Reef Encounter

Sunset with squalls from AitutakiWednesday night started out with a beautiful sunset. There were squalls on the horizon with huge fluffy clouds lit up in a thousand shades of red and orange. The winds had started clocking around to the north as forecasted. We knew the winds would be clocking to the south and get really strong by the morning. I should have considered double-checking the two anchors holding us in the narrow channel between reefs and the sandbar during the day.

Tahina at anchor in Aitutaki in channel between sand and reefs

We had some dinner and then decided to watch a movie. About half-way through the movie and something seemed strange. Both Jason and I sat up and looked around. I hit the pause button and got a flashlight and we walked out to look around. The winds were now coming from the northwest. It was nearly pitch-black dark and overcast. Aitutaki has only a few lights ashore at night. Even the wharf has no streetlights. We walked to the bows and I shined the light into the water. The reef was directly ahead of us only a few feet away! I looked at the anchor bridle and it was behind us (meaning we were in front of our forward anchor)! Our stern anchor must have dragged!
I ran back to the helm and started the engines immediately even though we didn’t seem to be moving. The winds were blowing at least 20 knots. I started backing us up and Jason started pulling on the stern anchor rode. We hollered to Lara and Karen to get flashlights and keep an eye on our position. I knew initially where we were, but it was very hard to know where we were situated in the channel in the dark with no reference points.

Jason and Lara managed to get the stern anchor up and out of the water. At about the same time, the winds shot up to 30 knots and it started raining like crazy. We were in the thick of a squall! Every time I backed off on the engine to avoid going too far back towards the sandbar, the winds pushed us forward towards the reef. We were at an angle to the channel because of the winds and the channel is only about 100 feet wide.

Jason and Lara were just getting into the dinghy to reset the stern anchor when the wind suddenly shoved Tahina sideways and moved us towards the reef. I tried to turn our stern back towards the wind to back up, but it wasn’t working. Both Lara and Karen were hollering we were near the reef and I should move us sideways away. But, I just couldn’t do that. Jason tried to pull us over with the dinghy. Everyone was yelling and running around with flashlights. And the wind was howling. It was really getting crazy. Finally, I left the helm to see what was going on. We weren’t just near the reef, we were right next to it! I wasn’t able to back up because our keel was probably on the lower part of it!

I turned the other direction and moved forward a few feet, then quickly turned us the other way and backed up. My eyes had adjusted enough to see the sandbar as a dim glow. Finally we were back in the channel closer to the sandy side. I managed to back all the way up until Karen said the forward anchor was tight. Fortunately, at this point the rain had stopped and the winds dropped to only 20 knots. Jason and Lara quickly got in the dinghy and moved to set the stern anchor as far back as possible. They got it right the first time and we soon had the stern anchor in tied to Tahina’s stern cleats and it was holding us in position. Finally, we were holding fast.
Jason got his snorkel gear out and dove to make sure the anchors were set properly while I kept an eye on him in t he dinghy. Then he went to look at Tahina’s bottom. The bad news is that we have some damage to the aft lower corner of our keel. About a 3″ chunk was grinded away on that corner. There are also a few scratches along the side of the keel, and a few on the rudder. The good news is that the keel won’t be hurt by the damage and can easily be repaired. The rest is superficial and can be easily painted over when we get to New Zealand where we already planned to have it hauled for bottom painting. Jason was surprised the damage wasn’t more serious.

The next morning, we needed to reset the anchors to better position us in the channel. Despite having plenty of light, it was a real pain to set the anchors properly in the 20-25 knots winds we were experiencing. It took us nearly 90 minutes to get both anchors positioned well. But, they held through the next couple of days of strong winds. What a night! You can see where we were situated in Google Maps here:


View Aitutaki Anchorage in a larger map

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One Response to Reef Encounter

  1. Gabby Abby says:

    Wow Frank! You’re going to miss Jason and Lara. Wishing you fair winds and following seas upon their departure. Hope you will be seeing them again in NZ. It’s been wonderful traveling along with all of the crew on Tahina.

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