Rangiroa view

One of Rangiroa’s many small islands that make up a ring that is 26 miles around.  Rangiroa is the world’s second largest atoll. The first is somewhere in the Indian Ocean.  Hey!  We’ll be there too!

We had a good 4 day run down from the Marquesas to Rangiroa.  Except for one midnight squall (why do they always seem to hit in the middle of the night?) the sailing was fantastic. We even managed to pull in our biggest fish to date: a 130 pound Yellowfin Tuna!  Talk about excited. We emptied out just about every inch of our freezer.  Who needs hamburger and chicken when you have fresh tuna.  However, for the next two days after we caught the tuna, that’s all we ate, tuna steaks, sushi, tuna casserole, tuna corn flakes…

So we end up missing the correct tides at the entrance to Rangiroa.  There are only two entrances into this 26 mile long atoll. If you don’t catch the correct time, there can be some serious current as the water rushes in to fill the lagoon or struggles to get out.  Standing eight foot waves are not uncommon sights. We tried to slow down through the night but get to Tiputa Pass just as the tide reaches full strength coming out of the atoll. With Sergei driving, we rev the engine and take a shot. The waves coming in from astern push us in along with the engine power but as soon as we reach the bottom of the trough, the current sucks us backwards.  We spend 45 minutes trying to move forward 200 yards. Very hairy and very wet.  Water just flows over the stern on many occasions as the waves rush past but the current holds us in place.

After finally punching through the pass, we motor over and drop the hook off a small luxury hotel where most of the other cruising boats are anchored. Time for some sleep.

Bill goes to check us in with the local constables and we clean up the boat. Cleaning the boat after passages is the most automatic thing in the world for us now. Just a fact of cruising that the boat will get trashed on passage.

Gazing over the side, I see the most incredibly clean, blue water. Aqua in places and darker over the places where there are “boomies” or coral outcroppings. The visibility is amazing and I can see the anchor in 60 feet of water.  Tons of fish have decided to call the bottom of our hull home. Alex and I dive into the water and do some snorkeling.

That night, there is a large Polynesian dance at the Kia Ora hotel. Drinks, dinner, and dancing… we’re there!  We saunter into the hotel and meet some of the other people off the cruising boats.  We meet Reinhardt and Alessandra, an Austrian couple of a 40 foot racing trimaran.  We tend to get a little jealous when he says that his average speed in 20 knots of wind is around 18 knots!  Great dancing and a great night.

We plan on diving Tiputa Pass today. It’s one of the most challenging drift dives on the planet. For this reason, I have to get checked out with the divemaster before I can go. Bill and Alex have over 200 dives each, so they have no problem.  I join about 7 other people on the large Zodiac and we jet out through the same pass that gave us so much trouble on the way in on Out of Bounds. Without so much as a dive briefing, the divemaster tells everyone to flop over the side of the Zodiac.  He tells me to stick right by him.  A very cool dive with lots of Leopard Rays and Rainbow Runners, coral, and Black Tip Sharks.  We finish the dive and I am returned to the boat.  The divemaster clears me to dive the pass later that day with Bill and Alex.

When the dive boat comes to pick us up again, we all pile in.  I have to rent gear as the other scuba rig is acting fluky.  As I put on the gear, I notice that there is no depth meter.  “Can I have a depth meter” I ask. “Sorry, all out, just follow your divemaster”, I’m told. As we roll over the side, Bill, Alex, and I stick together.  Five minutes into the dive, Bill’s dive computer starts flipping out, telling him he needs to surface or else he’s into a decompression dive. Bill has no idea what’s wrong. Then it dawns on him.  I’ve used the computer on the earlier dive.

Bill flies over to me pointing at the dive computer and pointing for me to surface. I have no idea what he means and look around for sharks. Bill then swims over to the divemaster that was with me on the morning dive, points at the dive computer, than at me.  The divemaster swims over, gives me the “Are you OK?” sign and I respond that I’m fine. Bill sticks close by my side and the dive continues. Turns out that this dive takes us down to 135 feet!  I have no way of knowing that my previous dive on top of this one has put me dangerously close to getting bent.  As we prepare to surface. Bill points at me to stay at 15 feet for 10 minutes.  This I understand.  While I vent nitrogen, Bill is yelling at the divemaster about totally disregarding the dive tables.  The divemasters response: “I would not let your friend die”.  I get lucky, and nothing happens to my insides. I learn two things:  never dive unless you know exactly how deep you’ll be going and plan out your times in advance, and two, never trust any divemaster that doesn’t fully explain what will happen on your dive.

That night, we join a large group of people of the cruising boats for a beach party. We offer to bring some of the tuna steaks, as we still have a ton of it.  Everyone else brings rice, salad, beer (Hinano Beer, Tahiti’s own). Instruments get brought out and we’re invited onto the land of a local Tuamotan named Felix. 

Felix’s profession is that of a fisherman. He goes out every morning in his small outboard boat and SPEARS fish.  Not small ones, big whoppers.  Then he pulls them in by hand.  Yow! After the night’s festivities, we bunk down and get some sorely needed sleep.

The day before we are preparing to leave Rangiroa for Tahiti (about a 20 hour sail), Bill decides to rent this really cool looking 3 wheeled, M&M looking car/motorcycle hybrid to explore all 5 miles of road that Rangiroa offers.  Bill and Sergei blaze off, giggling like crazy.  Go figure!

Time to pull the hook and head to the largest city we’ll visit in the South Pacific, Tahiti. Ahhh!!!  Visions dance in our heads of all the beautiful women and scenic vistas.  Leaving Tiputa Pass is considerably easier as we are flushed out with the tide. Two dolphins jump through the waves as we point the bow Southwest towards Papeete, Tahiti.

Jeff Johnson, 1998


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