Sunday, June 20, 2010

Blown away by Apataki

We were blown away by the atoll of Apataki. Literally. But, I'll start at the beginning...

Our last day on Toau was spent at the northern end of the atoll, close to the pass, so we would have a shorter passage to Apataki - our next destination. We left Toau before slack tide, and had the excitement of dealing with the current opposing the winds as we exited the pass, creating large standing waves. The current was in our favour, so we were traveling quickly, but the large swell made it uncomfortable, even if only for a few minutes. We were soon out of the pass, hoisted our sails, and set our course to Apataki.

Although there is a small village on Apataki, there isn't a suitable anchorage at the village, so we anchored a few miles away, in front of a pearl farm with a few other sailboats. As it turns out, several of these boats had found paradise, and had stayed in the area for a couple of years! For the next four days, we wandered the beach, chatted with the locals, and tackled a few boat jobs. Pauline and Alfred live here with their parents and their children. They have a pearl farm business, and we were able to watch as they went about classifying the pearls into grades for sale and export. They've also started a boat yard, with a huge trailer and ramp. There were three boats in the yard while we were there, and one was pulled out on our last day. Although facilities were limited, it would be a great spot to haul out, if we just needed to paint the bottom! John's scraped foot was still a bit swollen (from one of his lobster 'hunting' expeditions with Strahan), so he chatted with a Doc on another boat and started a course of antibiotics, but is trying to keep it dry. Not easy.

Our friend Chris on SV Namaste had told us that the snorkeling in and near the pass at the north end of the island was fabulous, so after a few days, we moved up there to check it out. Only a couple hours after we dropped the hook, the wind started to pick up. Within only a half hour, the wind was howling. We checked our weather files, and saw a system was supposed to be developing near Tahiti, but wasn't really supposed to be this far north. Clearly the weather files were wrong. Because we were up against a lee shore, we didn't feel it was safe to remain here. So we upped anchor (with some difficulty, in the large waves that had instantly developed), and quickly made our way out of the pass into the safely of the open sea. We were sad to leave here without getting a chance to experience the snorkeling, but we looked forward to the Rangiroa, our next atoll...and the largest coral atoll in the world.

It was about 80 miles to Rangiroa, an overnight sail. Throughout the night, the winds continued to build. We don't have a wind meter on board, but we guessed it to be consistently 30 knots with gusts to 35 or so. It was the most wind that we'd seen while underway on our journey so far. It was definitely the only time that we'd had waves crash over the side of the boat and into the cockpit. We had our full BC rain slickers on! We had only a very, very, tiny bit of our genoa (head sail) out - and we still were going up to 8 knots in the gusts (3-4 knots in the lulls). And although we were worried that the furling system would buckle under the strain, we realized that our storm sails were even bigger than the tiny bit of canvas that we were flying. The boat handled the weather fine. And we made it to Rangiroa in time for the optimum tide. Although the tide was rising, and it should have been an incoming tide, we still had a couple knots of outgoing current.

As a note of interest, during times of heavy wind and waves, the current and tides in the atoll passes can change dramatically. Normally, there is an ingoing and outgoing current in the pass that roughly follows the tide. During heavy weather in some atolls, there is a lot of water pushed over and between the small motus (islets), filling up the lagoon. This can create a continual outgoing current in the passes, even when the tide should be rising!

Throughout the storm, there was chatter on the radio. Two other boats had decided to leave Apataki when we did, and there were at least three other boats en route to Rangiroa from elsewhere. It was great to know that other boats were nearby. And we also got to hear what their wind indicators were showing - winds of 30 to 35 with gusts up to 39. WOW.

Our Position (Apataki): 15°20.96'S and 146°11.66'W


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