The Marquesas to the Tuamotus Islands
Hiva Oa, Marquesas
Depart: Thursday 11.05.23
By the time I got up everyone else was busy getting tasks done. John and Cedric were filling up the fuel tanks from the containers and Karen was cleaning up the stains from the red wine spilt the previous night. The washing needed collecting, as did the gas bottle, and the jerrycans needed to be filled with diesel fuel. However, there was chaos on shore. The supply vessel was still being unloaded so there was no fuel available for several hours. The area was full of cars that needed / wanted fuel and the local police were trying to deal with the situation. To add to this the power went down so the petrol station had to close. Fortunately J and K managed to get the gas bottle, the washing and a packet of bacon during this time. Once they were back on board it was time for breakfast, bacon sandwiches and a cup of tea. There was very little of the island to explore, without a car, so the decision was made to leave for the Tuamotus Islands, some 500nm away. Problem was, the workaround that I had to start the starboard engine was not working. I’m not sure if it was a flat battery or a new issue? So the anchor and control of the yacht was made under one engine. Not ideal considering the state of the swell and the nearness of other boats. Luckily we avoided any problems and we were underway. The genoa was set as we passed through the two islands and just before exiting them we put up the main sail. A beam / broad reach and we were sailing at a good speed. The seas were flat which also made for a lovely point of sail. My brother had been asked to liaise on my behalf to organise a replacement for the MDI unit. It appears that the engine is still under warranty so a considerable saving will be made if I can convince VP that this unit is not working.
The wind speed and direction has been constant all night long and the miles are quickly going by. No other vessels in the area and, thankfully, the domestic / house battery situation is holding up. Is that due to the wind and water generators working together? I was fooled! Someone had swopped from domestic battery to an engine battery. What I thought was a good healthy charge on the domestic batteries turned out to be one of the engine batteries. Now have to run the engine to charge up the domestic batteries! We had a fish on the line but lost it as it was being brought in. However, a few hours later we landed another, a skipjack tuna. All filleted and now in the fridge awaiting a meal for tomorrow. Wind has dropped off and is swirling around. In two hours I fell off the rhumb line by 2nm. Not good! For most of the afternoon and evening we suffered from very light winds, the sails were clanging from side to side and little headway was being made. Let’s hope that we have a change of wind speed shortly.
Painfully slow progress. Hardly a breath of wind to power the boat. Boat sails have been put away and we are now running on a single engine as I’m unable to get the other one started. Only another 265 miles before we get to Taenga! However, if the timing isn’t perfect to go through the reef (need slack tide and sun high in the air to see any obstructions) then we shall continue on to Makemo, the next island in the chain. This morning I thought I would check everything out on the starboard engine again to try to resolve the issue of starting. First, check the starboard engine battery. Perfect with 13.7v showing on the meter. Next, the wiring. This time I pulled wires out of their socket and then plugged them back in, just to make sure that they were fully engaged. The one and only wire that I never checked before was the engine earth wire that had a new ring terminal end fitted in Bonaire. One would have thought that this would have been a good connection as it was only repaired recently. Well I was wrong. Just by touch I could see that it was not fully engaged in the end terminal. Using an adjustable spanner I pushed the wire up to the terminal end and asked Cedric to see if the engine would start. It did. Having left it to run for some time I then checked to see if the batteries were charging. Sadly, they weren’t. Which meant that I had to switch off the engine, go and reconnect the earth wire to the terminal end properly, and then reconnect it to the engine block. As I was undoing the bolt holding the wire to the block the terminal end came adrift from the wire. This definitely needed a repair but I did not have another terminal end nor a crimping tool. The best I could do was to strip back the wire casing, twist the wires around the bolt and the tighten the bolt back to the block. Once done would the engine start? Of course it did. Next, we’re the batteries charging? Of course they were, both engine and house batteries were charged up to 13.7v each. Am I relieved? Of course I am. One doesn’t want to pass through the Tuamotus atolls with only half the engine power when it’s scary enough under full power with all the problems of current and coral reefs to avoid!
