A whole new world…

I’ve spent countless hours of my life around waves, but I had never seen them quite this way before! This was the first time I ever brought a mask and snorkel into the waves, and I found it truly enchanting… It’s a whole new world!

There is all kinds of life happening under the waves. Fish are nibbling at the coral and the algae, swaying back and forth with the push and pull of the swells. Schools of little fish dart around the white wash using it as protection from predators.

The waves break with explosive force but underwater it’s still calm. The vortices of whitewash make incredible patterns, backlit by the sunshine above.

Having FUN in the waves.

This is the view from the beach. Who could imagine that all that magic is happening underwater just offshore? Having a mask & snorkel is like having a superpower… the ability to see what is not at all apparent. Add waves to the equation for a totally mind-blowing experience of fluid dynamics!

Snorkeling the west pass

The drop off at the west pass of Makemo is incredible! We anchored the dinghy right at the pass (note white dot in the aerial photo above), from where we could snorkel in the shallows and hover over the depths. The only catch? Be sure to do this on incoming tide, which is fairly mellow at this location. The outgoing tide rips like a river current!

View of the bright red coral rocks at the pass.

Atolls are like icebergs… the vast majority is underwater.

Just looking at the water’s surface is transfixing when the colors are this vivid.

Sabrina with the lambordinghy.

Lots of beautiful coral around the west pass of Makemo.

Looking across the pass to the other side.

Wonderful coral formations in the shallows. Epic snorkeling in 1 ft of water.

I couldn’t get enough of this drop-off… with turquoise water covering shallow coral on one side, and cobalt blue deep water on the other side, plummeting down into the 100ft deep pass, different layers of coral communities as you went down….

Makemo’s West Pass: Bird’s Eye View

Makemo is the among the four largest atolls in Tuamotos (after Rangiroa and Fakarava; and it is slightly larger than Hao in comparison).

Makemo’s West Pass is a unique place — this may be the most remote pass of the larger atolls in French Polynesia. Remoteness, as we’ve discovered, equates very closely with abundant marine life! It is 26 nautical miles from the atoll’s village, which by sailboat is 4-5hours or by power boat 1.5hours. This makes it a little far for the locals to visit with regularity, so fishing pressure is vastly reduced; and there is negligible tourism in the atoll besides sailboat transit.

The nook in the reef, where we are anchored, provides decent protection from the East, and excellent protection from the North-East through to the South-West. For South or South-East winds, the deeper part of the cove would offer protection, which we evaluated by snorkel and deemed adequate for a draft as shallow as 6 feet.

The downside of this anchorage? It is “choc-a-bloc” with coral bommies littering the anchorage, which means that using floats on anchor chain is an absolute must, and the ability to dive to depths of 50ft on the anchor is also critical, as likelihood of the chain being snagged is… 100% certainty, even with floats. This is a non-trivial challenge to overcome when visiting this spectacular place.

Navigating a Reef Pass with a Broken Throttle Cable

The wind freshened and Aldebaran was back under sail, cantering like a horse in open pasture. However, our estimated arrival time, based on our current speed of 6 knots, was 1am in Makemo. No good! Rule #1 is never arrive in the dark, especially when it’s your first time in a reef pass.

So we took down the mainsail, and just plodded along with the genoa headsail at 4 knots. Nevertheless, by 3am we were just a few miles from the reef pass. So we “hove to”, which is a technique to park the boat mid-ocean. I set my alarm for 5:30am and got some shut eye.

As dawn broke, we motored the last 45 minutes to the reef pass. Peering through the binoculars, we surveyed the pass: the current looked mild, without any standing waves caused by strong current. We kept motoring into the pass at an even pace.

Then spontaneously, just as we were flanked with the waves breaking on both sides of the pass, the engine suddenly lost power! It was still running in forward gear, in idle, but didn’t respond to acceleration — the throttle cable had snapped! The boat lost momentum and started slipping out of control due to the current eddies. I hollered at the crew standing watch on deck, and did a u-turn to take Aldebaran back to sea, a maneuver assisted by the mild outgoing current.

Aldebaran drifted outside the pass without danger, as the wind was blowing us away from the land. Unfortunately, the outflowing current was supposed to strengthen substantially during the next 30 minutes so we had to work fast.

After shutting down Mr. Isuzu, we opened the hot engine compartment and saw the throttle cable had broken at the connecting point with the engine’s throttle lever. After attempting a jury rig with tape for 10 minutes, I ended up attaching a string directly to the engine’s throttle lever. Sabrina made a loop on the other end to hold onto — like a waterskier hanging onto a line — and by leaning her weight back, she could pull on the lever, and accelerate the engine. Bingo!

Since we had to keep the compartment open for the string to pass, the diesel engine was making a cacophony. Sabrina wore big earmuffs to shield the noise. “If the string breaks,” I told her, pointing into the sauna-like heat of the engine compartment, “You’ll have to jump in there and pull on this level over here, ok?” She nodded with wide-eyed apprehension.

“Ready to go!” I told Gary and Ethan, our lookouts on the deck. They smiled, not quite knowing just how jury-rigged our throttle cable was. No need to cause alarm, I thought!

The string solution worked like a charm – thanks to Sabrina’s diligent effort. We motored through the pass and then meandered through a series of coral bommies to reach the anchorage. Poor Sabrina was feeling disoriented facing backwards, watching the landscape whiz by on either side, focused on her task of pulling the throttle string. She was relieved when I gave her the word to relax — we could now easily coast in idle into our anchor spot . We dropped the hook and the boat was safe. Success!

The next day, I removed the throttle cable — it had broken just a few millimeters from the end, where the metal threads attach onto the engine lever. Wow, there is no way we’d even suspect that strong metal rod might ever fail! 4000 hours of engine vibration in one little spot did the trick!

We have a spare throttle cable on Aldebaran but we didn’t need to use it — there were still sufficient threads in the existing throttle cable’s metal end to reattach to the lever. Two hours later, hands filthy with rust & grease, the boat was back in action. However, we weren’t planning on going anywhere. It was time to relax in Makemo’s west pass, and enjoy what this wild remote area had to offer.

