Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Another Day, Another Tricky Pass

On Monday, June 29th we departed Tahanea at 5:30 pm with just enough light to squeeze out the pass and into open water. We needed to arrive at our next destination, the south pass at Fakarava, by precisely 8:00 am the next morning for slack water. That meant we had all night to go 50 miles, which was fortunate since we had a light easterly wind. After fooling around with several sail combinations we bit the bullet and switched our whole set up around, jibing and running the pole out with our light wind Code Zero sail. Once we got that flying the boat became very stable and smooth. With a full moon directly ahead, it was a somewhat surreal setting just ghosting along at three to four knots. It was our most relaxing and pleasant night of sailing yet.
I know this doesn't look very hairy, but trust me, the current really rips through the South Fakarava Pass.
We arrived a bit early at Fakarava and sailed back and forth about one mile off the pass, looking through binoculars to see if we could ascertain the current. We saw a catamaran that seemed to be taking forever to exit which made us worry we’d gotten the currents wrong, but it turned out he was anchored just off the main channel. We slowly made our way in closely watching the depth sounder and the knot meter the whole way. We relaxed a little when the knot meter showed only .5 knots of current going in, but puckered up again when we got to a somewhat confusing section of the pass where it split in two directions. When the depth got down to about 11 feet I turned the boat to the right (towards the reef, a somewhat unnatural action) where I saw the depth slowly raise back to 12, 13 and 15 ft.

Once through the pass you are still not out of the woods. The waypoints we had gotten from the Soggy Paws web site had us going quite a ways north before a 90 degree turn to port to avoid a huge shallow reef. Everywhere there were coral heads, big black blobs under the surface waiting to ruin our day. When they turn green and then yellow/brown, it’s time to bail. With Meryl on the bow we slowly made our way around the reef and into the anchorage area, where there were even more coral heads, but this time green and brown. We finally found a compromise location and anchored using our new two-buoy technique, this time firmly setting the anchor and then adding the buoys to lift the chain. Diving in the water with my snorkel gear, cognizant of the ever present black-tipped reef sharks, I saw amazingly that our first float lifted the chain exactly over a very large coral head and dropped it down on the other side. Sometimes you just get lucky.

Since we’d been up all night we quickly got the hatches open, the boom moved to the side so the solar panels got full sun, and checked the anchor one more time before crashing for a three-hour nap.  We awoke just in time for dinner and a spectacular sunset over the second largest atoll in French Polynesia. Had just enough energy to finish dinner and dishes and then retire to our berth for a well deserved sleep.

The next day we snorkeled on the reefs just behind our boat with our neighbors on Arbutus, Paul and Sundra. Very shallow reefs and not very many fish, just the occasional black-tips doing their normal “scare the crap out of you” drive-by’s.

That night we watched a great movie our friend Anni had sent, 100 Steps, about an Indian family that leaves India for France where they open an Indian restaurant next to a one-star Michelin restaurant run by a very proper French woman (played by Helen Mirren). We told Paul (a Frenchman) about it and he said he worked for Michelin when he lived in Paris and the (supposedly secret) restaurant reviewers worked in the office just across the hall. He confirmed the status of a one star (incredible food), two star (life changing meals) and three star (God like) in the French culture.

I think in my next life I may be French.

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