Tag Archives: Raroia

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 SHOM.fr 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


We left Raroia for the 80 mile overnight trip, hitting slack water perfectly at about 1130hrs. Just as we left the pass, we had an unusual visitor. A big dolphin, swimming upside down started to rub itself on the  port bow in an attempt to get rid of two Remora that were determined but obviously unwelcome visitors. It stayed with us for five minutes twisting, turning and bumping. The Remoras simply slipped position whenever it tried to hit them on the hull and as we were obviously no use as a scratching post, it moved off.


After two weeks of flat atoll water, it felt strange to have a sea running again, even the 1m swell we had. As we turned SW on course a front meandered pass and our chance of a simple sail disappeared. 13kts of wind from the E and 4kts boat speed lasted all of 15 minutes. The wind dropped to 5 then 3 then 2kts. We threw the parasail up for an hour and managed a whole 0.8kts SOG before giving in and switching on an engine as the wind moved into the W very briefly then S. It took three hours to flick back E but once it did the main and jib went back up for the ungenerous 8kts we got. We had a slow night but in the end we timed in pretty well. I was surprised to see a lighthouse guiding us in towards the entrance, the first one we have seen in a long time. I think the last one we saw marked the southern point of Haiti and DR. We spotted it at a range of 20 miles as we came around the southern end of Taenga. We arrived at the SE pass of Makemo at slack water but waited an hour for some proper light and were carried in by a current of around 4kts. There were a few standing waves as we went past the large, white painted but unlit leading marks, but nothing worrisome.

We decided to use the excellent village pier which is free to use and initially tied up where the ferry would come in before moving to a med style mooring further in as the onshore wind increased. A Swedish catamaran, Alexander,  choose to anchor behind the pier and had a very nervous night as the SSE wind picked up to 30kts in gusts with just 30m of water behind them before they would be on the reef. They all looked tired when we met them ashore in the morning having had to do a double anchor watch. I slept beautifully.

ZigZag joined us the next morning. They had spent the extra day in Raroia trying to fix their watermaker. Sadly the patch Georg had tried couldn’t take the pressure and it had burst again. Their only solution is to buy a new pressure vessel which they think they should be able to get in NZ. We parked up together. With the wind howling and our wind generator trying to take off, there was no problem with power and our watermaker went on for some long runs to get them filled up as much as we could. To save us the heavy lifting,  we organised our own “ferry” to take water containers back and forward. It worked well!Makemo

We waited three days for the reinforced trades to depart, safely tied on to one of the best piers we have seen, sitting in crystal clear water with lots of fish around. The water is a little colder here and it may be that reason that the reef seems far healthier than those we have seen so far. It was a bit like swimming in a fish tank. Georg and I both had a quick go at ridding ourselves of some growth on the hulls. Skylark was pleasantly clear with just a few barnacles on the rudders. The hulls have a little slime on them – nothing to worry about – although the primer is showing through the antifouling in a lot of places.  I hoped it would last a little more than 6500Nm which is mileage we have done since we left Grenada nine months ago. Next time around, I’ll choose a hard paint or even better, an epoxy coppercoat……..


The girls had a great time rollerblading around, swimming and playing with the local kids, both Polynesian and French, the sons and daughters of the atoll’s doctor and nurse, newly arrived on the island for a two year posting. There was time for baking with licking the bowl out, as always, being one of the more popular activities.

Makemo Makemo  Makemo

The main village of the island is Pouheva, on the N side of the pass. It has a population of less than 300 which jumps to over 400 during school term times as it hosts the main school for the surrounding islands and the kids board. By size and population, it is one of the biggest atolls and it is used as one of the central hubs within the islands, Hao, Gambier, Rangiroa and Fakarava being the others. It is one of the few islands in the Tuamotus with a doctor appointed to it who is there to cover for the school and the surrounding islands as well.

