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Diving with Sharks! Fakarava, Tuamotus, French Polynesia

Fakarava

June 7th, 2018:

Southwest of Kauehi is the atoll of Fakarava. Fakarava South is well known in the diving world for one of the most amazing shark drift dives. We were super excited to be heading there to freedive it and snorkel. We entered through the south pass with La Cigale directly behind us. Looking back, I’m unsure why, but we decide to take the east channel through to get to the anchorage/mooring area. It was only 3 meters at one point, which is plenty deep, but no room for error. As we motored against a strong 4 kt current, it looked like the reef was going to reach our keel at any second and we weren’t moving past it very fast. We made it, though on pins and needles the whole time.

We arrived on Tuesday to find that the anchorage was “empty”. There were only 4 other boats there and 2 free moorings were available. We grabbed one, but unfortunately the other one was too close to the other boat for La Cigale to grab, so they braved the anchoring within all of the coral littered bottom. This normally very crowded anchorage had emptied out due to the supply ship that arrives in North Fakarava on Wednesdays. Most of the cruisers all head up there on Tuesday to be there first thing in the morning on Wednesday for fresh produce. I wish I could say that we couldn’t have planned it better, but we didn’t plan it that way at all.

As we settled in, it didn’t take long to realize that this place was chalk full of reef sharks. Just looking off of our boat down 35 ft to the bottom, we could see sharks circling around. For the first time, they weren’t just black tip reef sharks either. We could see Grey reef sharks and White Tip reef sharks as well. We slowly lowered ourselves into the water for a closer look. Yep, they were all over and “friendly”. At one point I was able to attract a total of 9 sharks near the boat by splashing around on the surface. They were curious, but that’s as far as it went. We quickly realized we weren’t on their menu.

Over the next few days, we snorkeled/free-dived the south pass. You do this by taking the dingy to the outside of the pass, and timed with the incoming tide/current, you drift back into the atoll, watching all of the sharks, Grouper, and other sea creatures along the way. There is a section called “the wall of sharks” , in which the sharks tend to congregate in huge masses. Over the course of 5 days I think we did the drift dive 8 times! Christian put a little video together of it. See it here on our YouTube Channel.

A week zoomed by. A portion of the kid boats we met in the Galapagos arrived here around the same time as well. We met up with SV Alondra, another kid boat from Canada, and a few other kid boats we hadn’t met yet. Edith on SV Alondra is a Marine Biologist and was very generous to put together a few boat school biology classes. She pulled out a few of her props for a lesson on Marine Mammals and again, on another day, her microscopes for a lesson on Plankton.

As our time in South Fakarava neared its end we had been out for nearly 3 weeks without reprovisioning. It was time to head up to “town”, Rotoava, in North Fakarava for a re-supply.

We had a great sail off the hook and back on again in the north end after dodging pearl farm buoys. See our swinging video here.

We anchored off of the town along with other cruiser friends. We first went to find some groceries. We were lucky to find that there were eggs available at the Fakarava Yacht Services facility. They also had wifi and coffee, both were not great , but did the trick. a coconut crab Ellamae and Megan off of SV Raftkin.Haley (Raftkin) and Nina

We spent a few days there, getting wifi, eating really good croissants, and doing a little SUP yoga and video with the ladies.The crew off of SV Today stopping over to say hello. They have a ocean plastic awareness program called “eat less plastic” in which they are promoting through their sailing voyage.

saying “fair winds” to Alondra.

We finally were ready to head out to the next atoll, Toau. There was just one issue, the wind switched to the north, the direction we wanted to head in. Video and photos to be posted on our Toau post, up next.

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Kauehi, Tuamotus – French Polynesia

Tuamotus: Kauehi 1st of 3 Atolls visited May 31 – June 6th, 2018

As we left Nuku Hiva, not even an hour out, we caught a huge Wahoo! We hand reeled it all of the way into the stern and it shook itself loose.

