Friday, June 11, 2010

Fakarava North - Pearls, Sharks, and Alternators

After a morning snorkel at the reef beside our anchorage, we weighed anchor and headed north to the village of Rotoava at the North end of Fakarava. This was an excellent way to cap off Amy and Strahan's visit to Renova. We wandered the village and found ourselves giddy at the prospect of filling our cupboards once again. We arranged a visit to a pearl farm, and were able to see how the gorgeous "Tahitian Black Pearls" are made. It is a much more complex process than I expected, and was surprised to learn that only one percent of all pearls produced are "A" quality - round, without blemishes, and with a high luster. We also got to meet Mike and Kyo from IO, from Victoria!

I tried to get online and do a few internet jobs, but found that paying two bills and viewing our account took almost 2 hours. While I banged my head against a wall, Amy and Strahan went for a fabulous dive outside the reef and John worked on replacing our VHF, which has become problematic as it only wishes to work intermittently. Now, everyone in the anchorage knows that it is us calling, as they are now able to recognize the machine gun noise that we broadcast whenever we push the transmit button on our mike. Too bad. We loved that radio, and it was almost new when we left BC. Oh well...the 1980's model works well, even though it is a power pig, and doesn't have some of the common channels, nor the fancy features. At least the rest of the anchorage doesn't feel as though they are in a war zone.

On Amy and Strahan's last day, we three went for a dive through the Garuae Pass. It was fabulous, and well worth the accolades in all the travel guides. We drifted through the pass, pausing several times to hold onto the coral and watch all the sea life around us. We saw hundreds of reef sharks, and more fish that I had thought possible to inhabit such an area. It was absolutely stunning, and I'm glad that I decided to join them at the last minute. And we finally got to meet Mike and Sammi from SV Quartermoon, who we'd shared anchorages with a few times, but hadn't met yet.

We celebrated our last evening by dining out at the Blue Van. This van is parked in someone's front yard, has plastic patio furniture in front, and serves up the standard menu of burgers, steak frites, and chow mein. Kinda eclectic fare, although it seems to be the norm around here. It was a fabulous meal. And we were able to chat with other cruisers who had also come to enjoy the meal - Mike and Hyo from IO (Canada), Jackie and Gary from Inspiration Lady (Canada), and Jack from Anthem (USA).

On departure day, we went ashore for last minute items, had one more swim, and then brought aboard the anchor and headed to the airport. There is a wharf directly in front of the airport, and we were able to tie up less than 100 feet from the airport check in counter. On the way over, the alternator wasn't charging the batteries, and none of the gauges on the engine panel were functioning, so while John and I did some troubleshooting and dug out the spare alternator, Amy prepared a lunch of fresh baguette and cheese in the cockpit. Turns out we had blown a fuse, so it wasn't long before we had replaced the fuse, and we were all enjoying lunch in the cockpit. After they checked in, we were able to return to the boat and enjoy a beer. I jumped in for a quick snorkel, and the fish life was fabulous.

Finally, the plane arrived and it was time to go. We said goodbye to Amy and Strahan and "ALLEZ". It was so great to have them aboard and we'll definitely miss their company. And their help. It was awesome having the extra hands to help with the anchor, the steering, the dinghy, the cooking, etc! And they were so generous with bringing down needed supplies and helping us to re-provision. We look forward to having them aboard again.

We waved to the departing plane as we made our way back to the anchorage.

We spent our last evening here enjoying sangria with Chris, Christine and the kids from Ottawa on their catamaran, SV Stray Kitty. Mike and Sammi from Quartermoon joined us, as did Jamie and Behan from Totem. What a fun night!!

Our Position: 16°03.7'S and 145°37.2'W

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