Sunday, June 27, 2010

In Fakarava Provisioning

Current Location: Rotoava, Fakarava Atoll, Tuamotus, French Polynesia 16°03.71'S / 145°37.14'W

We moved back to Fakarava on Weds to wait for the supply ship, and do some provisioning. When we first arrived off the town of Rotoava, there were only about 5 boats anchored. By Thursday, there were 20 boats! Everyone who hasn't left yet for Tahiti is in need of supplies.

As soon as we anchored, I had the wifi hooked up and started downloading my 232 emails (14 MB). And Dave was launching the dinghy. He wanted to rush to a private garden we had heard about, to buy veggies, before any of the other cruisers converging on the town got there. The nice lady, Hawaya, said she was pretty much out of everything. But we coaxed a bunch of bananas, and lettuce, bok choy, eggplant, and a few small green tomatoes out of her. The half stalk of bananas cost us nearly $12, but Dave has been searching for more bananas for a month, so we bought it.

The ship is generally due in Thursday morning, but it didn't arrive until after dark on Thursday. A bunch of us are here for gasoline or diesel, which you have to buy directly from the ship. Someone ran into the dock to make sure the ship would still be there in the morning, and then put out a call on VHF "be on the dock at 7am".

Dave dutifully reported at 7am with his 3 gasoline jugs and a fistful of Polynesian Francs (CFP). An hour later the captain finally showed up on the dock and got the ball rolling, but it was a madhouse... a 2-step process... pay first, get a slip of paper, then go to the guy who dispenses the fuel. With 30 cruisers and locals and no organization to the system. Though Dave was one of the first ones to get to the dock, he was one of the last ones served. He finally made it back with 15 gallons at 10am! Meanwhile, I was stuck on the boat while everyone else in town was buying up the cabbage.

We rushed into the beach near the grocery stores, and did find some veggies left--onions, potatoes, carrots, and cucumbers. Dave was happy to find apples and pears. But there was no cabbage to be had. The store we were in... Boulangeria Havaiki... said they only got 8, and they were gone "like that" (snap). I never thought I'd walk the streets looking for a lowly cabbage. But I did, checked the 3 other possible stores, and no one had cabbage. I think this is left over from the strike 2 weeks ago--they still haven't caught up. (Having 200++ cruising yachts in Tahiti trying to provision probably also had an impact on our supply out here).

We have 16 baguettes bagged in ziplocks in the fridge and freezer--enough to last us a month. I keep telling Dave I'll bake him bread, but I can't argue that this isn't much easier.

In the afternoon we followed a tip from another cruiser and went with Dave and Susie from Sidewinder, looking south of town for a vegetable farm. (Put your dinghy at Pension Havaiki, walk out to the main road, and turn right. The farm is about 200 yards south on the main road.) There we found Mr. Topaz working in his gardens. We scored more tomatoes, eggplant, some huge (18-inch long) cucumbers, and limes. We met his sons and his wife and had a good old time trying to talk to them in our very poor French. After chatting a bit, his wife went back into the house and came back with a pumpkin for Susie and I as a gift. Very nice and very Polynesian.

We checked out the menu at Pension Havaiki, as we walked through their hotel. It looked reasonable and a nice place to have a dinner out (main course about 1500 CFP). So we and Sidewinder dinghied back at 7pm in the moonlight for a nice dinner.

Today we plan to head south for the South Pass area of Fakarava. There to wait for an appropriate weather window to go somewhere east of here.
At 6/26/2010 4:38 PM (utc) our position was 16°03.71'S 145°37.14'W

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Monday, June 21, 2010

The Crown of Thorns' Revenge

Current Location: Anse Amyot, Toau Atoll, Tuamotus, French Polynesia 15-48.21S / 146-09.14W

As we have been diving the wall outside Anse Amyot, we have noticed one area of the reef that has the dreaded Crown of Thorns Starfish. These are about 18" in diameter with 12-16 arms, and bristly thorns 1-2 inches long. The Crown of Thorns eats coral polyps, and when their numbers increase, they can devastate a reef area pretty quickly.

The Crown of Thorns Starfish

In Australia, the Crown of Thorns has reached epidemic status and they are actively battling them. "Considerable effort has gone into developing methods to control crown-of-thorns starfish populations in local areas by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), CRC Reef researchers and the tourism industry. It is not possible to eliminate crown-of-thorns starfish from reefs where they are in outbreak densities but with sufficient effort, local areas can be protected."

"Some tourism operators in the Cairns region spend up to $300,000 each per year in crown-of-thorns starfish control. Some operations collect or inject 200 to 500 starfish each day in an effort to keep selected sites free of starfish. In 2001, the Queensland Government committed $1 million for reef management issues, including assisting the tourism industry in controlling populations of crown-of-thorns starfish."

Our friends on Visions who have gone ahead to western French Polynesia emailed us that Moorea has lost 95% of their reef due to crown of thorns. They urged us to think about trying to destroy any CofT animals that we encountered on Toau's pristine reef.

