Fakarava, Tuamotus

Author: Pete
Location: Fakarava, Tuamotus
Date: May 23 – June 2


Leaving in the early afternoon on the 22rd we ran a quick overnight passage to Fakarava from Makemo, about 70 miles to the south pass. We had low wind at first, but the wind picked up over the night and we were running 6 knots under the spinnaker by the morning of the 23rd. The pass in Fakarava was wide, deep, well marked, and low current. We plowed our way through exactly when the tide was supposed to be low, but still encountered 1 knot of outgoing current from the heavy swells breaking over the outer reef and filling the atoll with water. We followed the beacons in and skirted the long reef that runs far into the lagoon, something best done in the daylight as that part isn’t marked.




A good deal of boats were anchored in the protected bay, no doubt drawn by the idyllic beauty of the palm-laced atoll, the clear, good-holding sandy anchorage, and the great protection from the strong southeast winds predicted to hit the area in the following days. We nosed into the three meter shallows, exploiting one of the merits of sailing a catamaran, dropped anchor and floated our chain. We took an hour to make sure our anchor was dug in then took the dinghy for a drift snorkel in the pass.



In the evening as we were opening a coconut for drinks a dinghy came zipping up after seeing that we were from Charlevoix the Beautiful. Chris and Jess aboard the sailboat Namaste are Michiganders who grew up and now have a summer place in my home town. We chatted about home and they invited us to join them on a dive in the pass which we heartily agreed to.



The 23rd was our day to wind our kite skills back up. The wind was up, so we pulled out the kite gear, locked in the fins on the board, and motored over to a tiny islet surrounded by shallow sandbar to go kite boarding. We have aboard three kites, a 12, 9, and 7 meter, but only two lines and harnesses. We brought one board and Felix’s surfboard. We took turns dusting off our kite-handling skills in pairs, one riding, the spotters supporting in the dinghy. The sun was out in force and the wind was making a good show at 15 knots.






Zipping over gorgeous, iridescent waters was tenuous at times because the sandbars surround the islet were dotted with mailbox-sized coral bommies that would surely shred flesh from bone should a kite rider take a digger just upwind of one. Most were just under the surface and clearly visible, but shallow enough to ding your board on and spaced in clumps such that when one was avoided, it could be surmised with some certainty that several others would be waiting nearby. Fortunately the death cookies were clustered in certain predictable and avoidable areas. Sometimes the wind was just too good over there though, and you found yourself over in the coral patch despite common sense, goaded on by the boardshorts-wearing devil on one shoulder while the sunscreen-smeared angel dozed in a hammock on the other one.




The morning of the 24th Liza and I got up early to dive with Chris and Jess from Namaste. We only have two sets of gear and the dive sounded technical, so we planned to check it out first before dragging Miranda and Felix into the mess. The heavy swell, uncommon for the season, was wreaking havoc with the current apparently. Chris, acting as driver for the day, motored us out in the dinghy to a marker buoy out of the channel and we dove to 100 feet with Jess. We finned along for about fifteen minutes until we realized the current was not only weak, but about to switch and flow OUT into the open ocean. That’s bad. So we aborted the dive and Chris picked us up in the dinghy. It wasn’t a total waste of a day. We took the kites to the skies again, albeit with a few bladders being mended. We were down to the 7.5m Best Kahuna at some point.




The morning of the 25th we took another crack at the diving. Chris picked Liza and I up in the wee hours of the morning and zigzagged through he coral heads and sand shoals out to the pass. We anchored the dinghy, and checked our gear before rolling into the water. The visibility was good, and you could see the anchor at 30 feet as if it were at the nose of the boat. We made sure it was set then drifted with the light current back towards the lagoon. We slid down the gentle slopes until we ran into what is called the Wall of Sharks. In the distance hanging in almost motionless in the current were hundred, I shit you no, hundreds of sharks. Mainly Gray Sharks and Black Tipped Reef Sharks cruised up and down the pass, flying like sleek, dangerous fighter jets in the swift water. Greg, pictures coming soon should make up for not diving with the Hammerheads in Galapagos.






So naturally after unintentionally peeing in our wetsuits we settled down and made it though the first wave of the ghastly gliders. We thought we were out of the fun until we ran into another wall of them. They cruised by close at times if you held your breath enough. The bubbles scare them apparently. They scare me, so we’re even. Most were between 5 and 8 feet long, so not too big. At one point in the dive we did see a BIG white shadow slithering over the bottom. Turned out to be a Sickle Fin Lemon Shark huge. HUGE. Everything looks bigger underwater, granted, but this thing must have been 14 feet. It was walking through a forest filled with foxes, and coming across of Grizzly bear. All predators, but some more predatory than others. We gaped like we’d seen Brad Pitt, or maybe a really terrible car accident with seat belt shunning occupants. It was awesome.



