6/2017: Fakarava


It was grey and raining off and on in the morning, with winds that built to the mid-20s. We’d been planning on leaving the atoll, but decided against this early on. I did some kite repair, and in mid morning as it cleared a bit went kiting for a while, feeling lots of power even with the 7m kite. This went well, though, and I had lots of fun in the usual spot before heading back to Magic. Most of the rest of the day we hung out; we went ashore to get some Basil and over to Shindig to trade photos and video, but that was about it. In mid-day, when conditions were still very windy and grey, REDACTED left the anchorage to travel through the atoll to the east. Presumably they were seeking less wavy conditions, but watching them heading out was one of the stupidest things I’d seen in a long, long time. In late afternoon the winds abruptly dropped significantly and shifted to the north, with weather clearing a bit. Calm conditions continued through the night. Thinking about it afterwards, it seemed like the snarly weather may have been a cold front moving over us.


Weather was nice in the morning and we got ready to leave. I started raising the anchor but it seemed like it would get caught so I went diving and raised the anchor itself with a lift bag, which made getting the rest of thie stuff up pretty easy. We left the pass and sailed for most of the day on a broad reach, navigating past a couple of atolls as we headed towards Fakarava. In the late afternoon the wind came down so we started motoring, and shortly before sunset we caught the biggest tuna yet, over 40 pounds I’m sure. The wind stayed down and we motored all night.


We did a little sailing in the morning but mostly motored the rest of the way to Fakarava. We got through the north pass around noon, then motored the remaining five miles to town, anchoring among some other boats a little to the south of the town center. There was no WiFi and we didn’t know where to go, but after some hailing, research, and talking to a woman ashore we found Fakarava Yacht Services, run by a really nice woman, Stephanie, with some services including really slow internet access. We spent an hour or two there, then did some shopping before the stores closed.


We headed in during the morning with our bike and skateboard to try to find Sofie and her vegetable shop, but used bad information from our cruising guide and went the wrong way for several miles, seeing some of the atoll in the process. This was nice but I was dehydrated and had no water so it was kind of difficult. Eventually we gave up, returned to town and talked to Stephanie who said the shop was less than a kilometer in the other direction. Oh well, we found Sofie’s shop and got lots of pamplemousse and some other badly needed fruits and vegetables, then used the internet for a while. I skated into town to do some shopping in the brief window after church finished (it was nice seeing so many happy townfolk walking about), then back to the yacht services place, then skated around town a while to try to find a Vinispot and hopefully better internet. No luck, but we were able to get what we needed done and went back to Magic, pulling our anchor and leaving in the early afternoon to continue south through the atoll for 10 miles to the Pakokota resort, anchoring in a pretty area with several other boats. We went into shore and talked to Matthieu, the owner, and his friend for a bit, then several other cruisers for a while.


In the morning Lisa tried to use the very weak internet for work tasks, while I did some boat stuff. I changed some oil in the port saildrive, whose oil was very slowly getting creamier. I sure hope this is a leak that stays stable or disappears, rather than getting worse. We left in the late morning and motorsailed for a few hours to Fakarava’s south pass, anchoring nearby several other boats. We both went snorkeling, checking out a couple of remoras on the port hull which I think had been with us since at least Rotoava. I did a long dive to move the anchor to a suitable spot and then set a second anchor, as the anchorage has a lot of limestone formations and mostly dead coral on the bottom and avoiding snags would be good.


We both went snorkeling in the morning a little after the flood tide started, watching where the dive boats were going and then following the divers themselves to see the route they took through the pass. This was nice, with lots of sharks around, a napoleon wrasse, and so forth. Pretty deep so hard to see a lot. Afterwards I went diving by myself in the same spot, shadowing other divers through the same route, seeing several hundred sharks lazily swimming in the current. Very cool. Later on we went snorkeling again, checking out some shallow areas on the west side of the pass. This was excellent, we saw a lot of blacktip sharks cruising around, many fish on the coral heads, and a big anemone with an anemonefish, our first! He was very cute swimming among the tentacles and eyeing us warily.


In the morning I did some repair work on the larger kites, and then went diving on my own (Lisa was feeling sick). I went diving on the same route through the pass again, seeing more great shark and fish life. Afterwards the wind started to build, and after a bit I started getting ready to kite. By the time I was ready the wind had dropped, and I packed things up without going out. Later on Lisa was feeling better, and we went back to the snorkeling area on the west side of the pass. I brought my camera and a tank so I could take photos of the anemonefish.


