Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Un-Anchoring Dance

The designated anchorage for yachts in Manihi is OK from a protection standpoint. We have pretty good lee from prevailing wind conditions (SE-ENE) in a pretty little curve in the lagoon with (what looks like) a sand beach and lots of palm trees. The only habitation is a small shack that doesn't look inhabited right now (probably only used when they are harvesting the palm trees).

However, it is a terrible anchorage from the standpoint of anchoring in coral. It is 40-60' deep with (dead) coral heads that come up 10' from the bottom. The water inside the lagoon is not clear enough to see the bottom (only about 20' visibility), so you can't see where you are planting your anchor. If you are lucky when laying your anchor (and careful), you will back straight back with your bow pointing East into the wind (a very difficult maneuver if the wind is blowing at all), and your anchor chain will only hang on a few coral heads. If you are not so skilled/lucky, your bow goes all over and you have just 'pretzeled' your way into a very secure anchorage--one which takes a SCUBA tank to extricate you.

We were pretty careful AND used a pair of pearl bouys snapped onto the chain about 75' from the boat to 'float' our chain above the coral, and we STILL had to use a tank to get ourselves free.

We started the morning by going over to help another boat, Pacha II, retrieve their anchor. They had been trying to leave the day before, but couldn't get their anchor up. They called Fernando, the 'go-to' guy in Manihi for a local diver to come, but it was the Sabbath, and he said he couldn't come til Monday. So we took pity on them and offered to help them. )Dave volunteered me, actually!)

I first tried to snorkel their anchor situation--just a recon trip to see how hard it was going to be. It was so deep, and such poor visibility, that even free-diving to 40', I couldn't see what was going on. So we hauled out the dive gear. They were really pretzeled--their heavy chain S-turned around several large coral heads (and numerous small ones) 60' deep. In the process of moving their anchor to a spot that wouldn't get hung on another coral head as they pulled it up, I smashed my pinkie in the joint where the head and the stock join. Ow! Blood at 60' looks a weird color of green. Fortunately the water was murkey enough that I couldn't see the sharks circling and licking their lips!

Once we got Pacha II free, we went back to Soggy Paws to try to do the same--we were going to follow Pacha II up to the 'Blue Hole'--about 12 miles ENE of the town. We were only in 40', and I had previously been able to trace the chain all the way back to the anchor. We were in pretty good shape--pretty much a straight line with only low coral heads, and our bouys were doing the trick of keeping most of the chain off the bottom. But, we had had a pretty good wind shift early in the morning for an hour or so, so we weren't sure how it was--I should have gone right then and cleared the chain, while I was still wet!!

We got the chain about halfway in and it was stuck under something. We wiggled left and we wiggled right and let the chain in and out--normally if you are patient, you can free it. So I jumped in, sans tank, to just take a look. I could see that we were just caught about 6" in under a low shelf. Looked like we could free it by just going a little further left. (This maneuver complicated by the fact that there was another boat who ended up hanging almost over our anchor, so we had to get him to turn his engine on and move up a boatlength while we were maneuvering.) And, because we had the dinghy only half-hoisted, it was blocking our swim ladder and I couldn't just walk up the ladder. Dave had to climb down on the swim platform, and I had to 'monkey bar' up with Dave's assistance (sheesh!).

So back to trying to extricate the anchor--we motored left, and we motored more left harder, and we still couldn't pop it out from under the tiny shelf. Part of the problem was that the bouys that were halfway down the chain were pulling up on the part of the chain that went under the ledge. So Dave giving slack at the windlass wasn't doing any good. We finally gave up and I put the dive gear back on and went down to free it. I carefully laid a second 'at risk' portion of the chain up over another coral head, and looked at the anchor--it looked like it would come up just fine. Another monkey bar maneuver to get back aboard, so I could drive while Dave worked the windlass... And we still had another 15 minutes of struggling to finally get the whole chain and anchor aboard. (double sheesh!) Meanwhile our friend on the other boat has probably really pretzeled his chain, motoring up to stay out of our way!

But, we did get underway finally, and headed ENE up to what the locals call 'The Blue Lagoon'.
Sherry & Dave
In French Polynesia!
At 5/23/2011 4:21 PM (utc) our position was 14°24.24'S 145°52.79'W

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