Fakarava – The S End

S Fakarava

Fakarava is a long atoll, just over 30 miles long with a pass at both the N and S ends. The S pass is smaller and shallower but it is one of the most best diving sites in the world. It is famous for its Wall of Sharks, with Black Tip, Grey, White Tip in large numbers and the occasional Tiger and Silver Tip (both dangerous) sitting in the current. It also has some fantastic coral, described by John from Mary Anne II as the best he has ever seen. He has circumnavigated once so has seen a fair selection to compare to.

After a week or so at Rotoava, we moved S with Taranga, stopping half way down the E side of the atoll at 16 17.566S 145 30.461W, anchoring in 25’ of water. There was a  motu just to our S with a old copra hut and we landed in a tiny sheltered bay with coral growing in it to look like Mickey Mouse ears beside it. I left the Taranga crew collecting coconuts and found a little used track through to the reef edge on the outside of the motu. I cleared it a little with the machette as I walked along it. I was very surprised to find a well used 4×4 track running  N-S at the outside edge of the vegetation. Tourists obviously get a drive by tour here.

That evening we had an extremely civilised movies night, a couple of rums and enjoyed watched Captain America accompanied by popcorn.


Taranga and ourselves took the opportunity to take photos of each other as we headed towards the S pass and we took Jasper on board to take pro photos with his SLR. He took the chance of having a go steering Skylark. We got lucky and picked up the last two buoys available to the E of the pass.


We settled down to a relaxed and easy lifestyle. Morning exercise for Lou on the foredeck whilst the young ladies generally failed to tidy their rooms, a bit of school, then a snorkel exploring the bombies and reefs around us. I’d generally go for a dive with the Taranga crowd, John or Harvard and Ann-Helen of Wilmheim, a Norwegian boat, with the incoming tide through the S pass, looking at sharks and the extraordinary coral there, with Lou and the girls drifting 25m above us as the current dragged us through past the walls of sharks. 

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We had a good night at Mahini’s on his privately owned motu, eating pizza and a salad. One of his new guests, a lady called Marie, managed to slip between boat and jetty and chinned herself. She ended up with an inch long cut worth a few stitches and a very sore jaw. Instead of her four days diving, she got a night on the motu with ice on either side of her jaw, a couple of steri strips and some antiseptic cream applied by yours truly and a run back N for a trip to hospital on Tahiti. So unlucky.

We have also been getting on with some school. E has been getting better and better at the speed maths “tests” she has to do. H has a bit to go there but is working hard on it. Competition is good!

We also ran a hairdressing salon. My clippers, a wonderful buy back in the BVI, have had a few outings. Soren, Jesper and Rasmus all came to use them. Hannah volunteered to cut everybody’s hair but in the end, only Jesper, with little hair to damage, let her loose.

S Fakarava

Taranga’s engine failed to start after we left the anchorage half way down the atoll and started to spew out oil vapour from the air intake. Soren and I took the head off and found that one of the cast iron rocker bar holders had cracked, one of the valve springs had broken (the probable cause) and the whole rocker bar was bent out of shape. Soren is getting spares sent out from SABB, a Norwegian company that made the engines, originally designed for the Norwegian fishing fleet. I thought this would be less easy for him than I with my Volvos as his engine is 46 years old. However, he knows the owner of the company who is proud of the fact that one of their engines is still going in the S Pacific, who on getting the call, had new parts in the mail within a day. I’d say that was excellent customer service!  It might take a couple of weeks or so for the kit to arrive here but the S pass is not a bad place to break down. Fakarava is the best serviced island with scheduled aircraft in French Polynesia after Tahiti and we are parked up beside one of the top 10 dive sites in the Pacific. It’s a hard life, I hear you say………

With diving being so good, there are a couple of small hotels down here, always busy. For 873Euro a week (before travel costs – another 2500Euro return from Europe), you too can stay in one of these beach front cottages with the sharks basking in the shallows below your balcony. It is a very nice setup but has the disadvantage of being reliant on rain for water. Although they have huge underground water tanks, they have a major problem this year as the rains, due now, haven’t come. It looks like another fallout of last year’s El Nino. Salt water showers and a fresh rinse only.


Thankfully with our watermaker, we have a easier life and I have been supplying Taranga water in exchange for scuba bottle refills. On the basis that the dive schools down here are charging $30 a refill (very rude – it is normally about $10), I’ve felt I had a fair deal.  However, with lots of showers after snorkelling and the supply of water required to wash 41 pairs of smalls used by the girls in a period of 8 days (no, we don’t understand it either…) it means the watermaker is getting hard use. Even so, with good sun and a reasonable wind, we have had to run the generator only one hour in the last couple of weeks and whilst useful, it was really to ensure the damn thing still worked.

