Paul Theroux's article was astonishingly maladroit for someone of his international reputation.
The Tuamotu Islands are indeed notorious shipwreckers, not because of their "shoals and poor anchorages"--there are no shoals and the anchorages inside the passes to the atoll lagoons are certainly better than those found in the neighboring Marquesas--but because of the unpredictability of the currents that flow around these low islands setting unvigilant ships onto their reefs at night.
A "wake" is the disturbed water left astern of a ship: Theroux's "bow wake" is thus an oxymoron. "Bow wave" is what he was dimly aiming for.
Theroux traveled on a 343-foot cargo passenger vessel and wonders, "How else could one visit all these empty . . . islands except by such a ship?" As a travel writer his eye must be seriously questioned if he failed to notice the overcrowding of foreign cruising yachts at every island he visited.
PETER BRAYTON NICHOLS