10 June 2015 | Makemo, Tuamotus
Harrowing experience ... just harrowing. We arrived this afternoon here in Makemo, Tuamotus after a really nice 3 day sail with pretty steady 16 - 20 knots on the beam. But the Tuamotus are also referred to as "the dangereous middle" between the Marquesas and the Societies (Tahiti, et. al.) for good reasons. All these atolls are notorious for getting into or out of ... you must enter or exit at slack or somewhat favorable currents, depending on your direction, which usually lag the slack tides by some "local knowledge" amount of time. These are all basically "lakes" that take in water through the passes (one or two) and over the barrier reefs and expel all that that water only through those one or two passes. Now, these atolls are big. In this case, 2 - 5 miles wide by 30 miles long, and Fakarava is even bigger!
In terms of our version of “local knowledge,” we acquired a spreadsheet that “someone reputable” put together that is supposed to help us hapless cruisers get in and out of theaw atolls safely. Today’s “guesstimator’ predicted that we would have 1 knot incoming current at our arrival time, turning to only 1 knot outgoing an hour later. Perfect … should be a slam dunk. NOT! We arrived to some major visual wave action, but not knowing the actual velocities, we trusted the “guesstimator” and sallied forth.
Well, were we in for a surprise! Once committed, there was no going back. We got sucked into the vortex, and I felt like we were inside a huge Maytag washing machine hell bent on making our lives miserable, at best. I watched our speed-o go from 6 knots to 3 knots to 0.8 knots, as the boat was heaved left and right, up and down, heeling back and forth wildly in a mad frenzy. We were supposed to align ourselves with two day-markers, then shift course to 147 magnetic at some critical moment. Sounds good in theory. I tried.
In the midst of the fury, Heidi, who was remaining remarkably calm, said something like, “I read that you should not let the waves turn the boat against your efforts.” Yeah … right! This experience was easily one of the top (or bottom) three stressful experiences on this boat for me. The other two were (1) entering Beaufort, NC through a severe cold front in November, 2011, with Coast Guard warnings of severe thunderstorms and tornados (“take immediate shelter”), and (2) exiting Barnegut, NJ through a channel that was supposed to be deep enough for us (we got in, didn't we?), but we bounced off the bottom repeatedly as the rudder's skeg and keel hobby-horsed their way out.
I am attaching a picture that shows two images, side-by-side. The left side is our track relative to the underlying, “official” chart on our computer (before the satellite image overlay - looks like we did ok, eh?) and the right side image is the same area with the satellite Google Earth overlay. The second picture bears a much higher degree resemblance to reality, especially our resting place at anchor behind the jetty. You can see on the way in how we were pushed to the west (left) toward shallower water and how erratic our track was. We actually did pretty good, visually (VFR, Bobby), except for a few errant coral heads popping up and scaring the shit out of me on our depth gauge (100' to 8' and back to 100' in an instant). We tried to be lined up with the buoys, but the washing machine effect kept confounding that effort! What a ride! Shoulda had the GoPro going!!
The rum drinks upon arrival, earlier than my usual “sundowner”, were much appreciated, as was the skinny-dip in the incredibly clean, cool water … we can see to the bottom in 35 feet of depth!