When $20 is better than $200

Minutes before reeling in the beautiful yellow fin tuna, we were motoring along the calm ocean with little wind. Then, all at once the sky darkened with foreboding clouds, and the winds started howling. As if on cue, both reels started zipping off at once! It was a double hook up synched with the passing squall.

In the scramble to batten down the hatches and safely reel in our fish, one of the two tunas got away – which is better that than losing the lure to opportunistic sharks. Those tuna are probably worth $200 in the US! But hey, we need to keep those precious lures safe for the next battle.

Example 1. It can be better to have a $20 lure that catches many fish, than buying just one $200 fish.

Now, what in heaven’s is Sabrina wearing while filleting our proud catch, you wonder? Well, our snazzy brand name waterproof jackets refuse to keep us dry after just 1yr of wear and tear. So we now resort to wearing the plastic kids raincoat that Pierre and Lianna bought during a thunderstorm in Marquesas while we were walking around town. Note the bright yellow raincoat Kristian was wearing in the last post.

Example 2. Put away the $200 technical jackets – bust out the $20 goofy plastic raincoats, the only things still keeping us dry!

Ahi tuna

Because every time we catch a yellowfin tuna, it’s cause for celebration!! Sushi and seared ahi on the menu for days!

Every fisherman has his favorite lure, and we lost ours last year to a shark who stole our (nearly caught) tuna. So when Sabby was home in January, she made it a priority to replace her favorite trusty yellow and green feathery lure that always seemed to catch us tuna.

We opened the new lure, secured it to our trolling line, and gave it a lucky kiss before tossing it overboard to drag behind the boat as we sailed to Makemo. Within a couple hours, it worked its magic !
Gary reeled in this beautiful yellow fin tuna, and Kristian swooped it into the net. This lovely tuna would feed us splendidly for many days.

Escape from Haraiki

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!

Farewell black-tips!

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.

Spectacular underwater jewels, Haraiki

“Bizarre,” I thought, as I looked at the corals below me. “The sun is already low in the horizon, hidden behind the clouds. The visibility should be marginal. Yet it is so clear. What is going on?” I wondered, looking around with astounding clarity at the diversity of marine creatures.

(Click here for more Green Coco posts about Haraiki atoll, in Tuamotos, French Polynesia)

The Tuamotos is famous for clear water: “100ft plus visibility” is common outside the lagoons, at least. Yet here in Haraiki it was “next level”; the fish & corals looked like a 3D movie, ‘popping’ in the sheer transparency of the water. Part of the reason for picture perfect water, I realized, was the shallowness of the reef pass (10-20ft) and the small size of the atoll, which meant a lack of sediment.

The next surprise: the white tip reef sharks were remarkably… BOLD. Usually they are quite timid, compared to the somewhat more confident black tips, and especially the crazy-eyed, often fearless gray reef sharks. But here the white tips were swimming right up to us, not veering away as they usually do when we face them. It was unnerving. 

“Errr maybe it’s shark feeding hour, and we should come back tomorrow morning,” I rallied Gary and Ethan back to the dinghy. 

Although the white tips were more relaxed the next day, they were still the most curious sharks I’ve ever encountered. They kept doing loops to check us out – not menacing, just really curious. Watching  from this close was transfixing: their cat-like narrow eyes, and bodies undulating like dancing snakes. 

If the multitudes of sharks ever got boring, you could spend hours looking at the nuanced details of every coral formation in Haraiki’s pass. It was a huge carpet of fervent life. 

The Tuamotos is renown as a rare archipelago in the world whose corals are improving in quality. The lack of human population & fishing pressure, and possibly cooler water temperatures, are some of the reasons why the coral in Tuamotos is in great shape – at least outside the lagoons (in comparison, inside the lagoons there is a widespread degree of mortality in corals, especially near villages; and in the Society Islands, much more so.)

However, in none of the other 10 Tuamoto atolls we’ve visited, I’d never seen coral at this level of peak health (Tahanea and Makemo are next in line). The corals’  colors, shapes, and textures were a true thing of beauty.  The shallow water  created fantastic lighting, and closeness made it feel like we were hovering over an entire city of coral. We floated past sky scrapers of coral and looked down at suburban neighborhoods; their resident fish and organisms flying through the water column like futuristic self-driving vehicles, commuting to work or play.

Black tip sharks

When we were exhausted from being underwater, we explored the motus surrounding the boat, collected shells from the coral-debris beach, and harvested coconuts.

The “land” in the Tuamoto atolls is mostly composed of coral debris which is washed up by the waves and currents. If the coral stopped growing, these islands would disappear.

Well, if we got stuck here, we could surely survive on these huge coconuts!

Despite being amazed by Haraiki’s underwater world, and thoroughly enjoying  the deserted island, a thought still nagged at our brains. We still had to navigate Aldebaran back out of Haraiki, through the minefield of coral and breaking waves in the pass, before the next swell was due to arrive.

We still needed to “escape” this little paradise…

We left our homeport 3 years ago…

On March 26th, 2015, Aldebaran sailed out of Santa Barbara harbor heading south. That was exactly three years ago. As we sit inside our boat rocking in a Tuamoto lagoon, listening to the humm of the trade winds in the rigging, we dug up some nostalgic pictures from Departure Day…

March 26, 2015. Ed France rode his bike to the harbor to see us off.  He is cherished in Santa Barbara as the bicycle godfather of BiciCentro; but a little known fact is that, if it weren’t for his care of Aldebaran for 2 years (when we were boat partners), we wouldn’t be where we are now. Love you Ed!

In addition, we recently came across farewell messages that friends wrote to us, scribbled on blank labels taped to wine bottles, which we drank along the way (thanks Keri & Bryan for that incredible gift, that kept on giving!)

“Be sure to add some color to your cheeks! Until we meet again, Valle con Dios”
-Mark Weeks
“Dear Aldebaran crew y el Capitan
We hope each sip of this wine brings following seas, fair winds and fuzzy memories! We love you guys,”
-Krista and B.
“We wish we could all fit on the boat with you! All 50 of us !!”
-Leslie

March 25, 2015. On the night before departure, Alex gifted us this hard-bound journal to keep as the official Captain’s Log. It was a welcome touch of tradition, bringing a sense of mystique to our daily log entries on Season 1, sailing down Central America. Of the guys pictured, Alex and Ben joined us for long stints in Costa Rica and Tuamotos; Michael and Ryan were aboard 6 months the first year, and returned the second year (and even kept returning…) These guys have become family to us!

