Sunday, August 06, 2017

Maupiti (with Manta Rays)

[Kyle]After clearing out at Bora Bora, we left the wharf at Viatape at the very first of the light. Five other boats appeared from various directions and we all left the pass one after the other, sailing towards the end of the long shadow Mt. Otomanu cast by the just-risen sun. I thought we got up early, but we were fifth. All of the boats appeared to be heading towards the pass entrance at the island of Maupiti, 25 miles west. Their pass is reputed to be tricky and is best entered with the sun high in the sky, which means we all had to leave as early as possible to make it happen. It looked like we had a proper race at hand.

There were five catamarans including us, and one big monohull. The two biggest cats were charter boats just over 60'. We had no hope of catching them, particularly since the charter companies prohibit sailing at night and their instructions for Maupiti insist that if the pass is found to be too dangerous to enter, the boat has to be back in Bora Bora by nightfall. This meant they kept both engines going the whole way in addition to sail. A few hours later, all we could see was the tops of their sails disappearing over the horizon.

Next were a couple of cats a little larger than us. We did our best to hold our own against them, but they also seemed to be pulling ahead of us.

At least we should be able to stay ahead of the monohull, even though it was bigger. Their theoretical maximum hull speed is higher than ours, but the drag increase at that point for catamarans is much more gradual, so in a decent wind, we should be able to go a knot or two faster and keep up with them.

We had perfect conditions; wind just aft of the beam and light enough to carry full sail. It wasn't enough. They crept up behind us and altered coarse slightly to pass us on our starboard side. Just as I was trying to figure out if they had actually put us into sixth, the wind picked up ever so slightly and they headed for the horizon – behind us. Woo hoo! Yay math! We're not last! It's the little things...

After a couple of hours, they had receded until just their mast was showing and then we lost it in the clutter of Bora Bora. It also seemed like we were actually gaining on the other two cats, but we weren't sure because we were all on slightly different courses, so it was hard to tell if they appeared to be getting closer because we were overtaking them or because we were all converging.

By the time we arrived outside the pass at Maupiti, we were definitely looking back at them. Ha, ha! We beat the big guys (this time). Finally, our relatively skinny hulls and our almost complete lack of heavy gear for creature comforts paid off. We may not have air conditioning or plenty of water for long, hot showers, but we got here twenty minutes earlier than you, so take that!

The pass was mild, so we were able to go in and anchor just to the west, where we found a nice sandy spot with no coral. We ran the checklist and after a couple of minutes spent making sure each hot engine was still in good health, I was completely overheated. Since sitting by the register and letting cool, dry air blow over me was not an option, I opted instead for a refreshing reconnaissance swim.

We had anchored near a Manta cleaning station and wanted to see how long it would take to swim there from Begonia the next morning when they are active. Our swimming route took us through a buoyed no-anchoring zone, implemented to protect the rays. We hadn't even crossed the line yet when we saw the first one meandering about near another anchored boat. We watched him until he took off and then swam to what we thought was the area of the cleaning station before heading back. It had been a pretty long day and we were ready to wrap it up.

We found the same Manta in about the same spot on the way back. We could see people on deck on the nearby boat and stopped by to say hi and to tell them about their companion. The owners were two French doctors from New Caledonia. With them was another French crew who had been bopping around the islands of the South Pacific his whole life. They offered us coffee, so we came aboard and dripped on their stern steps while chatting. When we were done, we invited them for drinks the next evening.

We were up early in order to get to the cleaning station, where the big manta come to have themselves cleaned by little wrasse every morning. I wish we could train them to do it in the afternoon. We were having no luck until our new friends swam over from their boat a few minutes later. Katherine spotted the first one as it lazily circled the bommie where its wrasse lived. We saw another and then another. Boatloads of tourists arrived and soon the water was full of multicolored fins on the surface as the mantas circled below.

Leaving Bora Bora and arriving in Maupiti

Unlike in Bora Bora, these were in slightly shallower water, which allowed me to dive down and spend a little more time at their depth. I learned that if I could get hold of a bit of dead coral to keep me down without having to burn energy fighting my buoyancy, I could stay down for almost a full minute. After a little trial and error, I learned that if I dove to the spot where the manta just passed, I could stay as it came around for its next pass without spooking it. In this way, I was able to remain still as it passed inches overhead, seemingly unconcerned with my presence. It was so cool! I did get the timing wrong a couple of times and really had to struggle to remain still until it was well clear.

We hung out for a couple of hours enjoying the company of this ray or that before leaving them to the tour boats. The current was against us for the swim home, so most of the rest of the morning was taken up swimming hard watching the coral below inch by. We were pretty beat by the time we got home but, of course we had guests coming, so there was to be no refreshing afternoon nap.

Manta Rays!

{Maryanne: Manta rays have these quite unusual boneless fins either side of their mouth that they generally point ahead of them, streamlined in the water flow. They are called Cephalaic fins, they are amazingly flexible and the mantas can use them to divert water flow into their mouths, but can also set them in some kind of spiral corkscrew shape which we saw them do a lot. The flexibility and versatility of this Cephalic fins is quite fascinating to watch and for me is a little like watching an elephant use its trunk.}

They were delightful company and we learned much about the islands from them, particularly to the west, from which they had come. The next day, they were heading further upwind to Tahiti where Katherine was due to return to her dermatology practice in New Caledonia . The two men would then take the boat to the Tuamotus to be hauled for cyclone season.

Our plans were of the more standard downwind variety. We pulled up anchor the next morning and as we turned into the channel for the pass, we spotted them having one last swim with the mantas. They waved and we honked back. We were only about three miles from the island when we saw their boat come out of the pass and turn the other way.

1 comment:

Mommy Dearest said...

Checking in--on my way to bed again and got caught up reading your blog, which is always much more inviting than bed, no matter how tired I might think I am. Those rays are fascinating and thank you, Maryanne, for the explanation about their physiology. Glad you aren't in the US or anywhere near the Caribbean, as weather is rough here. I see you have somehow gotten some of the news about all the islands you have enjoyed so thoroughly.
I hope Kyle heals quickly and you can continue your journey. I think of you constantly, with great love.