Arrival at Suwarrow

We finally arrived at Suwarrow at 09.15 on Saturday, 3rd September, after a long and slow passage.

Hoping for a 5 day passage at 6 knots, we left Bora Bora on Sunday, 28th August. That was the day after the Maritime Security in Papeete had issued via VHF a ‘Red Alert’ to all shipping in the Society Islands because of high winds and huge swells (4 metres +). As a consequence all pleasure craft were instructed to remain inside the sheltered lagoons of the respective islands. As the broadcast was in French only it was impossible for foreigners not commanding the lingo to follow. In fact a catamaran tried to leave Bora Bora only to be apprehended by the Gendarmerie at the pass to prevent them going any further.

Sunday, though was quite a different story with light winds, gentle swell…what a difference 24 hours can make. The wind stayed a lot lighter than forecast, so we headed north of the rhumb line as it meant that we could carry the full main with preventer, genoa poled out to windward and the staysail. The wind remained with us, whereas those to the south of us were reduced to motoring.

When we were within 48 hours of Suwarrow, it was apparent that we would not arrive on Friday 2nd with sufficient light to see the coral reefs in the entrance, so it was a matter of slowing down. We handed the main and were sailing with the poled out genoa quite comfortably, but then found ourselves in squalls with wind gusting 30kn. Having furled the genoa totally, we were running under bare poles, and still doing 5.5 knots! The only way to slow down was to sail the angles, so we headed off at 30 degrees to starboard followed by 60 degrees to port. This worked a treat. It is amazing how well the boat “sails” under bare poles – a first for us!

Getting through the pass even in conditions that were not ideal was not nearly as onerous as a couple of the pilot guides would have us believe, but we did choose our moment – in a patch of blue sky and high cloud between squalls.

When we arrived there were two other yachts here, one being Soggy Paws, who kindly called us on the VHF before we got in. The fourth yacht was Shango with Amy and Roger on board with whom we had been sailing in company (though we couldn’t see them for much of the time) for the passage.

Total distance run: 720 nm

More in the next blog on idyllic Suwarrow which offers a protected anchorage, good holding, black tipped sharks swimming around our stern, and two Park Rangers living on Anchorage Island.

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