I’m guessing that most people picture palm trees when they think of the South Pacific. Tiny waves gently lap at white sand beaches, and people float on their backs surrounded by the turquoise water. And that’s true, about sixty-five percent of the time.
The Tuamotus epitomizes the white sand beach stereotype. A series of circular reefs, they dot the ocean between the Marquesas and the Society islands. Once you enter the lagoon, you can experience the sea breeze but be protected by the fringing reef. Until the wind changes.
From a sailing point of view, the Tuamotus are lovely but very dangerous. The passes have strong currents that can reach up to ten knots. Coral heads dot the lagoon, lurking just below the water and tempting innocent keels into collision. Unlike protected harbors, you often only have protection from one wind direction. As long as the trades are blowing this is fine, but every week or so the wind comes from a different direction for a few days and all hell breaks loose.
As I write this, the wind is from the north, and I am in the south. I have thirty nautical miles of wind-driven fetch. My foredeck hatch is battened down because my bow is almost plunging under water every ten seconds.
Everything is sea stowed even though I’m on anchor. I know that in a few days the wind will change back around, and I’ll once again be in post card perfect paradise. Sometimes it’s important to have lows so that you can appreciate the altitude of the highs.