We have been surprised and pleased at the shopping here. There is a proper boulangerie (bread available from 0900hrs on a Mon and Fri, 0530hrs the rest of the week including 0530-0700 on Sun) and a large shop which is an Uig size store, about half the size of the big Marquesas ones but very proud of the three shopping trolleys stored by the door. Both are reasonably stocked and have the normal range of red label goods. We even found green peppers and a cauliflower in the store and the boat hasn’t been here for nearly two weeks! They are close together at the W end of the village and are about a 10 minute walk from the pier. The big store has a restaurant beside it with a menu of fish and steak. There are another two shops, one right by the pier which has a far smaller stock and offers an expensive laundry service, and “Chez Flo”, opposite the church which has even less but which does have a small kitchen dinner and does single recipe dinners for 1000XFP a head. Although it is popular with the locals, we didn’t try it.


The village has a bit of money in it, copra being the mainstay industry but with a couple of fledgling pearl farms and I suspect, excellent French subsidies. All the garden walls are painted purple and white, houses are in good nick, there are solar powered streetlights throughout the village and people appear busy. They are also very friendly with everyone passing giving a “Bonjour” and a smile. Their friendly nature and willingness to interact made me think of the people at Spanish Wells in the Bahamas. There are a few cars on the very flat concrete roads but most people use bikes or tricycles to get around. Mia fitted in well with her little balance bike and attracted a few smiles. The speed limit is a whole 15kph – which of course gives everyone the chance to be sociable as they drive on by. The only down side is that all the dogs here seem to be big mastiff/pitbull crosses which are a little off putting.


We stayed one extra day to see a church procession walked around the village. The town boasts the largest church we have seen in French Polynesia and in some of the guide books, it is talked about as a cathedral. It is certainly impressive and as always in the islands, with religion taken seriously here, the church is a focal point for the locals. Georg and Irene, both of whom describe themselves as lapsed Catholics, were interested to watch a ceremony that both had been part of as kids back in Germany. Even though the service was all in Polynesian, Georg was able to tell us the individual prayers at each of the six procession stops around the village.


Having coped with the excitement of the procession and had a good explore of the village, we finished the day with sundowners and crisps by the lighthouse before moving back for dinner aboard ZigZag.


After loading up with bread and milk, we headed down to the SE corner of the atoll. Once you get within a couple of miles of the end of the atoll, the number of small bombies increases to the point I felt we were slaloming around them. You need to keep the speed down, go in the late morning to get best light and have a very good look out. Most would not be dangerous to us with our 1.2m draft but the odd one would have stopped us cold.  We anchored in 20’ at 16 23.42S 143 23.64W and buoyed the anchor for the first time. We had to change the floats around to get the chain off the ground and I think we will need more buoyancy on the first float going forward. However, our first night had us turning as a front went over us and we woke unwrapped and pleased with ourselves. We made sure that we kept a good look out on the anchor, checking it daily to ensure a good hold and that we were doing no damage to any coral as we swung.


ZigZag’s luck continued to be rotten. On the way down to our new anchorage, their auto pilot and anemometer both decided to roll over and die. Georg and I had a morning of taking the autopilot apart, checking connections and we had Eleanor up the mast cutting some fishing line inexplicably caught around the spinner. Although we got wind measurements back, the autopilot failed to spark. Raymarine 6001+ spare anyone? Their saving grace is that they have a windvane steering system so they will survive as long as there is wind. We managed a few days exploring the motu we were anchored off, playing in the shallow warm water behind the reef. The girls enjoyed more babysitting duties, looking after the smalls.

We were visited a couple of times by pie eyed locals down maintaining the coconut groves and drinking homemade coconut hooch, presenting us with fresh coconuts each time. We reciprocated with some yogurt cakes that we dropped off with them.  Copra is still the major source of income here and the undergrowth in the groves is cleared out to maximise the trees output. It also means very few bugs which means a beach day is a very pleasant affair.



