While we did some snorkeling in the Marquesas, the visibility was somewhat limited making for some anxious moments when a hammerhead shark came straight up from the depths and scared the beejesus out of us.
In the Tuamotus we had a lot of inclement weather which limited the visibility in what is normally crystal-clear water. We did some snorkeling but the high winds kept us on the boat more than we’d have liked.
Now, finally in the Leeward Islands of the Society Group (Tahiti) we’re back to clear water, beautiful reefs, and calm weather very conducive to diving, snorkeling and paddle boarding.
|Stand-up paddleboards (or in this case, sit-down paddleboards) are becoming very popular among cruising sailors.|
A couple days ago we finally got our RedFin 10-foot 8-inch paddle board out of its case and blown-up on deck. We’re anchored on some sand flats about an 1/8 mile from the reef, so the water is very protected and almost as clear as a martini without the olive. The water is actually so clear it's like walking over an aquarium when you are on the SUP. Sort of like stand up snorkeling, you can see the bommies and follow the fish here and there.
When I got out to the anchored yellow proa near the reef’s edge, I began to see bigger shapes underneath me; white-tipped and black-tipped sharks. They hang out there because a guy comes out with tourists and feeds them (no, he doesn’t feed them tourists). I'm not really that good on the paddle board compared to Meryl so I make a concerted effort to not fall off at that particular spot. The sharks looked hungry and they hadn't been fed yet that day.
The other thing we dug out from the depths of the bilges was the SCUBA gear we had bought in Bonaire. We’ve wanted to go diving ever since Bonaire but the opportunity never presented itself, so we arranged for a local dive company, run by a woman to do a couple of nearby dives.
Our first dive was on Monday, May 23rd at a location just north of Fare called Fa’a Miti. Since Meryl and I hadn't dove since Bonaire a year and one/half ago, there was a little learning curve. But once we got in the water it all came back. Lots of fish came swimming right up to us (they are used to being fed), along with a couple of curious small sharks. The only negative thing was I noticed my GoPro underwater camera case leaking, so I quickly gave it to the dive master who took it back up to the boat, so instead of gorgeous underwater photos for this post you’ll just have to use your imagination.
The dive began in about 35 feet in an expansive area of beautiful coral gardens, with corals reflecting every color of the rainbow. I had never seen the delicate baby blue corals so that was quite a treat. Our dive master had us take our gloves off and touch the delicate white anemones where Nemo lives amongst the tentacles. They were very sticky and I assume the small wrasses that hang out there use the anemones to clean their skin.
There was a bit of current so we drifted around a lot, but as we gradually descended along a coral wall down to 90 feet the current was much less. Every SCUBA diver seems to want to dive deep, but in reality you lose the yellow and red colors at that depth and everything is a muted blue so it is not as pretty as the shallower depths.
As we ascended towards the end of the dive (we carry underwater computers that tell us how long we can stay at a certain depths without have to do decompression stops on the way back up) we came into an area with canyons carved in-between the coral reefs. It was so magical to slowly drift through the canyons, some so narrow you could touch both sides. While it was somewhat of a beginner dive, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
On Wednesday the 25th the dive boat picked us up at Flying Cloud and took us to the nearby Avapehi Pass. They anchored right behind the big surf break so we got to watch the local surfers do their thing on a very tricky wave. We then got a description of what was to be the most challenging dive Meryl and I have attempted. The dive would involve descending in very turbulent water near the surf break and then traversing over to the mouth of the pass while descending to about 90 feet. The dive master wasn’t sure how strong the current would be, but recommended we hug the bottom and use hand holds on the coral to move forward if the current was running.
We slowly descended to about 30 feet in what is best described as a washing machine, given the huge surfing wave overhead. We got sloshed four feet to the right then four feet to the left with each passing wave. We then followed the edge of the reef down to about 50 ft. to get out of the waves and slowly came around the corner at 85 ft to the start of the pass. The current was running a fast 3 knots against us and we could still feel the surge of the waves. When a wave pushed us forward we would kick hard, then quickly grab a small hand hold on the bottom so when the current hit us we wouldn't be swept back into the mouth of the pass.
Meanwhile about 15 grey sharks were cruising nearby, including one who did a drive-by at us. They were only 5- to 6-feet long, but still got our attention. We had to really focus because if you let go of a hand hold for a second you’d get swept away in the current. We hung on tightly along the top of a ridge and watched the sharks and larger fish (mostly jacks) swim by being careful not to turn our heads too far sideways or our mask or regulators might loosen or fly off. We then headed sideways back to the the edge of the reef. That was kind of fun since the current helped us skip from one hand hold to the next.
Eventually we got back to the coral reefs in about 30 ft of water and marveled at the variety and sheer number of fish. For us it was the most technical dive we’ve done yet, but it forced us to really focus and learn some new dive techniques. A great experience at age 68.
In the subsequent days we’ve done lots of SUP’ing (my legs were so tired after a circuit of the bay I had trouble standing) and snorkeling in the nearby waters. The abundant coral heads attract lots of fish so the snorkeling is always interesting.
We will head south along the reef in the next couple of days to some more remote snorkeling areas where we hope to see an even larger variety of fish. It’s so great to be able to jump in the crystal clear, 82-degree water everyday and snorkel or just swim around. We’ve been waiting for this type of opportunity for a long time and are loving it here.