Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Anchored in an Atoll

After 9 weeks of rolling passages and swell-wracked anchorages, it feels like we are anchored in a palm fringed lake. And what a lovely feeling that is! Only the most gentle lapping of wavelets and caressing our hull to tell us we are on water.

We saw our first atoll around supper time two days ago. Barely visible at 10 miles, a blur of stubble on the horizon, like a 13 year old boy's moustache. Tikei proved to be a-typical of the atolls we will be visiting, for it was very small (3 kms long) with no lagoon and quite heavily forested in palms. We had altered course to visit this atoll so that we should not arrive too early the next morning at our destination of Kauehi. It felt strange to rein in Ladybug, but the consistent stronger winds (15-20 knots) gave us daily runs of over 130 nautical miles and our best day's run yet of well over 150. This meant we would arrive near midnight at the pass into Kauehi unless we reduced sail.

Before the advent of GPS and radar, the Tuammotus were less visited by yachtsmen. We were very thankful to have good electronic charts as well as a working GPS, and radar, for approaching these low lying islands on a night when there is no moon would be dangerous without an awareness of one's exact position. Our friends on 'Chapter Two' had arrived earlier and heaved to off the north end of he atoll. They reported that a current of about one knot from the south east had set them to the west of the island in the night. Currents and invisible coral reefs make for little sleep. However the charts here are very accurate and on the radar Kauehi and Raraka atoll to the south showed up as thin crescents when we were still about 10 miles off. We sailed through the wide pass between these atolls until about 6:30 when we turned our bows toward Kauehi.

'Chapter Two' led the way into the pass around 10 am. Mike and Karen had bought their boat in the Caribbean and had spent a couple of years cruising in areas of coral. We were grateful to have them lead the way on our first foray into coral infested waters. A tide was still ebbing quite strongly, but we decided not to wait for slack. We saw about 3 knots against us with a few overfalls, but no standing waves. We motored against this and across the lagoon toward an anchorage 7 miles distant that we had learned of in the "Tuamotus Compendium" - an online guide compiled by sailors who have recently visited these isles. Coral can rise instantly from 100 feet, so while Rani steered, I climbed up the rat lines to get a better view down into the water.

We had our first view of an isolated coral patch about half way across the lagoon. Disturbed water - white and frothy - and then an area of light green with a brown patch in the middle. All of this in nearby depths of 80 to 100 feet. We saw one more coral head, this one buoyed, before reaching our anchorage off a large 'motu' or island lying within the lagoon. The waves died down as we approached its palm lined shores, dropping our anchor in about 40 feet over sand. We are anchored at 15 56 S 145 03 W

No comments: