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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

Tahanea Anchorage with Easy and Rhapsody

Trouble in Tahanea

Tahanea is an uninhabited atoll known for its pristine turquoise waters and manta rays.  The motus have pink sand and towering palm trees that drape lazily over the shores.  There are three passes to enter this wide lagoon that is 30 miles long by 9 miles wide.  This atoll is one of the few bird refuges in the Tuamotus.  In addition, to its varied bird population there is an abundant sea life in the passes.  With gorgeous turquoise waters, towering palm trees and an active wildlife, this is a piece of paradise.  What could cause trouble?

Tahanea Anchorage with Easy and Rhapsody

Tahanea Anchorage with Easy and Rhapsody


We left the south pass of Fakarava at 0600 and exited the pass with zero problems.  It would be a light wind day with means lots of tacks.  The passage is only 50nm from pass to pass.  We were hoping to make it before sunset without using the motors.  With decent winds the first several hours we became hopeful that we would make it with time to spare.  However, we lost the wind and realized that we could not make it before dark – even with the motors!  Crap.  We got to the pass around 1900, hove to, and drifted at 1kt for the rest of the night (11 hours of waiting).  Around 0800, we turned around and headed for the pass.  

Passage Details

  • Miles to destination: 50nm
  • Total miles sailed: 92.1nm (did I mention lots of tacks?)
  • Total moving time: 25.23 min
  • Max speed: 8.3kt
  • Average speed 3.6kt (surprising considering we spent 12 hours at 1-2kts)

Here is our track showing all of our tacks and our hove to position over night near the pass.

CPN Track of our sail

CPN Track of our sail

Trouble All Around

After we made it through the pass, I hailed Mike on the VHF to tell him we had 2-3kts of incoming current (which is not bad).  Mike strained to tell me he had caught his finger while taking down the sail.  He is single handing, was heading toward the reef, had nothing but his cell phone in his pocket (no service).  His radio was in the cockpit along with his shoes.  His finger was crushed in a shackle and he was trapped. 

Torn between losing his finger or losing his boat.  Luckily, he was able to reach his anchor chain and windlass.  Using the windlass, he released some of the tension from the stay sail. This allowed him to remove his finger.  OMG!  We had no idea what happened until he was free and heading toward the pass.  He was in need of help, but we had to anchor first.

We dropped our hook between some bommies and attached all 5 of our 8 floats.  However, we did not let out enough scope as Matt wanted to help Mike anchor.  We thought we could just drop the rest of the scope when he returned.  What is scope?  It’s the distance between your anchor and your boat and we like a 7:1 scope at a minimum (prefer a 10:1).  Which means if we drop in 10 meters of water, we let out 70 meters of chain. 

Dragging Anchor with Floats

When Matt returned, we let out the scope, pulled back on the engines, and we dragged.  Farfugnugen!  We had to raise the chain, remove the floats, and try again.  The second time the windlass remote started to fail.  I use the remote while hanging off the bow to the floats.  Not being able to use the remote forces me to go to the forward hatch to use the wired remote then back to the bow (back and forth and back and forth).  Ugh!

While I am trying to work the windlass, I realize that there is something on our anchor.  And then Matt shouts at me that he lost port propulsion.  WTF!  He has starboard propulsion but that makes the boat steer to the side.  What a mess.  I am still investigating the issue with the anchor.  Matt and I switch places so he can remove the coral that was wedged on the anchor.  Third time is a charm.  Safely anchored, we go back to help Mike.

The next day Matt figures out that the port shifter cable is damaged.  Lucky for us we have a replacement (spare).  The end pin was disconnected from the cable and no longer working.  It took most of the morning, but Matt was able to replace the shifter, shifter mechanism, and cable!  You can see our old 19-year-old shifter was a little corroded (but it still worked).  We replaced it and will do the same on Starboard.

Shifter cable repair

Shifter cable repair

We took the windlass remote apart, checked the batteries and connections and it started working again.  Two problems solved, check and check!

The Tahanea atoll guardian stopped by to have us sign his guest book.  Then a local fishing boat stopped by an hour later and sold us yellow fin tuna for $10.

We ended our productive day with a gorgeous sunset.

Sugar Shack at Tahanea

Sugar Shack at Tahanea

Coming up next:

  • We take the new DJI drone out for its maiden voyage
  • Happy hour on Sugar Shack with Rhapsody, Easy, and Imani
  • A swim with manta rays
  • Rock art


Mike’s finger was severely crushed as was part of his foot (from the windlass).  He did not break either, but has lost skin, has blisters and is a bit of a mess.  We doctored him up – he will heal fine.

Blue Fin Tuna - 25-30lbs

Midnight Runner

After our all-day tour, we dropped off Yves and Martha back on Break Away and swung by a new boat that arrived earlier in the day.  They were on the center mooring which had a chafed line.  They wanted our mooring, but we could not tell how they wanted to get it while we were still on it (language barrier).  We planned on a midnight runner and agreed to call them on the radio when we left, but they never answered.

We had to time our arrival into Tikehau’s pass during slack tide which was at 0900.  With current sea conditions, the passage was estimated to be an 8-hour passage.   Matt hoisted the main and the jib and we were off at 6kts heading toward our destination.  I was not feeling well with my sprained ankle and bruised knee so I went back to bed once the sails were set.  Matt spent the night avoiding squalls and trying to hold course.  At one point he was 30 degrees off course but it kept the boat from banging against the waves.  Leaving at midnight would allow us to arrive around 0800 which was a little before the “slack tide.”  We had a full moon that lit our path and made it a beautiful midnight sail.

Blue Fin Tuna

After our midnight runner and about 45 minutes from the pass entrance, we spotted a lot of birds circling the waters.  We headed in that direction and ZING a line went spooling out!  We fell off course and brought in the jib to slow the boat down.  It took Matt awhile to bring this guy in, but he was worth it.

Blue Fin Tuna - 25-30lbs

Blue Fin Tuna – 25-30lbs

We arrived to the pass entrance at 0815 and it looked like the waves were pushing a strong current out.  We were already nose into the wind and with a strong current out it would make it challenging to enter.  So, we circled around for a half hour before putting the engines at 2000 RPM and heading in.  We made a whopping 3 kts entering the pass with the current and wind against us.  It took us an hour to get to the anchorage once we made it safely through the pass. 

Midnight Runner Passage Details:

Miles Traveled: 60.6 nm

Duration: 11 hrs (including waiting at pass & 1 hour across lagoon)

Avg. Speed:  6.1 kt

Max Speed:  10.7 kt

Wind Speed:  10-12 kt SE

Swell:  1-1.5 SE

We dropped the hook next to two other catamarans just off the long stretch of white, sandy beach.  Within 20 minutes, the 50’ Catana owners of “Oxygen” came over to say “hello.”  We invited Guy and Isobelle up to look around.  While they were still on the boat another dinghy came by from the catamaran closer to us.  It was a charter boat that had guests from Austin, TX!  Small freakin world.  A few hours later a small boat was entering the anchorage.  Matt was quirking his head and had a strange look on his face.  He grabbed the binoculars and shouted, “No way, that’s Alrisha!”  We met them in Panama and had seen them in passing in the Galapagos and Gambiers.

We invited Ferry and Bridgette (Alrisha) and our new friends Guy and Isobell on board for sundowners.  Our friends on “Alrisha” are German and “Oxygen” is French.  Somehow with our broken English we were able to tell great stories.