Friday, May 28, 2010

Fakarava Diving

I can sum it up in one word... WOW!!

Sherry & the Sharks

We did 4 dives at the South Pass in Fakarava, and each dive got better. 3 of the dives were on the low tide slack and one was on the high tide slack. Best clarity was on the high tide slack... go at the end of the flood, when all the clean ocean water has been washing in for the past 6 hours. You just need to be careful not to mistime it, and end up being carried out on a strong ebbing tide.

Dave Gets a Close-Up

Basically we estimate the time of slack, get to the pass a little early, where you can actually see the conditions, and wait until it looks about right. Once the current slows, we get the rest of our gear ready, wetsuits on, etc, and take the dinghy into the pass, a little up-current from where we want to be. Then, without anchoring, we jump in the water, go down quickly, and then do the dive, drifting with the current and towing the dinghy behind us on a 100' leash. With the light winds we've had, towing the dinghy is not hard at all. It drifts at about the same pace we do, 75 feet below it.

Bill and Gram from s/v Visions of Johanna

The waypoint we used as our dive spot was 16-31.086S 145-27.679W. If the sea is calm you can start a little further out, but on a day with any offshore wave action, be careful going much further out. This spot is over a big sand trench that is easily visible from the surface. From here, once on the bottom, you head for the NE side of the pass (the one with buildings). The sharks are most numerous about 10 minutes into the dive (at a slow drift in). We heard that other side of the pass is good too, but the NE side was so good, we never got to the SW side.

On the best dive we had, the visibility was over 100', that's double or triple the visiblity on a typical 'good vis' Florida dive!

The big attraction of the South Pass is the sharks. There are over a hundred fairly docile sharks just hanging out in the pass. Mostly gray reef sharks, some black tips and some white tips.

Once you're tired of watching the sharks (thankfully, they just sit there mostly), there is a nice sloping wall full of coral and lots and lots of fish. And at the end of the dive, about a half mile of 15' reef. In the shallower water after the incoming current has picked up, you just fly over this part.

Because of the challenges of the drift dive and towing the dinghy, we only took our camera on the last dive. Dave got a couple of great shots of me and the sharks.

Tetamanu Dive Center

There is a dive shop in the South Pass, Tetmanu Dive Center. They declined to fill our tanks, though. Liability issues, they claimed. They did encourage us to dive with them, but we didn't see that they added much value to our approach with the dinghy. Though a first dive with them would probably be a nice way to get your feet wet.

The pass at the north end of Fakarava is much further from the anchorage, so we contracted with Te Ava Nui dive shop for a package of 3 dives. With 5 of us and 3 dives each, we managed to negotiate a package price of $50 US a dive, using our equipment and their tanks.

Headed Out to the N Pass with Te Ava Nui

There are 2 other dive outfits at the north end. These two are almost side-by-side about 3 miles south of town. You can anchor off in this area, but then it is a long hike (hitchhike/bicycle ride) to town. Both Top Dive, associated with Sunset Beach Resort, and Serge at Fakarava Diving Center get good reviews from divers, but Diving Fakarava is a smaller outfit with a more personal touch. On they got rave reviews, but you probably need to book them in advance to make sure you get the dives you want in a limited time.

Fakarava Diving Center is Easily Recognizable by the Big Dive Flag

Te Ava Nui is the biggest outfit, so they always have dives going someplace. Typically they want to you do the outside-the-pass dive with them first, so they can assess your ability and comfort in the water. Their actual pass dive is quite challenging. They do not time the dive for slack current, so you are often diving in fairly strong current. And the first stop of the dive is at 100', which is pretty deep for a novice diver. They basically take you to the bottom quickly, and anchor you there--holding on for dear life to the dead coral--to watch the sharks and other pelagic fish. After 10 minutes of flapping in the current, the divemast signals, and the group lets go and drifts a fast drift over the bottom, up to about 70'. Toward the end of the dive, there is a depression in the bottom, and they take you down into this area to get out of the current and give you some time to look around.

All 3 north Fakarava dive shops also make trips to the south pass. Typically this is done as a 2-dive all-day trip, for about 2.5 times the normal cost of a 1-dive north pass dive.

Our preference overall was the South Pass, hands down. The ability to wait for slack current and drift more slowly was a big one. So if you only have time for one or two dives, our recommendation is the South Pass.

Dave Refilling Tanks on the Back of Soggy Paws

At 5/27/2010 4:03 PM (utc) our position was 15°48.14'S 146°09.09'W

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