Monday, July 02, 2012

Raroia, Tuamotu - The trouble with anchoring at Atolls. Varo lobster.

July 2, 2012
Raroia atoll, Tuamotu, French Polynesia, South Pacific Ocean
Anchorage Position near Village: 16°02.4156'S 142°28.2738'W

Weather information indicated that the wind might shift from SE to E to NE and maybe even N, so we'd need to move to the other side of the lagoon. More than anything I was just eager to explore more of the lagoons uncharted waters and remote motus.

In the 'Google' age, few things are unknown, taking an element of fun out of exploring off the beaten path. However, sailing where there are no nautical charts provides adventure, heightening the senses to avoid perils and mishaps. There are no guarantees that after you get tire of playing Captain Cook that a nice anchorage will be waiting to drop the hook for lunch. This is the problem with the uncharted interiors of many of the atoll lagoons, unless you stick to the guide book, you always have to search around for a place to anchor.

Anchoring is doubly difficult if you're expecting a major wind shift from SE to N. The problem is the innumerable coral heads on the bottom of the lagoon and shifting winds will surely drag the chain around damaging the coral and likely permanently fouling the chain. When I say fouling the chain I mean it will get so tangled and jammed in the coral as to be irretrievably lost requiring it to be cut off. The short term result of being fouled is a reduction in scope (ratio of depth of water to length of chain deployed) and resulting reduction in 'cantenary' (curve in the chain) that absorbs much of the shock loads from waves and wind. In the worst case scenario the chain could break suddenly and the boat ground, being lost on a shoal. So, clearly finding a good place to anchor is critical, especially when you are far from a helping hand.

The central lagoon is about 60 meters deep and near the edges 25 meters from which point there is usually a steep sand slope that quickly reduces the depth to 3 meters and then there might be a substantial sand flat with 1 to 3 meter depths, but this area is studded with coral outcrops reducing the effective depth to near zero. If you anchor in 25 meters and foul your chain, there is no way to free dive down and have enough bottom time to get any work done. If you need to cut the chain at this depth you lose lots of chain. So, anchoring in 25 meters is definitely out. So we try to anchor on top of the sand slope so the anchor is in shallow water and the chain and boat hangs out over deep water where the chain can't get fouled. This technique requires steady predictable winds as a big wind shift will have the boat in the 1-3 meter shoals with damaging coral heads. So, our approach is to try to find an anomaly that allows us to anchor in 15 meters or less, have swing room and avoid tangling coral heads. This is very hard to find. We did find two such areas on the SE side of the lagoon (GPS locations indicated in previous posts). In each case there was a secondary shoal reef that angled away from the primary reef edge. The intervening space between the shoals had a gradual slope and more moderate water depths in the sub 15 meter range. The added benefit of the secondary reef is that in a major wind shifts this reef would provide protection from wind driven chop for an entire quadrant of the compass. Finding these anomalies is not easy and after more than an hour scouring the reef edge on the North side of the lagoon pass without success we headed back to the main village anchorage.

Regis and Tatiana and their daughter Kivahei saw us sailing by and launched their panga to pay us a visit and invite us to dinner. So, we headed in for dinner around 5PM and enjoyed a beautiful evening sitting on their beachfront. Regis showed me how to properly split a coconut with an ax and we lit a few dried coconut husks with some kerosene to provide some fragrant smoke to deter mosquitos. The trick with the coconuts is to start a small fire with the dry husks then burn a ripe coconut with a thick layer of oily coconut meat for the nice aroma.

We discussed fishing at length with an emphasis on wading for lobster on the reef edge at night. The most productive times being during a new moon when the tide is just beginning to flood and the same evening as the tide begins to ebb. Lobsters come up from the deeper waters on the edge of the reef to forage on the flats. By wading with a bright light (preferably a Coleman gas lantern) the lobsters can be visually located and picked up by hand. Regis said on a good night he could harvest 50 kilos on a remote edge of the reef (for export to Tahiti). He noted that the reefs close to the village were fished out. We also discussed fishing for Varo, a lobster like creature that burrows into soft sand. Once a prospective lair is located visually be seeing a hole in the sand, the test is to touch the hole and if it collapses revealing a larger hole you have a Varo lair. Dangling a baited hook, squid jib type hooks or up to seven small conventional hooks, over the hole while splashing the water above, the Varo will emerge to the baited hook and grasp it tightly allowing capture. The tail of the creature is highly prized table fare. We look forward to finding a suitable atoll to try for a Varo. Apparently, Raroia is not so ideal as the sand is too consolidated and the Varo prefer softer sand.

Today we've planned an outing with Regis, Tatiana and Kivahei aboard their boat to swim at the pass, visit their motu across the lagoon and do some free boarding which is riding a surf board while being towed by the boat.

That's it for now.

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