A few shots from some snorkeling/freediving in the Taruua pass in Penrhyn:
I’m going to ask Marcus to wax poetic about our final weeks in the Tuamotus. Suffice it to say that this region of French Polynesia is most definitely a favorite of ours and I even heard Marcus say he could live there. If fresh produce was available, I might be on board! For the time being, these pics can be a placeholder. These are shots from Tahanea, Fakarava and Rangiroa.
Our 2019 ‘cyclone season’ in the Gambier kicked off with visits from our Mom’s and sisters. Mom and Lori arrived at the end of January and we enjoyed a couple of weeks aboard Allora, sharing our favorites (people and places) in this sweet eastern corner of French Polynesia.
Mom certainly knows her way around the boat, so she slips into very relaxed mode and we always marvel at her being ‘game’ to do just about anything. This was Lori’s first full-fledged stay aboard, so it was particularly wonderful to immerse her in our life afloat. These were full, rich days!!! ~DS
Through Lori’s Lens:
Anyone watching us might have wondered what we were up to, bouncing back and forth between the anchorage off of Rotoava and a spot near the north pass of Fakarava. Part of the story is that you need winds with some north in them to be able to sit by the pass comfortably. There’s a nice public buoy by the channel marker and the snorkeling there is pretty awesome. Diana became quite familiar with its retinue of sharks and one particularly friendly triggerfish. I liked the spot because it’s a jumping off point for going to the far northwest corner of Fakarava. This is a nature preserve area, so no anchoring allowed. It’s about a five mile dinghy ride, but a pretty cool spot with some really nice fishing. Diana explored with me the first time, and I did the 10 mile round trip a few more times on my own. I brought a VHS radio in case I had any problems. Occasionally, a few boats brought tourists from visiting cruise ships to a place out that way they like to call the blue lagoon (every atolls got to have one). It’s a pretty spot and they bring lunch. I was lucky this time that they did, or not lucky depending on how you look at it. While I was off wandering across the endless flats in search of bonefish, one of these tour operators spotted Namo anchored by the shore of one of the motus. Apparently, he could not think of a single earthly reason that anyone would park a dinghy in that remote spot (not by the blue lagoon). So while I was out of sight, he “rescued” Namo and towed her away. It’s true that if one of the sailboats in Rotoava lost a dinghy this is where it would float to. Lucky for me there was still one other tour operator in the area, though it was a bit of hike to get to them. He was able to get one cell phone call out before he lost the signal, and after about an hour of chit chatting with the cruise ship passengers, Namo reappeared with the apologetic tour operator at the helm. ~MS
I think we’ve been to Toau four times now, maybe more. Diana’s posted about it before. The difference this time was that a new group of sailors was moving through, having done their crossing this year. It was interesting to see the island get new visitors, sailors who migrate through each year, visit the same spots, have barbecues on the beach, talk about their experiences crossing the big ocean, and think about the mysterious way the wind messes with the tides. There’ll be another group next year, too. We are so remote and still there is a steady presence. Toau is a popular spot, despite its tricky pass, for good reason.
Among the new crew were friends we made in Baja, Mike and Katie on Adagio. They have dive tanks and a compressor, so we got to do a little scuba diving. Mike is also a pretty fanatical fisherman and gets as excited about the subject as I do. He’d only been fly fishing once before, kind of on a lark in Yellowstone. But we grabbed a couple rods and went out a few times to see if he could hook one. Fortunately, he’s a good enough fisherman to understand that’s a pretty tall order for a first time, but he got a few shots, enough to get a fair idea of how addictive it can be. The fish were being tough in Toau this year, giving me a hard time, too.
We spent a little time on our own, too, doing what we do. Freediving to photograph fish, and yep, more fishing. Lots of water time.
We moved around to Anse Amyot, (the ‘false pass’ outside the atoll in the north), for a little more diving with Adagio, which was excellent, including some caves in the reef absolutely jam packed with sea life. I fished a little more. We bought some wildly overpriced lobster from Valentine, the snaky operator of the business there and had a wonderful lobster dinner with Mike and Katie. Valentine tells the story that she came to Toau as a little girl from nearby Arutua in a small boat with a two horse outboard. She says she was brought by her father to keep her grandfather from stealing her. She has his name, is the explanation. She’s been there a long time. She’s very, very religious. But she doesn’t seem particularly happy with her lot. There’s a defunct phone booth on the motu and a very funky pension. They installed buoys for sailors ($5/night) from the time there was a village here. This is the first place we’ve been where we felt this proprietary vibe, but the option to tuck in safely on the outside was sure nice. ~MS
Diving the pass at Kauehi
simple panga, a piece of plywood covering the collapsed fiberglass foredeck
a couple of stops to for the finicky gas outboard, a rag so the fuel cap can be left open to vent
the churning pass looks so much better in 10 rather than 26 knots of wind
as when we entered, pitching over the standing waves
the usual nervousness, gear, getting it all on
Gary says make the drop quickly to get out of the current
Visibility that transcends imagination,
a long sloping garden of coral, the vividness of the ocean outside
white-tip sharks cruising the edge above
out in the unreal blue
fish like butterflies along the reef’s edge, healthy and alive
we regroup and then descend to 27 meters
it doesn’t feel deep, the water is so clear and light
we float along the coral to the beginning of the pass
a narrow canyon, its like flying, whisked along with the current,
sharks passing so near overhead swimming against the inflow
slick rock and only a little coral, still teeming with fish
parrotfish, triggerfish, dark fish with crazy horns
unnameable tropical fish that will become a part of our dreams
how little aware we were, floating above this galaxy of wildlife beneath our keel
a single tuna shines like it is made of polished stainless steel
we drop into a small depression, caves on one side
the bowl is filled with grouper who have gathered before the full moon in July to mate
they battle mouth to mouth for breeding rights,
allow us to face off, too, with their glowering jaws
the sharks swim by, poised for something,
an unexpected moment to seize upon,
How many fish does it take to keep all these predators fed?
We wait and marvel
then up again over the shallowest rim of the reef
and down into the cirque below, our French dive-master calls the circus
an amphitheater, another dimension
like a poster of the marvelous underwater world that you cannot believe
gray sharks now circle at our level, perched above the silvery cirque
we breath our sparkling air and watch as they come to peer with dark eyes
they demand our attention because they are the biggest,
but there are so many fish everywhere still by the thousands
we are privileged witnesses to a dream
breathing deep underwater with this bounteous cornucopia of sea-life
dazzles the mind and eyes
like Robert Louis Stevenson’s jeweled pass a century and a half ago
Its hard to imagine this has diminished even a little since then.