Global Voyage

A Story About Sailing Around the World

Ray & Jenny aboard the ketch Suka

3 years, 35,000 miles, Nov 1982 - Jan 1986

Ray & Jenny Jardine

Chapter 3: Tahiti And The Societies page 40 of 109

Approaching the Tuamotu Archipelago

Mid afternoon we sighted land where land ought not have been. A tiny smudge appeared on the distant horizon. Taking turns peering intently through the binoculars, we thought we could see the tops of a group of strange trees, like coconut trees with their fronds ripped away - no doubt the result of the hurricane. Either we had found an uncharted atoll, or we were not where we thought we were. Clearly, this was not the best area of the vast Pacific in which to be lost. And when we had begun worrying in earnest the "coconut trees" steamed off over the horizon. We had been seeing the gantry of a large ship, whose hull lay concealed beneath the earth's curvature. At last, then, after having sailed more than 3,500 miles we had sighted our first ship at sea.

We sailed toward the atoll Ahe (Ah'-hey) throughout most of the night, and when my calculations indicated we were within 20 miles of it, we hove to and awaited daylight. Then at first light we resumed sailing ahead. Eventually we sighted land, or rather a long line of coconut trees presumably growing on land. These trees appeared genuine this time, and our ebullience at having found the atoll as calculated was equally so.


The atoll Ahe appears on the horizon as a low line of coconut trees. We are only six miles away.

Zoom out to see where we are.

Dark mammatus formed ominously overhead, and soon lashed out with a ferocious squall. Undaunted, Suka pounded her way gleefully through a flurry of spray, while flying only a deep reefed mainsail and a staysail. The blow proved short-lived, though, and soon diminished to a 20 knot wind steady on the starboard quarter.

We closed the almost featureless coast and paralleled it for several miles, reasonably certain this was Ahe. But it wasn't until several hours later that we verified the fact by coastwise navigating. Eventually we rounded the atoll into its lee and reached the entrance to the lagoon.


We paralleled the featureless coast for several miles, looking for the pass.

Aborted Entry into the Ahe Lagoon

“A powerful in-going tide was sucking the ketch into the lagoon. We barely clawed our way back out.”

Entering the pass of an atoll at slack water is the standard procedure, but because today's low tide was not to occur until well after dark, we decided to try entering. Motoring cautiously into the pass, we soon found the sea bed, and watched it quickly shoal. The water was staggeringly clear in colors of cobalt blues and aquamarines. Mountainous surf thundered onto the reefs to ether side, while the sea bottom began rushing past underneath, meaning that an unexpectedly powerful in-going tide was sucking the ketch into the lagoon. Fearing that Suka might be hurled onto a coral head, I brought her around and gunned the engine. Under full power she managed to counter the inrush of current, if only just. Then by making sail, we barely clawed our way out of the fearful maws of the pass.


Leaving Ahe, and about to set sail for Arutua.

Standing off, awaiting slack water would have been suicidal, as the night was moonless, the unseen reefs numerous, and the seas fraught with strong and unpredictable currents. And our vessel was not equipped with radar. There was nothing for it, then, but to resume our course toward Tahiti. But directly ahead lay 45 miles of open water leading to a gap between two atolls at the western edge of the archipelago. Across this region we continued most of the night, cautiously carrying but little sail.

We had know way of knowing the current's set (direction) or its drift (speed). My computations indicated that, in a worst-case scenario, a set of 190 degrees magnetic and a drift of 3-1/2 knots, added vectorially to our heading and indicated speed of a conservative two knots, would have put us on the reef of Arutua at 2 a.m. Conversely, with a set of 10 degrees and the same aforementioned drift, we would be moving backward at a rate of 1-1/2 knots, only to crash stern-to on the reef of Ahe well before midnight. Sailing in this aptly named "Dangerous Archipelago" at night felt like playing Russian roulette with two chambers loaded.

A Near Miss

“What I had mistaken as our southern horizon was actually an atoll.”

