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Fakarava Pass … OH LORD!

So we awoke early this morning to an absolutely beautiful, sunny day. It’s time to bid farewell to this wonderful atoll, Kauehi. It’s been an amazing few days. We enjoyed our peaceful time and even got in a bit of snorkeling. Unfortunately the snorkeling wasn’t as good as we expected. There is quite a bit of dead coral here but it is still a beautiful spot and we’re so glad we stopped. It was absolutely perfect getting to spend a few days alone in this magical paradise.

But, our friends are waiting for us in Fakarava so it’s time to haul anchor. It’s just a quick day cruise to get there but it will be a long day and we need to arrive early enough to see the bommies as we come into the anchorage. We have our morning coffee and prepare Dazzler for the trip. It’s the usual routine. Dan takes off the sail cover and prepares the deck and cockpit while I’m below closing the port lights and stowing things to keep them from bouncing about etc… After about an hour we are ready to go. I bring up our headsets (as some call them, marriage savers) and we get them online. Dan goes to the bow while I start the engine and get the electronics up and going. You see on Dazzler Dan does the hard, “manly” stuff like dealing with the anchor while he lets me run the boat. He hates seeing women being forced to deal with the heavy anchor and chain. And, with our headsets he can tell me exactly what to do so it all works perfectly. I love our headsets and absolutely hate it if we have to do it the old fashioned way…you know, using hand signals and yelling from bow to stern.

Exiting the pass at Kauehi is very uneventful. We are third in line heading out of the pass behind two catamarans. We don’t know them but as is so often the case in Water World we are on the radio with them as the lead boat, SV Wind Dancer, radioes back to give us info on the conditions. We have since met the Captain of the second boat, Price. He is on SV Panache. His friends are on SV Wind Dancer. We basically buddy boated with them all the way here. It was actually nice to see other boats around us for a change.

The pass into the lagoon here at Fakarava is a whole different ball game. Again, SV Wind Dancer leads the way followed by SV Panache, then us. They are two pretty big cats with twin engines and both close to 25’ wide. The pass is pretty doggone choppy but we watch them and feel confident we can make it too. It is at the end of the outgoing tide and while we could wait for slack tide there is the fact that we need to get the anchorage, a little over 5 miles from the entrance, before the sun starts going down. There’s those dang bommies you have to worry about and you need the sun to see them.

As we enter the choppy water it doesn’t seem too bad at first. Yes there are 2 meter swells about a second apart and yes there is some current coming at us and we are getting tossed side to side quite a bit but it seems like it is not nearly as bad as it looked. I am on the bow taking video and keeping a look out for shallow spots while trying to keeping from being tossed overboard. I have my arm under to the tie down straps for the dinghy and that is all that is keeping me tethered to the boat. In hindsight I realized it was pretty dangerous for me to be up there without a jack line and we made a rule that says, no one on deck entering or exiting a pass without them in the future. But, the fact is I was there before the water got bad. Trying to negotiate my way back to the cockpit after the rocking and rolling started would have been potentially more dangerous so hooking myself into the tie downs on the dink was actually the safer option.

The pass is only 1/4 mile wide so at this point I figure if this is the worst it gets, we’re good…soooo good. Well, of course you know everything gets worse before it gets better, right? Just as we get to the lagoon side of the pass and the water starts to settle down we are hit with 5 full knots of current right on the nose. Behind us are those pesky 2 meter swells that are now catching up to us because we are only going .8 knots and they are coming in much faster than that. I’m still on the bow attached to the dink looking back to the aft of the boat and all I see are these crashing waves coming toward the stern. Dan pours on the throttle and we keep pounding through. The last thing we want is one of those waves to crash over the stern. It wouldn’t necessarily sink us but it would be a mess down below. With each wave I’m holding my breath and saying a prayer. I can hear Dan talking to Dazzler through the headset. I can see the look of determination on his face and can hear him as he somewhat forcefully encourages her to keep moving forward.

Fakarava Entrance Collage

Yes, it is a rather stressful fifteen minutes getting through the pass and just when we thought it wasn’t going to let us out we popped through on the inside of the lagoon. Way to go Dazzler! She rocks and her Captain is a hero for his amazing seamanship skills! We’ve since decided that next time we’ll wait for slack tide. And the good news is that we know Dazzler is capable of doing it if needed. Let’s just hope she doesn’t need it again anytime soon.

Once on the inside the water goes almost completely flat. It’s crazy. You go from churned up two meter, square waves with whirlpools to dead calm. That’s one thing that is so wild here. Just 1/4 mile of land separates us from the Pacific Ocean. Outside of the lagoon you can hear the giant waves crashing on the shore yet inside it’s flat as can be. At anchor the boat hardly moves. Yes, Mother Nature is pretty awesome.

Before leaving Kauehi we had an issue with the main refrigerator. It stopped cooling! This is NOT something you want to happen when you are hundreds of miles from a marine supply store. Fortunately for us we also have a 42 quart Engels refrigerator/freezer on board. Sometimes we curse it for the power it takes to run it but it gives us a lot of extra freezer space, it keeps beer ice cold and it’s a great backup.

After our ordeal entering the pass we celebrate with a couple of our traditional anchor down beers and then Dan goes to work. After two hours of work he finally got the main refrigerator and freezer back online. Yippee! I know I say it all the time but I’m convinced there is nothing this man can’t fix. Of course getting it fixed was only half the battle. Then we had to put the boat back together because with any boat project there’s parts everywhere and stuff that’s been taken out of storage lying about. Once that was done we showered and ate a can of soup and chicken salad before crashing. It was a long day but we are here and the fridge works!

