The Vagaries of Tuamotus Tides Or In Praise of Art

On board references used:

1.  Polynesia, Charlie’s Charts, 7th Ed

2.  The 2016 Tidal Guestimator, S/V Visions of Johanna

3.  Sailing Directions – Pacific Islands (Enroute), US Publication No 126, 2014

4.  Ocean Passages and Landfalls – Cruising Routes of the World, Imray, 2nd Ed

5.  The Pacific Crossing Guide, RCC Pilotage Foundation with the OCC, 2nd Ed

6.  South Pacific Anchorages, Warwick Clay, Imray, 2nd Ed

7.  The Tuamotus Compendium, S/V Soggy Paws

8.  Pacific Island Pilot Vol III, British Admiralty NP 62 ,9th Ed, 1969


This started as a quick bit of analysis for my own benefit after our entrance experience to Kauehi, listening to others talking about the difficulties of estimating slack around the atolls and the use of the Tidal Guestimator. It took on a life of its own. The more I read and looked up, the more I became sure that I wasn’t going to find how I could calculate a definitive answer. What I do now have is a far better understanding of why working out when slack tide is in the Tuamotus will always be an imperfect exercise, what the factors involved are and how I can get closest to an accurate answer. I know friends who sat scratching their heads for more than seven hours after what they thought would be slack water, watching the water rush out before finally being granted those elusive few minutes of quiet water to pass safely in to an atoll. I hope this missive will help them understand the circumstances that may have caused their delay and confusion. SH Sep 16.


All those that sail the coastal regions of the oceans are used to dealing with tides. Every few hours the tide turns and the sea runs in or out, generally by the rule of twelfths. Around the UK, we have wonderfully accurate tables and a full list of primary and secondary ports with nice graphs for tidal curves to work out what the tide will be doing to us at any particular moment in time. Our RYA test papers ask us to the minute when we will be able to cross the bar to enter harbour, which, with the accuracy of the data available to us, we can smugly do. Springs and neaps do complicate matters but our data deals with those.

There are a few tidal gates around the UK coast that we know that we have to hit if we want a quick and easy passage. Missing most of these gates will but inconvenience us a little, although those with West coast of Scotland experience might hold a stronger opinion!  I have found in conversations with other international cruisers that UK sailors are far less fearful of dealing with tidal problems, perhaps simply because we are exposed to more frequent and greater extremes than most. As prudent sailors, we are in the habit of looking at the tide tables before we leave harbour. But we can still be caught out. I remember fondly a trip with my father many years ago, delivering a boat to Ardfern, Scotland and ghosting along in very little wind,  being caught by the tide boiling past us just a few miles from our destination. I was astounded to feel the boat pirouette, completely out of our control, as the tidal front, whirlpools forming around us, grabbed us and spat us out. It was a salient lesson for a teenager on the power of the tide.

Here in the Pacific it is a bit different. For most of us sailing W in our crossing, the tide is of little interest. We look for current and any change to the normal Trade wind which will effect the wave pattern and size of seas we will experience. The current that runs most of the year E to W in a huge band S of the Equator can provide you with an excellent 0.5-2kts lift at times and this passes through the Tuamotus. 

Where tide is of interest is around the atolls, specifically when you are trying to enter or leave one. Each pass is a tidal gate. The best comparison I know of in UK waters is the pass at Cuan Sound on the West coast of Scotland where the tide flushes one way then reverses at high speed offering but a few minutes of slack for a slow moving yacht to transit, the rest of the tide being a white knuckled ride trying not to hit the Cleit Rock. The difference is the passes here are far more affected by wind and wave effects. 

After visiting our third atoll and listening to the daily dramas of others on the net, we are coming to the conclusion that working out when that elusive slack is going to happen involves at least as much art as science.

In its section on estimating slack water, Charlie’s Charts talks about using the NOAA tide charts then references another publication, Sailing Directions (Planning Guide), South Pacific Ocean (Appendix Atlas) that suggests that

“ the minimum current is most likely to occur one hour after Low tide and one hour after high tide as specified in the Tide Tables” but does not give a justification for this arbitrary fixed figure.  It also gives some other guidelines for individual passes, again in relation to a fixed time from a primary port. The other publications have the same problem. They want to give you guidance but are limited by the fact that any guidance they do give is likely to be inaccurate. So they stick to broad definitions which are worse than useless in my book as they give false confidence and cause confusion.

