Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Tuamotus: Fakarava (South Pass)

[Kyle]From our anchorage in Tahanea, we motorsailed the short distance to the pass and then headed out for the overnight sail to Fakarava. At fifty miles, it was just a little too far to sail in daylight on the shortest day of the year – unless the wind was really howling (It was not), so we planned a slow sail in light winds.

That worked for the first seven miles, and then the wind dropped to two knots. The forecast called for it to gradually increase from there, so we decided to just bob around in our spot and wait for it.

While we were waiting, we overheard several radio conversations amongst the large group we have been roughly paralleling. They were debating whether to leave right then and also sail overnight or to wait until morning and motor hard through the day. Most elected to stay and get a last night’s rest while one left. Another catamaran (So What) motored past us a few hours later as we were still waiting for the wind to return.

It finally got late enough that we had to resort to running an engine ourselves in order to make it to the pass at the morning slack water. We were keen to transit then, rather than with the whole crowd in the afternoon.

The wind never did pick up, so we ended up motoring the whole way. Ugh!

At daybreak, So What and Begonia were just off of the south pass into Fakarava. So What put out a general request for tide information. I answered that we thought slack was at 7:45, but we were going to try the pass early and see what it was like. They hung back and let us go in first as Guinea Pigs.

From sea, the pass looked like it was crossed by large breaking waves. The pass cuts in at an angle and it actually passed through smooth water behind the breakers. We had a little current against us, but since it had been calm all night, we had no trouble.

We lucked out. The anchorage is reputed to be very corally, but there were two moorings open, so we picked one up, saving us the whole anchor hubbub. Our mooring was made of heavy line connected to a stout chain wrapped around a coral head that was as big as the boat and probably ten times heavier.

We probably needed sleep after sailing all night, but it was just too tempting to go into the water and have a look around.

First, of course, was to check the mooring. I hadn’t even moved from the stern step before spotting the first Blacktip Reef Shark directly below me, along with a school of Parrotfish. It seems each mooring is assigned a shark. Every now and then the one from the next mooring over would come and swim a bit with ours before returning to its post.

Beautiful Fakarava

Thinking the pudgy with the electric motor wouldn’t be powerful enough to overcome the currents in the pass, we decided to splash out and have a nearby dive shop take us out in one of their boats. We tried to call on VHF, but got no answer. We then swam ashore to them and found them all closed up, so we decided to walk/swim across motus and through the smaller passes until we got to the village. Once there, we walked through the village to the outside of the pass. After checking that the current was going into the atoll, we entered the water and drift snorkeled our way in. A-MAZ-ING! An unbroken seascape of colorful coral near the surface plunged steeply down to the bottom of the pass a hundred feet below. We saw lots more fish of so many varieties, including giant lumbering Napoleon Wrasses and sharks, lots of sharks.

As we passed by the village (not really a village, just a group of dive shacks), the shark population increased until there were more than we could count as they zipped around in every direction. Being careful not to step on one, we climbed out at a restaurant with the idea of thanking the village for the free mooring by throwing them some business. Maryanne found an empty corner of a picnic table, but before she could sit, the owner came up and shooed her off for getting wet footprints on the floor. What? We’re not supposed to get an unfinished deck wet at an outdoor picnic table surrounded by dive shops? Half the people there were dripping. We tried to explain that we were hoping for a snack or maybe a beer, to which he said we would need a reservation for the full prix fixe menu, which was seemed to be priced for divers who are used to forking out $400 per dive. Uh, no thanks. We’ll go back in with the sharks. By then, the current had switched to ebb (out) and we were having a hard time overcoming it. We crawled out on the beach and got home in the same walk/snorkel manner, only in reverse.

The sharks were everywhere

We spent the next day repeating the same snorkeling routes and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. In the afternoon, we decided to start making our way up the atoll to the other side. We picked a spot about halfway and found a nice empty bommie-free spot to drop the anchor while we wait out some changing winds.

It wasn't ALL sharks

At least we thought it was bommie-free. It turns out the water was just really silty and we couldn’t see the bottom, which made it look like white sand. Once I got on a mask and fins, I pulled myself down the chain to see what was down there. It was mostly sand, but there were dead coral heads scattered about. As a precaution, we had buoyed the last two thirds of our chain which was keeping us away from it.

Early in the morning, just before sunrise, the wind shifted to the west and strengthened. Our calm anchorage got much choppier. As daylight arrived, we found ourselves just ahead of shore. It is made up of a short wall of coral and the waves were smashing into it, sending surprisingly large plumes of spray flying. It looked pretty horrific. We double and triple-checked our anchor and floats and we seemed to be holding well without having wrapped around any coral heads. Still, the view out the back is a little disconcerting. The wind is forecast to continue backing to the south and strengthening. That should give us some slight protection from the waves, but also swing us parallel to the shore, which should make sleeping a little easier.

Waiting out some nasty weather


Deb UK said...

Oh wow swimming with sharks. Gorgeous detail/photos. Thanks again.x l have to pinch my self that you aredoing all of this sooo amazing.d x

SV-Footprint said...

Thanks Deb - we have to pinch ourselves quite a bit too - we totally understand how lucky and privileged we are. And for you - a speedy Knee recovery (I haven't been skiing for soooooo long, but I think I'd half expect at least a broken bone if I tried it now)

Mommy Carla said...

I'm not going to freak out at the thought of you snorkeling in literally shark-infested waters. I thought the worst of waters like that could be found in Washington DC. Apparently I was wrong. Amazing adventures! Sending love.

kate rodenhouse said...

Is that a moray eel?! Wow! Mark had two observations: you guys have a very good underwater camera, and Maryanne is brown as a berry! :) Absolutely wonderful photos, thank you SO MUCH for posting these beauties! That water is beyond description, so crystal clear and sparkling. Glad to think of you swimming and snorkeling and exploring every inch of the place at your own pace. xx

Maryanne Webb said...

Kate - yes it is a Moray eel... which kindly came out of its hole to pose. And yes too, I do seem to have picked up a little color in my face and legs.. All that snorkelling and hanging about the boat in the sun (with sun-cream, and hats and all that stuff!)