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The Tuamotu Diaries: Chapter 14 - A New Pass

tropical island


After our failed attempt to cross the lagoon yesterday was an early wake up call to start moving the boat. Just as the sun came up Joshua emerged from his cabin and started to lift anchor.

The seas were calm. There was hardly any wind. We would be motoring across the lagoon for the next six to eight hours.

The first part of our passage was relaxing. Other than the hum of Mr. Perkins consistently in the background. Josh tried to snooze an extra hour or so while the rest of us sat in the cockpit. I did a bit of writing and helped sew a patch in Rachel’s wetsuit.

man on sailboat

I started to feel tired from the early wake up so I tucked into the booth around the kitchen table for a nap. It isn’t the most comfortable spot to sleep. The semi-circle cushions leave little space to comfortably lay straight and the table edge is so close that you’re somewhat squished. The bench was already occupied and with the engine on, it was far too loud and hot to lay in the coffin. No matter. I have a talent for being able to sleep in almost any condition. Sound, light, comfort levels never really affect me.

I was jolted awake by Josh gently tapping my knee. I think I almost spooked him because my reaction was disproportionate to his touch.

There were breakfast burritos waiting on the small cockpit table outside. Got to love being woken up to food.

After breakfast, the sun really turned on. With the lack of wind, it was almost unbearable. Josh and I alternated between every seating place on the boat in desperate search of any relief from the heat. There was no good spot. The least offensive was to sit just in front of the fans inside. They didn’t help much. All they did was move the hot air over us instead of leaving it stale.

It was an unbearable last two hours driving. We tried to read, write, and watch movies to distract from the heat but it didn’t work. Every time I lifted my head to go to the next word the page would lift. The paper was clinging to my skin, sticky with sweat. I could feel the drops of sweat travel slowly from my hairline, down my face and chin, to then drop onto my cleavage and make its way to my belly button. When I looked over at Josh he had a small waterfall running down his chest. We exchanged looks of misery as he checked the GPS to see how much longer it would be till we arrived.

Shortly after anchoring we were the first to take a dip in the water. This was the first time I’ve ever prayed for the ocean to feel like ice.

The plan was to get the scuba gear ready for an afternoon dive. We took the dingy to the pass for a brief check of the conditions and then went to work back on the boat. Josh and I offered our help but we didn’t know where any of the gear was. This would be our first scuba dive of the trip.

Joshua checked the tanks and was pleased to find that three of the four were already full. Him and Rachel pulled out the compressor and did a quick oil change on it before filling the last tank. We helped to get each of our gear set ups together and then we were ready to go.

As we had been getting ready the sky had grown dark. Once bright blue, the horizon was now coated in a grey mist. The sun was hiding behind a curtain of clouds. A drizzle of rain started.

Looking at the pass from the boat it appeared like the flood tide had stopped. This combined with the lack of sun would mean that our dive wouldn’t be very enjoyable. After talking with a neighboring boat our fears were confirmed. We decided we wouldn’t be scuba diving today.

We couldn’t let an afternoon go to waste so we stored the scuba tanks and opted for a freedive. Rain showered down on us as we packed into the dingy. Once complaining of the heat, we were all now a bit chilly. I grabbed my thicker wetsuit out of the lazarette.

freediver over reef with fish swimming
photo @bylandandsea

The pass here is much narrower than on the other side of the atoll. Rachel says on a super clear visibility day, you can actually see the opposite side when you’re underwater. There is a small swell rolling in right now that is supposed to grow in a few days. Each outside corner had beautiful waste high waves. As the water tumbled over itself a perfect curve formed. You could see through the glass like surface on its’ face to the reef below. Sets came through slowly, spilling white water over the barrier reef just inches below the surface. The angle of the sun illuminated the bubbles so they glowed against the blue. Outside the pass a rainbow was forming where the sky meets the sea. Like a technicolor pillar it rose towards the charcoal clouds above.

