Monday, June 27, 2011

Fakarava and the end of the Zombie Hand Saga

We left Tahanea just after sunset on June 17th. We weren't thrilled with leaving through the pass in the dark but we'd been through it a couple of times already and it seemed to be a pretty mellow pass and the just-after-sunset slack current period worked out better for timing the entrance to Fakarava's south pass than the much earlier slack current period. Shalimar went out ahead of us and we saw them buck around a bit. When our turn came we also did a bit of bouncing and splashing but we made it out just fine. After a pretty mellow and uneventful overnight passage we got to the south Fakarava pass early on the morning of the 18th and a couple of hours before the slack current (despite our efforts to reduce sail and slow down during the trip) so we hove to and prepared wait for slack current time. As we were waiting, Christine saw another boat enter the pass with no problem so we decided to approach more closely and check it out. Everything looked fine so we entered the pass and, aside from a bit of opposing current, it was a piece of cake. Once inside, we followed some waypoints we'd gotten from other boats around some shallow areas and over to the anchorage just west of the pass.

There were quite a few other boats already anchored and among them was a catamaran named Changing Spots. We'd met Rob and Cynthia in Nuku Hiva and he'd told us then that he was a retired physician so I was glad to see them in the anchorage. By this point the backs of both my hands were swollen, reddish-purple, covered with little blister like bumps, painful, and quite itchy. I still wasn't sure if the rash was being caused by antibiotic induced sun sensitivity or by a resurgence of bacteria. Consequently, I didn't know if I should keep taking the antibiotic. I got Rob on the radio and he generously offered to stop by our boat and take a look at my mitts. He told me he thought it was the sun-sensitivity-antibiotic thing and advised me to quit the Doxycycline and keep my hands out of the sun (I'd already been trying to keep them out of the sun but that's easier said than done down here). I was happy to stop taking the damned Doxycycline because it tended to make me a bit nauseous anyway and I looked forward to a speedy recovery.

Unfortunately, the recovery was not as speedy as I might have liked. I spent the next two days holed up in the cabin of the boat gulping down pain killers and rubbing various creams on the backs of my hands. Not only was it inconvenient to do stuff outside while trying to constantly wear gloves (they tend to cut down on manual dexterity and can get a bit warm in the sun) but, by this time, it also hurt to close my hands all the way. Christine went ashore a couple of times with Ryan and Alex from Shalimar and snorkeling with some other folks in between taking care of me and listening to me complain so those two days weren't a complete loss for her. By the 21st, I was finally starting to feel a bit better so Christine, Ryan, Alex, and I piled into our dinghy and went over to the south pass to snorkel and check out the mostly abandoned village. I, of course, made sure to wear my gloves the whole time.

The south pass was beautiful for snorkeling. There was tons of coral and, because we went near slack current, there was just a gentle current sweeping us into the lagoon. Alex does not like being in the water with sharks so she stayed topside in the dinghy while the rest of us swam around her. Given her feelings about sharks, it was probably a good choice for her. There were lots of 'em. Most of them were the black tip reef shark variety but there were a few white tip reef sharks and grey sharks thrown in as well. All of the sharks were quite mellow and well behaved. They sometimes came fairly close but didn't seem particularly interested in us. They were just going about their primitive business and occasionally looking at us with their blank beady eyes. The coral at the edge of the pass started just below the surface and sloped down steeply to about 50 or 60 feet so we just followed along the wall until the current let up. Where the current let up, there was a dock and tons of pretty reef fish to look at so we tied up the dinghy and snorkeled around there for a while longer.

After snorkeling we wandered around on land for a while and checked out the depopulated village. There were a couple of small hotels, a restaurant, a dive shop, and a couple of other things still in use but there were also a ton of abandoned buildings with missing roofs and weeds growing through what used to be the floor. I'd like to tell you the whole story of why the village was abandoned by its residents but I never found out. The typical story in the Tuamotus is that a village gets destroyed by a hurricane and is then abandoned for a while. We were interested in diving the south pass but the dive shop guy happened to be taking the week off so we had to save our diving money for the north pass.

