We have just completed our second day of sailing on our way to Manihi in the Tuamotus Atolls. The winds have been very light – around 10 knots most of the time, so we have been making only modest sailing speeds – much lower than Tahina’s usual average. We completed 160 miles in the previous 24 hours. At our current average speed we should arrive mid-day on Sunday – just about at high tide. Which is about the perfect time to enter a passage into an atoll lagoon.
Tuamotus Atolls are islands with thin strips of land and reefs circling a lagoon. They are steep to – which means they have deep water all around the island. They are actually volcanic islands which may have once been well above sea level, but have eroded to the point that only a small remnant reaches above sea level – mostly the result of reef growth in recent millennia. The lagoons often have small islands called “motus” which in some cases local people have built dwellings. Sometimes there is an opening in the reef – some natural, others man made – which allow boats to enter the calmer waters in the lagoon. The passes tend to be narrow, shallow, and can have tremendous currents between low and high tide as the water rushes in or empties the lagoon. We have to time it so we don’t attempt to go in while the tide is going out. Fortunately, high tide is around noon on Sunday.
As I said, the winds have been light. The weather has been mostly clear skies, very few squalls, and the seas have been relatively flat. It’s actually nice sailing which gives you plenty of time to sit around and just enjoy the ride. Although some people might be surprised – considering my normal frenetic pace – I actually enjoy sitting and looking at the sea and enjoying a sail like this. It gives me lots of time to appreciate the wonder of our beautiful planet. I have always loved mountains and felt close to nature whenever I climbed a peak and admired the views. The sea also gives me this same feeling. The beauty of the sea is that it always changes – the water can be flat as a mirror, gentle swells, choppy, or – in rare cases – quite boisterous in a strong breeze or storm. The skies are infinitely changeable – presenting a constant variation of light from day to moonlit night, from clear sunny days to total overcast and storms.
And, then there is sea life. Most often we see birds and flying fish in all the seas we have sailed so far. Occasionally we have more exciting encounters like when dolphins swim off our bows, or a whale is sighted. We also see other interesting things like the other day when we spotted round brown objects floating by and realized there were hundreds of jelly fish a few feet below the water’s surface.
I spent much of my life dreaming about one day traveling the seas by sailboat. For many years, I have read stories of other sailors who have traveled to the Galapagos and to French Polynesia. It is truly a wonder to me to actually be making these fantastic trips. It is one of the greatest highlights of my life and I’m so glad my wife and I are finally getting to experience it.