There was no wind and the water was so still you could make out the sand and corals a hundred feet below the dingy. Rain washed over us as we entered the water. In the middle of the channel runs a deep gravel highway. Normally, the sharks fulfill the role of the cars but yesterday there were few to be seen. The lack of current must have given them more freedom to roam. As we swam into the lagoon our right side was flanked by a wall of corals stretching from the surface at a forty-five-degree angle to the bottom. The ankle-deep water at the top of the wall has blacktip reef sharks cruising, almost scraping their bellies. There isn’t a pocket along the wall void of reef. Branching staghorn corals form what looked like bushes in patches along the wall. Some had branches flowing all in one direction while others formed circular layers resembling sunbursts. Between these spikey clumps would be a weaving matrix of thick coral mazes. Tiny fish peeking in and out as we swam by. A few clumps were a neon purple color. They stood out against everything on the bottom except the few congregations of lime green corals. They appeared almost like a glow in the dark shag rug. The millions of tiny polyps made it appear fuzzy even though it was surely hard as a rock.

The continuing rain shower started to form a hazy fresh water layer on the first few inches of ocean. The trippy haze made everything a bit distorted. Black tips swimming towards you at the top of the water looked a bit like they came out of an impressionist painting. Lower your head just barely and everything became crystal-clear. I imagine it’s similar to the clarity someone feels when they get their first pair of glasses.

We swam our way along the wall staying somewhat shallow to enjoy the vibrant corals. Large schools of yellow and red snappers sought shelter under the dive shop’s tattered docks.

There is a dive resort located just on the edge of the pass. The shop is situated right on the water with two docks for holding around four working boats. The docks and a small café extend out over the shallow part of the reef and there is sand just to where the corals start to reach down deeper. Small brown bungalows, they look more like cabins, are spread out along the water’s edge. Each looks to have ply wood walls and a palm frond roof. Some have a tiny dock just outside the door. It seems like a cool place to stay. I would be curious to see the insides of the rooms.

girl with blacktip reef sharks
photo @bylandandsea

Our swim ended in the shallows under the resort’s walkway from land to the small restaurant. Nearly fifty reef sharks and a handful of giant Napoleon wrasse were racing around. The restaurant throws its’ scraps just into the water where the sharks and fish will take full advantage. Resort guests and staff looked at us funny as we took off our fins and floated face down in the murky, foot deep water. Brushing away at the gravel bottom reveals tiny white triangles. Little shark teeth fall out as the blacktips munch on the restaurants leftovers and are speckled about the ground. Two of the staff members took an interest in our pursuit. An older French man; a little round with glasses and a sunset orange Hawaiian shirt pointed to us where to search and shared our excitement when we spotted something. And a younger Tahitian boy, maybe nineteen, wearing a beat-up tank top and shaggy mop of dark hair threw fish scraps in our direction. I think he was trying to help Joshua get a good clip on his GoPro. Engaged in the task of finding teeth I hardly noticed the sharks zipping by just inches from my face.

The boys lost interest with the teeth far before Rachel and I did. I think Rachel and I have similar brains. Always moving. Constant inner dialog. I think that is part of why we both enjoy shelling (and now teething?) so much. It give our minds a singular focus.

We didn’t want to make the boys wait too long so we gathered our collections and met them in deeper water.

With the slack tide lasting much longer than expected we drove out to the ledge of the pass for a quick look. A few small grey sharks showed up but nothing to crazy. A quick stop back in the pass revealed a huge school of uku. It was probably twenty fish thick, some of which were absolute monsters. There was no chance we would successfully shoot one with all the sharks around but Josh played around throwing his flasher and watching them all dart in.

The sun was just barely visible dipping below the still grey clouds so we called it a night and drove back to the boat.

We had a quick rinse and then headed over to Joshua and Rachel’s friends’ boat for happy hour. Each of us had a small cup of rum punch Joshua had mixed for us before heading over. Their friends run charters, similar to a timeshare, on their 47ft catamaran. They were hosting a family of five who were in the cabin playing a round of code names while one family member cooked dinner. Their friends (Christian & Sabrina) sat outside with us and their three-year-old twins chatting and having a drink. After a quick tour of their boat we went back to Agape so I could start on dinner.

The menu was salad and mac n cheese. It wasn’t my best work. Didn’t exactly have the best cheeses considering our limited options in French Polynesia but it turned out ok. I get so stressed cooking for other people, especially this crew because they are all quite good. I just want things to turn out yummy.

Everyone was starving so we scarfed down dinner quickly. Then it was off to bed.

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