En route to the Tuamotu

Phil May and Andrea Twigg
Wed 11 Apr 2012 05:10
9:31.5S 141:06.5W  440 miles to go
This morning at 07:00 we left Nuku Hiva, bound for the Tuamotu, in the company of Serendipity.  We were some of the last boats to leave, but the earlier yachts have had to motor for much of the 500 miles and we decided to wait for better wind.  The grib files suggest that we should now be able to sail the whole distance, and so far the wind has been exactly as predicted.
In the days before GPS entering the Tuamotu was a perilous thing to do.  They are basically 1000 miles of coral reefs that are extremely hard to spot until you are right on top of them.  Nowadays our chart plotter will lead us into a safe area without worrying too much about that first landfall.
The most important thing for us is to time our arrival at our first atoll (Manihi) carefully because there are two things we have to get right.  We have to arrive 
(a) when the sun is high, so we can see the coral below the surface and pick our way through the coral heads within the lagoon (Polaroid sunglasses are an essential item of equipment to help with this) and
(b) when the tide is slack so we don't get strong currents at the entry to the lagoon (the passes into the lagoons turn into rivers when the tide is flooding, with the water flowing faster than we can motor).
Since we are sailing for three days to get there we should be able to adjust our speed on the last night to arrive mid-morning, although if we get it wrong then Manihi does have sandy patches outside the lagoon where we can anchor until the sun and tide are right.  The pass through the reef is 40m wide so we will have 15m clearance each side, but it would still be nerve racking to enter with a strong current behind us shoving us through the gap.  At least we are a catamaran and so don't have any issues with depth (aside from the possibility of hitting coral), whereas the monohulls have the additional complication of running aground on sand bars in the passes as well.
It all sounds a bit fraught, but I am sure we will get used to it after visiting a couple of the islands.  Our next planned stop is Rangiroa, but we may visit Ahe as well.