7/2018: Fakarava, Faaite


We left in the morning to sail down to the south pass, with a couple stints of motoring where the channel took us too close to the weather. The winds were in the high teens, gusting to the low twenties, and working on sailing Magic to windward was fun and interesting. On arrival we anchored away from shore (lots of boats lined up in the shallower parts of the anchorage) and relaxed the rest of the day.


In the morning we tried to go diving in the pass, but it was ebbing pretty strongly. We headed back to the boat and did a short dive nearby, poor visibility but some sharks around, nice and all. Later on we went to Tetamanu, Lisa to use the internet and me to go surfing at the wave nearby I’ve boogie boarded at in the past. I wasn’t able to get any rides; the swell was smaller than earlier in the day and I had trouble finding the spot which I’d used in the past. This is a challenging break; afterwards a driver for one of the dive boats came over and suggested Faaite instead (soon I hope!). Afterwards I checked out the other side of the pass, which seemed to have a couple promising areas on the inside but there weren’t any swells coming in, still nice to walk the beach and watch the parrotfish and crabs. After getting back to Magic I went out kiting. The wind was from the northeast and the anchorage was pretty lumpy, challenging conditions on the foil but I did alright, had a great time.


In the morning I tried surfing again, but conditions were similar to yesterday and I gave up after a half hour or so, then checked out the other side of the pass, also unfruitfully. Relaxed on the boat a while, then we went diving outside the lagoon on the apron of the pass. This was a superb dive, lots of fish outside to admire and then a gentle drift in past lots of coral and a couple sand channels, attempting to pet the whitetip sharks (they weren’t very interested) before ending the dive at the spot where we normally start the pass dive. After dinner we went snorkeling off the boat, using lights to look at some neat stuff out in the night: some crabs on the coral, a large cowrie with its mantle extended, stuporous fish including a small one I caught entirely in my hand as it swam midwater.


We relaxed most of the day, talking to some other boats we knew in the anchorage but otherwise working or hanging out. In the afternoon we went diving, aborting our plan to head back to the apron after the outboard developed a problem (the hub in the propeller was starting to fail and the prop was not spinning correctly at high rpms) so did the normal pass dive instead. Current was light and there weren’t a huge number of sharks around, but this let us appreciate the other life in the pass more, good looks at lots of life, my favorite was a large titan triggerfish doing its excavating as we watched from a few feet away. In the evening we had the crew from a couple other boats — Aiki, Pizza — over for happy hour, and got to bed late afterwards.


After doing some filming ashore and some boat projects during the day we went out diving in the afternoon, using a new propeller and heading back to the apron. We spent a little time on the outer wall before slowly drifting into the pass. We ended up to the left of the sand channel, nice coral and somewhat deeper water, with the best sight a big turtle munching on food on the bottom and letting both of us come in to just a few feet away without getting agitated. Afterwards we went to the sand channel and spent some time with the gray reef shark aggregations there, pretty thick, before surfacing. After getting back to Magic I filled tanks and around sunset went back to the apron. It was still flooding and I got ready to do a night dive; several dolphin came pretty close by with noddies following them and feeding too. I started the dive at dusk hoping the dolphins would come by (they didn’t), headed down to 100′ to look out from the wall and then slowly drifted in to end up near the breakers on the outer part of the pass an hour later. Very nice dive, lots of sharks close by for almost the entire dive, not nearly as frenetic as the last night dive I did here but maybe that’s a good thing. The sharks were hunting, though I never saw them succeed; they’re very clumsy hunters, swimming around in the dark (the dive light doesn’t seem to help them) with fish evading them from inches away, eventually blundering into a fish and chasing after it. Other sights included several lionfish, including a small twin-spotted one I hadn’t seen before, lots of shrimp, and many sleeping and/or terrified fish. After the dive there was no moon, just starlight and lights from boats, the village, and some navigation aids. Dinghied back to Magic with a spotlight pointed into the water the whole time, it sure is easier to do this on a waxing moon.


