28 June, 2014

More Atolls and More Danger

The rule on entering a pass into an atoll is to do so at one of the high or low water slack tides and to do so in calm weather and the sun high in the sky. An easy ask if one has a direct line to the weather gods but if you are cruising and in company with other yachts you do the best you can, prepare your boat for all eventualities and eyeball with good prudent judgement the best strategy.
Malua left our first atoll entrance which had a lot of hype about how difficult it was with ease. It was no more difficult than a ocean river bar in Australia. My confidence was up and the guide book stated that the northern entrance to Fakarava is "wide and straightforward.... the flow normally peaks at 3 knots" What is did not say was don't enter when there is a 22knot wind on the nose and against the incoming tide with heavy rain squalls. And that is exactly what I found including a short wave chop which stopped Malua normal 5 knot forward progress right in her tracks. We took a line on the centre of the pass let out the stay sail for stability and some extra help and entered the maelstrom of the pass. Malua rose to the waves but came crashing down to stop dead in the water, the inflowing current would take her a few feet forward and then Malua would gather herself and lurch forward to again be stopped in her track by another set of waves. I turned the bows a few degrees off the wind and our speed increased. We where making progress but bang, bang the swim ladder had come loose and was swinging in the stern water. Grab the boat hook and secure that and when I turned again to look where we where, we are in relatively calm water making 5 knots. Through our second pass.
Now to do the pass on the falling tide. I calculated that the tide would turn at about 8 am in the morning. Just enough time to go ashore to get a few hot bagettes and to still make it at the slack water.
Great plan and I did find the slack water, almost no wind and definitely no rain and standing waves. What a dream to pass out the entrance and into the open sea. I had planned a 60 nm passage to Apitake which would be spread ove a full day and night so I could arrive at it's entrance at the low slack. I pulled up the main and set the genoa and soon I was cruising along at more than 7 knots. The plan was not working for I would have to lay ahull all night and behind me in the near distance the storm and rain clouds where gathering. OK what is plan B. I was to pass Toau atoll which has a false pass in its north. The pass at Amyoto states " the pass can be entered and left at any stage of the tide" I also knew that there are secure mooring buoys which one can pick up. It didn't take me long to calculate that I could make the anchorage well before dark so I turned Malua's bow to the entrance and started the engine, for the wind had dropped off prior to the storm hitting.
I entered the pass with just one knot of current helping me in towards the two leads and between the port and starboard marks. I was in and had the mooring line secured well before the sun set creating a wonderful rainbow ad the rain approached. I had finished my precooked meal and had a opened a can of apricots before the first splatter of rain forced me to close the hatches and retire to a warm bunk.
I was up before it got light and planned my move the 25 nm to the Apitaki entrance. As the dawn broke in the east I could just make out the leads I let go the mooring line and turned for the entrance to be assisted by a one knot outgoing current. A great stop, I was refreshed and looking forward to what lay ahead.
I timed my entrance to the Niutahi entrance in the SW corner of Apataki just right. The water was almost slack, no wind and what sun there was was high in the sky. Just follow the leads, turn to starboard when the marks indicated and follow the deep blue water through the last part of the entrance and I was through and heading for the other cruising yachts. On all occasions no mater how deep the water you have to keep a look out for the coral reef which appear from nowhere. They are easily spotted on a sunny day either by the light blue water or the waves breaking in the shallow water. The pearl form buoys are not that easy especially if the wind is causing a chop and you are motoring into the chop. I took the remote autohelm and sat on the top of the hard dogger to be more than 4 meter above the waterline. From here I could see the dangers and steer the boat through the field of buoys. Dropping the anchor amongst the coral heads was a challenge but I did that trusting the wind would not turn to the north.
I was soon in the kayak with a crew fro Cygnus and paddling through the false pass to the end of the earth where the lagoon meets the open sea. Great experience, then back to a deserted pearl farm where I collected a set of empty pearl shells. Back to the boat for a quiet dinner and a good sleep. Two hour before dawn the wind rose and I felt Malua start to rise in the short chop and I found myself on a lee shore and a large coral bommie off the port stern. The anchor watch indicated that I was slowly dragging down wind in the soft coral shale of the atoll. Time to move again but not in the 25 knots of wind I found as the sun came up. I'll have to wait for the sun to get high in the sky before I chance a crossing of the atoll to quieter water. I made it to the NE corner and dropped anchor along side Little Explorers kids boat I had not seen in more than a month. The cruise was back on track and I was having fun again.
At 6/26/2014 3:13 PM (utc) our position was 15°48.42'N 146°09.16'W

