Trip Reports

Terror In Tahiti, Part 1 (13-May-2001-00-00):
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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