Bommies, fish and sharks!
31 May 2016 | 16 26.85'S:145 21.91'W, Hirifa, Fakarava Atoll, Tuamotus
The South Pass anchorage of Fakarava is one that I will never forget. Firstly, it was a truly nerve-wracking experience getting Speakeasy safely into the anchorage. I stood high up on Speakeasy's bimini (rooftop) so that I had the best vertical vantage to spot what lies ahead. As we made the approach, I could see a narrow, shallow, bluewater pass between two sandbars. This was the path to get through to our anchorage! Mark had the navigation or way points to get us through the pass without running aground. However, at times, it appeared to me that Speakeasy was heading for the sand! The pass was very narrow and, to make it extra exciting, our route was littered with bommies.
Bommies are isolated uncharted coral heads. The coral is mostly dead, and we want Speakeasy to pass over it unscathed, of course. We've anchored in bommies a couple times now, and I'm working on controlling my wild bommies dance. The first time we went through coral heads, I stood on the bow, jumped up and down, and excitedly pointed every-which-way when I saw scary dark coral spots go under the boat. I yelped and bit my tongue as I prayed the coral would be more than four feet below the water's surface, so that Speakeasy could pass over it. Now, I am better at judging depth and color. If a bommie looks black or dark brown, it's pretty far below. But if the coral looks beige or has any color, it's likely to be close to the surface and we need to maneuver around it. In the South Pass anchorage, it seems that every bommie is colored and close to the surface. In contrast to other anchorages here, it's almost like there are more coral patches than sandy patches. And man y more sharks as well. Can you believe it?!?
Throughout the Tuamotus, we've sighted blacked-tipped reef sharks cruising around Speakeasy. Although we've heard that they aren't dangerous, we've been jumping in and out of the water very quickly, just in case. However, at Tetamanu, we had a close up view of awesome colorful schools of fish and sharks as they circled under Annabelle's, a rustic dive resort. The sharks seemed almost tame, as they swam around in shallow waters, waiting for the cook to throw fish scraps into the water for them. From the restaurant, we could see snorkelers and divers drifting by. The ocean life from above the water was more impressive than I'd seen before. Clearly, it was time to take the plunge.
At slack tide in the pass, we donned our snorkel gear, jumped out of the dinghy and into the water, and slowly drifted with the current. My wrist was tethered onto the dinghy cord, and the dinghy drifted along with us. It was like being on a conveyer belt that took you in front of an nicely sloping eighty-foot wall of pristine coral and tropical fish. The visibility is awesome and the coral is more colorful, varied and healthy than I had seen before. Beautiful silver fish were often at eye level and vivid technicolor fish swam below. Schools of coppery brown fish swam so closely together that they appeared to form a solid clump. Tiny turquoise fishes fluttered in and out of the white and purple coral. Fish of all sizes and types sported every colour and every pattern imaginable, along with long noses, big eyes, and wispy fins. One particular fish grabbed my attention - he was so colorful - it was like a child had grabbed the crayola crayon box and colored purple, pin k, yellow and blue spots and shapes on a bright lime green background. With big eyes and a full mouth, he looked straight out of a cartoon. What an amazing underwater garden!
Occasionally, quite a ways beside me or down below, I'd see a creature 3-5 feet in length. At first, my heart rate elevated. However, the black-tipped and grey reef sharks moved very slowly and took no notice of us at all. They maneuvered toward little fish, looking for food. With the sharks' small mouths, I could see that a human isn't the usual size of the food they eat. Thank goodness! In the end, we drift snorkeled the pass three separate times, and I saw saw two or three sharks each time. In the end, I wish I'd seen more! What an experience!
p.s. We are now at Hirifi, in the SE corner of Fakarava, about 7 miles from the pass. The anchorage is well protected behind a motu and there is a fantastic impromptu bar / restaurant onshore run by a gregarious polynesian woman named Liza. Other boats that we know are joining us here today and it looks like there will be a wee bit of a party tonight at Liza's! The picture was taken at Liza's beachfront patio / bar / restaurant.