Terror In Tahiti, Part 1
| Humidity 82%, cloud cover 95%. At anchor at Faaa, Tahiti, Iles de la
Societe, French Polynesia
Our trip from Rangiroa proceeded without incident, except for a 35-
knot squall in the wee hours of Saturday, and by that morning, the 5th
of May, we were anchored at Papeete, Tahiti. We went ashore and the
Captain called Theresa who came to meet us, and whom he was more
thrilled to see than he would have allowed himself to contemplate.
Perhaps tears were shed, but certainly, one should think, not by the
manly Captain himself. Terry's wife Caroline came in the next evening.
We decided not to try to get a berth on the famous quay, as the motion
of the boats against one another and the dock is pretty impressive when
the huge Moorea ferries come and go. Instead we chose an anchorage in
Faaa near the airport where, the next day or two, we were pleased to be
joined by some boats we met in Rangiroa. The Captain stayed at Theresa's
hotel on Saturday night while Mr. Shrode assumed full command. When
cruisers talk about the wonders of a hot shower, they do not exaggerate.
You may have the Captain's word on it.
The next night, as Mr. Shrode had been approved for two days' shore
leave with Caroline to enjoy for himself the pleasures of a hot shower,
Theresa and the Captain were alone on the boat when there was a buzz on
VHF about a deepening low, being called a tropical disturbance. This was
the third in a series of these, each deeper and larger than the one
before, which we had also kept under close watch. It was 300 miles west
and moving directly towards us. It would be rare, but unfortunately, not
metaphysically impossible, for a tropical storm or even a cyclone to
form this late in the season, and since this is how they are born, it
was making the cruisers nervous. The crew of Maverick, I need not point
out, were among the cruisers. The weather had become unseasonably
squally and rainy as a result of this low and was making our stay fall
short of picture postcard Tahiti. So the Captain set alarms at various
times and arose during the night to check weather faxes and the anchor.
French weather estimated that during the next forty-eight hours we
should see squalls of thirty-five to fifty knots with heavy rain which
would be part of this weather pattern, but they did not yet make any
mention of something bigger. Which was a good thing. At this point the
Captain focused on his anchoring strategy. It is quite bizarre, for one
used to anchoring in normal harbors, to anchor behind a coral reef.
There is the ocean; there is the reef, reaching nearly to the surface;
there is a deep anchorage inside the reef, say fifty to sixty feet; then
there is more coral next to the island. So you are anchored in fifty
feet of water with large waves breaking over a reef quite close by in
clear view, to seaward, and another reef on the landward side. Since the
reef takes the energy out of the ocean waves one need not fear the
surge, but to someone unaccustomed to it, it is quite a disconcerting
sight and sound.
The Captain was satisfied his anchor was stuck. But as the weather
was cloudy and the anchorage choppy it was difficult to see even with
the dinghy the exact limit of the reef to landward of us, which was also
at this time to windward. Perhaps the reader can appreciate the
difficulty of estimating without fail a radius of 250 feet from the
place where the anchor was dropped and determining the extent and
relationship of the reef to the anchor without surveying gear. The crew
of Maverick, accustomed to anchoring in twenty feet or less, hasn't
practiced its eye for estimating this large a swinging radius. But in
this tight anchorage, we had taken some care in choosing this spot, and
thought we had ourselves safe and sound. Given the concern about the
squalls, however, the Captain veered an additional 25 feet of chain. It
would be decision he would come to regret.
The next day the Captain and Theresa visited very dramatic Cook's Bay
on nearby Moorea, where we planned to sail next, by high-speed ferry. We
returned to Maverick that evening and though we saw a powerful squall
come through while we were on our excursion, everything remained quite
snug at the anchorage. The Captain checked weatherfaxes, which had not
changed much, and the anchor rode, before retiring.
At about midnight, there was a violent, rumbling sound that had the
Captain on deck before he was even awake. There he confronted a blinding
squall, with winds in the high thirties and higher in gusts and
visibility down to about two boat lengths in the heavy rain. Even though
he had never heard this strange, awful noise before, he had not the
least doubt what it was. Maverick, our home and protector, who had
charged with us so many times up to Drake's Bay, who saw to it that we
made a respectable job of it in numberless races, who calmly watched
over us if we had too much to drink in Ayala Cove and had brought us
safely all the way down to the South Pacific, Maverick, our trusty old
friend, was on the reef.
Next report from this location: Terror In Tahiti, Part 2
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