Sailing to Maupiti
20 September 2008 | Maupiti
We set our alarm (my watch) for 6AM and by 0700 we were on our way out the Bora Bora pass. I had to look for the markers to find it because it was so calm on the west side you couldn't even tell where the reef was. From the Bora Bora pass Maupiti is just short of 27 nautical miles due west.
Once clear of the pass we put the main up. It may have added a tenth of a knot but I'm not sure. It does stabilize the rig though. Most cats don't have back stays and need the main or at least the topping lift to keep things safely balanced, particularly in a sea way. The wind was a little north of east but light and at several points showed 3 knots apparent. We were running one engine at 2,000 rpm and doing mid sevens on average.
At 09:00 local time (19:00z) we checked in with the ANZAC net on 6.227 MHz USB. This is a cruisers net that was set up by a group of folks crossing the Pacific back in Panama. It is the principal position and weather net that I know of out here. You can get a lot of first hand weather information (always yacht relevant), catch up with friends and get help with problems on the net.
Our friends on Thulani recently hooked us up with the Bob Mc Davitt report. Bob is a Kiwi with a weekly perspective for yachts on South Pacific weather. It is a great summary and fills a gap in the other resources I have been using. We pull down a spot report for where we are and where we're going. This gives us wind, waves and pressure every three hours for up to a week. We download a copy of the FZPS40.PHFO text report from Hawaii. This gives us information on fronts and lows moving around and Thunderstorm info as well. This is very macro information and covers almost the entire South Pacific in a one pager. We pull down a GRIB file with three days of wind and pressure over the general are to weather of us so that we can see patterns on the move. Bob fills in the gap between the Hawaii report and the GRIBs giving you a one week summary of the most interesting and important weather patterns relevant to yachts. ( send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with "send nz.wgrm" in it).
With the SPOTs, FZPS40.PHFO, GRIBs, Bob, and the Anzac net we have a lot to work with. If Bob did a daily I think I would finally be satisfied.
As we got about half way across, a layer of alto status started to fill in behind us. I wasn't happy about this because I wanted a nice blue sky over head to navigate the new island's lagoon, not to mention its infamous pass. We also noticed a larger than expected swell coming from the southeast. The swell was a good two meters, just the height that an experienced skipper had told me you don't want to have more than when entering Maupiti's lagoon. I was reminded of the huge metal hulk that sat next to us in the Raiatea boat yard, the remains of the prior Maupiti Express pulled from the Onoiau pass reef.
About an hour out we caught sight of the new Maupiti Express buzzing along. I was hoping to watch him go through but he was too fast and we lost sight of him well before being able to make out the pass. As we came in on the southeast point of the Maupiti reef we started getting things ready. We brought the main down without even heading up, which tells you how much wind we had at the time. We also brought in our fishing lines, which saw no action the whole four hour trip.
As we approached the area of the pass I was taken aback by the size of the breakers on the south reef. That swell was really pumping. Then I saw the two motus that flank the pass. I couldn't really see a pass at first, just a nice surf break. Then we spotted an area of disturbed water that didn't seem to be breaking. It was very dubious.
We passed by the entrance to the pass to get an overview of the scene and then turned 180 and came back from the west side. This gave me a much better perspective but I still was not happy with the view. A couple of Polynesian guys were bobbing around outside of the pass with some lines in the water so I decided to confer with them. I asked if they thought we could transit the pass safely with our big slow sail boat. They said, "yeah, good", and made sweeping motions with their arms in the direction of the pass.
We sat out there and watched the break for a while to get a feel for it. It is hard to tell if a wave has an overfall from the back when it is rolling over water. The waves breaking on the coral threw up quite a bit of spray but the waves breaking on the two fathom bank, not so much. There was a pattern of large swells coming in groups that made things look dangerous regardless.
We had timed things to arrive on the flood as close to high tide slack as possible so that we wouldn't have tide against swell, though getting accurate tide information for Maupiti is difficult. Our Navionics electronic charts for the area offer Tahiti as the closest tide station. We had also waited for a neap tide in the hopes of further reducing complications. I didn't see any standing waves so we seem to have gotten that part right. One cruising guide suggests 6AM as the calmest time to make the entrance but with sunrise at 05:30, 10:00 seems about as early as most folks could get here from Bora Bora. The same guide suggested an overnight to arrive at first light but 27 miles is a little short for an overnight, you'd need to do less than 3 knots to avoid running into Maupiti in the night.
After watching the break around the pass a little while longer, I asked Hideko what she though. She said, "let's go". So we did.