On the 22nd we raised our anchor at about 9am and Shalimar was right in front of us. We motored through the sketchy shallow area and, once we made it to the charted and marked channel area inside the lagoon, we raised the sails, killed the engine, and headed northeast to get to the smooth water in the lee of the eastern edge of the atoll. With the wind chop and the glare from the sun in front of us, we were grateful for the channel markers and the relatively accurate soundings on our electronic charts. We still kept up a lookout for shallow coral heads but it's a lot more relaxing when you have at least some idea of what to expect.

By the afternoon we'd made it about halfway up the approximately 30 nautical mile lagoon and decided to anchor close to the shore where we'd be protected from the wind chop and even some of the wind (there was a thick stand of really tall palm trees along the apparently uninhabited shore). The ground didn't hold the anchor too well and sloped pretty steeply offshore but after the second attempt we felt secure enough to spend the night. We all went ashore briefly to check out the coral rubble beach. Then Christine and I went over to visit Shalimar who had anchored right next to us.

In the morning we raised our anchors, got back into the channel and headed up to Rotoava. Rotoava is the main village where most of the atoll's population of around 700 lives. On the way up there we got surprised by a nasty squall that jumped out at us from the other side of the palm trees. We suddenly found ourselves in about 30 knots of wind with driving rain and near zero visibility. Fortunately, the reef and the ring of land protected us from the swell and our chartplotter and depth sounder kept us safely in the channel and the whole thing was over in a few minutes.

When we pulled into the anchorage, we had a nice surprise waiting for us. Our friends on Tuatara were there! We hung out with Kevin a lot in Mexico both before and after Evelyn joined him as crew and we left for the Marquesas on the same day but, because Tuatara doesn't have a long range radio, we hadn't talked to them since. We had heard from other boats that had seen them that they'd had a 40+ day passage compared to our 29 days so we knew they'd made it across but were never sure when we'd see them again.

The next few days included some catching up with Kevin and Evelyn and some really expensive but necessary re-provisioning but the highlight was diving the north pass. We were hesitant to spend the money (it was about $100 US per person) but Fakarava is a world renowned scuba diving destination so we figured we had to do it. The attraction is a drift dive with tons of sharks through the pass. Given that the dive takes you down to around 100 ft, the pass is over 5 miles from the anchorage, and that the current can really get strong out there, we had decided that just renting tanks and attempting the dive on our own was out of the question. Ryan (from Shalimar), Christine, and I did the dive and we all agreed that it was worth the expense.

We lucked out that the trip we booked with Te Ava Nui consisted of just the three of us, the dive guide from the shop, and three other divers. That's a fairly small group for these commercial operations. We lucked out even further that the three other divers ended up being quite competent. On these kind of dives it only takes one bad diver to screw things up, make the guide nervous, and cut the dive short for everyone. We were all loaded into a fast rigid bottomed inflatable boat about 25 ft long. After a short trip out to the pass, we put on our gear, rolled into the water, and descended immediately. As soon as you get in the water, the current is moving you so, if you want to hit the bottom in a particular spot, you can't waste any time. At first, there was nothing but blue water below us. At around twenty or thirty feet, a shelf of live coral at about 100 feet became visible. The shelf sloped gradually up toward the inside of the lagoon and down very steeply toward the outside. As we descended toward our landing spot at the 100 foot mark, large shapes moved slowly around us in the water column and eventually became sharks. There were lots of them - mostly black tipped and grey reef sharks.

We were all pretty intent on reaching our landing spot on the shelf but I spared a few seconds to turn around and look at the sharks circling around the outside of the pass. I saw two that were significantly larger than the rest and, after squinting at them for a second, realized they were hammerheads. I knew how much Christine wanted to see hammerheads so I forced myself to turn away, chase down her and Ryan, and gesture about what I'd just seen. Unfortunately, by the time I'd done all this, the hammerheads were too far away to see.

