Trip Reports

To The Tuamotus (01-May-2001-19-15):
7:15 PM local time Tuesday, 1st. At anchor in Rangiroa, Archipel des Tuamotu, French Polynesia. Temp 86, Humidity 75, cloud cover 40%.


Our passage to the Tuamotus began scarcely less roughly than our departure from San Francisco. We had each on the last day collected in a very short period of time, perhaps ten seconds, a rather impressive number or no-see-um bites, which certainly exceeded 100 apiece though the Captain didn't bother to count, so we had a souvenir which lasted the whole passage and beyond to remind us of our wonderful time in the Marquesas. By now the reader may be familiar with the crew's limited resources in handling what we sailors euphemistically call lumpy seas, and there was some more of the crew's favorite way of dealing with it at the beginning of this passage. Perhaps the Captain may take the time in this issue to give the reader a closer look at how rough things were or were not, so he or she can judge for himself or herself exactly where on the weenie scale to place our guys. Sitting in a cozy bar and discussing at some length the idiocy and weaknesses of one's colleagues is among the most venerable and pleasurable attractions of the sport, and if the Captain were there with you, as sometimes he wishes he were, he would be the first among equals in giving no quarter, in his own smug and clever way, to the embarrassing whining of our Maverick Boys. At any rate, when we left San Francisco there was a small craft advisory for hazardous seas, and when we left Anaho Bay we had similar seas, but were spared the advisory. We took four waves into the cockpit, say ten to fifteen gallons each, two of which were over the transom. We sailors call this being pooped, in this case just a tiny bit pooped, and if it makes the little ones laugh, what's wrong with that?

We had decided to go to Fakarava in the Tuamotus, on the advice of our French saviors (and have I mentioned how truly magnificent the French are?) who were quite familiar with the entire area. Their complaint about Rangiroa, the normal cruiser stop, was that it wasn't the real Polynesia as there were dive shops, glass bottomed boats, and tourists. So after clearing the bumpy lee of the Marquesas which went on forever and was caused, we supposed, by the steep seas refracting around the island and then rejoining one another at a 90 degree angle on the other side, just where our heroes happened to be, we set a course for Fakarava, 207 degrees T. This was a beam reach in 6-10 ft. seas, let's call them eight feet, which had a frequency of 4-6 seconds, the same seas as we had in the lee, which had now straitened themselves out and were only crossed by, from two directions, 2-3 foot wind waves, even though the wind is all from the same direction. The Captain gave this matter his full attention for quite some while utilizing the accurate one one-thousand, two one-thousand method and feels these are fair descriptions. The reader may wish to consult the SF buoy page on the NOAA website for comparison purposes; clearly, it's the frequency, not the size, that is the bother. After about 30 hours of this, the crew had a conference about the plan then in effect. We weren't really ill, but it was too rough to cook with the rolling and difficult to sleep. About every five minutes someone thwacked Maverick on the beam with a large baseball bat, the boat shuddered, and a couple of buckets of water were thrown into the cockpit. One didn't really want to be sitting out there. Not that one can't take a little dousing now and again. It old. That hatches had to be dogged down in 85 degrees and 85% humidity to avoid the same treatment in the cabin bunks meant things were not so comfy below either. We started to think: Tourists? What's wrong with tourists? We're tourists! A glass bottomed boat? I love glass-bottomed boats!! And we fell off to Rangiroa, 240 T.

We could now sleep and eat better. After a day or so the skies filled up with cumulous, the seas diminished, we had lots of squalls, and finally, the wind died completely and we ended up motoring all night in glassy seas to make it to the entrance to Rangiroa at what we thought would be low slack. Motoring all night is less fun without an autopilot. As we mentioned in our last post, even though the Captain is, it goes without saying, expert in all things maritime, he had never been to a coral atoll before. He had made the large mistake of thinking that somewhere in the Marquesas we could get tide charts for the Tuamotus, since they don't have them at, like, West Marine. There are several harbors there with towns, after all. But no. We made do by copying some computer printouts from other cruisers of several of the Tuamotus, but these people didn't have tides for where they were going, either, and had not been able to find them anywhere although they must exist. (Wouldn't you think tides would be available on the computer program for the one island, Rangiroa, most frequently visited by ships and cruisers? You would.) What we ended up with was three different tide charts (no current charts were available) from two different computer programs for three islands we did not plan to go to. After comparing them all we came to two conclusions. One, they didn't make sense. The earliest low on the 30th was put at the westernmost island, the next at the easternmost, and third low was at the one in the middle. Two, even though they didn't make sense the lows all occurred between 0320 and 0530. Since our atoll, Rangiroa (the same figuring was done for Fakarava) was somewhere in the middle of the three, we reasoned that we could expect low slack to occur there between about 0630 and 0830, unless both computer programs were wrong, or the Captain misread them, or currents don't work that way in atolls. (Actually, there can be a difference with high swells, but this was not an issue for us at the Tuamotus.) But he had looked at them with the people owning the software and they agreed with his understanding of them after extensive review. They had a vested interest, too, after all, in getting it right, as they would be right behind us.