It was flooding in the morning and we left early to dive the apron, coming in to the outer parts of the pass. No spectacular sights but a really nice time out. We relaxed most of the day, and prepared to go night diving with the sharks together. We left for that dive around 5pm, just before sunset, and headed to the buoy where we normally start the pass dives from. This area isn’t affected by the flooding current and is shallow, 30-40′, and seemed the best place to try out diving with them; Lisa had been really interested in being with them since seeing my footage from the dive I did back in May, but we wanted a low risk area where we could easily abort the dive if the sharks became uncomfortable. That didn’t end up happening; we stayed with them for half an hour as it got dark, with the first several minutes still being the day shift and the sharks switching abruptly into hunting mode once it got dark enough. It was interesting watching the sharks’ behavior as we stayed in roughly the same spot. The whitetips would find crevices they were interested in and each try them out in turn, while the grays always seem to just be swimming around near the bottom hoping they bump into a fish. Several shoals of scad moved through the area, they seem to have a daily commute in and out of the lagoon that passes through here (I think back during Fakarava Fest back in May we saw them passing under the boat where we were anchored as well). We both had a great time and started making plans to come back afterwards.


We dove the apron again in the morning, seeing the usual great sights as we drifted into the pass. The best sight was a manta ray that Lisa spotted near the start of the usual pass dive. It was near the bottom and was quickly swimming out of the pass, but we got a good look at it near the edge of visibility. Back at the boat there was a light wind and I went kiting, launching off the dinghy from a bommie near the anchorage (very crowded around Magic, I would not have been able to get out). I had a great time and was very comfortable on the foil, winds were around 9-11 knots and it was great to be able to get out in such light conditions. Mostly relaxed on the boat the rest of the day, except for a brief trip to Tetamanu to walk around and use the internet.


We dove the apron again in the morning, with nice sights including an eagle ray and a good look at the shark aggregation as we got into the pass. After some time back at the boat I went out kiting, having some gear problems but a good time as I foiled around for an hour. We wanted to night dive with the sharks again, and went over to the pass a little after 5pm, but it was still ebbing pretty good. We walked around and then tied up to the sticks marking the narrowest part of the pass, waiting for over an hour as it slowly decreased and then seemed to slacken but not start flooding, before getting hungry and heading back to Magic.


It was glassy calm in the morning and we went out to dive at the apron again. It was flooding pretty good and we came all the way in, seeing most of the pass and ending up near the anchorage when we finished. I got some video of Lisa with the shark aggregations, and saw some other neat things including a few eagle rays and one baby eagle ray, super cute. After getting back from the dive we made plans to go paddleboarding in the calm water, but around when we were about to leave it started raining, then continued to rain all afternoon as southeast winds built. This was the arrival of a Mara’amu, which we had also seen last year at this spot with similar conditions presaging its arrival. We ended up relaxing on the boat the rest of the day.


The Mara’amu continued all night and day with strong southeast winds and squalls. In the morning we left to go diving in the pass. It was pretty snarly on the outside but the pass itself was pretty protected. We did one run through where we spent a lot of time getting videos of Lisa with the sharks, and then a second run through where we stayed at shallower depths and looked at the other critters — three eagle rays, titan triggerfish, and so forth. It looked like there were some little waves on the other side of the pass from Tetamanu, and after returning to Magic I tried to head over with a surfboard, but before leaving the anchorage the dinghy’s outboard crapped out, dying while running at full speed. I got it started a few more times but it kept dying, then I couldn’t get it to start at all. I rowed upwind to shore, walked over to a spot upwind of Magic, then rowed back to Magic. I felt like the engine’s problem was water in the fuel, as it had rained a huge amount since the previous day and the dinghy was full of water earlier with the fuel tank floating upside down with its vent open. I replaced the fuel in the tank and installed a new filter, replaced the engine’s internal filter, and got the engine running but it died again and wouldn’t restart. I decided to give it a night to dry out and relaxed the rest of the day.


