Monday, May 19, 2008

At the atoll!

Today was a pretty slow day! The wind howled through here from the NW which is an unusual pattern that can occur in May apparently. It often signifies a frontal system from the S which would leave us exposed. But we are inside the reef and tucked up into a little cul de sac at the N end near a small village. It is very picturesque and if the wind dies down enough to see through the ripples, we are told the coral and sand is visible to 40 feet in the clear turquoise water! In short, it is all
a Robinson Crusoe type island should be....except maybe for the other six boats and the locals on shore! It is not really an island though. It is quite an interesting geological formation. Imagine a low ring of coral but about ten miles long and 4 miles wide. Inside is like a big bathtub. In this atoll, Kauehi, there is only one entrance at the SW end. That is where we had all the bouncy fun yesterday when entering! This entrance is similar to Porlier Pass for all you local BC sailors out
there. The pass itself is 1500' wide but the channel is only 1000' wide with coral on the edges. The currents can run up to 8 knots in some of these passages but it is the overflow turbulence that makes it a bouncy trip as all that seawater tries to get over the reef into the bathtub! Added to that, the wind over tide is always a challenging proposition.
Anyway, the ring of coral forming the atoll has palm trees and sand mostly on the E side but the strip is only hundreds of yards wide and the rest of the ring is awash, or just below the surface of the sea. Occasionally there will be a little clump of trees or sand on this perimeter. Needless to say it is very hard to spot from any distance and the awash part you would not see till you were on the breakers. Quite dramatic actually! But the ring around acts as a breakwater and calms the ocean
swells so on the inside the surface is more or less smooth. Of course, being 10 miles long, there is considerable fetch (distance) so the wind can build up some short steep seas. Today we bounced on our anchor rode so much that I put a kelet on the chain! That is an additional weight that slides down part way off the bow roller to hold the chain at a lower angle and act as a buffer for the wind gusts and swells that lift the bow of the boat. The coral reef is only a few hundred yards downwind
of us and as enticing as it may be, we hope to keep Toketie off of it!
Have not launched the dinghy yet, maybe tomorrow if the rain squalls and high winds settle down. The gendarme in the last Marquesan Island made a point of reminding us to check in with the local 'chief' in the Tuamotus if not an official port of call. Maybe we will look for the 'chief' tomorrow! I wonder if he makes baguettes?

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