Tag Archives: El Nido

Diving in French Polynesia – 2016

I thought I had put this up when we left FP to go to NZ but I’ve just realised I never got round to it. It is a collection of some of the better underwater photos we have taken. Only nine months late. Oops.  SH Jul 17

In 2015 I was blessed to meet Robert of Almost There, a US Navy trained Master Diver who needed a dive partner in Bequia. He informed me with a pointed finger I was it and introduced me to the sport. His methods of teaching were old school and doing remasking drills at 15m was fun. But he took me out, held my hand (literally and figuratively) and taught me the basics extremely well as well as, most importantly, his philosophy for diving, for which I am very grateful. Since then, I have not had a more conscientious or competent dive partner.

Having qualified a in Nov 15 at Scubatech, under the lovely Evelyn’s care in Prickly Bay, Grenada , I have managed to do quite a lot of diving. Not as much as I’d like but it gets expensive if you don’t have access to a compressor and a dive partner, which for large periods this year I haven’t. Dives average around $70 a dive and most days you will do two dives so $140 a pop. Refills on tanks are dear (running to $30 a go in Fakarava) and again soon mount up. Problematically in FP, there are few places you can get a fill, really the larger atolls only, so you can’t rely on a school helping you out on most atolls.  If you have friends with a compressor or have one yourself, it costs you the price of the filters you will contribute to replace every 25 fills, needed to clean the air.

One clear lesson. If there are two of you wanting to dive on board, then having a compressor would be every penny for a Pacific trip. Find the space!

Fakarava was one of our primary targets for this year’s travels as it has a reputation for having some of the very best diving not just in French Polynesia but in the whole of the Pacific. And I wasn’t disappointed.

I started with a couple of dives up in the N pass. This is a deep drift dive going down to around 36m. After I had been asked what diving I had done, I was sent away with the schools own awful instruction document (French to English courtesy of Google Translate) which I decided to rewrite, if only so I actually understood what I was supposed to learn. I’ve always found that writing an instruction manual or guide is an excellent way to embed knowledge and I passed the test without issue. TopDive Fakarava N should be thankful!

The two dives in the N pass were interesting but not brilliant. We dropped into the blue and were swept on to the mouth of the pass, landing on the drop-off at 38m, 20m more than technically I was qualified for with my PADI Open Water and a couple more than the PADI recommended max with Nitrox (although 2m less than the absolute limit). The current runs very strong (3-4kts)and we were holding on tight to stop us from being swept in to the lagoon as we waited to see if any sharks would come to take a look at us. A few did, some Greys, and we then swept on through the pass bouncing up and down between 25-35m. We did see small schools of pelagic fish but we were moving too fast to really enjoy the few reef fish we saw. Dive two was a rerun of the first but with slightly more current, having lost half an hour of time waiting for a cruise ship to enter the pass. Waiting to drop in, we saw thousands of Sooty terns and 15-20 Devil Rays feeding on the surface which was the highlight of the day. The dive again was interesting without being fantastic. I found some white tips teeth on one of the sandy patches and passed them on to the girls.

Fakarava diving Fakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava DivingFakarava Diving

I have to admit I was very pleased to see Taranga arrive at Rotarua. Soren is a great guy and had first filled my tanks for me all the way back in Panama. He was very keen to get to the better S Pass and we travelled in company with him. For him to stay in the S for any length of time, he needed water as he has an emergency watermaker only and I would need air if I wanted to dive. It seemed a good swap and sweetened by a kilo of our honey (he had run out), Skylark for post dives coffee and teas, bug spray (we won’t talk about this….) and some petrol during our three weeks in the S, I think we were both happy with the arrangement.

The diving in the S Pass can only be described as spectacular. In terms of reef fish, ease of dive, shark population or coral density, I have never seen anything like it. We dived mainly on the incoming current, our outgoing experiences being mistakes hitting the water late in the tide, finding ourselves working hard. The outgoing was used by the dive schools to bulk up their paying customer’s dive time but we found that the visibility markedly decreased as silt and sand from the inside of the atoll was swept out. Whilst still a good 10-25m it didn’t compare to the frequent 50m+ of the incoming clear deep ocean water.

We dropped in normally to about 18m and generally stayed to the side of the pass wall, dropping to no more than 25m so we didn’t bother the sharks. We did go along the pass floor on one occasion, swimming beneath the approaching sharks, but they didn’t like it and quickly disappeared. Down at 32m you don’t have a huge amount of bottom time and it was more fun to stay between 15-25m.  On our best day, we finished the dive staggered by the number of sharks we saw. Normally we would see 100-200 on what is known as The Wall of Sharks; that day it was just a solid wall of them. We reckoned 500+, a mix of Black Tip, White Tip, Grey and a huge lone Silver Tip, all sitting in the incoming current. Just amazing.

All us divers need to say a special thank you to Lou who always came with us to snorkel the pass and look after the dinghies until it came time to pick us up at the end of the dive. We couldn’t have dived without you.

