Manihi. 14:27.882S 146:02.076W

Alex Belmont
Wed 27 Jun 2012 07:27
As I said in the last blog entry, we set sail from Nuku Hiva knowing that
the wind would probably die on us about two days out. Well, it did. We had a
couple of good days of sailing, then three and a half days of glassy calm.
We could usually manage to drift at about half of a knot (no skill or
cunning there, just a little current), but not much actual sailing going on.
By Saturday night the wind started coming back, blowing tentatively from the
NE, and since then has shifted further and further west. Really weird in
this part of the world. Since yesterday we have been close-hauled to NNW
winds. A few cruisers have mentioned their suspicions that it might be an El
Nino year. That would explain the weak and sometimes reversed trade-winds
we've been seeing. I'll have to look into that.

On Friday night, we saw what appeared to be a convoy of sailboats motoring
past us. Three masthead lights could be seen, all motoring within a couple
miles of the others. I checked the AIS, and scanned the VHF, but no one
seemed to be talking. It would have been nice to follow along, and make
landfall a couple of days earlier, but if I had wanted to motor, I would
have bought a motor boat. Plus, Moondance's 20 gallons of diesel isn't
enough to get very far when trying to cross an ocean as big as the Pacific.
Onward we continued to drift.

Well, whatever the cause of these light and contrary winds, they have
certainly been hurting our progress. Seven days to get from Nuku Hiva to
Manihi (just 500 miles) is pretty darn slow. When there has been wind, we
have been doing well, but unfortunately that good show of speed gets brought
down by the (too often) calms. We're now making 5.9 kts to the WSW, hard on
the wind in order to give a bit of space to Manihi's northern reefs. Don't
want to get too close, especially as distance is hard to judge when
approaching these low-lying atolls. With this NNW wind, I was actually
worried we would have to tack in order the give enough clearance to these
reefs. This wind actually makes for a strange approach. Normally one would
pass to leeward of the atoll in order to minimize the risk of getting swept
onto a lee shore. If we were to approach from the south in order to live by
this wisdom, we'd be safe from the wind, but the current would then be
pushing us onto the reefs. with the unpredictable wind we've had, I'd rather
approach to windward but down-current of the atoll. In any case, I'm leaving
plenty of space to leeward and I'm confident in Moondance's ability to beat
off a lee-shore. No worries there.

Still almost twenty miles to go before we are through the pass and can drop
the hook. It looks like we can afford to start reaching off the leeward
soon - maybe another twenty minutes on this course to give a bit more space
between us and breakers and coral. Yeah, that sounds like a good idea
especially as a little line of squalls are lined up to pass over the atoll.
I'd rather not sail through those or risk being too close to shore with the
big wind shifts brought on by most squalls.

- A bit later -

Just a mile and a half from the entrance to the pass now. I'm glad I decided
to hold off a bit longer before reaching in closer to the atoll. Though we
weren't hit directly by any of those squalls passing by, they did twist our
wind around much more westerly, pointing us right at the beach. This only
lasted about 20 minutes before the wind came back to the NNW. Since then,
there has been a slow, persistent westerly shift, forcing us to stay hard on
the wind until clearing the Western point of the atoll, and safely bearing
away a bit - about ten minutes ago. With our course change, all our apparent
wind has disappeared, leaving us rolling and slatting the sails at about
three knots. Just another mile to go now. I think we can make it.

- And later still -

Whew! Made it. That was quite the pass! In hindsight, we should have waited
another two hours until low slack water and then entered with the start of
the ingoing tide. The pass is very clear and simple to follow, but with the
outgoing tide, we could just barely fight against the current. I'm actually not sure how much the tide would have helped us. Tides in this part of the world are pretty small, and it seems that swell has a much bigger influence on how much water is coming out of an atoll pass. When waves bread over the low reefs around an atoll, they dump lots of water into the lagoon, which must then find it's way back out to sea through the relatively few deep passes. Nonetheless, waiting for the tide would have probably helped a little. If we had waited though, visibility would have been less than ideal for spotting coral heads. Six of one, half-dozen of the other, I guess. Well, we made it either way!

I rarely push the little 13 horsepower Volvo-Penta above about 1,600 RPM - much more fuel
efficient than running at higher speeds - but to get through the inner,
narrower end of the pass, I was pushing it up to between 2,000-2,100 RPM. We
still hit sections where we would get swept backwards and had to veer
side-to-side across the channel in order to find the slowest moving water.
It was exciting ride, with slick boils, overspills, and vicious ripping
streams. If I had felt we were ever in danger, I would have simply slowed
down enough for the current to push us back out to sea while still keeping
enough speed through the water to maneuver the boat. Moondance is much
better under sail than power, but with the engine turning over like it was,
we should be doing a bit over 5.5kts. That was certainly some seriously
screaming current!

After making the pass, it's a pretty straightforward trip through the lagoon
to one of the anchorages. I was not sure at first where to drop anchor as
there is only one other yacht here right now. I wasn't expecting too many,
but I am surprised to find only one. Anyway, I found one of the recommended
anchorages from Charlie's Charts of Polynesia (a pretty good cruising guide
to these waters), and dropped the hook in about 50' of water. I'm not
thrilled with our spot right now. It is very beautiful, 150 meters off a
lovely coral-sand beach covered in dense coconut palms. It is also next to a
shallow plateau of coral heads. Pretty, sure, but with this NW wind we are
hanging just to windward of sharp coral. I put the heavy, all-chain rode to
use instead of my usual lighter rode (60' of chain spliced to 300' of
3-strand), which makes me feel a little better about hearing the chain grate
over rocks (and possibly coral?) on the bottom. I know chain won't get
sliced up by whatever might be down there, but with the wimpy little
windlass on Moondance's foredeck it is going to be fun to haul up 200' of
5/16" chain and a 45 lb. anchor. I'll see how we fell tomorrow, but we may
end up moving into the small-boat basin closer to town. I didn't look very
promising at the time, but now seems like it might be our best option.

Well, we might not be in the most ideal anchorage, and it was a bit exciting
(stressed, me? never!) making the pass, but life is not so bad. We're in a
tropical South-Pacific atoll with a beach full of coconut palms and a maze of coral to explore just out beyond the cockpit.

Wow, that was a long one. I'm done for now. Maybe you'll be fortunate enough
to get a nice little report on atoll life in the next few days...