There are few primary ports here and the distance between where you are trying to work out your tides and where the primary is can run to hundreds of miles. The two closest to us at the moment are Rangiroa (160miles away) and Tahanea  (about 100 miles), neither exactly close. Not a problem, I hear you say. It should, if measurements have been taken over the years, simply be a case of adding or subtracting times to suit your atoll and Bob’s your uncle, there you have your slack times. Sadly not. It is not possible to be able to look at a tide table of an atoll and know exactly when slack is going to occur. The Tide Table is just the starting point.

A very popular tool, first released in 2011 and used by many cruisers here is called “The Tidal Guestimator”. Some go as far as to call it the “Confusimator” but I rather think that they have decided that slack calculations goes beyond art and into witchcraft. The Guestimator is an Excel spreadsheet that works out the slack tide timings based on a  +/- to the data from a single primary port, Rangiroa, one of the northern atolls and then adding in further corrections. Whilst it looks good, it is not a wholly accurate predictive tool as it requires you to guess/use art/estimate for one key bit of information which has a massive effect on the result you get out of it, hence its name. More on this later.

The big problem with the Tuamotos is that there are additional factors that can significantly alter the time of slack water or even negate it altogether. Although tides are small, rarely over one metre even at springs, the base outward current velocity at passes in periods of clear, still weather runs between 4 and 6kts, dependent on the atoll. With huge amounts of water racing in and out of the often narrow passes with reef tight either side, races, boils, standing waves and overfalls are common outside the short period of slack, meaning transit during slack remains preferable. However, the key statement that you must understand is that the outgoing current speed is effected by weather and can, at any point of the tide, be significantly higher a velocity than the incoming tidal stream.

The effect of weather is always considered when consulting UK tidal tables. Wind over tide is a major consideration – how I hate the Solent chop. In the Tuamotus, one must not presume to calculate using just the current weather. It must be considered for days previous to the time you wish to use a pass. Let us look at why.

Atolls mainly run SE to NW in attitude. Most atolls are made up of motus (the smaller islands making up the atoll’s edge) on the E side, where thousands of years of the normal Easterly Trade winds have deposited sand and spoil on the inside of the reef to form them. The protected W side is far more barren and most often consists simply of reef with a few small isolated motus only. The S and N ends of atolls will normally have some motus due to the wrap around effect of the seas but they will be small and usually have large gaps of reef segments only between them.

This means that if there has been a lot of wind with a S or W component then more sea than normal will break across the open reef, filling the lagoon up.

Some atolls (Makemo for instance) have few very long motus on its E side which gives wonderful protection to the lagoon. However, the greater the number of motus making up the E side of an atoll (Raroia has lots), the greater the number of gaps in between where the water can flood in over the reef. So, this suggests that a stronger than normal E wind (known as a reinforced Trade) would spill more water into some atolls too. This is unaccounted for in the guestimator calculations and I found a passing reference to it only, mainly to do with wrap around waves rather than anything directly from the E.

Once the water is in the lagoon, it needs to escape and most atolls have but one or two main passes where the water can escape from. Limited amounts of water will flow back out through the gaps between the motus or back over the reef.

Pressure will change matters too but for our cruising period and for most times of the year, the Tuamotus are blessed with near continual highs rolling E about a 1000 miles to the S which keeps pressure near constant. We will disregard this as I have no data to account for its effect.

The direction a pass faces is a factor. One that faces E, into the Trades, will always have a wind over tide effect during an outgoing flow, holding back and slowing the outward flow down. For a pass pointing W, then the opposite effect.

Then there is the size of the pass. The Makemo pass is 500m wide and 15m in depth. A good wide, deep channel allows more water to pass out of the lagoon. A small narrow one will have a limit on the water it can pass which also causes a delay to the slack. This is the Slack Delay Timing,  the least well defined figure in the Guestimator.

And lastly the size of the atoll and so the size of the capture area for water flowing in to the lagoon. The strongest of tidal races is at Hao, a very large atoll. Over 30 miles long it has a single pass facing N. With so much water coming into the lagoon thrown over the reef, the race can go well past 10kts on an outward flow. We were discouraged from going here as our first atoll due to the write up on Hao to be found in the US Sailing Directions, an excellent publication, which frankly worried me.

