Friday, February 28, 2014

Fakarava North – Feb 23 – Feb 28 2014

Fakarava North is quite different from the south end in that it is a quaint and quiet community that is home to a large percentage of the Black Pearls that are cultured for the world market.  It didn’t take long to recognize that we were in company with some big spenders.  Huge Mega yachts complete with helicopters were in the anchorage with their launches shuttling owners and guests ashore to shop.

Lucky for us, we met Hinano who owns Hinano Pearls.  She not only spoke English but she is a direct outlet for their family Pearl Farm and her prices were very reasonable.  Her wee shop is located just past the Catholic Church on the main road.  She was very helpful and guiding Kaija thru a large selection to find one that she not only liked a lot but Hinano really sharpened her pencil and made it affordable.  Thank you Hinano.  This however, did not satiate the dream…it only fed the monster…Kaija was now on the prowl with more Pearls to follow.

Our Visa for French Polynesia was coming due and we needed to get to Papeete to ask for an extension.  We were lucky enough to have a decent weather window so off we went.  Unfortunately, our timing out the North Pass wasn’t quite perfect and we felt like we were riding a bucking bronco as we headed out the pass in very short steep waves.  At one point, when we should have been in deep water, I noted the fathometer was reading 7 ft….it was a rather uncomfortable moment, one I would rather not repeat.

Fakarava South, The Tuamotos - Feb 13 – Feb 22 2014


On Leaving Tahanea, we stopped on the island of Faaite to give us a better window for the tides which can be critical in these waters in making safe passage thru the reef.   The next morning, after a short 5 mile crossing we entered the island of Fakarava thru the south pass.  It was fairly wide and easily navigable in good light, with clear water and a white sandy bottom with clearly visible coral heads easily avoidable. 

Unlike Tahanea, there are people here.  We passed a small dive resort coming in the pass and turned north to find a reasonable anchorage beside another very quiet and isolated resort with thatched roofed huts on stilts out over the water’s edge.

One did not have to look hard to see the plentiful and colorful fish, and the sharks, they were everywhere. Oh Boy!  It was time to go hunting!

Guided by new friend Gilles (Sc Sugi), along with Francois (Sc Baies du Monde) we went hunting for Grouper.  Gilles, being a resident of the island knew exactly where to go. 

It didn’t take long and we were spearing some beautiful fish, there were so many to choose from.  I was patiently stalking a lovely 10lb. Camouflage Grouper, he stopped just outside a coral head.  I dove and took my shot.  It was almost a perfect kill.  Thru the gills, but missed the brain and he went into his death spiral and buried himself under the coral ledge. 

Now, I’m in 20 ft. of water with a 4ft gun carrying a 42in. spear and 8ft. of lanyard.  When you do the math, it all adds up to a little bit less than 20 ft.  And I’ve still got to breathe.  That was not my only problem.  With the grouper sending out distress vibrations the sharks came fast.  As long as he stayed under the ledge, I could not pull him out and he was safe from me and from the sharks. 

I was attached to this beauty by a rather expensive piece of artillery that I wasn’t yet prepared to relinquish, as it would likely be the last time I ever saw it, so I kept tugging on the line hoping the fish would just give up, and let me quickly pull in the lanyard and spear and get him out of the water.

I am running out of air and my legs were churning enough to create my own distress vibrations, which as Lloyd Bridges (SeaHunt) will attest is not good especially in shark filled waters.

It wasn’t the Black Tip or the White Tip or even the Reef sharks that I was concerned about.  But we had shot enough fish and the Greys were now resident in numbers.  FYI, the Greys are not a very happy fish, or at least they are not very social when it comes to sharing a meal.

I knew that I was either going to have to give up my gun, or be prepared to get physical with a big bad set of very sharp teeth.  Lucky for me, Mr. Grouper decided to cooperate and out he came.  I got one good look My maritime Meister as he slipped out from under the ledge.  My spear was cleanly thru and thru and I had him.  Well, I thought I had him.  The sharks moved in and then I felt something that I hope to never feel again.  As I am looking at my pretty Poisson and pulling him toward me, I felt the rasping skin of a large grey shark squeezing between my legs.  I could see his head and coal black eyes looking up at me as he emerged between my knees and, faster than I can say it, he had my lunch and my spear in his mouth, two quick shakes, he spit out my mangled spear and Mr. Grouper was gone.  Needless to say, I had had enough fun for the day and did my best imitation of a Jesus Lizard (yes there are such things and yes they do walk on water) making my way back to the safety of the dinghy.  And the really good news is…I’m still alive to share the story, kinda reminded me of that Kenny Rogers song…You Got To Know When to Hold ‘em, Know When to Fold ‘em, LOL, yup…there certainly is a time to fish or cut bait!

