05/22/2012, Toau, Anse Amyot
Our basic routine for places where the diving is good is this: Sage does schoolwork while Lorca and I SCUBA. We come back, snack and either do chores, help Sage with homework or go on a shore adventure. Or read and nap. Or take Sage on a snorkeling adventure. Back to the boat to chill then off to snorkel and/or SCUBA again with Sage.
This morning Lorca and I dove the wall again since the ocean is even mellower today. We headed to the South wall dive here in Anse Amyot and it was quite a treat. We weren't sure exactly where to drop - we had GPS coordinates from the Soggy Paws Compendium (highly recommended - best guide so far - if you use it, send them some money if you can too!!) but we didn't have mobile GPS for the dink so we just eyeballed it from the description. We did pretty well - we dropped just at the edge of the wall and Lorca had a good line on a spool to drag the dinghy along. The current was running roughly parallel to shore and not to rapidly so it worked pretty well. We topped out at 51 feet or so but mostly stayed at 30 feet so that we'll be able to take Sage on SCUBA later. I'm SOOOOO glad we have a compressor. We're just divin' fools these days and it ROCKS. Since it was so mellow out Lorca told me that he didn't get his arm yanked off by the dink. On this wall dive there were many canyons and caverns and grottos to drop into where many fishes would hang out. One thing that was really interesting was that there was a concentration of juvenile Humphead (Napoleon) Wrasses along one particular portion of the wall. There were a few of the large ones but mostly what I saw were lots of juveniles. I was glad to see them on the wall because apparently there aren't a lot left because people spearfish them and send them off to Tahiti. They grow very large and very old. It was good to see lots of young'uns on the wall. The surgeon fishes were super aggressive today. A single surgeon fish would chase after small schools of very large parrot fish scaring the crap out of the poor parrotfish who were only trying to nibble coral. The goatfish also seemed more frisky than usual so I wonder if it's egg-laying time for certain species of fish and they're staking out their territories and defending them fiercely.
If you remember from my last BLOG I had decided to select a maximum of three fish per dive or snorkel to identify with our reef fish book. Today's fishes of the day are:
The Orangefin Dascyllus, Pacific Half-and-Half Chromis, and the coolest of all of them: The Slingjaw Wrasse in the terminal phase. The terminal phase is the phase where the fish is usually the largest and most colorful. There was another little fish that I've not yet found in our book - olive green with a thick white racing stripe on other side, cool orange lines around eyes and it rested on its pectoral fins on coral. It looked a lot like a wrasse but I didn't find it in with the wrasses. It looked like a wrasse but acted like a goby... And I'm still trying to find the trigger like fish that had a really cool retractable spike on his head. I'd swim toward him and the spike would some out. Id' then swim away and the spike would retract. ....later.....I just found it in the book! It was a "scythe triggerfish."
We haven't seen a lot of anemones here but today's dive yielded one very large, flowing anemone with fluorescent blue tips and seafoam green appendages. WOW! I grabbed on to a hunk of coral and let myself settle to the wall and just watched it for a few minutes. THe fish associated with the anemone were some kind of damselfish-like things but after a bit I saw these super tiny black fishes with bright blue stripes. They were TINY. Maybe, a generous estimate would have been a quarter of an inch. Very cool and very well-protected in the depths of the anemone. I saw one moray eel and one, maybe 6 foot gray reef shark swimming lazily about at the very edge of the wall. At one point we shallowed to about 15 feet and the wall had plateaued and was full of short, stubby coral heads and lots of small, flittery fishes. For a moment I felt like I was back home hiking out at Pierce Point. With the light dancing on the earth tone corals it looked very much like the bluffs of the Point Reyes National Seashore. I half-expected to see a Tule Elk off in the distance. My favorite dive so far is still the pass dive at the South Fakarava Pass. I'm so glad we didn't skip Fakarava! We had talked about just blowing by it thinking that it would be too much big town-ness. There were a lot of people there - more than 8 boats at any given time and several giant mega-yachts but the diving was so superb it was totally worth it. It's weird to get in the water and see so few sharks though.