Our passage from the Marquesas to the Tuomotus took 5 days. We probably could have done it in 4 days if we had left earlier in the morning, but we didn’t. After the first night it was clear that if we kept up the good speeds we would arrive to Kauehi South Pass entrance way to early in the morning. We didn’t want to be anywhere too close to that atoll in the dark, so we actually had to slow ourselves down at one point to make sure we didn’t arrive to early in the morning.

Kauehi was out first atoll we’ve ever been to. We were told by many people that it was one of the best In the Tuamotus. Our friends on SV Summer and SV Dol Selene were there already, waiting for our arrival. We ended up timing it just right . We arrived at the pass entrance at 11am. It was low tide and turning , but current hadn’t switched yet. We were still able to sail in without any Hic-ups. We were prepared for the worst. I was on the bow looking for coral heads and the girls were up in the ratlines doing the same. We had about 3 kts current against us, but the water was flat and we were able to move through just fine under sail.

One of the draws to Kauehi, is its relatively easy pass entrance and a well charted zone to navigate in and through to both the south east anchorage and the village. When sailing through Atolls, you have to plan your timing through the passes, for the current can be very strong and standing waves can occur. You also have to watch out extremely carefully for coral heads. Some are charted in up to date navigation plotters, but not all. As we sailed through the pass we were surprised how clear the water was and how a coral head 20 feet down looked like it was 10 feet down. We were going to have to get use to that!

We sailed all the way into the south east anchorage and onto the hook successfully avoiding all coral heads. That was exiting! We were happy to make landfall, greeted by our neighbors, and go for our first crystal clear Tuamotus Atoll plunge.

Kauehi turned out to be one of our favorite places so far. Clear, warm water to snorkel in, easy to hop on our SUPs and go for a good paddle, our first close encounters with larger black tip reef sharks, good cruising friends and beach bar-b-ques. A few more of the boats we knew arrived with kids (SV La Cigale and SV Counting Stars), so our kids were extremely happy about that too!

Over a period of about 5 days, we made daily trips to the bommies (coral heads) to snorkel, morning SUP and swim exercise, morning boat schooling and boat to boat social hours. What more could you ask for?!

SV Counting Stars in the Sunrise. The boys heading off to freedive some Bommies (coral heads).Leo and Christian played while Laurel and Josie played. Adult play dates!Ellamae paddles the Xterraboard over to other kid boats many play dates over on La Cigale. Bonfires, hermit crab collecting and releasing, and potlucks on the beach .sourdough loafs and sourdough pancakes!

and many amazing sunsets 🌅.

Next stop, Fakarava Atoll!

Northwest Panama, remote heaven.

Northwest Panama, remote heaven.

After 3 weeks to the day of exploring Costa Rica, our pocket book had enough hole diggin’. We were ready to move on to Panama not just to save money, but also to explore more remote places, hopefully catch some uninhabited surf and discover new food. Ellamae is back with her biological father for 2 months, so you will notice she’s not in these photos.

January 25th, we sailed off the hook from Matapalo, Costa Rica and set our hydrovane for Panama. Of our 46 miles that day we only motored for 1.5 hrs. We would have drifted more, but wanted to get the hook down before dark. We anchored in Punta Balsa at 6pm, just after sunset. Not in the Sarana guide book, we found a few houses, a hotel and some fishermen. In the morning, while drinking our coffee, the Howler Monkeys were louder than we’ve heard so far. This anchorage was only a stop over for us.

After coffee we motored out an hour to make our way toward Isla Parida. For most of the morning we lacked wind and ended up motoring a total of 3 hours. The entry to the anchorage on Isla Parida is not one you want to do with poor lighting, we therefore wanted to get there before the sunset this time. We had great wind in the afternoon, and perfect for sailing into the anchorage with a couple of tacks and set the hook under sail. We had time for a quick swim in the warm but murky water. As we ate dinner during the sunset, we came to the conclusion that this was the most beautiful place that we’ve been anchored at.

