6/2018: Makemo, Tahanea, Fakarava

6/1

The wind was lighter and in mid morning we paddled around near the boat, me on my paddleboard and Lisa in the kayak, checking out the beautiful bommies nearby and a bay with a lot of juvenile blacktips swimming about. I got some drone footage of Lisa kayaking and of the pass, and we walked around on the beach looking around. Neatest sight was a fermenting coconut surrounded by dozens of hermit crabs of all sizes. I tried to go diving in mid afternoon but it was ebbing strongly, so did some boat stuff for more than an hour before trying again. It was still ebbing, slightly, and I started diving on the inside, near the area where the sharks hang out. I went out in the middle of the pass, in increasingly deep water with some nice coral and fish life, before finding myself in 100′ of water and a relatively flat bottom with no walls in sight. Hmm, swam towards the west side of the pass and eventually found it, and was able to explore some of the ledges down around 100′ (some gorgonian-like black corals I think, interesting, not much else) before running into NDLs and ascending with half my tank left.

6/2

It was dead flat in the morning and we left around 7am to the pass to try diving there, but it was already ebbing and we headed into the lagoon to dive at a bommie breaking the surface a half mile or so from Magic. We had a great dive as we circled around the bommie; very little coral but good relief with sculpted limestone and lots of life. Several whitetips followed us the entire dive, coming close to us sometimes but usually keeping their distance if we were paying attention. Several grays and blacktips were around intermittently as well, just a generally sharky experience. Other life included two giant trevally pretty curious and approaching me several times before fleeing when the strobes fired, a couple napoleon wrasse that also seemed to be accompanying us from a distance, lots of grouper and trumpetfish, parrotfish and so forth. A general feeling that the fish here don’t see humans very often. Not long after the dive we went paddleboarding together in the bay we explored yesterday to look for more baby sharks, spotting a few. We went back to the boat and Lisa switched to the kayak before heading back out. This time we went to the island on the east side of the pass, over coral shallows spotting sharks dozens of times and some feeding activity with frigate birds and boobies on the edge of the coral. As we arrived at the island we saw a pretty amazing sight: I heard a splash and saw an octopus mostly out of the water, with several eels writhing around. It inked, swam out and settled right next to me as I watched the eels on shore. Lisa paddled over to see the octopus, I held it for a minute underwater before letting it go and watching it escape the little alcove we were in. We walked into shore next, and there were at least ten snowflake morays in very shallow water, trying to hide with some of them nearly all the way out of the water. I watched them for a minute, then stroked one and they all bolted to holes elsewhere in the alcove. As far as I could tell they’d probably all caught the scent of the octopus and were hunting it. Anyways, afterwards we explored the island, checking out a wave that looked surfable despite the low swell. After paddling back to Magic I came back to try and surf it, but the waves were even smaller and I gave up pretty quickly. It had switched from ebbing to flooding in the interim which may have affected things, but this allowed us to go snorkeling and we both went out to check out the wall on the east side of the pass, drifting back in along the east arm and spotting lots of fish life and ok coral. Great day.

6/3

It was dead flat again in the morning and we left to try diving the pass, but yet again it was ebbing. We went back to Magic and got ready to leave, waiting around until 9am for easier bommie spotting to motor to the east pass via the lagoon. Very mellow passage, little wind and one of us always stayed up top to watch out for bommies in the way. We got to the village anchorage at the east pass in late afternoon.

6/4

We left at 7am to try diving the pass, arriving around slack. We dove for a half hour in the area where we saw the large shoal of scad and accompanying sharks last year. The building ebb made travel difficult, and while we saw a lot of scad around there were only a couple sharks. Afterwards we did some snorkeling in the area, finding a couple more shoals of fish and some more sharks, nice though not anywhere near as active as when we were here last year. After getting back to Magic we headed into town, skateboarding and biking around to check out all the stores for some limited produce and other goods. Still fun, this is a great town to travel around in. In the afternoon we went snorkeling at a nearby bommie, then walked around on the beach on the other side of the pass to look for shells, seeing some neat tidepool critters: some shrimp and so forth.

