Fakarava Part I
18 July 2012 | Fakarava Atoll, Tuamotu's
When we arrived in Fakarava a week ago, we had dreams of snorkeling every day, all day long. This activity was our main reason for coming to the Tuamotu's. We envisioned waking up, having our coffee and breakfast, snorkeling for a few hours, having lunch and a siesta, and snorkeling again in the afternoon. We mentally prepared ourselves to have sore muscles from all the swimming we were going to do. It was going to be wonderful paradise experience!
The first day we arrived in Fakarava, after being at sea for 7 days, we decided to do was go ashore and explore the village and the atoll. Whenever we go ashore for the first time, especially after being at sea for several days, seeking out a place to eat is always a priority. We always crave something fresh and different from the boat food we have been eating for many days. We found, what we are going to call, a food stand. It's a minivan that sits beside a covered area with tables and chairs. Not quite a restaurant but really it is the main restaurant here on Fakarava (outside of the few resorts). The minivan is where you order and pay for your food, and the food preparation is behind a wall. The food has always been very good and is made fresh with every order. After lunch, we found the market and returned to the boat. We were both tired from our voyage and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon, lounging in the cockpit. The lagoon water is a beautiful turquoise blue color and as the depth gets smaller, the water changes its color and the coral is visible. It's just beautiful.
We woke the 2nd day all ready to start exploring the different coral areas. Unfortunately, starting on day 2 and continuing nonstop for remainder of our time on Fakarava, the winds howled and screamed all day and all night long, keeping us from our envisioned paradise experience. Taking the dinghy to shore became a very wet and bumpy experience due to the swells and wind waves that developed in the lagoon. One particular day, we went ashore and turned right. We walked for about 3 miles and came across a small resort. Smelling food in the air, we wandered past the thatched roof bungalows and came to the restaurant on the beach. We enjoyed cheeseburgers, a few beers, with our bare feet in the sand. Looking out on the lagoon, seeing the different colors of the water was a little slice of paradise. We also walked to the ocean side of the atoll, watched the surf crash on the coral and searched for neat looking shells. On another day, we went ashore and turned left. Again, we walked about 3 miles and pretty much didn't go by anything expect for a few houses and palm tree groves. Again, we went to the ocean side of the atoll to explore. On this day, the swells were quite big because of the strong winds and the crashing waves were a beautiful iceberg blue color. We have never seen water that color before and enjoyed the views for a while before walking along.
A few things we noticed while here on Fakarava. While walking around and passing the locals, everyone says hello and waves. It doesn't matter if they are driving, riding a bike or walking; everyone waves and says Bonjour. Also, some people have vehicles but other popular modes of transportation are walking, bicycles and scooters. It's funny to see someone riding a scooter with a helmet on (we don't really understand this, it's an atoll with probably a population of 1000) but then we'll see someone riding a bicycle with a 2nd person sitting on the handlebars, with no helmets. Which one do you think is more dangerous? Oh, we also saw a guy riding a tractor, smoking a cigarette, pulling behind him 6 big drums of jet engine fuel! Funny stuff.
So with the winds howling and roaring for the past 6 days, we really didn't get to experience snorkling Fakarava the way we wanted too. However, we have enjoyed ourselves. Yesterday morning, we prepped the boat to leave Fakarava. Our plan was to set sail in the morning and sail over to another atoll named Rangiroa. We were both a little concerned about raising the anchor because we both had suspected that our anchor chain was caught on a coral head. You see, every time we anchor, we mark the "anchor set spot" on our chart plotter. Then, as we drift around at anchor, we can see, on the chart plotter, where we are in relation to the anchor. It helps us know that the anchor is still set and that we are not dragging the anchor on the sea floor. Since the winds were so strong for the last several days, and we had 160 feet of anchor chain down, we should have seen a big swing track on our chart plotter. But, that wasn't happening. Our swing pattern was tight and small. HMMM...we think we may be caught on a coral head. So, I start bringing in the anchor chain. Once we hit the 120 feet mark, meaning I have brought in 40 feet of chain onto the boat, the windlass halts and the chain pulls bar tight. Tom's drives the boat forward just a bit, and I'm able to bring in another 20 feet of chain. Again, the windlass halts and we repeat the process. Once we saw the 80 foot mark, we were free of the coral head. Thank god, no need to hire a diver to unwrap our chain from the coral (this was our backup plan if need be). Then it happened. Something we never thought would happen, but it did. When I had only 60 more feet of chain to bring on board, the shackle at 80 feet broke. (every 80 feet of chain is connected to another 80 feet of chain with a shackle). Within just 2 seconds, 80 feet of chain and our precious anchor dropped to the sea floor. There was no way for us to retrieve it. It was gone. I immediately screamed back at Tom, who was at the helm, "We lost the anchor, the chain broke!" He immediately put a mark on our chart plotter where our anchor and chain dropped.
A frenzy began. We now have no anchor. We were supposed to be leaving Fakarava. There are very few islands that have marinas. We NEED an anchor! Tom yells for fenders. I scramble downstairs and find our fenders. We fender up one side of Tanga and also lower the solar panel on that same side, in hopes it doesn't get crushed by the concrete wharf we are about to dock alongside of. Docking was easy and uneventful. A local guy immediately approached us as we were tying up the dock lines and asked if we needed help. We were putting our back up plan into action; hiring a diver to retrieve our anchor. We have the GPS coordinates so this shouldn't be a problem in finding it, right? At least that is what we are hoping. We were told the divers were out with a tour group and should return in 2 hours. Once we saw the divers return, Tom immediately walked over to their shop and talked to them. The divers, a married couple that runs Fakarava Dive Center, immediately left with Tom to head out to the marked anchor lost spot (using our hand held GPS). The diver searched for about an hour and went through 2 tanks of oxygen, trying to find our anchor. Since the winds have been so strong, the diver said the slit was stirred up and the water visibility was down to 2 feet. He wasn't able to find it. They headed back to the shop, took a 20 minute break, picked up 2 more tanks of oxygen, and went back out. Tom came back to Tanga and was told to watch for an orange floating bag. The bag would indicate that the anchor was found. We watched, through our binoculars, praying and hoping to see the orange bag. And then there it was, after 30 minutes of anxiously waiting, we saw the orange bag! We screamed with excitement! We jumped into the dinghy, and went over to help lift the 80 feet of chain and anchor into their bigger dinghy. They then delivered the chain and anchor to us on the dock. We tried to pay them for their time and great help, with cash, wine or cigarettes, but they would have no payment. Wonderfully nice people. We high recommend Fakarava Dive Center.
We immediately went to work putting on a very robust shackle and reloading the chain and anchor on to Tanga. We then left the wharf and anchored in a new area, which is much more protected from the wind. Feeling relieved and a little tired from our ordeal, we decided to stay in Fakarava for a few more days. That was a lot of excitement for one day, we need to rest now! Actually, we plan on snorkeling today and then sailing tomorrow to the southeast end of the atoll, about 40 miles away. We were told by the divers and another cruising couple we met last night, that the snorkeling on the southeast end is amazing. So, that is our plan as of right now. We will leave tomorrow to the other end of the atoll, spend two days there, and then sail over to Rangiroa. We plan on being in Rangiroa for about a week and we hope to finally find some internet rather than using our satellite phone to do website posts. Otherwise, just like here in Fakarava, the posts will be sporadic.