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Date: 09 Jul 2012 03:20:00
Title: Shark Tale: Fakarava South Pass

> Lat 16:30.42W
> Lon 145:27.48S
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>> Wow. What a great few days we've had on Fakarava. This atoll is not the most beautiful atoll we've been to, largely because it's more populated than anywhere we've been before. There are signs of life (resorts, a peal farm etc) dotted down the east side of the atoll which means we don't have that feeling of remoteness and being the only people for miles around. But the experiences we've had here have been amazing.
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>> With Ilana on board, there has been a small reshuffle below decks, and Dad has been relegated to sleep in the living area and Jamie and Ilana have moved into the aft cabin. (Dad volunteered very kindly to relocate)
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>> Beard update - there will be an official de-bearding ceremony in Tahiti as Dad is under strict instruction to remove it before he gets on the plane!

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>> Reunited :-)

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>> The morning after Ilana arrived we went for some more drift snorkelling and a couple of dives in the northern pass. After Archie had caught us a fish for dinner, we set sail down the atoll, to a recommended anchorage where we had previously arranged to meet Alex, Nick and Tom on Saltbreaker, and Dan and Sylvie on Ustupu. We anchored off a nice little beach called Tohae and went ashore where we met a local couple who live there, with their chickens, dogs and tame pet pigs! They cut us down some fresh coconuts and we invited them to join us at our campfire dinner later.We had a great campfire with everyone from the other two boats, plus the local couple. They showed us how to weave palm leaves, and brought us some more coconuts and polished shells. Femet (?) also delighted in a few cans of Balboa beer, and when the Glenlivet was produced it wasn't long until the singing started! Nick had a Ukelele and Alex had a Bolivian equivalent, so, quite skilfully they strummed some tunes that we knew (Johnny Cash etc) and we all attempted to sing along. Then Femet took control of the Ukelele and sang us some local songs. This went on for a while until he was distracted by another swig of whisky and Nick managed to get his Ukelele back! Possibly the first time a bottle of Glenlivet single malt has been swigged out the bottle round a campfire? I'm not sure Jamie was too impressed - he had previously insisted we buy proper glasses for it and couldn't possibly drink it out of the plastic beakers we use for everything else.
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>> The ginger pig who loves eating coconuts!

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>> Ilana by the fire at sunset

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>> The campfire with the guys from Saltbreaker and Ustupu

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>> Nick and Alex play Johnny Cash on their Ukelele's

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>> The next morning we set off down the rest of the atoll to the south pass, famous for the hundreds of sharks that live in the waters of the pass. The locals don't know why they're there, and apparently 10 years ago they weren't there. Maybe they just like looking at all the divers that come to gawp at them! We snorkelled it to start with when we first arrived, on the incoming tide, and to be honest I wasn't that impressed. There weren't that many fish around and I did see a few sharks but they were so far down that we couldn't see much from the surface. With the incoming current though, it's a fun snorkel anyway, as the current whisks you through the pass and then around the corner where the reef is shallower, and continues to carry you all the way back to your boat in the anchorage! About 1.5 miles of drift snorkelling! Having not seen much on the snorkel, it was time to go a bit deeper. We got our tanks filled and refilled and refilled again at a local dive shop, and went out several times to dive the pass. There had been an annual phenomenon of "a million" groupers spawning in the pass, that only happens once a year, the day before we arrived but there were still hundreds of these fish mulling around in the depths, not doing much except trying to stay upstream of the current. The first dive that Archie and I did, we saw the groupers, but only a few sharks. Were we missing something? Jamie and Ilana got in next and had an amazing dive, seeing the fabled hundreds of sharks in a school along the wall of the pass. Dammit! Why hadn't we seen them? Arch and I went down again as soon as our tanks were refilled, and had truly the most incredible dive ever. I've done about 130 dives so that accolade doesn't come lightly. We went down to about 30 metres and 10 minutes into the dive we saw a big group of barracuda, a giant school of fish, and then suddenly there were the sharks. In a huge long line along the wall, swimming along it. They really weren't bothered by us at all, and the whole thing was much more mellow and serene than I ever thought diving with 300 sharks would be! We held on to the coral to watch the sharks swim past us, all between 2-10 metres away. Then we let go of the coral and drifted down the wall, into the wall of oncoming sharks. It was incredible, and it seemed like the school would never end! Eventually they petered out as we got shallower, and then shortly afterwards we saw another group, much smaller (only about 30 sharks in that one!) and then hundreds of groupers chilling out on the bottom. By this time we were rather short of air, but had previously decided to abandon all PADI rules and run out our tanks until the last breath. As I said the pass gets really shallow (3 metres) so this wasn't as dangerous as it sounds as we were in less than 3m for about 5 minutes before the last gasp on Archie's tank meant we had to surface. There are some photos below but I'm not sure how well they'll come out on the blog which has to be low res. There's also an awesome video which I going to upload to Youtube or similar, so that you can appreciate the experience!
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>> A few sharks

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>> A few more with Jo

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>> And some more sharks - every dark shadow you can see is a shark!

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>> A beer on the pier with the Saltbreaker and Ustupu crew

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>> Yesterday we lifted the hook, to move on to Faaite, another atoll just 9 miles from Fakarava. Or at least we tried to lift the hook. We were wrapped around the coral on the bottom again, which is very common and another thing the Tuamotu's are famous for. Unfortunately this time, our windless decided it had had enough, and packed up, refusing to lift the anchor. This time it's not the solenoid, and we think the windlass motor is fried which is a major hassle, as we will probably need a new one to be sent to Tahiti which could take weeks. Until then, we have to lift the anchor up by hand. (well I say we but we do have 3 strong lads on the boat) Thank god we are two days from reaching Tahiti and this didn't happen earlier in our trip. We haven't had a proper diagnosis yet, but it looks likely that that's what the problem is. Fingers crossed that they have the part in Tahiti. We have a "dark days" bag on board which contains sweet treats from the UK that Mum sent out, that we are only allowed when something bad happens. We were considering whether this was bad enough to justify a dip into the dark days bag, when something extraordinary happened that completely changed our our day.....
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>> (see next blog)
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