The issue is that you want to enter the pass at slack, and low slack if possible, because the currents might run, say, ten knots or more. Maverick can only do about 7 in calm seas with a tailwind flat out under power. (For you non-sailors, and perhaps some of you sailors as well, "low slack" is the term used for the time, in an enclosed body of water, about half way between low and high tide, at which the water stops flowing out and starts flowing in.) If you go in at the wrong time, the outgoing currents can kick up standing waves against the incoming swell, or overpower your ability to steer your course and put you in a nasty place, both geographically and emotionally, as the pass is a narrow slot with breaking seas and coral on either side. Maverick has entered difficult places with current, to be sure. The entrance to Tomales Bay is a piece of work, for example. But there were differences. The current is not as strong at Tomales, it's shallow and you're going over a river bar. The atoll passes, on the other hand, are relatively deep. Plus, we had confidence in the tide tables for Tomales Bay.

We get to the entrance at dawn as planned. There it is. We figure at least we can raise someone on the VHF to confirm our tides, some cruiser or dive outfitter or gendarme or harbormaster. Nada. Look, I see cars and there are boats running around in there. Try again. Nada. So we looked at it. The Captain said, "I dunno, what do you think?" and from up the ratlines, Navigation Lookout Terry Shrode said, "I dunno, what do you think?" Then the Captain said, "I'm not sure, what do you think?" and so on. So we circled, and we looked, and we saw riffles on the outside of the pass which indicated to us that there was probably an ebb running. We thought, this makes sense, it's supposed to be a dying ebb according to our info, so we'll just kind of sit out here until it's slack. So we putted around, hoping that someone would come up on the radio or a local boat would enter or leave so we could get a sense for what was going on. Nada. Rien.

About this time the engine died. Anybody looked at the fuel gauge recently? We switched tanks and bled the diesel but it didn't help our confidence to think that, had we gone in a few minutes ago, we would have lost power in the pass, and in addition, we've used up another of our nine lives.

Then the Captain says, "It doesn't really look that bad to me, does it to you?" and Mr. Shrode says, "Not really." and the Captain says, "But what the heck are we supposed to be looking for?" and Mr. Shrode says, "You're asking me?" etc. So the Captain just starts steering for the pass, thinking, if it's an ebb, which we'll be able to see by observing our progress along the shore and comparing the GPS with the knotmeter, what's the worst thing that could happen? OK, well, that's not gonna happen, so what's the next worst thing? OK, what's the next worst thing? We'll just get flushed out! No big deal. Of course if it's a flood, all bets are could it be a flood? No way. So here we go. It's soon apparent it's an ebb, for sure, and actually, kind of a strong one at that, and as a matter of fact, we're not there yet and it's getting stronger, and we're now motoring at full throttle and the GPS shows a little under 2 knots while the knotmeter shows 6 1/2, and the current is twisting the boat this way and that, but we're still moving so we keep going, and by gum, after a long five minutes we make it through and the Captain faints dead away.

We went back to look at the pass after we anchored and got our dinghy inflated. All the tide charts were wrong, or, perhaps our assumptions about how high and low tides affect the time of slack in an atoll were confused, or our extrapolation from the other islands was misguided, or all three. We had actually entered a bit after high slack and were in a building ebb. Another hour and there's no chance we would have gotten in and, we'd like to think, would have had the sense not to try. Back in the bar at the Richmond Yacht Club, of which the Captain is not exactly a member per se, someone is saying, "Sheesh. The currents in Rangiroa are on the web at Any idiot knows that, and shouldn't take a boat out of the Gate unless he can figure it out. That fuel thing, I'm sorry, he just isn't up to the job. He's a danger to his crew and everyone in the anchorage. And lumpy seas, my ass. Why, I remember the time I was..." And the Captain, were he there, as he sometimes wishes he were, would shake his head side to side, sigh, roll his eyes and sneer, and order another Red Tail Ale from the goodly barman, Charles.

Back to the Progress Chart | Back to Trip Reports
Progress ChartTrip ReportsPhoto GalleryAbout MaverickThe CrewGlossary & Technical Weather Check