Thursday, June 4, 2015

Wall of Sharks

It is approximately 55nm between the pass at Tahanea and the southern pass at Fakarava. We wanted to sail overnight at about 4 knots of speed to arrive at the pass close to slack tide in the morning. We were going too fast with just the genoa so we furled it and hoisted just the main sail. Even with a reef in the main (not using the full sail), we were still sailing over 5 knots. We gybed a few times (made a zig zag course) to arrive after sunrise. Regardless of the speed and arrival, we had a very uncomfortable sail. The wind was from aft but the swells, whether they were on the aft quarter or directly behind, kept the boat rolling from side to side. Neither of us got much sleep. Fortunately, the anchorage here in southern Fakarava is great and we've slept soundly here.

When we arrived, we both snorkeled to check the anchor and Dina even got in the water AFTER seeing a small (less than 5') shark swimming around the boat.

The pass here in the south of Fakarava reputedly has some of the best diving in the Tuamotus. We got picked up by the wonderful French couple who run the local branch of Top Dive here in Tetamani village and headed out to the pass. Malcolm went on the first drift dive. The dive boat drops you near the ocean side of the pass and the incoming current brings you into the atoll's lagoon. On the first dive, Malcolm saw three "walls of sharks". These are large groups of sharks (20+) all slowly moving into the current. They are looking for tasty fish that are disoriented in the incoming current.

There are certain well defined areas of these sharks, where the current is to their liking and they are in tight groups, hence the term, "wall". A better description would be "peleton" of sharks. They swim slowly against the current making little progress. If one gets too far forward it will peel off and the current takes it to the back of the group. The divers drift along the coral beside them.

We both did the second dive. We saw black-tip, white-tip, grey reef and black fin sharks. Some were pretty big, like 8'. Some were young, maybe 18". Fortunately they were not too curious although they did swim near by. We have been told that sharks feed mainly at night and only eat during the day if there is easy prey. We were also told that the sharks do not like the bubbles divers make (maybe we were told this just to make us feel better...).

There is a pizza restaurant here on the atoll at the Pension Motu Aito Paradise. It is hard to see from the anchorage, but it is a lovely, family-run "hotel" with 6-8 Polynesian-style bungalows connected by garden paths. The first night we planned to go there, the restaurant was flooded due to the recent rain and high tide. It closed due to "weather" the second night. On the third night we were able to have our pizza party with 3 other boats and the French couple who run the local Top Dive. The restaurant owner, and pizza chef, Manihi, is very nice and welcoming.

The next morning we both dove again. This time we started further out in the pass and rode the current well into the lagoon. We began about 20 metres down on a patch of sand and quickly encountered 4 sharks sleeping in the sand. As we went through the pass there were a lot of sharks! They were very close to us, even above us feeding on small fish at the surface. We probably saw well over 100 sharks in total. The dive ended with us drifting over the shallower area as we turned the corner into the lagoon. As expected the current sped up and the ride was like flying along above the coral reef. It was awesome and Dina has conquered her fear of these sharks.

After diving we headed to a quieter anchorage about 8 miles away.