It’s Wednesday morning in Hirifa and the the air pressure has risen 3 more millibars, which should signify that the High has come a bit closer and we’ve got the wind now. Breeze is now a fairly steady 20 knots gusting to 25 and that’s strong wind for the SE trades. Beetle hasn’t budged from where the anchor is down in the good holding sand bottom, nor have any of the other boats. It’s a bit grey outside as the clouds have returned in a fairly dense cover of puffy clouds with the larger darker squall clouds interspersed – the strongest wind will be with those squalls, only one went over the anchorage and that was last night.
Yesterday was a good day, lots of sunshine to go with the cooler wind, and I went and did some aquatic exploring in the form of snorkeling one of the reefs that is marked by a red-lit channel post – these are the reefy bits visible in the Google Earth satellite imagery that we’re all looking at as there are no navigational charts for this section of Fakarava. Turns out they are serious reefs, lots of calcium carbonate corals layered on top of a chunk of lava basalt rock that is 80 feet high and comes essentially straight up from the bottom to surface level. I anchored the dinghy by the simple expedient of tossing the grapnel anchor onto a sandy patch without obvious coral, and the anchor caught on a notch of the rock. Lots and lots of fishes underwater of different kinds, the big clams set into the coral in various places, and when you swim around the deep side there’s a drop-off that goes much deeper than in the drop-off are the bigger fish hiding out beneath the rock and coral overhangs. So that’s what the satellite imagery is warning us about – and do not hit one with the boat, it would be bad for the boat.
Then I went across to check out an area right along the shore and found that at high tide it is possible to take the dinghy directly into an indentation in the reef that goes right up to a small flat beach (10′ across), no chop, and there’s a section of reef that has been ground smooth – that must be the low point and the water washes through there and has turned the spiky uneven coral into a ribbon of smooth flat surface, like having a sidewalk to take you straight to the ocean-side of the reef. Over there I found two more pearl buoys sitting high and dry, and a bunch of black fish netting weashed up and stretched across the reef in various directions where it got caught on the coral. The coral up this high is all old dead coral, and the outer reef above the low water level is composed of chunks of broken off dead corals all lodged together – the unevenness of the coral turns the reef into a series interlocking little puzzle pieces that are surprisingly well joined together.
I learned during the radio net that at Liza’s place on the motu is a set of lemon shark jaws hanging from a tree. It seems that the folks living in the atolls treat sharks somewhat like Americans treat wolves – not so good, and if the wrong one shows up they will go kill the animal. In Liza’s case there were kids swimming on the beach and she saw the Lemon shark there, and those sharks have a tendency to attack anything – including people. Out came the kids and she went in to get the shark. I don’t know how one targets a specific animal out of the many sharks here, but they do; the story about the Tiger shark is the same thing, someone saw the Tiger shark, reported it to the dive shops, the dive shops sent people out specifically to find that animal and they did. In Liza’s case she found that Lemon shark and killed it – voila! – safe to go back in the water. I think what I’m learning is that if I see something other than a Blacktip, Whitetip, or Grey shark then I should assume the shark may NOT leave you alone, in which case get out of the water. The first two are very distinctive what with the vividly coloured fin-tips, the third one I don’t know about as I haven’t seen one but I do the know the Gray sharks are typically outside the reef in deeper water. And the Nurse sharks don’t count.
Had a nice dinner on board last night, talked a bit with Ashika, and was informed via the net the Palmerston Island now has THREE new mooring balls set up, managed by Bill and Bob. From what I remember about Palmerston, it’s a tiny island about 1000 miles off to the west, and there are two families living on the island. The stories I’ve heard paint a picture of two feuding families that don’t talk to each other, which I must say is absurd; it seems that isn’t the case now, that Bill and Bob get along well and have struck a friendly deal – when a boat arrives the first one out in the skiff to greet the boat gets to ‘host’ the boat for the duration of the boat’s stay. Black Watch has arrived there (they were 10 days ahead of me departing La Cruz, Mexico) and said it was amazing – they were ashore for dinner at Bill or Bob’s house, pork and chicken and ice cream and all kinds of things. The supply ship arrives on a 2-3 month interval and Bill and Bob must have big freezers to keep everything in. Sounds like an unusual place.
The current news from the morning radio net is that a private catamaran Tandem Alika (or Tandem Malaka), possibly from San Diego or seen in San Diego, went on the reef at the south end of Hauahine last night. Tahiti Rescue flew a helicopter over and rescued the family of six (they are all ok, no injuries, now on shore at Huahine), and several cruisers I know that were part of the Puddle Jump had moved anchorage to right there at the south end in order to maximize protection from the strong ESE winds: Terrapin, Beach Flea, and Cape D went out in their dinghies to try and help. Beach Flea in particular has a large dinghy with a powerful 25hp motor. The catamaran went up after dark and they are on the outside of the reef, it appears they were attempting to enter (or round) Huahine right after dark at 6pm when things went wrong and possibly misjudged the reef. Conditions at the time were 20+ knots from the ESE and a relatively large sea state. The catamaran is definitely on the reef this morning, the cruisers are going back out to see if the boat is salvageable, and recover what they can from the boat for the family. It’s got to be tough working around the sharp coral reef in rubber boats with any kind of swell at all, and the swell is up today. And just walking across the jagged exposed reef in daylight at low tide is difficult to do without turning an ankle (hiking boots are more in order than flip flops). I hope everyone is careful!
It’s time to put the show on the road at this end, I’ll be launching the dinghy and doing some more aquatic exploring today. Would also be fun to visit Liza around sunset and see if she has a chilled beverage available – would be fun to try out her Snack Shack. I also talked with SV Naoma after the net, turns out that Liz on Swell (currently sailing from Tuamotus to Huahine) has a corroded HF radio and therefore doesn’t get out well, but she is in email contact with Naoma and he should have her position for the net this evening.
Enjoy the day! The grey clouds have broken up some and now we’ve got a bit less wind and bit more sun.