For the last four days Kokamo has been anchored off
a sand bar joining the two entirely unpronounceable and equally
uninhabited islands of Uonukuhihifo and Uonukuhahake (19:57.9S
The islands are everything you could wish for in a
Pacific Island paradise. Sweeping sand beach down the leeward side where
we're anchored overhung by laden palms, and a reef fringed lagoon on the
otherside, all washed by water clearer than I've ever seen before.
Soon after we dropped the hook a couple of other
boats we know - Sol Maria and Jemellie - joined us in the bay, one of whom had
caught a large skipjack tuna on the way over. A fire was soon
blazing on the beach for roasting the fat fish, the beers were cracked open, and
we all tucked in.
Next day, the advantage of sharing the bay with
boats that not only have large tenders with large outboards, but also spear guns
and a lot of free-diving knowledge became clear. We cruised round to the
other side of the islands and snorkelled on the edge of the reef, metres from
where a 4 knot current sluices through one of the only gaps in the reefy barrier
that the islands are perched on. It was unlike any snorkelling Rachel and
I had done before - you could easily see down to 30 or 40 metres, after which
the near vertical coral wall plunged into an abyss of unguessable depth.
The corals were breathtaking colours, absurdly
varied in shape, criscrossed with canyons ripe for exploring and swarming
with life: more fish than there can be names for, monstrous sea cucumbers,
bright blue starfish, Rach even got a glimpse of a turtle... oh, and the odd
coral snake and white-tip reef shark. There are meant to be 'painted'
crayfish too - but despite looking under lots of ledges, we haven't
seen so much as a feeler, or a fury leg. Between dives, a
huge pod of little dolphins came to play alongside the boat - though they
shyly slunk off as soon as we got into the water to join in.
Gavin, Dieter and Shea from Sol Maria were spear
fishing alongside - which keeps life interesting, as once they'd speared a fish,
they had to swim it to the dinghy quick, before any sharks became a little too
inquisitive. But it did mean that we once again had plenty of fish (parrot
fish and a huge snapper) for the beach barbie. By now, word of the
paradise we'd stumbled on had spread, and with ten boats in the bay for the
night, the rum flowed...
I've been working on my breath-hold while doing all
the snorkelling, and reckon I can now stay down at 10 metres for something
over a minute. It's amazing how quickly you can get better at it - I've
never been any good underwater - but still, my proud progress pales next to
someone like Gavin who can easily pop down to 25m for a couple of
minutes. Anyway, a couple of days ago, I felt ready to have a go with a
spear gun. Suddenly having something to concentrate on, and fish to stalk
along the coral gulleys, I found I could stay down far longer. Not
that my underwater fishing yielded anymore produce than my overwater attempts -
I had one pop at a not-very-big parrot fish and missed - but it's early days,
and a lot of fun...
Yesterday, we came across some fishermen staying on
the island for the night and got chatting to Sione (John in Tongan). He
explained they were mainly after the huge sea cucumbers, eventually
destined for China of course. But he also mentioned he could catch
crayfish, though he preferred fish himself. Our encouragement to seek one
out came good at midnight when I awoke to knocking on the hull. Sione and
his crew, and no sooner had I stumbled into the cockpit in my boxers, than three
spiky crays were shoved into my hands. I found an underwater torch from
our trading bag and a few beers in exchange, before crashing out again and
dreaming of crayfish taking over the boat.
Now, sated by our fix of uninhabited paradise,
we've motored a few miles north to the pretty village of Uiha, and having
barbecued our crays this morning, are chilling down a bottle of white for a
serious evening of crustacean cracking and succulent leg