Dear Friends “15:56.2S 145:53.1W”
After posting the last blog with a little WiFi from a hotel and briefly checking The Election Results (!) we decided to have a look at the next atoll Toau. You pronounce all the letters – like Toe-ah-ooh (a bit like the skipper after he’s accidentally kicked one of the deck fittings … again).
The entrance pass to Toau has a health warning in one of our Pilot books “the pass into this lagoon is notorious and is considered dangerous by the locals ... very ugly high steep seas trying to broach the yacht and capsize it… etc”. So we were slightly apprehensive and timed our passage to arrive a good hour before high water so that we could watch and wait for the right moment to enter. Since the distance from Fakarava to Toau is only 14 miles (less than 2 hours) this means leaving the Fakarava pass at the wrong time on a strong inflowing current.
So we charged out of Fakarava in a fresh beam wind under a fair press of sail into the waves of turbulence. Since the waves were short, though not large, a fair bit of air must have got under Blue Sky as we got up on a wave and surfed for a while, with the speed getting up to more than 11 knots – great fun and certainly not a problem – and of course our speed easily overcame the inflowing current!
Our arrival at Toau showed a pass that had little turbulence despite the warnings, as the remaining inflowing current was in the same direction as the wind and swell. So we sailed in at modest speed and though the seabed looked alarmingly close, it was still more than 8 metres down, just in very clear water.
Our anchorage in the lee of the fringing islands was well protected and the following morning we went for a stroll and greeted a group of local copra collectors.
[Copra, the dried white coconut flesh, seems a big business both
here in the Tuamotus and in the Marquesas. It’s collected periodically by boats
In the hospitable fashion of Polynesians, after handshakes and exchange of names, we were immediately offered a fresh coconut to drink while we chatted. Shortly afterwards we were asked if we’d like some fish and having established that we had goods to barter, we drove off in the local pirogue (a very new 10m boat with 200hp Yamaha V6!) dodging coral heads at speed, to the next encampment so that their cousins could join the expedition.
At this point I’ll hand over to Simon, to continue the tale:
We stopped to fetch our masks and fins from Blue Sky before we motored off to the north side of the pass where we dropped the anchor. George and I threw ourselves overboard to watch the guys dive down holding their spear guns in front. There was quite a big swell washing round from the pass and the sharks were definitely bigger than in Fakarava. They got two Parrot fish after just a few minutes and then we were called back to the boat. They told us that the sharks were too aggressive…
The guys with some of the catch...
and the keep box being towed
We changed location and this time one of the guys pointed at a harpoon and asked me if I could handle it, at least that’s what I think he did. It looked like something 007 could have used in the 80’s but far bigger than the little toy I’ve played with in the Med. I jumped off the boat on the other side so I could have a few seconds to examine it. I unwrapped the string and could just about arm the gun to the maximum level by using all my strength. [pulling back the very strong elastic over the trigger clip – Ed]
The guys were now all on my side of the boat and started pointing down and encouraged me to dive. I could see it now, another Parrot fish almost 10 metres down and they were all waiting for me to get it. I took a big breath and started swimming down but the gun made it clumsy and as my mask fogged, I realized that I had forgotten to spit in it. Not a good start for Simon but I knew that they were all watching me and George was in the boat above like a proud father on the sidelines of a ball game and I didn’t want to let him down. I could see the fish busy eating coral not knowing what was about to happen; I had the smallest gun and knew that I had to get really close to make it. I approached from above and used both my hands to steady the gun. I held my breath (literally) and took my time waiting for it to turn around and reveal itself, and when it did, I shot. I have never seen a fish swim backwards so my aim was almost in line with its head but the spear went straight through its body, a perfect lucky shot. I looked up in relief and could see 4 boys doing goal gestures mixed with screams and bubbles.
Then I realized that I had at least 8 metres to rise before fresh air and I had almost none left! I hurried up towing the line behind me and when my lungs were about to explode and I still had some distance to go, I stopped: something was pulling me down. I knew it before I saw it, a shark was chewing on my prey and by the size of it I knew I would be next. By now it felt like I had swallowed way too much hot sauce and stars were dancing in my eyes.
My friends came to my rescue and I finally got up to the surface again. The shark disappeared with half of my catch but I was grateful. After recovering my breath I made thumbs up to George and kept on hunting in shallower water. I got another 3 Parrot fish in the basket and one that slipped away. All together we caught almost 15 fish of different sorts such as Red snapper, Parrot fish, French angel fish and something else. What a great experience, spontaneous adventures with locals are the best! George is filleting our part of the catch while Michael is feeding the sharks with fish heads from the stern. I need to calm down and write to granny telling her that I survived.
Very tasty it was too - fillets lightly floured and fried.
We were going to have another adventure tonight - "Simon and the Coconut Crabs" - as the locals were going to take us on a night time crabbing expedition. But unfortunately the wind is getting a bit peculiar in a few days and we think we're better off getting to Tahiti before it kicks off.
So next blog from Tahiti.
George, Michael and Simon