6/5

It was pretty windy in the morning and we left around 7am to try diving the pass, but found it ebbing and some pretty steep little waves in the pass so backed off. Instead we dove at the bommie closest to the anchorage, seeing a nudibranch and various fishes, pretty nice. After getting back to the boat I went out kiting with the hydrofoil, having a great time for the better part of two hours and working on riding without using footstraps (the foil is big and sharp and you don’t want to get away from it easily when crashing) and more practice getting up and staying on the foil itself. Relaxed most of the rest of the day, except for a short trip to town.

6/6

It was very calm and we again left around 7am to try diving the pass, finding it already ebbing pretty strongly. Timing slack around here can be deeply confusing. I suspect that the swell may have been pushing water into the pass along the south boundary of the atoll, but not sure what was causing the weird water levels. We dove at a small bommie further from Magic, circling it twice, seeing several pipefish and some nice schooling fish but not a whole lot of interest. The supply ships (two of them!) arrived in the interim and afterwards we went to town to shop, but stuff had not been unloaded yet and we just got some gasoline. In the late afternoon we went back and got some badly needed fresh foods for the boat.

6/7

I went to check out the pass at 6am but it was ebbing pretty strongly. There was a nice looking wave on the east side of the pass so I went back and got my stuff to go surfing. I got a couple nice little rides, but felt intimidated by the coral, so returned to Magic to get a 4/3 full wetsuit I had from California, put that on and went out again. This transformed my attitude towards the reef and let me get a dozen or more good rides over an hour and a half, nice right break in the waist high surf, falling a few times onto rocks and coral but not getting cut or injured. By far the best surfing I’ve done so far in Polynesia. I was pretty wiped out afterwards; we went into town for a couple errands, then checked out the tide — still ebbing — and I did some work stuff for a few hours. In the afternoon we wanted to go diving, found that it was still ebbing, and decided to go to the outer wall to visit the area there we enjoyed so much last year. Nice dive, great visibility, no amazing sights or sharks but it’s great to see this area after so many days inside the lagoon. Something about the weather was making the pass ebb all day (I still suspect the swell) and we needed to adapt. Back at Magic we went out paddleboarding to the closest bommie and then along the wharf and town waterfront, flat water, very nice.

6/8

We weren’t in a hurry in the morning and went out around 8:30am to find the tide, shockingly, flooding. It was coming in pretty strong and we did three short dives in the pass, checking out a huge shoal of scad and bigeyes in the central arm of the pass with ten or so sharks, several dogtooth tuna, and so forth among them, and on the last dive checking out the entrance of the pass in through the east arm, several sharks and lots of fish, good coral, a smaller group of shad, and so forth. The surfing wave still looked alright and after a short break at the boat we both went out to the east side of the pass. I went surfing while Lisa explored the shoreline and got some pictures of me. The swell was down a good deal from yesterday but I was still able to get some nice rides, needing some patience to wait out the long lulls.

6/9

We left in the morning around when we thought slack would be but found it flooding very strongly. We tried diving out near the mouth of the pass but the current was so strong we had little control over where we were swimming and aborted pretty quickly. We left the lagoon and went down the outer wall far enough to get out of the effect of the current, and had a nice mellow dive, not great coral but some nice sights like a grouper having its mouth cleaned by a wrasse. Napped, worked and did boat projects the rest of the day (pretty tired from everything I’ve been doing lately).

6/10

We were delayed in getting out diving in the morning and found it flooding moderately instead of slack as we’d hoped. We did a short dive in the current with the shoal of baitfish, tuna, and sharks, then went back to Magic. There was a nice wind from the west and I tried to go kiting, but kept dealing with leak after leak and ended up spending a few hours testing and repairing the kite. I sort of came to a new understanding with the kite, that the valves have to be secured or it puts too much stress on the bladder, but too late for today. We did some snorkeling and freediving in the pass and relaxed the rest of the day.

