A Maraamu winter storm was approaching, so we left a day early to head to Fakarava atoll. Turns out that wasn’t enough buffer time, and we got absolutely hammered…
Kimbo, Sasha, and I were aboard Aldebaran sailing south, in order to meet up with Sabrina and her mom Jackie. We planned to see them in Fakarava, which was only 65 nautical miles away. However, since it is upwind to the South-East, we planned to take 16 hours to tack our way there. Unfortunately the conditions were so much worse than we expected, and the trip took 26 hours…
The Maraamu winter storms in French Polynesia are actually driven by high pressures that “squash” and create strong SE winds usually between 20-30 knots, along with bands of unstable squalls and rain. We left port with calm, sunny conditions, sailing due south, but overnight things got nasty. Whichever way we turned, whether East or South, it seemed the wind also shifted and blew on our nose.
By 10pm, it was cranking 22 knots and we took a long tack west of Fakarava, way off-course, hoping to tack back towards the atoll in the dawn hours. Then, by 4am, to my immense chagrin, the wind had shifted again, this time to the NE, exactly where we now needed to go! Dang it!!
The seas built with confusion and we struggled under double-reef main and 110% genoa. Our old but strong sails were doing a remarkable job of staying intact, given they have a few decades of wear-and-tear.
Meanwhile, of course, the crew was starting to feel a bit green. Kimbo and I were pretty beat and woozy. Sasha had learned from the previous trip to Ahe (
take anti-nausea medications and she was trying to stay horizontal and sleep through the worst of it… but things were getting rough in Neptune’s Ocean.
I was really impressed with how Sasha was staying positive, and all things considered, was doing ok. After the last trip to Ahe, which was a standard “bumpy” trip, she expected a lot worse… especially since the conditions were now as bad as I’d seen them in Tuamotus!
Yet Sasha was showing a lot of self-awareness to “stay together”… knowing when to get fresh air and stare at the horizon, and manage nausea with meds and acupressure bands. She was hanging in there, and from a captain’s perspective, that’s all we can hope the crew will do: manage their condition with a positive attitude while things are rough. Sasha did so admirably, and we were all relieved as we approached the pass.
As we entered the Fakarava mid-morning, it was time to test the limits of Aldebaran. We were only 45 minutes from the village anchorage, and the conditions suddenly deteriorated again… a nasty band of dark squalls built up in the horizon and marched towards us. Stinging rain and 30+ knot gusts smashed us, shaking the boat’s rigging. “I refuse to let this darned squall rip our sails, when we’re so close to our destination!” I hollered, sheeting out, easing pressure on the sails, waiting for the squall to pass. But it didn’t pass.
Preventing damage to the boat is like keeping our bodies intact during ill conditions: we need to know when we’re at the limit. It takes grit, positive attitude, and knowing “when to fold”. I didn’t want to take the time to reef sails when we were so close to our destination, so we dropped sails and motored in the remaining 20 minutes. Thanks, Mr. Isuzu!
We tied up behind the village dock, as the anchorage was quite rough and rolly with the Maaramu. The next morning, a large French Navy ship showed up, taking refuge from the Maraamu next to us, which was quite a sight to behold.
And the craziest thing: the supply ship Cobia bringing vegetables and fresh fruit to Fakarava had to change course due to the Maaramu storm and cancelled their weekly visit to the atoll — so there was no way for us to get fresh produce! Sabrina’s mom Jackie was only going to be here visiting for a few days, and we were heading to a more remote area without provisions. We needed to figure out another way of getting fresh produce, if we didn’t want to live on canned goods for the foreseeable future…