The Tuamotus Diaries #36, Day 69 – August 5th 2016
Some particularities define Fakarava as an anchorage, and the tactics to use it well.
Starting with its shape and orientation: very large, in the form of an almost-perfect rectangle – 15 x 30 miles – and oriented with its length nearly transversal to the prevailing trade winds. Not coincidently, most of Fakarava’s features-of-interest – be them natural or manmade – lie along the eastern rim, the part which is protected from the prevailing winds.
Then, there is the fact that the lagoon is deep – over 100 feet on average – and the bottom slopes in an aggressive angle from the shore. That requires that one drops anchor very close to shore.
Thus, as long as the winds are blowing from a direction between the NNW clockwise all the way to the SW, the rim provides a perfect shelter, and practically anywhere along it’s 30 mile length can be used as an idyllic anchorage. The breeze may blow through the palm trees, but with less than 100 meters of fetch between the boat and the beach, the water remains still.
However, these characteristics form an “all-or-nothing” kind of protection. As soon as the wind peeks just a few degrees outside the “safety zone”, what used to shelter you now turns into a menace. Instead of wave protection, what you get is a lee-shore anchorage with less than 100 meters to the reefs. And the wind waves now have all the atoll’s length as fetch to build before hitting the anchorage.
We got a glimpse of that during last night. The winds, which had been very light during the day, freshened up just a bit – around 15 knots – and veered to the SSW – a tad beyond the scope of protection of the atoll’s rim. Very quickly a steep, short pattern of wind waves started to enter the anchorage, and we spent the night pitching boldly at anchor. Not serious, just uncomfortable, but that gave us a solid idea of how bad things can get here when the winds blow strong for more than an hour from the “wrong” direction.
And that’s when another of the Atoll’s particularities comes as the saving grace of it all – the Navigable Channel. Connecting the Northeastern and Southeastern sides of the atoll, this channel allows yachts to proactively seek shelter according to the forecast wind direction.
The learning we got from last night is that this Tactic – of navigating along the channel toward the North or South corners of the Atoll upon the slightest risk of winds with a West component in them – must be used aggressively here in Fakarava, for there is almost no tolerance in terms of protection according to the direction of the wind.
If only the forecasts were consistent on this part of the world …