Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Underway Tuamotus Day 4

June 26, 2012
Underway Position at 8AM local: 15°54'S 142°24'W

Yesterday we scouted out anchoring possibilities at Napuka atoll. At 10:30AM we dropped sail half a mile off the concrete wharf on the Westerly end of Napuka and headed closer for a look The wind was NE 15 with a NE swell of 1.5 meters and a long period SE swell of 2.5 meters. Due to the NE swell, surf was occasionally closing out the small basin next to the wharf. In calm conditions it might be possible for the very adventurous to attempt a med moor to the wharf or perhaps even go alongside with huge fenders. However, in these conditions even taking a powerful RIB into the basin would require careful timing of the sets and bravado to land on the concrete boat ramp. We circled around a few times just outside the surf to grab some soundings, which indicated the bottom shoaled quickly from 40 meters to about 10 meters. Swing room would be severely limited or non-existent with the hook in 10 meters. Locals began to congregated on the pier and were watching us with keen interest. We really wanted to stop for a visit, but the NE swell was blowing things out. So we ran close to the reef for 1/4 mile to the SW, arriving at the westerly most point of the atoll. A big SE swell was blowing up on the reef on the southern shore, but there was a small patch of water near the point that held a little promise. We cruised around scouting the bottom and when we'd found a 10 meter patch Kathy jumped in to snorkel around and check out the bottom type. It was mostly coral rubble and our attempt to get the anchor to hold was futile. I dropped the anchor on the 10 meter patch and by the time I had 35 meters of chain out the boat was already in 40 meters of water. The anchor quickly slid down the steep underwater slope and Kathy watching from the water gave me the hand slicing across the throat signal to tell me 'it's just not working'. By the time I began retrieving the anchor it was dangling below the boat far from even touching the bottom. Kathy clamored back aboard and said it was just not going to work. In the interim many locals had congregated and were motioning us to come ashore. Knowing Napuka probably has almost zero visitors we really wanted to land so I gave it one more try. This time I snuck into 8 meters (14°10.1163S 141°16.5830W) and let the anchor fly as the boat slipped into deeper water propelled by wind and current. It seemed to be holding so I donned my mask and fins and dove in for a look not wanting to miss a chance for at least a quick swim. The boat was sitting in 45 meters and as I followed the anchor chain I found the anchor with a very tenuous grip in some dead coral rubble and the chain suspended off the bottom out into the deep water. It was like anchoring on the top of a steep cliff, something that just wasn't going to work. A curious Black tip reef shark gave me a start when focused on the anchor I looked up to see him swimming in front of my face. I waved an arm in a futile effort to shoo him away and he just kept staring at me from a little over an arm length away. I usually swim with a spear and dive knife so I was feeling a little vulnerable as the standoff ensued for a few more seconds before he finally lazily swam away. I took a few free-dives into the depths to peer under some coral heads on the off chance that I might spot a lobster, but it would have been in vain without at least a pair of gloves to handle the spiky exoskeleton.

If we had calmer weather I might have tried dropping the anchor in 40-50 meters off the underwater 'cliff' and then backed toward the shoaling reef to drop a stern anchor in the shallow water. The idea being that with the anchor in deep water there would be no possibility of dragging it up hill and thus the yacht would be safe from grounding on the reef. We might have tried this if there was a better possibility of a safe dinghy landing.

The anchorage deemed untenable in these conditions so we gave the locals a big wave goodbye as they urgently waved for us to come ashore. We hoisted our medium size spinnaker and had a great 12 hour spinnaker run until a squall packing a 50 degree wind shift necessitated a wild nighttime, rain blowing sideways, spinnaker dousing.

This morning as I write we are closing with Raroia atoll about 12nm distant. Raroia has a decent pass, but with the 2 to 2.5 meter SE swell running the outflow current in the pass might be significant. I won't go into all the details here, but the simple version is; low lying atoll lagoons fill with water from waves spilling over the windward reefs and the water has no place to go save the rushing out the boat pass. At Raroia it's reported that the outflow can be 8 knots. And since we now have northwest winds and the boat pass is on the Northwest side of Raroia it's likely we'll have very unfavorable conditions to enter the pass as the outflow stacks up against NW wind and waves. It's also very squally so we'll have to wait at a minimum for the heavy visibility robbing rain to abate before we go in for a closer look.

Our watch schedule last night was Dave 9PM-3AM Kathy 3AM-7AM. Waking after 4 hours of sleep was made much easier by the welcoming aroma of freshly baked banana bread. According to the log book Kathy was busy baking on her watch and popped a loaf of banana bread in the oven at 3:20AM! Kathy and I both agree that double handed sailing is really pretty easy and more rewarding each new day underway. Compared to the Mexico-Marquesas voyage when we had two crew, I'm actually more rested and relaxed now than when I had twice the theoretical hands to run the ship.

As we approached the Raroia boat pass, thick squalls ominously blanketed the atoll and greatly reduced visibility. Luckily, Raroia is well charted and the pass not too technical. We decided the weather was unlikely to improve, so we forged ahead. We chose to run the extreme left side of the pass to avoid the bulk of the outflow current and it's commensurate standing waves mid-channel. On the edge of the channel we still found 3 knots of head current, but also one very large dolphin riding our starboard bow, who kept pretty much glued to the hull, all the way through the pass. It looked like he was trying to rub off 2 remoras attached to him.

Once inside the pass the skies opened up and we had solid deluge of rain for the mile or so to the anchorage making it hard to read the navigation aids that toped the coral heads. Several of the marks we had to slowly approach, unable to determine their color from much distance and the preferred side of which to pass. Arriving in the vicinity of the anchorage near the wharf the deluge increased to a torrential deluge and we had to just make our best guess on where to anchor. With the water surface jumping with the huge rain drops and darkened skies there was little visual information available to identify hazards below. Kathy jumped in the water to survey the bottom for hazards. For the time being we'll just sit it out and enjoy the fact that we're quickly filling our water tanks with the abundance of rain. When the skies clear we'll likely move to a more desirable location.

That's it for now.

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