Thursday, August 21, 2014

Wrong Way

If you can put to sea in your own boat and get where you want to go in reasonable comfort - well, I reckon that you could do most anything.  The sea is the sea, after all, and the challenges are immense and varied.

So when things go right, you will be immensely pleased with yourself.  But, if you have either imagination or experience, you will also know that there was some element of luck in your success and you will cultivate a deep sense of humility having to do with everything concerning water and boats.

I mean - all this travelin' from place to place on Galactic is generally a hoot.  But you do have to keep an eye on things.
Some things get better.  Readers of South From Alaska may remember
what an epic we had anchoring on our first visit to Makemo in 2008 - our
first coral anchorage ever.  Since then this wharf has been built, and if
the supply boat isn't due you can tie up in complete protection from
the prevailing winds.

We've been going the wrong way through the Tuamotus - west to east, against the prevailing winds.
The route so far.
But, armed with onboard access to weather models, we have been able to pick the right time to make our two big legs to the east  - from Fakarava to Makemo, and then onwards to Hao.  We were on the wind both times - heeled over and all that.  But both times the wind was gentle, the seas were still, and Galactic made good progress with no fuss.

If it hadn't been for Eric getting seasick, they would have been the perfect passages.

A Spanish mackerel - four meals fresh, and
Alisa canned up another 8 meals from it.

So even though picking our weather did just boil down to looking at the little wind arrows on our computer, I was very pleased both times with how enjoyable it was to travel upwind.

But if I was tempted to get too pleased with myself, there was the experience of some acquaintances at Makemo to bring me down to earth.

They were a very nice family on a catamaran who anchored at the village of Pouheva a day or two before we moved on.  The adults were fun and they had three kids who played nicely with our own - sometimes it's effortless to spend time with someone you've just met.

They ended up leaving the anchorage the same day we did - we were heading out of the pass for the two-night sail to Hao, and they were heading down the Makemo lagoon towards the western pass.

The tooth fairy always seems to visit at sea. 

An hour after we left the pass, just after we had enjoyed a great view of a small group of cetaceans (tentatively southern bottlenose whales) we heard a pan pan call on channel 16 - that's one step down from calling mayday.

It turned out to be these new friends of ours.  They had gone up on the reef and could not get themselves off.

My birthday

The drama was short-lived.  We stopped our progress to Hao against the possibility that we would need to return to Makemo to give them a hand (no other boats in Makemo had their radios on).  But the rising tide freed them, and inspection revealed that though they'd chewed up a keel quite badly, they were taking no water and had not damaged props or rudders.  They expect to be able to make it to Tahiti or Apataki for repairs.


Later on the passage to Hao.  We saw two green flashes that day - first one
as we were down in a wave trough, and then another a second later as the
next crest lifted us up for a higher view of the horizon.  That's happened to
us a couple times before. 

We don't know exactly what happened to put them on the reef, but it was a good reminder of how easily the combination of a mistake (or two or three) and some poor luck can put you in a bad way.  So we try to be forever vigilant.  And I guess that's what makes this life afloat so bloody fierce and immediate.  We're in the arena, day after day.

Standing waves in the pass.

And the skipper, less than pleased with our transit a short time later.
Just as we were in the arena, for instance, when we entered the pass at Hao.

The passes are one of the big things about the Tuamotus.  The water screams through them, and, as Pierre on Kea told us before our first visit, "You must respect the tide!"

We arrived at Hao just before low tide to find the water ripping out of the pass.  Two hours after low, the pass was still pumping.

I looked at it long enough to convince myself that it would be alright to go through.

And it was alright - just.  The water was still coming out at six knots or more.  We cut around the race on the outside and then positioned ourselves right in the pass.  We were committed - and the GPS showed us making 0.4 knots, at full throttle and with the main catching some wind.  I had to look at the sides of the pass to reassure myself that we were making 0.4 knots forwards, and not backwards.

It was fine - we motored through, slowly, and then made the turn for the village.  But we prize the condition of having things under control on Galactic, and we were a little too close to not in control there.

I don't think I'll try that again...

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