 

“Much Love and laughter and blessings to all who embark on this epic voyage. May hearts be filled with bliss over and over.”
-Jewels
 “Hi guys!
So excited for your adventure. Always remember that not all who
wander are lost. Enjoy every perfect moment, live each day to the fullest and of course, take lots of photos and post them on Facebook
so we can live vicariously through you…”
-love Michaela
“We are so inspired by your fortitude and vision and courage for taking on this impressive and important endeavor of passion and purpose. With great love and awe,”
-Kimber and Carter

March 23, 2015. Sabrina with a deck-full of provisions from Costco.  Oh, how wondrous are the bulk conveniences of Costco…

“Team Inspire,
How amazing it has been to see this idea go from a glimmer in our eye to
full manifestation. What amazing things you can accomplish with vision and community. Laugh in the face of fears and enjoy the adventures in this beautiful life you have created. Much love,”
-Katniss a.k.a. Sarah F.
 “Keep on
Keepin on!”
-Brad

Santa Barbara Newspress, February 2015. We called it the “Green” Coconut Run because we wanted to bring back a little ecology into the world of modern cruising sailboats. Its been challenging to do everything we wanted, but we’ve managed a few things along the way: research in micro-plactics, distributing solar lights, and promoting innovative marine reserves (see www.greencoconutrun.com)

“May there be many amazing experiences! Be sure to drink this wine naked under a starry sky! xo,”
-Lindsey G. 
“Close your eyes,
smell the sweet sages
Feel the warm breezes
coming over the mountains
SB will still be here to welcome you back.
Now get out there and savor the tropics and the moment
in front of you.
Love you!”
-Erika

Thanks to EVERYONE who has helped make this voyage a success for the last 3 years, in small ways and big ways! We are so blessed…

Haraiki’s nearly impossible entrance

This is one of those places that you think: “Well, if we shipwreck here and the trip is done, it will have been worth it.”  It was THAT beautiful.

The dangers weren’t just imaginary: later we learnt from our Tuamotos friends that at least two power boats with copra have been lost to this pass, and they were baffled that we had entered this pass with Aldebaran. We knew it was sketchy but we didn’t realize just how dangerous it was.

(Click here for more Green Coco posts about Haraiki atoll, in Tuamotos, French Polynesia)

BACKGROUND

Why Haraiki? We are always looking for atolls that are uninhabited yet have navigable passes. We met a couple in their late 50s on a brand-new sailboat that had entered Haraiki and raved about it. While they warned us frankly about the difficulty of the pass, their benchmark for adventure was obviously much higher than I had assumed!

The major problems with entering (and leaving) Haraiki are two-fold: 1) the breaking waves in the pass; and 2) the minefield of coral bommies just inside the very shallow waters. On the plus side, it is a tiny atoll (1nm wide) so the currents are minor.

FIRST ISSUE: BREAKING WAVES

Haraiki’s pass faces due south, and has no protection from other atolls. The constant stream of swells from the southern hemisphere slams head first into this pass. Forget about ever going here during April to October, at the peak of the south swell season. During November to March, the south swell dies off but there are still pulses of swell that could close out the whole pass for days on end.

We arrived in mid March with a dying south swell, SSW 1.2m going to 0.8m @11 sec. From our forecast, we figured we only had 3-4 days before a 2m @15sec SW swell was arriving, and we’d be stuck inside.

SECOND ISSUE: CORAL MINEFIELD

Our friends had entered Haraiki on a monohull, so we figured we’d be ok in our trimaran with shallower draft. The subtle difference: the issue here wasn’t the draft (depth of the water), as much as maneuverability around the pinnacles and coral bommies that sprouted to the surface of the channel (bommies are coral formations that come from deeper water to the surface of the ocean, like apartment buildings in a city of coral).

Turns out our friends on the monohull had an advantage over us: their brand-new 45ft sloop has a bow thruster, which is a little sideways propeller on the bow of the boat. It allows them to spin the boat on a dime, and turn around tight, narrow channels. Meanwhile, our 42ft long 21 ft wide trimaran only has 1 propeller, and turns like a raft in a summer camp; only with lots of persuasion, and without lots of control.

Sabrina at the bow with a portable VHF to communicate with Kristian steering the boat in the cockpit. Gary and Ethan kept watch for hazards on each side of the boat.

This photo illustrates the issues of “visibility”. The glare of the sun (left side of frame) makes going into the sun impossible, compared to where the sun is shining onto (right side of frame). Also compare this photo with the lighting in the photo above with Sabrina holding the VHF, which is into the sun — it is much darker and hard to see. Hence, we must always enter new reef passes and navigate inside unsurveyed lagoons with a favorable angle to the sun. Ideally, when the sun is high (10am-2pm is best) and also slightly behind to prevent glare, can we then see the hazardous shallow coral bommies. This ‘timely precision’ is hard to achieve on a sailboat, given the shifts in weather… making this one of the great challenges of navigating in Tuamotos archipelago.

THE ENTRANCE

We sailed overnight from Amanu 150nm. That morning there were baby bird blue skies, so we were optimistic. Then, clouds and light squalls began in the afternoon. It was fairly cloudy when we arrived at Haraiki, putting a damper on our hopes. The visibility was not “stellar” as we had hoped; but at least the sun’s angle was ok.

During the past 7 years we’ve anchored next to many surf spots in our search for off-the-beaten path waves. We’ve steered the boat near big crashing waves and navigated through channels with intense standing waves. Regardless of that experience, upon seeing Haraiki’s pass I was very intimidated!

Overhead waves were breaking on either side of the pass. The channel itself was very hard to identify, because it is only 12-15ft deep. Unlike most atoll reef passes where a deep channel of 40-90 ft is carved by the large forces of water currents, Haraiki is a tiny atoll of only 1nm across, so the currents are minimal. The result is that the waves were shifting and breaking irregularly. Disconcertingly, the swells were standing up in the middle of the channel, threatening to break, and wavelets would occasionally cap over in the rough water. We were considering giving up.

