A lone sailboat speeds from the lagoon to the open ocean through a narrow pass in a remote island. Waves break on either side of this pass, crashing on pink-white sands as the sea floor rises abruptly from 2,000 feet deep to zero at the shore of this Pacific atoll. Sailing through the pass is carefully timed during slack tide to avoid the waves and eddies created by the 8 knot current as the sea rushes in and out of the lagoon. Just as the sailboat clears the pass, two people jump overboard. The sailboat keeps going.
Cue the soundtrack from Jaws.
This was the scene as Kayanos left Kauehi, and Rob and I were the ones who jumped off. On purpose. And so excited to snorkel the pass that we almost peed our pants. After we both dove overboard, Rob — who got his mask on first — immediately said, “Wow. There’s a shark right here, Bri!” I shoved on my gear so I wouldn’t miss the shark sighting, as I had on a few of our previous snorkeling trips. I looked below to see not one shark, but dozens of sharks swimming towards us out of the crystal blue depths. I made a calm and appreciative noise through my snorkel that sounded roughly like, “Mmpharrghgh!?!!!”
Talk about freaky. Sure, I knew the Marquesas and Tuamotus are renowned for having healthy, thriving shark populations. And I’d seen them swimming around in Nuku Hiva, following fishing boats for scraps. But I’d only seen a shark underwater exactly twice before. And they both swam away from me, not at me. Adrenaline pumping, I slowed my breathing and followed Rob toward the reef and shallower water.
I should clarify that my body followed Rob while my head followed the progress of the 7 or 8 sharks following us. They stayed a respectful 10 feet away, curious about why the hell humans would jump off a moving boat in the middle of a deep blue sea. I was starting to feel curious about that myself. Once we could see bottom, though, I immediately felt safer — a completely illogical reaction, since the sharks could eat us just easily in five feet of water as 1,000 feet of water. But these sharks weren’t going to eat us. First off, they were “small” blacktip and whitetip sharks, only about 5 or 6 feet long. Second, they had plenty of other food.
Once over the reef, we could see hundreds, maybe thousands, of fish. Big jacks, mackeral, snapper, grouper, parrotfish. Colorful butterfly fish, trigger fish, squirrel fish, angel fish and wrasses. The visibility was probably 80 feet, and the coral was a diverse blanket of living color. All around us were moving mini-dramas of fish mating, fighting, eating, hiding, swooping. The sharks lost interest in us, and resumed their slow cruise back and forth between the reef and the depths. It was the most amazing snorkeling experience I’ve ever had.
After about 15 minutes, Rob and I began the second part of the Remote Pass Snorkel Adventure: getting back on the sailboat. We swam against the current to make our way out of the pass toward the ocean. Kayanos was hove-to (as close to parked as a sailboat gets) about one mile away from us. We waved our arms several times as we swam to a more mellow spot, signaling we were ready for pickup. Ben and Sarah sailed toward us at about 6 knots, then once again expertly heaved-to to slow down.
They threw out a floating line, and Rob made sure I was holding on before he latched on behind me. We were getting dragged fast enough behind the boat that my bathing suit bottoms came off, but managed to pull ourselves hand over hand until we reached the stern. Sarah let down a rubber fender as a step. Rob had to push my butt up as I hauled myself over the rail four feet above my head. By the time we both flopped into the cockpit, we were breathing heavy and totally amped on endorphins.
I know most people in their right mind wouldn’t jump off a moving sailboat into unknown shark-infested waters in the middle of nowhere. But they’re definitely missing out. I highly recommend the Remote Pass Snorkel Adventure, and hope that someday we’ll find another accomodating (and skilled) captain who let’s us dive overboard to investigate the deep crystal blue.