From Makemo to Fakarava

The Tuamotus Diaries #31, Day 66 – August 3rd 2016

The day cleared up on Sunday afternoon (August 31st), consistent with one of the forecasts we had, and I decided that if it remained like that until Monday, coupled with another benign forecast, then we would go.

As mentioned previously, we wanted to be in Fakarava for Raquel’s birthday, and the arrival of my sister in law. But now I had another incentive: a massive Depression (technical name to weather systems which, for practical purposes, are often as strong as hurricanes) was moving in from New Zealand. Whereas the depressions pass us well to the South, they generally spawn Cold Fronts and Troughs that end up affecting the weather here – and I wanted to be in Fakavava before any of these happened. Anyway, back to the story.

The passages between atolls are like Appointments – with tight times for departure and arrival. The reason is the atolls’ Passes – small fractures on the rim of the atoll through where water transits between the inside of the atoll and the open ocean. Kind of the Atoll’s “breathing organ”, if you will. As the tides go up and down, the direction and speed of the water flow vary accordingly – often reaching extreme figures. Vessels need to use the passes to go in and out of the atolls, and must therefore do so at the times when the water flow is at its minimum so as to avoid nasty conditions. Accordingly, we reached Makemo’s pass at 2PM on Monday and crossed it without a hitch.

Despite all the great time we had inside Makemo, it also felt liberating to be out in the open ocean again ! From Makemo we sailed between Katiu and Tuanake still before dusk, and then skirted Katiu and Raraka’s western sides along the night. We had a fair breeze all along the way and, except for a quick squall in the middle of the night, it was an uneventful passage. Our only challenge was slowing Pesto down, in order to reach Fakarava at the estimated Tide Slack at 9:30am the next day.

Pesto was however too happy to be sailing in those conditions and we reached Fakarava’s pass at 7:30am, two hours before the ideal time. We approached the pass to check the possibility of entering, but big standing waves almost 2 meters tall stood as sentinels all across the entrance, and made sure we understood the message. We resorted to tacking near the pass, outside of Fakarava, awaiting for the better conditions of 9:30am.

As we were doing so, though, a fierce squall approached us so quickly that I hardly noticed its arrival. As I scrambled to reef Pesto’s sails, I didn’t notice our drifting towards the area where the standing waves were. The squall hit us right at the same moment as we were wrapped by the waves. It was quite a show.

Adriana came back from her slumber disoriented. Raquel, who had been managing her seasickness all through the night, finally came on deck to discharge her agony. Even Paulo, who is normally the “cup-half-full” kind of guy during passages, got uneasy as Pesto jumped from one wavetop to another. It was not unsafe, but certainly uncomfortable, and anxiety-boosting. Adriana and Raquel were very kind and noble to not voice their thoughts for me having thrown Pesto into that mayhem.

Luckily the squall wasn’t long. By the time it had passed and the sun started to cut through the cloud cover again, it was 9:30am, and the standing waves receded almost miraculously in front of us – proving that my estimate of the slack tide’s timing was on the spot, which helped a great deal recover my internal reputation.

As we crossed the pass into the lagoon, it was already a glorious day, with placid waters and just a gentle breeze blowing. Perfect conditions for us to enjoy our first impressions of Fakarava – but THIS, I will save for another post.

Click on the image below to watch a short video we made during this passage:


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