With the wind scheduled to increase and their need to move on quicker than us, ZigZag left us on the day of the full moon to run up to Kaeuhi. They will spend a few days there before jumping down to Tahiti, hopefully to pick up new equipment to replace what is broken. They left with full water tanks after a final water run and a breakfast on ZigZag to say goodbye. A big thank you to Irene for forward planning a big can of Heinz Baked Beans for us to enjoy, some of the stock she put on nearly two years ago in Germany. Wonderful foresight!  There were a few tears from the girls. They have enjoyed having Mia to play with and the chance to haul out lots of Barbies, something they haven’t done for a while. Hannah gave Mia her Princess pink fishing rod and we hope that it will have been a success by the next time we see her.

We will be sorry to miss Noah’s first birthday at the end of the month but we enjoyed watching his first steps outside the Mayor’s office in the village. By the time we next see ZigZag, in NZ in November, he will be truly off and running. I’ll also be missing Noah shouting across to Skylark, wanting a conversation with us each morning. It was always a good excuse to go across and enjoy a cup of coffee. And yes, the water is that colour here before I get accused of photo-shopping!


We had a few more days of strong wind and we were glad to be behind the reef as it looked distinctly unpleasant outside. The underlying swell in this part of the Pacific seems to be about 1.5-1.8m in height. Reinforced trades when a front comes through (20-25kts rather the normal 12-18kts) will quickly build that and this was about 3m. The most we have seen inside an atoll was a short 1m sea on a long fetch from the W which lasted an hour. Most of the time it is less than 15cm. What we have noticed is with the constant trade wind having a southerly component, whistling up from the Southern Ocean, the air temperature feels far colder than in the Marquesas. Our jug showers are done out of the wind, we have moved inside for our evening meal and bedtime includes PJs and blankets again. Of course, the temperature doesn’t drop below about 78F but it is all relative. Out of the breeze the sun is as warm as ever, somewhere in the low to mid 90Fs.

Makemo - credit to ZigZag

The snorkelling at the SE corner of the atoll has been excellent – some of the best we have had. We have stuck to the warm shallows and have finally managed to find areas that aren’t completely covered with young Sea Cucumbers which makes the bottom look as if it is covered with small turds. We have spotted some gorgeous fish. The list of new ones we have seen is impressive and it feels like the Bahamas again. There we were amazed at the number of new fish we saw each time we went into the water. It is even better here. Just today’s list included Exquisite Wrasse, an Achilles Tang,  Blue Damsel, Neon Damsel,  Pale Tail Chromis and a couple that we are still working at identifying. The number of Giant Clams and amount of hard coral types around has been impressive too.


We have also been joined by some juvenile sharks in the shallows and adults around the bombies in the deeper water around the boat. Sleek and efficient, Hannah doesn’t like them much as they wander in for a look before gracefully disappearing back out of sight. We still haven’t seen anything other than Black Tips. Lou’s and the girl’s legs are in the background. The sharks don’t come any closer than about 3m.


After my birthday on the 23rd (Shona will be pleased to know that although a tube of Smarties didn’t materialise, mush and a BIG can of beans did!) and a last long walk along the edge of the reef, we moved back up to Pouheva to allow us to get some internet and contact with home. Although we are on the other side of the world, we were able to dial in to talk to my parents before their Golden Wedding anniversary party. Although we were sad not to be there to celebrate the momentous day, it was great to catch up with them and Emily. The invitation to family, hopefully passed on by Dad, stands for those that want to visit the exotic Pacific and see places the tourists will never find. Remember we will only be here for a little time next year before we head home. Send us a mail and we will tell you where we will be.

There has been a certain amount of grooming going on. My hair poses no problems these days; No2 all over, minimal effort and quickly done. Lou’s on the other hand, has been suffering as there are no other women to trust with the scissors. Her proper last hair do was by Jennie from So What, so long ago in Saint Martin. In the end, Hannah got to attack the back and take a bit off and then I got to do some styling with the clippers. Lou seems pleased with both our attempts but then she can’t see the back since the girls broke the one hand mirror we had on board!


