Well followers of Fran and Richard’s Excellent Adventure to the South Sea Islands this was by any measure an extraordinary day!
As a bit of background, we are now in the Tuamotu (literally: “many motus”, i.e., small islets, therefore plural on its face). These are atolls, sunken islands brought down by their own weight into the earth’s crust. In the process they acquire a fringing coral reef that keeps building up and at this stage forms a ring encompassing a lagoon. The atoll where RED is currently at ease is called Fakarava (OK, a fun name for an amazing place you just don’t want to leave it is so beautiful and wild.) Atolls usually, but not always, have passes from the sea into the lagoon and Fakarava has one in the north and the other 25 miles SE where we are. It is the second largest atoll in the Tuamotu. Now to the day’s activity…
We arose early, yes, really, 0630! That was to have our dive gear ready to meet the dive boat over at the “village” about 2 miles distant. We went with Mizzy, our friend from the sailboat Alagrea and an avid diver. When we arrived, just on time for once, we met our divemaster, a handsome, single and 40ish Frenchman (now, now ladies, no hyperventilating.) He gave, in excellent but delightfully French-accented English, a brief on the dive soon to ensue. Now, at the surface the water in the pass fairly rips in and out with the tide and when the wind is howling and driving the sea over the fringing coral reef and motus and into the lagoon. Today was the new moon so the tides were at max and the current on the surface was pretty awesome. The pass is only a couple of hundred yards wide and it is about 90 feet deep. We were assured that the current wouldn’t be much where we were to dive but I doubt any of us believed a word of it.
So we all mounted up in the dive boat and rocketed over the coral heads where we had feared to go in Black Beauty, our faithful dingy, to arrive at the appointed splash point in the pass. Once in the water it was apparent that the Frenchman was entirely correct; the current was very manageable and we drifted along quite merrily. Well Fran’s buoyancy compensator, a jacket-like device containing an air bladder that the wearer can inflate using air from their tank to provide additional buoyancy as needed, had a leak, actually a large leak, and it is on the backside so she couldn’t see the bubbles go whooshing out as she tried to inflate the thing. Imagine trying to keep a leaky bicycle tire inflated, the result was that a lot of air from her tank went out and ultimately she had to declare to the Frenchman that she was low on air. The fellow kindly shared his spare mouthpiece and a bit of buoyancy so Fran was able to complete the dive.
And what a dive it was! The dive shop’s motto is “any dive without sharks is free”. There is no danger they will ever have to give away a dive, the sharks were uncountable! Now before anybody worries needlessly, the sharks are there because they can rest in the upwelling current as they glide along like a soaring bird above a plowed field or a mountain ridge. The sharks appeared well-fed and entirely uninterested in us or even the sea aquarium of small to large fishes surrounding them. We hovered near the coral wall of the pass not to disturb the sharks and observed them for a long while; it was for us both one of the most amazing dives of all time.
Later in the dive we eased up to the shallower water and into the aquarium of reef fishes that inhabit that zone. The coral is beautiful and lively too. While lounging around in the shallows we encountered the largest Napoleon Wrasse we’ve ever witnessed. The rascal was most of 100 pounds and about as beautiful as your average moose.
After the dive we had a great conversation with the Frenchman and discovered that while borne in the north of France (“the weather is lousy there, that’s why I went to school in the south of France”) he spent his youth on a boat with his parents and has inhabited islands most of his adult life.
Now as icing on a fine cake of a day we visited a Pensione (family hotel) near the dive shop in search of pizza. We didn’t find that but we were greeted by one of our dear friends met in Mexico who is also French. We had a cup of tea and a great conversation before leaving to come back to the boats.
After rinsing out the dive gear and our clothes and showering we sat down to a bowl of chili to warm up and some of Fran’s homemade bread. Delicious! The first time in recent memory that chili hit the spot!
We plan to head to Tahiti tomorrow, Tuesday; on what will be a two-overnight passage to have RED arriving mid-morning Thursday.
Enough for today, cruiser’s bedtime (8 PM) approaches.
Fran and Richard