09 September 2012 | Apataki
The Tuamotu Archipelago is home to the Puamotu people. It is an enourmous arc of exclusively coral atolls lying between the Society and the Marquesas groups. The seventy-six islands have a land ara of 343 square miles spanning a distance of a 1000 miles. The first European who set eyes on the Tuamotus was Jacob LeMaire, a Dutchman (1615).
Raroia is probably the best known because of the raft Kon Tiki who landed here in 1947. The Kon Tiki, captained by Thor Heyerdahl, drifted 4300 miles for 3.5 months from Peru. He wanted to proof that the Polynesians could have originated from America.
The French used the Tuamotus for nuclear testing. This program was initiated in 1963. Phosphate was produced at Makatea before it was exhausted in 1966. The income of the area is from Goverment subsidised cobra production and pearl farming.
We left Hiva Oa island in the Marquesas for the dangerous Tuamotus to haul out Ntombi. We sailed past Tahuata island in squally weather. There was only one cat moored close to the white sandy beach, but we decided not to join them.
We had a nice light wind, but it died down during the night. The wind however picked up between 9 - 10 and unfortunately died down again at noon. The ocean was not as rough as it were from Panama to Marquesas, obviously due to low winds.
The log was still not working, even thought the guys did a splendid job scrubbing the hull. We were able to sail at 4 - 5.5 knots in low winds where we were only able to reach 3 knots before the scrub.
When the wind picked up again, we had a very pleasant sail. The wind changed direction to a South Wester which is peculiar for this time of year. There was funny cotton wool type clouds (Altocumulus) earlier in the day, and when Johan researched the meaning, he found that it means a cold front approaching with unstable weather. There was rain storms all around us, but none of them affected us.
It reminded me of the Israelites in Egypt, before they were lead out by Moses. The Egyptians were hit by plagues whilst the righteous Israelites were unaffected. God is great in His protection of us.
The sky was a very unusual colour of blue just before sunset. It was the most beautiful 'painting' of deep blue background and a few white clouds close to us. It seemed as if we will be out of the stormy area by the morning. The water surface was almost flat, as Johan's dream Pacific.
At 21h30 the simrad (autopilot) went into standby mode. We realised that we were in the strongest wind of the whole trip (40 + knots). Luckily we reefed down to no 3 for the night. We were unable to steer Ntombi and we therefore locked the tiller and let her drift. She went south for a few miles during the storm that lasted for 3 hours. The only damage observed in the morning was one glider on the mainsail. God is great in His protection of us.
The wind was still strong in the morning and we decided to rig the stormjib on the mast. We balanced it with a small headsail and were sailing at an average 4.8 knots. We spent the Sabbath listening to various teachings on audio. I also read a few chapters in the Great Controversy. At Sabbath closing we realised that we were sailing too fast and would reach the pass to the atoll in darkness.
We let out ropes at the stern to slow us down, but it did not help. We were still sailing at 5 knots with the ropes, spitfire and very small headsail. Eventually at 23h30 we were heaving-to. It was such a nice, calm feeling inside the cabin. We slept (obviously with watches) until 5h00 in the morning. We started sailing again in very strong wind. A big vessel passed at our stern. We reached the northern pass of Apataki by 11h30. C-maps is a few hundred meters out with their co-ordinates of the pass.
It was a very scary experience. We saw clear shallow water on the side and breaking waves ahead. Some of our material indicated a 130 meter entrance, but they obviously made a 100 meter mistake. The entrance was also not at the expected waypoint. Neither was the leading degrees working, unless we did something very stupid.
I pulled in the headsail, but made a mistake in the excitement and let it out. Luckily I was able to correct the mistake before we reached the entrance whilst motoring. The wind was very strong and dead ahead (South Easter). Johan stayed close to the one side to ensure that he will be able to make a u-turn in the event that we do not find deep water to go through the narrow opening. We however found deeper water (17 meter) and he basically followed the depth sounder. We depth went down to 7 meter and went up again.
Once we were inside the atoll the waves were building up over a distance of 17 miles (the diameter of the atoll) and reached a height of 2.5 meters. As we go over one wave the nose dives in and another wave breaks over the deck. The following distance of the waves were too short. The heavy waves lasted for about 1/2 a mile until we reached a depth of 40 meters. Afterwards the waves were a little better.
