450 miles South West of the Marquise and 250 miles North East of Tahiti, the Tuamotus were known as the ‘Dangerous Archipelago’. So low on the water they are almost invisible and with strong currents and swell pushing onto coral reefs. Without GPS or accurate charts, it was wise to steer clear. Today sailing this zone is much easier, but it is wise to keep in mind that charts are not always accurate…
The sail from the Marquise typically takes 3 to 4 days reaching in the trade winds. It is best to plan your arrival for daylight and tides to make the passes easier to handle. Passes are best crossed at low tide or just at the start of the incoming tide. During outgoing tides some passes become dangerous with standing waves and turbulence. This means knowing when the tide will change! The rule to apply is that high-tide is generally around midday. However when the sea swell is big it’s possible to have an outgoing tide for several days, while the lagoon empties of all the water that the waves push over the reefs.
Once inside a lagoon, the navigation buoys (when present) are generally accurate but one should keep a keen eye out for coral heads. Best is to move about between 10am and 3pm to ensure the best visibility.
Arriving from the Marquise the first atolls one crosses are Takaroa, Manihi and Ahe. The largest are Rangiroa and Fakarava. The closest to Tahiti are Rangiroa and Tikehau which due to this proximity are better set-up for tourists with hotels, dive clubs etc. In the other atolls you might find a family pension and some stores with basic provisions, not much else. Don’t hesitate to call the contacts given in sailing guides if you need help deciding when to cross a pass, people are friendly and always ready to help.