Heaven, Purgatory and Hell
Part three of the Fakarava trilogy.
7 JUNE 2020
Sunday, sailing to Papeete, 240 miles that we are traveling fast even if we go slow. This happens when the desire to sail far exceeds the desire to stay ashore, always. We calculated the departure yesterday afternoon with the tide coming out of the pass of Fakarava at 16, to arrive in Papeete with the morning lights of 8 June. On the crossing, by chance, I am experiencing my 63rd birthday, three great gifts already received; one – the unexpected phone call from our children who, due to time zones, anticipated ours by 12 hours, two – the fact of being here with Cecilia in the middle of the ocean, alone, three – an oceanic day that reconciles with the planet and enchantment places harmony where there is disorder, sweetness where there is roughness and calm where there is agitation. Talking about hell today is less easy than when you live it,but it is also true that leaving the pen at rest when the memory is alive and strong then helps to see things with distance and greater flashes of truth. Maybe.
When you go to sea despite all the knowledge, experience, digital sharing of the various weather or navigation sites, they can do nothing if nature decides to mess up the schemes. This sometimes happens to those who are inside nature, like us who go by sea, or to those who go to the mountains or cross the desert or a rainforest or the pristine spaces of Canada or Alaska. We all enter, for one reason or another, into nature, and we are convinced, while bearing sacred respect, that we can know when and how it can surprise us. This is not quite the case. We are convinced, and while taking into account that the tail blow can come at any moment, in reality we do not really expect it, until it happens suddenly.
The paradise of an atoll in the middle of the ocean, protected by the reef that does not allow the fury of the sea to enter, seems a perfect condition, and above all very safe. Theoretically in an atoll there are always places sheltered from the sea, if not from the wind, which also passes through the cracks, but in practice each atoll has a safe area for prevailing winds, where men and animals have built villages, but there is always a weak point where crazy nature can strike. Fakarava is a huge atoll, and when you are in the north-east part, perfectly sheltered from the prevailing winds, you are more exposed when the wind “turns” from opposite quadrants, ie from the south-west. In this case, rare but possible, the long stretch of sea without obstacles for the wind inside the lagoon (over 30 miles),which is technically called “Fetch” with depths ranging from 100 to 40 meters to 10 meters towards the edge of the land, where the coral begins to resurface, the conditions are created to raise a steep, nervous, bad sea, which cannot let off steam if not bubbling and pouring onto the coral beaches. The afternoon was passing lazy because it was disturbed by a heavy sky, with frequent rains and at times violent since the morning. We knew everything. The weather models had predicted a rotation of the wind from the west, with possible thunderstorms, but without exceeding a force 5, manageable even if anchored near the coral and with an increase in the wave. About 20 boats, more or less all experienced skippers,those with 17 Sydney-Hobart behind them (one of the most challenging races in the world) those with many ocean crossings and those with already experience of the Pacific, or those like us who come from the Mediterranean, known as one of the most difficult seas precisely for the sudden changes in weather conditions, transforming a safe place into a dangerous one. Here in the Tuamotu and in particular in Fakarava we have no choice. Wait putting the anchor safely, and in any case be ready to leave to go to the lagoon in case of serious deterioration. Apparently we are calm, that is, we have the competence and the ability to manage the situation.Here in the Tuamotu and in particular in Fakarava we have no choice. Wait putting the anchor safely, and in any case be ready to leave to go to the lagoon in case of serious deterioration. Apparently we are calm, that is, we have the competence and the ability to manage the situation.Here in the Tuamotu and in particular in Fakarava we have no choice. Wait putting the anchor safely, and in any case be ready to leave to go to the lagoon in case of serious deterioration. Apparently we are calm, that is, we have the competence and the ability to manage the situation.
From lazy and gray, however, the sky gradually takes on connotations that are not really reassuring, while in the air you can breathe a feeling that things are evolving, even rapidly. But I’m calm, Ariel’s anchorage, although about thirty meters from the corals, is in 10 meters of water, half coral sand and some coral heads. 50 meters of 13 mm steel chain and a good anchor. We knew about the increase in the wind, so on arrival I had tested the seal, bringing the engine in the back up to 2000 rpm, which for Ariel means 40 knots and more on the bow. Stop. So I wasn’t worried about the anchorage, and in my heart we would have absolutely managed a planned reinforcement at 20 knots and beyond, even if from the south. But the atmosphere changed very quickly and we all return aboard,to fix what is already fixed and to wait.