We collected our jaws and Chris dropped us off at Tayrona. We made plans to take Miranda and Felix the following day, and made a little lunch. We spent some time after lunch going over theory and doing an easy checkout dive off the back of the boat to bring Miranda and Felix back into diving shape for the following day.





On the 26th we woke bright eyed and bushy tailed for another round of sharks. There were more sharks than before. Swarms of them. Walls of them. At some point there were flights of sharks behind me, between me and the rest of the group, and behind the group. We were truly and utterly surrounded, and the slinky beasts didn’t seem to even notice. They cruised by us, eyeing the bubbling monsters with their vertically slit, cold eyes. Foxes, I kept telling myself they were just foxes. It only helped somewhat.






Miranda and Felix, being somewhat new to diving, did a fantastic job in a fairly technical dive. We bottomed out at 85 feet and were under for about 45 minutes as the current whisked us through the pass and deposited us at a sandy beach in the lagoon.


Since then it’s been a couple of days at the same anchorage. Did another dive, more kiting, and a lot of hanging out. Life is good aboard Tayrona. Heading to Tahiti sometime in the next couple of days.


Return to Tahuata

Author: Pete
Location: Tahuata, Marquesas
Date: May 2nd – 5th, 2015


Sailed into the morning light heading back to Tahuata, just south of Hiva Oa. Skirted the dark western shore of the island until we reached the southern most bay called Hanatefau. The hint of a town could be seen on the southern banks, but on the north side the steep green walls dominated the landscape. Only one tiny shack populated the banks. On our way into the bay we were welcomed with spinner dolphins putting on a show, including their tiny 3 foot long babies, jumping and spinning too. Pretty damn cute.



We anchored in clear sand in about 35 feet of water, a little close to the boulder strewn shore with the surge coming in. We all jumped in the water to see the dolphins. A silky shark was in their ranks and they were protective of their babies, so they didn’t stay too long to play. Once they took off for deeper waters we snorkeled along the rocky shore.






In the afternoon Miranda and I swam to the rocky shore. A lithe form popped out of the rocks down the beach and greeted us in French. Our new friend’s name was Teii, a Marquesian man of about forty five, native to the island. He decided we needed to see Hapatoni, the tiny town in the bay, a short walk along the dirt road hidden just above his house in the trees. We hiked over hill and dale through tall leafy trees to the little village where Teii knew pretty much everyone. Not difficult with a population of less than one hundred. We came back with arms full of fruit, and a date to return for Sunday lunch after church the following day.






We showed up on Sunday in our finest and were whisked away to the house of the cousin. Apparently, everyone is a cousin here, honorary or biological. Another cousin had shot a wild boar up the mountain and they had roasted it on coals in the ground for six hours in the morning. There was roasted breadfruit, which tasted something like potato, Poee Poee a tangy fermented breadfruit mush, and also Fafaru, fermented raw fish in a clear jar. The stuff smelled and tasted like outhouse or barnyard, and I took most of the brunt of the ‘hospitality’ for our crew with three big chunks. It was no kidding the most awful stuff I’ve ever eaten, but we didn’t want to be rude, so down the hatch it begrudgingly went. Gulp. The wild boar was fantastic though, and the wine made from the Caricol fruit was great as well. So that mostly made up for it.






After lunch, Teii took us on a tour of the petroglyph site just outside of town. So there we were in our Sunday best traipsing through muddy jungle paths and scaping off mossy rocks, carved by ancient Marquesian hands. Pretty neat.




The next day we took Teii aboard the boat and showed him around. We showed him the ropes as we sailed up to the next bay north where he grew up and he brought us to see his parents. It was pretty hilarious, a translated sitcom of an old Jewish mother. We spoke none of the French/Marquesian hybrid that was being slung, but it was crystal clear all the same what Teii’s mom was yelling at him about. “He never just comes over to visit! He’s always swinging by to pick fruit from the trees or pick up the laundry he left to be washed! Don’t you want to come visit your old mother more often? Why do you have to live so far away? It’s an hour for me to walk there! I’m an old lady! I can’t walk that far on dirt roads! Are you just going to leave all those orange peels there for me to pick up later? Why don’t you clean up after yourself!” We were holding our sides.



