Sailing to the Tuaomotos past nuclear testing sites in the South Pacific

We found a great weather window (with the wind and strength in the right direction) and left on the 500 nautical mile passage to Amanu from the Gambiers. We timed our leaving for our estimated arrival time to ensure we could sail through the atoll entrance passage at Amanu in daylight. The tides can reach 6-7ktns at the entrance, so you have to time arriving and leaving carefully to avoid ending up on the coral.

Once we were sailing we found the wind speeds, and thus our boat speed, higher than predicted which left us in a typical sailing predicament. Do we sail slower to get there at the right predicted time? But sailing slowly goes against the grain with me, you never know when the wind might drop, or how good the forecast is for the middle of nowhere in the first place. So we pressed on and decided we would worry about it nearer our destination. Trying to time an arrival four days out is not easy, there are too many variables at play. Two days in to our passage and our speeds were still averaging 7-8ktns so we could even arrive a night early at that rate, or miss it and have to wait outside the atoll for 12 hours to get in…only time and the wind would tell and the wind was due to drop. We held our breath, put the full sails out and kept going. We had had 38ktns of wind overnight and as we are goose-winged, (downwind sailing sail position), with a polled out genoa and preventers on the main sail, it’s a lot of ropes to deal with to try and reef the sails in a hurry.

The passage was quite rolly with 2.5m swell which knocked us around a bit but not enough to stop boat-school or baking. We certainly have a good excuse for any poor handwriting for the boys though!

Boat school in action

We saw very little whilst sailing, no whales or dolphins and only the very occasional oceanic bird. We wondered what the damage is for all the nuclear testing France did in all the Pacific islands around here is? We sailed past many small islands and atolls where they did testing with most of them are marked as ‘do not stop’ at as a result of the testing. Maybe they nukked all the oceanic life too, it’s a very quiet ocean. Or maybe it’s just big and empty too, I don’t know but it does seem weird.

Unbelievably we managed to arrive at Amanu a night early and with 40 minutes to spare till slack tide. We motored past the pass and looked at the crashing rollers on either side, it’s definitely one of the more challenging and narrow passes to get through! We successfully got through the ‘dog-leg’ pass with four knots of water gushing us through and this was supposedly slack tide, maybe not!

We motored across the atoll and met up with a fleet of six boats all waiting for a weather window to sail to the Gambiers. Amongst them were two family boats including a family we’d spent the previous Christmas with at Bequia in the Caribbean (S/y Due South). The boys were delighted to have friends to play with and to explore the island atolls with seven boys and one girl it was a great gang to play with!

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