At 3:00 a.m we dropped sail. Then at the first hint of daylight I shot a round of stars, working the occasional hole in the clouds through which a familiar star would present itself briefly. Then belowdecks I reduced the data, only to find that the navigational computer could make no sense of my sextant altitudes. Unaccountably, I had erred somewhere. As I sat trying to account for the discrepancy Jenny called from the cockpit. There, in the ever-revealing morning light, stood land. What I had mistaken as our southern horizon was actually an atoll. We were shocked to think that the 4-knot current could have carried us a mere half a degree farther south, and dashed us headlong into Arutua. The shorelines of the proverbial seven seas are littered with the tangled remains of sat-nav-less vessels, and Suka had nearly joined the ranks. As she was uninsured, I determined to buy a sat-nav at the first opportunity.

The story has 109 pages. This is page 40.
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Page Links
GV 001: Title Page
GV 002: TOC
GV 003: Dedication
GV 004: Preface
GV 005: Prologue
GV 006: Beginnings
GV 007: Work Done
GV 008: Making Ready
GV 009: Departure
GV 010: Sailing Credentials
GV 011: First Lesson
GV 012: Sextant Navigation
GV 013: Safety Harness
GV 014: Murphy's law
GV 015: Spirit of Adventure
GV 016: Holding On
GV 017: First Big Storm
GV 018: Storm Intensified
GV 019: Rolling Violently
GV 020: Mizzen Sleeping Bag'sl
GV 021: Freeing the Propeller
GV 022: Visits by Birds
GV 023: Crossing the Doldrums
GV 024: Nearing First Landfall
GV 025: Land Ho
GV 026: Fatu Hiva
GV 027: Trek Inland
GV 028: Anchor Watch
GV 029: Passage
GV 030: Hiva Oa
GV 031: Skin Diving Circus
GV 032: Almost Like a Jungle
GV 033: Polaris Missile
GV 034: Taiohaie Bay
GV 035: Cascade Hakaui
GV 036: Taipi Bay
GV 037: Cyclone Lisa
GV 038: Cyclone Nano
GV 039: Passage of Patience
> GV 040: Tuamotu Archipelago
GV 041: Tahiti
GV 042: Cyclone Reva
GV 043: Secret Sharer
GV 044: Moorea
GV 045: Cyclone Veena
GV 046: Aftermath
GV 047: Good Weather in Papeete
GV 048: Huahine
GV 049: Raiatea
GV 050: BoraBora
GV 051: Rarotonga
GV 052: Tonga
GV 053: Fresh Air
GV 054: Tongan Feast
GV 055: Excursion to Maninita
GV 056: Mariner's Cave
GV 057: Fiji
GV 058: Ndravuni Island
GV 059: Mara Island
GV 060: Aneityum
GV 061: Noumea
GV 062: St Elmo's fire
GV 063: Breakwater Reef
GV 064: Bundaberg
GV 065: Life on the Burnett River
GV 066: Engine Sabotage
GV 067: Flying
GV 068: Aground in Round Hill Creek
GV 069: Gladstone Confinement
GV 070: Tropical Queensland
GV 071: Trip into Townsville
GV 072: Cairns Sojourn
GV 073: Cramped Cooktown
GV 074: Lizard Island
GV 075: The San Michelle
GV 076: Lost Mummy Cave
GV 077: Land's End
GV 078: Darwin
GV 079: Christmas Is
GV 080: Passage
GV 081: Cocos Keeling
GV 082: Crossing the Indian Ocean
GV 083: Rodriguez
GV 084: Mauritius
GV 085: Reunion Cirque de Mafate
GV 086: Reunion Cirque de Salazie
GV 087: Passage to Africa
GV 088: Kruger National Park
GV 089: Richards Bay
GV 090: Durban
GV 091: Port Elizabeth
GV 092: Cape Town
GV 093: Storm Passage
GV 094: St Helena
GV 095: Passage to Brazil
GV 096: Fortaleza
GV 097: Passage to Caribbean
GV 098: Bonaire
GV 099: Passage to Panama
GV 100: Panama
GV 101: Panama Canal
GV 102: Medidor
GV 103: Costa Rica
GV 104: Passage to Acapulco
GV 105: Acapulco to Cabo
GV 106: Baja
GV 107: Home Port
GV 108: In Retrospect
GV 109: Next Time
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