I was depressed. We booked and paid for four dives each through Topdive in Fakarava but engine failure threw a wrench into our plans. Specifically, a 10mm spanner that we used to bleed our engine every few hours when it died from too much air in the fuel system due to a leaky gasket. We did not have a spare. Even though we were under sail, we needed the engine because the Tuomoto Archipelago, home of Fakarava, is notorious for atolls with difficult passes and strong currents. With no engine, we would likely smash into the reefs on either side, which was a risk we were not willing to accept. Plus, we needed the engine to charge our GPS powering batteries.
We decided to bypass the Tuomotos and head straight for Tahiti, which has many mechanics, great marine stores, and a massive channel that is easy to navigate. Upon safe arrival, we began our work. After a week of procuring parts, making repairs, and cleaning the boat, we needed a break to actually enjoy Tahiti. I called Topdive which has a branch in Tahiti and rescheduled our dives.
Sunday morning we awoke at 0500 to go to the Papeete Market before diving. They opened at 0300, but we don’t wake up that early for shopping. The market covered a city block, with tented vendors selling fruits, vegetables, flowers, pastries, fish, and more. It was sensory overload, with vibrant colors, smells of pork belly grilling, and hundreds of people talking in different languages. We bought the local fruits, salad supplies, and fresh tuna before we returned to the boat at 0615 with time to relax before Topdive picked us up at 0730. We walked to the rendezvous at the ferry terminal in the rain, thankful that we were going to be underwater where the overcast sky and light rain was inconsequential.
The next two days of diving varied. We did four dives, each one better than the previous. The first dive was above a large coral reef with few fish. My dad had too little weight on his belt so he consumed his air quickly from fighting to stay underwater. He got passed to another group to do his safety stop while the rest of us kept diving. He did not miss much from that unremarkable dive. After learning his lesson, Dad added weight so he was better balanced. This dive made up for the first with many green and hawksbill turtles, colorful triggerfish, and fresh water spewing into the ocean from underground springs that made the water look like jelly. We both enjoyed the turtle dive and when we returned to the dive shop we spent time trying to identify all of the fish we encountered earlier. My favorites were the longfin bannerfish and the two clownfish living in an anemone right where a spring met the ocean.
The second day we did the turtle dive again. Our guide Tikei brought bread and was feeding the fish, so we had a massive school flitting around us. Although, I don’t agree with feeding fish because it changes their natural behavior, it was probably his response to our previous day of diving when my dad said, ”where are all the fish?” One large fish thought my go pro lens was food and tried to eat it, which led to a close picture.
The last dive was by far the best. It was an area called The White Valley close to the entrance to the commercial port. The current was strong and due to rain the past two days the visibility was poor. I hoped the visibility would not prevent us from seeing sharks. We descended and slowly swam into the current. Eventually, we arrived at the valley. The action was light initially. We saw a black tip and a lemon shark early in the dive, but they were distant. Next we saw a massive school of barracuda. Finally, we saw a large school of many fish that I couldn’t identify, and above it were about ten sharks. We joined the school while the sharks surrounded us. Intimidating gray reef sharks swam directly at me, veering away at the last second. Black tip sharks were everywhere and white tip reef sharks wiggled through holes in the coral like eels. The lemon sharks were the biggest, but they were the most shy, swimming past us at a distance with remoras trailing. We even saw a spotted eagle ray gliding with the current. Of the 25 or so dives I have done including The Blue Corner in Palau – the #2 dive in the world – this was my favorite.
We were not sure if it was the increased oxygen from the nitrox we were breathing – our mix was 32% oxygen while air is 21% – or if it was being surrounded by sharks, but we were euphoric when we got back to the dive boat. Everyone was. I no longer cared about skipping the Tuomotos. When my mom arrives we will dive The White Valley again. Our guide said you often see tiger sharks there, one of my bucket list items.
While we generally spend our time on top of the sea sailing, descending and spending a few hours with the creatures of the reef was special and we are hooked.