Fakarava South and North
21 April 2017 | Fakarava, Tuamotu's, French Polynesia
It was an easy going sail from Tahanea with 10-12 kts on the beam moving Emerald easily along at 6-7kts SOG with 0.5m long swell. Full main and genoa! And this was good, as we left Tahanea at day break, negotiated its Passe Teavatapu (center pass) mid-tide to make the 50nm day sail to Fakarava's and its south pass (Tetamanu) just in time for its slack water (yes, you want to pass these passes with relatively slack water). After making Tetamanu pass and moving along the channel markers and cardinal mark, we connected up to one of the 5 free white mooring balls on the east side of the pass in front of the TopDive shop (16 30.44S 145 27.49W). I jumped into snorkel the mooring rope and seabed pin to ensure its integrity - all seemed good (hey, there are sharks here too). There are also 4 or 5 mooring balls for yachts (principally charter yachts) just off the side of Tetamanu pass (west side).
No sooner had we arrived when Paul and Anne from SY Seventh Heaven stopped by (we had chatted on the VHF in Makemo) and when I told them I was house bound, they offered their 2nd outboard to use until we arrive in Papeete. Isn't that fantastic goodwill support that this cruising community is famous for? With my outboard problem temporarily solved we can remain here in the south pass area of Fakarava and explore its famed diving sites.
Fakarava south is really all about the sharks. More specifically, "The Wall of Sharks". And it is a spectacle to see. We did a number of dives and glided effortlessly in the light current of the Tetamanu pass in this silent world amongst hundreds of sharks - white tips, black tips, grey, tigers, silver tips (Oh No, not them again!) and other large unidentified shark species. And amongst these alpha predators are many other delights i.e. turtles, giant barracudas, tuna, Napoleon wrasse's, rays and an enormous quantity and variety of reef fish. While Fakarava is famous for its diving its also a well known location in July/August during the full moon when thousands of spawning groupers congregate here and the sharks feast - as recorded a few years ago by a French film team. We signed on for a few dives with the local dive operator Tetemanu Dive Center but most of the dives I decided to do on my own all alone - and thoroughly enjoyed the adrenaline rush of having hundreds of sharks pass by me.
For the few dives we did with the center, TDC normally charge XFP7500/dive/person however we were able to get it discounted to XFP5000 as we supplied our own equipment. They also do a pretty good Rum Punch starting at 5pm!
Emerald also had its resident greys and blacktip sharks hanging around during our stay waiting for scraps to be thrown overboard. No problem snorkeling side by side with these fellows. But don't irritate them!!
There are no facilities as such at Fakarava south. No provisioning, no hospital, bakery, etc. No where to spend money except the dive center!! The airport is in the NE side of the atoll and the town of Rotoava - which is 26nm away. The dive resort has a small restaurant where you can make a lunch or dinner reservation (XFP3000pp - buffet). They also have internet but its very very slow and it costs XFP500 for 70MB. There is a pension a few hundred meters east of the pass run by Manhi and his wife who also have a restaurant (by reservation) and make pretty darn good wood fired fish pizza's. We had an enjoyable time over there including free pizza's and wine when we helped Manhi out with some customer service.
Ciguatera exists throughout many of the Tuamotu's atolls and I make it a point to ask the locals if its safe to eat the reef fish and which fish. Apparently there are now chemical test kits one can buy for testing ciguatera or you can do what the locals do - hang out the fish filet to dry and if the flies are not attracted to it then it has ciguatera. Or throw a piece of fish on the ground and if the ants are not attracted to it then it has ciguatera. Fakarava does have some fish with ciguatera and we were told which species of grouper were safe to eat but still being apprehensive, I elected to stay away from eating any of the reef fish here. Tahanea is reported to have ciguatera (Jimmy Cornell of all people contracted it a few months ago here) but the locals there we spoke to advised us which fish not to eat, so we speared the right Groupers - and we are fine!
Pakokata Yacht Services (Fakarava; 16 13.481S 145 33.450W) is run by Mathew and Agnes and I had heard about them from another cruiser when they heard my Honda outboard had broken down. Mathew is an experience outboard mechanic with a shop so I thought I'd drop by and give him a shot at it. Funnily, earlier I had sent him an email and then last Sunday, as I was snorkeling in the Fakarava pass, I popped my head up and nearly bumped right into Mathew's boat and he looked down at me and asked if I was Steve! PYS is located about 10nm south of the North Fakarava town of Roroava and we had a leisurely sail up the Fakarava channel. They have a number of mooring balls, a restaurant with home cooked food and rather quick free wifi is beamed out to the mooring field (free). And a hospitable family they are!