6/11

We checked out the pass for diving a couple times in the morning but it was ebbing pretty strongly. I went kiting afterwards, staying out for only about 20 minutes before my kite deflated and I had to swim back to Magic. The foil felt really good in that brief time, though, energizing. Afterwards we checked the pass out again and, while it was still ebbing, the current was pretty mild and we went diving with the shoal of scad and whitetip sharks for a little while, then back to the boat to relax and work the rest of the day.

6/12

We prepared to leave the atoll, heading into town for a couple hours for groceries and diesel, then leaving the atoll on an ebbing tide around 1pm. Winds were a little fluky for several hours so we motored, then as we reached the west end of the island we turned to the southwest towards Tahanea and had a very nice sail through the night.

6/13

In the early morning we reduced sail, flying only a piece of the jib, to delay our arrival to mid morning. We were expecting a strong ebbing current and the later we arrived the less we expected it to be. We still got in a few hours before the time we thought slack would be, finding as expected a strong ebb with half the pass glassy and half full of pretty boisterous waves. We went in anyways, staying in the flatter part and finding smooth, fast water with little hydraulics. We were running both engines hard and our speed went as low as half a knot as we went in, but we slowly made it in and anchored inside the northernmost pass, a really nice area we had coveted when we were here last month. We went diving together under the boat; I installed a temporary mooring on a bommie, and Lisa took some photos and videos of the fish, lots of flagtail blanquillos here and some friendly other critters. The wind was nice and I tried to go kiting afterwards, but after fixing leaks in several valves the large patch I’d already repaired several times from bursting the kite last year failed again. I had a spare leading edge bladder for this kite and, sick of fixing problems with the old one, installed this, only putting in inflate/deflate valves so that I had to inflate the struts individually. This seems like a good long term plan for kiting off the boat — separate valves for transferring air to the strut bladders have been a huge reliability problem with all the kites I’ve owned, constantly repairing them is an annoying time sink and with all the remote areas I’ve been kiting with offshore wind, leaks in the kite become a safety issue as well. Anyways, after a couple hours of working on the kite I got it holding air and went out for 45 minutes or so (limited by the amount of daylight), having more fun with the foil and enjoying a kite that actually holds air for a change.

6/14

It was windier than yesterday, averaging high teens or twenty knots, limiting our diving options. We went out to the bommie in the anchorage we had dived at the last time we were here, having a nice time and sighting Lemmy the lemon shark two more times as he patrolled his turf. Lisa got a much better look at him than me, I was mostly futzing with my camera and only saw him swimming away. Back at the boat we went in to shore to walk around a while looking for crabs and checking out the wind waves outside the atoll. Afterwards, I wanted to go kiting, and tried repairing the smaller kite I had, whose valves had all failed, by plugging the valves on the leading edge bladder and replacing the ones on the struts, but the plugs failed and rather than continuing to futz with it I went out on my larger kite. Winds had dropped a little to the high teens, still a lot for this kite but I managed things ok, staying out for over an hour (again, limited by daylight) and riding around among the boats in the (much more crowded than yesterday) anchorage. Tons of fun, I’m starting to get the hang of being up on the foil and sometimes just started laughing from the feeling of riding around suspended above the water. Back at the boat I accidentally fully released the kite and had to retrieve it with the dinghy, but this went fine and didn’t hurt my high spirits from the outing.

