From the northern pass of Makemo, we motor-sailed 80nm, passing south of the Katiu Atoll continuing on to the Passe Tumakohua at the southern end of Fakarava. We had thought of stopping at Tahanea atoll, but the timing of the tides, coupled with weather forecast, we decided to time our entry into the atoll at the top of the high tide. Conditions were calm and there was little current as we entered the pass. Patches of splashing and turbulence which I thought were whirlpools, turned out to be sharks in feeding frenzies! And we’re going to dive in that?!?
The Navionics charts were good for this entry, but the reef is close to the narrow dogleg route. I imagine this entry might’ve been rough a few weeks ago during the blow.
Once around the north cardinal marker, we headed towards five other vessels already moored.
There are five moorings available and all but one taken, which we quickly tied onto. A shipwrecked yacht on the nearby motu, and a dodgy looking sixth mooring, had Wayne diving below to check out the mooring. The tackle was solid enough, and we were told they were reasonably new – heavy chain with thick rope and a protected spliced loop with two yellow floats. This was to be our home for a week. There is no cost to take one of these moorings – a bonus nowadays.
Fakarava is recognised as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO and the atoll is famous for groupers, mantas, turtles, and of course sharks. Our plan was to dive the Wall of Sharks! After a nap to catch up on sleep from the overnight sail, we motored the dinghy back through the pass, jumping in the water to snorkel to see if we could see any sharks, but we only saw three. Well, that was a little disappointing. The next day in our SCUBA gear, we dinghied to the southern outer entrance of the pass (conditions still quite benign) and jumped in, Wayne towing the dinghy this time. Diving to a depth of around 20m, we drifted in with the slight current, but towing the dinghy wasn’t so easy and the slight wind blew the dinghy in a direction we didn’t want to go in. After 45 minutes we were a little off course and ended up on the other side of the pass. Although we saw a lot of sharks, we weren’t really in the best place.
Back on board, Wayne cranked up our dive compressor and filled the SCUBA tanks. Besides the five boats on moorings, a number of other vessels turned up and anchored to the north of us. Including the large ‘Arctic P’ – a converted tug owned by the Packer family. I read that James Packer listed this for sale in September 2021 for $283 million – can’t imagine there’d be too many buyers. This massive superyacht has a slippery dip from the heli-pad deck and we can hear people squealing as they slide down (I wonder if it was James?). A couple of sleek black support tenders raced over the water transporting the vessel’s guests to the dive locations; in the evening loud music blared across the water as the on-board nightclub turned up the volume to eleven. During our time at Fakarava, we’d see a few other superyachts enter the lagoon. On our boat, we watch movies on our iPad sipping boxed wine – a less opulent lifestyle, but we have the same views nonetheless.
The next day, we organised a second dive, this time with Kevin from ‘Kismet’, and dinghy support from Brian of ‘Hold Fast’ and Mayda from ‘Kismet’. The three of us, Wayne, me and Kevin, jumped in with our dive gear at the outside entrance to the pass and followed the eastern wall on a rising tide. Now this was a good dive! We saw hundreds of sharks, literally. Not all at once mind you, but there is certainly a wall of sharks drifting by, underneath and above us. Not daunting at all, in fact quite peaceful down there. I’d be concerned though if someone threw in a lump of meat from above. This dive lasted only 30 minutes as we had entered on the last third of the flood tide and we drifted in the 1-2kn current right into the pass and around the village into the shallows. What a ride! We arranged to do it again the next day.
Our third dive in the pass was the best. We dived further down the wall and seemed to be swimming through the sharks – sharks above, to the sides and below us. They moved slowly, seemed more curious, as were we. With my trusty little Crosstour camera, I got some close video of sharks and we stayed down for almost 50 minutes – 20 minutes more than the previous day as the current wasn’t as strong. It was great! There are dive shops at Fakarava so if you want you can join a local operator for around US$70 a dive or get your tanks filled for around US$15.
The wind picked up that day and happy enough with our three dives, we threw off the mooring lines and motored 6nm east to the more protected sandy anchorage at Hirifa. This was a pleasant spot with a long sandy beach to wait for the wind to ease.
