Atoll Idyll

The pass at Ahe, Tuamotus
Looking out the pass at Ahe, Tuamotus

We didn’t have much time to explore, but we made a quick stop at the atoll of Ahe to at least have the experience of anchoring in a Pacific atoll once on this trip. We were there for almost exactly 24 hours after transiting the pass in calm conditions on a rising tide.

After dropping the anchor we put the dinghy in and made a quick trip ashore to stretch our legs, check in, and have lunch at a snack counter. The local police officer warned us not to leave the boat or dinghy unattended, as theft could be expected. We didn’t have much time available to spare anyway, so we didn’t linger ashore for very long.

Ahe shoreline
Ahe shoreline

The officer also reminded us that cyclone season would be arriving soon. I already knew that from the calendar, but I could also feel it in the hot, heavy, windless air. The only breeze stirring that afternoon was under the squalls that drifted across the lagoon, as the southeast winter tradewinds had dropped to nothing. The water out on the ocean was very warm—a fuel stockpile for tropical storms in the near future. We can’t forget that we have the advancing season close at our backs.

After our lunch of toasted ham and cheese sandwiches and ice cream bars we all headed back to the dinghy. The lagoon was the real reason we were here, after all. The family headed out to take the girls swimming in shallow water by the beach while I decided to remain aboard with Idoia and take care of a few boat chores, including checking the engine over and changing the zinc on the propeller shaft.

Once the boat work was done, we headed out to explore the coral fringing the deep part of the lagoon with masks and snorkels. The coral here is not in as good health as what we saw in the Marquesas, but was better than what I saw in the Bahamas. There were some giant clams, a couple of rays with spans as wide as my open arms, and some beautiful reef fish, but unfortunately there was also a lot of dead, algae-covered coral and wide areas littered with only sea-cucumbers and discarded shells.

Squall over Ahe
Squall over Ahe

Everyone enjoyed a peaceful, full night of sleep that night after the long afternoon of swimming. The next morning we put our remaining extra fuel into the main tank and began to haul anchor as soon as the sun was high enough to reveal the isolated coral heads that dot the lagoon. We only hauled a few meters before the bow dipped and the windlass was stopped short. The chain was hooked under a rock or piece of coral 40 feet beneath where we stared down the bar-taught chain. I had feared that this might happen as the wind had switched 180 degrees during the night. Fortunately, we could see the chain on the bottom, as visibility was very good, so I could see where the chain took a 90-degree turn under the edge of a rock. I loosened the chain a bit and gently motored forward and to the side of the rock where the chain was hooked. Idoia began hauling the chain in again when she could see it had cleared. I hadn’t thought we would be so lucky as to get it on the first try, but we didn’t have to resort to further tricks to free the chain. The anchor then came up without any more problems. I was happy enough that there was no forced morning swim for us that day, as I wanted to be through the pass before the inrushing current got too strong.

We motored back across to the pass and out onto a Pacific Ocean that was almost as calm as the inside of the atoll. We have been motoring since then, with at least one full day to go before we reach Tahiti, The wind is not forecast to improve before our arrival… At least we have enjoyed beautiful skyscapes with moon shining on silver clouds at night, and reflected colors on calm water at sunrise and sunset. The family was particularly excited to see calm water this morning. They are enjoying the relative lack of motion, for sure. This sort of weather always makes me keep one eye on the fuel gauge, but we should be okay for the rest of this leg. If all goes well, we’ll be in Papeete tomorrow.

Dark Squall over the lagoon at Ahe
Dark Squall over the lagoon at Ahe

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