We stayed at Pouheva for another few days as we realised that if we wanted to be organised for New Zealand, we had to start planning ahead. Both girls need new passports and so internet applications were made out. We still need to send in new photographs and finding somewhere to take correct ones may be difficult.  My new driving licence has been ordered. I don’t think Lou has any wish to drive all the time in NZ and fixed that without me even asking for it. We are also looking at doing some volunteer work, staying with a family outside Auckland and working on a farm. Something different!

We found that in our absence, hiding down in the SE corner of the atoll, civilisation in the shape of a brand new ATM had arrived and been installed by the Post Office. This is a very big deal as it makes it one of few atolls (we think three or maybe four, spread over the whole of the Tuamotus) to have one. It will be a point in their favour in attracting more of next year’s boats travelling through looking to replenish funds.

As we have readied ourselves to move on, we have been having fun with all the fish surrounding us back on dock. Drop a few crumbs of bread and you end up with schools of fish appearing. Every time I see one of these unicorn fish, I have flash backs but can’t make up my mind if they are from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life or one of the weirder Beatles videos. Someone put me right please!

Makemo  Makemo

We have loved Makemo and the mix that this atoll offers. The people of the village are happy and welcoming, our ability to reprovision with more than just the very basics was a pleasant surprise and the solitude offered in the SE corner of the atoll is glorious. And the water, crystal.

Simply beautiful.


I read an article on Lou’s Ipad by Roy Starkey, a long term cruiser now living at Hog Island, Grenada who for the last 36 years has cruised the world three times round in search of Utopia (see www. yachtingmonthly.com, Feb 16). He complains about the changes he has seen over this time and even takes a swipe at the Hitchcock’s way of life, when he met them back in the 70’s. He argues that the Tuamotus is the one place left where Utopia exists mainly because…… “ there is nothing there. Nothing to develop. Even the locals have gone away, chasing the western dream. It is the one place left where you can truly find peace and quiet”.

Sounds wonderful. I wonder then why he has chosen to settle in Hog Island, in my opinion a God awful place, over crowded and smellier than most anchorages in the Caribbean.

Hey ho. Our arrival at our first atoll in the Tuamotus gives us the opportunity to make our own assessment. Raroia is about halfway down the Tuamotus group and is one of the most easterly atolls in the northern group. It has a population of less than 40, mainly in one village on the W side of the atoll with six living at the pearl farm on the E side. It is about 15 miles long and 5 miles wide. One thing we immediately noticed was how cool the nights were. The 400miles S we have come have been enough to drop the night time temperatures to about 80F and we needed to break out the blanket for the first couple of nights until we were used to it again. Daytime temperatures are in the low to mid 90s but fresh due to the constant breeze –  really very pleasant.

The first couple of days were windy and cloudy as the front that gave us all the wind in the last day of passage down here went through. The shoreline in front of us had hundreds of downed coconuts floating in the flat sheltered water, all blown down by the wind that went through. I don’t think it went above 35kts but it is the first strong wind the island had had for a while.

We used the time to fix a few small boat issues, catch our breathe and restart school. We visited some of the closer motus and found some floats used by the pearl farming industry, washed up on the outside of the reef. We decided that we would donate them to the pearl farm in the hope they might be nice back. It didn’t work. I now wish I had kept more than one of them. More on this later.

Our anchorage at 16 06.16S  142 22.70W is glorious and one of the most picturesque we have been in. Sadly the motu in front of us, with all the shelter provided by the coconut trees, has spiders (my ladies are wusses – imagine the squeals), mosquitoes and no-see-ums so it isn’t quite paradise but there is lots of shallow water which, when the weather permits, is wonderfully clear. The snorkelling is ok and we have been conducting swimming lessons – finally getting Hannah to do proper breaststroke, rather than her own particular version of it. For snorkelling, we have been exploring the bombies S of us. The list of new fish has been exciting Eleanor and the “Reef Fish Identification – Tropical Pacific” book by New World Publications has been getting a hammering.  My favourite one so far is the wonderfully named Humbug Dascyllus – think of a clownfish but in black and white – although the 18” baby Peppered Moray Eel that panicked and tried to hide under my foot takes a close second!  It is also been nice to have a resident team of Sharksuckers (similar to Remora but bigger) beneath the boat again, the first we have seen since the Bahamas.