I waited for a big brutal set of honkers to pass by and then progressively opened up both Yanmars all the way, something I rarely do. We had 8-9 knots of way on as we came into the pass. The cruising guide and charts tell you to follow the transit marks on the outer part of the pass until inside the pass and then switch to an interior set of transit marks to get through the last part, but the outer transit takes you too close to the eastern breakers for my liking. We split the difference between the two transits coming in a little more from the west. This gives you a better view up into the pass and keeps you a little more to the mid point of the breaking water. When we had cleared the large break on the east side we just followed the channel which is easy to identify in good conditions.
Once through the pass the tension melted and we were awed by the beauty of Maupti. There were some interesting currents, eddies and chop in the channel between the motus but no standing waves or dangerous flows at 11:00 on 9/20/2008 (I can not comment outside of our experience). You have to stay on top of things but the channel is plenty deep and well marked. I looked back at the pass from the inside and shuddered to think I had just drove our house though it. In retrospect I imagine that if it hadn't been my first time through this pass I probably wouldn't have batted an eye, but it was my first time. The difference between your first time navigating a tricky area and your second is infinite. If you've been through twice then you're twice as experienced as the guy who's been once. There is no number you can multiply by zero to get one however.
As you wind up the channel from the pass you sail between two lovely motus, each with wonderful coral pools, white sand beaches and lots of coconut palms. The channel winds ahead to Maupiti proper where you can anchor off of the town quay. You can also just hang a left after you pass motu Pitiahe and anchor in the lee of the north point.
As we came in, the lagoon spread out in front of us and it was full of colors. The clouds had not quite caught up with us so we had great visibility. We saw a Tahiti Yacht Charters Lagoon 380 parked in the Pitiahe anchorage and decided that that was a good sign, particularly because the skipper was certainly a professional (no bare boats in Maupiti). The anchorage is 25 to 30 feet of great holding sand. There are some coral rocks on the bottom but if you're careful you can find a good arc to lay down plenty of chain without fouling.
After anchoring and putting the boat away, Hideko made us a nice lunch and we just sat in the cockpit soaking up the amazing scenery. The cloud layer that had been after us passed to the south and it was a spectacular day.
After lunch I jumped in for a snorkel around the boat to check the anchor and give our props and rudders a once over. Upon inspection I found that the rudders were a little out of alignment. Hideko opened the hydraulic line on the port side and I tapped the rudder into true under the boat. Hydraulic rudders can get out of alignment over time but I think ours were probably just a little off after the boat yard work in Raiatea. You can also get going in a straight line, coast and then open the hydraulic lines and let the rudders true themselves. You need flat water and no current for that approach though.
Hideko's next priority was to take a nap, so while she was counting sheep I took the dinghy on a little tour of Pitiahe and the pass. Pitiahe is surrounded on the west by a huge shallow bank of perfect sand. The sand is interrupted by black spots here and there, the moving ones are sting rays and the fixed ones are chunks of coral. With a bit of care you can easily drive a dinghy through most of this area.
On the way back to the anchorage I stopped to say hi to the charter group, they were the only other yacht in Maupiti. The skipper was very friendly and agreed with my slightly west approach in the pass, though he said following the transits works too. They would be leaving in the morning at or around 6AM low tide. He also indicated that the anchorage off the town dock was nice, though I'm not sure we'll get to it. The spot we're in is in good proximity to the pass, making an early exit fairly straight forward. You can also see the southern reef break from the anchorage if you are trying to gauge things.
Zipping around the area we anchored in I noticed no real hazards. You have to be careful to lay your chain on sand but the rocks that are in the neighborhood all have 20 feet or more water over them. In the pass both motus have hard shoals with little rivulets and pools. The locals have found passages here and there deep enough for their skiffs to make it to the beach. Both motus and the pass itself make for great exploring. Snorkeling is supposed to be good here but you'd need to keep an eye on the current.
I took a break from the sun back at the big boat and caught up on some reading. Hideko woke up shortly thereafter and then we saw the Maupiti Express on her way toward the pass. The Maupiti Express is no small catamaran. I would guess it is 35 meters long and 18 meters wide. Hideko and I scrambled to get into the dinghy, we really wanted to see this beast transit the pass now that the chance was in front of us. We came up behind her just as she was getting between the motus. The Express had big steep four footers coming off her stern. At first I thought it was her wake, but then I realized they were standing waves. It was 4PM and the tide was trying to get out against the 2 meter swell. As she closed on the pass itself we throttled back to watch. The big boat was hobby horsing through the waves under heavy throttle like I have never seen a large ship do. It was quite a sight. Clear of the pass, the shuttle continued to bash into the heavy head seas as she turned for Bora Bora.
Note to self: don't exit the Onoiau pass in the afternoon...