The next day there, we swam and paddle boarded. We also took buckets to shore to fill up at the fresh water spring. We found two older Panamanian boys siting around the spring. It turns out, the whole island is privately owner and by many different people. They were there to watch that particular property. With my not so good of spanish we did establish that we were allowed to walk around and they also let us fill up on fresh water. In the afternoon, we had coconuts on the beach. A deer came and joined us for coconuts scraps to wrap up the day before dinner.

January 27, we motored out of the anchorage, following the suggested waypoints for navigating through the rocks and reefs. Our destination, Isla Cavada, amongst the Islas Secas group of isles. We sailed all but the first hour and the time it took to anchor. The anchoring was the tricky part. Following the Sarana Guide recommended waypoint, we noticed that the one other boat, a sport fishing yacht, was already in that exact location. We dropped anchor, failing twice, a hundred yards south of the waypoint, due to rocky bottom. We had enough light left to see that there was a more shallow spot further south. Third time’s a charm, we anchored in 15 feet mid-tide, so hopefully all was good. And it was. The island was beautiful, but we soon found out that it was private and we were not aloud to explore on shore.

Successful Paleo Plantain Muffins cooked in the pressure cooker!

January 30, We sailed off the hook at 7:30 am from Isla Cavada. We sailed the whole way (30 miles) to Ensenada de Rosario on the mainland of Panama. We were approached by a Military high speed pursuit boat. Needless to say our heart rates jumped up a notch. We intentionally made Taj visible. They got up close. We said “hola”, they looked at us and Taj, nodded and went on their way. Phew! Shortly after, we turned on the engine to get us into the anchorage safely and set the hook well. Great day sailing! We enjoyed the calm anchorage, but had a surprise visit, yet again, from the Navy in a panga. At first we weren’t sure it was Navy, it could have been local thieves, but Christian recognized the boat’s silhouette from seeing it out and about earlier. We had turned off our anchor light, thinking it would draw less attention to us from possible thieves, but really it drew the Navy right to us. They ended up just asking us a few questions about where we were from, where we were going, who was onboard and told us to turn on our anchor light. Once we repeated that we had kids onboard, they said “ok” and “adios”. That was a little nerve wracking to say the least. Christian had our bear spray and spot light ready just in case, but thankfully we didn’t need it. In a way, it’s great to know that the Navy is out watching over the waters. They were probably making sure we weren’t up to no good, hiding in a cove without our anchor light on. 😂😂😂

We ended up having a great night’s sleep. In the morning, Nina got to eat her yogurt that she spent all day the previous day making for her biology lesson. It was a success! This was the first time any of us had made yogurt. I’m stoked to know how to do it now for future passages. After a morning SUP, swim and boat-schooling, we took the dinghy to explore the estuary at high tide. We are so awed by the beauty here. Slowly cruising through the mangrove, there were birds everywhere! We didn’t see the crocodiles we hoped for, but everything else was amazing.

Feb 1, the next morning, we motored 10 miles around the corner, to Bahia Honda (aka Bahia Chinche). We read in our guide book about an establishment and anchorage called Domingo’s. Apparently, Domingo loves company and loves to trade random stuff for his fresh produce as well. Knowing this in advance, I rummaged through our boat for items to give away, most of which were toys and shoes from Taj in which he outgrew. Sure enough, after only an hour of being anchored in front of Domingo’s, an older Panamanian and young child came motoring out in a panga. With the largest smile on his face, the man introduced himself as Domingo. He came out with a bucket of lemons to give us! He only spoke Spanish, but he was very clear and articulate, and very talkative, which made it easy to distinguish what he was saying. He asked us for medicine for diarrhea, in which I gladly gave to him and I grabbed the hand-me-downs to give to him as well. He then asked us if we wanted anything else like bananas, cilantro, coconuts. Of course we said yes! He came back later in the day with cilantro, red bananas, coconuts, and pineapple! He also brought some wooden platters that he carves himself to sell. We bought one for $10. Not that we needed a platter, but we felt good supporting him and it would remind us of his great spirit.Not long after Domingo’s visit, two boys rowed up in a small canoe. The older of the two brothers spoke to us in English and asked for water to drink. The oldest was 23 and he was self taught in English. He loved to practice. We were impressed with how well he spoke. He was a middle child out of 16 kids. He was out fishing with his 15 year old brother. Before leaving he asked for any magazines. We gave him one of Nina’s old Rollingstones magazines and a few of her old books. He was so happy! The next day Domingo’s son, Kennedy showed up to our boat on a kayak with his son. He had a bag full of grapefruit, oranges, and lemons. We didn’t think we had more to trade, so we offered him money. He was very grateful. His son that was with him was 6 years old. He asked if we had a backpack for him. We managed to find an old one and threw in some toys and fishing gear. We paddled across the bay to get wifi. The paddle was successful, but the wifi wasn’t too much with the one lonely wifi antenna. The locals would gather around outside near the antenna to get their free wifi. The locals were definitely interested in us. I don’t think they get very many American visitors. If you are a cruiser and you are sailing through here, make sure to stop at Domingo anchorage in Bahia Honda (Bahia Chinche) and either purchase food from him or his sons or plan ahead and bring items to trade. They said they like backpacks, clothes, fishing gear etc.

