One Heck of a Welcome to Apataki

It is not everyday we find a sunken boat, or we get really close to a shallow reef. Such is life cruising on a boat”¦

This morning we were up before dawn. Our next atoll destination, Apataki, was possible to reach during daylight if we left early enough. We held our breath as we started to pull up the anchor because two boats had gotten stuck on the coral and needed divers to get them out. Cruisers: We suspect “Charlie’s Charts” are just a little off for the anchorage in Manihi. You may want to mark your books to anchor just a touch south of where “Charlie’s” recommends to avoid getting stuck on the coral. The two stuck boats were exactly where “Charlie’s” said to go, and the boats that did not get stuck were a little south.

The anchor seemed to be going up OK”¦ then bam. It stopped. We were stuck. Our heart sank. Eric drove the boat around a little in hopes of jarring loose whatever was stuck. It worked. When we tried again, the chain came right up. For a ways. Then it got stuck again. Oh no. Eric tried to jar it loose again by moving the boat, and it worked again. The chain began to come up again and the anchor came right out of the water and we were free! Yay!

Leaving Manihi the current was with us, making steering a little trickier, but it wasn’t bad. Our trip from Manihi to Apataki was pleasant. The seas were calm and there was little rocking. This was a huge relief to Eric. On the rough three day passage, Christi had mentioned abandoning the boat and continuing the trip on public transportation. It wasn’t a serious statement, but he knew the calm seas reassured her that the boat was a good way to travel.

We spotted the island at about 1400 (2:00 pm). It looked much like Manihi from the distance, but much bigger and with more obvious beaches. We approached the entrance at the northwest tip of the atoll at about 1500 (3:00 pm). The entrance was 400 feet wide, so it looked easy, but going through pass was stressful none the less. The current was 3 ½ to 4 knots. Thankfully we came in with no problems, but water looked intimidating. Close to the land were huge eddies of water that looked like glass, and all around the eddies the water was moving so violently that it looked like the water was boiling. There were not many coral patches, so we were less on edge heading into the anchorage than in Manihi.

We navigated over to the anchorage recommended on the north side of the lagoon. We were in a good mood. There were things that could have gone wrong today, but everything had gone smoothly and perfectly. It had been a really good day, the kind of day that makes you glad to be on your own boat. So, Eric picks a spot and we drop anchor around 15:30 (3:30 pm). Ahhh”¦ anchored in paradise.

For those of you who aren’t boaters, when you anchor, you put out a lot more chain than the depth of the water, so the boat drifts with the wind and current. By the charts we were pretty close to a shallow reef, and sure enough we watched ourselves get closer and closer. It turns out were not quite fast enough initially dropping our anchor and had drifted closer than we had planned. The “approaching” ominous reef was 6-7 feet below, and Kosmos is 5 feet deep. So in theory we would be ok. About 200 feet away was the really shallow stuff. It made us nervous only having a couple feet of clearance. After all, we pretty new at all this and we did not want to take any unnecessary chances.

So we decided to move. No big deal. We still had a bit of daylight left, but night was coming quickly. Christi went to the front of the boat and pushed the button for the windlass (automatic chain picker-upper. Our chain and anchor are too heavy to pull up by hand at any reasonable speed). A good amount of chain came up, but the windlass was really struggling to get it up. Oh man, did we get stuck on coral? Then the chain stopped coming up completely. OK, we’ll do the same dance we did this morning and move the boat around. We tried that several times, and all attempts failed. The chain wasn’t moving. Huh? Talk about irony. We were so worried about being stuck this morning, and all was fine. Now, we are really super stuck when we had been so sure all was fine.

We noticed a couple weird things that didn’t add up. We noticed a lot of air bubbles coming up for almost a minute, but could see no creature in the water making the bubbles. We had only 25 feet of chain out and the depth sounder said we were in 40 feet of water. Granted, the coral could rise up sharply out of nowhere, causing a difference between the depth sounder location and the anchor location, but you would think you could see the coral at only 25 feet. Then Eric noticed oil was coming up out of the water. Oh, good God. Perhaps were stuck on some kind of pipeline? This was much worse than anticipated.

Christi put on the mask and snorkel and got in to have a look. There was definitely something funky looking stuck to the anchor. It looked like there were several ropes floating around, but it appeared only one was attached to the thing stuck to the anchor. The rope in question looked like a typical rope boater’s use, and the rope is connected to something very long and narrow. It could be a pipeline, but it looked more like a long skinny tree. Maybe it was a sunken palm tree that a rope had wrapped around. The ground didn’t look right, either. It didn’t look sandy. There were two boxes down there. She could see the tops of them, but couldn’t see the sides of them, almost like they were sunk into the ground. Hmmm.

Christi went back on board and grabbed a knife, a weight belt, and the air hose we use to breathe air when we clean the bottom of the boat. She went down to try to cut the line. Once she was down deeper she realized that we were above a sunken boat! The “tree” was actually the mast (pole that holds the sail up). What had hooked onto our anchor was some of the rigging (ropes that hold the sail onto the pole) on the mast that had some marine growth. And the “boxes” were hatches into the boat. It freaked her out to see the sunken ship. A boat had died and was buried here in our exact spot. That was not comforting. Would we be next?

The chain was down 25 feet, but she just couldn’t get her ears equalized beyond 20 feet. She tried several times. This really frustrated her because she was so darn close to it! Jean Paul, our friend from yesterday, had bad hearing from diving too deep and having his ears pop, and neither of us thought it was a good idea to risk going down the extra 5 feet without equalizing.

Now it was getting dark, and there was really nothing we could do in the dark. We dropped the anchor back down, hoping it hit the ground rather than getting even more stuck in the boat below. Now we sit tight and hope that the anchor/sailboat holds us tight and that we don’t possibly hit the coral behind us, or worse yet drift into the really shallow stuff. Pray that tomorrow we are able to cut the rope and that we don’t drift into the coral once the pressure holding us in place is released. Pray no one gets hit by anything when the rope is cut and the pressure is released.

We doubt we’ll get much sleep tonight. We have an “anchor alarm”, which is on the GPS. It beeps an alarm if you move more than a set distance. Eric set it to super close and slept in the pilothouse. We decided not to set a stern anchor; it just seemed like potentially more trouble. We were not sure of the winds and possibly other coral around.

We are amazed by the odds of this happening. In this enormous lagoon, we randomly pick the one spot to anchor in that has a sunken ship below. And it probably sank from hitting the coral we are so close to. It is like this dead boat is trying to pull us into the grave with it”¦

6 thoughts on “One Heck of a Welcome to Apataki”

  1. Opps not having much look are you hope youre look improves and you have many days of happy boating.

  2. Great adventure! I am sure everything will work out in the morning and look forward to hearing how it turns out.

    Jim Evans

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