Once we hit the bottom, we all hunkered down and found bits of dead coral to hang onto. Here, on the edge of the shelf, we held ourselves face into the current and watched the sharks mill around in the water column above us. There were lots. It's hard to say how many filed past in the 5 to 10 minutes we spent there but there must have been at least 100. When the guide gave us the signal, we let go of our handholds and were swept along the reef at quite a clip. No swimming necessary (except to steer). After zooming over a couple of gentle coral hills and valleys, we dropped into a canyon and steered into a little sand bowl in the bottom of another coral valley. By staying close to the bottom, we were able to duck out of the current like you'd hide from the wind on land. We spent the next 30 minutes or so in a couple of these little sand bowls checking out the reef that surrounded us on all sides. There were fish of all shapes and sizes milling about in large shoals and, of course, more sharks. The sharks, as usual, ignored the awkward mammalian intruders but there, out of the current, we were able to get much closer to them. At one point, Christine moved away from the rest of the divers out to the edge of our little sandy area to photograph a group of 10 or 15 grey sharks there were hanging out together. I looked over and noticed her on her own out there just as the group of sharks started moving closer to her. I don't think they were interested in Christine, they just happened to have something to do in the area right next to her. Within a couple of second Christine was much closer to sharks that she was to people so I swam over to give her some company. After a decent sized grey shark swam about 3 feet in front of her, she turned around to see how far from the group she was and I think she was glad to see me headed in her direction.

Once the diving was done, it was time to load up on a few final expensive provisions and head off to Toau - our last stop in the Tuamotus. Shalimar followed right behind us and Tuatara a few hours later so we were looking forward to hanging out with our friends in a nice protected anchorage.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to finish up with the zombie hand saga. The first couple of days anchored near the south pass was the worst of it. By the time we got to Rotoava and the north pass area, the swelling had gone down and the pain and itching had eased off considerably. The backs of my hands remained a bit discolored (splotchy reddish purple) and scaly for a week or so but after a bit of skin peeling they are now as good as ever.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Tahanea and Zombie Hand (part 2)

We timed our afternoon departure from Makemo so that we'd arrive at Tahanea for the early morning slack current period. We were a little early so we had to heave to outside the pass for about an hour and wait for the sun to come up. The middle pass turned out to be much mellower than the pass at Makemo and our entry into the lagoon was uneventful. We anchored just north of the middle pass at around 8am and, to our surprise, there were 8 or 10 boats already anchored in that area. We expected to see a few boats but not quite that many. Among them were several boats we knew and were happy to see and Shalimar entered the pass right behind us and anchored nearby.

During our first evening at Tahanea we attended a beach barbeque pot luck sort of deal that the boats already there had organized. We already knew the crews of Blue Moon and Ceilydh (or however you spell the name of their boat - not that we're ones to talk when it comes to difficult to spell boat names) and we got to meet a bunch of new people as well. Unfortunately, we also got to meet the biting sand flies known as no nos. They come out around sunset and annoy the heck out of people for an hour or so but we stuck it out until they went back from whence they came. Food was eaten, guitars were played, drinks were drunk and so were people (a little bit). You had to be careful walking around because there were hundreds of hermit crabs crawling around and we didn't want to smash the poor little critters. They were slow moving but quite persistent. We tried to cover all the leftover food and we kept moving it around to try and keep it from the crabs but, eventually, we stopped paying attention for long enough and they swarmed the left over brownies. They busted through the tin foil and by the time we noticed, the pan was covered by a pile of several hundred sugar crazed hermit crabs.

