Rangiroa, Tuamotu, French Polynesia
Oh you want the zoomed out picture? Being as on that Google map we showed you before the scale was 1 pixel = somewhere around 500 miles or something, I don’t think it would change very much. We’re still in the middle of the blue stuff. 😉
With about 2400 permanent inhabitants (this is a HUGE number by the way, we haven’t seen cities so populous since Nuku Hiva) being only a paltry 220 miles from Tahiti (laughable distance really) and with an airport with actual daily flights (*gasp!*) Rangiroa is the de facto capital of the Tuamotu. Its coral reef is made up of 415 motu (islands) and it has only 2 passes in or out. This is where our story begins:
We had gotten a little cocky about the whole “sailing though a dangerous coral reef” thing but don’t you worry, Rangiroa was kind enough to re-humble us. Her lagoon is big: about 50 miles long and 20 miles wide. This atoll actually has its own horizon and generates its own localized micro weather patterns. Land’s still about 300 yards across though, so no help there. 50 miles long, 20 miles wide and a lagoon about 100 feet deep. That’s a lot of water and there are only two skinny little passes (say about 100 yards across) in or out. Perhaps you can see where we’re going here.
Rangiroa has a tidal current.
Those weren’t jumping fish; they were 5 foot long dolphins surfing in the standing waves. Rangiroa is famous for them. Also, some genius French entrepreneur (they did invent the word, after all) built a channel-side bar with an observation deck to watch the struggling boats…it’s like the nautical version of celebrity death match with dolphin cheerleaders & umbrella drinks!
A 6 – 7 knot tidal current shifts back and forth throughout the day, creating 5 foot standing waves in addition to the coral on both sides of the channel just waiting to snack on your fiberglass hull. If you don’t know anything about tides and currents, let us give you a visual. We watched one boat who thought that the reports of the rip tide were exaggerated and decided to just push though. For a full hour we watched this cruising boat, at all ahead full, pedal to the metal, going though gas like a drunken sailor though vodka, transit this 300 yard long pass. 300 yards! At sea – calm. In the lagoon – calm. In the pass, one little boat struggled to get in while 2.09×1013 gallons of water wanted to get out…all at once. Oh yes, we just broke out the scientific numbering system. The same system they use to measure the distance to other galaxies. Do we have your attention?
“Oh but that isn’t so bad”, you say. “Just go in while the current is pushing you into the lagoon.” Bad idea for two reasons:
1) For the non-sailors out there, the way a rudder works is that it’s a board sticking out of the bottom of your boat that turns you by pushing against the water. Turn the rudder, the water flowing past it hits it at an angle, which pushes the board and the boat attached to it, in a new direction. If water isn’t flowing past the rudder, the boat won’t turn. When a boat is in a following current (aka being pushed) in a narrow channel where the speed of the water is equal to the speed of the boat, then no water is flowing over the rudder and your half million dollar floating condo just became the world’s biggest pinball.
2) You know that desert island with the one palm tree that people get shipwrecked on in the movies? Found it. It’s at the end of the fast flowing channel of Rangiroa, right there in the smack dab middle of where all the really fast water lets out.
It’s cute, when the current isn’t pushing you right into it – then it’s scary!