Friday, November 18, 2011

Fantastic Fakarava

Just when you think it can't possibly be any more beautiful than the last atoll, Fakarava has to go and blow everything else out of the water.
After a month sailing just the two of us, Namsate welcomed a new crew member on Monday when we picked up our great friend Sam from Cape Cod.
Bike riding has been an unexpected surprise at this atoll, which boasts 26 km of paved roads, a veritable freeway in this part of the world. The locals have been incredibly friendly, and we've been busy riding around town meeting people, shopping at the tiny markets, and searching for farms to sell us some fresh veggies. Sunset cruises capped off our days when we anchored off the village of Rotoava.
But we've truly been mesmerized by what's underneath the sparkling blue waters of Fakarava. We sailed to the southern pass on Tuesday and hooked onto a mooring right in the channel. The local dive shop jokingly promises "if you don't see a shark, dives are free," but they're not losing their shirt on that guarantee. This place is a veritable playground for hundreds of gray reef sharks. Immediately after dropping in we witnessed the shark parade, a procession of them slowly carving their way through the channel. Hundreds of glasseyes, unicorn fish, paddletail snapper, and bluelined snapper schooled around us as Chris and I checked out the show. Giant Napoleans swam their slow circles, while parrotfish fed hungrily on the reef. A massive, blacksaddle coral grouper cozied under a head for a wrasse cleaning.
At any given time, many sharks can be spotted swimming around Namaste, feeding off our scraps. Chris and Sam spearfished at a nearby reef and we feasted on marbled grouper.
Paddleboarding in the nearby lagoons has been a dream. Soft breezes keep the coconut palm fronds swishing, and sting rays glide along the shallow waters, their interest piqued by the giant board silently slicing the surface. The shores are ringed with soft, blush-colored sand, a far cry from the rugged, crushed coral typical of these atolls.
Our only issue right now is gasoline. Unfortunately, when the ship arrived from Tahiti last week, it was missing its usual shipment due to a delayed tanker. So we're currently on gas rations and hoping the awesome family that runs the nearby dive shop and pension will be able to sell us a few liters. We dined at the small pension on motu Tetamanu last night and enjoyed several authentic fish dishes and the conversation with some fellow divers.
More diving, snorkeling, exploring, and fishing to come...
-Team Namaste
(Chris, Jess, Sam)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Tout Tuamotus

We spent two weeks in Apataki, a true diamond in the rough. The Eskimos have an unbelievable amount of words to describe snow. I think Puamotuans (people from the Tuamotus) must have as many phrases to distinguish their shades of blue water.
After our splash in, Chris realized a major issue with the water maker/generator, which is vital to our boat life. He spent all day elbow-deep in grease, not exactly the homecoming he was hoping for, but he fixed it.
We explored a massive reef close to the anchorage and the carenage. On our arrival, schools of scissor-tail sergeant and yellowfin goatfish surrounded us, while giant clams shirked at our swim-bys. Ivory hard coral and yellow brain coral dot the reef that is teeming with life.
We've met a few new friends in the carenage (boatyard) and we had drinks with a great couple from Australia, who only learned to sail about a year ago. They crossed the Pacific Ocean through the Panama Canal earlier this year. Good on them for living their dream!
A walk along the east shore on the ocean side exposed the old, blackened coral that has formed a line against the sea and is littered with pieces of sparkling white crushed coral, that has been left there by the unforgiving waves. Their contrast is shocking and it's hard to believe one came from the other. Thousands of shells of all shapes and sizes adorn this coastline, as does the fisherman's nylon rope and bouys that wash ashore from who knows how far away.
To say this place is remote is an understatement. And it's faraway location and dreamy waters make it a perfect place for us to be.
We were on our way to the north pass Sunday morning, but a large squall detoured our trip. We had caught a nice-looking jack, but were unsure if it was safe to eat or not. Some species carry ciguatera, a nasty endemic disease, and it varies at each atoll, so we went to chat with some locals. In true Polynesian form, we ended up spending the entire day with two incredibly friendly and welcoming couples, Ta vai and Mari, and Julliano and Isabelle. We drank a lot of Hinanos and too much of Ta vai's homemade rum, finally throwing up our hands in defeat around sunset. We feasted on sashimi and rice, and chatted endlessly, sharing our life stories and talking about the beauty of life in Apataki. I think my French gets better the more I drink, and our new friends were trying to make me fluent!
Chris has been busy perfecting his spearfishing and slaying dinner. We love the marbled grouper, which is a flaky, tasty seabass.
Three dives at the north pass rounded out the stay in Apataki. The visibility was incredible and thousands of fish schooled, such as redtooth triggerfish, striated surgeonfish, bluelined snapper and brick soldierfish.
The sail from Apataki to Toau was a light breeze, literally. We traveled at a leisurely pace, and arrived here yesterday afternoon. We're moored in a tightly protected cove on the northwest side of the atoll.
The snorkeling inside the reef was spectacular. The locals have installed several fish traps, and they were teeming with a huge variety of species, an open-lagoon aquarium. Trapped sharks wrecked havoc on the brightly-colored imprisoned fish, quite a sight, a little sad actually.
Today's underwater venture along a massive wall that lines both sides of the pass was gorgeous. Loads of fish and healthy coral was abundant.