“ The rate of flow entering Passe Kaki can reach 3 knots at HW, when the water level in the lagoon is low. The outflow can exceed 12 knots, 6 hours after HW, when the water level in the lagoon is high. A S swell may lead to a phenomenon of water piling up in the lagoon, with result in large and sudden changes in water levels of up to 1.8m. A tidal race and overfalls may extend up to 0.8 mile seaward of the channel entrance.

South Pacific Anchorages goes one better claiming the current at Hao “can obtain 20kts”! I think this is a typo as no other publication supports this. Either way, scary.

So, the amount of water in the lagoon trying to escape via the pass at any point of tide is the sum of what the weather has dumped across the reef and the normal tide.  The more water there is in the lagoon, the greater the current strength and speed of the outgoing stream. This then effects a difference between calculated and actual slacks times. And if the lagoon is very high after a period of bad weather, you may find that the outward flow negates the incoming tide, meaning no slack period at all.

The Tidal Guestimator gives you a starting point to work from to estimate what the current flow will be. You have a base tidal stream velocity, of which each atoll is given its own value. This is between 4 and 6kts. The correction you need to make to this is called the Wind/Wave Current Factor.

The Guestimator provides the following additions to current outward stream velocities:

1. Add 1 kt for every day the wind has been blowing over 20 kts from a S or W component

2. Add 0.5 kt for every day the wind has been blowing over 15 kts from a S or W component

3. Add 0.5 kt for every 1/2 meter increment of southerly swell over 1.5 meters (ie 3 meter swell = +1.5 kt) 

4. Cap the Wind Wave factor at 1.5 times the Normal Max Current

5. Subtract 0.5 kt for wide/deep passes and for each extra pass that an atoll has

As the Guestimator has been published for several years, these numbers must have been worked upon and do seem roughly accurate. They have worked for us so far. Note – there is no addition here for a strong E wind, one of the identified factors above. I think, for a few atolls, it may be a necessary addition.

Whilst we found the slack delayed at Raroia and Makemo, neither by a significant amount to our calculations, our own experience in entering Kauehi proved to us that you do need to be aware of the vagaries that occur here and take advantage of what you see in front of you.

After delaying our departure at Makemo and getting a bit bumped around mid tide, I decided I would be a bit more careful entering Kauehi, where the normal tide is said to run to 4kts and to enter at the end of the incoming tide. The Tidal Guestimator, based on a simple time variation from the Rangiroa measuring station, gave me an initial high tide slack time of 0920hrs for 7 Sep 16.


I corrected it by adding in the Wind/Wave Factor, which we had guestimated to be 2kts and plugged the numbers into the spreadsheet. We had sailed here on the first day after a long period of reinforced Trades, blowing at 20-25kts from the SE. I decided to go back three days. That gave me two days of 20+ and one of 15+ and then I took 0.5kt off for the wide pass. Out spat the graph below. You can see two slacks in the morning, quite close together. The slack I needed with enough light to see to be safe is at 0815hrs.


Being prudent I had also looked at Charlie’s Charts for pass information, which then gave another direction for working out slack timings. 

“The current is slack 1.5hrs after low water in Tahanea, the closest tidal reference point”

Using the web site (the official French Maritime web site – an excellent resource as long as you have internet), this offset gave me an initial time of slack for Kauehi of around 1045hrs.  A difference of 1hr 25mins from the Guestimator.  A huge variation! And using a standard sinusoidal graph, then I should expect the same current going in as out? Some mistake, surely?

Unsure what time to plan to and of my estimate of the wind/wave factor, we decided to arrive early. By 0745hrs, we were sitting off the entrance to the atoll, expecting to see the water overfalls the pass is known for during an incoming tide and to have to wait a while before it became calm enough for an entrance. Lou and I both checked with the binos. Nothing. No standing waves on the outside either. Recheck – still nothing.

At 0800hrs, we decided to take a turn in and ran into the pass expecting the tide to make itself known. Absolutely zip.

We pushed through quickly with less than a knot of tide against us and flat water. So, according to what we experienced, the tide was outgoing but near slack, which we must have missed by less than 30mins. Our estimate of the wind/wave factor had been about right, (maybe a 0.5kt light) and we got the conditions we needed to get in safely. Just look at how little time the incoming tide was able to negate the outgoing flow. We probably should have gone straight  in to the pass rather than standing off and debating what we were seeing. 