04:00. Start of the day for me, still no wind. Starboard engine still working and batteries are being charged. At least that’s two positives, but the whole purpose of having a sailing yacht is to sail it, not run the engines day and night. Which is what I have done over the last 36 hours! We have passed a small atoll, some 20nm on our port side. Don’t think it was another vessel as nothing came up on the AIS system to indicate that a boat was in the vicinity.
During the afternoon a pod / school of dolphins came by the boat and stayed for about 20 minutes. These were larger than the ones we usually see and had a mottled look on their body. Checked my fishing line and another lure has been had. Losing more lures than catching fish, in fact it might be cheaper to buy the fish than keep forking out for replacement lures!
I wish I could say (or even sing!), ‘We’re riding along on the crest of a wave’, but we’re not. We’re just bobbing along at a measly 3.5nm an hour. We have another day before we arrive in Makemo, some 92nm away, and in fact we are going to have to SLOW down, believe it or not! The atolls have passed that one enters and exits by. These passes need to be completed in good daylight, often with the sun high in the sky and preferably behind, in order to avoid the coral reefs in them. We also need to go through them with a slack tide, reducing the current that races either in or out, depending on a number of factors; sea state, strength of wind, whether the wind has been blowing strongly over a period of days, etc, etc. It just so happens that it will still be dark on our approach (04:00 - 05:00), and slack tide ought to be around 09:00, about four hours after our anticipated arrival time. So, really little point in complaining about the weather as I don’t think it would have been any better had we been travelling at a couple of knots faster. But just to illustrate how painfully slow the passage has been, I’ve finished reading two books in the past few days. The first, The Wilt Inheritance by Tom Sharpe, the second A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. I’m not sure the person reviewing Sharpe’s book read the same one that I read. He / she said it was savage and side splittingly funny. It was neither. I would go so far and say it was worse than the two Clive Cussler books that I read earlier in this journey. Bryson on the other hand is always a great read wherever you are. And what better place than in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where you have nothing but a voluminous view of water to read about the Appalachian Trail, a walk of over 2150 miles where most of trail is tree lined and the 360’ view is of…… trees!
Another fish and lure lost. Whilst reading Bryson I heard the sound of the elastic strap that I had attached the fishing line to snap off. Looking at the rod it was bending quite a bit. Before I could get to the rod the line snapped like gunfire, the fish that had been hooked managed to break the 30lb breaking strain line. In the distance we could see a sizeable fish, looked like another dorado, leap out of the water into the air. It was obviously trying now to dislodge the hook that had snared it but unfortunately it’s very likely that the hook will remain in place and, what was going to be a meal for us will undoubtedly be a meal for one of its predators.
04:00. We have arrived about 9nm outside the entrance to the pass. Daylight is not for another two hours at least so we are working our way back and forth towards the pass, hoping that when the sun rises we are just outside the pass and we have a good view of the conditions in the pass. If favourable, then we will look to go through into the lagoon, if not, we continue to go up and down the island entrance until the light is good enough to consider going through. We entered the channel just before 08:00 and found a place to drop the anchor. Unfortunately it took three attempts before the anchor dug in to the sand and held. A couple of hours were spent cleaning the hull and sugar scoops, the sugar scoops covers in green algae that took an age to remove. In the afternoon we went off to walk around the island and check out the local stores, just to see what provisions they had. A beer by the sea and a chat with the skipper and crew of another yacht that arrived at the island an hour after us. Such was the company that we decided to all go and have dinner together. On return to the tender we stopped at the community centre to listen / see the locals practicing for a forthcoming inter island event involving dance and music. What a lovely experience it was to see so many people gathering together to participate in the event. Back in the tender we had to negotiate the low water and rock outcrops that, without a light to guide us, we / I hit several times. We did manage to get back to the boat without to much damage to the tender and with the outboard engine still working!