We'll be in Tahiti in just over a week and we have lots of chores to do in the mean-time. But there's so much diving to do....I guess the chores can wait - the diving isn't supposed to be nearly as spectacular in Tahiti. Chores, schmores, right? But I been meaning to rebuild that winch since Mexico...so I guess I'd better git to it.
05/20/2012, Toau, Anse Amyot
Today Lorca and I mustered up the courage to do our first wall dive. Holy Mackerel! It was really, really cool. We had expected there to be more big critters on the wall but most of the sea life out there was small stuff with the occasional big trigger or wrasse. But the coral structure on the ocean side of the reef is phenomenal. We went to shore this morning to talk to Valentine and Gaston since we're tied to one of their mooring balls. We introduced ourselves, talked a little bit and asked about the buoy we had red about. Gaston had put the buoy in and she told us where it was. We dinghied out, found the buoy easily and tied the dink up to it. The Pacific is very calm today and made it easy for us. Lorca and I suited up and hopped it. There are two parts of SCUBA diving I hate: Surface. I hate being on the surface before we go down and I dislike even more coming up to the surface. Whenever I descend I feel all of my cares just melt away. The water here is warm and it feels like velvet on the skin. I've finally got my gear figured out so I can get my buoyancy neutral quickly and not have to futz around with stuff. That slow, floating descent into velvet water is such heaven. The architecture of the wall is amazing. It's more sparse than the passes but definitely more extreme. SCUBA diving in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is kind of crazy to think about. I tried not to think about it too much. Mostly because if I did my thoughts would turn to pelagic creatures which involve large and hungry sharks. I know the chance of running into one of those is very slim but I can worry sometimes.
We hopped in at the buoy and decided to head North against the current so we'd have an easier time getting back. Maybe a hundred feet from the drop point the wall dropped precipitously and I found myself staring into to a deep, dark void. That was very weird. Strangely, rather than being repulsed by it, I was drawn to the depths. Remember that part about being one part stoopid? I'm drawn to shark feeding frenzies and deep dark depths...duh. Fortunately by curiosity outweighs my impulsivity and common sense usually keeps me out of trouble. I did give into the call of the deep, however, and Lorca and I dropped to 150 feet. That's the deepest I've ever been and within minutes I was completely narc'd. I was all, "I'm a mermaid, I'm a mermaid!" I've never had Nitrogen narcosis so it looks like I'll not likely go to 150 feet again. It's s t r a n g e down there. The bubbles are very small and very quiet (not like the avalanche of bubbles in your ears at 30 feet. I very much dislike being on SCUBA at 30 feet) the air is very thick, it pours in slow and thick. I adjusted my regulator to make it flow more but the air still tasted really thick. I love the pressure of the water on me - it's comforting but I didn't notice much difference there. And then I got really, really euphoric and very disoriented. It seemed like a good idea to go deeper at that point but Lorca was a little above me so I swam up to him and was no longer euphoric...I had this feeling of, "Oh, wait, I'm not supposed to feel like this....I'm narc'd." I got Lorca's attention and took my index finger and wound circles around my right ear hoping he'd understand my crazy sign language and then the thumbs up sign and then the level off sign. He got it right away and we ascended to about 85 feet and leveled off there for a bit. It took a good three minutes for me to regain my wits. Sitting here writing this I think that I should have felt fear but I didn't. I'm so completely comfortable in the water on SCUBA that all was good. We stayed between 60 and 80 feet for a bit and when our air was dwindling a bit we decided to turn back and stay more shallow though we didn't need any deco time. There was a good surge and it took me a minute to figure out that fighting didn't work quite as well as swimming with the surge and relaxing when it was against me. There were a few bald areas that had a coral sand bottom and little over-hangs where sea critters could take refuge. The coral wasn't overly spectacular but there was lots of rose coral which is always gorgeous and dramatic and there was some other type of coral that was round and very flat against the wall and had circular striations. There were myriad species of fish and before I was trying to remember all of them to mark off in our book but that just didn't work out because it's nearly impossible to remember all of them. I decided that each time I dive or snorkel, I'll try to memorize fine details on three species and remember them. Today's three were: spike fin goby (supercool) and what I think is called a bird wrasse or a bird-nosed wrasse maybe? There was another very red fish that I tried to find in the book but didn't. It looked like a type of damselfish but I failed to find it. The other really cool thing I saw was parrot fish being cleaned by cleaning wrasses. The cleaning wrasses do this funny herky-jerky swimming motion to attract clients. A big, colorful parrotfish swam near the cleaning wrasse and kind of lay over on its side. It swam on its side with only one fin moving and the wrasse went to work cleaning away. I thought it odd but after that saw the same thing three more times. The wall was pretty steep and coral jutted out of it like shelves. I felt like I was in a market looking at all its wares because there are so many fishes in and amongst the coral. It was pretty amazing. Not as much to look at as in the passes or simply snorkeling in 30 feet of water but a very cool and unique experience altogether and I'd likely do it againl, though, without going to 150 feet.