Perhaps the Guestimator’s accuracy could be improved. Some thoughts:

1. The addition of properly researched Rangiroa offset times for each atoll,  to me a screaming omission.

2. The Tidal Slack Delay times, if it is said to be a constant (and for the islands with data against them, it is), should be a completed column too but this requires some hard data to be collected from cruisers or extracted from the SHOM web page.  It may (as suggested in the Guestimator instructions) be easier to leave this column blank and discount it. If left set to 00.00, it will mean you won’t miss the slack because of it as you will always guarantee yourself that you will be early. However, this addition, given in increments of 10 mins up to 1hr 30mins, suggest that this figure should be nailed down further.

3. Tighter instructions on the use and calculation of the crucial wind/wave factors, perhaps with advice on a cut off on the number of days you need to look back on. Three days seems to work for me but we have been here with reinforced Trades only rather than anything truly foul.

However, if we accept calculating the slack really is at least as much art as science, then the current formula, used properly, is probably already as good as you are likely to get.

In the meantime, Gram Schweikerk who took the time to make the Guestimator up, still has it updated annually with new tidal information and as the only free resource out there for this problem, he and his helpers must be thanked and praised for their efforts. I will continue to use it and now have a far greater understanding of how to get the best out of it. I will also be donating to his beer fund which thoughtfully comes as a link on the document.

We have come to the conclusion that you need to take all published information with a huge pinch of salt. If not wrong, it will certainly be inaccurate as it is most likely written for a set of generic weather conditions you are not in.

The Tidal Guestimator is of great use but you need to think hard about the data it asks for if you are going to use it properly and get any semblance of an accurate answer from it. It is not difficult but it does require you to engage the brain. For ourselves, we will continue to aim to be early outside the pass, preferably waiting for the end of an ingoing tide,  watching for the period where the sea calms and slack approaches. We will continue to base it on tidal data and our estimate at the wind/wave factor which I hope will only get more accurate as we gain more experience in the atolls. Sometimes we might even have to push the tide but we will understand the why and when it would be best to do so.

I could say that we will try to get better with our Scientific Wild Ass Guessing. I prefer to say we will practise art.


It is interesting to note that the US Sailing Directions, Ocean Passages and Landfalls, The Pacific Crossing Guide and South Pacific Anchorages all discuss using the times of moonrise and set as the basis to work out slack water. I have to admit I have not used this at all as there seems there is considerable confusion between publications on just how to work out your start points.

From the US Sailing Directions for Hao:

“To avoid a difficult passage through the reef, vessels should wait for the two periods of slack water associated with the flood current, which are short. Slacks usually occur about 4.5 hours and 2 hours before moon rise; and again 5 hours and 3 hours before moon set. When the tidal race slows or stops, the channel may be entered. Caution should be observed, as the information given above is for average conditions only. Current rates and the times or presence of slack waters may differ from those the vessel may experience.”

With considerable experience as a UK Army staff officer (don’t believe what they say about us – we even understand what Navy people write), I translated this to “ hold on to your pants ‘cause we don’t have a clue what you’ll find but it will be hairy!”

Ocean Passages and Landfalls states that for the Tuamotus:

Slack water will be 12 hours from moonrise or moon set.”

Then it states

Using the 12 hour moonrise/set system you may find that the time for slack water does not exactly coincide with the tide tables but it will be close”

Lastly The Pacific Crossing Guide states:

“…the tidal flow in the passes can be predicted from the time of the moons rising and setting. The full details are given in the BA Pacific Islands Pilot Vol III. Briefly, there is a slack water 5 hours after moonrise, followed by the inflow, and slack water again 4-4.5 hours before moonset when the flow reverses; 5 hours after moonset and 3 hours before moonrise, the pattern is repeated. However, tidal flow can be dependent on swell and wind, and it would be wise to back up calculation for any specific atoll with local knowledge”

Compare the three and there seems to be a significant difference in opinion. Ocean Passages and Landfalls I am discounting as it looks like it is using a overly simplistic model. The Pacific Crossing Guide and US Sailing Directions are close although the US Sailing Directions is detailed only for Hao rather than for all atolls and seems to me to already have a calculation incorporated to account for a Wave/Wind factor.

The Pacific Crossing Guide description appears to be the best and applicable to use throughout the atolls. Knowing that the RCC and OCC both have a strong tendency towards well researched competency, I’ll trust my initial tests against tide timing data to their timings. Bless the British Admiralty and the days Britannia Ruled the Waves! The Pilot referred to is a wonderful read on the history and discovery of the Pacific Islands and contains fascinating information on weather with 30 years of measurements for the stations it uses. Sadly, in terms of tidal information, it expands only slightly on the information contained in the RCC Guide. My copy is the 9th Ed from 1969. I’d be very interested to compare it to a newer digital age edition.