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In the end, we spent three weeks at the South pass and we didn’t regret a day. Each dawn was glorious and sunset always seemed to come too soon. It was fantastic catching up with friends, John and Julia from Mary Ann II and Soren and his new crew of Jesper, Rasmus and Niels on Taranga and meeting some new folks that we had only spoken to on the morning HF net before. Ednbal, Ocean Star and Wilhelm from Aus, USA and Norway respectively, all socialised with us – all good people . I dived everyday and we saw the pass in all states of tide but never without a wow moment. Eleanor continues to stagger everyone with her near encyclopaedic knowledge of the fish we see  and the list of exotics has grown ever longer. Hannah had a great time helping the Taranga crew carrying water and doing odd jobs as they worked at Mahini’s in return for free pizza and a lot of goodwill. She achieved the title of Janitor of which she was very proud. Lou got ever trimmer.

S Fakarava

For our last night, we organised a beach BBQ on one of the motus and the crews of Taranga, Mary Ann II and ourselves cooked mahi, veggie burgers, sweet bread and the pack of marshmallows we found in Kauehi under a moonless crystal clear sky with the Milky Way blazing overhead. Soren, Eleanor and I lay back and watched it for a while. So peaceful. I don’t think anyone really enjoyed the Sangria, found in a long forgotten locker and a left over of a Puerto Rico shop, but it got finished anyway! Murphy particularly enjoyed the ice cubes.

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We said our farewells to Taranga with the girls blowing the conch shell mightily, answered by their horn. We have travelled with Soren and his motley crews all the way from Cuba, meeting them at each stop and he has come to be a good friend. He heads N to Marquesas for the cyclone season. We hope we might manage to meet up with him one last time in Rangiroa next March. Fingers crossed.

We left, heading N, to pick up fuel from the ferry which we prebooked a week ahead, necessary if you want to buy it directly from the boat. We broke up the trip N stopping in at Pakokota Yacht Club, a small pension about half way up the atoll, run by a French couple, Agnes and Matthiue, anchoring in 30’ of water. It is a nice wee set up. They are very friendly and can get any shopping you need from Rotoava. They offer meals, drinks and for customers, decent internet. They have, rarely free from the charter boat people, four free buoys.

Our timing to move N is good as an incoming weather low, the first we have seen in the Pacific bringing 25-30kts from the NW, is due to hit the atoll. We will enjoy the shelter of Rotoava and the N end of the atoll when it arrives.


Hannah’s 9th Birthday – Manihi’s and the S Pass, Fakarava

H's birthdayWe have had some exotic birthday locations this past year. Lou’s was on passage between Barbuda and Sint Maarten. Eleanor’s was celebrated on passage half way along the S side of Haiti heading for Cuba. Mine was at the S end of Makemo. Hannah, living up to the requirement for another memorable place was held at the S pass of Fakarava.

Someone had to be sent back to bed at 0500hrs as they were a little overexcited. However, at a still early but reasonably civilised time, presents were opened on board. Hannah did particularly well out of Eleanor’s burgeoning craft skills. The gift cards promising to give unargued choice of films for film night and free bed making went down as well as the skirts (for Hannah and Snowy), cooking apron and a variety of necklaces and bracelets.  A great addition to the gift pile was a bag of balloons from Julia and John and the girls had a lovely time decorating them with pictures and birthday messages, putting them up around Skylark. Party blowers provided plenty of noise. Julia had also produced a beautifully crocheted crab (dutifully named Cedric) to add to the crocheted sea life collection that Julia had worked on during a productive crafty afternoon. 



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There was a special breakfast of pancakes. Unfortunately our last kilo of flour, bought and held back for the task in Rotoava before we came S, turned out to be inhabited by a few too many weevils for Lou’s liking! The day was saved by Mary Ann II and Taranga who both managed to supply some flour which did the job for both the pancakes and then a birthday cake, ably iced by a somewhat sticky Eleanor. Our thanks to both yachts.

We had a lovely snorkel through the pass, roared through by a strong current and then a little play on Skylark. The afternoon brought Taranga, Mary Ann II and our neighbours, Ocean Star on board for a birthday tea and cake. The food collection was impressive with cookies, cake, biscuits and a huge pot of macaroni cheese from Mary Ann II, which all went down extremely well. We even got everyone, a la Officers’ Mess traditions, to sign in the Visitors book. Good memories!

