Friday, May 30, 2014

On my way to Tahiti!

This post finds me underway to Papeete, Tahiti. I'm sailing to Tahiti!

The last post was from Kauehi. I left there on the 19th for an overnight sail to Fakarava. It is only 25 miles pass-to-pass, which would be doable in a daylight passage, but I wanted to ensure I had enough time after entering the atoll to find a suitable place to anchor, and to wait for good light if there were squalls rolling through. It was a conservative decision, but I make lots of those.

The sail was uneventful, which is how I like it. I ended up sailing with a deeply reefed main and staysail with the wind in the mid teens in order to keep my speed low as I sailed around outside the Fakarava north pass. I went through at around slack at 8:30am and made my way across the atoll and about half way down the eastern side to an anchorage.

I'll make two points here. The CMAP electronic charts I have are spot on. They have been close to perfect in my experience so far in French Polynesia. I've also heard good things about Navionics. The second point is that for anybody preparing to explore these areas, definitely visit the web site by s/v Soggy Paws. They are cruisers who have compiled a set of compendiums for many areas of the South Pacific. There is one for the Tuamotus which has been very helpful. You can find the compendium in the Files area of their website.

The anchorage I first stayed in was described in the compendium as having lots of sand. I was the only boat there at the time and motored all over looking for the big sand patch I was imagining. I finally realized that it didn't exist, looked for a relatively large one and anchored. I then dove on my anchor, didn't like it, found a new spot close by while in the water, moved and re-anchored. That was pretty easy. I'm experimenting with my anchor setup by adding the pearl buoys to my anchor chain. I won't say much about that, its described in the compendium in a chapter where they talk about anchoring in coral.

I stayed at that first anchorage for a night and then moved over to the SE corner of the atoll, Hirifa. This time I was expecting a lot of sand again, and as I approached and motored around the anchorage I wasn't disappointed. The water seemed to be a uniform light blue color with occasional dark patches. I picked a large uniform patch and anchored. When I dove on my anchor I realized that there was about 25 feet of visibility in 35 feet of water, and in fact the bottom had quite a lot of coral. My chain was draped over a few patches of low coral quite close to the anchor. I moved the boat to a new spot and aimed the anchor for being just behind a dark patch where it looked like there was a large sand patch. When I dove the anchor I again saw the chain draped over coral - but if I could move it back about 10 feet it would be in a large bit of sand. So I raised the anchor 10 feet off the bottom, let the boat drift 10 feet and dropped anchor again. After diving the anchor I confirmed it was a good spot, added the pearl buoys and called it good.

There was a small wind event arriving in two days, 20 knots forecast when the wind had been in the low to mid teens for a few weeks before. After the event the wind was forecast to die out for a while. So I and six other boats waited in what is a very sheltered anchorage and then moved on afterwards. I waited a couple days and then moved over to the Fakarava south pass. This is the pass which has the reputation for outstanding snorkeling and is the reason a lot of boats come to Fakarava, myself included.

Sorry for all the anchoring talk, its a thing down here. You have a choice of two anchorages for the south pass, either the east side or the west side. The east side is closer to the pass but is deeper and very corally. The west side is also very corally but not as deep. The west side is also close to many motus which make interesting exploring and are beautiful to look at. I choose the west side. The compendium favors this side as well, and described a large area, room for 20 boats, with lots of sand between the coral. I spent an hour motoring around, again, looking for the big sand patch. It didn't exist. I finally choose a spot in 22 feet of water and made it work for me. I again dove the anchor, added the pearl buoys and then spent a day on the boat watching how it acted in building winds. There was a reef 100' to my leeward and several coral heads within 10 feet of the surface at the extreme edge of my swinging radius, so I would be on top of one or the other often.

When I was cruising through Hawaii two years ago, I had to anchor in coral many times and thought that I was getting to be pretty good at it. I realize now how easy Hawaii is. I was always able to find a large area of sand. The Tuamotus are much more challenging, and single handing down here makes it ever more challenging. I've added to my knowledge of anchoring in coral now. One thing I realize is how little I like doing it. Give me a good sand or mud bottom any day.

By now the wind had increased in strength to be regularly in the low 20's, but the anchor was holding fine. Time to start exploring. Here is where the story takes a little detour into frustration. My dinghy engine had started causing some problems when I arrived in the Marquesas, the carb was leaking gas. This had mostly stopped and the engine was again running reliably. However, when I went to explore in my dinghy in my last stop in Fakarava, by the south pass, the destination I had been looking forward to for months, the engine again started causing a problem. It would stall every time I throttled up. From my anchorage, downwind was the interior of the atoll, and I didn't feel confident that I could row the dinghy against the wind I had, back to the boat. The engine was unreliable. There were no other boats in the area at that time. I had a decision to make - do I take the risk with the engine and see all the sights I so wanted to see, or do I pass on it and carry on to Tahiti where I hope to get the engine fixed. I again took the conservative, and slightly disappointing decision to carry on, stay safe, but miss the sights. I had some good snorkeling in Fakarava's east side, lots of fish and coral to explore. But the south pass is the place that makes Fakarava famous. Drat.

Once that decision was made, I left the next day to exit Fakarava's north pass. I exited the pass at 4:30pm and started sailing immediately. I had decided to motor inside the atoll even though my charts ended up being excellent and the wind was good. I feel more comfortable having good visibility in all directions to spot coral heads and to be able to easily and quickly manouvor. I saw lots of others sailing around.

The winds where I am now are excellent, in the low to mid 20's from the ESE, so I'm making good time to Papeete. If I arrive late in the day, or at night, I plan to anchor in the Point Venus anchorage which I have heard is easy to anchor in at night and is close to the Papeete pass.

My time in the Tuamotus was pretty social, I met the crew of many new boats which was cool. However, while in the Tuamotus I didn't visit any of the villages, so by now my fresh food is almost completely gone. I have a few carrots left. I'm looking forward to city life again.

All is well onboard. My next post will be from Tahiti!

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