13 | A Voyage Through the Tuomotu Archipelago
The Marquesas islands have left a deep impression on us, with their soaring cliffs and dramatic scenery, but it was now time to set sail to a very different group of islands, the Tuomotus. In the Tuomotus, the dark green cliffs of the Marquesas have been exchanged for turquoise lagoons filled with coral and fringed by low islands covered in coconut palms. We extricated ourselves from the crowded harbor at Atuona, using the dinghy to retrieve the second bow anchor and cast off the stern line.
Once outside the inner basin, we briefly anchored once again to coil down all the lines and hose the mud off the decks in preparation for putting to sea. We left Hiva Oa today, we left from the bay of Atuona, and we are on the way to Kauehi in the Tuamotus. It's about 500 miles to the Tuamotus from here. It will take us about four days or so to get there. Winds were light at first, as we were still in the lee of the island of Tahuata, but in the night the trade winds settled in again as we pulled clear of the land. It always takes a couple of days to settle into the groove of passage-making. Once we become acclimated to the strange sleep schedule and the motion of the boat, the watches pass easily.
Hours can be spent gazing at the endlessly rolling waves as they pass under the vessel on their own journey over the horizon. What's on the menu tonight? uh, corned beef hash Conditions were generally pretty gentle, with good sailing breezes interspersed by occasional calms. The seas stayed low, and the windvane did most of the steering. We developed a bit of a chafe problem on the windvane control line. So far we have had zero luck with the fishing out here, which is very depressing I'll try again with a longer line As we neared the Tuomotus, the weather started to become a bit squally.
We reefed the mainsail in the evening, and later dropped it entirely as heavy winds hit. The chafed windvane line parted in the midst of a squall, so we had to hand steer through the night. The charted locations of some of the islands is reported to be incorrect, so it was very comforting to have the radar confirm that the atolls were exactly where we thought as we approached them in the dark. The Tuomotus are atolls, thin ribbons of land surrounding a vast interior lagoon.
They are the last remains from ancient volcanic islands that have completely eroded away. Only the coral reefs that surrounded the islands remain, continually repairing themselves with added layers of coral. Sand is pushed by the sea up onto the high points of the reef, forming a long line of small islands. In some places there is no land at all, posing a serious hazard to early navigators in the area. We timed our entrance into the lagoon on Kauehi as near to slack water as possible, as the tidal currents that race through the passes can make transiting quite dangerous. When it was clear that there were no large standing waves in the entrance, we pushed on through the gap in the reef.
As we walked through the village, we were invited to a house to share some drinking coconuts. So we just learned how to say thank you very much in Tahitian, and it's "Māuruuru roa!", Thank you very much. When we arrived back at the beach, we found that the Aranui had arrived and was disgorging a horde of tourists onto the island. Our sense of remote isolation was shattered! The ship only stayed a few hours, and disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.
Passing rain showers are very welcome on the island, as the rain provides the only source of fresh drinking water. Pulling our anchor out of the sandy bottom, we headed across the lagoon to an uninhabited reef. A bow watch is extremely important when navigating in the lagoons, as large coral heads called bommies reach up from the depths and linger just below the surface. Most are not charted, so good lighting and a sharp lookout are required.
Anchoring in the Tuamotus is often in small sandy patches between coral heads. To protect the coral and prevent tangling the anchor chain it is often necessary to float the chain. This was our first time floating the chain so we immediately jumped into the water to check out how it had worked. It seemed perfect, but we came face to face with several very interested sharks.
We quickly exited the water and the sharks proceeded to circle the boat the entire time we were there. It seemed that fishermen may have used this spot and tossed food over the side to the sharks, they were so dedicated to staying near the boat. While black tip sharks are not man-eaters, we decided to do our snorkeling from the beach rather than from the boat.
It is our second full day on Kauehi and we just moved anchorages from the village over to the SE end of the atoll. And it's picture perfect, it is absolutely amazing. We are the only boat here, the sun is setting and we had a snorkel earlier and saw some of the most incredible coral, sharks, fish, an eagle ray, it's simply amazing.
It's all a million shells With the weather changing, we started to think about sailing to another atoll. Passages between islands can be tricky to plan, as you want good light and slack tide for the pass entrance at each end of the journey. Distances are long enough that it is not possible to make the passage on a single tide.
Looking at tides, distances, and safe entrances we decided that an overnight sail to the island of Toau made the most sense. We had three different sources of tidal information on board, and none of them agreed. The weather can also effect the time of slack water, as waves break over the windward reef and fill the lagoon.
The calculations are helpful, but it is best to arrive early and watch with binoculars to see what the waves are doing in the entrance. It was probably still a bit early when we entered the pass at Toau, as there was still a strong current flowing against us. We had heard about a secret anchorage, tucked into an uncharted portion of the reef. With a few waypoints to reference, we decided to nose our way in and see if it looked clear enough to anchor.
The entrance was wide and safe and we continued deeper into the reef. The clear channel narrowed like a trap, and we suddenly found bommies just below the surface all around. Some were deep enough to pass over, but many were not.