night crossing to Tahanea Atoll

26 June 2017 Night Crossing to Tahanea Atoll

About two hours ago (at 7am) we dropped anchor just inside the pass at Tahanea Atoll, completing our night passage from Makemo Atoll. The nature of our passage, and the different strategies of our cruising buddies to get here, illustrate the dynamics and complexities of atoll to atoll navigation in the Tuamotus. Our friends Diego and Marina (Beneteau 39) arrived here yesterday afternoon, after departing Makemo that morning via a pass with a raging 6 knot ebbing current, which gave them an astonishing speed over the ground of 11 knots. They had to make it to Tahanea’s pass by early afternoon to catch the flood tide. They knew they could make the 49 mile crossing even if the wind was light as they have a hefty Yanmar engine. Also, they anchored the prior night near Makemo’s pass, which enabled them to get an early start on the crossing. Given our limited motoring capabilities and not wanting to depart on a strong ebb current, we chose a different strategy. Yesterday afternoon we left our anchorage in Makemo Lagoon and had a delightful 8 mile downwind sail to the pass; the plan was to anchor near the pass for a few hours and transit it at low slack water at sunset, then sail the 49 miles at a snail’s pace throughout the night, arriving Tahanea for high slack water at 6am. Kim spends a lot of time calculating when the tides will be favorable for transiting; we sure appreciate her careful attention to navigation matters. Upon arriving at the anchorage near Makemo’s western pass, we were less than impressed by the extensive coral heads and reefs, and given the benign appearance of the pass, decided to just head out to sea a couple hours ahead of schedule. The pass crossing was uneventful, with only about a 2 knot ebb current carrying us out; it was not hard to motor faster than the current to maintain steerage. These days there is actually no flood tide through Makemo’s passes due to the current effect of the moon and the strong winds and waves that have pushed water into the lagoon from the east side. All this water going into the “bathtub” has to get out and so it overpowers any flood tide on the western edge of the atoll. Once we were out, it was a relief to be in deep water, especially as a large squall was racing across the lagoon from the east and enveloped the anchorage and pass with gusty winds, rain and reduced visibility just 10 minutes after we got out.

Then began an uneventful and slow night sail. Winds were less than the predicted 8-12 knots, so we motored under slow rpms until 9pm. We enjoyed another delicious Devon dinner in the cockpit (pasta with canned chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, seasonings, etc.) and during post-dinner discussion made the decision to make the aft stateroom a “one boy” room, switching between Anson and Devon each week. This will provide them each with some much needed privacy. Kim and I then took turns on watch the rest of the night. With a double reefed main and frequent furiling and unfurling of the jib, we were able to maintain our target speed of 3.5 knots until 4am. Sometime in the wee hours of the night, I was astonished to smell on the warm night air the sweet fragrance of a flowering plant we’ve noticed on the atolls here. A glance at the chart told me that the fragrance was being wafted by the wind from Katiu Atoll, about 10 miles to windward. How amazing to imagine a flower’s fragrance carried so far over the water by a night breeze. Later, I was a little surprised and at first worried by the sound of falling or running water in the distance, to windward. Was it waves crashing on an unmarked reef? The sounds grew louder and closer and it eventually became evident that I was hearing the sound of raindrops on the ocean. Fortunately the squall didn’t last long and it did not pack much a of a wind punch. By 4am the wind pretty much shutdown and I started Mr. Perkins. We were on schedule for a 5:30 am arrival at the pass, when, about 2 miles out, the wind suddenly increased from dead astern. Not feeling comfortable with the increasing wind and its direction, especially given the pass that was still cloaked in darkness, looming ahead, I called Kim up. In the short while it took for her to get topsides the squall hit. Driving rain and wind in the low 20s. Suddenly the pass and north side of Tahanea had become a lee shore. We made an about face, motored slowly into the building seas, called Anson up, put out some jib and tried to determine which compass headings would most quickly put distance between us and the reefs. As we got our bearings and made some windward progress the stress levels declined and after 45 minutes or so the squall abated and the dawn light in the east grew brighter. The rosy light of the rising sun was especially welcome; how nice to be able to see what was around us. Back to the original plan, but now we were an hour later than planned. As we approached the pass, with the dark squall clouds still hovering ominously over the lagoon, Diego radioed us from the anchorage with some last minute tips about transiting the pass and said to hurry up and get through it as the tide had already turned and the ebb current was building. We unfurled the full jib to add speed and approached at the pass entrance at just under 7 knots boat speed. We could easily see the frothing river of ebb current, setting to the west side of the channel. With Kim glued to the ipad reading depths and suggesting navigation tips, I steered for the east side of the pass to avoid the greatest current but still far enough away from those shallow light blue areas. Anthea entered the pass at full speed. The opposing current lurched us from side to side and slowed us, but only down to 3.3 knots. Keeping the outgoing river of waves and whitewater off to starboard made a big difference. Gradually, we made our through the pass against the current. Eyes were glued to the knotmeter and the relief was palpable when we saw our speed begin to increase again – the current was releasing its hold on us. Off to starboard was the anchorage with 5 or 6 boats. After rounding the shallow reef, we entered and dropped the hook. After minimal gear storage, coffee was brewed and Devon made delicious pancakes. Soon after Marina and Diego kayaked over and presented us with banana pancakes – a nice Tahanea welcome. They will depart later today for a protected spot in the east of the lagoon and we’ll follow. Kim’s now fast asleep and the sun is shining brightly – what a beautiful day and how nice to be riding peacefully at anchor!

Max and Alex (Allesandra) left this morning from Makemo. They have a Beneteau 50, and like Diego, can motor at sustained speeds if need be, so can make the crossing in time for the favorable tide early this afternoon regardless of wind conditions.

Here’s hoping for some great kiteboarding, wonderful snorkeling, and beautiful anchorages with good protection here at Tahanea.


One thought on “night crossing to Tahanea Atoll

  1. Again, as always, I’m so moved to read these accounts. Amazing teamwork, amazing world we live in. Thanks for sharing your glimpses of it!


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