The wind kept on blowing in the 15 to 18 knot range for a day or so after we got there but then it backed off. By the 16th it was dead calm. That would have sucked if were were trying to sail someplace but it was fantastic for being anchored. At one point, the surface of the water was so mirror flat that you could see the anchor and details of the coral heads 40 feet below the boat and the horizon took on that weird hazy look that the ocean gets on calm days where you can't really tell the ocean from the sky. We spent our days snorkeling and swimming around. We snorkeled the north pass several times where we saw sharks and manta rays. The passes were a bit tricky to snorkel because we needed to time it so that we were snorkeling during incoming current. We'd take the dinghy out of the pass just as the incoming current was starting to build, and throw the snorkelers into the water and drift back into the lagoon with the current. If the current wasn't going too hard, the dinghy driver would also hop in and snorkel while holding on to the dinghy. We also enjoyed some more relaxed snorkeling inside the lagoon and found some nice shallow coral areas right next to the anchorage. We also got to do a proper pass dive on scuba. Shalimar has two tanks, Ceilydh has a compressor, and Evan and Diane were nice enough to fill up Ryan's tanks. Since Ryan's wife Alex doesn't dive, he let Christine and I share one tank while he used the other. We dove the middle pass with folks from Ceilydh, Whatcha Gonna Do, and Piko. The group did two dives so Christine dove on the first dive and I dove on the second one.

The dive was nice but not super spectacular. If you're ever in Tahanea without scuba gear, you needn't be too sad. Everyone seemed to agree that snorkeling the smaller pass just to the north was in many ways better than diving the larger middle pass but it may be that we didn't go far enough out the pass to see more sharks and more dramatic bottom topography. At any rate, it was great to actually get in a dive and breathe underwater again.

We heard that there was an abandoned village a little south of where we were anchored where we could get water out of some rain collecting cisterns. Due to some poor planning and an initial misunderstanding of exactly where the village was located, we (including Ryan and Alex from Shalimar) decided to take our dinghies down there with our empty water jugs to get some water and explore the abandoned village. It turned out to be a much longer trip than any of us had anticipated. We ended up towing Shalimar's dinghy most of the way. Our dinghy is a little underpowered but Shalimar's dinghy just has an electric outboard with limited range and their battery wasn't fully charged. The return trip was interesting. Both of our dinghies were loaded down with water jugs and we had to cross two passes with outgoing current. While crossing the middle pass we had both of our outboards pinned and were only making about 1 or 2 knots against the current but we eventually managed to make it back just in time to attend another pot luck party - this time aboard the catamaran Ceilydh.

During our stay at Tahanea, I continued taking the Doxycycline pills I'd been taking for my rash and, for the most part, things continued to clear up. The exception was the backs of my hands. Little tiny blisters developed first on the back of my left hand (where the original infection had taken place) and then on my right hand. The instructions for the Doxycycline said to take it for 7 - 10 days even if the symptoms clear up earlier to avoid a return of the infection in a new antibiotic resistant version. I reached the 7 day mark and wanted to stop but wasn't sure if the little blisters were from the bacteria or something else. I was afraid that if it was from the bacteria that it would take off like crazy when I quit the antibiotics. The other possibility that occurred to me was that it was a reaction to the sun because the antibiotics cause extra sun sensitivity. So I just continued to take the pills and tried to keep my hands out of the sun. As you might imagine, keeping the backs of your hands out of the sun while living on a boat in the tropics is not easy. By the time we left Tahanea for Fakarava, both hands were swollen, painful, red, itchy, and covered in bumps. In short, they looked like zombie hands again. The whole thing didn't slow me down much until just before we left - then it got bad enough that I was starting to get a bit bummed out and worried. That's where we'll leave the zombie hand saga for now. The final installment will be the next post about Fakarava.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Makemo and the Saga of the Zombie Hand (part 1)

We ended up staying in Makemo for a week. It was a great week but it was marred a bit by what I came to refer to as my zombie hand and its associated rash. I apologize for the rather ugly nature of the things I'm about to describe but I feel duty bound to describe my affliction so that I don't leave you, the reader, with the impression that everything is always perfect out here.