Let the cruise of Polynesia begin

The temporary crew Lizzie flew out of Fakarava yesterday and I breathed a huge sigh of relief not that she did not contribute to the sailing or the provisioning of the boat. She was more than generous in the latter area (Thanks Lizzie) but she just did not fit into the cruising community and like it or not I got tired of making excuses to my friends as to why she did not join us on a bike ride, beach BBQ or just a walk on the beach and I was sick of being reminded of the meals we had with others by the wine she gave not the food we enjoyed. I dropped her at Annabell's resort and dive centre where she enjoyed herself diving and being the centre of attention.
Well I am alone again on my boat; yes it is clean to my standard and my chart table has my things on it in the places they have been for the years. I can also sit in the captain's chair when I like not when it is free. Those that have been on Malua will understand these comments.
I left S Fakarava after four days of fantastic fun with all the friends on the other cruising boats. We dived with the sharks, snorkelled the pass both in and out, took photos, kyaked to the kite surfers and had some of the best days of the season. Thanks everyone for a great time. Now let the cruise of Polynesia begin.
Prior to today I have had a few great days with the kids boats on land expeditions, on the beach, snorkelling with the manta rays or just hanging around together but these will be a topic of a further post.
Having decided to leave S Fakarava and go to the northern part of the Atoll I first had to extricate my anchor from the coral heads and rocks that I had laid the anchor chain across. The wind had swung over the past few days and from the surface one could see the anchor chain snake lying between the coral heads in 10 m of water. I dived down to check which way the chain had rapped itself around the first coral head. It was clockwise so back on Malua I steered a course to undo the chain but as I moved forward the chain would not come off the head. Stop. Over the side again and dive down in the crystal clear water to see again. Not clockwise but the other way. So back on the boat and start again but this time the other way round. Success at the second attempt. Only 30 more meters of chain to go.
Slowly I pulled the chain in. Bang the nose of Malua dipped into the sea as the chain snagged another coral head. Over the side with the snorkelling mask. OK, this time it is definitely clockwise but wait there is more … after the first snag ahead 20 m the anchor is wedged between two coral heads with the chain through the valley. Plan, take a bearing ahead and behind and go for it and the weight of the boat will pull the anchor free.
Back on Malua I twist and turn and gain more chain until I only have 17 meters left and the stuck anchor. Return to the wheel put the engine ahead and wait to find out what happens. Malua moves forward, I take in chain, the nose dips but then rises again and we are free. The chain came in as fast as the windlass would wind and I was off to the northern part of the atoll but I had wasted more than a hour so my arrival would be in the dark!
I had a easy time following the channel with no reefs or pearl farm marker buoys to worry about however I still had to take a path past the pearl farms in the north area before I could follow my past route to the anchorage. The sunset was glorious but with the dark came the danger both from the hard bits of the uncharted coral reefs and the large plastic buoys of the pearl farms.
Don't fear the night, switch on the light. has been a mantra I have been quoting all through this cruise. On went the steaming light plus my very powerful hand held search light. I was doing fine spotting the buoys off the bow so I would steer to port and they would pass astern. As my confidence grew and the miles to the destination dropped to less than three I thought I had it made. Out of the darkness just in front of Malua appeared a set of buoys. I could not turn right or left. The only thing I was able to do was slam the engine in to neutral and coast over the line between the buoys. Malua lurched, came to a stop and I could see in the clear water abeam of the rudder the strong rope and the bags of pearl shells. I was caught in a web of ropes. Just then a wave came from behind and Malua's stern rose and we were off again towards the safe anchorage. I was doing great at about 3 knots weaving my way either to port or starboard but I must have entered the middle of the field because I found myself in a maze of multi coloured buoys. I did not know which way to turn. Beam me up Scotty I want to get out of here.
Make a plan and follow it, is the rule. I did and before I knew it I was in the fairway again and steaming towards the place I had anchored before. What a relief to be in clear water again. Is there a lesson to learn from this …. Yes, always have a crew on the bow to guide you through the uncharted waters of the Tuamotu atolls. Will I learn that? Well, that is the story for another post.
At 6/26/2014 3:13 PM (utc) our position was 15°48.42'N 146°09.16'W