Day 2,220 - Fakarava (16° 31.45S 145° 28.43W)
17:57 hrs - June 29th 2013
Life & Death

Once a year, only in specific little pockets of the ocean, marbled grouper, or kito as they are known to Tuamotians, swim for miles to gather in their thousands. It takes weeks for these fish to assemble, but when they have their numbers are so vast and so concentrated, they blanket the bottom of the ocean, transforming the seabed into a twitching, undulating carpet of camouflaged scales, fluttering fins and boggly eyes.

They congregate to spawn, to launch a whole new generation of grouper into the sea in one explosive, chaotic and perilous burst that lasts just 24-hours. The spawning coincides with a full moon, a 'super moon' in our case (when the moon orbits closest to earth) when the currents and tides are at their strongest, giving the millions of unborn grouper their greatest chance of survival as they are carried from the pass, away from feeding fish, and out into the relative safety of open sea.

From the moment I descended to ninety-seven feet below the surface, right into the very center of this once-in-a-year phenomenon, I knew it would be a dive experience of a lifetime. It was a feeding frenzy, an event of National Geographic proportion and you could sense the tension, the unsettled energy between fish - those that had gathered to breed, and those who had come to feed - heavily swollen grouper waiting to free their spawn, the dense spinning schools of fusilier fish engulfing plumes of eggs, and the big predators - sharks: greys, silvertip, longnose, whitetip, blacktip, all circling, watching and waiting until a grouper, distracted for just a second while releasing eggs away from the safety of the seabed, would sweep in at impossible speeds that blurred your senses and removed all doubt as to whose territory you were really in.

It was a dive where, for the first time, I felt a part of the experience, rather than an observer. I was immersed in the event, literally surrounded by fish, so many they brushed against my arms, my legs, my mask. A grouper released her eggs just inches above me, and suddenly the light was obscured and I was in shadow, consumed by thousands of translucent blue fusilier fish feeding on the eggs, I was in the eye of a swirling tornado of flashing scales, looking up through its center. Then the sharks came, swimming through the school, unable to see me clutching the bottom until they were just feet away.

A ripping, crunching sound made me turn in time to see a grey shark thrashing its head side to side, tearing at a grouper gaping in shock and distress, and within seconds I was just feet away from a tumbling ball of sleek grey fins and intertwined tails as a dozen sharks frantically fought over the meal.

For twenty minutes our dive group, led by Mathias from Top Dive, watched in awe at the scene that surrounded us - the gentle hovering plumes of eggs as new life drifted innocently out to sea, contrasted by the raw, natural and gruesome struggle for survival. And it was overwhelming, exhilarating and humbling in a way that only nature can provoke.



Quick Fix: 16° 31.45 S / 145° 28.43 W
June 23rd
2013 (day 2,214)
Conditions:  Wind: 0     Sky: Clear

Sometimes, rarely, when the tradewinds cease to blow, when there's not a whisper of wind and when the air is still. When the sky is a deep cobalt above softening to a powder blue below. When the water in the lagoon seems to hover, suspended without a ripple or a wave to disturb its surface. When all perception of depth and space are distorted, when sea and sky blur gently and perfectly together, the horizon completely disappears.

The Polynesians call this phenomenon raimiti, when the ocean and sky become one. Today the world has never seemed more at peace with itself, and we are floating ever so gently, right in the very middle of it. - NH


Day 2,206 - Fakarava (16° 31.45S 145° 28.43W)
18:54 hrs - June 15th 2013
Work Week

Our good cruising friends have moved west, north and east, leaving us feeling a little lonely and in need of distraction, so we decided to catch-up on some Dream Time TLC.

This week has been one of taping, scraping, sanding, brushing and etching, not as exciting as, say, diving with three hundred sharks, spearfishing lunch or tearing across the lagoon strapped to a twelve meter kite, but living on a sail boat and cruising around the world can't be all R&R and fun and games.

After five days of heat guns, palm sanders and wet brushes, our teak caprail, which we last stripped in Panama over four years ago, is looking like new - not bad considering it's thirty-two years old. And in a burst of creative Dremeling, I decided to brand and polish our emergency tiller deck cap, too.

