The wind piped up to 20 knots just as we planned to leave Tahanea’s central pass. We motored dead to windward, bashing through the short, steep chop, then unfurled the jib as we turned and powered through the pass. We left several hours before the tide tables predicted high slack water, and were happy we had trusted our observations over the numbers: any later and we would have flown out with a boiling ebb current, and crashed through waves built as current flows against the wind. Mark was at the helm, while I watched the IPad like a hawk for any evidence that we were being swept towards the shallows on the west edge of the pass. The tension evaporated once we were in the open sea with the wind aft of our beam, set for an easy overnight passage under jib alone in 3-5 foot seas.
We arrived at Fakarava’s north pass just before dawn, with only one small squall in the night, and after furling the jib and raising a double reefed main for the last downwind leg. Entering Fakarava was simple compared to exiting Tahanea: we hardened up and unfurled the jib, sailing gracefully through the wide pass and then hardened up some more for a fast beat to windward in 20 knots apparent. Another squall arrived just as we turned into the channel, dead to windward, so Mr. Perkins carried us the final miles to the anchorage off the village of Rotoava.
A small village of 900 people, partly oriented to the pearl farm industry and partly to tourism, Rotoava offered us an afternoon of reprovisioning and ambling along the waterfront street lined with casuarina trees. A small but powerful monument and signage for the 193 Association gave a brief history of the resistance movement to the 193 nuclear tests performed in French Polynesia, and outlined a plan for uniting around the call for justice, full disclosure about the tests, environmental restoration and reparations for those who are suffering or who died prematurely from radiation exposure while working in the industry. (They have a facebook page for more information.) A little further on we found a beautiful outrigger sailing canoe, using modern materials (fiberglass, wood and spectra rigging and lashings) and evoking the maritime past. The sign accompanying it listed numerous sponsors and the intent to promote education and ecotourism. It’s hard to know if local youth are benefitting from the endeavor – hopefully so, as the Tuamoto lagoons are divine sailing grounds.
We departed Saturday afternoon (7/8) for an anchorage partway down the lagoon towards the southern pass. Staying inside the loosely marked channel to avoid coral reefs and the ubiquitous pearl floats, our gently curving path kept us close to shore in flat waters. The 10-12 knot breeze powered us along a route of close reach to close hauled; we were flying at 7 knots past coconut and casuarina trees, local homes, tourist bungalows and a millionaire’s dream escape. White coral sand blended into cerulean and turquoise waters, while we kept Anthea in deep aqua or lapis. The sky was classic tradewind: brilliant blue with puffy cumulous clouds marching across the sky in neat rows. We took turns on the bow and in the cockpit: one person on sail trim for the frequent course changes, another at the helm, and one as lookout for any unmarked coral heads. As I took my turn on the bow pulpit, the wind blowing my hair, the sun on my face, and Anthea’s wake rippling across the brilliant water, I was transported back to my family’s seven-month cruise aboard Xanadu. I often sat in this same place, reveling in the movement of boat through water, powered only by the wind in the sails. The feeling of freedom filled me to the brim and overflowed into shouts of pure joy. Sailing touches my soul like nothing else: here my soul sings.
Kim 7/9 Fakarava Atoll