Whilst I think I got some good photos I have been wishing I had a decent underwater camera with the ability to zoom in. All of these shots were taken with a GoPro 4 Silver, a good camera but limited by having a fixed lens. You needed to be very close to small fish to be able to take a decent still and I’m afraid small fish are just too afraid to sit still enough to let you get close enough! Where the GoPro excels is film. I am inexpertly put together a small video segment which gives you a decent flavour of what diving in the S pass is like. I’ll link it in here when I am eventually finished.

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Diving in Toau as very different. We did one drift dive from outside the pass which was hard work as we had to deal with a big northerly surge. The dive at the N end of the atoll was better and going along the wall was great fun, trying to find all the caves talked about in the Compendium. They were pretty good and it was wonderful seeing the occasional huge pelagic swimming just at the edge of our vision off the wall in the deep.

Ann-Helen and John at the Wall of Anse AmyotCaves at TouaMoray Eel at Anse AmyotOn the Wall at Toua

I’m not sure if I have spoilt myself with the superb diving I have been able to do here but I have caught the bug in a big way and am praying for more of the same as we go through the Pacific next year. I have been extraordinarily lucky in meeting up with friends happy to help me fill my bottle daily and I doubt if I will be as lucky next year but I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I’ll find other like minded souls. I do know it should get easier to find dive shops able to fill bottles as we get to more populated places but I still need dive partners.

To those who have dived with me this year, a big thank you. They are John from Mary Ann II, Ann-Helen and Harvard from Wilhelm, Soren and all the rest of the mob from Taranga, a special mention to Mia, Olivia and David of El Nido and a few others who made guest appearances. It has been a great education.

My dive on the wall with Ann-Helen and Harvard proved to be the last dive before we hauled out and headed for New Zealand. I’m so looking forward to planning and researching more diving for next year, perhaps with Eleanor in tow if we can arrange it. I can’t wait.

Fakarava Diving

Halloween, a windy farewell to Fakarava and a brief visit to Toau

Halloween

After all the fun at the S end of Fakarava, the weather gods decided to spoil things by bringing in the first foul weather of our time in the Pacific. A big low came up out of Southern Ocean and whilst the islands to the S of Tahiti got the majority of the rubbish, we had two and a half days of nastiness too.

The day before it hit, we left Pokokora Yacht club at 0700hrs and ran N the 8 miles to Rotoava, chased hard by two boats who obviously had been thinking about the free buoys at the village too. Not that any of us would admit to any feeling of competiveness in the constant trimming and the occasional suggestion of taking shortcuts across questionable depths as we charged up. We got the last one, much to the disgust of the next boat in, 10 minutes behind us. I will admit to feeling a little smug as we tied on to a well cared for 30 ton buoy, knowing we would be fine on it and not having to worry about wrapping chain around a bombie as the wind twirled around as the Low passed through.

Halloween

I can’t say it was tremendously comfortable aboard and Lou and the kids generally got ashore to spend time at Fakarava Yacht Services or the Pink Slushy Bar, trying to avoid moving during the frequent periods of torrential rain. However, when the wind went into the S and we had a 30mile fetch, I was very glad not to be one of the boats that had chosen to anchor in the NE corner. We spoke to a few of them and all required an anchor watch as they got severely bounced around, the seas breaking on the reef 100m behind them. Mary Ann II’s dinghy became awash, losing its oars in the process. John and I dived to recover them in 40’ of water. I was a little disappointed about our lack of bottom time as we landed directly on top of them. My dive computer registered a dive time of three minutes.

Once the wind went back to the E, we had a wonderful calm. It took two days for the weather to right itself and reestablish the easterly trades.

HalloweenHalloween

In the calm, we cut hair and kept the fish under our keel well fed. Lou hasn’t bought a mirror so I’m still getting away with my rough clippering – Vidal I am not……. We discovered a craft fair that the locals had set up for themselves and we had a great time learning how to weave coconut leaves and make flower headdresses. Lou came away with a small black pearl necklace at a somewhat better price than you would find in the shops. Halvard bought out the entire stand of necklaces for men and then we had a go at making our own from oyster shells, the dremel and a saw. We shaped out a hammerhead shark and a more typical hook type affair that Polynesians would then decorate with a tiki and a single pearl. More practise required but both turned out pretty well.

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We took the chance of some last minute shopping and then, joy of joys! Another kid’s boat appeared in time for Halloween which was to be our last night at Fakarava. El Nido with Olivia, David and the girls Kali and Gaya, are a Belgium boat who have been out only 7 months. They decided early to concentrate their time in the Pacific. Since leaving Europe the first place they have really slowed down being French Polynesia. They will sell and return home in 2018, intending to sail no further than Australia – much like ourselves.

The kids had a fantastic time, all dressed up and the locals thought it was great that the we had got involved. This was the first time Fakarava had celebrated Halloween and boy, did they go to town. The kids thought they had died and gone to heaven with the quantity of sweets the wonderfully friendly islanders handed out! The parade started by the school and travelled the length of the village. Hannah and Eleanor were filled up with yet more sweets by Halvard and Ann-Helen on our way home. We will be dealing with sugar rushes for days.