Feb 3rd, we sailed off the hook and down to Isla Cebaco. We sailed the whole way and tacked into the bay to set our anchor. A beautiful bay. We came here hoping to get surf. Our first day we stayed in the bay and explored. On the 5th, we looked for surf by motoring to where a local pointed us as to where the surf break was. We were barely successful. I chose to swim and walked instead and Christian went to surf when I got back. The kids did school and played as usual.Homemade tortillas! Thanks to SV Luna Sea for the amazing flour tortilla recipe!

We also did some not so nice boat projects.Fixed a clogged head (toilet). Yuk!

We are in love with Panama’s beauty. We haven’t entered the land of expensive and craziness that we hear of near Panama City. So far, it’s been tropical islands, small fishing and local huts, much wildlife, and NO wifi. The only bummer so far is ALL OF THE TRASH that we’ve seen washed up on the beaches. Most of it, plastic bottles and flip flops and crocs type sandals.I found my gym!Shawnigan anchored off of Isla Cebaco.

Please leave a comment! I will try to respond as soon as we get reliable wifi!

3 weeks of sailing heaven!

A 3 week intermission from refilling the kitty was all it took to feel like I was back in sailing heaven again. I decided to extend my travel nurse contract in San Francisco for one more month under the stipulation that I get 3 weeks off to go back to my family and sail with them down the Sea of Cortez. It was just what we all needed; to be back together in warm weather, warm clear water and good family sailing time.

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Free diving mamma.

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Nina’s triumphant pose as she completes a 40 foot deep fin-less dive.

I met up with the family in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico. I got there by driving 11 hours in a rental car to Phoenix and then taking an 11 hour Tufesa Bus ride across the border from Phoenix to San Carlos all in a matter of 30 hours. Upon arriving to Mexico, my spirit was lifted. I was so excited to spend this time with my family after 3.5 months of working in San Francisco and only seeing them a handful of days during that time. It was time to get some family lovin’.img_7613

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Free-Diving Daddy

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Ellamae’s touch down at 20 feet.

After a few days in San Carlos, we were stocked up and ready to head out.  The weather window looked great for heading across the Sea of Cortez, so we opted to leave while we could get good wind.  On Sunday, Oct 15th, after our morning in the anchorage and grocery re-load, we sailed off the hook and out of the anchorage. We quickly realized that sailing under jib alone was going to work just fine.  We set our course  on a nice downwind reach toward Isla Carmen, just off of Loreto on the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez. See our short post of pictures and videos here. 2 hours into our sail we hooked 2 Dorado (Mahi Mahi),one male and one female!

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Male Dorado, 2 hours south of San Carlos, Mexico.