So on the last dive we made, when I saw a Crown of Thorns, I took my small dive knife which is permanently mounted on my BC and tried to poke a few holes in it. Ow! Those thorns, which look sort of rubbery, are really strong and really sharp!! I poked a few more of the ugly things with my small dive knife--and got poked back 3 more times for my efforts, before I wised up and decided to leave well enough alone. Moral of the story: Carry a bigger knife! Now my index finger hurts like hell, and is swollen and nasty looking.

We have looked up the Crown of Thorns in our Dangerous Marine Creatures book, which says "Even dead animals, washed up on the beach, are capable of causing severe pain to humans. The pain is well in excess of that due to penetration of a spine. Continuation of the pain, swelling, weakness, and limitation of movement may continue for many weeks or months, especially if any of the spine is left in the wound." In other words, there is some poison attached to the spines.

Oops. They suggest an X-ray or MRI to verify if any spines are embedded. We are a long way from a doctor or an X-ray machine, so we are taking the 'wait and see' approach. I has been 3 days now, and the one finger that got poked several time in the soft tissue by the knuckle is still swollen, and still hurts, though less than before. It also feels a little warmer than the adjacent finger. It seemed to me that there were no spines embedded--I just barely touched the spines. There is no visual evidence of anything left in the skin.

Though the wound seems clean, the slight fever in my finger has me a little worried. I am contemplating starting a course of broad-spectrum antibiotics. But I hate to take antibiotics 'just in case'.

Anyway, we will continue to try to exterminate any Crown of Thorns we encounter on the reef, but we'll be a lot more careful (gloves and a much longer knife).
At 6/17/2010 5:03 PM (utc) our position was 15°48.21'S 146°09.14'W

Friday, June 18, 2010

Summary of Diving in Anse Amyot, Toau

For divers with their own equipment and compressor, Anse Amyot is a diving paradise. The current in the 'pass' is minimal, there are very few sharks, and the anchorage area is in the lee of an atoll with a beautiful wall that runs for a couple of miles in either direction.

Gaston has installed 2 dinghy mooring balls for divers, and it is also very easy to drift the wall with dinghy in tow with a 75' 'leash'.

Sherry in the Yellow Dog Canyon

Mantas Feeding in the Lagoon

Lion Fish in the Grottoes

Our favorite dive spots are as follows:

Yellow Dog 15-47.468S 146-08.698W
Dive bouy with deep sand canyons 50m east of bouy. Best dive at Anse Amyot. Start at 9m and go over the wall to as deep as you dare.

Snapper Hole 15-47.608W 146-08.832W
A sand crevasse full of snappers. No bouy, but anchor your dinghy in 25-30 feet, or start here and do as a drift down the wall toward the SW.

Amyot Pass 15-48.040 146-09.360
Dive bouy just outside the pass in 10m, close to the wall. Dive the wall, or slow drift into the pass on incoming tide.

Caves and Grottos
15-48.674S / 146-09.906W
15-48.806S / 146-10.066W
15-48.938S / 146-10.206W

This is a series of large grottos along the wall SW of the anchorage. Each one is very nice, and there's a lot of nice wall to explore in between. Possible to do as one long dive or a series of shorter dives. 20-40 feet deep in and around the grottoes, and the wall to as deep as you dare to go. If you only have time to do one spot, the middle one is the best.

All these spots are along the wall just outside Anse Amyot. Diving is best in E to S winds.

For snorkelers, inside the reef close to the anchorage is a beautiful snorkeling area in 5-20' of crystal clear water. It is best to wait until 2-3 hrs after low tide for the incoming tide to bring in the clearest water. In a 15 minute snorkel you will see hundreds of fish, large and small, moray eels, lion fish, if you look carefully, and only an occasional shark. If you are adventurous, drift snorkeling outside the reef is also very nice in 10-30 feet of water.

For safety when going outside the reef, we try to always go in pairs, and always take a hand-held VHF-this would not be the place to have a motor problem! It's a long drift to Papeete.
At 6/17/2010 5:03 PM (utc) our position was 15°48.21'S 146°09.14'W

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Trouble in Paradise

Current Location: Anse Amyot, Toau Atoll, Tuamotus, French Polynesia 15-48.21S / 146-09.14W

Yes, we are still at Anse Amyot, and still enjoying this beautiful location.

We really had planned to leave early this week to go back to Fakarava. However, we have been getting low on gasoline--too much dinghy-ing around and too much dive compressor running--and we asked Gaston here at Anse Amyot to add an extra 200-liter drum of gasoline for us and other cruisers, to his order of gasoline. It was supposed to be here a week ago, and then again on Monday.

Unfortunately, there is/was a big 'general strike' going on in Tahiti starting late last week. All government workers, including the Weather Office, the firefighters, etc etc were on strike. The strike completely shut down the international airport for days, and also shut down the port in Papeete (Pap-ee-ay-tay). Visions had family flying out and had to rebook them 3 days in a row before they finally got out. And all the cruising boats arriving in Tahiti a few days ago arrived with empty fuel tanks after a near windless passage, only to find no diesel to be had in Papeete.

