The "Dangerous Archipelago" is formed by 78 coral atolls. Because of their low lying character, the reefs cannot be seen until close-to. The sound of the wind and sea often masks the sound of the breakers. The entrance to the lagoons are through narrow passes with strong currents some of the atolls can have up to 9 knots of current, too strong for our boat. The entrance should be attempted at slack water, but at the same time with the sun high and behind, which is between 11 am and 2pm. That is when the reefs are best visible to the naked eye. The charts for this area are out of date and they are not complete relied up on, as coral grows and changes. So eye balling is the best way of navigating here. The French stopped the nuclear testing of weapons in 1996 in the Archipelago, Mururoa being the main atoll used for this purpose.
The weather is perfect for Tuamotus, good winds for 3 days then it all dies down, perfect to enter the atolls. So we left this afternoon, but now 50 miles out we are thinking in turning back. Graham does not feel well and he has fever. I have been doing most of the night watches and navigation. He started a course of antibiotics as we think is a bacterial infection from a wound in his leg that did not heal properly.
Now we are on a no turning back point, the seas are quite rough. Just hope that the antibiotics work. We just found out that they are all out of date!!!!
There are two good reasons we chose Takaroa as landfall. It is located on the north of the archipelago, one of the easiest routes as we wouldn't have to deal with the currents running between some of the atolls. The second reason is that there is an anchorage outside so we can have a rest and wait for the tide before tackling the pass. Reading through Charlie's Charts, we just realized that this atoll has a huge pearl farming in the lagoon, so entrance is restricted. After debating we decided that if conditions are not less than perfect we will not enter our chosen atolls. We are arriving in 12 hours and the wind just died down. Graham is feeling a lot better, that is a good start.
But then everything changed. The wind swung round to North making anchorage at Takaroa impossible. Although both of us are very tired, we reluctantly turned around and proceeded to the next atoll, Ahe. Due to the wind shift we were not able sail to Ahe or even Rangiroa. Some big black towers of clouds were forming in front of us. It was so tall that we could not see the top of it. We changed course to avoid these nasty weather systems. And then another one was coming from our beam. This time the engine went on so we could get away from it fast. So that is how we spent 1 Ĺ hours, zigzagging in front of Takaroa. The night fell on us and the sky cleared, but by now we had no plan for our landfall. The worst was the knowledge that wind shifts can mean bad weather coming through.
We finally came up with a plan, head South and try to enter Apatiki. The pass was one of the easiest in the Tuamotus and was only 5 hours away. We arrived there at the right time for the tide and the sun position to see the corals. But another big weather system was sweeping across with more black clouds and lots of rain; this one was 4 miles wide. The visibility dropped and we had to turn back and wait until the weather improved to enter the atoll. After one and half hour we saw a little blue sky, this time we had to be quick as we saw the next lot of black clouds forming. By now the tide turned and no sun behind us, feeling tired, we had enough and decided to enter even the conditions were not perfect. With full engine and sails out we went for it. Coming near the pass we saw the breakers all around the entrance and due to being exhausted we could not work out if those were reefs in the middle of the pass. They were eddies (little swirls in the water) formed by the current. Having full current with us we entered the lagoon on a ridiculous 6 knots, enough to the wreck the boat on the corals. Luckily we survived without touching any coral reefs! The lagoon is impressively big, we did not expect to find any boats here, but they were 2 others. One was flying a Brazilian flag, a catamaran called "Bra-vo". We dropped the anchor and went to bed. By the time we woke up the wind shifted again and now we were almost on top of this damn corals! We tried to re-anchor but the anchor was wrapped around corals, so we were going nowhere. Least we were safe! That is when we decided to open a can of beer and forget about it.
Graham dived to free the anchor, then we found another spot away from the reefs. Again we fouled the anchor on the corals, but this is the way it goes in the Tuamotus. Ricardo from Bravo came over and told us his nightmare story while staying here, but he has an added problem, one of his engines does not work! Snorkelling is fantastic, for once we appreciated the coral heads, there are hundreds of them. Also the amount of colourful fishes was unbelievable. The lagoons are also home to sharks, especially "Tiger sharks". These are more ferocious than Great Whites, they will attack and eat anything, even their own! Graham went pearl diving, but no pearls were found in the oysters. In the afternoon "Bra-vo" left, the other boat having left earlier, so we were all alone in the atoll. This is the beauty of this place: the remoteness and feeling of isolation.
We went exploring ashore. There was no need for clothes as there is no one around! Ashore there is a wide beach with lagoons, this is where the sharks stay until big enough to face the open lagoon. The water colour changes from green to turquoise then to deep blue. As it was low tide there were lots of water puddles with moray eels hiding in the corals. Absolutely amazing.
It is time to go. We canít help thinking that if the weather changes we have no real shelter. In that case it is better to be out in open water than in a lagoon. But as we learned already, nothing is easy in the Tuamotus. The anchor was again wrapped around some corals; additionally the wind was quite strong making a swell inside the lagoon. Graham dived with an air tank; I was motoring forward to give some slack to the chain so Graham could relocate the anchor in sand. It was nerve wrecking as I had to keep the boat away from the corals and also from Graham, if only I knew where the corals and Graham where! Exhausted Graham came up-just before the air run out. Finally we were able to lift the anchor and negotiate the pass. We calculated the tides and it should be coming to slack water. That wasn't the case; going through the pass there was 6 knots of current with us, so we were on the high of the tide. With so much current It was difficult to control the boat. However we made to the other side intact. That was our fair share of excitement for the week, now we were desperate for some rest and some nice sheltered bays. So we are heading to Society Islands.