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toau to tahiti

Posted by on December 7, 2013

July 15 – 17, 2013

A weather window for our passage from the Tuamotus to theSociety Islands was a difficult one to pick. The winds were either going to be too strong or not enough, and there would be squalls. If we missed our opportunity to depart from Toau, then we would easily have to wait another 7 – 10 days for the next round of Maramu winds to cease. We had to pick the lesser of two evils, but either way we would end up with strong winds for half of the passage and no wind for the other half.

When we sailed out of Toau, we had a 15 knot easterly wind and some sunshine. We were sailing in the lee of the atoll, so it was flat, calm and beautiful. It wasn’t long before we could see an approaching squall from the east. It covered Toau, and eventually us. Soon, the rain was pouring, and we were running downwind at 10 knots (SOG) in a 30 knot wind.

While we were flying along at our 10 knots of speed, a couple of fish decided to hook themselves on the fishing lines. Unfortunately, we were going so fast that when we pulled the lines in, all that remained on the lines were two sets of gills. The mouth and gills had literally ripped right out of the fish! We were surprised that the fish even attempted to bite at those speeds.

As we made our way to the end of Toau’s lee shore, we began noticing the silhouettes of the swell beyond the island. They appeared quite large and mixed up. That’s when we realized that in addition to the normal 2 to 2.5 meter swell, we would be receiving a wrap-around swell from multiple directions. Motion was going to get quite uncomfortable, so the kids and I immediately took some seasickness pills (Bonine). Wil opted not to take anything, and later he wished he had.

Once away from the lee of the shore, seas were mainly on the port beam, but with the mixture of waves coming from other directions, our motion was like being agitated in a huge washing machine. The sky was dark gray, and the sea was dark gray. The only bright color was the white water on the tops of the dark waves. Even though I’d taken medicine, I preferred to stand at the helm in the pouring rain, so I wouldn’t feel queasy. Wil managed to make dinner for us that evening, but being in the galley probably tipped his scale towards feeling queasy and needing to get outside for some fresh air. Gradually, as each hour passed, the nasty sea and weather conditions subsided.

Over the course of the next day, the winds dropped to almost nothing. For about a day we could sail, but then we needed to motor sail. Eventually, we had to drop all sails and motor on a flat and glassy sea. Quite a contrast to the start of our passage!

just put out the fishing line & they will come!

always happy to wake up for a Mahi Mahi



It was toward the end of my watch in the wee hours of the morning when I could feel Tahiti getting close. If it were daylight, we would have been able to see the outline of the island’s high mountains in the distance, still some 40 miles away. It was good that we had a fair distance to go because it was dark, and we didn’t want to be anywhere near Tahiti’s surrounding reefs until we could see them.

It must have been a combination of sleep deprivation and knowing we were getting closer to land, mixed with the quiet and eerie darkness of the night sky and the glassy water. My mind started playing tricks on me. My ears could hear the pounding of surf in the distance, and my eyes could see a faint white shadow on the dark water in the distance. I checked the chart and the radar, but it was only wide open ocean. I slowed the engine until we were creeping along at 2 knots, and I veered away from what I thought looked and sounded like surf. I couldn’t figure it out. I swear I could hear it, and I swear I could see it. When I couldn’t stand it any longer, and it was getting close enough to Wil’s watch, I woke him from his sleep to verify what I was seeing. He could see the white shadow, but he couldn’t hear the surf. After analyzing the situation, he pointed out that the dull glow of the moon seemed to be causing a hint of a white glow from the clouds onto the water. It was then that I knew I needed to get some sleep!

approaching Tahiti's south coast at first light

The sun began to peek above the horizon, and we caught our first glimpses of Tahiti’s gorgeous, volcanic mountains rising up from the ocean, so green and lush. We were headed for Port Phaeton tucked up on the southern side of the isthmus between the big island and Tahiti-Iti (little Tahiti). Port Phaeton is so protected that it’s commonly used as a hurricane hole. We had heard that compared toPapeete, not only was Port Phaeton less crowded, but it also had good free wifi and convenient shopping. After being so remote for so long (since Panama City), and in dire need of provisions, that sounded like the ideal place for us!

Our goal was to sail close to the southern tip of Tahiti-Iti, so we could fish along the reef. However, as we neared the island we noticed that our speed over the ground had dropped to 2 knots. We had been motoring with one engine at about 5 knots, and now we had 3 knots of current against us. We weren’t going to make much progress at this speed, so we had to veer away from the island until we could round the point and the current diminished.

Once in the lee of Tahiti-Iti, we motored closer to the reef in hopes of catching fish. At the same time we were looking for our first ever glimpse of Teahupoo, a world renowned professional surf spot. We couldn’t believe that we were in a location where the world’s most popular surfers come to compete! Unfortunately, since we were passing by with no wind and glassy seas, we wouldn’t get to see any of the big waves that the pros get to surf. However, at some of the other surf breaks along the way, we got to watch some surfers practicing their tow-in and pick-up techniques.

sailing past the Teahupoo area

Teahupoo waves on a small day

south coast of Tahiti

a unique pinnacle of Tahiti

Sadly to say, amidst all this greatness, came some struggle and turmoil. Living on a sailboat with your spouse and kids for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is not always easy. Yes, we’re seeing some of the most beautiful parts of the world, enjoying the tropics, and having amazing experiences. However, at the same time, there is the continual stress of keeping us and the boat safe, not to mention having all that togetherness. The moment Wil told me how to do something on the autopilot was the moment I exploded and aired everything that had been bothering me for the past several months. Poor guy!

We had much to talk about. Before we started cruising, we each had specific roles that we played in our lives. Wil was part-owner of his company, and he was used to telling his work crew what to do and how to do it. He felt important. I had always been at home with the kids. I was their mom and teacher, and life at home depended on me. I felt important. While we are both still important in our roles onboard a sailboat, there is a lot more crossover in our job responsibilities. If we are not careful, we can inconsiderately step on each others toes. We must realize that while we might do the same task differently, at least we each get the task done. Ultimately, we need to keep the communication wire open between us, and respect the other for who they are as a person.

Once the air was cleared, we had to focus on entering the reef and making it the final stretch to Port Phaeton. Due to the extremely settled conditions, the reef entry was a breeze, and it was quite easy to read the water with respect to shallow water. As we followed the winding channel to the anchorage, Wil began testing different wifi signals. He managed to pick up a strong enough signal to make a quick Facetime call to his mom! We were off to a great start. As always, it was great to drop the hook and catch up on sleep. The next day, we would go explore Port Phaeton and all it had to offer.

a glassy anchorage at Port Phaeton, Tahiti

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