After Raroia, we sailed down to Makemo and then Tahanea. Makemo has a small village which has a population of 600 (including all the children from the surrounding atolls attending the school) out of the total atoll population of 824.
Entering the pass entailed the usual getting the timing of the tide right and paying attention to the flow of water and any standing waves.
On the way, we had a nice view of Ari B with her spinnaker up.
The village was pleasant and we were able to re-provision pretty well.
In Tahanea, it was very beautiful (it is an uninhabited atoll) but we had a really bad weather experience.
Unpredicted by the weather data, we had a massive weather surge come through. All the yachts were anchored somewhere on the north of the Tahanea atoll to find protection from an expected north-west. We were on our own in a half decent anchorage. Just during dinner preparations, the wind started rising and the sea state with it. It was soon a steady 30-35 knots from the west. The waves were running down the atoll and our anchor was holding nicely against the sandy slope of the shore, so although it was strong wind and bumpy we were worried but OK. [In retrospect, this was our last opportunity to up anchor and move to deep water but I suspect that we were already around the bommie from the wind shift and would have had to try to up anchor going beam to the wind on a lee shore and then face the shore whilst we did it.]
All of a sudden, the wind went from 30-35 to 41, 43, 45, 47 and finally 51 knots. The waves built up proportionally. We suddenly dragged and the west set of wind and wave pushed us rapidly towards a rocky shore just 50m away. We had motor on already in preparation. It was too rough to even consider trying to go forward and retrieve snubber, 3 buoyancy buoys, 50m of chain and an anchor. So the only option was to try to keep the bow into the wind and wave and maintain station with the engine.
This we did with some difficulty for an hour or so. During this process, it became apparent that we were firmly snagged with the chain around a bommie. This had the advantage of a precarious security from being blown onto the shore but the price was a shortened scope of chain. This caused vicious bouncing from the huge waves, which we could see crashing massively onto the shore behind us, to start damaging the starboard bow roller. The snubber broke and I went forward and replaced it with another double snubber (to protect the windlass) at the cost of some bruising and a calf muscle strain. But we held firm and the wind abated somewhat but still strong from the west and WNW.
Going forward later with a view to up anchor and move somewhere it was apparent that we were well and truly wedded to the bommie and that the chain was firmly wedged into the damaged bow roller with the second snubber stretched iron tight to the deck cleats. It was not possible to consider working on the bow to free the chain in the conditions.
We instituted a watch system and kept the engine on, gently in forward to reduce the pressure from the chain on the bow roller. This worked somewhat, giving a slightly easier action on the boat.
There was another surge of weather later on but all we could do was have both on deck, think about options for abandoning ship, and adjust helm and engine to minimise the boat action and damage to the bow roller. We thought of cutting chain but that would have meant angle grinder and Honda Generator and working on the bow in less than ideal conditions.
Things abated somewhat again later and after some more helm and engine work, we went back to a watch system with the engine on and gently forward.
Further up the coast, Sancta Anna, a large Polish sloop, rode the storm out successfully with the same strategy of engine on at anchor but they did not get snagged on a bommie.
Further still, the boats in the pass anchorage were able to up anchor in the nick of time and get out into deeper water. They had a water spout pass them at about 150m away. We understand that they later re-anchored and then had to repeat the process. Some boat damage and loss of equipment but no injuries thankfully.
In Fakarava, some boats were lost onto the rocks apparently.
In the morning, Sancta Anna came across and anchored near to us and assisted us in positioning our second anchor in a way that relieved the pressure on the main anchor chain and gave us greater security.
We inspected the chain on the bommie and found a spectacular foul up of chain that we knew we would not be able to free by snorkel. Perhaps by dingy method but certainly only with great difficulty.
We considered retrieving the anchor and cutting the chain as we have spare chain enough to make up a good length with chain links. However, a French sailor that we had met previously had diving equipment and offered to come across the next day and help us retrieve the chain. That night, we had the most beautiful sleep. We were soooo tired.
In the morning, we got to work preparing for the chain retrieval. We took a photo of the chain on the bommie (follows later) and used controlled violence to eventually free the chain from the bow roller. Some 4-5 links were in some way damaged but serviceable. We removed the port side bow roller (2nd anchor) and held it ready to install on the starboard side for the main anchor chain. We removed the damaged bow roller. Getting the bent bolts out and seeing the damage wrought was an eye opener.
Charly on the sloop Longtemps arrived with Re’jane and we all worked together to finish the bow roller to receive the chain. Charly went down with tanks and we helped from the surface moving lines about etc. We decided to end-to-end the chain as we have 110m and the inner end was essentially new. So we removed the anchor and moved it across the sea floor to where we had dropped the rest of the chain and reconnected it. Then we had the fun of watching Charly’s slow underwater dance as he laboriously unpicked the devil’s knitting on the bommie.
We were all delighted when it came free and we were able to wind in the chain and get the anchor back on deck.
Charly came back on board after his decompress and we had a cold beer to celebrate together.
A French naval vessel had come in to the atoll the previous day and they offered assistance but we were able to thank them and decline because of Charly’s efforts.
Longtemps then went off to dive the pass and we cleared the boat and set off on the 9nm across the lagoon to the “7” anchorage (so called because of the satellite picture that shows a sandbank in a “7” form). We were delighted to discover that friends Alex and Carla (who had maintained contact during the weather show and provided great advice) on Ari B were there just 2 hours ahead of us and Alex kindly came out in his dingy and guided us into the anchorage as it was late and visibility very poor in a tricky anchorage.
A G&T, supper and an early night for another lovely sleep and an awakening to a gentle and truly beautiful anchorage. An amazing contrast to our recent experience.