Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Makemo to Tahanea

We had spent three delightful days anchored about eight miles from the western entrance to the lagoon. It was flat calm, beautiful and there were wide patches of sand to anchor in. Still, we felt like moving on so yesterday morning we pulled up the anchor and headed to the western entrance. Not only is the bottom foul with coral heads but it's very steep - either you anchor in ten feet of water or you're in fifty feet. Choosing the latter, we did find a small patch of sand and expertly guided the anchor to a perfect landing. Our friends on Merkava weren't having as good of luck finding a spot as we were so we invited them to share our patch of sand. It did mean that they were going to anchoring very close to us but there was no wind and the forecast said it was supposed to stay that way. I was in the water with my mask and fins on as they approached and I helped guide their anchor to the sandy spot. As I was looking down, I noticed a large shark swimming underneath me. Mark, standing on his deck, shouted to his wife, Yuka, "Hey, there's a shark swimming under Neal!" They both thought this was funny as they know that I dislike swimming with sharks.

Later, in the dinghy, Ruthie and I checked out the entrance itself, just to get 'the lay of the land'. The tide was ebbing so we just drifted along the shore of the pass. The water surface was just about a foot above the coral and with the crystal-clear water, it was like looking at a quarter-mile long aquarium. Beautiful damselfish, wrasse, angelfish, parrot fish, dozens I couldn't identify plus, of course, sharks. We drifted along until we were almost at sea and then we'd motor back to the lagoon side of the entrance and drift back through again. Later, everyone (except me) did the same thing expect in the water while I stayed in the dinghy.

About 0130 this morning, the wind picked up and the sound of the anchor chain dragging across the coral heads was driving me nuts. The sound travels up the chain and the hull of the boat acts like a drum. It's a horrible sound and it kept me awake so at first light I fired up the engine in preparation for us to leave. The tide was at about maximum ebb as we approached the pass and was forming small waves like those on river rapids. There were also huge swirls and whirlpools as the water from a 40-mile long lagoon tried to force it's way out the narrow pass. With Ruthie at the helm, we passed close to a large whirlpool that caught Rutea's bow and tried to yank it in. Rutea rolled hard and swung to the left. "Full power!" I yelled and with her large propeller and barn door-sized rudder hard over to starboard, Rutea rolled just as hard back to the right. Straightening out, we aimed for the center of the pass - the knot meter showing we were doing 13.1 knots. Once we cleared the pass, we got a call on the radio from Mark on Merkava who had been watching our progress on his AIS screen. "You guys hit 14.9 knots through the pass!" he said.

The passage to Tahanae turned out to be very squally. We'd reef the sails for a squall and then shake out the reefs once the squall had passed only to reef again for the next one. Ruthie complained that she had gotten too used to the flat calm water of Makemo and wasn't happy with the current weather. Her mood did improve as the squalls passed and I caught a small tuna. Our entrance to Tahanae was uneventful as we had timed the tides perfectly. After spending almost an hour looking for a sandy patch in which to drop the anchor, I just said, "To hell with it," and dropped the hook in a convenient spot. It might take us all day to get it back up when we decide to leave. There's a school of black-tipped sharks swimming around the boat and I can just hear them saying, "Come on in, Neal. The water's fine!"
At 5/17/2011 1:15 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°51.01'S 144°41.55'W

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1 comment:

  1. Yikes! Sounds like Homer's Odyssey - sea monsters - Rutea between Scylla and Charybdis!