Im now a solo sailor for a few weeks till Rosa arrives back. I got rid of my TBA crew this week. Ive had enough of his ....! Relief! However, I realize its quite challenging for any two strangers to live in a confined space for months and maintain a relationship - heck its difficult enough with family. Ive since had a few offers for local guys to join me for the 2 day sail from Fakarava to Papeete so may take this up or solo sail it which is a good challenge and one for the books.
After a few days enjoying the company of Mathew, Agnes and their young daughter Honeylia and the outboard repair, I sailed 10nm NNW to the village of Rotoava to take in some more excellent diving and snorkeling on the North Fakarava pass. I found an available white mooring and for the first time, did a solo hookup. It went pretty smooth - my 2 mooring lines were prepared and laid out of the tramps including my handy hook, did a 360 around the mooring to get a good view of the arrangement, got aligned downwind of the ball, moved in slowly, overshot it by a meter (expecting the wind to drift me back), went up front and with the hook hauled up mooring ball's painter to deck, found the thimble, thread my two mooring lines thru it , aligned the angles and tied it back to the cleats. It helped having only 12kts of wind to deal with and the immediate yachts a safe distance away. I then did a power set and all held. Voila!
Up here in the North I checked in with the Gendarmerie and took some cash from the ATM behind the post office. A supply vessel arrives here each week, normally a Wednesday morning stopover and I managed to be in the shops early enough the same day to get fresh fruit and veggies including the very rare romaine salad! Oranges never tasted so good! Not much was left the following day when I stopped in for a baguette. I discovered here in Fakaraava that Yachties are suppose to pay a 'tax' at the postoffice for garbage disposal and fresh water supply. I read this on their notice board after I had already disposed of my garbage so never did find out what the cost was. Fakarava Yacht Services (16 04.181S 145 36.891W), run by Stephanie and Aldric, assisted me with some outboard diagnostics. It seems to be a bit of a cruisers hangout here and if you buy a drink you get the fastest internet services in town.
5am, 15APR. Woke to my lady neighbor shouting to her man on their World Arc yacht that there are big sharks in the water. Dreary eyed I looked over and No, these are not sharks - they're giant Mantas with their large triangular wings. Four of them, the largest at least 5m in diameter. I jumped in right away, unshaven, in my shorts, but these beauties didn't like the attention and kept a good distance (unlike the ones we encountered in Maldives). Fortunately, they decided to hang around Emerald and the anchorage and we had breakfast together while the sun rose. It was a fine start to the day.
I managed to get five fantastic dives in with Kaina Plongee Dive Center (just north of the main harbor; good lads!) who gave me a discount (XFP 6900 down to XFP4500) for having my own kit. TopDive who were more expensive, wouldn't provide any discount. We did a variety of reef and drift dives and on one dive I found a scuba tank and 1st/2nd stage on the seabed at 40m which the Divemaster collected - later we found out it belonged to TopDive however I never did find out what the story was behind it, but it wasn't a lost diver, apparently! Later I found a shark tooth on the seabed!
So I embarked on my first SOLO Sail! Emerald and I left Fakarava on 19 April, via the north pass just before an easy outgoing/slack tide, a day after a frontal system had passed through and solo sailed Emerald to Papeete. 245nm, 28hrs, 20-30kts TWS and 3-4m swells. It was an adventurous ride and no calamities - on my own!
Maintenance these weeks:
1. Honda outboard was serviced by Mathew from Pakokata (above) with a clogged up carburetor jet that was easily cleaned out. Likely caused from ethanol based fuel from Panama. Also replaced the raw water impeller and re-greased the drive shaft.
2. The raw seawater Jabsco Cyclone lift pump failed. This pump shifts cooling water from the 18mm diameter thru-hull via a filter and check-valve up to the generator. Guess what!...it has a 3 year warranty and its 3 years to this month that it has failed! Then I discovered my spare pump has NPT ¾" fittings rather than BSP fittings on the original pump unit - arghh! Replacing just the motor is not an viable task. So its off on a fitting search in Papeete when I get there.
4. The stbd toilet began leaking from a shaft seal of the Jabaco Quiet Flush motor. This was an easy repair with the Toilet seal and service kit. Also replaced the flapper valve.
3. Cleaned up all my tools i.e. removed rust, oiled up.
5. Repaired the helm windlass control (finally Steve!!). Removed and replaced the magnet and sensor. Also inspected, cleaned and rebuilt the windlass mechanics, checked all wiring connections. I figured as a solo sailor it was a whole lot easier to control the windlass from the helm while I could steer the boat at the same time. All other times we'd operate with two of us - from the bow with the wired handheld controller.
6. Deep cleaned the port cabin and toilet that the crew stayed in. Hygiene was not his forte.