Return to Paradise – French Polynesia

Fakarava North

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

Madison’s Tuamotus Visit

We’ve fallen in love with the Tuamotus, as most people do, so getting to share this utopia with Maddi over her winter break was really special. We’d promised a much needed rest, but ended up playing pretty hard, so hopefully her soul was recharged and enriched by the warm, turquoise waters brimming with life and the sun kissed days filled with simple, yet active goals. We ended up hanging out in Fakarava and Tahanea, two atolls with abundant wildlife/wilderness, (always appreciated by Maddi) and we just may have spent as many hours in the sea as out of it! We’d been renting diving gear from a local provider in the south of Fakarava, but once we met up with our cruising friends, m/v Starlet, they ‘hooked us up’ with tanks and together, with s/v Makara, we dove daily.  Pics of these shared adventures will be on the next post, but here we focus on our middle daughter, the shark whisperer.~DS

“Groupers Shining in the Light”

Fakarava, famous for sharks
rows of teeth, sinister, graceful
ominous patience at the top of the food chain
keen senses for a slip-up, a moment of inattention
fish hide in the coral after dark
unaware of a tail poking out
sharks imprinted with curiosity
follow every lead, investigate every anomaly
de facto enforcers of the status quo
stick to the rhythm
you’ll be alright, maybe
it takes attitude to be a grouper
shining in the light
defending your rock
even more attitude to be a grouper at night,
You should try living among swarms of predators
try to sleep or procreate, try to enjoy a little leisure
not surprising that groupers get a little touchy about their neighborhood
food funnels with teeth in their gills,
they present themselves to the world mouth first
Prettier tropical specimens keep a wary eye
slip between branches of coral as though sipped by a straw
everybody seems to know
that the sharks know
they’ve traded decent eyesight and speed
for jaws and uncanny 3D senses for smelling fear and panic
traded chewing teeth for biting teeth
Six Gill sharks eat as little as once a year
(you don’t want to be reincarnated as a Six Gill shark)
Triggerfish, with beaver-like teeth
flopping, rooting, peering under rocks
Bluefin Trevally terrorize the shallows, manifesting classic symptoms of ADD.
Parrotfish seem to know that they’ve been named after birds
fluttering over the reef
crunching coral, shitting and spitting sand
along with their groupies, Maddi and I call “friends of parrotfish”
Moray eels scowl from their caves
Moorish Idols parade along the branching staghorn
huge green Napoleon Wrasse contemplate a sex change
an octopus camouflaged in the rocks
how much brain power it must take to run eight arms
and change color and texture instantly?
I can barely pat my head and rub my stomach at the same time
those unblinking eyes
that gambler’s mouth breathing tube
shoals of shimmering, blue, wide-eyed baitfish
birds above, predators below, strength and peril in numbers
bobbits with scissor-like jaws lurk in the sand
800 species of deadly cone snails
Everything that can be eaten
iridescent ink glows in perpetual darkness
volcanic vents in ocean trenches are planning for the future
human concentration suffers from lack of predators
evolution is happy to start over
when our moment of inattention
gets the better of us

Galeophobia? Galeophilia?





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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.




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