French Polynesia, days 22-26, 5-9 May:
5-May: 16:00, we arrive at the southern pass into Fakarava atoll, having just sailed 55nm westwards from the uninhabited Tahanea atoll, where we had made a night-stop from Makemo.
Thankfully our passage through the Fakarava’s south pass was well timed and we transited into the lagoon at zero flow. Once through, it was just a mile to the anchorage next to the tiny Tetananu village.
At first, we just couldn’t find a spot to anchor and ended up dropping on what looked like coral. Oana was in tears at the thought of our anchor damaging it. After a quick snorkel it was confirmed, but at least it seemed to be dead coral scoured by the channel currents. Nonetheless, we did re-anchor and this time managed to land the anchor in sand in between coral patches, in 10m of beautiful blue water.
Oana getting emotional had spurred me into action: to work out and implement our “float the chain” system. Our setup was empty 20 litre jerry cans clipped to the anchor chain every 10m, each with a calculated rope length. Once deployed we managed to keep almost all the chain off the seabed, only the last few meters next to the anchor resting on sand. This then allowed the boat to swing to any wind change without the chain touching the nearby patches of coral outcrops. We felt good about doing this and noted about 50% of the other yachts had done similar. The other 50% had just dropped their anchor as normal, disregarding any damage they were doing on the seabed.
You would think the French authorities would provide moorings and charge for them. That said, there were 5-6 moorings here. But all taken. Not enough for this year’s busy post-Covid yacht influx.
We visited the little village where not more than a handful of locals now live. Apparently, this used to be the biggest settlement in all the Tuamotus island chain. The only evidence left of this is the rather large and overgrown cemetery next to a stone-built church. The latter still very much in use today and very colourful painted inside.
Today the main “population” is visitors coming for diving in the pass. Either a day trip from the main village in the north or living for a few days in some of the very basic palm covered huts that line the shoreline. All very colourful and picturesque.
This pass here is famous for drift diving and snorkeling, teaming with life as the ocean nutrients flow swiftly in and out the atoll’s lagoon. Such an activity we didn’t dare do previously, given the current strength. But watching others we soon got confident when was the best time to drift snorkel: just as the clearer waters of the inflow current started.
We took the dinghy outside the passage, jump off and snorkel while holding onto the dinghy painter line. And oh, what a drift snorkel it was! Best we’ve ever done. Just gently flying at maybe 1-2 knots over beautiful coral and loads of fish by number and variety. Pencil fish, trumpet fish, huge napoleon fish with lips that looked like a bad filler job (!) and several quite inquisitive black-tip and grey sharks. A few months ago we would both have died a fright with sharks this close. But once we realise they don’t intend to eat us, we quickly gained confidence to the point they felt as harmless as all the other fish surrounding us. We enjoyed it so much we did the same drift-snorkel several times.
Next was a drift dive along the “wall of sharks”. This we decided to do with a dive center, rather than on our own with our own gear. Especially that drift dives are quite technical. The dive boat dropped us outside, with quite a strong in-flow, and soon we arrived at the deepest part of the pass, almost 30m under water. Here we clung onto rocks (to stop us drifting) to observe before us hundreds of grey sharks, all just gently swimming against the current like they were doing a procession passed an audience. And occasionally some would swim within just a meter or so in front of us. It was quite the sight and definitely one of those experiences we will never forget. After 10 minutes observation we drifted slowly along and steadily up the fringe coral reaching depths where we had snorkeled. Then out the water before stronger current whisked us off into the lagoon.
9-May: We really enjoyed this little corner of Fakarava and ended up staying 4 days before heading to the NE just 5nm away. Here we anchored in similar beautiful water with a palm backed beach in from of us. A classic paradise scene. But other than the scenery and the beach to walk along (complete with 2 rather aggressive dogs) there was not a lot to do here. I would have kite surfed on the many sand bars but there wasn’t enough wind.
Until that is, we discovered what a Pacific “squeeze zone” has install for us. Next blog!