From afar in the lumpy seas, we watched the waves on the pass for 25 minutes. Eventually we gained confidence in the timing of the swell and pattern of breaking waves. We planned the approach at a diagonal angle to the pass, starting close to the western side and moving to mid channel.

Then we went for it…

Despite the warnings, Gary was happy to ride the bucking bronco on the bow. He and Ethan are old time surfers and were getting a perverse joy from us surfing Aldebaran down the waves in the reef pass.

Our hearts were pounding as waves crashed on the reef next to us, and a large swell rose behind us. Would it break on us? Would Aldebaran’s design as a forty-foot surfboard now be tested? I steered to starboard away from the peak of the lump approaching us, and Aldebaran began to surf down the swell, picking up speed from 6 to 8 to 10 knots. The wave was breaking 150ft away, which is just a stone’s throw! Fortunately, where we were, it didn’t get steep and break; the wave rolled under us. We had timed the sets well and entered into the lagoon. What a relief!

But there was no time to relax. We were immediately confronted with the minefield of coral bommies littering the lagoon, which we now had to navigate around.

GRAPHIC OF OUR ENTRANCE INTO HARAIKI:

What we were saying as we entered Haraiki. This aerial photo was taken with our Honey Bee (mavic drone), which we flew once we were inside and safely anchored.

From the satellite imagery (see top photo of this post) we had an idea that the western side of the channel was probably deeper. Our friends who had entered Haraiki confirmed this is the way they went. Yet, even in perfect visibility and light wind, this channel would be very stressful on a sailboat. The maze-like “channel” hovers around 12ft deep, blanketed by a carpet of  stunning coral reefs; this blanket of coral makes it very difficult to evaluate depth from a sailboat, and discern whether that “darker patch” could be a pinnacle of rock sticking straight up.

The cloudy conditions also did not help with the visibility. We were struggling to see more than 1 boat length ahead, even from Sabrina’s vantage point on the bow. On the positive side, the wind was a gentle 6-8kts, which allowed us to crawl along very slowly, while retaining steering control of the boat. The lightly ebbing tide also helped me keep steerage (if the tide were entering, it would push us with more speed toward hazards).

NAVIGATION NOTE: Counter-intuitively, the light breeze we had is much better than no breeze. If the wind is totally calm (close to zero) it creates a mirror-like surface on the water, and it’s nearly impossible to see hazards below. In fact, when we are navigating across unsurveyed lagoons, it is much easier to see coral bommies and underwater hazards when the wind is strong, as the wavelets and color contrast become more evident. Dead calm conditions can spell disaster and the common understanding is that it’s best to stop the boat and wait for the wind to return.

 

The carpet of coral just a few feet under the boat. 10 feet of water over sand is one thing; 10 feet of water over hard coral sprouting in spires every which way, is a very different thing!

Sabrina was at the bow giving directions while I was at the cockpit steering the boat. We communicated non-stop on the VHF, while Gary and Ethan chimed in from their lookout positions on the amas. I reported every turn of the wheel, every change in throttle. Sabrina reported every hazard the crew saw from deck. We were a well-greased machine; like a basketball player in “the zone”, 100% focused for about ten minutes.

There were several near-misses. A few times, the coral was 1ft deep just 6 feet from the outside edge of the boat. We did our best to keep the main hull, which is 4ft deep, in a deeper area, while the amas, which are only 1/2 ft deep, were not as big a concern for us.  Given everything, we are still not exactly sure how we didn’t run into anything!

Aerial view of Haraiki: Aldebaran anchored, sheltered by the motu from the east wind, and a long finger of coral reef sheltered us from the north. The reef pass is seen in the distance. The anchorage is spectacular.

We were ecstatic and relieved to arrive inside the lagoon, past all the minefield of coral. And mentally exhausted… as shown by Ethan in the picture below…

Ethan chilling in a pool of water during our beach exploration shortly after arrival. Unwinding as tiny fish gently pecked at his face like a fancy day spa. Lets just say he needed it after the stress of our arrival!

Amanu is so picturesque!

We sailed a few hours from Hao straight to the pass in Amanu. With its bold white church, lush foliage, and narrow entrance, it is one of the prettiest passes we have ever seen. We arrived with a mild outgoing current, conditions were calm, and we motored in without a problem (Oddly, our Cmap charts were incorrect which is unusual here in French Polynesia’s reef passes, as the French have generally done a good job surveying the entrances to atolls; even though the vast majority remains “unsurveyed”).

Around 300 people live in Amanu. There is no airplane landing strip, which makes it only one of a few atolls with a navigable pass and no airplane access.

How gorgeous is this?? Aldebaran at the anchorage just south of town. It has good!protection from the East to North to West. We dropped the hook inside what we called the “natural breakwater” anchorage. The breakwater surrounding the boat looks like dry reef, but it is actually 1-2 feet deep, so there is more swell action that you’d expect by seeing this photo. Note the white sailboat in the distance, in the next “inside lobe”, further left as you’re looking at the picture. That’s what the next picture is focusing on.

The “inside lobe” with a sailboat anchored inside. Fantastic spot! They had bow and stern anchors to prevent from swinging into the shallow coral reef. This inside lobe has better protection from the wind and swell, especially from the SE, which the outside “natural breakwater” did not offer.

A satellite image of the Amanu pass (top of image), the village (middle of image), and the anchorage (the reef structures in the bottom of image). Since navigation charts are incomplete, we often use satellite images to plan our entry into these atolls. This is from Open CPN software, so I can access it offline.

Squall approaching the anchorage. Although our natural breakwater anchorage was rougher than the inside lobe, we like it because its a shorter dinghy ride to the pass/village (a wet ride at that!). Also, there is outstanding snorkeling in the area just outside the natural breakwater.

Captain K trying to camouflage with the fish.

Needle fish blending into the surface of the water.

The beach motus are idyllic spots. It was nice sand so we did some jogging (and napping) here!

Rainbows are a-plenty in French Polynesia, and we never tire of them… Amanu did not disappoint!

