Astra Blog: Tuamotus (Part 3) 05.07.08 - 13.07.08

Jeremy & Sally Paul
Wed 16 Jul 2008 00:07

Astra Blog: Tuamotus (Part 3) 05.07.08 – 13.07.08





At 6am we weighed anchor to leave Kauehi, unfortunately the chain and anchor had got tangled in the rocks and we had to use Astra to drive it out, in the process we destroyed the shackle on the anchor and the shackle on the snubber.  Not a technique we shall be repeating in a hurry. On the plus side it woke up both Charlie and George.  Once outside the pass we hoisted the sails and with a comfortable breeze of 15-20 knot we set off on a broad reach in the direction of Fakarava.


As we approached Fakarava, a sail (which later turned out to be Spindrift a Moody 64) was spotted 2Nm ahead going for the same pass.  Unable to resist a bit of competition, Jeremy and Ash slipped into race mode and gave chase.  We caught up with them just as we reached the entrance to Passe Garuae and together we motored through the pass towards the village of Rotoava.


With adrenaline still pumping after our unofficial contest, we launched the tender in record time and quickly set about going ashore. Walking along the seafront under the palm trees we found a fantastic restaurant that modestly described itself as a ‘snack’. The setting was delightfully informal, the décor consisting of nothing more than driftwood and shells. We sat out on the terrace overlooking the lagoon and enjoyed some refreshing drinks and some excellent French cuisine: canard; foie gras; carpaccio of tuna with ginger and garlic; and some incredibly succulent steaks. 


The situation promised to improve further: we were informed that the 2 week long Heiva celebration was underway and that there was to be traditional music and dancing in the village that evening. We were not disappointed: dressed in flowers, palms and coconuts, the dancers wowed the crowd with incredibly rapid vibrating to the sound of the drums.   


Sunday was a day of relaxation and the crew spent most of it snorkelling in ever decreasing circles around a coral head in the anchorage where among other residents there were a couple of enormous giant morays and some white tip sharks.  In the evening, Charlie, Ash and George went ashore for a couple of beers at the ‘snack’.


On Monday morning, Jeremy, Sally, Ash and George went diving with local dive shop Te Ava Nui.  Jean Christophe took us just outside Passe Garuae and after giving the cameraman a head start we plunged in and dropped to 20-25m.  It was a pleasant and straightforward dive with myriad reef fish and the ever present sharks.  We returned to Astra for a quick lunch before Jeremy, Sally and Ash headed back for the afternoon deep drift dive through Passe Garuae.  The dive RIB dropped us outside the pass and the group descended rapidly in order to get down and hold onto the rocky slope so as not to be swept away by the current prematurely.  After 10 minutes watching grey reef sharks and the odd silver tip shark we let go and were swept at about 5 knots through gullies, past jagged coral heads which seemed to come hurtling towards us, and through a rather surprised group of sharks, until we reached Ali Baba, a narrow, 20 metre deep trench which we dropped into to shelter from the current.  There were hundreds of grouper congregated there for mating and they were fairly robust in their efforts to scare us off.  However, they were slightly less intimidating than the grey reef sharks that were circling around inquisitively.  Finally we surfaced in the rough over-falls caused by the incoming tide just inside the pass to be picked up by the dive RIB.  An absolutely fantastic dive was had by all.


After the dive, a Dutch couple, Alex and Maroos, came back to Astra for a drink.  It was agreed that Sally and Jeremy would meet them at their hotel the following day to go snorkelling for pearls.  Sally writes:


We arrived slightly late (typical) and caught up with everyone snorkelling 100 yards off the hotel pontoon. The owner dived down and brought up 3 metal mesh baskets with 10 oysters in each, which was extremely heavy. Luckily we were on hand with the dinghy and took them all ashore. On arrival we all then chose our oysters and he proceeded to open them, and it was pot luck to the quality of the pearl. The pearls are grafted into the gonads of the oysters, and this is where he sliced into to retrieve them. We were hoping his knife did not slip into his own which were on display through a fetching pair of underpants.


We had our two pearls made into necklaces, one of which will be going to the lucky “Black Pearl competition” winner Charlie Beckley, and I am wearing the other one.  Meanwhile Ash, Charlie and George snorkelled around the coral head again to take pictures of the moray eel.