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We had to wait for a day to have a birthday dinner at Manihi’s as he was full of guests on Hannah’s birthday. However, the homemade baked pizza were worth waiting for, the company was great and our thanks to Manihi for the pineapple cake covered with icing and decorated with flowers. The Taranga crowd sang a Danish birthday song – Hannah was a little suspicious about what they were actually saying – which was again greatly appreciated. Hannah came home happy and exhausted.

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Our next birthday to celebrate is Lou’s which will be in New Zealand. We had better get planning but I’m already thinking Yorkshire puds, fresh veg and gravy need to figure…….. Smile


H's birthday

By the Light of the Silvery Moon

By the light of the Silvery MoonA while ago I wrote a piece on working out the tides around the Tuamotus, specifically in regard to what you would find around the passes of the atolls where I said that I would be looking at a lunar model suggested in the British Admiralty Pilot from 1969 I have on board. I haven’t yet but still intend to have a decent look. Let’s just say I’ve been collecting evidence.

I had finished diving the N pass with Top Dive, one of the companies based in Fakarava (thoroughly recommended BTW), heading back in and I ended up in conversation with Mano,  a local Dive Master, instructor and all round good guy, who has been working for dive schools for 10 years. It was his turn to be driver that day so I stood at the bow with him as he expertly guided us through the chop back towards Rotoava. I asked him how the school judged the dive times they used. By way of explanation, the school will generally do two pass dives a day using the incoming stream only. An outgoing current is dangerous as the current dives strongly at the ocean wall drop off, which can quickly take any diver foolish enough to be subsurface there down to lethal depths in a matter of seconds.

His answer surprised me. “The Moon”  with a nod of his head. Pointing with one hand, “ when the moon is there,  then the tide is high, when it is there, then it is slack, there, then incoming and there, outgoing.

He told me all the local fishermen used the same system as they also knew by the moon’s position when the best fishing was to be had too.

This method had been taught to him as a boy in Tahiti by his Grandfather and he had always found it accurate enough for his years fishing and in the diving industry. I also queried him on the more modern method of tide tables. He just smiled.

“The moon is always there. All you need to know is how to read it”

Don’t you just love technology?

More practise required by this callsign……..





Fakarava – Arrival and the North End

I remember Dad arriving back from a very rare weekend of racing on Sulas Wing, his old wooden 25’ 5 ton Bermudan sloop. She was a lovely thing but needed a gale of wind to really get up any pace. The race was between  Ardfern and Croabh. The timing for the race start must have been a bit cocked up as the fleet ran straight into the opposing tide at the Dorus Mor and sat there tacking back and forward going nowhere fast. With a bit more local knowledge, Dad stayed within throwing distance of the N shore under the tide, crawled around the point and ran away from the fleet, winning by a huge margin to the disgust of the “professional” racers. The next day, with a lot less wind and the right tide, the racy crowd left Dad standing. He came home with a cup for his win and a mounted toilet seat for being the last boat in on the return. I have always had a sneaking suspicion he was far prouder of the Seat than he was of the tiny nearly silver cup!

After a fast sail across from Kauehi, blown along by 20-25kt winds, we arrived at the N pass to Fakarava very early. We could see the race on the W side of the pass but it all seemed very flat on the East side. I decided to try one of the little gems of knowledge thrown out by the British Admiralty Pilot book I spoke about in “The Vagaries of Tuamotus Tide” a couple of blogs ago. It says

“The prevailing winds being easterly; the outgoing tidal stream being always deflected slightly westward of the entrance of the pass; and probably due to the the effect of wind and tidal stream, there being always more danger on the western side, it is advisable to approach and enter the pass very slightly eastward of its axis. There is usually a race……….and by approaching slightly eastward of the axis of the pass, the vessel will be able to skirt its eastern edge”

It doesn’t suggest anything like this in any of my other guides but it had reminded me of Dad’s cheeky shore hugging manoeuvre. According to our Guestimator, we should have had 2-3 knots against us and needed to wait for two hours for slack. In the end we stuck our noses in, stayed within 25m of the reef on the eastern side and got no current at all until we were more than half way into the pass. Up the Admiralty – again! We punched about 2kts for 2-300m and then were through. No standing waves and no trouble. The outward race screamed on with white horses and big standing waves, 500m to our W……. Lesson learnt. Trust your eyes, listen to old knowledge and look for local variations at the passes.


