Day 4 - Arrival - 16 03.498S 145 37.310W

Mike and Liz Downing
Sat 19 Jun 2010 07:52
Arrived at the atoll of Fakarava in the Tuamotu Islands at 16.00 today, having sailed 558 sea miles from the Marquesas. Fakarava was the target destination, but we had a couple of other atolls lined up on the northern end of the island chain that we could go to if the weather deteriorated. Fakarava is in the middle of the Tuamotus and not the best place to head for if you have bad weather. Our worst nightmare was bearing down on the middle of the Tuamotus, getting struck by lightning and losing all the electrics on the boat, i.e. all the navigation electronics. There would then be no way round them and we would have to negotiate a way through the atolls during night and day using only dead reckoning and a sextant (if not overcast like today) - it doesn't bear thinking about! One of the problems with these atolls is that the highest thing on most of them is a coconut palm, so you don't see them until very close. Also most have a large part of their surrounding reef totally under water and this may be miles away from the bit with the coconut palm. So without navigation aids they become very dangerous unless you are heading for the atolls on the ends of the island chain when you have an obvious change in course to go round them. In the olden days the Tuamotus were referred to as the Dangerous Archipelago and ships always went round them. The same was true of yachts before GPS. Even with GPS you have to be careful as although the your position is incredibly accurate, a lot of the charts are still based on the surveys taken 100 years ago or more when their position was established using a sextant. Acceptable accuracy was then + or - 4 miles. Although the islands are very low lying, our radar does pick them up 10 miles or so away, so radar linked with GPS does reduce the risk.

Our noon to noon run was 130.9 miles. The night was quiet with moderate winds and good sailing, but the day has been totally overcast with light, shifting winds, forcing us to motor-sail most of the time to ensure we got in here in time to negotiate the pass into the lagoon at slack water. Actually we arrived at the entrance an hour before slack with the ebb still running and decide to try going through. We found a quieter part of the entrance where the current was about 3kts against us and got through okay, but there were over falls to negotiate and we rolled quite violently a couple of times. It reminded us of entering Poole or Portsmouth with a strong wind against a spring tide. It was also drizzling all afternoon which made it even more like the UK! The Fakarava atoll is 32 miles long and 15 miles wide, and the anchorage, just off the only village, is 5 miles from the pass. They are supposed to have wifi here (about 4 Euros for an hour), so we may be able to get some picture up on the blog.

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