Provisions from the Maristella

If only I had known the challenge of getting diesel from the “Maristella” ship! It arrives in Hao every 3 weeks or so and sells a drum of diesel of 200 liters (53 gallons).

It had been months since we’d filled Aldebaran’s fuel tank. The constant trade winds helped us to keep sailing and hibernating Mr. Isuzu.

Then in January, I had finally planned to refuel at the dock at Marina Taina (while in Tahiti to pickup Sabrina). But the weather was bad, with stormy north-west winds. The nearly 60 mile roundtrip didn’t seem appealing in those conditions. So we just hunkered down in the sheltered bay of Taravao.

However, that meant we needed to top off our diesel tank here in the atoll of Hao, in eastern Tuamotos. I thought that being an ex-military base, Hao would have a fuel station with a dock. Not so! The only option was to purchase a drum of diesel from the ship, and syphon it into my fuel jugs, and then lug it by skiff to Aldebaran, which was anchored offshore.

Syphoning diesel into and out of jerry cans proved to be a mess. To complicate matters, as the fuel reached the bottom of the drum, the diesel was filthy. Oh great. Now I had to filter everything slowly into my tank over several tedious hours, all the while making more or a mess. The only saving grace were two fishermen who kindly helped me, seeing as I was looking like a lost gringo.

Besides diesel, the ship also sets up a mini “store” that sells vegetables and food staples for the 6 hours it is in port. If you miss it, you can buy food at the store at a higher premium. Placing the food order was similar to placing an order in a sushi bar where you write the quantity of what you want from a long list of items. How many kilos of carrots did I want? Shucks I don’t know.

Result: I purchased too much (most of the produce is refrigerated aboard the ship and won’t keep terribly well). Ipu and his wife Alda, who helped us so much with laundry, ended up the happy recipients of a big box of veggies.

They came aboard Aldebaran with their kids for an afternoon of boat fun. They left with veggies, more gifts, and big smiles on their faces.

Coconuts and Fish: a floating lunch in Hao

“When we go camping in the other motus,” said our friend Tevahine, “all we take is flour and a cooking pot. Everything else is there: coconuts, crabs, fish.” This was her short way of explaining the delightfully simple meal she was now preparing with us.

We fetched brown coconuts from the ground around her property, which in contrast with the green coconuts, have already fallen from the tree. The brown coconuts are the ones used for ‘copra’, which is coconut meat dried for body products. I grated the coconut meat, and Sabrina pressed the grated meat through a cloth to extract fresh, delicious coconut milk.

Tevahine then took a long pole with a hook on the end and pulled green coconuts that hung from the tree. She hacked off the tops and poured out the coconut water. Note, the commonly misunderstood distinction between coconut “water”, and the aforementioned coconut “milk”.

Tevahine then had us mix the coconut water with flour into a dough. Once she deemed the dough mixture ready, Sabrina spooned out small chunks of dough into a pot of boiling water, and cooked the dough morsels into sweet doughy nuggets until they floated to the surface indicating they were done.

After draining, Tevahine poured the freshly pressed coconut milk over the yummy morsels. It was just like sweet gnocchi!

Tevahine also made “poisson cru”. This is the local favorite dish made of raw fish. She whisked up a tasty vinaigrette to marinate the dish. We carried our picnic down to the beach to cool off while we ate.

Once at the beach we found a plastic table, then placed the table in the water (which floated!) and adorned it with Tevahine’s sarong. It was our first floating lunch ever!

The contrast between the savory poisson cru and the sweet coconut gnocchi was absolutely delightful. Eating while standing in chest deep calm turquoise waters seemed to add to our taste bud satisfaction. Our plates rested on the plastic table which bobbed gently in the water. This was an incredibly simple and tasty lunch made almost entirely from things the Tuamotans harvest around their houses – in a most unique setting!

Presidential visit

On the second week of our visit to Hao the president of French Polynesia came to visit the atoll. As a welcome, the locals put on a traditional dance and drumming performance.

After the event a lovely lady in her early 30s approached us to offer leis made from coconut fronds. “Welcome to Hao!” She exclaimed with a big smile. Her name is Tevahine, which in Tahitian means “the woman”. Simple and effective!

She was quite gracious and invited us to visit her house for lunch. This meant that she had to borrow bicycles from relatives in the village, since her house was a 30 minute bike ride away. When all was arranged, we rode together along the streets of Hao with our new friend.

Photo below, from left to right: Tevahine; Sabrina wearing the coconut lei; Tevahine’s aunt; and Ipu (who is our laundry angel and first host in Hao), holding his guitar which he played during the performance. Ipu is also Tevahine’s uncle. Of course, everyone is related!

Powerplant Aldebaran

It’s been 2 full years since Aldebaran was connected to city electricity – which sailors like to call “shore power”. Our last time at a marina plugged into power was Costa Rica in early ’16 . We did dock at Tahiti’s Marina Taina for a night last December, but they have 220v power, and our boat runs on 110v.

Being fully self-sufficient from an energy standpoint is fairly tricky. Our batteries are supposed to last 4-6 years, but started giving us serious problems after 3 years. This is because they aren’t regularly getting the complete charge they want; which shore power in a marina does so well. This began the third phase of improvements in the boat’s electrical system since we left California.

Here are the 5 ways that “Powerplant Aldebaran” has been trying to handle its energy needs:

  1. More power production: We installed 5 more flexible solar panels onto the hard roof we built in Ecuador (for the panels, water collection, and better shade). Our crew Jesse and Anna brought the panels to the Galapagos in a bodyboard bag- legends! Then we installed them mid Pacific on Day 4 of 21 with Spencer and Michael Payne (was this the first ever mid Pacific solar array installation??) Now we have a theoretical 900w of solar power, although in practice, due to shading, a bit over about half of that power is being produced at peak hours.
  2. More battery storage: Our battery bank began to fail in November, so we had to replace all five batteries in Raiatea, allowing us to increase storage from 550 to 600 amp hours. We are maxed out in terms of space and weight for battery storage, unless we had ‘beaucoup bucks’ for Lithium batteries.
  3. Battery Monitoring: During the battery installation the electrician in Raiatea managed to short circuit the battery monitor (I was so mad!) so we had to replace it, which just got finished after countless hours of wiring. It is easy to view voltage on a boat- but the beauty of the battery monitor is that it gives you detailed info about amperage. This is like seeing the real-time fuel consumption in a Hybrid car, as opposed to just the fuel tank gauge.
  4. Lots of Switches. Being able to turn on-off everything easily is important and has created endless hours of wiring work for us. Latest example: we just installed two new switch panels to be able to turn off the solar arrays independently and troubleshoot them, as some panel connections have been occasionally failing, and it’s hard to figure out which is bad.
  5. Efficiency! The desire for increased comfort (lights, fans, autopilot, charging electronics) keeps placing increased demand on power. We keep battling this by installing LED bulbs, increasing passive ventilation, shading to reduce cabin heat, improving the fridge’s performance, etc. to reduce the energy draw.