In the meantime, I will need to look at this technique a little closer before I use it and will make up a sheet to write down the simple calculations although it would be good to be able to talk about time in increments of less than 30mins. Of course, you need accurate moon data for your lat/long but I have this from the excellent app, Star Walk. The answer will still need to be adjusted for Wind and Wave, so just as it does using tide tables, I think art may come in to the completed solution too.

 The Vagories of Tuamotus TidesThe Vagories of Tides

Kauehi – The Isle of Buried Treasure

For those only interested in the “treasure”, then jump to the end. PS. You’ll need to read this anyway as there is a clue in the text. Ha!

For the rest of you……

“Ah, you’ll meet Yul Brynner. Give him our best wishes please”, said someone when I mentioned we were heading for Kauehi next on the morning Pan Pacific Magellan Net (8173Hz @ 0800Local). Utterly confused, I asked what on Earth they meant. It turned out that the head honcho and centre of the village hierarchy, the man that ran the shop and seemingly the driving force in the Kauehi community, bore a strong resemblance to the film star. Now we have met him, we concur. 

Having entered the lagoon with no issues, we headed straight for the village of Tearavero. According to the charts, the direct route across the lagoon is absolutely clear of bombies, a first for us in the atolls. Distrusting this information we kept a close lookout but saw nothing. The first coral we saw was a large reef about 0.5miles off the village itself.  I am not sure why but unlike every other motus, there are very few bombies within this atoll. Some strange dynamic, I’m sure.


We anchored 400m off just in front of the red post marking the end of the reef running out on the N side of the village, in about 25’ of water. We picked up and repositioned once to ensure we wouldn’t foul on one of the numerous coral heads. There are three anchorages here. The one we were in and then two others going N across two spurs of reef, each progressively more protected from SE winds, but further away from the small pier at the village. There is a French yacht parked here who got here and choose to stop three years ago. Gary, the owner, now runs a diving operation with one of the locals, using a rib to take customers to the pass to dive.

After the great bunch of kids and the relative civilisation of Makemo, Kauehi is sleepy hollow. The church bells ring at 0500hrs and then half an hour later to get people moving and presumably get things done before the sun is up. By 0900hrs, the place is a shabby ghost town, seemingly inhabited by land crabs and little else. The village kids have been packed up and sent off to school on one of the other islands. All that are left are the v smalls. You get the impression of life a bit more on the edge here with money not coming easily. Strangely there are no fishing boats working.

There is a Post Office and it has a Vinispot hotspot which occasionally works although the term hot isn’t very appropriate. The internet is dreadfully slow and we had difficulty getting mail downloaded, even using HTML. I resorted to HF radio/Pactor to get my weather.

We eventually went across to the shop and did indeed met Yul, otherwise known as Tiaihau, who was delighted to hear the messages I had for him from a couple of boats. The shop is not great but has the very basics and a large proportion of the goods are red label. There is little choice. Veg is restricted to potatoes and onions. We were surprised to see baguettes in one of the freezers but didn’t enquire on the price. He does stock beer and after a couple of weeks of abstinence, Lou and I enjoyed a bottle each to celebrate our arrival. He also stocks one of the dodgier whiskys I have seen, made with love and care in Tahiti…….


Anyone ever heard of it? I doubt it gets much of a following on the export market.

We stayed around the village for two days, just getting our bearings. On the basis that village festivities, planned for that weekend, had been put back a week, we decided to head to the southern anchorage that An and Ivan on Vagabound had expounded.


We had a pleasant two hour sail which went past one of the very few genuine islets to be found within an atoll. These days it is a pearl farm base and you need to be a little careful of the oyster strings that surround the it. Most of the floats are a few feet underwater so difficult to spot until you are nearly on top of them. Deeper keeled yachts might find it easier staying to its E as they move S. There are few strings between the islet and the atoll.

We reached the SE corner of the atoll and anchored in 12’ of water @ 15 57.550S 145 04.796W, just off a motus with a huge collection of fishing buoys decorating a tree by an old copra hut. Sadly these days Kauehi has very little copra industry. Termites have reached this atoll and coconuts don’t survive to dry out properly once they are on the ground which means most of the coconut groves on the uninhabited motus have been left to overgrow. Those coconuts that are collected around the village are stripped out still wet and the pulp is sent off to be made into a skin cream. Thankfully very few mosquitos have moved in to those groves left to themselves.