We turned to the south east towards Apataki Carenage. We let the headsail out at 70 % whilst the engine was running to help us sail into the strong wind. There are a few coral heads indicated on the C-map chart. I wanted to go and check the distance on C-maps when I saw we were heading straight at a reef. Luckily Johan was at the tiller and could swerve away. Whilst I was on C-maps Johan saw bouys straight ahead and had to swerve once again. These bouys are placed at the pearl farms. Luckily we were able to avoid hitting any of these.
We needed to tack a few times whilst Johan hand steered to Apataki carenage. At 17h30 we enventually reached calmer waters and could see the shore of a small coral island. Alfred met us in his powerboat and indicated a mooring bouy that we could use for free.
What a welcome site and it really looked like "landfall of paradise".
We were exhausted and went to bed early. We did not even went ashore. The following morning we visited the office to make arrangements for the haul out. It was agreed to haul out the afternoon at 13h00. It was done very professionally and it took only 20 minutes before we started with the powerwash. We saw that the antifouling was actually still in good condition after sailing 13 000 miles. The antifouling was done on the Vaal by Peter Watts and he used Sigma Coatings with Ivory primer.
For the first time since I can remember mosquitos are byting me. It started around 16h30 on Monday. Alfred told me that the wind changed direction and that is causing the mozzies. Well, they truely love my blood. They rarely bite Johan and on the odd occation when they do, it is around his ancles and it does not itch at all. A fellow yachtie told me to stay in the sun to avoid the mozzies. Well it helped a bit, the amount on my body at a single time came down to 1 or 2 instead of 4 to 5. Alfred made a fire with dried coconut 'shells' to keep the mozzies away. We continued this practice of a fire at 16h00 everyday. The smoke is apparently driving them away. I had to however use peaceful sleep and I burned mosquito coils inside the boat. During the day and most of the night I also burned my citronella lamp inside the boat.
On Tuesday morning we continued with the preparation for the first coat of antifouling. Johan removed the propshaft in order to put the bearing back in place. He discovered that the fishing line distroyed the bearing. We ordered a new cutlass bearing from Tahiti, which would arrive at the airport in the village 10 miles away on Friday. We applied the first coat of antifouling.
Johan removed the cutlass bearing bracket. He took it with to the airport in the village to ensure that the bearing that we ordered will fit. When it arrived, he sent it back with the bracket for fitment because it is not standard size. Veronica, a French woman who came to collect their boat papers, took it with her to Papeete. All flights to Apataki was cancelled untill Thursday. We will hopefully get the cutlass bearing bracket and fitted bearing back on Thursday.
Walking to the toilet at night I saw seashells moving around. Johan said it is hermet crabs. There is not sand on the beach, only coral sand, which looks more like gravel or fairly big "stones".
The people on the island is very friendly and helpful. The grandfather is still working very hard to prepare copra. He also goes into the village 3 times a week, delivering lettuce and eggs which is part of the grandmothers farming. Alfred and Paulina provided me with fresh fruit like papaja, figs, lemon, lime and very big grapefruit. Their two sons also lives on the island and the elder son, Tony is the owner of the Carenage. The whole family works together during haulouts. Each one knows what is expected of him and they function like a well oiled machine.
We were invited to a pot luck dinner on Saturday evening. There were traditional Polynesian fish salad, rice, cous cous, octopus oven baked and fried, 'herderspastei', coleslaw and dessert was pumpkin in coconut milk and chocolate brownies. Everybody was speaking French most of the time but we still had a very enjoyable evening.
Although it seemed as if we have too much time on our hands waiting for the cutlass bearing, we were very busy every day. We found a water leak that Johan fixed. He serviced the Yamaha engine and found parts seized due to the salt. He replaced the broken glider on the mainsail, fibreglassed the broken batten as well as the drawer. I made a cover for our small scatter cushion, packed the pasta in plastic bottles, scrubbed the floor with fresh water, etc. There is never a dull moment and always lots to do on a boat.
The owner of the catamaran Moemoea Nui (meaning Dream Big) that was hauled out on Saturday told Johan that the recommended route to New Zealand is via Tonga. He has sailed this route a few times already and Johan appreciates his advise.
We will most probably only leave on 25th for Tahiti.