The Mara’amu continued all night and day with strong southeast winds and squalls. In the morning I tried to get the outboard started, unsuccessfully, then started swapping out the carburetor and dropped a plastic sleeve in the water while doing so. In my hurry to find it I broke my mask, then went diving, looked around unsuccessfully, had an underwater hissy fit where I tore off my gear before swimming for the surface. Lisa and I went diving together afterwards to look for it. It was very pretty under the boat, lots of schooling fish and several sharks, and I saw an octopus sitting outside its den looking at me, before shrinking back into its den as the two of us approached. This lifted my spirits, and after Lisa headed up due to low air I looked around for a little while longer, then just as I gave up and started ascending saw the sleeve in a nook of the coral just under the boat. I took a break from working on the outboard afterwards to fill tanks so we could dive under the boat, but after a few minutes the belt on the compressor split (it had been squealing on startup for weeks, I suppose I shouldn’t ignore that). I tried replacing it and split open my thumb while loosening the engine mounts. It just felt like it wasn’t my day. We relaxed on the boat a while longer, then I finished replacing the belt, filled tanks, replaced the carburetor with an older one we had, got the engine running, and went diving under the boat with Lisa. The critters were still all around, and we had a fun time in the not great visibility. All in all it was an okay day.


Lisa’s birthday! We did some presents in the morning and then went diving in the pass. It was still pretty windy from the southeast and the carburetor I’d put in was making the outboard pretty cranky, but we made it out and had a fun time doing the pass, focusing again on getting videos of Lisa with the sharks. Saw some silvertips and a large shoal of fusilier at the bottom of the pass and lots of sharks in the aggregations, it was flooding pretty strongly. Afterwards we mostly relaxed on the boat the rest of the day, playing some games in the evening, just a really nice and relaxed time.


Before diving I cleaned the carburetor I’d pulled from the outboard a few days ago; some of the critical parts were pretty gunky and after cleaning them and reinstalling the carb the motor was running pretty well, though not perfectly. We went diving in the pass again, the last time for a while (we’re planning on leaving tomorrow) and focusing on enjoying ourselves and the experience rather than doing lots of video. We did two runs down the pass; the first we went down the middle, near the bottom to get more looks at the fusilier and silvertips, then shallower to look at the four eagle rays we’d seen in shallower water the first time around. Two of the eagle rays were juveniles, though Lisa got a better look than me. The wind shifted around to the east and was dying, so we relaxed most of the day and prepared to leave, with the crew of Aiki coming over so we could watch videos and identify fish together.


We left early in the morning, motoring out the south pass and then sailing in the light winds on a broad reach for 12 miles to Faaite, a great and very relaxed little passage. We arrived before noon and anchored outside the pass, in an eddy off to the side of the main flow of current exiting the pass. I’d been pretty interested in coming here for a while now, since hearing that it was a good place for surfing. Right inside of the boat looked like a nice wave, though there was no one on it and it was hard to tell from behind. Not too long afterwards, though, several people from the village came out on boogie boards and surfboards. I headed in with the dinghy to watch (helping to retrieve a board for a guy in the process), watching what looked like a very nice but pretty intimidating wave. It was a reef break with what looked like similar characteristics to the one at Fakarava, seemingly breaking right on the reef, but the pocket was well formed and people were getting lots of rides on the larger waves, over head high and sometimes double overhead, steep with little barrels forming on the larger waves. After watching for a little while I headed back to Magic, put on my wetsuit and helmet and paddled over to it with my shortboard. After a few minutes I paddled after a wave and had it promptly break on me, rip my helmet off and toss me around. I swam out of the surf zone and paddled back to Magic (tiring when going against the back eddy), fixed the helmet, then dinghied over to anchor outside the surf zone and avoid any more long paddles. I stayed in the water another hour and a half, with between three and six other surfers the whole time. Everyone was very friendly to me and each other, waving and talking a little, one guy fixed my board leash after it got caught in some coral. I never did get onto a wave, though. I had opportunities but kept ending up too far inside and getting tossed around by the surf. The wetsuit kept me from getting cut and it wasn’t too bad, but still tiring and stressful especially one time when getting caught inside as several set waves came through. This was more of a learning experience for me: on these steep waves I need to be in pretty much exactly the right position when setting up, and need to develop a better sense for where the right place to be is before I’ll be able to surf waves like this.