This morning when we went to shore to meet Valentine we also met her great-niece, Vaihete who is 7.5 yrs and a very sweet girl. She and Sage don't speak the same language so it was a little awkward. But when we came back from our dive Vaihete's kayak was at the boat and she and Sage were playing. YAY! Very cute. They made paper airplanes, went to shore to gather coconuts and went snorkeling. Sage is introverted and this totally wore her out so she needed a break from playing and it was hard to explain to Vaihete that Sage needed a break to rest, eat and do her school work. We finally agreed that she'd come back at 4PM. Sage and I were cracking up because her JiuJitsu teacher is named Sensei Mike. That's not the funny part though. The funny part is that Mike's last name is his wife's family name and that's, "Valentine." If Valentine of Toau were to marry into Karen's (Sensei Mike's wife) family, she'd be Valentine Valentine. this cracked us up a little bit but then we came up with the nickname, "V2" and that cracked us up a lot.
We arrived at Anse Amyot, Toau yesterday evening - we barely made it in the light hours because we lost our wind. We were making 3 knots which is plenty if you don't need to navigate a pass. Though, maybe it would have been better to come in the dark...the pass looks impassable from afar....HUGE breaking waves across what looks to be the entire pass....until you get to the line markers and line them up. There were only 2 knots of current running out when we got there and we were already motoring so all was good. We picked up a mooring ball and settled down for a nice dinner of lamb stew and cous cous. It's really pretty here. Anse Amyot is a false pass and Valentine and Gaston are lovely people. We'll stay here a week and head to Tahiti to meet our friends, Oscar, Aimee and their awesome kiddles, "Owen and Ihlara. YAY!
The rest of today is for resting, reading, a few chores, snorkeling with Sage and whatever else we're inspired to do. Not too shabby, no.
UPDATE: SNORKELING! OMG - amazing snorkeling here. We saw 7 Giant Morays - one was at least 7 feet and he came out of his hole and swam for us - OMG! Lots of busy cleaner wrasses, and a big octopus trying his best to look like a piece of coral. I got within a few inches of him as he'd backed himself into a hole so I dove down and got very VERY close and watched him flash many colors either trying to confuse me or trying to better camouflage. He was in about 15 feet of water and I'd breathe up and dive down and grab to a piece of coral and hang on as long as I could. Then I'd sit on the surface and watch him come out and change not only his color but the texture of his skin too! He could make spikes on his skin, make it smooth or make little coral-like extrusions. Really, really good snorkeling here and that was only one small reef....Can't wait to dive the pass tomorrow.
