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.