In the morning I went in with a boogie board to try out the wave again. I was the only one there the whole time (some people watching from shore or hooting when large waves were coming in, nice) and got a dozen or so rides of varying lengths over an hour and a half. Some really excellent rides, some where I stayed on the wave before turning too far sideways and getting tumbled, some where I was able to get off the shoulder before the wave broke on me. Focusing on assessing the wave and putting myself in the right position, trying to err on being too far outside (paddle harder to catch the wave and maybe miss it) rather than too far inside (get tumbled immediately), and just on being able to ride waves like this. At the end I ended up inside after riding a wave and two huge set waves came through; the first ripped my board off my wrist, and the second gave me quite a ride underwater without being able to orient myself to the surface. A guy on shore retrieved the board and gave it to me as I paddled in, very nice, then I headed back to Magic. The whole experience was a huge amount of fun and cathartic after the attempted surfing yesterday, and left me feeling great for a while afterwards. Anyways, not too long after getting back I went out with Lisa to explore the pass and look for another place to anchor Magic (there are strong winds expected soon and even though we’ll be on the lee side of the atoll we still don’t want to be anchored outside the lagoon). We checked out a finger of water on the north side which was deep enough to anchor Magic, but was swept by currents coming over the nearby shoals and had a coral bottom; afterwards we went into the lagoon but couldn’t find anywhere which would be protected from the impending east winds. We decided not to move the boat but went snorkeling in the areas we’d checked out, doing one pass on the ebbing current out from the finger and another in the main part of the pass. These were pretty nice, the coral wasn’t in great shape but lots of fish including a big shoal of convict tangs, some supermale bird wrasses, lots of titan triggerfish. Scraped my knee pretty good on the coral getting into very shallow water on one run, need to be careful. We did some snorkeling near the boat, then went for a dive away from the pass and outside anchorage, finding very nice coral and good fish life, one shark, one napoleon wrasse, a big school of marauding parrotfish and surgeonfish. Very fun and busy day, we relaxed on the boat the rest of the afternoon.


I went boogie boarding in the early morning again for about an hour. The wave seemed a little bigger than yesterday and I didn’t have to wait much at all between sets, getting about ten rides of varying lengths. Three were the best rides on a boogie board I’ve ever gotten: I was able to stay in the right place on the wave all the way in until the wave petered out, a total rush and a great feeling. At the end I was finishing up a ride and got tumbled a little but the wave pulled one of my fins off. I went looking for it, and the other guy who came out also helped a little to look for it, before I got my snorkeling gear and found it at the bottom. Back to Magic for a couple hours before we dinghied through the pass and into the large shoal area in front of town. We tied up the dinghy and walked around town a couple hours, watching people surfing the wave, seeing the church and municipal buildings, a nice and quiet place with everyone really friendly. We found a store and did some provisioning, and with several people’s help we found the house of Eduardo, a guy who came out to the boat two days ago during my attempted surfing and talked to Lisa. He showed us a lot of nice drawings and other artwork he’d done and talked about his family, a very nice guy and great to meet. We went back to the boat afterwards and relaxed the rest of the day.


I went boogie boarding again in the morning, dropping Lisa off in town so she could get some pictures of me. The wave was smaller than yesterday, and I had to wait a fair amount, but got a couple excellent rides before the winds started building and we headed back to Magic. We were expecting winds in the next couple days and were planning on leaving Faaite this morning as we weren’t comfortable being outside the atoll and so close to the wave in unsettled conditions. So, back at Magic we left pretty quickly, not difficult but soon after departing the winds built to 20 knots from the south. We started sailing, very slowly so that we wouldn’t arrive at Fakarava deep in the ebb, but about half way there the wind shifted around pretty much 180 degrees, very light wind from the north. We bobbed a little while, then motored the rest of the way, arriving in the early afternoon and relaxing the rest of the day.


It was pretty windy in the morning and I tried kiting, but the wind was quite variable where we were anchored and when I tried launching with the 7m kite it kept falling out of the sky due to turbulence. I hopped in the water with it, got a little downwind, gave up, swam back to the dinghy, then the wind came up and I did the whole thing over again. It’s hard to tell whether the problem was the wind being too light for the kite or the turbulence, but oh well. After some work stuff I went diving with Lisa at the pass, things a little snarly outside but fine inside, light flood and pretty poor visibility (80′, oh no!). Few sharks but lots of other critters, with several titan triggerfish excavating and a look at a slingjaw wrasse doing its suction tube mouth thing while being cleaned.