Just before we left Nuku Hiva on June 1st, I got a bunch of bug bites on a trip to shore. This has not been an uncommon occurrence so I wasn't worried but a day or two into our crossing to Makemo, a couple of the bites on the back of my left hand turned ugly. They blistered and raised a bunch of smaller blisters all around them and started looking more like a poison oak rash than bug bites. I also developed a fever and runny nose that may or may not have been related. By the time we reached Makemo, the fever was gone but the back of my hand looked like the living dead and was oozing so much gunk that it was difficult to keep bandages on it. They'd get soaked and just slide off. I also stared developing a rash on my side and my elbow. I wasn't sure if the new rash was related to my zombie hand or merely the result of the poor level of personal hygiene that, in my fever induced stupor, I'd maintained during the 4 day passage. I resolved to bathe more frequently (an easy resolution given the amount of snorkeling that we did) and see if the rash cleared up. After almost a week of frequent snorkeling, the zombie hand patch had moderated a bit but was still slightly yucky and the expanded rash still looked about the same. I consulted the skin rash chapter of "Medicine for the Outdoors" and was thoroughly disgusted by the myriad stomach churning possibilities for what might be ailing my dermis. Once I calmed myself down again, I was able to narrow the possibilities. I'd already tried some benadryl with no discernible effect so I figured it wasn't an allergic reaction. From what I'd read, it seemed like some sort of bacterial infection was the most likely cause. I think my bug bites got infected and while being a filthy pig on passage, I let the bacterial filth from my zombie hand establish little frontier towns of rash on other parts of my body. These little towns were evidentially well enough established that a weeks worth of comparatively clean living wasn't sufficient evict the bacterial squatters. We had Doxycycline onboard (provided by a prescription from a travel clinic for exactly this kind of thing) so I decided to suffer the side effects (nausea, increased sun sensitivity, etc) in order to make sure that I didn't end up with some kind of full-body bacterial zombie costume. By the time we left Makemo, my hand was looking better and the other rash areas had started to abate. This is where we'll leave the saga of the zombie hand for now. There's more to come but friends and family need not worry, it's all ends up fine (I'm actually writing this on June 25th).

So, back to more pleasant things... There were two other boats anchored in the southeast corner when we arrived but they left within a day or two. Shalimar and Architeuthis were the only boats out there the rest of the time. The shore nearby (a thin strip of sandy soil between the reef and the lagoon covered with palm trees and various shrubs) was only sparsely inhabited. There seemed to be one small family run copra harvesting operation for every mile or two of shore line. I think all the land is owned but people are very friendly and don't seem to mind if you beach your dinghy on the uninhabited stretches and wander around, so that's exactly what we did. In fact, they don't seem to mind if you beach your dinghy in their front yard and say hello. That's what Ryan and Alex did and they made friends with a family there. The next day one of their new friends (I think he said his name was Nicodem - but I'm probably slaughtering the spelling) took Ryan and I spear fishing. He came and picked us up on a hand made wooden speedboat looking kind of deal. It had a big old two stroke outboard on the back and was steered from the bow with a sort of a vertical control stick kind of deal. That's the way most of the local boats are laid out here and it makes sense because the bow is the best place to look out for the shallow coral heads that you have to dodge in the lagoons.