We spent a couple of hours rinsing our dive gear and filling the cylinders, then Wayne ran the watermaker to fill the water tanks. A loud clatter, and a mist of water sprayed out of the cockpit locker. A high pressure hose had blown on the watermaker. Ugh! After purposely constructing the watermaker for the Pacific passage, we now have no way to make water! The Tuamotos is not a place you want to be without water, so we began rationing our usage, more than usual, that is. At least the watermaker had been running over an hour before it blew so there was a good chance the tanks were almost full. Just another little hiccup in the life of sailing…
The next day we sailed north 17nm, following the channel, but still looking out for bommies. We anchored for a night before continuing the next day onto the main village of Rotoava. The village is a little bigger than Pouheva in Makemo with around 850 inhabitants. The tidy village streets are lined with hibiscus, bougainvillea and frangipani and the humble homes generally have a dog or three roaming around. The locals offer a welcoming “Iaorana” along with a friendly smile. The village has the usual facilities – post office, town hall, small supermarkets, etc. Fortunately for us, it’s one of the few places in the Tuamotos where you can get potable water. We dropped anchor in around 10m on a big sandy patch away from bommies.
Our goal was to replace the blown hose (fixing boats in exotic places, yawn…). We contacted Soflex in Tahiti and they said they could make up a hose and courier it to Fakarava. However, since we could fill our jerries with water, we decided to wait until we reached Tahiti to buy the new hose. We should have enough water until then.
The Town Hall is next to the Post Office and yachts are required to pay a fee for garbage disposal and water if needed (which we did). It’s not much to pay, considering we don’t have to pay anchoring fees. The Tumoana market is close to the dinghy dock and has a good selection of products. Boulangerie Havaiki had a small amount of fresh produce so I grabbed tomatoes, egg plant, onions, and even some crispy New Zealand apples. Chicken pieces tend to be in frozen 2kg blocks but once thawed, they cook well on the Cobb. They also have fresh local eggs and baguettes in the mornings if you’re quick. Most of the shops and services open early but close by 11am or 12 noon until around 3pm.
Fakarava Yacht Services run by Aldric and Stephanie offer laundry, wifi, sail repairs, gas fills, and bike rental, amongst other things and you can dinghy close to their location or walk from the town dock. We took our almost empty gas bottle and had Aldric fill it with butane, and had a load of laundry washed too.
Getting some overdue exercise, we took our bikes ashore and rode south along the flat narrow road until we reached Teviru and popped in to purchase some virgin coconut oil. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden so it was good to be outside again, although the hot weather sapped our energy. On the way back, we stopped for lunch at Snack Elda and enjoyed a tasty fish meal with fried taro root, washed down with a large Hinano beer, watching reef sharks circling underneath the verandah.
On Wednesday a supply ship arrived from Tahiti and the locals gathered to grab their pre-ordered products and supplies. Shops commence filling the shelves with fresh produce and the anchorage seemed a little fuller as boats arrived to take advantage of the available items.
Tanks filled with water, fridge with a reasonable quantity of veggies and meat (yes, the fridge is playing nice lately), we departed Rotoava anchorage and motored 5nm west to the North Pass. Here there are four moorings available, which we added to the Community Edits in Navionics. A good place to wait for conditions to exit the pass, or in our case, a good place to leave the boat while we dive the north pass. This pass is much wider and has a stronger current than the southern pass.
The following day, joined again by Kevin from Kismet, and support crew Mayda and Brian driving and towing the dinghies, we drove out to the entrance to the pass and drifted into the atoll at an average depth between 15-20m. This dive took around 45 minutes, and we saw a nurse shark, black and white tipped sharks, red emperor, and a huge variety of large groupers (I believe it’s spawning season), and many other pretty fish. The current was around 1-2kn and it was a pleasant enough dive, but somehow diving with hundreds of sharks is a hard dive to beat!
With our gear washed in fresh water, dried and stowed, the next day we departed Fakarava and headed north to the top end of Toau atoll to Anse Amyot. Here we would do wall dives looking out into the big blue depths.