There was more wind today, and in mid morning I went kiting with the 7m kite for an hour and a quarter or so. I had a lot of fun, the wind was cross-offshore so waves were small despite wind in the high teens. Difficult riding, though, the wind was gusty and turbulent and while once I got up on the foil it was easy to get around, launching was difficult. I was using my footstrap early on, until one time when I fell off and the board stayed close and its tip hit me right behind the ear, leaving an egg (the foil lets the board keep a lot of its momentum when there’s no one on it). The rest of the time I avoided using the footstrap except on take/off, need to be careful out there. Anyways, worked and relaxed for several hours and then we tried to go diving in the pass in the late afternoon, but it was ebbing pretty strongly so we dove at one of the bommies in the anchorage instead. This was a nice time, not much coral but lots of varied fish around, in particular a group of yellowfin surgeonfish that kept following us around and playing in our bubbles (we’ve also seen this behavior from them at the pass itself), not sure if they were trying to eat the bubbles (but why would they keep it up for half an hour?) or just enjoyed the feeling of the bubbles, like manta rays do.


In the morning I went kiting again, leaving at the same time and staying out for the same time. Similar conditions to yesterday, though I was able to deal with them better and had a really good time out. The wind continued all day and we didn’t try to dive in the afternoon, just hung out on the boat working on various projects.


We left a little after six in the morning to dive the pass. It was flooding lightly and we had an excellent dive. The night shift of creatures was ending and behavior was different than we normally see. The best point was about halfway through as the morning sun started to reach us; a few eagle rays were swimming in the shallows with the sunlight streaming in behind them, while behind us the large shoal of scad we see exiting the pass at dusk was coming back in for their daily commute, sunlight glinting off them. Just beautiful. Other sights were a slingjaw wrasse being cleaned and showing off its suction tube mouth, and a turtle in the shallows at the end just chilling out on the bottom as we were swept by. Most of the rest of the day we relaxed, with Lisa spending some time on Aiki, and at five pm we left to go for a dusk / night dive in the pass. It was lightly flooding as we got out (the beginning of the flood) and we started at the buoy near the mouth of the pass, with the same plan as our last night dive. It was somewhat light when we started and the sharks weren’t active yet, and as it got darker and darker more of them came around to hunt near us. We spent 40 minutes in the water and had a great time admiring these creatures. This is now my fourth night dive with them and I was getting pretty comfortable, focusing on staying near Lisa and making sure she was comfortable. Great day.


We left in the morning to do two dives at the pass using our three tanks (I used the 100 and Lisa used both 80s). For the first one we did the usual pass dive, with the current flooding pretty good and lots of sharks in the usual places. Very nice, though at this point it is getting a little dull. For the second run we were shallower, and didn’t see as much of the sharks but lots of nice fish, good looks at three large eagle rays swimming near the surface (the same ones we saw on our first dive yesterday). The best sight, though, was at the end where we went into an eddy off to the right as the past got fast and shallow (we’d snorkeled here before but hadn’t been diving in this area); there were three juvenile eagle rays here swimming around in the well lit water with sand behind them. They weren’t afraid of us and kept circling around in the area as we watched and Lisa filmed, a great encounter. Back at the boat we relaxed a few hours and then I went kiting. With winds in the mid teens conditions were great and I stayed out nearly two hours, working on transitions and having a really nice time. Another great day.


We did two more dives in the morning. It was relatively calm so we started at the apron, with the current flooding pretty heavily. A nice shoal of black triggerfish at the beginning, alternately coming down to the reef to do who knows what and then swimming up into the open water. Afterwards we moved past the sand channels pretty quickly and into the pass; there were several eagle rays and lots of sharks but also a lot of divers flailing around in the water. After a little bit of this we surfaced and got ready to do our second dive. We waited a few minutes at the buoy at the start of the pass so the other divers could get further away, then started and moved down the pass at the 50′ level. We saw the eagle rays again (no other divers this time) and various fish, ending up in the eddy we visited yesterday, where the juvenile eagle rays were still hanging out, nice way to end the dive. We spent most of the rest of the day on Magic, but it was pretty calm in the afternoon so we went paddleboarding near the boat, finding a nice area near the edge of the lagoon with cascading pools of water flowing into the lagoon. I hurried back to Magic to get some drone footage of Lisa with the pools and a rainbow in the background, a beautiful scene.