Lisa needed to use the internet for doing some tasks, and we left at 7am to look for a place with internet access. The first place we went to, a dive outfit and resort near the pass, had WiFi, so Lisa stayed for a few hours while I returned to the boat and went kiting. This was pretty nice, the wind was a little light and gusty but I was able to get pretty far upwind, heading through the anchorage and near a bommie and nice shore area, getting some GoPro footage. Afterwards I went for another dive in the pass, seeing a trio of spotted eagle rays, really nice. I put a hook on the float line so I could attach myself or the dinghy to the reef, which made managing the dinghy a lot easier than it has been in the past. I picked up Lisa and we relaxed for a couple hours before trying to dive again, heading back to the pass. I was hoping we would be diving during the last part of the flood, but when we arrived it was right around slack and the ebb started up quickly. We went for a short dive right around the buoy on the outside of the pass, but this was still very nice and it was great to be diving with Lisa, we were very relaxed afterwards.


In the morning we went diving together in the pass, coming in on the flood current as I’d done previously. We saw the trio of spotted eagle rays, and all the usual sharks and many, many fish. There were a lot more groupers than on previous dives; this was the day of the full moon, which we’d made sure to arrive at the south pass by. The groupers congregate in huge numbers here during certain full moons. They were all over the reef, usually several at a time in pockets sheltered from the current, but as we got deeper into the atoll they were almost carpeting the reef in places, several hundred of them. After the dive I went kiting for an hour or so, having fun and getting some more GoPro footage. After that I got the idea of snorkeling/diving with the groupers using a side mount 19 cuft pony bottle. I spent a couple hours building this, then went out and had a real mess of an experience. The tide had turned earlier than expected and I was heading out on the ebb tide tangled up in lines, not able to manage my camera and the dinghy and the pony bottle all at the same time.


In the morning we dove the pass together again, having a great time. Early on we had the dilemma of whether to focus our attention on the four eagle rays swimming around, two amorous titan triggerfish, several whitetips resting on the sand, or the dozens of grey reef sharks floating in the channel. Later on there were still great sights, and the groupers seemed to be even more concentrated than the previous day. After the dive I went and did a second short dive to get some footage of the huge groups of groupers, and then went snorkeling over them a few times with Lisa. Later on we went ashore to do a little hiking.


I dropped Lisa off in the morning to use the internet, and after some sandal repair went out diving on my own. I went to a mooring ball outside the pass, in 70′ of water. I was using the float line as I didn’t know how much current there would be, but there wasn’t much so I hooked the line to a limestone feature early on and then looked around. The wall here was much steeper than at Makemo, and I went down to 130′ to have a look around. A fish I was interested in was deeper, around 150′, and I impulsively decided to keep going, heading all the way down to 200′ before ascending. I was feeling pretty narced that far down and it took a little bit of time to disappate as I ascended to shallower depths. Back near the mooring ball I looked for the dinghy’s float line but didn’t see it, and got very concerned. I started to ascend, did a one minute deco stop, then surfaced and saw the dinghy pretty far away and drifting to shore. I swam for it, not aggressively but with expediency, hoping the waves wouldn’t smash it up too badly. As I got closer I saw the dinghy had turned into the wind and stopped floating; this was a great relief and when I arrived I saw the float line had snagged on a coral head and prevented the dinghy from going ashore. Pure dumb luck. I descended again and took the dinghy out into deeper water, going through the rest of my tank at 20′-30′ as the tidal current took me partially into the pass, after which I finished the dive.


There was some wind and I went kiting in the morning, which was fun. Afterwards we relaxed, and in the afternoon went in to shore and walked all the way around the motu which the Tetamanu village is on. Shindig, Pangaea, and Alcyone came through the pass in the afternoon.


We went to shore with Pangaea in the morning to check out the services and all the life around the docks there. Afterwards everyone went snorkeling in the area with the anemonefish. After that we went back to Magic to get ready to dive, while everyone else snorkeled the pass. We dove in the pass, seeing all the sharks, a napoleon wrasse, and some other stuff. The grouper had cleared out over the preceding two days and only a few were around, but there was still lots of life. In the afternoon everyone went to Shindig to play Liar’s Dice and hang out; we stayed for an hour and a half or so and then went back to Magic for dinner.


Around noon we went diving in the pass, with visibility relatively poor (70-80′) and not many sharks. Conditions were still nice, though, with several napoleon wrasse and such. The wind increased afterwards and I tried foiling, having a little success but pretty stymied by the winds dropping back down and making water launching very hard. Pretty quickly I gave up and dumped the kite, got a cut on my eye while removing a line from the foil, then waited for Lisa to come and rescue me. In the evening we had the crews from Shindig, Pangaea, and Alcyone over for dinner.


