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Date: 10 Aug 2012 23:59:54
Title: Aitutaki - a test of nerve vs. stupidity!

Lat 18:51.00S
Lon:159:49.91W

Saturday 4th August

So now we are two, and our first passage "a deux" has gone very smoothly with good winds and sunny days. Noteworthy mentions re our first passage on our own...
1. We caught another large Mahi Mahi
2. I gaffed and gutted it for the first time
3. It was grim. Never again!
4. Night watches are tiring - 3 hours on, 3 hours off, rather than 2 on and 6 off! We miss our crew!!

Nice sunset for our last night in Bora Bora outside the Mai Kai marina

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Bye Bye Bora Bora! Just the two of us on board now - so much space!

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We arrived at Aitutaki in the Southern Cook Islands, on Saturday afternoon. I think we may have set a new record for the shortest visit ever! As I said at the end of my last blog, we weren't sure what to expect at Aitutaki, as all the guidebooks and pilot guides showed the pass through the reef to be very shallow, but none agreed on what the minimum depth actually was. We draw 1.7m. One guidebook said the pass was suitable for yachts drawing less than 2m. Another said at 2m you would be scratching the sand. Another book, and the charts on our ipad, said the minimum was 1.3m. It was thus with great hesitation that we approached the pass. We thought we had timed it right for high tide, but we could see the current flowing out rapidly so we must have missed it by an hour or so. Still, we decided that as it looked sandy with no coral bommies or rocks, we would give it a go, expecting that we might nudge the sand in one place but hoping to be able to "power on through".

With me on the bow and Archie on the helm, we navigated the narrow entrance (only 30 feet across!) fine and got half way down the pass before seeing the shallowest part. We nudged it. Quite scary feeling the boat falter beneath you! Archie revved up the power and after a few seconds we continued moving forwards, out of danger and up to the anchorage. However, in order to get to the suggested spot we had to go through a dodgy green patch, which looked too shallow for us. The whole anchorage area was much smaller than we had expected and the light was not good enough to determine the different colours of the water between 2m and 1.3m. We could also see a squall approaching from behind the island. We decided to bottle it. We spun around (actually more like a 5 point turn) and started to exit back towards the ocean side. The sun this time was in front of us, which makes it much harder to see the contrast between the shallow water and the deeper water. We were following our track we'd had on the way in, but as we approached the narrow sand bar part it looked about knee deep! I screamed at Archie to go hard to port, but too late, and we hit the sand again. This time it was bit more than a nudge. This time we couldn't motor off forwards as we'd get even shallower, so we tried full throttle reversing but to no avail. Archie told me I needed to let the boom right out, climb to the end of it and hang there like a monkey over the water. I'm sure you can imagine that went down really well, but I got on with it and slowly, by slightly tipping the boat one way and then the other to get the weight off the centre of the keel, plus reversing at full pelt, we got off the sand bank. At one point a motor boat left the harbour and came in our direction - we thought he might be coming to help us off the bank, but he was a game fishing boat with some clients and he just smiled and waved at us! By this time we were facing back towards the village so we had to go to the end and turn around again, before running the gauntlet again! We kept a more central line, but still felt 3 gentle nudges on the way out, but we powered on through and finally got out of the scary channel, out of the by this time massive breaking waves at the channel entrance, and into the safe deep blue ocean. It was amazing how the water levels in the channel had changed in just 10 minutes of outgoing tide. We were out of there pronto, not wishing to anchor outside the reef which was another sketchy suggestion in the guidebook. We just wanted to get far, far away from that dangerous place!

Of course we were a bit stupid to even attempt something when the charts showed it was impossible, but at high slack water we should have been ok. We would never have attempted it if there were any coral bommies or rocks in the pass, so the yacht was never actually in serious danger - worst case we would have just had to sit there until the next high tide I guess! Archie's years of practise of getting small keel boats off the sand banks of Chichester harbour were definitely good training for this! I thought this might constitute a "dark day" and justify a dig in the box of Marks and Sparks sweetie bag we keep for such occasions, but actually I think today we were very lucky! (But we did enjoy some Chocolate covered toffee popcorn anyway - totally amazing :-) (I've been waiting more than 5 months to get my hands on those!)

We are pressing on to Palmerston - supposedly the friendliest place we will encounter on our trip, where a nominated family will show us around and invite us to eat with them in their home. For now we are enjoying a little red wine to calm the nerves, and continuing to race along in good winds towards Palmerston which is about 36 hours away.

Hello Aitutaki....and goodbye!

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