Monday, July 19, 2010

Made the Jump to Makemo

Current Location: Makemo Atoll, Tuamotus, French Polynesia 16°37.62'S / 143°34.28'W

We did take the nice weather window to go overnight from Tahanea to Makemo--another 50 miles upwind.

We left the pass at Tahanea just before sunset, and were able to sail most of the night, arriving at our destination at the pass at the west end of Makemo about 1am. Then we decided that, rather than loitering around there until daybreak, and then motoring inside the atoll toward the east end, we would keep sailing around the atoll to the east pass. We thought we'd be able to sail most of the way and arrive off the east pass at around 7am.

However, we had not counted on the strong westerly current that we encountered when we cleared the northern tip of Makemo. At our boat speed and tacking angle, we were almost going backwards. So we finally started the engine about 3am. By that time, we'd messed around and lost enough time that we had to motor pretty hard 20 miles against the wind and seas in order to not be too late reaching the pass.

I had calculated slack current to be about 7am, and we didn't reach the pass until about 8:30am--by that time the outgoing current was getting pretty strong. Since the wind conditions were not too bad, we decided to go ahead and try getting in, rather than waiting for another slack in 6 hrs.

We crept into the pass from the west side, getting as close to the shore as we could before actually entering the current stream, and then pushing up to full RPM with sails up. We stayed out of the main channel as much as possible--Dave was on the bow calling the shots. I was fighting with the helm in the current boils, and watching our position on the chart plotter and the GPS.

At one point all three position devices showed us going a different speed and direction. The Garmin GPSMAP 76 CSx was particularly goofy... with the arrow showing us going north, but the position was actually moving south. (This is because the display switches from plotted COG to a built-in compass that activates when you drop to a very slow speed. The compass doesn't work well when the GPS is sitting in it's mount on the helm--it needs to be held level to work properly. I have since disabled the compass feature). Our Maxsea chart program, working from the same GPS, showed us creeping at about 5 knots in the right direction... most of the time.

We could see we were making progress by watching the shoreline. But it was really slow, and really hard keeping the boat in the right place with the strong current. At that RPM we should have been making about 7 knots, but we made less than a knot for about 15 minutes. That means the current was running at about 6 knots!!! Another hour and we would have gotten pushed right back out the channel.

Because of the current, and pretty good light, we decided to skip going all the way in on the main channel, and take the short cut. It looked a lot smoother, but the current was running stronger (shallower water). But we made it through OK.

We anchored off the town dock in what looked like nice sand--but what turned out to be sheet rock, covered by thin sand, and liberally sprinkled with coral heads. When I snorkeled our anchor, it wasn't even set--we had managed to drape the chain over a coral head, and the anchor was just hanging there on the other side of the coral head.

We also discovered eventually that we had anchored almost in the middle of the town outrigger canoe races. This was 'Heiva' week, and today's activities were apparently canoe races. The races started out near our stern and finished in close to the town dock. Everyone in town was out watching the races. There were men and women singles, doubles, and group races. A few times a canoe would flip in the middle of the race. It was fun to watch and we had a ring-side seat.

We should have jumped in the dinghy right away to go hang out with the townspeople, but we were tired, needed to get the boat cleaned up from our passage, and needed to find out what the schedule was for the stores and the post office.

We also needed to do something about our anchoring situation. The forecast for the next few days was for very strong SE winds, and we had poor holding and no protection where we were. We finally decided to go into the dock. Makemo has a really nice new big concrete pier. We had heard from other boaters that you could tie up to it for no charge. There were several catamarans tied side-to to the head of the pier, but we knew that the supply ship was coming in a couple of days, and they would want that spot. So we went in bow-to just in from the head of the pier. The wind was blowing us off the side of the pier, so we didn't need to immediately worry about setting a stern anchor.

After we got the bow secured with 2 lines into two separate stainless steel rings on the dock, Dave dinghied out the stern anchor, and I got in the water to help set it. Again the sand wasn't very deep. As I snorkeled around, I saw remnants of where other cruisers had tied off to the coral heads. So that's what we did eventually--we pulled in the anchor and set 2 lines astern to 2 different coral heads.

The wind has been blowing now for 4 days at 20-25 knots. The concrete pier protects us from the waves, and we are very secure. Eventually we had 3 monohulls and 4 catamarans, AND the supply boat all tied to the pier.

And best of all, we have wifi on the boat. It is the for-pay 'Manaspot', operated by the French Poly Telecommunications bureau, and situation in the post office. If you buy your minutes in bulk, it only costs about $2/hr, and the time is usable in most of the towns in French Polynesia. The internet comes into the island on a satellite link. At times it is so slow that it is unusable, but early in the morning and late at night, it's not too bad.

We plan to hang out here until this bout of 'reinforced trade winds' subside, and then either make a short hop (another 75 miles) ENE to the atoll at Raroia, or directly about 450 miles NE to the Marquesas. Depends on how long the weather window looks. Unfortunately, this time of year, the SE winds don't last very long--and they are usually predecessors to the squally and 'blowing like stink' phase of the weather cycle.
At 7/13/2010 7:58 PM (utc) our position was 16°37.62'S 143°34.28'W

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