The rest of the sail was relatively peaceful, with winds up to 30 kts and a furled jib. The wind maintained strength overnight and had us make landfall by 8 am the next morning. We dropped the anchor under sail at Perico anchorage on the east side of the area known as Bahia Salinas on Isla Carmen. With a few hours of rest after not sleeping so well over the night, we found energy in just having the excitement of being out on a deserted island with no one else around. We had the anchorage to ourselves and we were all together as one family unit!

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A little home-school art.

Screenshot (105)After a few days at Perico, we decided to head a few miles north to an anchorage called Painted Cliffs. Again, we had the anchorage to ourselves. Christian and I started to get in a morning routine of waking up at 4:30 am, drinking our bulletproof coffee and conversed under the stars and into the sunrise. I would then go for a 40-50 minute swim and Christian would go for a 5-10 mile stand-up paddle board excursion. The kids would wake up, start school and by lunch time we were all ready for a free-diving / fishing break.  Painted Cliffs had this amazing ledge to dive on. The visibility  was about 55 feet and the water was 84 F, even at 65 feet deep! After spearing a decent size grouper, we played around with going deep. Nina made it to 59 feet! I was surprised at how much easier it was for me to make it down to the bottom (65 feet) and stay down there for a little bit.  I thought for sure that it would take me a while to re-acclimate to diving since I had been on land for so long. I guess there’s muscle memory for that sport too. Having the water temp so warm and the visibility so clear, made a huge difference as well.

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Isla Carmen

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Nina’s fantastic effort at SUP handstand.

The weather forecast wasn’t looking so good for wind taking us anywhere, so we decided to head for the more southern anchorage on Isla Carmen known as Punta Colorado.  The view from there was stunning.

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Punta Colorado, Isla Carmen. East of Loreto, Baja California, Mexico.

The next day, after our morning routine, we were able to sail off the hook and head toward Isla Monserrate. Another sail onto the hook, and a swim in the water. Unfortunately, one hour after we fell asleep, we woke to our swim step clanking around. Christian went on deck to take a look and noticed the wind had switched onshore and was blowing 15 kts and quickly picking up speed to 20. It was pitch black and we had to get out of there fast. If you’re reading this and wondering what the heck I’m talking about… it’s not safe to be anchored on a lee-shore. Meaning, that you don’t want to be anchored where the wind is blowing toward shore, due to the chance of dragging anchor and having your boat end up crashed on the reef or on shore. There were submerged rocks and reefs on the chart that we had to make sure we stayed clear of.  Instead of sailing off the hook this time, we could not take any chances at being blown toward shore or the reef,  we used our engine to help motor us into the wind while Christian brought up the anchor.   With our RPM well above 2,300, we were able to make a clear path just out enough past the rocks to unfurl the jib and turned the engine off.  We made a quick 7 mile reach to Agua Verde, a familiar anchorage to come in to at O-Dark-30. All of this while the kids slept peacefully. We woke up to the familiar, lovely bay of Agua Verde having the northwestern anchorage to ourselves and our kids asking how we got there.

Agua Verde always holds a special place in our memories. There is just something about it we can’t quite describe. We’ve blogged about it before (here and here again), so I won’t go into it too much more. About mid-day another boat came into anchor by the name of Katie Gat.  Here are a few photos from the one full day that we spent there:

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S/V Shawnigan and S/V Katie Gat in Agua Verde, Baja California.

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Hydration station: Christian packs his Camelback everywhere, so we don’t risk getting dehydrated in the hot desert Baja environment.

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The local tienda (market) in Agua Verde.

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This is how we pack out our groceries in Agua Verde.

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Eating bags of frozen “agua de piña” we bought in Agua Verde for 10 pesos per bag. (That’s about $0.50 for a huge bag of frozen real fruit juice.)

From Agua Verde we had a nice sail off the hook, a down wind sail out of the bay, and the wind so nicely cocked around to keep us on a down wind run heading south to San Everisto.  We ended up staying one and a half days there, swimming, schooling, and stand-up paddle boarding. We were hoping to do a little more fresh produce shopping, but the tienda that was normally open was closed. We were guessing that we were a little early in the season for regular hours.

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Taj loves his magnet toys.