In the morning we did two runs through the pass with single tanks. It was flooding pretty good and we focused on getting footage of Lisa with the sharks, getting some nice shots. It was pretty windy upon getting back to Magic but after waiting it dropped to the low teens, and I started getting ready to go kiting. By the time I started it had dropped more, but I headed out hoping to get upwind of Magic and keep kiting as long as the wind was suitable. In the end, though, I headed out on one tack, then dropped the kite in the water as I started heading back to Magic, and the winds were too light to get it back in the air. The kite took me much of the way back, but then I started getting downwind and had to swim for a while, eventually ditching the kite and board, to return to Magic, then hurry back to retrieve my gear before it got wrapped around any coral. This all went OK, though, I think the lesson here is to be careful going out when wind speeds are dropping so precipitously — 20 knots to 7 knots in barely over an hour. Light winds persisted the rest of the day, with intermittent squalls things were unsettled. In the afternoon we took the dinghy a mile away from the pass to see a colony of black noddies I’d seen here while paddleboarding back in May. The nests were here and there were a lot of birds around but not a lot of activity in the colony itself. Still nice to explore and walk around on land a little bit.


In the morning we did a dive during the strong flood, starting at the apron’s buoy and coming all the way in through the pass and ending up at the area with the juvenile eagle rays (just one hanging around today, but we got a good look at it as we came in). It was cool to see the entire pass and outer area all at once, nice sights but nothing out of the ordinary. Back at Magic there was some wind, and I went out kiting, having a nice time for 30 minutes or so before a lull came, the kite dropped in the water, and while trying to relaunch it I got it to fall onto the water into a challenging position to relaunch from. The wind came back, but it was light enough (11 – 12 knots) that I couldn’t get enough lift to get the kite back into the air, and self rescued and sailed the kite back to Magic.


In the morning we headed out to the apron to dive and try to get footage of the baby gray reef sharks we’ve been seeing out here. We got some footage, then floated in to the mouth of the pass where there were a lot of divers in the water. We ascended from the dive and headed back out to the apron to try to finish our tanks and get more footage of the baby sharks, but there was a big dusky shark hanging out beneath us and after some fretting we ended up aborting due to the stress and headed back to Magic. After some work stuff we headed back out in the early afternoon to try again, finding it still flooding, albeit gently. We went to the apron and saw a dolphin hanging out nearby; Lisa got in the water and got a couple looks at it as it swam around, but it wasn’t too interested in us so we went to the buoy and started our dive. Much of the dive was spent following the baby sharks around and trying to get footage of them. They are pretty skittish and difficult video subjects but we got some good looks at them. Towards the end of the dive we spent several minutes watching a triggerfish trying to eat a snail it had found and carried to a sandy area, eventually giving up. Another triggerfish came in to try its luck but abandoned that attempt after a couple minutes too.


In the morning we did a couple dives in the pass using three tanks, our last in Fakarava for a while. We started at the apron for both of them, first going all the way through the pass to the apron, and the second ending partway through the pass as I ran low on air. Some nice sights like a Tahitian stingray in the sand channel on the way in, the first we’ve seen here, and a shark having its teeth cleaned, wrasses swimming in and out of its mouth. Mostly just mellow and relaxing, we’ve gotten so used to diving here. Back at the boat it was very sunny and there was a nice wind so I went kiting. I had a great time, was out for an hour and a half and Lisa took some photos of me as I kited around the very picturesque areas close to shore. I was still working on transitions and started doing them somewhat reliably towards the end after working out a couple things with foot and kite positioning, it was super nice to finally start getting a handle on this skill. Afterwards we went ashore to look at hermit crabs and do some interviews in the late afternoon light.


We left in the morning to sail to Rotoava. After getting the sails up Lisa managed the boat the whole way, a smooth and pleasant trip, and we arrived in mid afternoon. Later on we went ashore for some errands, and saw a friend of Lisa’s, Mana, giving a presentation to some schoolchildren at the shoreline, feeding and petting a couple of docile nurse sharks that would swim right up onto the sand in pursuit of fish parts.


Errands and internet in Rotoava.


Errands and internet in Rotoava.


Errands and internet in Rotoava. We saw a turtle from the boat in the afternoon, neat and colorful.

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