After being unceremoniously dumped out of Raroia like pair of drunks hurled out of a nightclub by an overly-aggressive bouncer, we can confirm that the tide estimator for this pass is wrong. With the tide ebbing at a rate of 5 knots and the pass bubbling away like a witches cauldron, our butt cheeks once again remained tightly clamped together until we made it out. Fortunately, at a current-assisted 10.5 knots, it was quicker out than in. And after that brief, but unwelcome, boost out of the atoll, we set course for Tahanea.
As the wind was initially light, we had to motor-sail for a while, but it soon strengthened enough for us to sail the rest of the way. And the full moon shone more light than on a summer’s twilight in a northern mill town. We could clearly see the horizon, the clouds in the sky and the pattern of the ocean. Nightfall never seemed to arrive.
Slack water time was more precise in Tahanea – we had the exact time of low water from our chart plotter – so could approach the pass with more confidence and a lot less stress. Arriving near to the pass a little early, we headed upwind by 2 miles so that we could drift the rest of the way downwind. That worked spookily well, and we arrived at the pass at exactly slack water, entering the atoll with no drama.
Blue gin and Big Ray
With the wind now howling at 20 knots from the east, we searched for some shelter to the right of the pass and found it in 6 metres of water behind a tree-stuffed motu. The water clarity was superb: not only could we see the sandy parts of the seabed, but we could also see when the anchor hit the floor and where the chain went.
After setting the anchor, I snorkelled over the chain to determine where to place the anchor floats so that the chain would hover over the coral heads. It was like swimming in Bombay Sapphire.
After that, we slept for a while then decided to go out snorkelling just before afternoon high water in the smaller pass to the right of us. There, we met another British couple in their dinghy (a rare sight around these parts at the moment) and asked them for the best to snorkel. They gave us some pointers, and we headed to the left of the pass where the water is shallower and the coral plentiful. They weren’t understating it. That part of the pass is a real coral garden; although it doesn’t have the vibrant colours we last saw in the Caribbean, it covered the seabed – and the coral was well-covered by reef fish munching away on it.
Mr. Big Stuff
I wanted to see some bigger stuff, so we took the dinghy towards the middle of the pass where I again plopped myself in. Maria stayed in the dinghy as she isn’t as keen as me when it comes to floating around in the deep. Almost immediately, a Giant Ray (the species designation rather than my description of it) came towards me, then banked left with his underbelly facing towards me to continue along hoovering up plankton. This was the most amazing underwater sight I have witnessed. The ray’s wingspan was a least 4 metres, and it moved with the grace of a Royal Ballet performer. Alas, again, no photographic proof.
By now, the tide was getting slack, which meant that it would soon start ebbing. So, not fancying being carried out to sea for an early visit to Tahiti, we headed back to the sheltered water where Lady Jane was parked and anchored the dinghy close to shore so that we could both snorkel around. Here too was plenty of coral, some of it colourful, and plenty of fish feeding on it. Parrotfish of most types were there, including a beautiful pink one that we assume to be a Regal Parrotfish.
Rare sighting of coloured coral
With more bad weather predicted to arrive on Tuesday 7th July and fierce competition for the best spots to shelter from the SE wind, we thought it prudent to get up and out to the southeast as soon as there was enough light. So, at 0800 on Monday morning, with the sun just high enough and not a ripple of wind on the water, we lifted anchor and headed for shelter.
Navionics has proved to be remarkably accurate for these islands; it might have the depths wrong, but has been spot on with the location of coral heads. So, together with some waypoints found in a compendium, offline satellite images and Maria looking out from the bow, we were able to motor down to our new anchorage with a reasonable degree of confidence.
Our departure seemed to trigger an exodus: shortly after leaving, another three boats headed in our direction, the closest 1 mile behind us and by late afternoon, the number of boats in the southeast anchorage had increased from three to 14. Being the first to arrive, we were able to grab a sweet spot between two catamarans, facing the middle of the large motu in 6 metres of water where the seabed is mostly sand. After floating the chain to clear some small coral heads closer to Lady Jane, we relaxed and waited for the blow.
Sociability and afternoon tea
Despite the strong wind, it was quite a sociable place. We had drinks with the British couple on Venture Lady whom we met while snorkelling the pass at the other anchorage, and afternoon tea (thank you very much) with our Perigee friends anchored just a couple of hundred meters to our right.
Someone organised a beach barbecue later in the week and films were exchanged between the cruisers to provide some more boat-bound entertainment during the rough weather.
Return up north
After a few days, the wind became more easterly and less blowy. Most of the boats went back to the north of the atoll en-mass on the same day, preparing to leave for either Fakarava or Tahiti. We stayed south for another day on the basis that there would be more space in the northern anchorage if we did, and spent some time exploring the island that had sheltered us during the blow. Here I exercised my (very poor) coconut husking skills.
Transient copra farmer’s village
Amateur coconut husker
Crazed coconut husker
Staying south another day worked well, many boats that had planned to leave the atoll had already left and those that hadn’t left were getting ready to go. The result being we were able to get an excellent spot where we could drop the anchor in 3 metres of water in a patch of sand between some small coral heads.
After setting the anchor, I snorkelled over to take a look but found that the chain was over one of the pieces of coral. Even though the coral has seen better days, we don’t like to cause any further damage to it, so, given that it was only 3 metres underwater, I swam down to move the chain, came up for air, then dived again to move the anchor. There was hardly any wind, so it was easier than it might sound. And it was interesting watching the anchor dig back into the seabed as Maria reversed Lady Jane: it gently rolled over and immediately buried in the sand.
All that remained was to place the floats in the best position to clear the coral.
Balls and bommies
Sharks around the boat
On the hunt for big ray
Of course, Sod’s law featuring highly in our photography, we didn’t have a camera with us when we spotted the giant ray in the pass. So, this time we armed ourselves with cameras for taking surface shots and a GoPro for underwater photos.
We took the dinghy into the pass three times – and we got nothing. Not a ray or a shark to be seen. But we did get plenty of photographs of coral and the ubiquitous parrotfish.
Although Tahanea has everything from a nature perspective, it has no communications infrastructure. And after so much time ‘off-grid,’ we needed to take care of some practicalities that required access to the internet.
So, on the 15th of July, we hauled up the chain and exited Tahanea (through a very calm pass) and set sail for Fakarava.