On our motus, someone had tried to keep the ground clear around the hut, probably for family outings down to its beautiful secluded beach. We left the coffee, sugar and milk power sitting on the dresser untouched but did borrow the plastic chairs and the head of a rake.  We found a sleeping platform 100m N of the hut. On the basis we intended to stay for a while and to help keep the place maintained we set up a fire to clear the ground spoil. There were piles of partially burnt logs and coconuts dotted around and we used the debris from those first before making inroads to the surrounding area too.  We had great fun doing the platform up, cutting new coconut fronds down to reroof it and build some side panels as well. Our weaving wasn’t up to much but it was enough to keep the wind out. The campsite also gained the sunshade tent and a hammock from ship’s stores.  The mosquito net that Kirsty left behind following her visit to Antigua also got an outing and made a very useful piece of equipment for the intrepid explorers.



The girls decided that the sleeping platform was too good to waste so announced they wished to sleep ashore. Dad went too for the first night but equipped with a handheld, an approaching full moon giving good light and with the embers of a fire each night to go to bed with, they had soon packed me back off to the boat. The motus was renamed Margaret Motus in honour of my parent’s new Border Terrier puppy, named Peggy, and that became their onshore call sign.  Having just read an very interesting article posted by Mike on Sasquatch, on US society’s ever more draconian views on child care and parental neglect, I am quite sure Lou and I would be quickly arrested for our disgraceful lack of parental supervision in allowing the kids out of our sight and care on the motus.  My folks, who left my brother and I on the Shiram Mor in the Outer Hebrides as kids, would be equally damned in today’s self-righteous and barmy society. Personally I see it as excellent personal development for them. Although the girls used the radio to keep in touch, they enjoyed the stories about David and I signalling to Mars.

There were a few night time visitors to the camp. The normal thousands of hermit crabs were joined by a tree rat and then a couple of nights later, we saw two or three brown rats.


Tree rats are interesting creatures. As you travel around French Polynesia, you will see tree trunks fitted with wide metal bands to stop the tree rats from climbing them and eating their way in to the coconuts, their staple diet. Their movement is very different from normal rats, being closer to jerboa hopping with big back legs rather than a rat scurrying. The one we followed around eventually climbed a tree to get away from us but was not put out by us following it for some minutes. The rats shot off as soon as we got a light on them.

We lost two tupperware box lids to the Tree Rat one night. It chewed the rim of both box lids, obviously using its coconut opening technique rather than just burrowing through as a rat would. The girls were not bothered by either type of visitor and happily ate the cake the tree rat failed to reach. They believed us when we told them they were the biggest, scariest monsters inhabiting the motus! We used an empty all metal milk powder can to stop unwelcome interest in the midnight snacks after that.

Over the week we stayed, the fire grew in stature to the point we were burning the main base bulb and trunk sections, 18” in diameter, from a tree that had been cut down. We cleared huge amounts of dead fronds and hundreds of coconuts. Palm oil burns well. Other than one morning when we needed to relight it, it burnt for six days. The only thing we missed were marshmallows, a complete failure on our part, as Eleanor announced she had seen some at the shop but hadn’t told us because she thought they would have been too expensive. We have obviously being going on about the simple life and using up boat stocks too much. We did make up the bread sticks ZigZag showed us how to do back in the Marquesas and these went down well. As an aside, we just got a message to say that Noah has finally decided to start walking. Well done, the wee man! We used some glow sticks that we had bought long go in Puerto Rico so the girls had great fun playing with those. 


We had some great snorkelling just off the campsite with good coral in no more than 10’ of very clear water. There were good varieties of Angel, Butterfly and Damsel fish and we were always joined by black tip sharks. We came across another shallow coral site a mile to the E of us, three motu up, which was worth swimming on too. H also found out what happens when she puts on my weight belt. Bouncing between bottom and surface to breath and trying to giggle at the same time is not necessarily a good idea!


The rest of the time was taken up with reading, feeding the fire, saving suicidal hermit crabs from the flames (a Hannah task), exploring the reef side of the motus and simply kicking back. We did look out for what was described as the site of an ancient village called Tuketuke which by local legend was in the SE corner of the atoll but we were unable to find it. I asked a couple of locals about it and I got the impression that no one is sure of exactly where it was. I rather think that the reef has taken it long ago.