Nicodem took us out to a very shallow area inside the southern edge of the lagoon and anchored us to the top of a small coral head. From the way he homed in on this particular coral head, climbed all the way out on the front of the bow and very gently set the anchor on a particular part of the coral head, I got the impression that this was a spot he came to often. Nicodem then proceeded to give us the most remarkable pre-dive briefing I've ever seen. He told us that we would stay together and all try to spear fish. When one of us succeeded in getting a fish, that person would immediately hoist the fish out of the water by holding the spear vertically and swim back to the boat in that manner (because sharks can sense a wounded fish in the water from a long way off and it gets them into the kind of mood you'd rather not have them in) while the other two swam behind looking for sharks. When we saw sharks we were to defend the fish carrier's back by slapping the surface of the water violently to scare off the shark and, if that failed, to prod the shark with our spear. He also told us to keep a special eye out for grey sharks because they're more aggressive than the black tip and white tip reef sharks. The thing that made the briefing so remarkable was the fact that it was conducted almost entirely in pantomime. Nicodem spoke almost no English and Ryan and I speak almost no French and even less Tahitian so Nicodem had to communicate all of this information via hand waving and facial expressions. It was amazing how quickly he managed to get all the details across.

In the water, it all happened just like we'd been told it would. Our guide speared at least twice as many fish as Ryan or I but we each managed to get a few. Nicodem was mostly targeting the squirrelfish and soldierfish so that's what we went after as well. This involved a lot of poking around under coral ledges and waiting for them to peek out from their little hiding spots so they could catch a spear in the face. The more fish we caught, the more sharks we saw and by the end of the dive we had a couple of white tip reef sharks, four or five black tips, and at least one grey. They came pretty close and were definitely interested but none of them were too large and none of them seemed willing to fight us for the fish. After we'd gotten all the fish we needed and attracted enough sharks to start making Nicodem nervous, we divvied up the fish and headed home. We invited Nicodem to come eat with us out on the boat but he said he politely declined. We thanked him and gave him some fruit that we'd brought from the Marquesas (apparently fruit is hard to get in the Tuamotus). It was a fun day and a delicious dinner and a good time was had by all.

After almost a week in the southeast corner of Makemo, we sailed back up to the pass and tied up to the big concrete pier for the night. Before we'd even finished tying up, we were accosted by a small group of little kids. They asked to come aboard the boat and since we'd had nothing but great interactions with the locals so far we agreed and helped them aboard. They were polite but they were quite a handful. They wanted to inspect everything on the boat. We let them play with Christine's camera, my guitar, our little video camera and a few other things. They asked to keep a few things but they weren't interested in anything that we were willing to part with. As we started to run out of ways to entertain them, Shalimar finished tying up next to us so we told them that our friend on the new boat spoke French so that we could pawn them off on poor Alexandra. Christine, by now eager to facilitate the hand off, got all three kids into our dinghy and rowed them over to Shalimar. Alex let them aboard but quickly decided to usher them back onto the pier. They immediately returned to us and climbed into our dingy. After a few minutes of being satisfied with that, they asked if they could take the oars and go row themselves around. I replied with the international facial expression equivalent of, "Uh, no way." They soon tired of the stationary dinghy and departed. They weren't bad kids or anything but I can't say I was entirely sad to see them go. The combination of the language barrier and my lack of child wrangling experience made the whole thing a bit stressful.

We used that afternoon for a bit of grocery shopping and then headed out the following day after a quick snorkel in the pass. We didn't time the exit out of the pass quite perfectly and had a bit of an exciting time bashing through the waves to get out but we made it with only mild discomfort and prepared for an overnight passage to Tahanea.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

On to the Tuamotus

We left Nuku Hiva on June 1st and took a little over 4 days to cover the roughly 500 nautical miles to Makemo atoll in the Tuamotus. Winds were pretty good for the first three days of the passage with the exception of one squally night. A day or so into the passage we started to hear, on the radio and via weather faxes, about a big high pressure system that was going to be moving in from the southwest. The forecast was calling for some rain associated with a cold front followed by reinforced trade winds in the 25 knot range. We can handle that kind of weather with no real problem but the associated seas do make things a bit uncomfortable and, more importantly, they make the passes into the atolls much harder to negotiate.