Until Next Time…

Jilly & Dan

P.S. Dan said to be sure I tell you the fridge is now at 10° and we are making ice!!! Of course I was making ice in the Engels anyway but now maybe we can make some banana daiquiris with the fresh bananas we have hanging on the stalk on the arch out back.


Kauehi, Tuamotus … Pure Bliss

When we left Nuka Hiva on Wednesday morning we had 516 miles to travel to reach the mouth of the pass into the Kauehi atoll in the Tuamotus. I just took over watch at midnight and we had 47 miles left. Unlike the mountainous islands of the Marquesas that you can see rising above the ocean 30-40 miles out, the flat, palm tree lined atolls can only be seen once you are just a couple of miles away.

In case you are not familiar with what an atoll actually is, let me explain. An atoll makes its debut as a volcano. Then a reef forms around the volcano. Over the course of thousands of years the volcano recedes back into the sea and you are left with this big coral rim with a nice sheltered lagoon where the crater was. I read recently about a great way to visualize this. The next time you are in the kitchen, submerge a bowl into a sink full of water so that just the rim is showing and you will have yourself a mini atoll. In the real life version, way out here in the middle of the ocean, people actually live on that thin rim. That’s the truly amazing part to me. I mean we’ve seen some pretty intense seas during squalls. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be living on one of these atolls during a cyclone. Some of them are merely a few hundred feet wide and they are basically all at sea level!

As you can see in the photo from our plotter, the water outside of the atoll is 3000+ feet deep. The max depth inside is about 150 feet. This makes the pass into atolls somewhat tricky to negotiate, as you have to time them for arrival at slack tide because there’s a whole lot of water trying to push through the pass. If you don’t time it right you could be facing an ebb or flow current of upwards of 7+ knots. In some atolls they reach 12 knots! Let’s put that in perspective. Dazzler’s average cruising speed during the entire Pacific crossing was somewhere around 6.5 knots. We get a little antsy if she gets much over her rated hull speed which is around 7.5 knots. If we try to push into an atoll that has an ebbing tide of 8 knots we could end up being pushed backwards into the swell on the outside and risk swamping the boat. If we hit it and are going with the incoming tide it could push us too fast and given the risk of bommies (coral heads), you don’t want that either as you could end up aground because going over your rated speed can make it difficult to steer. Needless to say entering and exiting atolls is something you plan and do very carefully.

Fortunately for us this morning they’ve had little to no wind for days so the swells are nonexistent and all should be fine. Also we chose this for our first atoll as it’s said to be one of the easiest to navigate. It’s wide and its typical max current runs around 4 knots. Our theory…cut your teeth on an easy one first!

We’ve done a lot of reading and studying about how to navigate atolls and I’m sure we’ll be fine. And, unlike the explorers of old, we have tons of data sources for tides. We have our trusty plotter and we have something called open CPN which takes aerial Google earth photos and overlays them on a navigational chart so you can see exactly what is there. Piece of cake, right? Well, I’m not worried. If anyone can navigate these babies it’s Dan. I’m guessing there are but a handful of other sailors out here who have studied this subject as much as he has done. Heck, we had a sailboat call us on the radio just before sundown last night. We could see them a couple of miles away. They don’t have MMSI so we couldn’t bring them up on the plotter and you won’t believe what they asked us. They wanted to know if we had any weather information. Are you kidding me? You are doing bluewater sailing in the Pacific Ocean and have no way to get weather? Well there’s a brilliant move, NOT!

Speaking of the galactically stupid. Here’s another one. Another boat that we know that had issues making the crossing is back out here with no crew. Yep, he’s now single handing his boat through the South Pacific. Don’t get me wrong, there are many sailors that are completely capable of this but not this guy. Just about everyone we’ve talked to about him says the same thing … “He’s not equipped nor is he capable of doing this alone and by doing so he’s going to put other sailor’s lives at risk.” He left Nuka Hiva a day after us and early Monday morning a mara’amu is due to arrive. This is a wind event that will bring 25-35 knot winds. Traversing these atolls during these things is pretty risky. You want to be anchored down in a safe anchorage long before it shows up. We will be because we planned our trip appropriately. In fact it doesn’t show it’s due until Tuesday but Dan built in an extra day to be sure we are good because, you know, weather doesn’t always do what is predicted. I’m just sending out prayers hoping this lone sailor makes it safely to port without injuring himself or others.


Kauehi Collage for Blog

After five days at sea we arrived in Kauehi in the Tuomotus. Holy Crap! I thought the Marquesas were spectacular but this…are you kidding me? We survived the pass to the atoll and even made it to anchor down without hitting a bommie. That’s surprising as I am the one on the bow pulpit directing Dan. There’s a lot of pressure up there. LOL

Anyway, we made it and this place is a spectacular anchorage and we even have the anchorage all to ourselves. The closest boat is a half a mile away. We can see the bottom at 20’ but then we could see it when we were crossing the lagoon and it was 100’! That’s a first for me.

We had anchor down beers…our tradition…put up the awning, put on the sail cover, put the dink in the water and now Dan is napping. It’s only 1320 here so there’s plenty of time left in the day. Shortly we will go to shore and dinghy around to find tomorrow’s snorkel spots. In the meantime I’m going to sit here in the Princess seat on the back of the boat and just take in all the beauty that is surrounding us. We’re truly blessed to be here!

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan