Monday, October 29, 2012

Trying times in the Tuamotus

Position: 14°27'S, 146°02'W - Manihi

After a few farewell drinks and pizza with Brian and Sue, we departed Papeete on Wednesday for the next leg of our journey. The route was straightforward – leave Papeete, take a right and head northeast. Three independent weather sources forecast the wind to be an east-southeast 10-15 knots, perfect sailing conditions for Ashling and a nice way for us to ease ourselves back into it.

Quelle surprise! We rounded the corner from Papeete Harbour and ran straight into our old familiar friend, the 20 knot wind, gusting to 25 knots. Talk about déjà-vu. We initially thought it was convergence effect ("accelerated winds created when the local wind over the island's hills and valleys collides with the dominant wind blowing at open sea" - Skipper) but after two hours, it was still going strong with waves splashing into the cockpit every few minutes. For the hundredth time, we regretted not installing a spray dodger (aka windshield) to shelter the cockpit before leaving Auckland. We also had a few choice words about the weather forecasts for French Polynesia.

We had planned to stop along the way at Rangiroa Island, the second largest atoll and lagoon in the world, but our three attempts over 12 hours were scuppered by strong winds and currents pushing us in the opposite direction to the lagoon entrance. In fairness, we had been calling the island Rangiora (a town in New Zealand) since we heard about it so perhaps our mispronunciation upset the powers that be. So we sucked it up and settled down for another few days at sea in what turned out to be nice, sunny days and clear, moonlit nights.

Sailing under a full moon is a magical experience. It's dark but it's light; it's scary but it's peaceful; you're alone but the moon is with you, watching over you and guiding you along the way. With the wind and waves aligned, the boat ploughs rhythmically through the water, leaving trails of phosphorescence trailing behind. A cloud formation appears every now and then, looking like balls of cotton wool strung together or candy floss strewn across the sky. The breeze is warm and you spot familiar stars like Orion, reminding you that while you may be far from home, the night sky is still the same. Put all that together with Nessun Dorma or the Ministry of Sound pumping on the iPod and it really feels like nature is putting on a show.

Our second attempt to break up the voyage to the Marquesas was more successful. On Sunday, we diverted slightly off our course to Manihi, another island in the Tuamotu group. The Tuamotu islands are different to Tahiti and Moorea as they are coral atolls – circles of land created by underwater volcanos (submerge a large bowl in a sink of water so that just the rim is above the water and you'll get the picture). Historically these islands were known as the 'Dangerous Archipelago' due to the many shipwrecks in the area. The islands are so low that they do not appear until you are almost on top of them. It's quite unnerving - you can see it on the chart, you know it's there, but there's no sign of it. Then suddenly a few palm trees appear on the horizon and voila! It's an island! Thanks to GPS, Jimmy Cornell, Charlie's Charts and anecdotes from many brave sailors over the years, sailing in the area is now more enjoyable, much safer and easier on the blood pressure.

We braved it through the entry pass just after high tide on Sunday evening with the help of a friendly local fisherman, anchored up, sat back and watched a fabulous sunset over a beer. Tomorrow we explore!

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