In Sharkistan - the Tuamotus

In Sharkistan - the Tuamotus

Crossing to the Tuamotus takes 3-4 days. In contrast to the Marquesas, the Tuamotus are flat. Really flat. No 1000m raising rocky needles. Only 1m raising sand bars on reefs. And palm trees on top. No water except the ocean and the rain. For humans these are not the best places. For fish it seems the contrary. And where fish is plentiful … sharks are plentiful. Welcome to Sharkistan!

The crossing was super nice with 20kts of wind at 90 degrees on the first day. It was relaxing on the following days with around 9kts. It felt again like sailing on a too big ship accross lake Zurich on a nice Saturday afternoon. Except for no traffic around us. We passed about three other cruising boats in the four days. Unfortunately we had to motor for 6h as the wind dropped to 6kts. Even with the very little waves we had this only gets the sails slatting - and the speed would drop to below 3kts. We prefer the 8-9kts we had on the first day! Well recovered after sailing through wonderful fullmoon nights we approached Katiu and Fakarava soon. There we new would some challenges be waiting for us.

First challenge is to enter the atoll. Passes get carved out by the tidal flows that enable the ships to go in and out of these huge „lakes in the sea“. However, corals struggle hard to re-build the pass into a solid barrier. So the depth below the keel, the current and the waves are asking for the sailors’ attention. We arrived on time, a little too late, and had a very weak ingoing current through the pass. Otherwise the conditions were perfect with little wind, no waves and sunlight from behind. So it was easy to spot obstacles under water, but the clarity also caused anxiety as the rocks and corals below looked closer to the surface than they were. Stunning, how clear the water can be!

Moving on the coral heads may get in your way in shallow waters. And dropping the anchor requires careful attention to hit a sandy patch. The charts are detailed for the areas used by commercial vessels. The big portion of the atoll however is marked „unsurveyed“. So the challenge is to find anything you could bump into well before you hit it. Luckily, the lagoon is around 30m deep in average, and the few bommies reaching the top are recognizable. Against the light it’s harder, with the light in the back much easier. So sailing to the our friend located in the north east we had some sun against us and Isa the spotter on the bow had to pay constant attention to the water surface ahead.

Merrion, the vessel from Alaska that we first saw in Canada and later met in Mexico spent two weeks in this area. So we immediately dropped anchor beside them and had a great feast at night: we had Mahi-Mahi, they had octopus and together we gathered coconuts. So it was „poison cru“, enriched with garlic bred from Oso and brownies from Merrion as well as drinks from Jade Akka’s „onboard minimarket“. Next day was brunch time over at Merrion, where coffeecake was on the menu. Delicious!

While the water in the pass was clear, visibility drops in the lagoon and the spearfishing and swimming are always a little scary. Here in Sharkistan anything that could draw a sharks attention will do. Shooting the octopus we encountered a black-tip 5 minutes later. Hopping into sea with a big splash and later disposing of a rotten Papaya brought two of these sharks to check out Jade Akka. Shooting a little unicorn fish revealed two juveniles just around the corner. You do not see them, but they see you. And they show up when they think they can get a bite - not of people, but anything they hunted or disposed of. There are said to be more than 700 sharks in the pass at night. We are pretty sure that must be true!

Looking into the eyes of an approaching black-tip is a feeling on its own. The first glimpse of the shark approaching made me think of a juvenile. But the distance did not match. So I kept the eyes straight at this looks-small-but-might-be-bigger creature. And indeed is slowly approaches and grows to a full size black-tip. The speargun in may hand I start to get nervous. Sure, they do not attack. Usually. The locals speargun here with their kids. What should I do? Be vertical to look big, look at the shark. Point the speargun at him. Retreat? I was off a little reef, 5m behind, so I decided to slowly move backwards. Unintentionally I thus got more vertical. The shark still slowly approached. And then lost interest. Probably it figured out I am just another snorkeling tourist. Uff. Impressive. My first shark-in-the-water-encounter. Still a little shaky, I swim back to the dinghy to see if Travis is still in there cleaning the octopus. He is and as soon as he is done, we continue exploring the area. Staying together. It just feels much better.

Some days later we hop in the water independent of the black tips and the grey reef sharks around us. We had moved to South East Pass, one of the sharkiest areas. As soon as we drop anchor, they are there. As soon as something moves, they are there. The black tips coming close, the greys keeping down on the ground. To us they feel like cats: interested, but keeping their distance. And depending on size either cute or dangerous. Or both. No big sharks here, so we snorkel the pass. The „pass“ is the in- and outlet to the atoll, with strong currents flowing in and out depending on the tide. Best and only practice is to place the dinghy outside the pass at low slack tide, explore the area until the current inwards picks up and then drift along the corals for an hour until you are back at the boat. Of course you tie the dinghy along. It serves a buoy so boaters know there are snorkeling people around.

Underwater the views are amazing. A lot of fish, from colorful parrotfish to dark-grey white-tip sharks. A lot of coral, some areas seemingly endless with abundance in shapes. Where the coral is healthy, it covers the ground completely. In sandy areas coral heads feature fish. And require attention while navigating. We explore the pass twice. It feels like being in space, flying over a never seen landscape. We drift over to a little bight and snorkel through the coral heads that cover the sand. All the snorkeling takes it’s toll: we are really tired already in the afternoon and Isa’s goggles break. So we decide to wait for tomorrow’s winds to sail to the north west, where there should be shops. We say good bye to Caramor and it’s crew that we took along snorkeling. They have sailed from the UK to Patagonia and then over to French Polynesia on their 38ft boat. We feel like Jade Akka should at some point also get back into the high latitudes. Next day we entangle the anchor chain from all the bommies and lift the anchor.

Rotoava is our next stop, a village that feels like an urban hub after our journey. Music, tourists etc. But this also means some more shops and internet - here you go :-)

First impressions from Fakarava snorkeling
And more low res Living & Free Diving in the Tuamotus pics