Yellow Fin Tuna

Wicked Passage: Tuamotus to Marquesas

Best laid plans change.  Sugar Shack, along with our friends on Maple, had planned on leaving Makemo for the 5-day passage on 3 November.  We checked several weather reports, routing apps, and guestimator for the slack tide at Makemo.  We were all set and excited to make our way to a new archipelago.  Little did we know that a wicked passage was in our future.

Before we left, I attended the local church service on the morning of our departure.  It was a lovely, old, wooden church with high arching wood slat ceiling.  They had several sea shell chandeliers that added to the ambiance as the breeze rustled through them.  The most amazing thing was the choir which had voices like angels.  I did not understand a single word of the sermon, but felt the presence of God and community.

Church on Makemo Atoll

Church on Makemo Atoll

Leaving the Makemo’s East Pass:

Matt and Daryl (Maple) had been out to the pass several times this morning to check the pass.  We were confident that a 10a departure out of the pass would give us an easy exit.  

$hit happens and weather changes.  A squall rolled in right at the time we needed to raise our anchor.  Both boats decided to wait until the storm passed so as not to encounter strong winds and current out the pass.  At 11a we raised our anchor and motored to the pass.  We did not actually get to the pass until 1145 and everything had changed.  Now, we had 3 kts of wind pushing the boat out and sideways.   It was a wicked pass and one that we hope we don’t ever have to repeat.

Enormous waves were crushing over and down on our bow causing the boat to hobby horse.  It was extremely scary and nerve racking but we made it safely.  Our friends on Maple had a much more difficult time as they have a smaller boat with smaller engines.  It was incredibly difficult to watch them pitch pole every which way.  One time a rogue wave caught their hull and they actually flew a hull like a race boat.  Terrifying, but they too got out safely.  Albeit, with more gray hairs.

Passage Making:

After we got through the weather system, we found the wind at 20kts and were sailing along nicely with 8-9kts of boat speed.  That’s really fast for us and we loved it.  Unfortunately, we left Maple behind and lost sight of them within the first 3 hours.

Starting on a tack at 071 degrees, we had a choice to make.  Go on the east or west side of Rarioia.  We preferred to go on the east side as it is shorter, but might not give us the angle we want with the current wind direction.  The weather models had 2 of them going east and 2 going west.  The west models added 30nm to our destination.  We decided to go east.  We turned 20 degrees to a new heading of 50 degrees which allowed us to barely skirt the Taenga atoll and make our way around Rarioa.

During the night, Matt tacked 3 times to avoid getting to close to shore and avoid the Takume atoll.  Now we are close to the rhumb line and should be able to hold this direction for the rest of the 430 miles.

Morning Day 2

The forecast was way off the mark, but we are not surprised.  It seems to me that the weatherman is the only person that an be wrong so often and still keep a job.  Matt looked at 4 different models for the forecast and not one predicted our current weather.  We had 20kts of true wind and 2-meter seas that were steep, choppy fuckers.  Sugar Shack was making an amazing 8-9 boat speed toward our destination which made our VMG (velocity made good) excellent.  But it did make me feel horrible.  Matt was convinced we would see a 200 nm day.  Would be a big day considering we made 86nm on day 1 and only 60% of that was VMG.  We had one reef in the main and 2 reefs in the jib (slightly reduced sail for my landlubber friends).

I felt wicked the entire day and spent my downtime in the fetal position.  As day turned into night our wind picked up and we were averaging 9-10’s which is a bit too much for a beam reach.  We de-powered the boat by taking in another reef in the main and jib.  Matt said it was “the worst sail trim he has ever seen and we are still doing 10’s.”

Morning Day 3

Another choppy, bumpy, bashing, wicked day at sea.  We continue to see high winds and big seas.  I’m still feeling like crap, but carrying on.  We are seeing a 2.8-3kt current pushing us sideways which is odd.  The arrow in the center shows the current, but it didn’t come out in the photo.  This is one of our instruments that we stare at all day and night.

It shows SOG (speed over ground) at 9.4, boat speed over water which takes into account the current at 8.1, True wind speed at 19.7 and our position.  The boat is rocking and rolling so much that the stupid iPhone would not focus on the instrument.  Ugh!

Instrument showing passage details

Instrument showing passage details

We noticed that the high winds are having an impact on our boat as well.  The sunbrella protective cover on the luff of the jib has torn.  That will have to be taken down and resewn.

Ripped jib edge

Ripped jib edge

As the afternoon approached our boat speed slowed down to 7-8kts which was a bit more reasonable.  The waves were not as angry but still choppy.  We did manage to catch a yellow fin tuna that will feed both of us 3 meals.  He was a little guy but thick.

Yellow Fin Tuna

Yellow Fin Tuna

We had a choice to either changing course and heading to Ua Poa or continuing on to Nuku Hiva.  Ua Poa 25 miles closer and we thought we could arrive at daylight.  Whereas we’d have a night arrival in Nuku Hiva which is never good when you approach an anchorage for the first time.  As we got closer, we decided to continue on to Nuku Hiva.  The wind shifted and forced us to pinch so much that it slowed our boat speed down to a respectable 5-6kts.  We’d arrive either anchorage at night and the Nuku Hiva anchorage is known to be a big wide-open bay.  Much safer to arrive in the darkness.

Arrival – Morning Day 4

What a pleasant surprise arriving to a mountainous island, after spending months in the Tuamotus where the atolls are all flat.  The atolls are only as tall as their largest palm tree.  Of course, it was dark when we arrived so all we could see were the outlines of the mountains in the setting moon.

Moon setting behind the mountains

Moon setting behind the mountains

As we entered the bay at 0100 it was another pleasant surprise to see the many lights on shore.  It looks like a pretty bustling village, Taiohae. 

Village lights pre-dawn

Village lights pre-dawn

I am sure you can imagine my relief to set the hook!  We found a 12-meter spot and dropped the hook onto the muddy bottom.  After opening a few hatches, I set to bed while Matt enjoyed a nice frosty and well-deserved beer.

Wicked, Wicked Passage Details:

  • Passage from Makemo, Tuamotu to Nuka Hiva, Marquesas
  • Miles to destination (as the crow flies) 504 nm
  • Miles Traveled:  549nm (around atolls and a few tacks)
  • Max Speed:  12.2kt
  • Average Speed: 6.5kt
  • Travel Time:  84:57

Despite my many comments on the “wicked passage” we arrived safely with very little damage to Sugar Shack.

Welcome to the Marquesas archipelago.  First stop, Nuku Hiva.

Nuku Hiva Island

Nuku Hiva Island

3 thoughts on “Wicked Passage: Tuamotus to Marquesas

  1. beccaguillote

    Yep, that sounds about right 🙂
    It was a wet and wild 5-day trip for us too, with lots of tacking, some new leaks, and a broken head and stove! We were trying to pinch hard and reach Fatu Hiva, but fell off the last day and landed at Ua Pou. Then I slept for 2 days. Miss you guys!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.