By Thursday, the wind died down enough for us to leave Makemo, so we flowed out the northeastern pass with the 11 am low tide. We had an overnight sail to Tahanea, an atoll 50 nautical miles east of Makemo.
Because of the need to time our transit through the passes at both atolls with slack tides and daylight, we had to be at sea for 23 hours and sail overnight…meaning we needed to sail those 50 miles very slowly. We slipped through the neighboring atolls while the sun was up, and hove to north of Tahanea at sunset.
Heaving to is a sailing procedure that involves back winding the jib, trimming the main to a close haul, and locking the wheel while turned hard to windward, effectively stalling the boat; it’s the rough equivalent of putting on the parking break, which we did for 12 hours and drifted, ever so slowly, toward Tahanea.
Sailing slowly through the archipelago is much more work than crossing long distances, it turns out. As opposed setting the autopilot on a fixed destination and having hundreds of miles of ocean to buffer us, we had to watch closely to be sure we didn’t drift into nearby atolls or other boats waiting to enter the pass. Plus, heaving to isn’t particularly comfortable. I experienced my first miserable bouts of seasickness amid all the up and down as we got things balanced, leaving Dominic to single-hand us on 90 minutes of sleep (sorry, Dom!).
The pass was wider and shorter than those in Makemo, so we had an easy entrance into the lagoon and dropped the hook in an anchorage just west of the pass and spent the afternoon napping and taking it as easy as possible.
Tahanea, we learned after our arrival, is a national park and almost entirely uninhabited. From the boat, we could see the pass and surrounding shore, a stretch of sand, patches of palms, and a single slat shack that seemed empty for the time being.
Underwater was a different story—the area was teeming with parrot fish, needle fish, damsel fish, butterfly fish, and the occasional reef shark. We spent an hour snorkeling the reef 50 yards east of the boat.
Saturday morning we cruised down to an anchorage near the south eastern nook of the lagoon. It’s a series of sand slivers, known as motus, and smaller lagoons, complete with endangered birds and perfect swimming holes. Fingers crossed the calm weather holds, and we can stick around for a while.