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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.