Jun 17

Deserted Island Paradise

Tag: routemattholmes @ 9:29 pm


(written 6/10)

After a frustrating passage from Fatu Hiva, Karen and I shot the pass to enter the lagoon at Makemo Atoll, and found that we had it all to ourselves.  Zero people, zero buildings, zero man-made anything.  We anchored in crystal clear water–the bottom was easily visible at 60 feet–just off a white sand beach lined with palm trees.  For the next three days we snorkeled over gorgeous coral and fish and explored our own deserted island.  It was spectacular–a first in a lifetime experience for me.  This is what we were looking for, this is what we needed.

Regarding atolls: an atoll is a ring of coral with a lagoon in the center.  Sometimes the ring is an unbroken strip of land around the lagoon, but more often it is a mixture of little islands and barely submerged coral reefs.  There are usually only one or two passes into the lagoon (and sometimes none at all).  As the tides rise and fall, all the water in the lagoon tries to enter and exit through these passes, creating at times ridiculously powerful currents.  I have read reports of 20 knot ebb currents in some passes.  As the current in the pass encounters the ocean swell outside, crazy stuff can happen (think white water rafting on the ocean).  Adding to the danger, the passes are often very narrow; the entrance to Makemo was only 85 yards wide–that sure doesn’t feel like much as you’re being carried along in a fast-moving river of current.  And further compounding the peril, coral heads and reefs lie just below the surface, sprinkled throughout the passes and the lagoons like booby traps specially designed for sinking boats.

So shooting a pass into a lagoon is an exciting experience.  You attempt to time it to enter during slack current (the point at which the current is neither flooding nor ebbing, but switching directions), but there is insufficient information available to do this accurately–you never know what current you’re going to find.  As you shoot through the pass you’re carefully following gps waypoints to make a left turn here and a right turn there to avoid unseen mortal peril.  While doing this, strange eddy currents sent straight from hell are trying to spin the boat various directions.  Exciting!

In truth, though it can be terribly dangerous, we haven’t had any close calls with the three passes we’ve done so far.  We have seen 3 knot currents max, and an impressive tongue of white water as we were exiting Makemo, but it all just added to the adventure.

It was also our first experience with anchoring among large coral heads.  Some anchorages in the atolls have mostly sand and little mounds of coral; other spots, like the very first one we encountered on Makemo, have large 8ft tall stacks of coral to wrap the chain around.  In the pictures you can clearly our chain nicely snaked around (the depth is 50 feet in these shots).  It’s good and bad–good because with your chain all tangled up there’s no way you’re going to drag anchor when the wind picks up–bad because it can be a real bitch when you go to retrieve your anchor.  It was fortunate that we had such great visibility; as we weighed anchor karen snorkeled off the bow, examining how the chain was tangled and directing me how to steer to unwrap us.  Combine mediocre visibility with a coral head minefield and it would be easy to lose your anchor somewhere in these atolls.  Neither of us know how to dive–this would be a really good skill to have in places like this, if only to save a $500 anchor!

We had the place to ourselves, we kicked back.  We jumped in whenever we got hot.  We wandered on the abandoned island, finding only crabs and coconuts.  The shallow water at the beach was filled with fish and foot-long reef sharks.  It was quiet, calm, empty.

This is what it’s about, this is seriously fantastic.

3 Responses to “Deserted Island Paradise”

  1. Phil says:

    Sounds fantastic! Almost exactly what I was describing to you from my trip to Tonga. Am SO envious right now. Am very curious about your future route after you leave French Polynesia. Can you share any details or is the route still up in the air?

  2. mattholmes says:

    the route is still very much up in the air–there are a few things decided: moms are visiting us in tahiti at the end of june, then we have to clear out of french polynesia because our allotted 90 days will be up. After that, we have until the beginning of november to get to either new zealand or australia, to escape the hurricane season round these parts

  3. Tresa ( Krise) Flowers says:

    The only ting i can think of to say is WOW!!!! you Lucky kids

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