05/19/2012, Fakarava, North Anchorage
Our first village in three weeks! Rotoava is a really interesting village. All of the other atolls we've been to have been sparse, at best as foliage has been concerned. There are always lots of coconut palms but the coconuts have been eeensy-weeensie. They're often big and look promising but then after tearing the husk away there's a 3 inch diameter coconut inside! But Rotoava is very different. There is clearly soil here. There are tropical flowers of every kind, a few banana trees, LOTS of robust coconut palms, breadfruit trees, a few pamplemousse and others. It's nothing like the Marquesas which were bursting with water and fruit and flora but it's so nice to see so much growth again. We arrived at out anchorage at noon - just when everyone is inside for siesta but we went to town anyway and found open a little snack stand that sells ice cream. Lorca and Sage were VERY VERY happy. I asked a few questions about the village and where things are and she directed me well. We had lunch at a snack bar and I stuffed myself so full of french fries that I was uncomfortable walking back to the boat. OY! I don't need to eat French Fries again for a very, very long time. Lorca had Steak Frites and Sage had Poulet Frites and I had some crazy sandwich thing that had chicken and sweet sauce. I thought the fries came on the side but it turns out they just stuff them inside the sandwich! WHOA! I really don't need to eat fries again for a very long time. Euch! We wandered into "Top Dive" to inquire about fins - my broke not long after we left California. I was using Lorca's - they were a little big but very comfortable. After snorkeling and diving every day for three or for hours a day and sometimes more, my kicking muscles have become quite strong and Lorca's second tier fins are too bendy for me. I kick and they just kind of fold over. I found a pair of OK fins for a not so OK price, but since we'll be at Anse Amyot for a week or so and diving a lot we decided to bite the bullet and get them. I'm excited because all of the slip on fins are usually too narrow for my very wide feet and the ones they have for sale here fit perfectly. YAY! The guy at Top Dive was very strange. I spoke to him in French first and he of course responded in French. But then he heard me speaking to Lorca in English and he immediately switched to English. His English was good but every time he spoke English to me he would squint one eye closed - but he wouldn't just squint it - it was a kind of twitch-squint that would twitch while it was squinted closed to the beat of his speech. Freaky. I kept speaking in French hoping he'd switch back and occasionally he would and his he would be normal. It was so strange! He kept telling me that Tiger Sharks are not dangerous. Great Whites are also not dangerous nor are hammerheads )of the non-scalloped variety). He said the only dangerous shark is the Bull Shark because "zay rilly like zee taste of dee yoomans." Oh. OK. The other sharks are only dangerous (in his book anyway) when "zay mistaking you for eel. or when you are surFING." I'm not sure if I didn't believe him because of the eye thing or because I just don't believe him. I do believe that Bull Sharks probably think humans are tasty but the rest of it seemed a little far-fetched. I've yet to be mistaken for an eel, afterall.
Before lunch we found a little produce stand that had apples and oranges! Sage had an apple and I had an orange and they were divine. So funny how when we're at home it's the coconuts that are so delish and how we take for granted a really good Fuji apple. I am currently eating one of the best Fuji Apples ever. Really. ;-)
I live with savages. There one nearly-eleven-year old and one nearly 42-year old wresting and thrashing each other on the starboard settee. I hear choking sounds but I think I'll stay out of it.
Uncle Howard, this if for you: THANK YOU for all your comments! We have as much fun reading them as you have reading our blog. THANK YOU!
We bought some provivions at the market in town. Everything is incredibly expensive here. A jar of Best Foods mayo cost about 13 bucks. That's the standard size. Not the ginormous costco size. I don't need mayo that badly. But flour and butter are cheap and so are eggs. Beautiful brown eggs that are clearly laid by free-range mutt-birds - the yolks are golden yellow like the ones our girls at home lay and they taste delish. I made a quiche a week or so ago and it was amazing. Butter is pretty cheap too. The butter here comes from New Zealand and comes in tins and needs no refrigeration. I was skeptical but it's really good butter.
There's a big French Catramaran named, "Charade" here and it has a 12 year old girl on it. Her name is "Ambre" and she and Sage played a bit today. She's really really nice kid. She's got a younger brother and an older brother. Her father just bought half partnership in a pearl farm here in Fakarava. They're from Bretagne in France - St Malo is their home port. But they've been away for three years now. The will be in New Zealand by November like us. Hopefully we'll see them again. Very sweet people.
