Kauehi Atoll, Tuamotu Archipelago
Monday, June 6, 2016
Yesterday we moved from a gorgeous anchorage on the southeast corner of Kauehi, where we had been for 10 days, to the anchorage near the village of Teavero on the same atoll. It’s a pretty spot. The small village is larger than we expected with buildings and homes spread out along the waterfront amongst the trees. Kids swim in the lagoon, the white sandy beach is their back yard. A white church in need of some paint dominates the town, rising a bit above the tall coconut trees. Five other cruising boats are anchored nearby representing at least New Zealand, Austria, Australia, and us from the U.S. and one boat showing no flag.
Not only were we ready for a change of place, but the weather was also changing. The past four days had been dominated by clouds, rain, and gusty squalls. Making the best of it, Ruth collected almost 15 gallons of very pure rain water for our tanks. But the wind began to shift from the southeast to the east, and then to the northeast. With the wind forecast to continue backing to the north and then the northwest, we would no longer be protected in the lee of the motu, but would be anchored on a lee shore with coral just behind us. The village is in the northeast corner of lagoon, offering better – if not ideal – protection from north and northwest winds. Actually, it’s not the wind that worries. It is the sea state that the wind generates which becomes uncomfortable, and can be dangerous in the worst circumstances.
Weighing anchor with coral heads awash in the choppy waves just a few yards to leeward was exciting, to say the least. We reviewed each step of the maneuver before we began, as we always do. Randy raises the anchor on the foredeck; Ruth steers the boat and controls the engine in the cockpit. A set of hand signals makes quick communication easy and efficient. (Randy is a firm believer in skillful women driving, leaving the dirty work to men on deck.) Possible ways for events to go sideways were discussed, with preventative and alternative escape scenarios laid out. In the end all went well. Ruth did an excellent job steering and using the engine to control the boat in the wind and heavy chop, steering Velic into deep water and away from the coral heads as soon as the anchor came off the bottom. Randy gamely cranked the manual windlass.
After a somewhat wet and rough motor to windward, we were rewarded with a very pleasant anchorage near the village. Afternoon entertainment began after soon lunch and a short nap, while Randy was below making coffee and cutting a plate of brownies. Ruth stepped up into the cockpit and gasped: The small inter-island cargo ship Mareva Nui was less than a mile away and steaming right towards us! Even at that distance it looked huge, and was moving fast! Ruth called Randy up for a quick consult: Are we anchored in the middle their channel? Do we need to move? A Kiwi cruising boat was anchored nearby, and we could see them carefully watching also. But, no worries, the ship slowed and dropped anchor a safe distance away. A small, flat barge was lowered into the water. Using cranes, cargo was lowered onto the barge and taken to the quay ashore – the first load being a small forklift which was then used to off-load the barge at the quay. By dinner time bags of copra were being loaded from shore onto the ship. The process of “lightering”, using smaller boats to off-load and load ships anchored further offshore was once the most common method of moving cargo for large ships before the industrial wharves and mega-cranes of today. It is still used in some of the major ports of the world: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Singapore for example. Lightering enables ships to service these smaller islands and atolls where water at the quay is only a few feet deep at best, ending in a white coral beach. Watching the process was the evening’s entertainment while we sat in the cockpit sipping warm drinks and lime juice.
The sun returned today. It is warm and breezy with the predicted northwest winds filling in. Velic is a bit bouncy at anchor as small waves and wind chop roll past. A passage to the next, and larger, atoll of Fakarava is planned for Tuesday or Wednesday. All depends on the weather pattern as the wind is predicted to back to the west – directly against our course to Fakarava! When it backs even further to the southwest, as predicted, we can go. Similar to crossing the Columbia River bar, timing entrances through the passes of coral reefs into the interior lagoon is critical. It’s best to transit the pass at slack current – usually within an hour of high or low tide. And, due to coral heads dotting the sandy bottom inside the lagoon, it is advisable to select an anchoring spot during the mid-day when the sun is high overhead and visibility into the water at its best. So, we wait for weather and tidal current times to make the crossing from Kauehi to Fakarava.
In the meantime we catch up on reading, naps, and boat husbandry chores. We hope to go ashore when the wind abates a bit, perhaps tomorrow morning.