It was time to leave the jewel of Haraiki — but now we were more intimidated about exiting than we were entering! As they say, ignorance is bliss….
The South swell was calm, less than 1m, so we weren’t worried about the waves at the pass (but a South-West swell was due to arrive the next day, so we couldn’t dilly-dally). We were concerned about the coral minefield. Although the sun was shining and visibility was much better than when we entered the atoll, we didn’t want to take any chances.
Haraiki’s entrance runs for 1/2 mile with depth of 10-15ft deep coral. Pinnacles of coral rise to the surface in random fashion, creating a minefield for a sailboat.
A THOROUGH SURVEY
To give ourselves the best chance of exiting without hitting coral, we did a thorough survey with the dinghy. We took it through the entire pass, marking waypoints on the handheld GPS for the route that appeared best, along with notes such as “turn hard right after this spot”.
We transferred all 20 waypoints marking the “best route” across the minefield, from the handheld GPS (the grey device on the table) to the ship’s GPS .
Our first step in our survey was to fly Honey Bee, our Mavic drone. From high in the air we could easily see the coral bommies and find the path of least resistance. We followed with the dinghy marking waypoints throughout the pass.
Doing the first step of our survey with the Honey Bee sped things up as we got a bird’s eye view of the terrain.
This aerial shot looking straight down captures what we were looking for: dark blue water (deeper) indicating the best route to take around the coral bommies. The Crux were the two areas of tight coral pinnacles, evident at the top and bottom of the frame – the tightest corners we had to make.
We had a good grasp on the zone we called “The Crux” (it was challenging due to the tight corners we’d have to navigate around dry coral) but the area closest to the pass was not so straightforward. The depth was hard to discern from the air or from the dinghy. So we jumped into the water for an underwater snorkeling survey.
The area close to the pass was difficult to evaluate from the air — note all the scattered coral pinnacles toward the center of the frame, which aren’t “dry coral”, but might be less than 6 feet deep, posing a hazard to Aldebaran.
The four of us – Ethan, Gary, Sabrina and I, swam through different sections of the pass entrance and re-grouped to take note of the shallow zones. There were several narrow, underwater coral pinnacles coming to within 4 feet of the surface, which is Aldebaran’s draft, so we had to take note of them and find a better path.
Ethan swimming across a shallow spot of 2-3 feet deep, right in the middle of the pass.
We got a chance to enjoy the gorgeous underwater scenery of Haraiki’s coral one last time… the coral structures were a source of great beauty and inspiration, but also a source of deep anxiety for navigating our boat!
Upon returning to Aldebaran, this rain band moved through and blotched out the visibility… so we waited 30 minutes for the skies to clear again. I’m happy they did!
Raising anchor… chain gets easily wrapped around coral bommies in the Tuamotos, so it can be really helpful to have a snorkeler in the water, directing the boat and the crew lifting the anchor. This helps ease strain on the windlass, and makes the process much faster. “Floating the chain” with 2 or 3 buoys also helps keep the chain from snagging on the coral bottom.
Ethan at the bow raising anchor chain with the windlass. Meanwhile, I’m in the water directing the boat to move around the bommies, so as to free the anchor chain that is being lifted.
One last view of the beach in front of our anchorage — spectacular! We used this landmark to evaluate the tides to ensure we would be exiting closer to high tide with as much water under our keel as possible. We were grateful this timing of the tides lined up with good overhead sun direction necessary for visibility.
Navigating through the coral minefield with great conditions. Looks like a walk in the park!
The exit was carefully choreographed: we wanted to leave no room for mistakes! At the helm, I sloooowly followed the GPS waypoints from our survey, and kept an eye on the depth. Nevertheless, I still need a lot of direction from the crew on where exactly to make the turns around the coral bommies (as you can tell, they are invisible from where I stand near the cockpit!) so Sabrina used the VHF radio to communicate from her lookout at the the bow pulpit.
Note the waves crashing at the pass in disorganized fashion. Even though the South swell was less than 1m, occasional sets still pushed through which could be a serious hazard. Most navigable passes in Tuamotos have depths of 50-90 feet, and the waves peel very predictably along the reef. However, in Haraiki, the waves break in disorganized fashion because it is only 20-30 feet deep for 300 yards out to sea. So once we got to the edge of the pass, after the minefield, we waited a few minutes to observe, before motoring out.
High Five! We are outside the pass, safe and sound!
One last view of Aldebaran at anchor in Haraiki — a gorgeous spot we may never return to. Unless the conditions are absolutely calm, it is just too dangerous to navigate into. We entered only because we weren’t totally aware of how hazardous it would be. Ignorance then, bliss now!
We were through the pass, back in the open sea… back to safety. We were now enroute to Makemo, the final destination in our 18 day trip with Gary & Ethan.