Atolls are essentially old islands that have eroded or subsided into the sea leaving behind a ring of coral reef with a lagoon in the middle. Most of the atolls that we're interested in visiting are the ones that have navigable passes through the ring of coral. It's much nicer to get inside the lagoon so that you can be protected from the swell. Inside, you can be anchored in flat water even if the wind is blowing hard. The downside is that going through the passes is not always easy. As the tides and winds change, the ocean flows in and out of the atolls though the passes and the currents can get quite strong - up to 8 knots in some cases and, if the wind is opposing the current, really big waves can develop. There's no way that Architeuthis (or most cruising boats for that matter) could make progress against an 8 knot current so we had to time our entrance carefully.

Our first atoll was Makemo and we figured out that we would just be able to make the last slack current before the cold front hit bringing rain and higher winds but we'd have to hurry. Of course the winds decided to be fickle during the passage. We'd topped off the fuel in Nuku Hiva and didn't relish the idea of trying to enter the pass and make our way through the lagoon to the anchorage in rain and high wind so we opted to motor in conditions where, on more relaxed passages, we would have been content to just sail along slowly in light airs. We still like to avoid motoring if we can so our rush also inspired us to dig out our light air sails in an attempt to keep our speed up and get to Makemo in time. Fortunately, we were sailing with Shalimar and Alex was able to get the first ever photos of Architeuthis with all of her light air sails up - including our new asymmetrical spinnaker (rigged like a symmetrical spinnaker in this case because the wind was well aft).

Architeuthis's light air photo shoot

After a full night of motoring, we made it to the pass at Makemo at the appointed time - just before slack current. We could see the dark clouds and rain of the cold front approaching from the southwest so we decided to tackle the pass before the current had completely slacked off. We bounced around in the turbulent waters and had to run our engine a bit harder than I typically like to and at one point were only making about 1.5 knots against the current (I'd guess the current was running a little less than 5 knots) but we made it through alright with Shalimar right behind us. Now we just had to make it to the anchorage in the southeast corner of the atoll, about 10 nm away.

When transiting through the lagoons of these atolls, you have to keep a lookout for coral heads. Some of these coral heads make miniature seamounts that reach from the bottom at 100 feet or more up to within a foot of the surface with a slope so steep that the depth sounder gives you practically no warning. Some of the atoll lagoons are well charted and have their hazardous coral heads marked. Makemo is not one of these. The only portion of the lagoon that's charted and marked is the area within a short distance of the pass. We knew the best protection from the coming winds would be found in the southeast corner so we hurrying off into uncharted waters. The good news is that, in the right condition such as those we were experiencing, the shallow dangerous coral heads are really easy to see. As long as the sun is above or behind you and the water's not too choppy, you can see these things coming from way off and steering around them is no problem.

The first hour and a half of our two hour trip down the inside of the lagoon was no problem but we could see the dark clouds closing in. With a couple of miles left to go, the sun got swallowed up by the dark clouds and what had been total flat calm turned into light wind out of the north. A few minutes later, the wind veered around to the south and picked up. Then it picked up a lot. Since we could still make out the shallow areas despite the deteriorating conditions and were just expecting the wind chop to build and build, we decided to just open up the throttle, keep the mainsail flying and get into the anchorage as quickly as we could. It was a bit tense for a while as we plowed through fairly shallow water at 6 plus knots but we made it to our intended anchorage and got the hook down before things got too bad. Shalimar opted for a slower approach but also made it without any problem albeit quite a while after us.

The wind blew hard for the next three or four days, reaching almost 40 knots during one gust but mostly hanging around the 20 to 25 knot neighborhood. Dinghy rides are really unpleasant and wet in that kind of wind so we spend a lot of the time just relaxing inside the boat but we were glad that we'd made the trek down to the southeast side of the lagoon. Our anchor held perfectly and we didn't roll at all because the ring of the atoll protected us from the swell. We later heard that the boats anchored closer to the pass and tied to the pier there had much more roll going on so we were glad we opted to trek down to the corner of the lagoon.