Mid-afternoon we left Rotoava and motored 15Nm down the east side of the lagoon from Rotoava to Oreihara dodging the odd coral head along the way.  We anchored at sunset just in time for a walk and a snorkel.


Jeremy and Ash woke at 0630 and started motoring south towards Tetamanu the village at the south end of Fakarava.  After 5Nm the wind direction was such that we were able to get the sails up and enjoy a perfect beat in 20 knots apparent on flat water for the remaining 10Nm making 8.5 knots SOG. 

Arriving at 0915 beside Tetamanu Village we anchored in 7 metres of crystal clear water.  Sally and Ash went on a reconnaissance mission to the pension and found a very friendly chap called Marc who told us there was a restaurant and bar.  He also turned out to be the local dive operator, so we booked to do the pass dive with him on Thursday.


Having acquired this local information, we all boarded the tender and popped round to check out the restaurant and dive centre.  The former could not fit us in for lunch as they had 22 people coming and the later was open but nobody was there!  Undeterred we had a beer and returned to Astra for a lunch of delicious coronation chicken.


When the tide turned in the afternoon, we took the tender to the seaward end of the pass and enjoyed an impressive drift snorkel in Passe Tumakohua.  The tide whisked us along past a huge number of grey reef sharks, black tips, white tips, Nassau groupers, reef fish and even a few huge Napoleon fish.


That evening, Sally had arranged for us to have dinner at Mahini Salmon’s pension.  The establishment that he has spent some 25 years building, developing and refining is absolutely amazing.  There are a number of rooms, each with their own individual character and no mosquitos.  The place reminds one of some of the earlier James Bond films, some rooms and small bridges are constructed over the lagoon which is gently lit at night so that the numerous sharks cruising in the shallow water are clearly visible.  The dining table is about 2 feet away from one such area which was slightly unnerving!  However, Mahini is certainly not a Bond villain, in fact he is a very friendly host who welcomes his guests with renditions of the Beatles’ greatest hits on his guitar.


On Thursday morning George decided to go for a snorkel on his own and was swept through a cloud of around 50 grey reef sharks on his way to the pass where he was picked up by Sally and Jeremy who had gone ashore to search for more fuel for the tender.


In the afternoon Jeremy, Sally, Ash and George went to dive with Marc at Dive Tetamanu.  Sadly, due to strong winds, the unpredictable tide at this pass refused to turn and start coming in.  This occurs because the wind forces water over the reef along the east side of the atoll meaning there is so much water in the lagoon that there is only out going tide for as long as the strong winds persist.  We were unlucky and were unable to do the drift dive through Passe Tumakohua, so instead we dived across the north end of the pass.


Immediately after the dive at 1700 we left Tetamanu and sailed north through lagoon, sticking religiously to the track we had used on the trip down we weaved through the coral heads in the dark at 8 knots.  All were relieved when we anchored safely at 2130 in Rotoava.


Friday was a day of jobs, and most of it was spent at the post office trying to use the internet to upload blog photos and sort out various other issues.  Jeremy, Sally and Charlie paused briefly for a spot of lunch at the tried and tested ‘snack’ before heading back to the post office.  George and Ash stranded tender-less on the boat decided to swim to the coral head for a snorkel.  At about 1700 as the sun was disappearing below the horizon, the plucky snorkelers rounded a bit of coral and came face to face with a lemon shark at least 2.5 metres long.  Both they and the lemon shark were rather surprised to see each other and thankfully it was the shark that decided to do a runner.  The boys quickly gathered their wits and decided to swim quietly back to Astra before it got any darker.


That evening, we were scheduled to leave for Apataki, but with the promise of more dancing and music celebrations we thought better of it and stayed put.  Dinner was a delicious celery soup after which we dug into the reserve food to top up with a tin tasting session.  At 1930 we ventured ashore to join in the celebrations.


Sally woke early on Saturday and managed to do some provisioning and acquire more dinghy fuel before most of the others had risen from their slumbers.  Ash and George went diving around the coral head in search of the lemon shark; if he was present they didn’t see him!  Back on Astra we enjoyed several bacon, egg and lettuce baguettes which Sally had prepared.  Then to work it off everybody went for a snorkel in the late afternoon before heading ashore once more to immerse themselves in the festive atmosphere.


On Sunday after a quick run ashore, we departed at 1230 for Rangiroa.