The strike is just over now, hopefully for good, but things are backed up. The supply boat bringing the fuel from Papeete could not get fuel to fill their tanks. So now it is 'next Monday' for fuel delivery. We know that Gaston here at Anse Amyot has a rather urgent need for gasoline, and he is pretty well connected to the supply boat captains, so we are confident the fuel will arrive here as soon as it's available. We've decided that the best choice is to sit tight and wait.

It is a great place to be stuck, though. We are still diving nearly every day--when weather and social commitments permit. We have covered almost all of the wall outside the pass in a mile in either direction, and now have our 'favorite spots' marked by GPS. Dave is getting really good with the underwater camera, having lots of time and clear water and interesting subjects to practice. Yesterday we returned to the 'Grottos' site to look for the elusive Black Lionfish that we saw on our last dive. We managed to find a pair, and Dave got some good shots. Yes, they will get posted eventually.

Though nearly everyone we knew here left for Tahiti a few days ago, a day later, a whole new wave of boats came in from the Marquesas. So we've had another round of social gatherings. The wind is still really light, so many people are delaying leaving for Tahiti hoping for more wind. I am sure the wind won't start blowing until WE start to try to head south and east.
At 6/17/2010 5:03 PM (utc) our position was 15°48.21'S 146°09.14'W

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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Diving the Yellow Dog Canyon

Current Location: Anse Amyot, Toau Atoll, Tuamotus, French Polynesia 15-48.21S / 146-09.14W

The diving in general at Anse Amyot is spectacular. Unlike the other anchorages we have been in in the Tuamotus, we are only a couple of hundred yards from the lee side of the atoll. Here, the coral reef goes from 10' deep, to 30' deep, and then plunges to untold depths.

Gaston and Valentine, the Tuamotuan family that lives here, not only has put big boat moorings in their small cul-de-sac, but also put dinghy moorings out on the wall, to facilitate diving. There is one bouy just outside the anchorage, and another down the wall a little ways.

The best dive, according to Gaston, is called Yellow Dog. It is 1500 meters east of the channel entrance. Gaston has marked the spot with a bouy, so divers can hook their dinghy to the bouy and easily dive the spot. The feature of this spot is not just the 100+ foot visibility, nor the near-vertical wall, but a big canyon.

The wall plunges from 30 feet to nearly bottomless in a short space. The bottomless depths are deep dark blue, and as you drift down into the canyon, it almost feels like you are diving into deep space. It is a really weird feeling. Johanna, from Visions says she felt she was going to be sucked down into the hole. But there is no current, nothing but crystal clear 82-degree water, live coral, and thousands of fish. And of course, the spectactular vista.

As a group, we drifted down to close to 100' deep, and then looked up. The water is so clear, it does feel like you are in a canyon on land. Dave got a couple of great pics of me down in the canyon.

The canyon does go deeper... I ventured to 130' (that's pretty deep for casual sport diving) before Dave motioned me back up.

We have since dived on that spot 2 more times, and will likely go back a couple of more to show our friends the spot.

But the whole rest of the wall is pretty fantastic too. We have started a series of slow drift dives down the wall from the Yellow Dog, doing about 400-500 yards a dive. I tow the dinghy, and Dave takes the camera. There is about a quarter knot of current with us, and only 10 knots of wind in the lee of the island, so it is a really easy, gentle drift. We bounce up and down between 80 deep along the wall, to 30' deep on top of the wall, following the contours and the fish.
At 6/3/2010 7:13 PM (utc) our position was 15°48.21'S 146°09.14'W

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Friday, June 4, 2010

Dancing with Manta Rays in Toau

Current Location: Anse Amyot, Toau Atoll, Tuamotus, French Polynesia 15-48.21S / 146-09.14W

We have been at Toau's Anse Amyot for almost a week now, and I haven't blogged anything about this wonderful place. (Too busy having fun.)

We had planned to only stay a couple of days here, and leave for the next atoll, Apataki, when Visions left for Papeete. But we have finally found paradise. Dave says we may never leave!

On our first full day here, our host Gaston took all of us in his small outboard-powered boat inside the lagoon to 'a secret place' where the Manta Rays feed. It took him only a couple of minutes to locate the Manta Rays--flashing alternately white and black underwater. He anchored and urged us to jump in.

7 of us donned snorkel gear and went to swim with the Mantas. These rays are normally pelagic fish, and a HUGE. A typical manta has a 10 foot 'wingspan'. We found a total of 10 rays feeding on plankton. Even Gaston was impressed to see so many in one place. These mantas were doing graceful back loops, essentially staying in one general location, and scooping the numerous plankton into their giant mouths.

We had 2 underwater cameras in the group. Dave got a bunch of good still pictures, which we will eventually post here, and Gram, from Visions, took some nice video. You can probably see these videos by now on their photo site, linked from their blog at It was amazing swimming among these giant rays. Our presence didn't seem to bother them at all, and we were literally swimming among them for 45 minutes.

We marked the spot on my handheld GPS, so we could go back again by dinghy if we wanted to. But Gaston seems more than willing to take small groups out there.

Later in the afternoon, we made a SCUBA dive with the crew from Visions on the spot that Gaston and Valentine call 'Yellow Dog'.
At 6/3/2010 6:45 PM (utc) our position was 15°48.21'S 146°09.14'W

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