18 February 2009 | Namonuito Atoll
Last night was not the best sailing night, we rarely saw less than 20 apparent wind, often 25, and the seas were fairly big and steep. Many squalls plagued our groove requiring boat operations in the middle of the night. We finally quadruple reefed the jib and I even thought about putting reef three in the main. The boat was fine, we were just going too fast. Hideko or I would go inside to get a drink, come back to the helm and the wind would be 25 knots on the beam and the boat would be doing 9 knots or more bashing through the seas.
With a scrap of jib flying and the double reefed main we still made an average of over 7 knots. The passage was only 125 miles so we had to go into a deep, off course, broad reach to keep the wind below 25 in the squalls and the VMG under 8. Then we'd head up and fore reach a bit at 3 knots and a vmg of 2 or so until our eta moved back into the daylight.
After an evening of yacht slowing antics and bouncing seas we arrived at the Namonuito pass (if you can call it that) right at sunrise. The Namonuito atoll is more like a huge 40 mile wide bank with little islands in each of its three corners. Fortunately for us there is also a set of islands along the NE facing side of the atoll. We knew no one who had been here and we know of no guide for the place, so we had a chart and the sailing directions only. Sometimes the reality diverges significantly from the image the chart gives you. The area in the middle of the NE side of the atoll has a large island called Onari and several smaller ones to the NW connected by reef. It looked to have the properties of a decent anchorage. It wasn't mentioned in the sailing directions which was a little ominous.
We picked a spot to enter the bank that showed 500 feet of water, just west of the protection offered by the Piaaras islands in the SE corner. The sailing directions suggest the next big passage to the west. Our pass got down to 80 feet before dropping back down to the 120-150 foot norm on the bank. There may be some shoals on the bank but it all looked pretty deep around our track.
The seas might have been a bit steeper on the bank once out from behind Piaaras. There is nothing to tell you that you are in an atoll from the surface except the peaky waves, there is no barrier reef to speak of. It was another 10 mile beat from the "pass" to the anchorage. As we approached we could see the 3 meter-ish swell making a spectacular display on the reef to the south of the islands.
Once in the protected arch of the reef and islands we found a huge area with large sand patches, and some intervening coral, all 30-40 feet deep. There was a fair bit of swell rolling in on the beam. A minor annoyance for a catamaran but monohulls be warned. There might be flatter spots and it may mellow out overnight (low tide), we'll have to see.
As we came in the people living in the little village (estimated 200 folks) began to shout and wave. We asked for permission to anchor and they welcomed us heartily. By the time we had the anchor set there were 20 people around us in dug out canoes. A standard FSM Yamaha skiff arrived under paddle bearing the chief. The boat had a 40hp Yamaha outboard but no gas. The chief, Max, was a wonderful gentleman and we had a nice chat with him and the guys. We gave him some coffee after he mentioned that they get a small ship about twice a year and have little in the way of products from the mainland.
A second Yamaha skiff arrived after a bit bearing the mayor. The mayor had gas. He also welcomed us and asked us to come visit the village and perhaps take in some local dancing. Talk about a completely different experience. We told everyone we were going to take a nap but that we'd love to visit later. One of the guys even promised to take me spear fishing. Soon Angelique and Whistler were arriving and we became old hat. Everyone said goodbye and headed over to greet the other two boats.
Eric doesn't smoke but he always carries cigarettes which is the first thing guys on an island will ask you if you can spare. I try not to promote smoking but the islanders really enjoy it and probably have bigger challenges to their longevity than cancer. We'll drop off some school supplies and I think At gave them some gas and rice.
The islands are beautiful and flush with azure water, reefs, white sand beaches, and palm covered isles. From what the locals tell me the reefs are rich in sea food. I can believe it given the size of the place and the population of only 200 here. There are villages on the other islands as well, so perhaps 1,000 people live on this open bank atoll with a 30-40nm diameter.
Happy to be on the hook and tired from the busy night, nap time came promptly.