The anchorage is by the largest motu on the E side of the atoll. Most other motus have far fewer trees or bushes and more wind, eliminating the bugs. They are on average 400-500m from outer reef to bay with the motus never more than 250m of that depth. The rest is made up of old coral reef, brutally sharp, with narrow gullies between each motu with water running into the bay at a good rate from over the reef. The fastest current we have seen was about 8kts. The sand on all of them is a vivid orange. Who needs “posh” pink sand? This stuff is amazing. Ginger sand!!


A couple of motus down, we came across a small nesting colony of terns. There were two types, as alike as chalk and cheese but happy to be around each other. They obviously hadn’t seen man often as they weren’t bothered by us walking past quite close.  Whilst we have a great collection of reference books on board, one we are sadly lacking is a bird identification book. We may have to try and rectify this when we hit civilisation again.  However, two birds that I was amazed to recognise by sight and their calls were some form of Curlew and Peewits, both of which are here in some numbers. I will be interested in looking at the migration patterns for both birds to see how the W coast of Scotland and French Polynesia fit in to their schedule!

Nesting terns - A chick in the nest and an adult  P1040776

One aspect of coral sand I “knew” but hadn’t really appreciated, is just how viciously sharp it is. There are few areas of truly soft sand. Most beaches have small lumps of broken coral mixed in. After our first foray ashore, we quickly decided that we need to wear shoes all the time.  Crocs, as I found, are just too soft and neither protected my feet adequately nor will they last long against the extraordinary roughness of old coral. A word to the wise. The locals here mainly use a clear plastic sandal, the same shoe we saw used in the Marquesas and sold in every store for about $20 a pair. I’m not sure how long they actually last but the French sailors who have been here a while almost uniformly use them. I think we might invest in a pair of these each, just to protect the decent shoes we have. My old beach shoes lasted just one visit ashore before falling apart, the sole ripped from standing on something terminally sharp.

 A typical cut between motus. Note the sharp coral - evil stuffAttempted arty shot

We also looked at how to ensure we protected the dinghy too. It isn’t as much as new procedures as absolutely enforcing the rules we used before. I have no wish for punctures so getting in the dinghy involves a sanitising of all coral sand from body and shoes before people are allowed in. The dinghy is always anchored off and not allowed to touch bottom. The engine is always lifted to protect the prop from coral lumps once we get to wading range of shore. We swim or wade ashore.  I’m also very glad that I put 6’ of chain onto my dinghy anchor. I don’t think rope alone would last long. I wash out the dinghy daily to catch any last piece of sand we may have missed.

Our visit to the Pearl Farm was interesting. We saw the oysters being prepared with plastic ball inserts and an irritant to stimulate the growth and the girls got to wear a lot of moneys worth of pearls. They wanted $800 for the necklace which I think would be pretty good value but not quite what we were looking for.  The technical work is being carried out by a couple of Chinese, the labour is locals and the management is from New Caledonia. Although a bit difficult to see and much to the amazement and amusement of the girls, the lady behind Hannah has her eyebrows tattooed on!

The pearls here come in two sizes. The ones around Hannah’s wrist are one year pearls and each are the size of a large pea. The necklace is made of two year pearls. Two year pearls are simply one year pearls reinserted to a second oyster and allowed another year to grow. We came away with some fresh oyster shells. I’ve already had a go with the Dremel and my first effort in jewellery actually came out looking pretty good, well enough that the girls argued over it. I need a bit more practise before I make my fortune in it.


The differences in the sea and inland side of the motus are marked. The bay side is what you would expect of an island paradise. Beautiful sand, clear, flat water and idyllic tropical islands in abundance. The seaward side looks like a moonscape. Rough smashed up old coral in a flat plain extending hundreds of metres towards the sea and extending right round the atoll. We have been surprised and pleased how little litter and rubbish we have found washed up. The odd fishing float (returned to the pearl farm), one lot of fishing line (removed after some effort) and the occasional plastic bottle but that is about it. We also found a whale’s skull. What type, other than a baleen, we don’t know but it looked like a youngster’s by the size of it.