We motored five miles into the wind back E in to the deep anchorage of the village of Rotoava, the main town on this atoll. We had been told on the morning net that the community had started to put in mooring balls to protect the coral and we found two of the seven balls unoccupied. It was nice to pick one up, our first since Jamaica, and even better,  they are free. The community installed 17 balls in the atoll in Dec 15, all rated to 30 tons, and plan more once finances are raised. I think it is a great idea. The number of yachts that parked off the village during the high season exceeded 100 this year and the locals, whose livelihood is the biosphere of their atoll, know they must protect what they have. According to the dive school that helps service them, they are not intending to charge for them. Time will tell. Their locations are below.


The village of Rotoava is chalk and cheese from Kauehi. In our first week, we have had two cruise ships, the Aranui V and the small freezer container ship visit plus lots of planes. We even had a helicopter buzz us from Dragonfly, a 82m superyacht owned by two of the Google owners. The main supply ship comes in on Wednesday bi weekly. There are upmarket hotels as well as small pensions and even in the off season there are plenty of tourists around. There are three dive schools, all very well equipped, all wanting you to be NITROX qualified to allow them max dive time during the slack tide periods at the passes. There are restaurants, a pizza takeaway (someone’s house admittedly), two large stores, one which doubles as a boulangerie, pearl shops with right posh offerings, several artisan shops for the tourists and a very well appointed church. Yup, there is money here.

The only downside is that the local kids see too many tourists travelling through and unlike the other quieter atolls where they are wonderfully keen to welcome in boat kids, they are a lot more standoffish. We have had a couple of disappointed faces when ours have tried to mix in.

I’ve got myself locally NITROX qualified and in the process, rewrote the English NITROX hand out guide for the dive school to replace the awful text they were using. I’d done two drift dives through the N pass – very good and was planning more with the school but then, good news! Soren and Taranga arrived after a bit of a bashing up from Tahiti. We hadn’t seen him since the Galapagos although Mia, part of his crew to cross the Pacific, had joined us from Taranga in the Marquesas. It was great to see him and his new crew, all divers and with a compressor on board, a plan was hatched to pair up, dive together and for us to help with the safety boat and provide him with water.  I’ve done a separate blog to cover the diving. Lots of photos!

At the S end of the village, there is Fakarava Yacht Services run by Stephanie and her husband. Lou has been using their porch for internet, a good chat and a great source of information on what’s going on around the village. They can also fill gas bottles (European and US fittings) at 500XFP a kilo. Petrol and diesel can be had from them, very expensively, at 200XFP a litre which frankly is a rude mark up of 50% from the price you can order it from the weekly ferry (130xfp A L) . As a comparison, Makemo was 165 and 170XFP – wish I had bought there….. Stephanie can supply local free range eggs at 1000 a tray of 20. They are the best eggs we have had in a long while. The Taranga crowd hired bikes from them at about 1500XFP a day to explore the island.


One of our favourite places to hang out has been the “pink slushy bar”, 500m S of the Catholic church, otherwise known as La Paillote. It is small, has its own jetty, generally inhabited by yachties with the very occasional tourist, has internet, offers snacks and best of all, ice cold slushies of such foulness as bubblegum and watermelon flavour. The blue bubblegum, a Hannah favourite, is guaranteed to turn your mouth a vivid blue. The cafe is also home to a very competent fisherman who appears daily with enormous Mahi that he has caught using a large spear, thrown whale hunter like from his fishing boat.  We have a great time watching the big Nurse sharks that come in to accept his offerings as he guts his catch. The small beach and coral heads off the bar are a pleasant place to enjoy life slowly going by and you get the same view as the guests in the hotel 100m down paying $1500 a week.



We have been doing a lot of school and music. Eleanor is charging on with the guitar and ever more turns out noise that is an approximation of music. Hannah’s maths is coming on great guns too. The tree decorations around the village are great fun. Some use floats from the pearl industry; some use old coral strung up with fishing line.


We have met another British couple for the first time in a couple of months. Mick and Kim, a lovely couple, on Phylis,  started in the US and are working their way W. We have been having a bit of trouble with our lights with the main board breaker shutting down the hull lights on both sides. Kim, who has a strong electrical background from the oil and gas industry, came across to offer help with a variety of multimeters, clamps and tools but sadly we were beaten by the French board connectors. Anyone really know how Wago connectors work?? We resorted to the internet and found a Chinese “how to” video which was very good. Sadly our breakers refused to perform as shown so we still don’t have hull lights.….

After a week or so enjoying the civilisation of Rotoava, we moved S with Taranga towards the S end of the atoll. Time to explore.