In the last month we probably spent two weeks working on wiring and connections, which has been tedious but gratifying. The latest installations are the three below: solar array switch panels, battery monitor, and inverter switch to turn it on-off from the galley.

We are working hard to keep the electrons flowing!

Aerial View of Otepe, Hao’s village

Since Hao used to be a French military base for 40 years, the infrastructure is really nice. A large wharf for the ships has a beautiful inner basin for small boats to dock and a boatramp. The two grocery stores are very modern and well-stocked by Tuamoto standards.

There is even a pseudo “marina” less than a mile from the wharf, which cruising yachts are able to use. This is handy because during the dry season, ‘maramu’ winds from the south-east blow along the length of the atoll and cause uncomfortable fetch (waves from wind blowing across water) at the village anchorage. It also offers decent protection from north-west winds during the wet season.

The village of Otepe is located on the west side of the atoll, which shelters the prevailing easterly trade winds and generally offers calm waters. We’ve stayed anchored offshore which we like for the breeze and privacy; at risk of getting snagged on the coral bommies (underwater coral formations) that litter the ocean floor; easy to view from this aerial shot. To overcome this problem, we float the anchor chain on three buoys 10 feet from the sea floor, and have a scuba tank ready to dive to free the anchor chain, 60 feet deep.

When the French military ran its base in Hao, we heard that as many as 3,000 people lived here, having relocated from surrounding atolls for the jobs. Now only 800-900 people live in Hao; many have migrated to Tahiti in search of work.

The nuclear test sites located about two hundred miles south (atolls Mururoa and Fantagaufa) were the focus of the military base. Besides those atolls, which are still highly restricted, Hao is the southernmost atoll with a navigable ship’s pass. Hence, Hao continues to be the administrative and educational center for the southern Tuamotos. All the school kids come here for high school, and many families move here to be with their kids.

People work in fishing, copra, and government jobs (teaching, health care, administration). Although the loss of jobs in the post-military phase is a problem, the general sentiment among locals appears to be relief that the nuclear tests are finally over.

Laundry Salvation!

Praise be to the god of fresh linen! Praise be to Alda, Ipu’s wife, who kindly devoted her afternoon to running her small laundry machine in our service!

We hung the clothes to dry on the “beach” in front of the house, Aldebaran out front. Not a shabby view. Alda’s super cute chubby grandson walked around inspecting our work.

Arguably, laundry is one of the most difficult parts of cruising French Polynesia. IF you can find someone to do it, laundry usually costs $10-20 per (small) load. Is that fluff and folded? No way, dry your own clothes! It costs a small fortune here (the complete opposite of Central America, which is laundry utopia).

To subsidize this cost, we’ve been known to trade rum for laundry, which is also over priced in these islands. Lucky for us, we still have a few cases of wholesale priced rum from Ecuador. But not always are laundry owners drinkers.

Once we were so desperate we paid $20 per load and still had to hand wash because the machine was so pathetic. So the eight loads of quality laundry that Alda did for us was an enormous gift!

This was a major relief to the “culture shock” that Sabrina was experiencing upon return to the boat… which always smells, uh… stale compared to fine laundered clothes at mom’s house. Most certainly helps smooth out the reintegration to boat life!

Fortunately Sabrina brought back perfume from US, which is highly coveted by the local ladies, and she gifted these to a very happy Alda.

Ipu, host of Hao

It took us 2 days to clean up the boat after the passage from Tahiti: dry all the towels, shop vac the bilges, and finally relax.

On the third day we went to the village in Hao. Within an hour a funny fellow named Ipu adopted us, and spent the morning walking us around. He is constantly joking and laughing. With medical training in the French army, Ipu had visited all the remote atolls as a traveling doctor. Now he was enjoying his retirement with good cheer, welcoming visitors to his atoll.

In the past, Ipu had worked on the army base in Hao. The base closed down (for the most part) ten years ago. Hao was an important military site for forty years. It was the headquarters for the infamous nuclear testing that France conducted in the remote atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa, 250nm to the south. The nuclear testing ended in the 1990s.

Ipu said he loves welcoming sailing yachts to Hao. He insisted on lending Sabrina his bicycle as we hunted for internet and visited the gendarme to check in (port captain/police).

And what about laundry? “Bien sûr!” Ipu agreed, “Come to my house tomorrow and you can do all your laundry — and you can do my laundry too!” He laughed heartily.

ALL our laundry?! Do you have any idea what you’re offering, Ipu?? It was a warm welcome to Hao.

Day 4. Surfing the boat

The morning was disheartening – the wind had veered to the NE, which was more on the nose, slowing down our speed. Our ETA had crept back into the late evening — too dark to enter the reef pass.

Coffee was too acidic for our troubled stomachs, so we drank tea and contemplated what to do — whether to raise bigger sails, and push upwind faster, or keep all our tiny storm sails and potentially spend another night at sea. We were being cautious not to over-canvas and have another sail tear with the fickle weather.

We decided to raise our trusty 110% genoa, a strong mid range sail, and see what happened. Fortunately, the wind shift was temporary. A short-lived rain squall cracked the spell. It cranked the wind back to the NNE at 20 knots, a more favorable direction. The skies cleared, and we were on our way.

Land Ho! The faint string of palm trees outlining the atoll of Hao came up on our starboard.

