Clear Air Turbulence in Tapuamu 16-20 Aug
20 August 2021 | Now, Bora Bora
William Ennis | Windy!
"We're stuck in Tapuamu in a maramu again..."
We spent the night of 16 August in a large bay on Taha'a, the sister island to Raiatea, in the same lagoon. The bay, Apu Bay, is a favorite for leased boat sailors since it's only 45 minutes from the Moorings/Sunsail/Dream Yacht Charter business headquarters. It has no protection from the south, but it's not bad for other directions. We were able to grab a mooring and shut down for the night.
Along with our other instruments, we've been running our radar even in clear weather so that we can gain a sense of what we can and shouldn't expect to see when conditions deteriorate. It's surprising, actually, what modern radar can offer, especially when the radar image overlays the chart image. Metal boats are always good targets for radar returns, but small fiberglass boats are difficult. The Doppler information intrigues me. When a target is approaching us, the image is colored yellow, and when the target has passed, that changes to green. Yes, I understand how it works, but I'm still impressed. We managed to adjust the image so that it accurately aligns with the chart image. The return image for signal buoys, for example, are aligned with the image on our charts. We're also running our AIS, so boats that transmit their data via that system appear on the screen as well as their radar image, displaying location, speed, and direction. Since AIS info is transmitted via VHF channels, it has greater range than our radar. One of the boats that passed us in the lagoon was a 95-foot, aluminum-hulled beauty with a home port in Malta, Nomad IV. A vessel that size and construction provided a stunningly strong radar return, as well as an informative AIS signal.
After breakfast and an engine check on 17 August, we slipped our mooring and motored to Tapuamu, the best storm hole in the area and one of our favorites. Usual storm paths this time of year are from the southeast or east southeast, and this bay opens 180° from that direction, offering good protection. When we are moored as far as possible toward the head of the bay, most of the wind will go over us before it descends to the water. Rather than a crowd of boats as we sometimes find in Tapuamu, there was only one, belonging to an Australian cruising couple. The locals have relocated and updated their moorings, so we easily found one and tied on. A well designed and maintained mooring is as good as an anchor and limits the swinging room that an anchor requires. Knowing that we were hours from the crap hitting the fan, we double-checked everything on deck and enjoyed a few hours of relaxation.
At 1530 or so, boats of all kinds began to arrive to shelter from the inclement weather and the first few were able to snag the remaining moorings. The later arrivals were forced to drop a hook. By the storm's start, there were 8 boats in the bay, and by morning, there were 11 and that included the 95-foot Nomad! She had crept into Tapuamu sometime last night, thinking better of her anchorage on the nearby reef.
At 1800 hours it began, with a rain squall sweeping through over the island and into the bay from the head of Tapuamu. Weather like this, as we've learned, means that we live below for a few days. We hadn't even splashed the dinghy and visited town since we didn't want to hoist the dinghy back aboard, but knew that it couldn't stay in the water in these conditions.
There were 30 knots of wind, but almost no wave action since the fetch, the distance of water over which the wind can create waves, was so small. Still, all night long, the wind shrieked in the rigging and curious sounds from unknown resonating sources added their voices. The shrouds, the stainless steel cables that support the mast, are like guitar strings in that wind, and the hull is the sounding board. It was not a restful night! I set an anchor alarm on my iPad to warn us if we moved a preset distance from our original position. We were concerned enough for the boat not to wear earplugs to reduce the noise, since we felt that we needed to be aware of any odd sounds.
Today, 18 August, is forecast as the worst day, so we kept holed up all day. It blew very hard all day, with gusts to 35 knots and the sustained winds of 25 knots. When one is in a protected bay inside a lagoon, and there are whitecaps, it's blowing hard!
Boats came and went today, but as day wore on, about 9 came to shelter with us. I performed a deck check early this morning and we both took another stroll around at least once today, and we joined forced to make our final night check on things. The mooring looks fine, our connection is still fine, so we're in good shape, I think.
We spent a good part of the day below, hiding from the wind, but got a bit stir crazy this afternoon and "left the house" to spend a few afternoon hours in the cockpit watching shore and boats around us. Our official mixologist created a cocktail from Schwepps Lemon Seltzer, not available in the US unfortunately, and a local rum that we've started calling a "Wings Cocktail", and she prepared one this evening. It went well with our constant roaring background noise and the lovely sunset, since we're stern-to-west. It'll be another sleep-deprived night and unless things change drastically, we'll be here until Sunday. Imagine that.
The official weather reports call for what we'd term "Small Craft Advisory", and a "Hazardous Seas Warning", with short period, very steep and large seas: 10 feet at 9 seconds. There is no reason for a cruiser to deliberately take on such conditions. If you're on a crossing and you're out there in it, one has no choice, but there's no way that we would put ourselves or Wings in such conditions. We'll get weary of this bay and the constant noise, but we'll be safe here.
Thursday 19 August
We were both awakened this morning at 0330 by a rain squall that required closing all of our hatches and ports, but we were both so tired, still, that it was easy to drift back to sleep.
I was up at 0745, late for me, and found that the wind had moderated and that the skies were clear. We'll know more later, but perhaps we can get off the boat today.
The wind disappeared by 1500 or so and although we've had a few rain squalls, it's been pretty nice in Tapuamu. This is opposite of our best and most current weather report, so we're confused about the predictions. If this holds through the night, our plan is to bolt out of Tapuamu early and get to Bora Bora a bit earlier than we had planned. Oh, darn! With any luck, we'll be near the Bora Bora Yacht Club and I can FINALLY get some of the web pages and blogs posted at the club.