Up early, not by design but because it was just too hot staying below in the cabin. A few jobs to do on the boat before setting off for another anchorage at the northern end of the island. Chris, who we had met yesterday and had dinner with, had brought us a few packs of yellow fin tuna that they had caught a few days earlier. What a star! John and Karen went for a run, Cedric a walk, and I remained on board to bake some bread. A bit later Cedric returned with the fuel and the tanks were topped in preparation for leaving, and later still John and Karen returned with the groceries. A swim and a shower by all before raising the anchor to leave for a new anchorage. The passage was strewn with extremely shallow or exposed parcels of land which we had to try to identify and then avoid as we headed towards the anchorage. Quite a stressful journey but we eventually managed to get there safely before sunset and dropped the anchor in a very serene place. A beer on the foredeck and then it was time to prepare supper. As we had been given the tuna earlier this morning it would be a shame not to have some of it now, so a tuna curry with mashed potatoes was on the menu. After supper it was time for a few glasses of wine before retiring for the night.
Up early this morning, for no particular reason. The views from the yacht of the island and surrounding waters were absolutely stunning. By 08:00 boats were leaving to get through the northern pass at low tide. We have decided to leave at high tide and to go to the next island, Tahanea, about 60 nm away and arrive there tomorrow morning at low tide. This will save us not having to bob around for 8 - 10hrs waiting for the tide to change and to go through the pass in daylight. In the meantime the kayaks were inflated and a trip to the island beckoned. A short exploration visit and then back to the boat, look at the potential problem of the anchor and prepare the evening meal before setting off. We saw a few reef sharks swimming close by the boat, black tipped and just over a metre long. No doubt they were searching for food but they do not attack humans….. or so I’m lead to believe! At 12:00 we set off to leave. The anticipated anchor issue never materialised and the crossing of the lagoon to the northern exit wasn’t as bad as the crossing from the first anchorage to the one we have just left. There was so many shallow areas with a hint of land that, if you weren’t careful and had a good lookout, you could easily find the boat hitting the reef or coral stack. Thankfully the exit was much easier. Also the pass through to the open water was not as bad as I expected. We arrived two hours before high tide started to end. I was fully expecting to see quite a bit of water being churned up inside the pass but it was relatively flat. I could quite easily get away with just going through these passes at any time, high tide or low tide, but I mustn’t be drawn into a false sense of security. Let the sailor beware. It is not always like this. Since yesterday afternoon and until we get to Fakarava we will be devoid of any phone signal, no Wi-Fi connection or social media interaction so I may as well switch off my phone for the next few days!
Well, who would have expected it. The moderate winds that we had when we left Makemo have suddenly come alive and we’re blowing up to 25kts. Not what we wanted nor expected. We arrived at the pass three hours early and are now waiting for both low tide, at 09:15 and the winds to decrease, which they are slightly. Have just been in contact with a sailing cat that has just exited the pass and he said it was doable but lively. He came out with wind against tide and these conditions create large standing waves. Hopefully, in a couple of hours the wind will have dropped, the tide turned in our direction and the entry will be a bit smoother. Who would believe in the complete change in the weather conditions. Most of the early hours of the morning we had squalls and winds exceeding 25kts. Large and bumpy seas and not comfortable conditions. After going through the pass of the atoll just after 09:00, taking advantage of the low tide, and motoring 6nm to an anchorage, we have benign conditions. Hardly a breath of fresh air, flat seas and the sun, cooking me and everything else. Added to that, we are in an idyllic setting. No other boats as far as the eye can see, turquoise and crystal clear water and long white sandy beaches. The setting reminds me of the Maldives, the difference being here that there is only one person living on the island, and it’s not Robinson Crusoe! He works the copra, drying the coconut shells and then taking them from this island to another by boat before they go forward to Tahiti to extract the coconut oil. A kayak to shore, a bit of exploring (and getting bitten again by the mosquitoes!) then snorkelling before returning to the boat. This is paradise! Supper was another meal of tuna that we were given a few days back, with a homemade potato salad, again, a fantastic evening.