6/15

After a squally morning we dove the same site as yesterday, not seeing the lemon shark or much else. It was still squally at Magic and we hung out for a few hours, and in early afternoon the flood started and the skies cleared, so we went snorkeling in the pass. The first couple runs we saw many marbled grouper on the bottom, mostly individuals but a few pairs bickering with each other and a couple groups of ten or so. I was wondering if they were gathering in preparation for the full moon coming in a couple weeks. On the second run Lisa spotted a manta ray in the distance, super exciting and the first one we have seen this season, or ever in the Tuamotus. We’d heard about them from other cruisers when we were here last month, and snorkeled a bit to look for them then with no luck. We got back in the dinghy and could spot the ray from the surface (despite a little wind chop) and motored upcurrent of it so Lisa could get another look. We did several runs like this, and kept seeing different rays, some swimming close together, all facing into the flood in the gut of the pass and feeding on plankton. Eventually we lost track of them and did another run from the mouth of the pass. After a minute three rays came at both of us, swimming in formation one after the other, coming in until they were just a few feet away before gently diving beneath us. This was an amazing encounter, and the first time I’d seen the reef mantas acting curious about people (the oceanic mantas at Benedicto did this a lot, but reef mantas have a more skittish reputation). After doing some boat projects we went paddleboarding in the afternoon, having a nice time to round out the day.

6/16

In the morning there was some nice wind, but it had shifted to the northeast and Magic was largely sheltered by a nearby stand of palm trees. I took the dinghy and my kiting gear to Lemmy’s bommie and did a drift launch from there. Everything went really well, and I kited for over an hour, continuing to get more comfortable with being up on the foil and having a great time. In the early afternoon we went to the pass to look for the mantas again. We eventually found a group of them not too far apart, there were at least seven mantas and we did several passes with the dinghy, sometimes just Lisa and sometimes the both of us in the water, enjoying watching them and enjoying their curiosity as they came close by while feeding. After getting back I went spearfishing, at first swimming around the boat trailing a kayak but not seeing anything, then heading back to Lemmy’s bommie and having more luck (the wind had slacked off). I shot at parrotfish several times but kept getting glancing blows (frustrating, I hate just injuring the fish), then several sharks visited — not aggressive, just curious — and I backed off for a bit, enjoying watching a Napoleon wrasse being cleaned and some other reef sights. I was about to give up when I spotted a marbled grouper lazily swimming along the sea floor, then swam down and shot it from a couple feet away. We’d heard from another cruiser that these were safe from Ciguatera, on this atoll at least, and I had one of the fillets for dinner, very tasty and no ill effects. Anyways, in the late afternoon we went to shore to take some photos and enjoy all the hermit crabs wandering around. One coconut was open and filled with crabs, with dozens more beside it.

6/17

The weather was pretty gross in the morning, lots of rain and a north wind, but by mid morning it cleared up some and we went diving at Lemmy’s bommie. Lisa may have spotted Lemmy from a distance (he’s been shy lately) but the other sights were nice. A good sized spotted eagle ray swam by pretty close to us, and lots of good macro life — some translucent gobies on sponges, dartfish, and so on. After the dive the weather was still a little unsettled but there was a nice but light wind and I went back to the bommie and did a drift launch with the kite. I had a great time out for 45 minutes, getting some nice long rides up on the foil, then the wind dropped a little more due to a nearby squall and the kite went in the water. I tried relaunching it for a minute without success, then decided to self rescue and swim back to the dinghy rather than risk getting blown downwind of it. Everything all went well as I got things back to Magic. Our next trip was into the pass to see if the mantas were around, but with the contrary wind there were lots of small standing waves in the pass which would make spotting the mantas very difficult, so we headed back to Magic to relax the rest of the day.

6/18

Calmer weather today, worked and relaxed in the morning, then did some paddleboarding around the boat. After the flood started in the afternoon we went to the pass to go diving, but aborted before getting wet due to a gear failure. We did several runs through different parts of the pass, Lisa snorkeling and myself looking for mantas (I was feeling low on energy). I didn’t see any mantas at the surface, though Lisa saw one swimming on the bottom, and some other cool sights to check out later on scuba. There was a substantial swell breaking at the mouth of the pass and little wind, so after getting back to Magic I went surfing at the spot I’d been to last month at the middle pass. I wasn’t surfing very well (still low on energy) but the wave was bigger than last month and producing more reliably, and I got a few very good rides and a bunch of decent ones. Lots of fun.