We've decided to skip the pass dive here and head up to Toau tomorrow. We'll likely head first for Anse Amyot and then maybe to the Otugi pass to dive a bunch. I really love the Tuomotus and we've only a week left here. PAH! If we make a second pass through French Polynesia somehow I'd like to spend most of it in the Tuamotus. All you divers out there who want a great dive vacation and don't want to sail across the Pacific, fly into Fakarava and stay at the south anchorage. There's a little pension there and the diving and snorkeling is incredible. There are several dive shops and the pension has little huts just over the water. It's really, really lovely.
05/17/2012, Fakarava, South Anchorage
Today, our 6th pass dive (yes folks, it really is THAT good!!!) included Sage. She had been down with Lorca a few times just breathing off his octopus and had some trouble clearing her ears. But yesterday he took her down to 60 feet and there was no problem at all. So she decided, after seeing us come back each day totally wide-eyed and excited, to accompany us today. We put a 2 pound weight on her with her dive skin and Lorca took a couple of extra pounds as well.
The wonderful crew of, "Music" (John and his wife Gail) accompanied us. Per ususal, we met at Pandion at 0900, left one dinghy here and took the other out to the pass and tied up to the buoy. We decided to go earlier today to beat the dive shop crowds and have a little slower drift. It was clearer than I expected it to be that close to the beginning of the flood tide. We beat the crowds - only one couple had dropped before us and they were almost done before we started. We tied to the buoy, got everyone situated and began our descent. To look at Sage you'd think she'd been SCUBA diving since birth. The kid is definitely part fish, part monkey which is how she earned her new nickname, "Monkeyfish." Totally comfortable in the water, totally not worried but fully alert and competent. She's nearly 11 and it's so clear what a remarkable person she's becoming.
We immediately dropped to 55 feet and stayed there awhile (she was breathing off of Lorca's octopus again) until we were sure she was comfortable. At our deepest, I was at 110 again and Sage and Lorca went all the way to 94 - ACK!. The funny thing about Sage is that whenever we bring her somewhere she seems to carry am ample share of luck wherever she goes. We have dove this pass 6 times now and the first five were ultra mellow. But today, ahhh....so cool.....we got to see a feeding frenzy. Whoa. I saw the action, looked to Lorca and Sage who were rapidly kicking away from it...But I guess I'm one part stoopid because I started kicking straight for it. Finally my common sense kicked in and kicked toward my family. Though, I have to say, the sharks had absolutely no interest in any of the homonids in the water. It was FASCINATING. It was so chaotic! About 20 sharks zipping in and out trying to get a piece of whatever it was that got got. Finally the victor surfaced from the tangle of sharks, his jaws desperately trying to choke down whatever he ate so no one else could get it. Every single fish in the immediate area had a piece of the action. All of them darting in and out trying to gobble up the scraps. I couldn't tell what got ate but it was gone within 30 seconds of the start. Lorca said he saw a shark eat something then vomit it back up. I wonder if he ate one of those unicorn fish that's got the super sharp blades at the base of its tail. I can't imagine that they'd go down all that well!
Before the feeding frenzy we stopped under a large overhand that would accommodate at least 7 or 8 people with dive gear on. It's out of the current and we were able to just settle into the coral sand inside and relax. One we were still, all of the fish came back into the mini-cave and the sharks settled back into their regular swim pattern there. I guess all the critters had deemed us non-threatening or maybe even big chinks of coral because they swam all around us as if we were part of the ocean. The sharks passed just in front of the opening to the overhang/mini cave and fish swam in and out and all around our heads and bodies. As usual, a shark sucker took great interest in me and kept me company for most of the dive. I've still not succeeded in getting one to suction on to me. *sigh* There were these strange, ovoid, greenish fish in the cave that were swimming all around us. They'd swim in close to our faces, then turn upside down and swim upside down. I was intrigued so watched them for awhile and realized they'd invert themselves to nibble on food that was growing on the underside of the overhang. It was very funny. There was some other odd, slivery, box puffer type fish with very, VERY big eyes who was stationed just a foot or so away from my leg and he didn't move. He looked like a statue save for a few of his fins that were clearly keeping him in place. Then suddenly he decided to schnarf up some sand with his very big and telescoping mouth and then spit it out again. Clearly he sees in the sand with his eyes what we don't. We stayed there not nearly long enough - I could just sit all day and watch the goings on....almost worth getting bent, but not quite! After the shark feeding frenzy we kicked our way to the more shallow area where there were hundreds upon hundreds of different colored confetti fish. Confetti fish is a term Lorca came up with to describe colorful little fish that school largely and make movements that look like confetti flitting through the air. I went right through them becuase it was the only path I had - in the shallows here the current picks up considerably and directional kicking is a workout and I didn't want to breathe up my tank. Lorca had Sage breathing with him AND he had a small leak in his setup so at 300psi he surfaced and I took Sage. I still had like 1500 left. At about 1000, Sage was ready to surface and snorkel - she was really, really cold at this point (water is 85 degrees, but she's little and has little fat to insulate her) 1000 psi a lot of air so I dropped back down and lolly gagged my way back to the boat. It was only 20 feet of water so by the time I got back to the boat I still had 900!!
