Escape from Tahiti (and lockdown)

In my last post I wrote of our leaving Huahine, heading for the Tuamotus archipelago and how we stopped in Tahiti to await better weather.

Twice we thought we had a weather window but the strong wind and high waves deterred us. After a week the forecast was three meters of swell from the south and an east wind of 20 knots decreasing as we headed north. We wrote to Davo that we thought things looked good and we were leaving. He just answered “If things are looking good from your point of view, that’s good!
… Good luck! 🤞🏼”

Although we did not know it, only three hours before we left the government announced a strict anti-covid confinement/containment would start in three days across all the Society Islands. If we had not have left by then, we wouldn’t have been able to move for at least 15 days.

The three meter swell was real but it was from the side and the 20 knot wind was actually 20-30 knots. For the first day we were hard on the wind and taking the waves over the deck. Some waves we cut straight through and were doing submarine impressions. Some we rode over like a rodeo rider. The only hot meal was a soup and we felt like we were living in a washing machine.

The wind and the waves pushed us downwind and on the second day, when the waves eased a little we were further west than hoped and began working our way upwind. At least it was once again safe to use the cooker so Heidi produced pizza for lunch and fresh bread.

Fresh homemade pizza

After being beaten up by the wind only a day earlier, we now had light winds or were becalmed. After spending the second night drifting away from our target, we decided to use the engine. I never like being a motor boat and driving straight in to a heavy swell under motor is awful. I had, however, arranged a phone call for Monday morning and this seemed the only way forward.

After less than an hour the engine began to stutter and then stopped completely. The good news was that we were in the middle of the Pacific with nothing to hit for miles in every direction. The less good news was that we were in the middle of the Pacific far from help. We started to drift slowly west, drank a coffee and made a plan.

It seemed likely that the previous days rodeo ride had shaken all the dirt in the diesel tank up and blocked the fuel filter. With the boat bobbing around, we emptied the locker to reach the fuel line, changed the filter and bled the air out of the system. It started immediately.

Bleeding the system

A light wind was back and we were only 23 miles from Tikehau Atoll so we began a day of slow tacking upwind. Occasionally the wind, despite assurances we should have a constant 15 knots, died completely and we once again drifted backwards but on average we were “getting there”. We sailed all day and all night and reached the pass in through the coral atoll just before daybreak. The tide had turned an hour earlier and, as soon as it was light enough to see, we entered the narrow coral rimmed pass directly against the wind and the outlowing current.

With Heidi navigating, we were half way through and making only one knot when the engine stuttered again. The engine revs continuously sank and then recovered and once Heidi had to restart the stalled engine. We had a sail up but sailing back out through the pass, riding the outflow would be a nightmare.

As soon as possible we turned a little sideways to the wind to sail again and switched the motor off. We sailed through the coral strewn laggoon following the marked channel and then had to use the engine again for the last two miles to the anchorage. This time it ran perfectly.

We anchored just before a monster squall hit us. The pouring rain washed the salt off the boat and the high wind set the anchor well in to the sand.

After 67 hours, and 12 days after leaving Huahine, we were finally at anchor in the Tuamotus. Davo texted “Was always going to be a challenge given the wind direction.” The master of understatement!

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