An hour later, we approached the reef pass, at 3pm. My tide chart said the tide should be high and slack. But, given the strong winds the last few days, I anticipated the lagoon would be filled up with water. That can cause a continuous outbound current. With binoculars I scanned the reef pass and was dismayed. Large standing waves were visible outside the pass. What did this mean?

Either… the outbound current was much stronger than I had estimated.

Or… maybe the waves were larger than normal since the wind was contrary to the current. (See map drawing below)

I hoped the latter option was the case. If so, there was a way in. The sides of the reef pass are always calmer. Perhaps we could skirt the corner of the pass and sneak in while avoiding the worst of the standing waves, which were in the middle.

I steered towards the edge of the pass, near the reef. Thanks to the use of both motor and sails, the boat speed only dropped from 7kt to 4kts against the current, which is slower around the edges of the pass. The depth sounder went from 2000 feet to 50ft to 18ft. I couldn’t get any closer to the reef’s edge.

Looking ahead, the reef pass got too narrow, and we were on trajectory to hit some standing waves. They looked about 3-5 feet tall. Not trivial! These are very much like standing waves in a river which can crest and break with some white water but don’t actually move forward. Nor are they as steep as regular waves breaking on a shore.

“You’re getting close to the waves – and the reef,” Sabrina hollered, watching from deck, holding onto the bimini roof. The coral reef was now just spitting distance from Aldebaran’s starboard ama, so we had no option but veer to port into the standing waves.

I’ve surfed down standing waves in our Lambordinghy (that scary story, with our friend Tory, to be told another time!), and Aldebaran has “surfed” ocean waves; but I had never felt the acceleration on our 9 ton, 42ft boat, that we experienced going down that standing wave in Hao.

The engine groaned as we entered the critical flow of the current, boat speed dropping to 1 knot momentarily; then the standing wave picked us up, the boat dropping in, and the RPMs went into a high pitch as the boat speed hit 11 knots, her bows swerving drunkenly to starboard.

Sabrina was hooting and hanging on. I frantically spun the wheel several turns to port then several turns back, trying to keep her straight. Luckily, the trimaran tracks like a surfboard with three fins — really well — so I had no trouble. In fact, it was exhilarating! If it wasn’t so dangerous I’d do it all over again!

We only went over that one standing wave, then we were in smooth water. Our edge strategy had paid off, and now we were in the calm water of the lagoon. Relief!

We sailed in placid turquoise waters for an hour on a beam reach to the village, the sun shining on this beautiful day, and dropped the hook while heaving-to the sails, never bothering to turn on the engine. I knew the chain would wrap on the rocks and reefs below — usually I drop 3 floats with the chain to keep it off the bottom — but we were too tired.

We had arrived at Hao, crossing 500 rough nautical miles in 3.5 days, as fast as Aldebaran can go under a full load. It was now time to rest…

Day 3. Blown Out

“Wow… yet another 150nm day…” I said, looking at our morning position.

I looked up to tell Sabrina: “We’re on track to arrive in Hao by tomorrow afternoon – a day earlier than we thought!”

We had recently estimated a 9pm arrival on Tuesday. So we had tried slowing down the boat with an even smaller headsail, to spend another night at sea and arrive at first light the following day.

But the wind didn’t let up, and racehorse Aldebaran kept galloping, reaching for a 3pm arrival in Hao tomorrow. We were fairly relieved by this prospect because we were both a bit nauseous and headachy from all the rough sailing.

All was going well… I was napping down below when I felt the boat speed accelerate dramatically. That was when the monster squall hit.

The boat was heeling under the strain. I jumped into the cockpit, Sabrina had already taken the autopilot off and was hand steering, one glance to the wind meter showed 32kts, I immediately reached for the outer jib sheet and released it one turn from the enormous load, then opened the cam cleat to ease the mainsheet as well, which started luffing uncomfortably, “fall off” I grunted, Sabrina steered away from the wind, and just as we were about to catch our breath, FLAP FLAP FLAP!! The inner jib had shredded to pieces with a 36kt gust. It was a horrible loud noise. Forget about the inner jib, it was toast. I jammed on my harness, clipped into the jackline, and raced to the mast to drop the much more important mainsail. It was down in a flash, thanks to the “fast-track” that the previous owners (Bob and Jackie) had wisely installed.

Game over for the poor inner jib. It was in 8 pieces. Oh don’t worry, this is the third inner jib that we’ve shredded in the last three years, always when the wind is mid-30kts, we’re used to it ;-p

Why has this been happening? Turns out our inner jib track is in a poor position, which causes undue strain on the sail. Also, we need stronger sails than what’s available at second hand stores, which has been our purchase location to date… Solution: we need to order a custom sail and possibly change the track as well.

What’s the inner jib, anyway? It is a small headsail that rides next to the mast, primarily to keep our steerage while we are changing the outer jib. It can also be exchanged for the storm inner jib, which is what we raised in its place.

The storm inner jib is a bomb-proof tiny sail. If there are high winds of 40+ kts we’d only have this little guy up, and all the other sails would be down. Over 45-50kts, everything is down, and it’s sea anchor time for Aldebaran, where we “park the boat” with a huge underwater parachute. We’ve never encountered such winds at sea but we’ve deployed the parachute sea anchor for practice.

Thankfully, our important sails had been spared – the outer jib and mainsail. We sailed the rest of the squall at 7kts with just the small outer jib driving the boat through the horizontal rain.

An hour later we raised the double reefed mainsail. That was the last big blow of the storm… whose bulk was now hitting Tahiti, 400nm to our west.

By midnight, Aldebaran had marched into a starry sky, far enough east by now to get away from the storm’s effects. We were a bit rattled but all was good, and we had less than 100nm to go!

Stats:
– Last 24hrs: 155nm covered
– Aldebaran’s top speed: 13.8kt (this is our new speed record for a beam reach…) – Average boat speed: 6.5kts
– Highest wind gust: 36kts

Day 2. A retired racehorse

After a few calm, ominous hours in the morning, dark clouds rolled in. It was the second day of our passage to Hao, and the edge of the storm had caught up with us.

The wind was strong enough to blow the tops off the waves. The wrinkles of the sea, like a worn out shirt, were at first actually smoothed out — as if worked over by a great iron.

