The bay of Hiva-Oa or, getting away with a black eye

El Nino?

In El Nino years, the air pressure difference between the eastern and western Pacific is much smaller, and even reverses. The trade winds become weaker or, in some cases, cease altogether. The Humboldt Current comes to a standstill. To be honest, little of the phenomenon has been felt in the last five months. On the contrary, the low pressure areas in the southwest of the Pacific, gave themselves the door handle in the hand. From time to time, one of them also touched the Gambiers. The trade wind north of the Gambiers blew continuously, except for a few days. Although the water temperatures in the Gambiers followed the normal annual rhythm, the Humboldt Current seems to have its problems. At least on our crossing to Hao, the high and especially strong Pacific swell is missing. Instead, we have a light swell from the southeast, with a superimposed wind wave from the northeast.

On the road again, Hao Tuamotus

In the first three days, to make matters worse, the current, even against the wave, set to the east. From a long drawn out three meter high wave, with an announced interval of ten seconds, becomes a three meter high cross sea with an interval of four seconds. Our luck is that the wave, in the main direction, comes from diagonally behind. The trade wind comes continuously from southeast to east, with a force between 15 and 20 knots. Nevertheless, we make only moderate progress, because the current builds up the wave, and the boat is repeatedly pounded. All in all vomit weather, and Gaby is not well either. The pills work, but she is listless and listless. At least we manage to sail more than 100 nautical miles, which is always the benchmark for us. On the fourth day we reach the shading of Hao and the swell becomes much calmer. We pick up speed, as wind cover, with a three meter high atoll, is not given. With the wind steady, we are almost smooth seas, about two knots faster. I am amazed and take note of this happily. Hao is a long atoll with only one pass. The inner area is about one and a half times larger than Lake Constance. We sail along the outside until we reach the pass in the northwest.

Anchoring off Hao, Tuamotus

On the Internet you can download a Current Guestimator. This simple spreadsheet allows you to get an overview of the current conditions at the different passes of the Tuamotu atolls. In the net one reads again and again that this Guestimator would not be correct for many atolls, in particular for Hao. We cannot confirm this. For Hao you have to know that there is only one pass. So the whole water exchange has to pass through this one eye of a needle. That this can lead to an extreme flow should be obvious to everyone. Nevertheless, there are people who do not believe this, like us. The right wind factor plays an important role in Hao Pass. In our case, the result was a current of ten knots with outgoing water and five knots with incoming water. So, how could it be otherwise, we arrive at the pass exactly at the time that the calculation predicts ten knots of outgoing water. With the timing over several days to be exactly at a point when the conditions fit, we still have our difficulties. We now have several options: 1. we don't believe a word or number of the guestimator, and just sail through. This would have the advantage that we still reach an anchorage at last daylight. 2. we wait until we have incoming water and try it then. Disadvantage, the next incoming water starts at 20.45Uhr and it is pitch dark, both through the pass and at the anchorage. 3. we wait until the next but one time when the water enters the lagoon again. Advantage, it would be day at the pass and also at the anchorage. Disadvantage, we have to wait 16 hours on the open sea. We decide to go for option one. The current calculation is wrong and it won't be that bad. A two meter high wave, in front of the pass, sets into the lagoon, so what could go wrong. We sneak up from the side. The idea is to get ahead in shallow water with as little current as possible and cheat physics. Unfortunately, the pass in Hao does not have enough navigable shallow water, even for a catamaran. In the middle of the pass arrived, the engine makes meanwhile nearly 3000rpm, thus over full throttle, or as one would say in the rocket technology, the third stage is ignited, we come then, with the journey over ground, to a standstill. The two-meter high wave, from behind, pushes the water over the deck. We pick up speed again. But backwards. With three knots it pushes us again on the ocean. After a while, we give up option one and switch off the engine. Physics cannot be outwitted, at least not with the means at our disposal.

Katinka on tour

Time for dinner. There is spaghetti in tomato sauce. Since it is too restless for us out here, and we would have to wait a very long time, we decide to try variant two next. We, meanwhile a bit drifted off, start the machine an hour before the calculated time. Slowly we make our way towards the pass. In the meantime it is pitch dark. To sneak up on the edge is rather inadvisable at night, so we go through the middle. Stupidly, there are two green beacons. One of them is the middle of the fairway. A look at the map shows me that there should also be a red beacon, unfortunately failed. So one of them is the middle of the fairway, while the other one marks the starboard side. Although we are only slowly moving forward, we are getting faster and faster. The lagoon literally sucks us in. At seven knots we get into the counter wave, which this time comes from the front and rocks us once again. Then it is suddenly over and calm returns to the boat. We have passed through the pass and are now inside the lagoon. The next difficulty is to find a suitable anchorage. We try it at the airport, near a jetty. The Navionics charts are again very inaccurate and the reef edge cannot be made out at night. Unfortunately, the depth information is not correct either. We find only very close to the pier, instead of 12 meters, 20 meters water depth. Unfortunately, the anchor ground is also quite bad, so that we start to drift after a short time. Ok, then once again anchor up and look for another place. In the meantime it is 00.00 o'clock and we have the snout painted full. But that's sailing, you can't just stop in the middle of it. We drive to the next wall, a small harbor, not far from the only settlement on Hao. Here, too, the water depth is much higher than indicated on the chart. But we find a good anchorage and have a lot of sleep to catch up on.

Hao Tuamotus, French. Polynesia

We are happy to have arrived on Hao and to have survived our personal El Nino. Now we are looking forward to exploring this atoll. But we'll tell you about that next time. Until then, always fair winds and keep a stiff upper lip.