After a tour of the village we left Teii with some goodies: some solar LED lights for his little house on the shore, a new T-shirt, an American Eagle necklace, and a ninja for Dave. In the afternoon we sailed back to Anse Ivaiva Iti Bay, just south of Hanamoenoa Bay loaded with more fruit that we will possibly be able to eat. No scurvy on the good ship Tayrona. Snorkeled until the light became dim. Back to Hiva Oa in the next day or so to refuel and reprovision for our next shot to the Tuamotus Archipelago.







Fatu Hiva

Author: Pete
Location: Fatu Hiva, Marquesas
Date: April 28 – May 2


Sailed a relatively pleasant 45 miles from our cozy anchorage on Tahuata to the southernmost island in the Marquesas, Fatu Hiva. It is yet another spiny high island, visible from Tahuata. I wrote ‘sailed’ colloquially. It was upwind, directly upwind, and for the first time since the Bahamas, we plugged along right into the waves and wind.





Pulled into the Baie Hanavave (Baie des Vierges)on the sheltered northwest side of the island and picked a spot to drop anchor. There were about ten boats in the little bay, which went from 15 feet very close to shore, to 300 feet just offshore, to 3000 feet about a mile from shore. The bottom consisted of large stones which the anchor wasn’t pleased about biting into. I wouldn’t be either. I went down and set the anchor by hand while Miranda back Tayrona up to tension the chain and help it dig in, the water silty and dark.




The spectacular part of the anchorage was the view up a canyon carved into the island. Tall spires of exposed rock poked out of the foliage like incisors through green gums. Ah, to come back with a full rack of climbing gear! Through the valley a stiff wind whipped most of the time, sending the boats swinging perplexingly wide on their moorings.




We went in to the tiny town. Kids ran around us and laughed, laden trees dripped fruit, and life itself seemed to creep along without hurry. Most of the days we were in town were weekdays, but all the kids seemed to be outside the school. A guy asked Felix how many papayas he wanted for his shoes. It was impressive what a trading culture the island has. We gave some colored pencils and notebooks to a couple of kiddos for some oranges. Met a man named Christian, a wood and stone carver, who had a pretty wicked cut on his leg from his work. We traded him one of my big squid lures as well as gauze, bandages, and antibiotic ointment and a big squid lure. In return he gave us five big grapefruit and five papayas, and told us the way to the fabled waterfall.




The reason for most cruisers to journey to Fatu Hiva is waterfall set back into the jungled hills and the great approach hike. The morning after a quiet night on anchor we followed the breadcrumbs into the hills. The road turns to dirt, turns to two track with waist high grasses bordered by hibiscus, turn to single track footpath through jungle along a steep hillside with stone pile terraces that have enough overgrown moss to be original to an old native ceremonial site. Cairns dotted the way. It really felt like something out of Indiana Jones.




Then the trail spit us out under a 100 meter waterfall, lazily spraying and bouncing water down into a deep, cold pool at the bottom. We had the place to ourselves. We swam, and jumped off the rocks into the pool. A strange sensation of cold returned to our tactile repertoire. We sat on the rocks and ate cheese, crackers, grapefruit, and bananas before the hike home.






That night the wind howled and the boats pinballed around the anchorage like something out of the exorcist. I didn’t sleep much, being ready in most moments to fend off boats or shoals should our anchor cut loose which felt immanent. I don’t give that thing enough credit. The anchor is bomber, but in the morning we decided it was time to roll out. For some strange reason we decided to sail overnight back to Tahuata, so we hung around for the day, which generally has calmer winds than at night.



Took the dinghy out to a nearby point to do some snorkeling. The cliffs rising 300 feet vertically out of the water should have given us a clue that there was no safe haven to anchor, or even anything to snorkel on. We jumped in the water, leaving one boat tender. The rock underwater followed the surface topography. It plummeted away from the surface. In two fin kicks from where the cliff fell into the water, the bottom was out of sight in a formidable, deep deep blue. We chickened out and got out of there. Invited ourselves later on land to the island’s celebration of May Day, a curious mix of Catholic prayers mixed with flowers and native chanting.



Pulled anchor at 10PM and motored out of the windy harbor heading back to Tahuata. Put up some sail but reduced it several times over the next hour. A series of squalls swept over us, kicking winds up to 30+ knots. The full moon helped with the visibility though. Who’s idea was it to night sail there? Bah!