6/19

It was pretty windy in the morning and entering the anchorage. At first we started planning to leave for Kauehi, but after an hour of preparation we reviewed the forecast and decided we were better off staying put (the winds were forecast to bend to the east/northeast, which would create a wind-against-tide situation in Kauehi’s pass). So we dove under the boat, swimming out to about 45′ and back, enjoying the creatures and getting photos. Lisa saw a giant trevally swim by closely, though I was futzing with my camera and didn’t notice it. Over the course of the day the wind slacked and shifted east, making the anchorage more comfortable. It was light for kiting but I decided to go out anyways and try, and had a great time. Definitely the lightest winds I’ve ever been able to kite and stay upwind in: I had to really work the kite to take off but once I got some speed I got up on the foil and stayed there, using the stronger apparent wind to zoom around the anchorage. Continuing to get better and better with the foil, I could stay up and out of the water for entire tacks sometimes. Right after getting back we headed out to look for the mantas, didn’t see any but went snorkeling on the far side of the pass, seeing a couple big nurse sharks and a group of 20 or 30 red snapper that followed us as we drifted into the pass. Finally, there was barely an hour of daylight left but I went surfing at the middle pass. The waves were pretty broken up by the wind (which had increased in strength) but still surfable and I got several nice rides over 45 minutes. It was nice to have finally accomplished the trifecta of diving, kiting, and surfing all in one day.

6/20

We left in the early morning to dive in the pass while it was still flooding, finding it flooding pretty good. We did two dives in the area which we’d been checking out by snorkel, moving pretty quickly in the strong current but enjoying the creatures and especially all the gathering groupers, plus a whitetip who followed us around for much of both dives. After a couple hours back at the boat I went kiting, but had difficulty in the gusty winds and came back in after 45 minutes when the winds increased in strength enough to make it hard to control the kite.

6/21

Solstice day! We went diving in mid morning, later relative to yesterday’s tides, along with two divers from the other boat in the anchorage. The current was gentler than yesterday and we had a great time, spending a lot more time among the nicer areas with great coral and lots of grouper hanging around, many of them hovering several feet above the seafloor in large groups due to the slight current. I worked most of the rest of the day, though we went ashore in late afternoon to enjoy the light and walk around looking at the crabs on the beach.

6/22

We went out diving at the pass again, taking all three tanks and doing three runs on the far side of the pass. Lots of neat stuff in the water: a manta ray which Lisa saw, a dogtooth tuna multiple times, a large shoal of barracuda, lots of groupers and so on. Really nice time. We cut the last run short when the current started ebbing, and got out of the water in a hurry as the waves in the pass started building. The other boat in the anchorage was also doing dives here, but their last divers stayed down while it was still ebbing, the dinghy driver watching them left when the waves started building, afraid of the dinghy getting flipped (I have my doubts it would be a real problem, but I wasn’t there), the divers surfaced in the ebbing current and swam for 45 minutes in the waves to reach shore on the east side of the pass before meeting up with their dinghy driver there. We were watching the whole incident and never needed to help, but felt justified in our decisions to dive with the dinghy attached to me and to get out as soon as it started ebbing. Anyways, before they got back I went out kiteboarding. Winds were really nice, 12-13 knots, and I had a great time, staying out an hour and a half. In winds like this I have pretty good control of the foil now, and I also started working on transitions, switching stances without getting off the board. This requires more balance than doing it without the foil, but I was able to start doing them semi-reliably, really starting to feel competent with the foil. Hung out and worked the rest of the day; the other boat here cleared out and we were the only ones in the anchorage for the first time since we arrived here.

