Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Fakarava (South Pass)

We short-tacked out of the center pass at Tahanea just before sunset, with a favorable current but some short steep waves, due to wind against current. Leysin was just ahead of us, and we were never more than a couple of miles from them throughout the moonlit night. We got to Fakarava at first light, and after surveying the pass from offshore, I decided we could sail on in without the engine. The flood tide was just beginning, and was less than a knot in strength. There were 4 other boats there, including Wondertime, who had left San Jose del Cabo a few days ahead of us. A couple on an Australian catamaran, who left before I wrote down their name, pointed out a mooring ball nearby, so we attached ourselves to that, rather than anchoring in the nearly solid coral on the bottom of this anchorage. For the next few days we snorkeled and dove the South Pass, reputedly one of the best dive sites in the Tuamotu Archipelago (and this is one of the best areas in the world). It is famous for sharks, and on our first time in the water we saw probably 500 gray reef sharks, along with a few silvertips and ocean blacktips (we don't even count the smaller whitetip and blacktip reef sharks anymore). The larger sharks (all the sharks for that matter) seemingly ignore our presence, and it is pretty clear from talking to the locals that we are not on the sharks' menu. The beauty of the unique wildlife encounter on our first pass dive was quickly followed by exhaustion and terror on my part. We had ridden out with Jacky and Catherine in their dinghy, and the plan was to tow the dinghy overhead as we drifted in toward the lagoon. Jacky had been having problems with his BC, so I offered to tow the dinghy. I had diving been with Mark from Blue Rodeo while he towed his dinghy, and it didn't look too hard. As the divers watched the sharks schooling in the pass, I suddenly realized that the tow line had gone slack. I could still see the dinghy on the surface, but it come detached from the line and was quickly drifting away on the SE wind. I started finning like crazy in the direction of the dinghy, while watching my computer to make sure I didn't ascend at an unsafe rate. After a few minutes, I had caught the dinghy's painter, 15 feet from the surface. Jacky's knot had come untied. I reconnected the towline and descended to the bottom of the pass again. None of the other divers were in sight, and I was completely overcome with exertion. My chest ached, and I was worried that I had ascended too quickly and gotten an embolism. Gradually my breathing calmed, and after another few minutes the rest of the group appeared from farther out in the pass. No one had even noticed that I had gone after the dinghy! The rest of the dive went quickly as I was nearly out of air anyway, and the sharks had all disappeared. Once back on the surface I was aching, tired, scared and a bit angry. I resolved that I would not deal with towing a dinghy again, but would go on commercially led dives for the rest of my time at the pass. We ended up booking a 10-dive package with Top Dive, and the divemaster, Matias, turned out to be an excellent guide. I learned a lot more about the various fish and their behaviors than I ever would have on my own. My favorite dive was on the outer drop-off at the entrance to the pass. Twice we saw dolphins here, as well as huge schools of barracuda, bigeyes, and other fish. The bottom was literally carpeted with large groupers, massing here in preparation for spawning at the beginning of July. We also saw a shark cleaning station, a couple of eagle rays, and some "sleeping" sharks. After each day's dive, we would head over to the "swimming pool" near the wharfs. The most entertaining residents of this area were two large and very tame Napoleon wrasses, nicknamed "Jojo" and "Josette". I never got my fill of close encounters with these colorful, curious, and somewhat whimsical fish. The pool was rimmed with a very vibrant patch of coral, filled with small fish and constantly patrolled by blacktip reef sharks. One afternoon, I asked Deb from Buena Vista if she would please cut my hair. I had seen the job she did on her husband Don, and figured that I wouldn't be able to find a better haircut within a thousand miles! Thanks, Deb! After 6 days here, we were ready to move on. To help with this decision, the wind came up out of the northeast and made the anchorage quite uncomfortable. We motored 8 miles northeast to Hirifa, which had calm water, a nice sand beach and a few houses that looked abandoned. We spent one very comfortable night at anchor, and decided to sail on to the north end of the atoll in the morning.


Cathy Ellis said...

Yo there, wonderful photos and log, as usual....Polynesia, my oh my.... here on Orcas, i ate my first fresh strawberries of the season, from my own new garden....on home made granola....ummm...makes up for having to wear lots of clothing.....i still hope to be on your crew list next spring...and also you are on my crew list this summer (August) here on Orcas...happy trails, love Cathy

SV THIRD DAY said... With diving and sea life like that, maybe we should take THIRD DAY to the SP after all!