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Pizza making aboard S/V Shawnigan #tinymess

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Taj is mommy’s helper in the kitchen. We made gluten free bagels out of Pamela’s gluten free baking mix.

Next stop, Isla San Jose.  Another lovely, mostly beam reach, sail eastward across the channel to the old salt mine area on Isla San Jose. Again, we sailed onto the hook with the anchorage to ourselves. Shortly after dropping the anchor, we paddle boarded to shore for a walk along the shallow salt ponds and along the beach to the lighthouses and back. The walk ended up being 3 hours long!IMG_1857

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Terra the xterraboard with S/V Shawnigan anchored out of of Isla San Jose salt mine with the Sierra Gigante mountain range in the background.

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Above two groups of photos taken by Nina for her photography elective.

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Holding hands and sportin’ the gear on our salt mine walkabout. Photo by: Nina Lauducci

The next morning we sailed just south and dropped the hook for a short stop at the mangroves. We were apprehensive to stay longer with rumors of the no-see-ums being really bad. Our stop including a dingy tour of the mangrove. What a blast! We all jumped in and got a tow behind the dinghy.

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Isla San Jose Mangrove Dingy Tow

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Dinghy Tow

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Nina and Ellamae @ Isla San Jose Mangrove

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Taj steering the dinghy for a family mangrove tour at Isla San Jose.

Once done with our tour of the mangrove, we sailed around the east side of Isla San Francisco (a first for us) and passed it on by (another first). Alas, our time was starting to become limited, I had to get to La Paz to fly out by October 31st and the weather was predicting a drop off of wind. As many of you know, we like to sail as much as possible and avoid using the engine,  so we used to wind that we had that day, waved to Isla San Francisco and went straight to Ensenada Grande on Isla Partida.

As predicted, the wind was null the next day, so we were excited to take the opportunity to go dive with the Sea Lions at Los Islotes! When we woke, we were double excited, because our friend and fellow kid boat Waponi Woo showed up in the middle of the night and anchored next to us! We had basically been alone for almost 2 whole weeks, except for the one boat in Agua Verde. We were jazzed to see friends and even more jazzed to see a kid boat!

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Waponi Woo at Ensenada Grande

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As soon as everyone was awake, we motored our boats over to Los Islotes. We anchored in 58 feet of water where the Shaun and Heater guide shows to anchor. Waponi Woo anchored just west of us.  There was hardly a breath of wind and the water visibility was about 55 feet! We had the most amazing time swimming with the sea lions.

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Ryan from Waponi Woo
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Christian down at 25 feet.

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After an amazing morning with the Sea Lions we ventured back to Ensenada Grande for the night. Then next day we sailed to Caleta Lobos for one last relaxing anchorage to ourselves before heading into La Paz. We had 13 full days of no cell or wifi service. It was GREAT!!!

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Christian checking in on the Amigo Net.

The kids were happy to arrive to La Paz for a little kid boat action with S/V Secret Water.

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After a few days there, it was time to fly out for Ellamae and I. Ellamae was flying out to spend time with her Papa and I needed to go back to work in San Francisco for the month of November.  We took the Volaris flight from La Paz to Tijuana, then hopped across the border into San Diego. From there we parted ways at the airport. Next time we will all be together will be in the Puerto Vallarta area on December 1st.  Christian is single-handing it, with some help from Nina, until that time. Super dad!

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Looking down on Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida. One the very left you can just barely see Los Islotes (where we swam with the sea lions).

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Navionics working on the plane.

Moving on from San Carlos Oct. 15th

We just left San Carlos to make our way toward La Paz. We were going to go to Copper Canyon, but after doing the math, we realized we rather spend that $1,100 toward something else in the future. So, we took the favorable wind conditions to go have island time together as a family. We’re currently underway, left San Carlos at 1pm. So far, a downwind sail under jib alone going 6.5 kts on average.

We’ll be out of cell zone for a little while. Will post more pictures later.

The girls working on Ellamae’s “Big Life Journal”.