08 June 2008 | Fakarava, Tuamotu Archipelago
We left Kauehi after about a week. Upped anchor along with Blue Plains Drifter, Elusive and Scarlett O'Haraand headed out the pass for the 30 or so miles that would take us to our next atoll, Fakarava. At nearly 32 miles long and 15 miles wide Fakarava is the second largest Tuamotu. We entered through the northernmost pass, Passe Garue and proceeded to the anchorage in front of the island's main village, Rotoava.
Ashore we found a boulangerie where we bought fresh baguettes (we just don't get tired of 'em!) and a small but well-stocked grocery store. We stayed at Rotoava for the better part of a week, very much enjoying the time spent with our buddy boats. The pension (similar to a small B&B) in Rotoava rents bicycles so the crews of Meridian, Elusive, Scarlett O'Hara, and Blue Plains Drifter spent a day exploring the island by bike.
Wendy (Elusive), Tiffany (Blue Plains Drifter) and I enjoyed kayaking nearly every morning- either to the little waterfront restaurant or to the family-owned pearl farm that had the most creative and beautiful black pearl jewelry for sale. In addition to making several purchases we took the opportunity to have them drill and string some of our Kauehi pearls. (The girls can't play marbles anymore but they have lovely necklaces they are proud to wear.) When we returned from these excursions Maddie and Sophie would take the kayaks and cruise around the anchorage. John on Scarlett O'Hara has a windsurfer on board so he, Steve and John (Powers) had some fun trying to master that.
We weren't sure where we wanted to go next (so many choices!) but while enjoying the village of Rotoava we spoke to a couple boats who'd come up through the southern pass near the village of Tetamanu. (Tetamanu used to be the capital of the Tuamotus, but was wiped out by a cyclone in 1905 and is now nearly uninhabited except for a couple families running the pension and the dive shop.) They spoke very highly of the anchorage and how much fun it was to "drift snorkel" the pass there- so we decided we needed to check that out!
We upped our anchor (again, along with our buddy boats) and headed down the inside of the lagoon. We cut the trip in half (it was nearly 30 miles and we wanted to be sure that we were always sailing and anchoring with plenty of daylight to see submerged coral heads) and stopped for a couple nights at the completely uninhabited and gorgeous Kakaiau anchorage. It looked just like a postcard of an idyllic tropical island: white sand, lush foliage, towering palm trees and crystal clear turquoise water. With the barest suggestion we immediately planned an evening potluck/bonfire on the beach. We watched a small horde of hermit crabs run for cover on our arrival and then feasted on fish tempura, quesadillas, homemade burritos (and I mean "homemade"- Wendy makes her own tortillas!) and veggie samosas with chimchurra sauce.
Later in the evening when it was dark and the bonfire was roaring Jim from Blue Plains Drifter (aka "Fire Man") and his trusty sidekick, Sophie, discovered that if he let a coconut get good and toasty in the fire, and then stuck it on the end of long stick and launched it into the water it would please the crowd as no modern-day firework display could. (It glowed like a meteor as it flew through the air. and yes, we are quite easily entertained at this stage of the game.)
We left Kakaiau after two nights and headed to Tetamanu. We expected a pretty routine sail. After all, we're IN THE MIDDLE OF LAGOON. SURROUNDED BY REEF. Also the weather forecast only called for about 15 knots of wind. So imagine our surprise as we're hit with 20-25 knots of wind, gusting to 30, with seas to match. It's no exaggeration to say that we took more water on the decks and in the cockpit while sailing in this "protected" lagoon then we did during our entire Pacific crossing. We were glad that we'd not gotten compliant and lazy: we'd stowed everything properly, including the outboard on its mount and the dinghy on the davits. We arrived safely of course, dropped our anchor and enjoyed another very pretty anchorage.even though the wind continued to blow in the 15-20 knot range.
The next day we grabbed our snorkel gear and dinghied over to the pass for a drift snorkel. It's called a "drift" snorkel because you ride the current through the pass- you don't even need to kick your legs as you're flushed into the lagoon with the incoming tide. The dinghy goes along for the ride, too. We attach a couple of long lines from it that we hang on to it so when we're done we have our ride right there with us.
It was spectacular. As we dinghied to our chosen spot, the color of the water ranged from bright turquoise to deep emerald blue (depending on the depth and what was beneath us). Once we were in the water we watched the view pass beneath us: beautiful healthy coral and tons of gorgeous fish in every color and pattern you could imagine. The pass took us from deep water to shallow, the shallower we got the faster we moved and the more colorful the display became. We were only mildly concerned when we saw the first sharks. They were quite a bit deeper than we were, they were obviously black-tipped reef sharks (which we're told are quite harmless) and best of all they seemed completely disinterested in us (my favorite kind).
Once we got well into the shallows we decided to do it again so we dinghied back out the pass and jumped back in. This time when we got near the shallows I noticed a few more sharks. These ones looked different- they were beefier and had no color marking their dorsal fins. Hmmmmm. Plus they were really looking at us. Are they coming closer for a better look? That's it. "Girls OUT OF THE WATER!!"
Okay, it's possible I panicked a bit. I feel no shame in that.
John and I thought they looked like grey sharks, Steve concurred- although he didn't feel the need to vault out of the water as I did. The next day when were visiting with the dive shop operator he told us they were indeed grey sharks but a) sharks aren't interested in eating anything that's not a fish and b) anyway sharks feed during the nighttime.
Armed with that information and the fact that it was some of the best snorkeling we've ever done we made a plan to do it again the next day. This time it was even better- the current was running much faster, we felt like we were flying as the coral bottom raced beneath us. It was almost too fast, "hey is that a turtle? I think that's a. nevermind, it's back there now".
I was having such fun watching the beauty unfold below and getting a good laugh by looking to my left and seeing Sophie's unique take on snorkel posture. Rather than hanging on to the rope with one hand and letting your body spread out horizontally along the surface of the water, she opted to curl her toes around the 10 foot long rope riding the current upright- she was basically standing on the line. She said later she was "surfing".
So naturally we were equally annoyed and frightened when we came upon a group of about 30 reef and gray sharks who were circling just slightly below us. Then more frightened than annoyed when they started to move as a group upward and toward us. I don't care what assurances more experienced divers or marine biologists want to give me- that just didn't feel right. It just takes one "man in a grey suit" that hasn't read the manual to ruin your day. But guess what? You can see quite a lot by riding in your dinghy with your ass up in the air and your mask in the water.