Friday, June 8, 2012

The Fakarava Adventure

We spent a few days in the village of Rotaova in north Fakarava. We were able to get internet here ($4 pr hour) so we could order lots of stuff for Barbara's brother, Richard to bring when he comes to visit us in Tahiti. We think it's only gonna be a half metric ton! Internet also meant we could get some pictures on – so check them out(MIchael screwed up the first attempt but our fast responding friend Junab alerted us and it's fixed).

Between internet spending - we did enjoy a good walkabout to see some of the island. Many of the homes have lovely gardens which is amazing in this dry area where the only water available is rain water. We had a "cook's night off" - and as we mentioned everything in French Polynesia is very expensive – so we had $11 hamburgers (each) with fries from a local "van." That seems to be a common restaurant style here – a van parked with a grill nearby and a nice area with tables and chairs. We had gone by the ice cream store at least three times with no joy (closed!) but on the last day here we did have some real dipped ice cream.

The harbor at Rotaova was getting packed – a group of five cataramans from a charter company came in (one anchoring quite on top of us). Plus a very lovely, and very large, sailboat named "Genevieve" anchored. It seemed they were all awaiting "guests" that were probably scheduled to fly into the small airport. The last night there we had a pretty good size squall roar through and we ended up facing west giving us a large fetch (which created waves) to deal with for several hours. It was a bouncy anchorage for a bit.

We took off to make our way towards the south pass of Fakarava. This is supposed to be some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world. Everyone seems to talk about it. We've gotten notes from many friends who have already made this passage and they all have terrific memories of the South Pass at Fakarava. But we decided we'd stop at a few other spots along the way as this would probably be our last atoll before heading to Tahiti.

There is a well marked channel from the north to the south – so it is easy sailing – though we had no wind so had to motor. We were disappointed as we looked forward to sailing through the atoll lagoon. We anchored at Tukaega about midway between the north and south pass. We dropped the hook in 20 feet of water with a sandy bottom but with lots of bommies (coral heads) scattered about. The water was crystal clear though so we could see the anchor on the bottom. We tied several floats (a fender and a found float) to the chain at the 50 feet and 75 feet intervals to keep the chain above the corals. This is a common practice here to help save the corals and keep your chain from tangling. We enjoyed a lovely snorkel to a nearby reef loaded with colorful tropical fish – many new Pacific varieties for us. Plus the cool and colorful giant clams embedded into the coral. We had the place to ourselves so it was fun to really explore the reefs.
Later that afternoon though, the clouds rolled in – big time The skies darkened and we watched as a New Zealand catamaran anchored just before the big squalls hit. The winds were from the south and a steady 20k plus for a few hours. Another boat came in during this weather just before sunset, and then the catamaran decided to move closer to us and the shoreline. We thought he'd be on top of us but ultimately was okay. The night was a sleepless one as the winds stayed up all night and we had little protection from southerlies. We needed the wind direction to swing just a tad east of south to be out of the swell. Luckily our little reef was now in front of us and helping us a bit – but it was still very wavy at anchor. It was a pitch rather than a roll – so a bit more comfortable, but nerve wracking. Luckily we had checked the anchor so we knew it was well dug into the sand. We just didn't know what corals might now be around us in the new direction. During the evening squall we saw one of our floats drift away (this was the large one we found on the beach in Raroia). Unfortunately it also had a nice piece of line on it as well. Bummer – that meant the chain was now not staying floating above the corals. Plus it was a good float and good line!

The next morning, we decided to leave. The winds were supposed to stay both strong and southerly - and this was not the place to be. So we crashed into the seas and went to Hirifa – another 10 miles south. The sun was out so we could see the shallows and reefs along the way. Our friends from Chapter Two were anchored here and told us it was flat calm and lovely. The catamaran also left and we saw another boat also heading south – so we hoped it wouldn't get packed. But it's a nice long beach so we hoped there would be room.

We arrived in Hirifa around 1100 and found a great spot to drop the hook. Twenty feet of sand and just a few bommies. The anchorage was flat, beautiful turquoise water, white sandy beach with palms, a reef with crashing waves in the distance. Lovely. There are now seven boats here and each has plenty of space.

We took a long walk along the beach – in search of new floats for our anchor chain. The beaches seem to have a regular supply of them – but here there are some houses, so you can't take stuff from the front of people's homes. We trekked way out on the windward side along a very rocky shore. Its good ankle exercise as you hike along the broken coral and rocks. Michael quickly found one float.

We then made our way back and walked the beach in front of the anchorage. We saw an incredible eel swimming in the shallows along the beach. He was probably in inches of water. The designs on this three-foot eel were incredible as it gracefully swam the beach shallows. We scored another float and came back. The Chapter Two's came over for sundowners and a lovely evening of info. They have been our "advance team" much of the way – being ahead of us by a few weeks. They spent about a week at the south pass diving and snorkeling.

We'll enjoy this spot for another day for sure as the wind is still really blowing and this is such a beautiful spot.

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