Monday, June 7, 2010

Fakarava South - Snorkeling with the Sharks

We left Kauehi atoll early in order to time our exit from the lagoon shortly before slack tide, and to be sure we arrived at the southern passage to Fakarava during the afternoon slack tide. Our passage was a nice day sail, with the exception of a short squall that piped up mid-way giving us a few minutes of excitement.
The hand line hanging behind the boat worked it's magic as we passed by an area of water that seemed to be of great interest to birds. Luckily, it was also of interest to tuna, and we had a nice tuna on the line which the boys brought on board, and then tied behind the boat for the remainder of the passage.

We timed our arrival perfectly, and entered the pass with a slight flood tide pushing into the lagoon. We had no problems avoiding several dinghies floating in the pass tied to their snorkeling owners. The anchorage inside the lagoon was easy to spot, as almost two dozen boat were nestled into this idyllic spot. We easily found a spot, and dropped our hook, avoiding the coral heads that were scattered throughout.

As we set the hook, Stuart and Shelia from SV Imagine popped by to say hello, and as we chatted, a large splash at the stern of the boat reminded us that we had forgotten to pull our tuna on board. To our dismay, the better half of our fresh sashimi dinner was taken in one bite by a black tipped reef shark. Hmpf. Suddenly, I didn't feel quite up to snorkeling to check on our anchor at the moment! Several other sharks were now circling the boat, in hopes of catching a few more bites. John managed to salvage the remains of the tuna, and we all watched in awe as the sharks fought over the remaining guts and head.

The anchorage faces a white coral beach, complete with palm trees and thatched huts. A small dive shop operates on the pass, and takes divers on drift dives through this area. There are a couple of pensions here, but not much else. A popular activity is to snorkel or dive the pass just before or after slack tide, allowing you to drift through the pass while you watch the incredible array of fish, sharks and coral unfold below you. This pass is reputed to be one of the better dives in the Tuamotus for its "profusion of small and large reef fish...dozens of reef sharks..." (Lonely Planet).

By the way, Fakarava atoll is considered a UNESCO protected area, due to the diversity of wildlife here. It is the second largest atoll in the Tuamotus, and we were surprised to be sailing in the lagoon, and not be able to see across to the other side.

The following morning, Amy and Strahan rowed to the pass and snorkeled through the pass, but found themselves rowing against a very strong current on the way back to the boat. The snorkel was incredible, as they were surrounded by black tip reef sharks, and amazing coral and reef fish. They were followed by a "huge, friendly-looking" fish, which may have been a Napoleon??

John and I snorkeled briefly in the pass later that morning, and were shocked by the fish. We had been spoiled by amazing snorkeling in Mexico, but we finally felt that we had found comparable or maybe even better snorkeling! It was stunning. Our trip back to the boat was just as challenging as Amy and Strahan's, as our little outboard couldn't keep up to the power of the tide. We were making forward progress, but barely. Eventually the motor just gave up, and we were forced to row. Thankfully, SV Dignity came along and offered us a tow!!

One more snorkel in the afternoon was just as incredible, and we saw many sharks, three moray eels, two lion fish, and schooling tuna, among tons of other reef fish and stunning coral formations.

During the night, the wind shifted, causing an uncomfortable swell in the anchorage, and we had a less than restful sleep. In the morning we chose to move, as more of this Northerly wind was in the forecast. By early afternoon, we were settled into a new anchorage with several other boats, and found ourselves snorkeling and spear fishing in the turquoise waters. Although there was no success with spear fishing or dragging the lines, the boys went to explore the reef, in hopes of finding lobster terrain for a hunt after dark. Instead, they managed to chase a green parrotfish up onto the beach, and wrestled it into submission. We enjoyed fish curry for dinner, which was a welcome treat, given that our fresh food supplies are seriously diminished these days.

After dinner, we enjoyed drinks and nibblies aboard SV Dignity, with Steve, Helen and John, who we first met in the Galapagos, but keep passing as we go in and out of anchorages. It was a lovely evening, and was a real treat for Amy and Strahan, who had not been on a catamaran. They were astonished with the amount of space that was available on board. Dignity is one of the first sailboats with hybrid electric engines, so it was interested to chat with them about their experience with the new technology.

This morning, we moved again and started towards the north end of Fakarava, where Amy and Strahan will fly out of at the end of this week. We stopped mid way up the atoll, where we are anchored next to SV IO, from Alberta, Canada! The boys are now out looking for dinner with Mike, who had just talked with the locals about which fish are safe from the ciguatera.

Tomorrow, we plan to head to the north end of the atoll, where we can't wait to do a bit of shopping and refill our cupboards. Maybe even enjoy a meal the local snack. Lately, we've been rationing everything from eggs and flour, to beer and cheese. Well, to be honest, we ran out of beer weeks ago. Life is tough.

Our Position: 16°17.1'S and 145°31.4'W


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