Woken up by the sound of rain. I leave all the windows and doors open just to get air circulating through the boat, so I had to get up to close them. At the same time Karen got up to do exactly the same thing. I’m glad I have got very thoughtful crew on the boat as it was around 04:30! Went back to bed but unable to sleep so up at 06:00. The sun is shining and I’m sure it’s going to be another day in paradise. Before breakfast I had taken at least two swims, over the coral reefs and then it was back to baking bread. We seem to be getting through more and more each day. In the afternoon it was another swim / snorkel, a paddle in the kayak to see if we could find any lobsters in the rock faces and then back to the boat. Later in the afternoon our isolation was interrupted by another yacht coming in. Oh well, at least we had nearly three days of being here on our own. Cooked supper again, a chicken (type) curry / stew. As the nights get dark very quickly, it is now 20:18, I’m signing off to go to bed.
My son’s birthday today. Have sent him a message via my InReach as we have no phone signal here. We will be leaving this little bit of paradise in a couple of hours and within a day we will be back in communication with the rest of the world! There is something to be said about not having to be always on our phones, checking our messages and finding out what’s happening in the world, but then again, I don’t think we are able to survive too long without it. (We did go 23days without any communication when crossing from the Galapagos to the Marquesas!). An easy motor sail to the pass and an easy exit. Once out in the open seas the wind was blowing sufficiently for both sails to be set and the engine switched off. Later on we had a blow come through, but thankfully no rain. An ideal time to reef both the main and genoa before we lost the light. Made contact with a passing boat that had recently left Fakarava. He was able to tell me when then low tide will be tomorrow morning, at around 10:00. I was able to pass on information to him about Tahanea, how to enter the pass and where to make for. Sharing information is the key to getting the most out of sailing in unknown areas.
When I came on watch at 04:00 we could see the island of Fakarava. We still had another 10+nm before we got to the northern pass and low tide was expected around 10:00. By 06:00 it was getting light so if conditions looked good then we could enter the pass early. An hour or so later we dropped the main sail just motor sailed to the entrance. Wind was low and it didn’t appear as though there were problems going through sooner than planned, so this is what we did. Wide pass and plenty of depth so no issues at all. The same with going down to the anchorage by the village. The channel for navigation was marked which made it easier than the last island. At the anchorage it was difficult to see where there were bommies (coral heads) so we just hoped that we would hit a Sandy patch. We didn’t! The anchor caught hold of a coral head so we hope that when it comes to raising the anchor there won’t be any problems. A quick dive over the anchor suggested all should be fine. A walk to the dive shop to see if we could book a dive for tomorrow but they were fully booked until next week. However another shop had availability for the southern pass. On the way we met up with Richard from ‘Cankiwi’ who told us of two more tuna they had caught and a Wahoo. He even offered to give us some more tuna, so we then offered to invite them over our yacht for drinks and nibbles. It was going to be an early dinner but I didn’t start cooking until they had left, which was close to 19:00. A tuna and rice curry before finishing the last of the rum! Not too sensible when we were diving tomorrow!
Up early as Cedric wanted to be on shore by 08:00 and we were being collected for the dive at 09:00. A bit of bread and peanut butter for breakfast and then it was off to the shore with Cedric, with another run to the shore with John and Karen. A trip by car to the dive shop, kitted out with mask and flippers and then on to the rib for a rapid crossing to the first dive site. With 10 people trying to all put on their dive gear it was a bit cramped for space. However, we managed it and the 10 were split into two groups. First dive down to 22m where we saw numerous species of fish with a few reef sharks included. A break for lunch (tea, water and biscuits) before returning for the second dive. This time we went down to 25m, drift diving along a wall with quite a strong current. The fish we saw were far greater in number with many more reef sharks seen and a conger eel. No rays of any description on either dive but it was good to see that the coral was still alive. I had borrowed Cedric’s GoPro but the quality of the videos that I took was not great. Too many scenes of flippers being seen and very little else. Maybe I’m not meant to be a movie maker!