The wind built to the high teens in the morning and I went out on the foil again. The stronger winds helped a lot and I made quite a bit of progress, improving my launching and riding skills with the foil and feeling for the first time like I was getting some real rides, and was able to make it back to Magic at the end of the session. I swallowed a lot of saltwater and hit my groin on the board, but still felt great afterwards. We went ashore to see Dan and Kristy from Te Poe Rava, who were visiting the south pass as part of a dive trip they’d organized. We pulled the anchor with difficulty — I had to dive twice and float both anchors we were using to avoid snags — and then motored into strong winds for six miles to the east end of the island. When we arrived I tried to go kiting again with my strapless surfboard, but the wind dropped soon after I started and I had a lot of trouble flying, and Lisa came to rescue me again. In the evening we went ashore for drinks and then dinner with the other boats (plus Tumbleweed, who had just arrived from the north pass) at a really nice restaurant on shore, just us and the crew of another boat.


Winds were pretty light in the morning and we went out paddling, me on a board and Lisa in the kayak. We went out to the east tip of the island checking things out, enjoying some quiet areas with little fish nurseries, then headed back to Magic. A couple hours later the winds were even lighter and we took the dinghy two miles west to a pretty little island we’d seen on the way here. Very nice to walk around, with lots of birds in the trees, some interesting tidepooling (found a moray under some rocks, which fled quickly whenever I uncovered us), a group of twenty hermit crabs on the beach, and good snorkeling. Some drinks with the other boats on the beach and then a relaxing evening on Magic.


Winds continued to be light and we pretty much just hung out on the boat all day, relaxing, then had drinks with Pangaea and Tumbleweed (the other two boats left during the day) on the beach.


We left around 7am to head back to the south pass and try to dive while it was still flooding. We got a mooring ball and were ready to go at our designated time but the tide had already turned so we started inside the village and rode the tide out most of the way to the mooring balls near the mouth of the pass. Visibility wasn’t great and the sharks weren’t too concentrated but it was nice to be in the water again. The swell was up and a little while later we brought the dinghy to the village and I went out with my surfboard while Lisa looked for shells on the beach. I never got a ride but I did get tumbled in the surf a couple times without contacting the bottom, so I guess that counts as a success.


We dove in the morning on the flood tide close to slack, which was nice and relaxing but there weren’t very many sharks around (they seem to like the current and hang out in particular spots when it’s running stronger), still a nice dive. Afterwards I went back to the surf break and tried boogie boarding, having a lot more success than yesterday and getting several good rides.


We left at 7:30am with Tumbleweed, who had arrived in the anchorage a couple days ago, to go snorkeling. I got confused by the tides and thought we were at the end of the flood when we were really close to the beginning. As such we snorkeled the pass first. Visibility was poor and it was hard to see the sharks all the way down there, but we did see a couple of eagle rays pirouetting around each other which was great, and zooming over the coral at the end was fun as always. Afterwards we all headed to the snorkeling area to the east to look at the anemonefish. Visibility was incredible, 150’+, and it was super fun snorkeling around in such conditions. We did a little photo shoot with the anemonefish, and since it was clearly flooding stronger now we all headed back to the pass. Tumbleweed snorkeled it again while we went diving. Visibility was much, much better and we had a great time; there were hundreds of sharks in the places we were used to seeing them, got a lot of great pictures of them with Lisa, just a very intense experience. Later on I went boogie boarding again, getting some more good rides but getting carried into the shallows and then tumbled by a wave, which gave me several scrapes. Tumbleweed came over for dinner and we had a very nice evening.


We dove in the morning on the flood tide, timing things about the same as yesterday. There was still incredible visibility and tons of sharks, but we weren’t so focused on getting pictures so had a more relaxed time. Really nice dive. Later on I was fixing a leak and got frustrated with the headliner and impulsively broke one of the pieces in half; we talked and decided I can’t be just breaking things out of frustration, this is a very old habit that suddenly resurfaced. Anyways, I went boogie boarding and Lisa came along to get some photos, got several good rides and was tumbled a couple times but didn’t contact the bottom.


It was pretty rainy for much of the day. In the morning I went out for a solo dive, starting at the wall outside the pass. I checked out the area around the mooring, went down to 130′ (my limit as agreed on with Lisa after the first time I dove here), went back to the mooring ball, and then drifted on the current to the mouth of the pass and through the shallower water above the normal place where we do the pass dive (I was low on air and high on nitrogen). Later on the rain stopped and there was some wind so I went kiting. After about 20 minutes the wind pretty much completely died within a couple of minutes, and I was drifting out towards the mouth of the pass, swam close to shore and then got rescued by Lisa.