The rest of the dive was as incredible as the first 5 and I'm a little sad we're leaving today. I'd stay a month to dive this pass every day. I'd love to see how the pass changes with the phases of the moon. The worst part of diving for me is surfacing. Hate it. I absolutely love the feel of the pressure the water experts on me. Coming up sucks. I feel like I'm going to fly apart at the seems and my sinuses drip like mad ( I kinda need a new mask - I've had this one for over 20 years - it the one I got certified with...I'm attached to it....) with big loogies forming in my throat - hate it. It takes me a good ten minutes to feel normal again.
Today we'll take off with good light and make our way to the North end of Fakarava - the village of Rotoava (Roatava?). We'll pick up some provisions, mail some letters and sadly, we heard there is no internet, so none of that. We'll go to the bakery and maybe take a meal at the resto there. We've not really experienced Tuamotan people yet so that will be fun. I'm sad to leave here. This had been my favorite place so far. The anchorage is full of good people and the diving is superb and my kid is pretty happy here. Remarkably we're not the biggest boat in the anchorage! Yacht Marie has come in and she's a GORGEOUS New Zealand Yacht that is at least 130 foot long. She's got classic lines but everything else is very modern. She's ketch rigged with a 5-spreader main mast and a 4-spreader mizzen mast. I got a picture of her with Pandion in the foreground and Pandion looks like a bath tub toy.
But moving right along... I wish we had longer in French Poly - they French only let us stay 90 days unless we get some kind of crazy 180 day permit. It's such a pain in the neck that few people do it but I wish we had. I'd love to make our way the Cooks to dive, then to Niue to dive and then make our way back to French Poly to get to the Apataki for Cyclone season. We could also hide in the Marquesas for cyclone season as well. But, we're limited by the 90 days. We're not allowed to come back for another 6 months. :(. Anyway, we'll figure it out. For today, we'll move on and hope that we'll see this place again.
