Sailing in foreign waters – to our first atoll in Tuamotos

It felt big to have made it to Marquesas. Now we have headed one step west to the next archipelago Tuamotos. We had heard so much about the atolls – especially the entrances that only could be passed in slack water with sun in the back. We wanted a baby-atoll – an easy one with a wide and simple entrance – for our first time trip. Stephen who had sailed here before recommended Kauehi. It was 500 nm – around four days to come there. We looked at the weather – it looked like we should get enough wind, decreasing the last day. Good enough, we really wanted it to be calm and nice especially at the entrance, so off we went. The wind went down the third day so we started the motor. As it then got more easy to estimate the ETA – Estimated Time of Arrival – we should be in perfect timing to the slack water at Kauehi. 

With the radar on we came closer, so far it had been open sea, but now small, small atolls started to appear. We saw them as lines on the radar. Suddenly the radar started to beep. We looked out in the darkness – help, what is in the way? We saw nothing. We should be around 10-15 nm from Kauehi. We searched over the water edge with the search light – saw nothing. We slowed down and decided to wait until the sun went up – only 30 minutes left. I cooked some coffee and made porridge. It is always good with some food in the stomach before arrival. The beep continued. The only thing we could relate it to where the low hanging clouds all around us. We saw it was raining both here and there. The wind had increased quite a lot and came right in our direction. Waves got higher. 

When sun went up, well when it got lighter, it was cloudy all over the sky, we continued without the radar. Soon we saw land! A small, small stripe in the horisont. The opening of the atoll was on the south-west side so we had to go beside the atoll for a while. 

Around ten o’clock, in perfect timing for the slack water, we where outside the entrance. Captain started far out following the line in the charts through the pass. He wanted to feel how the boat was moving in those conditions. 24° the chart said, he had to compensate for wind and waves. It was blowing around 20 knots and was grey. In front of us, inside the atoll, we saw a dark grey rainfall.

We proceeded, saw the red small light house on our port side. Correct. We had measured the pass – was it wide enough to turn around and out if needed? Yes, we thought so. How strong should the current be? We have heard it can raise to 6-8 knots! We make max 7 with the motor. Tidal bores can rise inside or outside they have warned. We continued very focused and in the middle came a lot of eddies – the whole passage was very choppy. Is this slack water?! Captain raised the motor so that the turbo (=extra power) started. It helped. And then we where through! 

The recommended anchorage place was at the opposite side of the atoll where the small village was, around 5 nm. We saw two more sailing boats, we saw a church, some houses, palm trees. 

Our iridium beeped. That means we have got a message. Old sailing friends, Carl Axel and Christina from Stockholm, had seen on our tracking page that we where inside and con gratulated us for having made it in those foreign waters. We both got moved. We felt really far away from home.  

They say that you have to eyeball to find your way between corral heads. When the water is brown there is coral, turquoise means sand. I was standing in the front, prepared to eyeball. It was just too grey to see anything else than dark blue-green water. We dropped the anchor on 20 meters depth, far out as usual.

We looked around and saw the atoll as a circle around us, quite big, like a small lake. It was still grey and a lot of waves and wind. Here we are in the real South Pacific! You wouldn’t want to see a photo. It shouldn’t show much more than dark water and a huge sky.

Still we felt that this was really different. This we have never seen. Marquesas islands felt suddenly very understandable – islands with mountains. We had anchored on the lee side of many islands, in shelter behind a mountain, at least a hill. In the Baltic, south of Europe, Canarias, Caribbean, Panama – every where island and mountains. 

And how about being on anchor when it blows 25 knot? At home we had been in a safe marina long time ago. In the Baltic, from where we are coming, we have very little tidal and current. This is quite wild. 20 ton boat including us are hanging on one anchor and anchor chain surround by waves with whitecaps (inside the atoll, outside the waves are 3 m – at least we are on the right side) The sound of wind is quite strong. If we drag we have at least plenty of space behind us… I have heard that there are no waves in an atoll. That is just not true.  

The second day we released the dinghy and put it down in the water. That felt enough. The sun had the kindness to show up at the end of evening.

Later, when it was dark – we suddenly heard a poff. We looked up and wondered what was that? At the village we saw a big fire with high flames. Do they celebrate anything? We looked in the binocular – couldn’t see any people, just a car. Are they burning trash? Why in the dark? We saw the fire slowly going down. 

The third day we gathered some strength and decided we should go ashore and have a look at the atoll. Captain drove us in the now really turquoise water between the coral heads. We landed on the small bridge in front of the church.  Palm trees swaying in the wind. Yes, this is a real south sea atoll! I had my short wetsuit. It was perfect, at least in the water. No one even showed a sign that they saw it as a strange dress on land – they just said hello back to us.

We heard music from the house closest to the pier. We thought it maybe was the beech bar as it had a huge speakers from where we heard pop music on high volume. I said Bonjour madame to the lady in the house. I understood  that she asked if I had magazines. We saw kids moving as very free spirits with really nice bicycles. We looked into the church. Close by there was an outside chapel. 

It was Monday 29 June, it was their independent day and every one was free except Matilda in the first shop. She told us that 100 people lives here and that it comes food every second week from Papeete (the same Saturday we came). 

I asked about the fire – she said it was a house that exploded! No one hurt and nothing else destroyed. A family without a house, taking shelter in the town house.

Matilda also told us that it is the Maramu-storm that is blowing now, having it’s season June-July. Aha, so this is the Maramu! She told us where to anchor. We passed our boat  neighbour on the way out. Only one now, the other have moved. He had lost his anchor and was on one of the moorings. Small white buoys, I thought it was sign for fishing nets or maybe a pearl farm. He also pointed out places to anchor closer to land. He said that the one Matilda had pointed out was tricky with coral heads. 

We went out to Vista. No, we don’t dare to move her in this wind. It’s good enough that anchor is holding us.