Then all of a sudden, as if the cosmic hand had shifted the “shirt” on the ironing board, giant creases erupted in the form of waves, which crashed powerfully over Aldebaran’s decks.

We veered the course downwind to ease the pressure on the boat and rig. Yet the short-period, wind driven swell kept dipping Aldebaran’s port bow into the trough of the waves, sending piles of white water over the dodger and bimini (which shield us from the bulk of the elements).

The cockpit windows were sealed, which normally keeps us dry and cozy, but now countless gallons of water pushed through every seam and gap in the fabric, dripping onto the port bench. Like wet unhappy cats we retreated to the starboard bench’s relative dryness, from where we could steer and monitor the instruments.

Going into the cabin gave Sabrina cause for alarm. “Throw me some towels please,” Sabrina hollered from down below. Every hatch and window was leaking; the red lights of the bilge pumps kept flashing on and off. We set up towels in various spots to catch the majority of the drips.

Even after taking down the headsail and raising the small working jib, the boat was still flying at 7-10kts. She remained surprisingly well balanced, with only 1/4 turn of weather helm (how much the rudder has to counteract the wind’s pull). The smashing waves did nothing to slow us down; for Aldebaran kept accelerating at every wave crest, like a seagull riding the updraft and dipping its feet merrily in the wild spray.

After some time we got climatized to this reality – like living for hours in a wet earthquake – and got rest. I slept on the starboard bench and used an alarm clock to drowsily check the surroundings every 30 minutes. Ziggy the autopilot kept steering with remarkable accuracy. But the real star was Aldebaran, who this year celebrates her 50th birthday (!)… like a retired racehorse who, despite being discredited by critics for her age and weight, comes alive when things get serious and takes care of her riders. That day, in the middle of a rough Pacific Ocean, showed her original design: she’s one tough boat.

Instruments shown below from 9:22pm…
– Wind direction: 002 degrees (north)
– Apparent wind angle: 91 degrees
– Apparent wind speed: 26.9 knots
– Boat speed: 9.8 knots
– Boat course: 103 degrees (east by south-east)
– Distance to next turn: 52 nm
– Distance to Hao: 261nm

Stats:
– Distance covered on Day 2: 148nm
– Average speed 6.2kts
– Distance from Tahiti: 298nm

Day 1. Mainsail tear

In the grey dawn we motored out of Taravao, the sheltered anchorage in Tahiti, under light winds along the island’s calm lee. As soon as we got around the corner, the seas mounted and the north wind strengthened. Aldebaran was jamming at 7-8kts!

We were pushing upwind (65degrees true) to the north. Our route plan was a large gentle arc, instead of taking a straight shot to the east where our destination was: the atoll of Hao, 500nm away. The reason was the forecast showed a shift from N to NW by Day 2 then back to NE winds around Day 3-4. Hence, we needed to go as far north as possible, to maintain a decent sailing angle when the NE winds hit us in the face a few days down the road.

The whole first day was great sailing: consistent 15-20kt winds. In the evening some rain squalls up to 25kt started to bear down, so we dropped the main to the second reef. That’s when I noticed the tear in the “leach” of the sail, which is the long diagonal part in the back of the sail. It’s not under much load, but if it starts tearing it could compromise other parts of the sail.

Luckily, there were two recent patches that we had asked our friend Love to hand-sew, while we were doing boatwork for a week in Moorea. The tear was stopped by both those patches. If it wasn’t for them, it would have gotten worse quickly… and we would certainly have had to drop sail, dry the fabric and put some sail tape. This would have been tricky with the strong wind and seas; and likely come unglued in the wet conditions, as they need to be stitched for full strength.

In retrospect, I could have tried to glue the patch with a waterproof caulking like 5200; or thrown a few stitches in the corners; but that would require losing our course for a few hours, which turned out to be fairly critical.

Instead, we kept sailing with the mainsail in a second reef, about 2/3 its full size, and kept an eye on the tear. It was a source of anxiety, if it was ever showing signs of getting worse, we needed to bring down the sail on a moment’s notice.

Yet, despite the rough seas, new leaks springing through every hatch and window, all the bilge pumps working, the winds stayed consistent at 20kts. Not worried about how much water we were taking on, Aldebaran zoomed as fast as ever with the autopilot steering, allowing us to rest; and the boat clocked 150nm the first 24hrs.

Route Plan for Hao

Here’s our course for the 4 day trip to the eastern Tuamotos, the atoll of Hao.

The wind barbs are overlaid on the chart, showing the weather forecast for Tuesday.

How do you read wind barbs? They show the direction that the wind is going, and also its strength, measured by the number of lines in its tail. Full lines are 10 knots, half lines are 5 knots. Therefore 2 full lines and 1 half line equals 25 knots.

The forecast indicates 30 knot winds from NW near Tahiti, N winds of 15knots near Makemo, and light NNE winds of 10 knots near Hao.

However these are considered “averages” so gusts 5-10 knots stronger than the forecast are very common, possibly more when there is unstable air associated with a low pressure system.

We left on Saturday at dawn, to make as much progress to the east as possible, and get away from the roughest part of the storm, which was hitting Tahiti on Monday/Tuesday.

Prep for deep Tuamotos

Sabrina and I were now getting ready to go deep into the Tuamotos, a four day trip (500nm) to reach the remote edges of the archipelago. We planned to stay around those atolls for the next several months – so we needed to stock up the boat.

We filled three shopping carts at Carrefour in Papeete and spent a whole day packing it all into Aldebaran. It is an enormous amount of work: cleaning the compartments, sorting dried good into bins, “sweating” and drying the fresh produce, and packing the fridge.

To do our shopping, we rented a car for $30 from some friendly French cruisers who had settled here in Tahiti. We made the most of the car to finish our laundry, visit the machinist shop to fabricate a new rudder arm, wander Papeete’s streets looking for a new fish ID book, and meet our agent to renew Kristian’s long stay visa in French Polynesia.

We had to squeeze everything in for efficiency with the rental car; but also because a weather window to was appearing, which allows us to go east against the predominant trade winds. This “weather window” is actually a stormy low pressure that sends NW winds into the region. Tahiti was supposed to get hit by 40kt winds in a few days, and we were keen to be sailing as far from that as possible.