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Hurry Up and Wait

So usually this is an optional thing. My Grandpa used to to say this when I would race to the next stoplight. Full speed ahead for what? But this saying has taken on new meaning as we navigate the Tuamoto Archipelago. In this region, to 'hurry up and wait' is simply and truly the needful... Because .... to get into an atoll, we must go through a pass. The currents, sea state and corals can be trolls.

We are in an area of atolls, geologic marvels that are seemingly inverted island caps. The remainder landmass in an atoll is a ring of coral reef and volcanic rock that separates the open ocean from the protected, shallower lagoon inside. A major benefit to cruisers is found when wind whipped ocean swells are stymied by the reefs and the interior lagoon remains calm by comparison. A major drawback to cruisers is found when one has to work smarter (and sometimes harder) to avoid bad bommie/anchor encounters. There are good bommie experiences for sure :: snorkeling to discover corals as the life-giving marine universe they are. Stand-up paddleboards, a near substitute in calm weather for snorkeling due to 20-foot crystal clear visibility. And then, dinghy excursions to white coral shores that host fist-sized hermit crabs, coconut palms, fragrant flowered trees and nesting sea birds.

To expand our experience of atolls, we planned a dive trip with a local dive master at the south end of Fakarava. This is a world destination for divers, as the local shops would tell, to come a swim with sharks. That was not our primary goal. In fact, another more unique dimension of atolls is drift snorkeling or drift diving. We indulged in both. Drift snorkeling happens when you take your dinghy at slack tide out to the area of a pass. There may be multiple passes and only one or two (or perhaps none) are navigable by yacht. These may be shallower or narrower but that often makes a perfect option for dinghy access and drifting. And that’s it, you take your dinghy out, don snorkel and fins, jump overboard and keep hold of the painter. With 15-20 foot visibility and the constant current, layers and layers of marine community are out and about as you just float along taking it all in. Get to the mouth, climb aboard and buzz back to start point for another go. Mike said it’s kinda like downhill skiing that way. The variety of corals, the variety of fish, the vibrant colors and the myriad textures are astounding.

But we wanted to go deeper and see the next layer below.

Our drift dive trip with Nico was amazing. Brian, Captain of SV Pawsitive Latitude, joined the fun and we shared a boat with a scuba adventuring couple from Alsace, France. At the south end of Fakarava the pass is a channel and falls off to a wall on the ocean side. The first dive took us out to the edge of that wall. It was a deep start. The perspective of dark water behind and brighter blue ahead as we moved toward the interior of the atoll was a great reminder of the liminal space we occupied. Plate coral six feet wide and brain coral the size of an elephant head. Vertical branches and long rimmed coral ledges. Yet the most striking aspect, at that point, was the number of grouper ... just everywhere. The brightly colored, flitting reef fish that you see on postcards almost went to the background for the astonishing number of grouper. We saw incidents of males sparring for protected space and incidents of their curiosity bringing them within reach to rub a hand along their side and belly. But they were congregating for the full-moon mating mash-ups that happen the months of June and July. Not a full moon yet, so we were seeing them at the pre-party gathering. Nico said there are about half the number that he encountered a few years ago. At that time he experienced pushing grouper aside to get through the mass of fish flesh. I cannot fathom what that would have been like. They were docile toward us and only seemed to get prickly with male-to-male territorial face-offs. There were so many!

Drifting along we passed platter sized anemones gently embracing hand sized clown fish. Absolutely magical! We took a tea and biscuit break on shore and then on to another dive. What so many others had traveled all this way to see, our second dive was about the reef sharks. Dropped in at a different point we covered new territory and made our way into the channel of sharks. Black-tipped, White-tipped and Nurse sharks to name a few. Hundreds of them were congregated and probably are chilling out, biding time as the moon waxes and grouper continue to throng the south pass. Another ‘hurry up and wait’?


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