A whale's skull

The weather since we arrived has been variable to say the least. A near gale to arrive to, lots of rain, lots more wind and generally overcast. It is obvious that the Easterly trades aren’t always the “established” weather pattern as they are a little further N in the Marquesas. We have had all points of wind including, for a surprising six hours, from the W before clocking v quickly back through S to ESE. As our forecast grib has a six hour snapshot, we missed the fact it was coming. The saving grace was the wind was weak and never went above 12kts. At 0200hrs with no moon and no ambient light, we ended up in 4’ of water and had me sweating a bit about two small lumps of coral just on the edge of our swing room. Our draft is 3’ 2”. Note – front here mean front and you will see the wind clock right around the compass as one goes through. That is very different to everywhere else in the Pacific we have been to so far where a wave may through the wind out by 30-45degrees and strengthen but little else until the trades reestablish themselves.  I got away with it this time but have learnt my lesson. Make sure you get a 3hr grib forecast if there is a front coming through and expect a clocking wind. I think I’ll also need to be more conservative on my anchoring sites or be prepared to move well before a change in the weather arrives. It really calls for the Georgetown Shuffle (Bahama sailors will know what I mean) but here movement is limited because of the dangers of bombies.  The other item of note is that whilst you have the ability to find good sand patches on the E side of atolls, sand blown over the reef and deposited by the sea, on the W side of atolls you will invariably be anchoring on coral.

Whilst we did not need to do it this time around, the buoying of your anchor is good habit to get into here. By buoying I mean, putting buoys along your anchor chain to lift the chain from the bottom to allow it to swing 10’ above the bottom, generally above the height of the coral lumps to save you getting wrapped. The technique is discussed in the Tuamotus Compendium which I strongly recommend you take a look at. I have borrowed a picture as they have done from Sail Magazine.


Our new French friends, Luc and Jeanette on FANO, having lived here in FP for six years, do it as a matter of course,  always have two floats out and thoroughly recommended the practise. They only very rarely wrap and even then it is normally the first 20-30’ of chain rather than anything more serious. In a typical 35-45’ anchorage, the first buoy is attached around 10-15m from the anchor which allows the chain to lie at the correct angle. The second float is half way between that 1st float and the boat. I made up one float, hand sewing a carbineer and webbing strap on to the base attachment of the float. Having given away all the floats we found when we first arrived, we need to do some more beach coaming to make ourselves a second.   


We attempted to jump up to the Kon Tiki anchorage early in our stay but quickly decided to move back S and wait until the wind moved back into the E. There was just too much swell developed in wind with a Northerly component. On our second attempt, we anchored at 16 03.84S 142 21.70W on sand in 45’ of water with 20kts from the E and no swell.  It was nice to hear the wind generator working again after the shelter of our first anchorage. Absolutely no requirement for the generator at this site.

On anchor. Dawn over the Kon Tiki motu

We had a three days exploring the Kon Tiki site and the reef either side of where the raft came ashore after its long trip in 1947. It hit the atoll as the strong westerly current here and trade winds were too much for a raft that had no pointing ability. They simply couldn’t steer the raft well enough to go around the atoll. There is no marker to show where the raft hit on the reef itself – it wouldn’t last long  – but there is a small marker in the middle of the motu 200m E of the anchorage erected in 2007, the 60th anniversary of the voyage. 