A boat’s chain, with a good anchor, is capable of absorbing very high wind pressures. Already in Greece we had experienced 56 knots without waves because they are sheltered by high mountains, and without any problems. In Fakarava you have to deal with the sea, which begins to swell already with 15 knots from the south, loaded with all the free fetch. I go to the bow and with 15 knots the wave just raises the generous and solid bow of Ariel, 2 meters above sea level. However, I decide to reinforce the mustache (two lines that are put on to avoid that the chain effort is distributed only on the windlass, but divides the effort with the two bollards at the bow). Under normal conditions I put one, directly connected to a steel hook. Here I secure a second hook of respect, and put another rope on the left. Finish and go back to the cockpit. 20 knots.The sky gets worse and the sea seems to swell, we start to dance a little. A suspicious dance. I decide to reinforce the whiskers, putting two more, and I return to the bow with two lines, one in Dynema 14 mm (the Dynema is strong like steel, but not elastic) and a mooring one, braided from 16 mm, which is more elastic. The wave has increased to one meter, still manageable from the bow, but as I prepare to fix the reinforcements, first the starboard one, then after a while the left whisker, pulled by the wave and the movement of the bow, break like bread sticks.The wave has increased to one meter, still manageable from the bow, but as I prepare to fix the reinforcements, first the starboard one, then after a while the left whisker, pulled by the wave and the movement of the bow, break like bread sticks.The wave has increased to one meter, still manageable from the bow, but as I prepare to fix the reinforcements, first the starboard one, then after a while the left whisker, pulled by the wave and the movement of the bow, break like bread sticks.
You have to work without getting hurt, this is the first big secret, so it takes calm, so much the anchor holds and we will not go to coral. However, the chain takes crazy tugs with each ascent and descent, so much so that it loses a couple of meters that the windlass does not hold it back. Fortunately there is a mechanical screw quiver that blocks everything, so I block it, only I have to put on a new mustache. Easy because it is done without risk, chain on the boat. Dynema to starboard and mooring line, this time 18 mm to port, I have no other dynema with me and I have to go and get it from the cockpit, whose coming and going begins to become less easy. In the doubt of having the chain in a coral that makes it lose its elasticity, I take the courage and leave another 5-6 meters, so the mustache works underwater,exploiting a perhaps useful antigravity effect. The gates of hell have opened.
I go back to the cockpit drenched by the rain which in the meantime has arrived torrential, and cold. I have to warm up, get changed and return to the bow to put on two dynema whiskers for further protection. Cecilia is frightened, terrified, and tells me that Milanto has called on 68, our channel, saying that a boat at the buoy that she released hit him heavily, while another near them is fake on the coral together with a catamaran , uninhabited, of French who inappropriately stopped on the ground. Fixed anemometer at 45 knots, gusts 52, 55, waves of 2 meters. Sea Lover is afraid, he is further behind us and he says the anchor doesn’t hold, or so it seems to him. In reality it seems to me still, like us. The anchor alarm set to 15 meters is silent.When it comes to safety, you have a different perception of what is really going on, hell. I warm up with a hot shower, I change, including the waxed one, more consistent, and I get ready with a jacket and seat belt, to go I hope the last time in the bow, when a crash hits us. A sound of scrap metal, as sudden as it was sinister. “What was it?” Cecilia asks me? I don’t know, I just don’t want it to be what I think, as I regain the bow ten centimeters at a time. The 18 mm mustache gave way like a cotton thread, while the dynema held, the chain ripped its pulpit seat (5 mm steel) by folding it like a sheet of paper to stop at the cleat. In a moment we have lost any possibility of escape,but above all the chain is destroying the teak bullock on the starboard side of the bow by sea. Very difficult to work because you have to wait for the moment when the pressure drops slightly between one wave and another. In the fall the bow enters the water up to my ankles, to go up for two meters, practically a real roller coaster with jumps of 4 meters. But I manage to put the top on one link in the chain, or rather I try to put two of them, but it is not possible because close together it would not make sense, then the dynema holds; then I still thread 4 meters of chain, I can’t more. The bollard lightens the weight of the chain and works with the lines, now in balance with its sister on the left. End. I can’t do more. In fact, we will later discover that a boat gave way because the dead body had an unreliable rope,to another the chain broke and the catamaran was too close to the coral and plowed slowly, but no one was on board. I do not think in the least to leave the mooring now, as some have recklessly done, because you never know how the chain got stuck between the coral heads, and mindful that in conditions of flat calm, with the Ceci in the bow, when we were in the south it took 20 minutes of zig zag between the coral to ship it.when we were in the south it took 20 minutes of zigzagging through the coral to ship it.when we were in the south it took 20 minutes of zigzagging through the coral to ship it.
In the cockpit we communicate with the others. Saorsa, the boat like ours of the New Zealanders had the exact same problem, only that the windlass brake did not work, the two mustaches were torn like us, and the chain came out rattling and gradually destroying the gunwale; has reached the end of the chain, hanging from the line that holds it fixed to the keel. A moment to decide to cut it, and spin by eye as they say, leaving anchor and chain in the sea and wandering around the lagoon in the night to avoid the coral heads. Influencer’s Matt broke 7 mustaches before relying only on the chain of his Dufour, which he fortunately kept. 3 long and terrifying hours, then the wind gave way, reaching the expected 15 knots, a calm … the good thing is that as the wind drops in the lagoon, the sea calms down immediately.In the morning a blinding sun shines, we dress our wounds, let the chain pass under the bowsprit in order to set sail; Ceci gives a little language help to Milanto’s friends with the French that went on him, however very kind, and we look sadly at two dead boats on the coral of Fakarava, the Tuamotu Paradise.
But let’s move on. Now headed back to Papeete for proper care of our homes.
See you next time by Ariel
Paolo & Cecilia