"Cold" front in the Tuamotus

June 2, 2003, noon

LATITUDE: 16-50.95S

LONGITUDE: 144-41.58W

At anchor, Taheana, Tuamotu Islands, French Polynesia

 

Dawn at Tahanea, before the storm

Dear friends and family: 

We've had an exciting 72 hours since I last wrote.  Our weather information is fairly spotty, unlike the good weather reports we got in the United States and Canada.  The best seems to be the reports of other cruisers who are ahead of us, and who report conditions and positions to the "Coconut Milk Run Net."  We heard three days ago about 35 to 40 knot winds in the Cook Islands, and we should have been paying better attention.  Just like in the Northern Hemisphere, weather moves east.  We're east of the Cook Islands.  Duh!

 
We arrived in Tahanea two days ago, on the morning slack tide.  The ocean floor was more than 4000 feet deep, and we could see low islets (motus) on the horizon, with palm tree fringes.  Suddenly, the depth sounder showed a reading, and we were in the pass, only 40 feet deep.  Mark and I were up on the bow, watching for any coral heads.  We were fortunate that Mark had spent a year in the South Pacific, and knew what coral -- be it deep or shallow -- looks like. Approaching Tahanea
Mark fishing (the sharks got most of them) We anchored in an area protected from the prevailing wind, and marvelled at the gorgeous views, and crystal clear water.  We put up our awnings, and tried to stay out of the 90 degree plus heat.  Mark was in seventh heaven, snorkeling in every direction, fishing, watching the reef sharks, and leading us on a snorkeling expedition.  We noticed that the anchor chain was describing a zigzag across the bottom, from the anchor itself, and then around two different coral heads.
The canopies, before the storm The calm before the storm, raining
The morning after the storm, Craig examining wadded up canopies

Yesterday morning there was a lot of rain, and the wind was flat calm.  The boat was making slow circles, and we noticed the anchor chain was winding around a coral head.  I did laundry, and hung it on the lifelines between rain showers.  We planned on a potluck supper with the folks from Rigo, the other boat here.  Craig and Mark worked at unwinding the anchor chain and re-anchoring, an interesting process that involved Mark in the water, with his mask and fins, telling Craig which way to drive the boat next.  As dinner time approached, the sky started to get prematurely dark, and then there was a wall of water coming at us from the northwest (the unprotected direction).  We rushed to get the laundry off the lines, and then went to work on the awnings.  These are wonderful awnings (in calm weather), rigged with fiberglass tent poles, and looking somewhat like a Conestoga wagon cover when set up.  They catch the light wind, funnel it through the boat, and create lots of good shade.  But in 30 knots of wind (what we were now experiencing), they start to vibrate and flail.  Poles began to break as the rain came down in torrents and the wind gusts were up to 40 knots.

We finally got both canopies down, securing one along a side deck, and shoving the other through a forward hatch.  (We have not yet dealt with either.  They look like a giant game of pick-up-sticks, wadded together with the fabric of the canopy.)

Needless to say, dinner was canceled (or I should say, postponed).  We heated up some soup, set a watch schedule, and took turns through the night watching to make sure that the anchor didn't drag.  (If the anchor had dragged, we were on a lee shore, and would have needed to take some action very quickly to avoid ending up on the beach.  The "beach" here is broken coral, and it would have been an uncomfortable landing.)  Fortunately, the anchor (just reset prior to the storm) held firmly, and we made it -- although somewhat uncomfortably -- through the night.  The wind gradually moved around until we were once again in a protected anchorage. 

During my two hour anchor watch, I found an NPR "All Things Considered" program on the SSB radio, and caught up on world news.  I downloaded a "grib" (wind prediction) file from email, and found no reference whatsoever to 35-40 knot winds in the Tuamotus.

On this morning's radio net, many cruisers had stories of their night in the storm.  One boat wanted information about the anchorage in another of the Tuamotus, and a boat already anchored there responded: "This is a really small anchorage, don't come in here."  (It had a flavor of "this is my space, don't you dare make me share it!")  Another cruiser came on and suggested another anchorage in the same lagoon that would have more protection.  People on passage from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus were right in the middle of the storm.

So that was a "cold" front, we learned this morning.  Indeed, it's now only 84 degrees, instead of the 90 plus we were experiencing yesterday

 

We'll stay here in Tahanea a few more days.  We are anchored in 35 - 40 feet of water, and we can see down to the bottom like an aquarium.  There are lots of little black-tipped reef sharks here.  We've seen as many as 15 at one time.  They are quite interested in the boat and the dinghy, and any swimmers.  Mark assures us that they are not aggressive, and will not bother us.  So far he's been right. 

 

Black tip reef shark -- The dark coral is 40 feet below
But this morning, he went over to the pass (where the larger gray sharks hang out) and had a nearly nose-to-nose confrontation with one of the gray sharks.  I guess he scrambled right back into the dinghy and came back.  We were planning to go snorkeling over there this afternoon, but I think I'll opt out.  There's a small reef near the boat (we've dubbed it a "reeflet") and Mark reports there's lots of "docile" sea life over there.

Tonight we'll have our postponed potluck dinner with Steve & Iretta from Rigo.  This afternoon, in addition to a planned snorkel, we'll inventory the damage to the canopies and put them away.  The other project is to replace zincs on the shaft, propeller and strut.  They seem to have wasted away to nothing since we started the trip.  (I don't fully understand it, but Craig tells me that the zincs prevent the shaft, propeller and strut from turning into Swiss cheese.)  Mark and Craig are doing this with free dives, they seem to be successful, and having a good time. 

Well, that's about it for now.  Best wishes to all. 

Craig & Barbara Johnston

S/V Sequoia

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