P1040785   P1040795

It is amazing to think that nearly 70 years ago a small group led by Thor Heyendahl decided to sail across the Pacific to prove his idea that Polynesia could have been populated from S America. Although most of the ideas that he expounded have been proven wrong since, his endeavour and sheer guts to do as he did with his team still takes the breathe away. 4000+miles on a raft able only to sail downwind and at a slow walking pace. It is a staggering achievement. We cruisers worry about being able to do it now, helped by all our technology. Imagine what it would be like setting out on an unproven reed raft with the limit of technology available being a sextant with the breadth of the Pacific to go. I’m reminded of the James Hunt interview (a world champion F1 racing driver in the 70s) by Stirling Moss when he was asked how he did what he did so well. His answer – “Big balls” – stands as one of the most accurate and succinct answers I have ever heard. I think you could apply the answer equally well to the Kon Tiki crew. Oh and add in a bit of crazy as well……

The motu is home to number of female Frigate birds and a flock of terns who kept us under close supervision as we visited the memorial.

 P1040798Skylark and tender parked off Kon Tiki Motu.

The channels in between  motus are vibrant with life. In the channels with less current, you will see hundreds of Sea Cucumber (Eleanor’s description – things that look like lumps of poo) and large schools of juvenile fish feeding in the protected shallows. They are a nursery for a variety of Moray eels too. We have seen baby Giant and Peppered Moray eels, none more than 2’ long, swimming quickly from rock to rock and sometimes getting confused what my large blue crocs were. At the entrances to the channels, just as the water gets deeper, you will also see juvenile (3-4’) black tips sharks, playing in the warm shallows. Some came to investigate us as we were crossing between two sand bars, quickly scooting off once they realised we were uninteresting.

GOPR3157-0002 (3)

I have tried again to take photos of the superb night skies here. Sunset here is about 1730hrs and it is pitch black by 1800hrs. With a quickly setting waxing moon and clear skies, I thought I wouldn’t get a better chance to take some good photos of the Milky Way that blazes above us every night. Although I have tried on several nights, I have come way disappointed. It seems our camera just isn’t up to it, even experimenting with 15 and 30 second exposure times. We need a camera with a bigger aperture, something of a SLR size, I think.

We have Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn all visible at the moment. We watched whilst the Moon slowly occluded Jupiter the other night and there are shooting stars and satellites aplenty. And the Southern Cross sitting alone in its dark patch at the S end of the Milky Way. Just beautiful.  Memories for me but nothing to show you. Sorry. 

Just before we left we unexpectedly met up with our friends Irene, Georg, Mia and Noah from ZigZag, last seen in the Marquesas, which led us to stay an extra few days. After our initial catch up over coffee and mayonnaise cake (a new and very good recipe Lou has found – see that new section of the blog site),  they moved up to our more sheltered anchorage. They had a major problem in that their watermaker high pressure container had cracked and they were down to their last 20l of water as the entered the atoll. We gave them some of the left over epoxy we had from fixing the rudder at Hiva Oa and it took a day to get a few layers built up. The watermaker hasn’t been on yet as Georg wants to give it a decent time to cure before he starts putting pressure in it.  In the meantime, we ran our watermaker were able to give them some water in jugs to load them up. It allowed them stay and enjoy Raroia for a few days rather than just rushing through to Makemo where they should be able to fill up at the pier, one of the few places you can in the Tuamotus.

We had a last day on the beach letting the kids eat sand and have fun. Georg and I tried to catch some coconut crabs by baiting an area with split coconuts but all we attracted were hundreds of hermit crabs. We also went for a night stroll equipped with big torches to wade at the edge of the reef to see if we could find any lobster. Another abject failure but we did see a Napoleon Snake Eel which buries itself in sand and only comes out at night which softened the blow to the egos. Our last night BBQ ended up with the traditional burgers and sausages.

Georg and Mia on the kayak with their propellor, HannahNoah still nearly walking!

As a first atoll and introduction to the Tuamotos, Raroia has been great. With very few yachts and almost no locals, the place is a quiet as a grave and as pretty as a picture. What is Utopia, I wonder? Everyone will have their own definition. If solitude, unspoilt natural beauty and fantastic anchorages are key ingredients, then I can see why Ray still thinks Utopia can be found here. For us? It is beautiful and we are loving it but we need to see some more atolls to establish our definition before we make judgement.

Onward to Makemo.

Skylark at rest at Raroia