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Makemo, The Plan

July 14, 2011

Noon position(Tahiti): 15.57.912S by 143.40.367W
Course: 211t
Speed: 6.14, last hour
Wind: 14 – 16 E
Sky: Clear, but undefined cloud ahead

120 miles since last noon.

We exited the convection cell around midnight last night and the wind went immediately to 20 knots from the SSE. I had full sail up at that point and was forced to dowse the mizzen, put a reef in the main, and roll up the jib by two thirds. Remember, we were close hauled. In twenty knots of wind, that’s a very wet point of sail. By morning the wind had backed into the east where it has stayed all day, usually at just under 15 knots. Morning sky was a desert sky: thin cumulus clouds ahead, behind a high layer of thin cirrus, and you couldn’t have wrung a cup of water out of the whole lot.

Today’s Plan

We are making final approach for the Tapuhiria Pass on Makemo Atolls southwest tip.

Why Makemo?

Guidebooks go out of their way to impress upon their readers how challenging the Tuamotu Atolls can be. They were called the Dangerous Archipelago by the old square riggers, says one book. Even cruisers avoided them until recently, says another. Still another says be sure to have someone on the bow to help con around coral heads and only enter at slack water-the passes can have tide runs of 9 knots. Then they go on to describe each atoll, its pass and anchorages in detail. These aren’t really islands in the usual sense. Imagine Tahiti, high and green and surrounded by a reef. Now subtract the island and replace it with a lagoon, leave the reef, and you have an atoll. These are low islands, often the palm trees are the highest objects; so, they are not visible but a few miles off, and they are hard as rock.

So, we’ve chosen Makemo as our introductory atoll because: 1) it has a straight-shot approach from the Marquesas–no other atolls to go around first; 2) both entrances are used by ships and are marked with navigational aids (do remember that the French put green markers on the right–so it’s “Green Right Returning from Sea”); 3) the anchorage inside the SE arm is listed as “excellent, sandy, protected”; 4) I have tide tables for Makemo and so should be able to estimate low slack, my best shot for entering; 5) the Tapuhiria entrance is on the lee side of the island and has a shoal on the outside that can be used for anchoring if one is waiting for better conditions or slack water on which to enter.

That last bit is important. Being becalmed a day blew any chance we had at today’s slack low tide, which was at around ten in the morning. If this wind holds we’ll reach the shoal just as the sun is setting (there’s a full moon) and will have to anchor there overnight. It’s unclear if the anchorage is tenable for that long a term–it is, after all, in the ocean and the trade winds are booming again.

If the shoal anchorage fails, we’ll be forced to put back to sea and stand on and off all night, not a lovely prospect. But safe.


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