchor and motor back to town, 25 miles away. Normally we wouldn't travel through the lagoon without optimal lighting, but since we had just made the crossing our GPS showed our track and if we stuck to that, there shouldn't be any surprises in our path. Once in town we would have a concrete pier to tie to, a location far closer to the eastern sides of the lagoon, meaning much less fetch and a spot away from the white water pass, and as Zander repeatedly reminded us, a spot much closer to a bakery. Our second strategy was simply to wait until the current subsided a little and send Mike down to untangle the anchor and then decide if the pass was passable.
The forecast showed continued strong SE to Easterly winds for the next few days. Hmm, what to do. Well, as it turns out the decision was once again taken from us. We made it through the night, we had set the anchor alarm so if we moved more than 65 meters we would all wake to a screeching siren. We didn't wake to an alarm, so that was positive, instead we all woke to the snubber snapping and a huge jerk on the chain. Fortunately the second line served its purpose and we then added a back up to our backup. The wind was still strong so we contemplated our next move. Our GPS keeps our track for the previous 175 miles, so we assumed we could backtrack on our course, even if visibility was poor. Since our GPS needs to be on for the anchor alarm to work, it was calculating the movement of the stern the whole night, sailing back and forth in the current and wind. How we could have moved 175 miles in a 12 hour period we aren't sure, but the snake of our track caught up to us. According to the GPS we traveled 175 miles in one night. Back tracking was out! It would be a waiting game. The good news was we talked to a fellow cruiser later on the second morning via the SSB and he thought the wind would start to die and the lagoon would start to empty. We survived day two stuck on the anchor.
By the third night we felt like being on a lee shore with strong winds and fetch, anchored between 4 reefs and next to white water was pretty routine. Ho hum! Actually the wind had died down during the day and stayed in the 25 knot range. Whew, we were almost through it, so far unscathed. By the next morning the tide finally switched and after 72 hours of outgoing tide we finally got a slack tide. Mike dove on the anchor and after a few attempts (and some less than optimal communication, quite possible requiring marital counseling in the future), we got the anchor up on deck and we were free. The sea forecast still predicted big seas, so we decided to wait and let the waves die down a little before moving islands. We'd move to a more protected area of the lagoon and try to leave the following day.
As you can see, we made it through the three nights, a prisoner of our own anchor, learned a few lessons from the ordeal and hopefully we are wiser for it.
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