While it may not inevitably be the case that familiarity breeds contempt, it certainly does serve to allay fear. The first time I found a pair of sharks taking an interest in me while diving a couple weeks ago I was nervous enough to leave the water. Even in Tahanea, a gray shark approaching out of the depths kept my undivided attention. But now we have been spending so much time with sharks that anxiety is gone and we actually seek them out. The South pass of Fakarava reportedly has the densest population of gray reef sharks in the world. Each morning we've been diving the incoming tide, riding the clearer ocean water into the lagoon through schools of hundreds of gorgeous sharks. We dinghy out to the mouth of the pass, drop a 130' anchor line over the side, quickly don gear and descend. The water is so clear that even at the 120' deepest sections the dinghy is quite visible above and one has a wonderfull sense of the space of the pass. The current glides us gently along, slower or faster depending on when we've put in with regard to the tides. The coral is fantastic; a living carpet seething with fish of all sizes and colors. In the main body of water larger fish abound; yesterday a school of hundreds of baracuda started our dive and 3 or 4 large Napoleon Wrasses appeared at other times. A five-foot moray gaped up as we drifted along looking at the unicorn, angel and parrot fish. There are scattered sharks throughout but a few areas where they congregate in large groups. Approaching the first there is a wall of sharks, circulating forward and back, up and down. They are mostly gray reef sharks, 4-6' long, with a scattering of blacktips, whitetips and silvertips among them. Their skin is so shiny in the clear water that it looks like tinfoil or mercury at times. They glide through the water column and over to the coral where zillions of cleanerfish await. Sometimes we grab a protruding piece of coral and stop drifting with the current, lying still and watching things go by. The pass gradually shoals to 60', then 30. Two more large groups of sharks and then we are into the shallows, the current accelerating and whipping us along over the mosaic of coral. Schools of what I call confetti fish are all around; thousands of brilliant green and blue iridescent 2-3" fish fluttering around in an explosion of color. When we finally run out of air we continue along on the surface, as the water is so clear that snorkeling in 10-30' of water is nearly as good as being on scuba. Yesterday in fact I did repeated drift-snorkel trips, motoring to the little pension at the inner mouth of the pass and then drifting rapidly back to where Pandion lies across the current. We'd wondered at the paucity of people in what is said to be one of French Polynesia's best dive areas; a half-dozen cruising boats, a couple guests at the small pension/dive center. No more. Yesterday a few dive boats crowded with people from further North in Fakarava arrived, along with a pair of mega-yachts that have anchored a quarter mile away. There are luxurious tenders ferrying well-heeled divers back and forth and I suspect we'll have more than sharks to observe in the pass today. The wind is near-calm, the water is crystal clear today and the diving promises to be spectacular. We don't mind sharing.
05/15/2012, Fakarava, South Anchorage
Today was our 4th or 5th pass dive (can't remember!) We were told a couple of days ago by Gilles (the guy who has dove all over the world and has more than 5,000 dives under his belt!) that the diving would be getting better and better over the next five days as we march toward the new moon and the tides/currents become stronger. More current means more food in the pass and more critters assembling there. We was right. Today we dove with John from Music and Sebastian (again) from Nauticam. The current was strong and the buoy was already in use so we motored the dink out past where we needed to drop and tried quickly to get all of our gear together and in the water. Everyone did fine except for me, who, in haste, managed somehow to completely screw up my BCD with my regulator tangled somewhere and the inflation valve had separated from the line and my BCD completely deflated and I started to sink. No big deal usually but that I couldn't not free my regulator (and as such couldn't just descend and sort out the mess on the ocean floor) and was struggling and working VERY hard to stay afloat. I am a little overweighted right now and I sink fast. My fins are underpowered so you can imagine the mess. Then, I took a wave in the face which filled my nose, sinuses and throat with seawater and I started choking. Ugh. All this while I was struggling very hard to stay afloat. I was struggling hard enough that I was out of breath and choking at the same time and my sinuses were so on fire from the salt water that my ears were burning too. Lorca asked if I was OK and I shook my head and gasped, "HELP!" He came over and by then I was started to get scared. I couldn't figure out why he wasn't inflating my vest manually and I kept gasping, "FILL IT UP!" Lorca, always calm in a crisis, got me all put back together and asked if I was OK again and I a said, "Not really" because I was still sputtering and deeply uncomfortable with every orifice of my face burning from the hypertonic seawater. He said, "do you want to get out?" I said, "NO WAY!" I refuse to miss our morning dives. It is one of the very best ways to start a day. We descended despite the fact I felt like hell because I knew once I started my descent I would be full of peace and wonder and magic. For those of you who don't dive, the feeling of floating down softly through 85 degree water and settling over a lush coral garden with thousands of small, colorful fish darting in and out of the coral in which they take refuge is like nothing I can describe. My body hurts almost constantly - my joints are bad, my muscles spasm, I've got a bad gut, migraines - lots of stupid issues like that. But when I'm in the water, I have no pain. NONE. I'm so relaxed and comfortable in the water now that I often do stretches while were snorkeling. Anyway back to the dive....We had decided to descend and keep to the right side of the pass this time so that we didn't divide the sharks off to either side. Today they were thickly concentrated up the center of the pass. Hundreds upon hundreds of sleepy sharks resting from a long night of hunting. (my interpretation, anyway) They were so thick in the pass that despite the fact that I was close to edge there were were at least a dozen sharks floating within arm's distance. There was one that was probably no further than 18 inches away from me. When I turned to look 360 around I realized I was in the middle of a THICK group of them. WOW! They were so close that I could see the serrations in their skin and they twinkled in the light as if bejeweled. Oh my goodness I was so completely overcome with a feeling of gratitude (for the opportunity to experience this) and joy (for the incredible beauty of it all) and awe. Unfortunately Lorca had charge of the dinghy and the current was zipping it a long and damn near pulling his arm off and we couldn't just drop to the floor and enjoy the sharks for a longer period of time.