The girls had great fun making coral and shell gardens from their finds on their beachcombing expeditions.  Hannah had a very long, convoluted story about the ‘fortune tree’ in her garden and the hermit crabs were particularly fond of Eleanor’s garden.


The night before we travelled back up to Tearavero, the weather blew up with gusts to 32kts which brought torrential rain. Both girls moved into the tent but survived the night no more than a little damp. Having packed up the camp and left it much clearer than we found it, we sailed back N, seeing only three bombies in the 8 miles run. We re-anchored off the village in time to join the delayed weekend festivities.

Night one involved chips (frites), dreadful background music (we felt the electronic Polynesian version of Gangnam Style was the highlight!), the disco run by Yul wearing a very grand coconut frond hat and a nearly 5 a side football match which ended up as a kick about rather than a match.  E and H had fun doing gymnastics, watched on by the local kids.

For day two and three, we had a petanque competition with first prize set as two chickens and two bags of rice. Lessor prizes included a bag of sugar.  My partner, Olivier, and I won our first match but came up short against the eventual runners up in the second round, losing 7-5 after a tight match. We didn’t disgrace ourselves and it was good fun. It was pretty competitive with 16 teams playing. The winners were an older couple who were scarily good.


With a decent weather window approaching and little to attract us around the village, we decided to head for Fakarava, 35 miles away to the W. We greatly enjoyed the SE corner of Kauehi and would thoroughly recommend it. The motus we were on gave us the wonderful feeling of being truly alone on our own desert island and the shallow snorkelling was excellent. One of the highlights of the Tuamotus so far.

I am of mixed feelings on the village. The anchorage is pretty, the people are nice enough but there is little to see, (normally) less to do and I didn’t see anything there to attract us in. I think we might have been a little spoilt by Makemo. If there had been kids here, perhaps it would feel different. But I doubt it.

We left on 20 Sep as the sky burned at dawn, one of the best sunrises we have seen in the Pacific. We sailed, well reefed, at 8kts with a 20+kt ENE wind across to the pass and were fired out under sail being helped by a 2-3kt current. A very satisfying way to sign off on Kauehi. 



Finally for those that come after us , the girls have left some “buried treasure” on the motus we camped at. Perhaps of interest to Oliver on So What, Hannah left some Pokémon cards. Please add to the stash and pass the word out to other boat kids. We might even go as far as getting the hide logged on to Geocache. I reckon it is exotically far enough away for it to be rarely visited.

Find the decorated tree with its orange and greens

Walk to the Sacrificial Table and look E along its edge to see the pathway

40 paces will take you to the crossing trees

Search for the black stone which has no right to be there

And look beneath!

Good luck

Makemo–pt 2

Ok, so we decided to stay. We were all ready to push off to Kaeuhi having finished the filial duties and been in comms with the old dears for their Golden Wedding Anniversary but then……. There was internet, it was great to be able to talk to families again,  Lou wanted to do some more booking of bits and pieces for New Zealand, the kids needed to do some serious school, Lou wanted to download more books for the kids to read and there was that internet thing……..

Typically, Skylark demanded some TLC as well. The large plate holding the taps on at the sinks disintegrated and with no hope of spares and the taps sitting loose, I fabricated from scratch a replacement. I was glad that the yard of aluminium plate I have carried for the last two years finally found a use as I cut a blank from it then shaped and cut it using my wonderful Dremel – a  bit of equipment that I would heartily suggest any long term sailor should carry. I am ever thankful that Robert from Almost There gifted his well stocked Dremel box to us in Puerto Rico when it was decided they were heading back to the USA. I’ve made jewellery, engraved Skylark’s name and number on items (including the dinghy), polished rudder posts, cut wood, metal, sharpened machete, shaped lots of bits and pieces and now some outright fabrication with it too. A marvellous bit of kit – as long as you have the right attachments! You need a small portable vice to use it properly –  $30 in Grenada.


Just to take advantage of our our weak will and help us justify our decision, along came the rubbish weather with 20+kts every day, little blue sky and lots of rain. Although we collected a lot of water for showers in our jugs, the daily temperature averaged low 80Fs and the night time temperatures fell as low as the 72F. We missed the sun.