6/23

We left mid morning to dive the pass late in the flood, having the timing down pretty good by now. As we headed into the pass we saw some mantas at the surface, near a bommie on the west side of the pass we christened the Manta bommie, as we also often saw them here when we were snorkeling with them a week ago. Lisa snorkeled with them briefly, then we positioned the dinghy upstream of the bommie and started our dive. A few minutes in we reached the bommie, and saw first one and later on up to four mantas at once, cruising over the top of the bommie, off to the side feeding near the surface, swimming around deeper down, circling back in the lee of the bommie. They seemed to be using it and the varying currents around it to their advantage as they swam around on their conveyor belt of food. We spent a couple minutes with them before we started getting swept away, then we found our way into the lee of the bommie ourselves and worked our way back upstream, clinging to dead coral as we watched. We spent over 20 minutes with them as they fed, really awesome to see them so much, took me back to our trip to San Benedicto. Eventually we left the bommie and started riding the current deeper into the lagoon, but the nice sights didn’t stop. Several big napoleon wrasse were swimming around, accompanied by ulua and whitetip sharks, lots of marbled and coral grouper around, just a really nice way to finish up this amazing dive. After a few hours on the boat, we went out paddleboarding at the nearby blue pool, admiring the threatening waves in the ebbing pass. Saw a coral grouper hunting near shore, little white fish jumping out of the water trying to escape and then heading to a shallow coral shelf where the grouper followed and splashed around as it struck, neat to watch.

6/24

We went out diving near the end of the flood again, not spotting any mantas and drifting down the center of the pass near the bommie where we saw them yesterday. Lots of fish out and about, several big napoleon wrasse and a small remora that followed us around the second half of the dive and kept trying to attach itself to my fins and calf. After getting back I went out kiting for a while, having fun with the foil in the nice wind and working more on transitions. Towards the end I tweaked my back somehow (at the time I was just up on the foil and flying the kite, so pretty strange) and came in. We went to shore on the east side of the pass and went snorkeling in the blue pool there, some pretty areas in the shallows and under the bushes along shore, lots of parrotfish and goatfish on a large piece of branching coral, small blacktip in the shallows, and so forth.

6/25

In the morning we went snorkeling in the midst of the flood, to look for groupers. The last couple days we hadn’t been seeing many while diving, and after doing several runs through the pass we found they had cleared out entirely, several days before the full moon, surprising (is their spawning actually tied to the solstice?). Other neat stuff included several manta rays below the surface — one I free dove down to see when he came up to check us out — and a thick aggregation of bigeyes with ten or so sharks in the midst and a couple huge dogtooth tuna overhead. We started making plans to leave the atoll the following day and had some remaining tasks to do. We dove again at Lemmy’s bommie to look for its namesake creature, without success, then did a short dive near the boat to get some footage at coral heads here Lisa liked. A couple eagle rays swam around us for a minute on the latter dive. Later on in the afternoon we went ashore to get some footage of the ebbing waves in the pass and take some pictures on the beach.

6/26

In the morning we went ashore to return our pet crabs to the beach (we’re done with them for now, we can’t seem to provide them with a habitat they like and they keep escaping), in the process hitting some coral with the propeller but the outboard seemed ok afterwards. Need to be careful. We dove again near the boat to get more footage at the nearby coral heads, after which Lisa spotted Lemmy under the boat and I got in to chase him on snorkel and get some footage. I caught a few of the unicornfish from under the boat, then we headed out of the pass. It was ebbing slightly and looked a little wavy but alright as we approached the pass, but as we exited we went through an area of steep, lumpy, six foot waves which had Magic bucking as bad as it ever has. The boat wasn’t in danger but it was pretty uncomfortable; we did some research later and saw that all the east winds lately have been kicking up a swell which was pointed right at the pass. Anyways, after exiting the pass we started sailing, though it continued to be lumpy and uncomfortable for a while. As we got north of Tahanea the seas smoothed out a bit and we had a nice sail through the night.

6/27

We were originally planning on heading to Kauehi, but after our difficult pass exit yesterday we decided to go to Rotoava instead. We arrived late morning to find the pass looking easy (as it always has when we’ve gotten here, being one of the largest in the Tuamotus), turned on the engines and headed in and upwind to Rotoava. We had a nice lunch ashore, got some gasoline, and relaxed the rest of the day.

6/28

Errands and internet in Rotoava. We did some biking/skateboarding around town in the afternoon, which was nice.

6/29

More errands and internet in Rotoava.

6/30

More errands and internet in Rotoava.

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