Fakarava’s north pass is wide enough to fit a cruise ship through it – sideways. And it’s just as well. The island measures around 30×12 nautical miles, so that’s a lot of water sloshing in and out at the change of tide.
After a gentle seven-hour sail from Kauehi, we arrived at Fakarava’s north pass on 8th July about 3/4 hour before slack water. And, although it slowed us down a little, the water was as smooth as a car salesman’s patter. Turning left after entering the lagoon, we continued to sail the remaining six miles to Rotoava village and grabbed the last mooring buoy available.
According to comments in Active Captain, there should have been eight of these moorings, but the other six were conspicuously absent. So, I donned my mask and snorkel and dragged my carcass down the mooring line to see what we were attached to. This one seemed to be OK, and it was evident that someone had worked on it fairly recently as the rope appeared to be new. And our neighbours commented that a boat had stayed there during the Mara’amu that blasted the Tuamotus the week before, so I reckoned we were OK.
Fakarava Yacht Services
One of our priorities here was to get an internet connection, not least of all because I need one to post updates to our website. Cellular connectivity is fairly ubiquitous here, but data connectivity is a throwback to the ’90s. Also, our giant bag of laundry was creating a health and safety issue in more ways than one.
Fortunately (and I know this sounds like an advertisement) Fakarava Yacht Services, run by Stephanie and Aldric, provide internet, laundry and bike hire. And to top it off, they make a delicious cup of coffee. And it’s a great place to socialise with other yachties who are similarly laundry and internet challenged. Maria and I were very much impressed by this couple and their willingness to help. Aldric even gave me free french lessons on pronunciation – pro.non.see.a.see.on – for which I am very grateful.
Pedalling and pearls
We hired bikes twice from Fakarava Yacht Services. On the first trip, we pedalled south until the road ran out, then stopped at the Hinano pearl farm on the way back. There, Günter (the owner) explained to us the process of pearl cultivation and demonstrated how the pearls are created. It’s interesting stuff. Then, Maria chose a bracelet made from Keshi pearls (ones without a nucleus) surrounding a single yellow pearl. We asked Günter if it was possible to change the yellow one for black – it was – he just asked us to check with him in a few days.
That evening, we ate at one of the few restaurants open – and this one only at the weekend: the Rotoava grill. Coincidentally, a large gang of other yachty people descended at the same time. And, with only one person working the tables, I thought this was going to be a very long night. But the waiter somehow managed to take and deliver all the food and drink orders faster than we have experienced in fully staffed restaurants. How he did it I have no idea – the guy’s a wizard.
Although the island is flat, cycling can be hard here because of the wind and the heat. We discovered that after cycling around 30km when we went south. So, for our trip to the north of the island, we hired electric bikes. Those bikes transformed our cycling experience. For the first time, I had someone to talk to on the way. Typically, when using our Brompton bikes (the spokes went on mine this time, hence the bike hire), Maria ends up at least 100 metres behind. But with the electric bikes, she stayed with me all the way. And we kept up our speed at around 24 km per hour. We were very impressed. And if they do a boat sized version of these bikes at a reasonable price, we’ll have ’em.
We cycled up to the north pass, past the small but perfectly formed airport, then back into town for some lunch at the only restaurant open – the same one in which we dined the night before.
While we waited at the restaurant for our food to arrive, Maria emailed Günter at the pearl farm to check if her bracelet was done. But, rather reply electronically, Günter materialised in person at our table to tell us that the bracelet is ready and that we could pick it up whenever we wanted. This was not some Polynesian mystic at work; by pure coincidence, he was at the restaurant with friends. And because we had the electric bikes, we headed off to Hinano Pearls after lunch. After all, it was only a mere 9km away. Günter presented us with the bracelet, now with a black pearl rather than the yellow one, and it looked stunning. But, so was the price – even after the discount.
Journey south to the sharks
After more rounds of shopping and internet stuff, on 16th June, we let go of the mooring ball and headed down the channel towards the south of Fakarava. With hardly any wind except an unhelpful breeze from directly ahead, we motored the 30 miles to the anchorage just near to the south pass – eventually grabbing another mooring ball as soon as another boat left.
The reason for being here was the snorkelling. The water in the pass has an excellent reputation for its clear water, a wide variety of fish – and hundreds of sharks. Krista and DeSay, whom we first met at the Rotoava Grill with the other yachty gang of folks, came over to Lady Jane the next morning to show us where best to go for drift snorkelling in the pass. After landing our dinghy on the beach, we plopped ourselves in the water and, literally, went with the flow.
The first fish I spotted – and it was a hard one to miss – was a Napoleon Wrasse. These things can weigh in at over 180 kg, and I’m sure this one was at that upper limit. It’s hard to tell from the photograph, but it was gigantic.
As we swam further out into the pass and along the reef wall, the sharks appeared.
Swimming with sharks is an odd thing to get used to. Having been traumatised by Steven Spielberg, the thought of getting into the water knowing that sharks are around is more than a little counter-intuitive. Fortunately, unlike the aggressive monsters of Jaws fame, the black-tipped sharks here are more interested in fish than fellas. But, when I saw a shiver of sharks coming towards me, I could hear the Jaws ‘shark theme’ loud and clear.
The current is stronger further out from shore and, eventually, it’s impossible to fight it – there is nothing to do but to allow the current to speed you around the corner into the anchorage. It’s a peculiar sensation not unlike playing a video game – or watching a speeded-up version of a Jacques Cousteau film. DeSay – who crossed the pass at a different location to me – said that he saw hundreds of sharks lined up near the seabed. I’ll try that the next time we are here.
After three goes at the snorkelling, we decided to call it a day and took a look around Tetamanu instead. This must have been a thriving community at one point. There are two churches here, but not enough people to fill them. Some of the local folks were hard at work dismantling an almost-new yacht that had come to grief in the pass (the insurers had given them salvage). Rumours are in plentiful supply regarding what happened, but it seems that a rope got wrapped around their propeller on the way out of the pass and they ended up on the coral. Fortunately, no-one was injured. But it serves as a hard reminder of what can happen in the Tuamotus.
Water, water everywhere – so where’s the key?
We heard that the town authorities could provide drinking water on a pay-per-litre basis. So, with our water supplies at an uncomfortably low level, we decided to go back up north to Rotoava town. And with the wind in the right direction this time – from behind us rather than in front – we unfurled the genoa and sailed back north to Rotoava where we found an anchoring spot just opposite the church. The next day we loaded the dinghy full of empty water bottles, motored over to the dock and called in at the town hall offices, where the conversation went something like this:
“Hello, we would like to buy some water.”
“No problem,” said the official “how many days are you here?”
“About ten days in total.”
He ran the numbers through his calculator and came up with a figure that included the local fee for being on the island and a charge for refuse disposal. After presenting the bill, he said: “The man with the key for the water has gone away.”
“When will he be back?” I asked.
“At the end of the month – about 10 days.”
“Do you have a spare key?”
So that was that for water and it marked the end of our visit to Fakarava. The next day we left just after slack water through the very lumpy pass, bound for Toau. Our friends Chris and Lorraine came this way a few years ago and recommended going there to enjoy the hospitality of Gaston and Valentine. So, that’s where we are off to next.