SOUTH SEAS ANCHORAGE – RANGIROA ATOLL, FRENCH POLYNESIA |
Bearing down on the Tuamotus, our crew are keeping a sharp lookout ahead. They know now that the first sighting of land is going to be the fronded crown of a palm tree, rooted in the sand of a coral atoll barely above sea level. The expectation of being the first to spy one of these occupies our crew with the formidable fervour of young boys. In the event, a number of these mop tops sluggishly grow out of the southern horizon, bathing in the western afternoon sunlight. Staring at an empty horizon for so long, these rising palms, eagerly awaited as they are, still bring with their languid appearance an almost unwanted intrusion. ‘Another of humans’ trivial life foibles’ our little ship thinks. Willing as they are to have their daily routine disrupted once again, the actual arrival brings with it a momentary, but deeper level of reluctant resistance to the imminent change. ‘Oh my, if I was as confused as that, I would never know which direction to take!’
A quick check with the GPS and she is right on course for Passe de Tiputa on Rangiroa Atoll. Her crew always seem surprised and pleased with themselves that she is exactly where she is supposed to be – they have yet to understand that her fibres of glass are at one with the ocean currents and lost she will never be.
A coral atoll in this part of the world will normally have one or two entrances which have navigable channels, and possibly others which are too shallow to pass except in a canoe or outrigger with a shallow draft. These entrances are known as a ‘Passe’ in French and can vary in width from quite wide to terrifyingly narrow. They can be and mostly are, littered with coral heads with razor sharp teeth – teeth sharp enough that would crunch through her fibreglass hull as easily as chomping into a crusted meringue. Being advisable to enter on a flowing tide and exit on the ebb, she will be passing the channel at speed. The margin of error therefore for our deep keeled yacht is somewhat reduced. A lookout at the bow is required to ensure a safe path is steered through the passage before popping out like a cork drawn from a bottle of Hennessey cognac, into the lagoon beyond. With her sharp farmers’ eyes, sibling crew posts herself balancing on the top pulpit rail, wrapping one arm around the rolled in foresail. Our little ship, drawing over two metres, and also conscious of this potential to wreck and ruin, approaches their first one together with some trepidation. This level of anxiety is heightened by the sight of the white hull of a yacht lying up on the reef close to the entrance, looking very skeletal, bones bleached whiter than white in the tropical sun. Sails dropped and engine ticking over, she manoeuvres onto her course for their first ‘running the Passe’. Gunning her motor, she propels herself forward, all eyes on deck staring, looking for any obstructing and deadly razor coral heads, and sweeps into the crystal waters of the lagoon, cutting a pretty picture of white hull on blue as she comes up in a trim turn to starboard. Our doughty crew, unwittingly holding their collective breath, quietly release, heartbeats gradually returning to normal. She also feels a spurt of satisfaction, along with quiet competence tinged with pride, at safely conning her way in without so much as a scratch. No matter how many hundreds of these ‘Passes’ she will negotiate in the future, this very first one will always burn bright in her memory.
In, in the nick of time, she rounds up into the rapidly falling and short lived tropical dusk, smack in front of the resort hotel Kia Ora. By the time her scope is rattled out over her bow roller, anchor set and snugged in for the night, it is dark, and our crew turn to appreciate the twinkling lights of the hotel, mirrored in the gently gurgling lagoon. Kia Ora in Maori means ‘Welcome’ and the significance of this is not lost on our two thirds Kiwi crew, it perhaps being the first indication that they are coming within some kind of mental reach of their native land. A surge of emotion rises, and she hears them blathering on once again to Anglo crew about all good things Kiwi – more banalities being thrown around than plates at a Greek wedding!
‘Nincompoops! you would think from the way they carry on, New Zealand is the only paradise on Earth!......this place comes close’, she reflects in her reverie, swaying on her chain.
The same palms they observed from afar earlier that afternoon can be dimly seen, placidly waving in the constant trade wind on the seaward side of the coral strip. The rattling palms, accompanied by thundering surf beyond and the breeze sighing through the casuarinas, create a symphony only to be dreamed of. And dream they do, our crew tucking early into their bunks, contentedly drifting off to the melodic song of the south seas, sloshing lagoon gently slapping against her hull - tomorrow will be another day, bringing further adventures.
Extract from the ebook ‘Voyage of the Little Ship ‘Tere Moana’ downloadable from my sailboat2adventure website website for Sailors
Vincent Bossley is a sailor and publisher living on the Northern Beaches in Sydney. He has his own website on www.sailboat2adventure.com for cruising sailors, sailors preparing for their lifetime sailing adventure, armchair sailors, virtual sailors and anyone who has ever dreamed of sailing off into the oceans of this beautiful planet of ours. He offers a package of extremely useful dollar saving tips that could save the voyager many hundreds of dollars and more, plus a FREE one hundred and thirty five page ebook download ‘Voyage of the Little Ship ‘Tere Moana’, of his sailing adventures in many of the exotic paradises around the globe. You can visit him anytime on www.sailboat2adventure.com
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