In the morning there were strong south winds (offshore winds, coming off the palm trees and other structure on the beach) and I went kiting. This was pretty nice for a while. A lot of the winds were very gusty from blowing over the trees and I went looking for places with cleanear air. I found some downwind of Magic, but on trying to come back I got frustrated with the gusty winds in the anchorage and made my way upwind near the pass. When I tried to cross back to Magic I went over some surface coral that I didn’t see until I was right on top of it (it was very cloudy). I hit the coral, a fin broke off the board and I fell onto the coral, getting several scrapes. The kite and lines were ok and I started riding again, but with the gusty and very strong winds and a missing fin I was having a lot of trouble getting upwind to Magic, and eventually tried to cut across the anchorage and go ashore to hike back. The kite became unflyable as I got close to the beach and as I tried to swim in the lines got tangled on the coral. Lisa came by a few minutes later as I got the kite under control, and she rescued me yet again. One of the kite lines broke and there were some dings on the surfboard but no other damage. An hour or so later I felt ok and we went diving in the pass, zooming through close to the height of the flood and seeing all the usual critters, very nice. In the afternoon I repaired the broken kiting stuff and then we relaxed.


In the late morning we went for a dive in the pass, having a very enjoyable last dive with these sharks and other critters for a while. Afterwards we moved the boat to Hirifa, at the east end of the atoll. There was some breeze here and I went kiting, using the surfboard and having a good time for 45 minutes or so; I could stay upwind but the outflowing current in the nearby shallows from waves breaking on the reef kept me from getting too far from Magic. Pangaea arrived in the anchorage in the late afternoon and we went over there for drinks and snacks.


It was pretty gloomy most of the day with some rain, but in the morning I went out kiting with the hydrofoil. I was able to stay upwind easily and made a fair amount of progress in riding the board, foiling close to the water and keeping things under control. Afterwards we relaxed for a while, and in the afternoon went to shore with Pangaea to go for a hike, going through the palms and then along the shoreline around to the ocean side. Sights included a large variety of crabs, a wild pig that caused us to turn around from our palm tree exploration, and several baby blacktip sharks in a shallow estuary.


It was sunny in the morning (yay!) and I went paddling with Lisa and Katie from Pangaea ashore. This was pretty fun, we saw the baby sharks again — they seemed to be predating on a school of baby goatfish. When I got back to Magic there was some wind and I tried to go kiting, but this was short lived: the wind dropped by the time I was ready to go and I tried anyways, only to watch the kite flop down into the water without ever getting up and riding. Lisa rescued me quickly but I was kind of bummed out and we relaxed by watching a movie together in the afternoon. In the evening we had drinks on Pangaea with them and the crew of another boat in the anchorage.


In the morning I got up and got the boat ready for passage. We left in mid morning for the south pass, picked up a mooring and waited a couple hours while Lisa tried to use the internet and I made a fix to the starboard engine (the alternator bolt had sheared again) and wrapped the broken whisker pole with several layers of fiberglass. The latter took longer than expected and we left later than we wanted to for the south pass itself. The tide had turned already and was flooding pretty strongly, but we powered through and made it out the pass without trouble. The pass was as beautiful as ever; we’d spent much of the day reminiscing about how amazing this trip has been and talking excitedly about coming back next year. Just outside the pass we got a hookup on a line but the fish spit out the hook, then we motored on around the southern end of Fakarava and turned west towards our destination, Raiatea.


We motored through the night, with a couple brief attempts to sail, then in the morning the wind picked up and I set out the genoa on a pole, which took an annoying amount of time but ended up ok. We were on a broad reach with a triple reefed main, and later in the morning the wind moved behind us and I dropped the main. This was nice for a bit but we were only making about 4 knots so I put up the spinnaker, which took a couple tries and had some difficulties (especially with all the injuries on my hands) but eventually got up alright as well. We were making 5-5.5 knots and having a great sail through the afternoon. Around 4pm we hooked a mahi mahi. Reeling it in was an amazing experience; it is a gorgeous fish and watching the flashes of green and blue at the surface of the water was really cool. Two other big mahi were in the area and came right up to the boat. When I got the hooked mahi in close it repeatedly jumped out of the water, clearly visible in its struggle to get away. I gaffed and killed it on the swim step, then brought it aboard; a huge fish, around forty pounds, very long and flexible compared to the tuna we’ve been catching up to now. We dropped the spinnaker to catch the fish and then I put the genoa back up by itself for the night. We sailed most of the way through the night at 3.5-4 knots and then motored the last part as the wind continued to drop.


In the morning I put up the spinnaker, which we used for most of the day, making 6+ knots most of the time. In the late afternoon I dropped it and put up the genoa and mainsail on a broad reach, which we maintained through the night, making decent speed.


When I got up in the morning we weren’t going so fast and I started both engines so that we would arrive in Raiatea by the early afternoon. Weather was a little squally (unlike the previous two days, which had some of the clearest weather we’ve seen all season) as we rounded Huahine and made the rest of the way. As we approached Raiatea there were some intense squalls we saw hitting the island in various places, but when we reached the pass things were clear and we motored on through, then north past Uturoa to anchor in shallow water (7′) near some other boats. We were tired from the passage and weather was lousy so we hung out on the boat the rest of the day.

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