In the end we stayed along side for another week with another three French boats that came in, waiting for decent weather as we were. Sadly they were not exactly hospitable types. We had great difficulty engaging any of them in meaningful conversation. The two boys on one of the boats went to play with the French doctor’s kids at the other end of the village. The local kids were a bit put out being made into pariahs too. None of the grown ups wanted to visit us either (“perhaps later….”), not a single invitation to come on board so in the end, I was less than impressed with our fellow pier guests. The most unfriendly and insular group of boaters we have come across. Just rude. Our kids ended up playing with an ever increasing number of local kids most afternoons after they had finished school, Skylark being a convenient jumping in spot with the added attraction of a kayak, and having great fun. I occasionally apologised loudly, insincerely smiling  to the glaring bloke on the boat next door about the noise the kids were making. Before anyone says anything, this was some days after we had tried and failed to get along. By this point, I was at the “stuff it” phase. I certainly wasn’t going to stop the kids’ fun.


Enough of the rant.

We explored more of the N side of the atoll and had a few long walks up towards the airport although we never managed to get to the airport itself, being five miles or so up the road. We also found another store a mile or so out of the main village, one that we hadn’t read anything about in any of the Guides or Compendium.  It is called “Bienvenue – Chez Tupana” and can be called on 980 333.  Two interesting facts about it for those that come after us


1. It sells fuel. Not cheap but diesel and petrol are available for those that really need it at $1.70 a l for petrol and $1.67 for diesel (Sep 16 prices). That works out to be about $6.70 a US Gal. I’m jealous of the 25c a US gallon price that Greg in Trinidad and Tobago on So What is paying at the moment. Fill up, mate! It doesn’t get any better than that!

2. Far more importantly, it sells Cadbury’s chocolate, plain, almond and fruit and nut, in big bars. Lou thought she had died and gone to heaven and I suspect at least one of her 500 days died a death because of it. The fact that they had stock allowed us to justify walking back up to the store a couple of times.

The atoll, being wonderfully flat and with perfect roads, was just the place for roller blades and scooters. Lou and I occasionally got to have fun with them but it was on sufferance and never for long! I did find out that it was impossible to carry baguettes in our made to measure waterproof bag whilst riding a scooter, much to the amusement of a couple of good natured laughing locals who, having seen me whizz past on the way there, watched me slowly walking back carrying the scooter in one hand and the baguettes in the other.


Well outside the village on one of our walks, we were chased down by one of the wee girls who had taken us under her wing. She needed to make sure that we were back in time for a outdoor cinema that she excitedly told us would be held down by the pier that night. Cakes and ice creams would be for sale. She had decided early on that Lou’s French was good enough to follow her conversation so she talked at us in great long speeches. We couldn’t quite understand the references to a “discoteque”, but later worked it out that night after the kids came back having watched one of the Ice Age films in French to tell us about an second film for the adults, set in a disco. “They were wearing very short skirts and it had noisy music so we didn’t want to stay….” Oh, how that sentiment will change all too soon.


On the way up to the store, there is a narrow cut that has been made into a small boats mooring field. You cross it by bridge and we watched as some of the local kids had a swimming lesson in its beautifully sheltered water.  Not a bad “baby pool”.  Every time we passed it, there were kids playing there, jumping off the bridge or just cooling off, chatting whilst sitting in the shallows.


There finally seemed to be a couple of days gap in the weather and on the 6th Sep, we headed out having had one last stop at the excellent boulangerie. With about 100 miles to get to our next pass at Kaeuhi, we left having waited for bread, at 0930hrs on a falling tide, two hours after high slack. Perhaps not the best of choices. With wind over tide we had fairly significant standing waves as we exited and I was thankful we are a cat with an engine on both hulls giving us far more manoeuvrability than a monohull has. We got thumped with side waves and big eddies tried to spin us, requiring some fast work on the wheel and throttle variation. It wasn’t particularly bad (we had much worse coming out of Farmers Cay in the Bahamas) and was over in a couple of minutes as we got flushed out at over 10kts but for peace of mind, I think we will try closer to slack in the future.  The race continued about half a mile out from the pass but we turned out of it quickly and were soon in normal seas again. With the wind on our stern, 20kts blowing and with 1.5m waves, we set jib only, running WNW to clear the NE corner of the atoll.

It was an easy sail and we slowed down with a couple of turns in the jib during the night. Dawn saw us 10 miles short of the Kaeuhi pass at the SW corner of the island.