‘Another of humans’ trivial life foibles,’ our little ship thinks. Willing as they are to have their daily routine disrupted once again, the actual arrival brings with it a momentary, but deeper level of reluctant resistance to the imminent change.
‘Oh my, if I was as confused as that, I would never know which direction to take!’
A quick check with the GPS and she is right on course for Passe de Tiputa on Rangiroa Atoll. Her crew always seem surprised and pleased with themselves that she is exactly where she is supposed to be – they have yet to understand that her fibres of glass are at one with the ocean currents and lost she will never be.
A coral atoll in this part of the world will normally have one or two entrances which have navigable channels, and possibly others which are too shallow to pass except in a canoe or outrigger with a shallow draft. These entrances are known as a ‘Passe’ in French and can vary in width from quite wide to terrifyingly narrow. They can be and mostly are, littered with coral heads with razor sharp teeth – teeth sharp enough that would crunch through her fibreglass hull as easily as chomping into a crusted meringue. Being advisable to enter on a flowing tide and exit on the ebb, she will be passing the channel at speed. The margin of error therefore for our deep keeled yacht is somewhat reduced. A lookout at the bow is required to ensure a safe path is steered through the passage before popping out like a cork drawn from a bottle of Hennessey cognac, into the lagoon beyond. With her sharp farmers’ eyes, sibling crew posts herself balancing on the top pulpit rail, wrapping one arm around the rolled in foresail.
Our little ship, drawing over two metres and also conscious of this potential to wreck and ruin, approaches their first one together with some trepidation. This level of anxiety is heightened by the sight of the white hull of a yacht lying up on the reef close to the entrance, looking very skeletal, bones bleached whiter than white in the tropical sun. Sails dropped and engine ticking over, she manoeuvres onto her course for their first ‘running the Passe’. Gunning her motor, she propels herself forward, all eyes on deck staring, looking for any obstructing and deadly razor coral heads, and sweeps into the crystal waters of the lagoon, cutting a pretty picture of white hull on blue as she comes up in a trim turn to starboard. Our doughty crew, unwittingly holding their collective breath, quietly release, heartbeats gradually returning to normal. She also feels a spurt of satisfaction, along with quiet competence tinged with pride, at safely conning her way in without so much as a scratch. No matter how many hundreds of these ‘Passes’ she will negotiate in the future, this very first one will always burn bright in her memory.