We've also re-caulked our rubrail, along with all the fairleads, and as I've only got one more coat of Cetol Marine Light to apply (the fourth coat), there's finally light at the end of our gunnel.


Quick Fix: 16° 03.95 S / 145° 37.13 W
June 10th
2013 (day 2,201)
Conditions:  Wind: 6/E     Sky: Clear

Running Low
After six weeks in remote anchorage we were down to just three onions, one carrot, 2 gallons of petrol, about half a pint of propane, and one box of Bordeaux. We consumed almost all of our 'emergency' supplies and even had to crack open a few tins of SPAM - they were desperate times. The large supermarkets and conveniences of Papeete are over two hundred miles away and as we plan to spend another month here in the Tuamotus we've had to improvise, including filling our propane. We bought a butane tank in the village of Rotoava, and with a makeshift hose, gravity fed the European tank into our American. It took over an hour but we're now topped-up, our fresh supplies have also been replenished, so today we're heading south, back to Sud Bar. - NH

Day 2,199 - Fakarava (16° 31.45S 145° 28.43W)
19:48 hrs - June 8th 2013
Open Bar

Last week a massive low pressure system far to our south delivered fifteen - twenty foot swell to French Polynesia. Heavy surf collided with the atolls here in spectacular plumes of white spray that could be seen over the tops of distant palms. Boats in southwest Tahiti were ripped from moorings and docks, waterfront homes were flooded, and the millions of gallons of ocean swell cascading over reefs and into atolls here in the Tuamotus disrupted the natural cycle of tides, causing powerful and continuous outgoing currents, that lasted four days. Cruisers were warned not to exit passes that faced south/southwest, and when the tradewinds built in strength, even eastern passes, where ripping outgoing currents met head-on with twenty knot winds, were impassable.

The huge swell also brought to Fakarava all manner of flotsam and debris that washed over the reef and into our sheltered lagoon. Entire uprooted palm trees drifted past our boat, dozens of pearl farm buoys washed-up high onto the motus (islands) and entire docks, presumably from neighboring atolls, ripped from their pylons, splintered and broke against coral and limestone reef on their journey north.

The uninhabited islands by our anchorage near Tetamanu became littered with wreckage - planks of wood, wharf sections, and lots of rope, and what began as a simple clean-up operation turned into an impromptu Robinson Crusoe-style construction project.

I thought a hanging bar would be a nice addition to our little bonfire beach, so with friends on Namaste, Estrellita and Cariba we rallied together and in four hours our little gathering of lagoon-locked cruisers had constructed 'Sud Bar' (South Bar) - a swinging bar, a palm tree table and three driftwood bonfire benches. We only used materials found on the islands, and not a single nail or screw was driven into the trees, both the bar and tree table and secured only by rope lashings and gravity.

Sud Bar's first night was a great success, freshly shaken coconut rum cocktails flowed late into the night (late being about 9:30 for most cruisers), the coconut husks and driftwood fire kept mosquitoes at bay and new friends were made.

So if you find yourself in south Fakarava and are in need of some refreshment, stop in at Sud Bar, it's open 24/7, it's got a cool breezy vibe, there's no age restriction, and while the coconuts are all free, it's definitely a BYOB establishment.


Quick Fix: 16° 31.45 S / 145° 28.43 W
June 1st
2013 (day 2,192)
Conditions:  Wind: 14/ESE     Sky: Mostly Clear

Catch & Release
A month ago, fishing outside the passe of Fakarava,
we were surprised after a five minute struggle - expecting to find a tasty tuna at the end of our line - when we unintentionally reeled in a six-foot grey reef shark. The shark, clearly angry that we had disrupted his supper, dragged our little inflatable dinghy around in circles before we managed to set him free. The hook was too difficult to remove so, with apologies, we unclipped the lure and sent him back to his friends. Since our fishing mishap, we've dove the passe on six different occasions and each time, remarkably, we have sighted our friend. Yesterday he swam right up to me, just feet away, and I'm relieved to report that he looks just fine. My favorite lure, however, is very rusty now and I hope will release him soon.