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We left on 2 Nov to Toau, in the company of El Nido. It was a quick sail and I enjoyed the view of a new Outremer 45 not going past me quite as quickly as I thought it might! Halloween

We had a day at the SE pass which proved to be a very easy entrance about an hour after low slack. Wide and with plenty of water underneath us, we sailed in, sticking to the S side of the pass and anchored at 15 55.973S 145 53.188W in 20’ of water. David, Olivia and I returned to the pass and dived on the edge of the wall, looking down the 2000’ drop-off. We saw some huge tuna, schools of snapper, good reef fish and the odd Grey Shark. The outside wall and sides of the pass had good coral but the centre stretch of the pass was all dead which suggests that it has been swept clear in the past. We tried to drift through and turn S towards the boats but the bottom current had a strong surge which pushed us N. We came up, tired of the effort required just to keep us on the side of the channel and found even with 1+kt current that we had only managed to reach half way through the pass. Sadly my dive computer went wrong too and ceased working at 20m down. I wasn’t happy. I finished the dive latched on to Olivia like a puppy dog. Although I have changed the battery, it seems that the original battery leaked and has damaged the internal components. I tried it against another two wrist  computers and it lasted just 15 mins and was under reading depth by about 20%.  I’ll be writing to the manufacturer.

El Nido’s recovery to us was short lived as Gaya, their 5yr old, found out to the cost of the nail on her big toe and a lot of blood that the anchor locker is not a place to play hide and seek…….. She was very brave but a bit lucky that that was the extent of the injury. Hannah was mortified. Thankfully, cuddles from Mum and the odd sweet or two from the Halloween collection seemed to help matters and after a calming period, we went back to El Nido for a very pleasant evening.

Halloween

The next morning, with no time to waste, we moved on up to Anse Amyot, a false pass at the N end of Toau. As we left the SE pass, supposedly at the end of the outgoing tide but probably a little early, the standing waves were the worst we have seen. Breaking and up to 8’ in height, it was very unpleasant and it was obvious why some of the guide books don’t recommend a visit to the inside of this atoll. Thankfully we were able to keep close in to the S edge of the pass, right by the reef, avoiding the really nasty stuff but we had to go 1.5miles offshore to get around the race to head N. Our view is that the slack periods in the pass we observed were fine for transit. As always, you just need to time it correctly.  The photo below hopefully gives you a feel of the foulness we managed to claw past.

Halloween

We raced up the E side of the atoll under parasail with El Nido following up behind us and the 20 mile trip took just over 3hrs. It was a lovely, easy, lazy ride and we needed to touch the Parasail’s sheets once only. Touching 9kts at times, even the speed machine El Nido with her asymmetric flying, gybing back and forth, couldn’t beat us in. I just love that sail! 

HalloweenHalloween

We picked up one of the moorings, right by the reef and arranged for us to have dinner ashore with Gaston and Valentine, the owners of the pension and the buoys, the next night. Mary Ann II arrived the next morning, quickly followed by Wilhelm who, on finding the doctor would not be at Fakarava for another month to fill any more steroid prescriptions for Halvard’s duff knee, saw no point in staying there. It took 15 minutes of chat between us to arrange one last dive with them, John and El Nido on the wall a mile W of Anse Amyot. It was a good dive but what are called caves in the Toamotus Compendium proved to be interesting depressions instead and my torch was not required. We saw lots of Moray Eels and a few enormous tuna floating in and out of our view, a little off the wall.

After seven months of constant cruisers, Valentine wasn’t keen to set up one of her famous banquets but Gaston provided fish and a BBQ pit, we provided the rest and we had an excellent night. We choose not to eat the Jack and the Parrot fish although Gaston said both would be fine and proved it by munching through both of them. We stuck to the Red Big Eyes which were good too

P1050641  Toau

The girls found a huge bowl of misshapen black pearls from the days Gaston ran a pearl farm and Valentina gave each of the kids three from the bowl the girls are holding up! The kids’ night was rounded off by way of a funeral that was held for the poor departed soul of a Hermit crab that had been stood on. It was buried with full honours.

ToauToau

The next night we had one last BBQ on the beach with Halvard cooking an enormous lump of beef that they had picked up at Fakarava. Everybody had some and there was still slices left over. With the crews of El Nido, Mary Ann II, Wilhelm and another UK boat that arrived that evening, Asolare with Peter (78 yrs young) and Charon on board, it was a lovely way to sign off our travels in French Polynesia for this year. The goodbyes were long but cheerful on our last morning and we hope to see Wilhelm, who also will haul out at Apataki, just before we go. Halloween

We headed towards our final destination, Apataki, on 5 Nov. It seemed strange to think that it will be our last sail of the year. We decided to make it a good one.

Up went the Parasail!