Kaija says it’s time to go hunting for Black Pearls, should be a lot safer!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Tahanea, The Tuamotos Jan 30 – Feb 11 2014

We arrived on the very remote island of Tahanea in the mid-chain of Islands call in old days, The Dangerous Islands, named so because they are a collection of very low lying Atolls surrounded by hull chewing reefs and many a ship has floundered in these waters.  Today they are known as the Tuamotos.  We selected Tahanea because of it's easy access thru the reef which is not the norm in these islands.  The Tuamotos are also the home and source of many of the world market's finest Black Pearls.  Because of this, Kaija has long had her heart set on visiting here, in search of just the right Black Pearl or Pearls as I would soon discover.  However, I am getting ahead of myself as there are no Black pearls on Tahanea. 
In fact there is not much of any kind of habitation on this atoll, short of an old abandoned fishing hut.  There are however, a row of Tiki’s on the edge of the south pass and Kaija and I had fun erecting our own Tiki to add to the collection.
The atoll waters are clear and clean and full of fish.  We delighted in drift diving the two passes holding onto the dinghy as it was pushed along by the rushing waters of the incoming tide.   There were fish by the thousand, large and small, some of the biggest grouper we have seen, and Napoleon Parrot fish which can grow to 4 ft.  This was our first sighting of the Giant Clam in such vibrant brilliant colors, amazing hues of the rainbow ranging in size from inches to 4  1/2 feet.  And of course there were the sharks.  There were a whole lot of sharks.  Black Tip, Reef, White Tip & Greys and while it was quite evident that they had no lack of food, you felt a healthy dose of respect wariness in their midst.

We have been wary of fishing in the coral waters of French Polynesia because of Ciguatera, a toxin known to exist in reef fish.  However, in meeting Francois and Johanna Sc Baies du Monde, the only other boat around, and sharing our common interest in fishing, Francois and I decided to see if we could ‘invite’ some lovely grouper or snapper to join us for a meal. 

Fran├žois had indicated that he was quite certain there was no issue with Ciguatera in these waters, but to be safe, leave the large blue spotted Groupers alone.  This was hard to do, simply because they were so large, so close, so inviting.  But following his advice we selected other fish for dinner.  Francois shot a lovely snapper which he gifted to us as they had a freezer full of fish.

It didn’t take long to process and cook up this beautiful fish and sit down to what was to me, the best tasting fish I had ever eaten, no doubt in part to Kaija’s cooking, but it was excellent.
Shortly after dinner, Kaija complained that she wasn’t feeling terrific and this feeling persisted into the next day.  The next evening, I again ate the snapper, she did not.  Not long after eating, I too began feeling ‘off’.  That night we both began to feel the effects of the toxin.

At first you feel slightly light headed.  Then your limbs seem to feel slightly disjointed with a very real weakness throughout the body.  This feeling persisted over the next couple of days. Then came the worst of it.  That was the itching.  Located in the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet.  It was unnnnnbeeeelievable!  You felt like you wanted to scratch the skin off your body but primarily your hands and feet.  And it would not stop.  Kaija dosed us with meds designed to relieve itching and swelling.  Nothing, nadda, it just persisted.   This was an illness you would not wish on your worst enemy.  Ok, wait, maybe this is exactly the illness you would wish on your worst enemy, not that y’all have any enemies, I’m just sayin :o) 
We became avid students of this rare Toxic illness and learned that in severe cases it can be deadly.  It is accumulative, in that you can eat small doses in fish with no effect and then one large dose can be the catalyst that triggers it.  And, once you have it in your system, it is there for a verrrry long time.

It was a good solid month before the main symptoms finally receded and the itching stopped enough that you were not consciously scratching 24/7.  However, in the evening hours, lying in bed, we would both be aware of the other person trying to scratch as quietly as possible not to set the other in motion.  So be careful what you eat, even if told it is safe, be very very careful.