My gear continued to function well save for my mask. When I took a hearty portion of seawater in my face the choking and sputtering triggered some intense snot production and the slippery stuff was filling my mask and lubricating it well. EW! So my seal kept breaking. But that kinda cracked me up because really, it was kinda gross and that kind of ridiculous crap only ever happens to me, I swear.
We drifted back to the boat on SCUBA and filled everyone's tanks while we chatted and visited. We haven't seen "music" since the Marquesas so it's fun to catch up with them. Sebastian is a single-handed French sailor and one of the loveliest people we've met so far. Or maybe I just like him because when he tasted my bread he said it's as good as any he tasted in the Paris boulangeries. ;-) Still a dearth of kids but Sage is back in the saddle and seems to be enjoying all the high-quality adults we seem to be surrounded by in this anchorage. There's one particular boat, s/v Dreamtime with Catherine and Neville, that Sage particularly likes. They completely charmed her. They completely charmed my kid and had her in stitches the whole time were were at the fire with them. Sage was trying to convince Neville that Inka is, in fact, a delicious warm drink and a good way to start the morning and they had a hilarious exchange with her trying to convince him that it's tasty and him emphatically stating how dreadful it all sounds. Finally Sage was giggling so much that she gave up the fight. Neville is British and has very Monty Python-esque sense of humor. Right up Sage's alley. They charmed us too and I really hope we can spend more time with them. This anchorage is FULL of fantastic people. They are, I daresay, as good as the diving and it will pain me when it's time we all scatter ourselves to the wind. So far, here, we have, s/v Nomad, s/v Dreamtime, s/v Estrellita 5.10b, s/v Music, s/v Namaste, s/y Nauticam, and a sprinkling of other boats who we've yet to meet.
After our dive and tank-filling we took Sage out to the tail-end of the flood and drift-snorkeled back to the boat. WOW! We saw some kind of pipe-fish that looked like seahorses. I believe they were "network pipefish" but the banded variation. If I listed everything we saw, this BLOG would be too large for our SSB (super-slow-boatmail) radio and Pactor modem to send off. Lorca found me a fist-sized cowrie shell. I dumped it in the boat thinking it was a keeper but then he told me it was still alive. WHOOPS! Rather than eat the cowrie and keep the shell I marvelled at it in my hand and bit it farewell. It's the only one I've seen that size so I thought it better to leave it live. I love cowrie shells and this one was magnificent.
I'm baking bread now while the kid and the huzz are 'splorin' the shore and when they return (to fresh bread and hot coffee) we'llk snack and then take some fish bits to go and feed Calin-Calin. Calin-Calin is he Napoleon fish (I previously called him, "Kala-Kala." that resides under the restaurant. He's big and very territorial and will follow boats all the way into the shallows to see if you've come with snax for him. And, he's very, very cute. We'll get video of him today and try to get some up-loaded when we're at the North Anchorage. Calin-Calin means, "hug-hug" in French. Fitting...you'll understand when you see him.
I am covered in a thick layer of salt (you can see the crystals on my skin), my hair is sticking out in angles that don't look physically possible, my clothes are stained and thrashed from the salt water and I am content beyond belief. This is a good life.