sharks scuba diving in the tuamotus on the horizon line travel and sailing blog brianna and rob

Cue the Soundtrack from Jaws

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Ocean Tales, Outdoor Adventures

diving with sharks scuba diving in the tuamotus on the horizon line travel and sailing blog brianna and rob

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!?!!!”

sharks scuba diving in the tuamotus on the horizon line travel and sailing blog brianna and rob

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.

scuba diving in the tuamotus on the horizon line travel and sailing blog brianna and rob

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.

 

snorkeling in tuamotus, bri on the horizon line travel and sailing blog south pacific

We’re in love (with psychedelic clams).

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Ocean Tales, Outdoor Adventures

snorkeling in tuamotus, bri on the horizon line travel and sailing blog south pacific

Sorry for the long radio silence. Turns out that paradise doesn’t include internet. Plus, Rob and I have been a pretty distracted the past few weeks. Why?

Because we’re in love. Giddy, giggly, bubbly blissful love. Not necessarily with each other, though our giddiness certainly overflows into more hugs and hand-holding. Rob and I are in love with the Tuamotus, the volcano atolls that formed rings of shallow coral in the middle of a deep sea. We’re in love with green water, blue hues, white sands, fringing coconut trees, tiny purple fish, giant psychedelic clams, sea cucumbers as thick as my leg, stealthy sharks, flying manta rays and diving fairy terns.

During the year before we left, Rob and I had a little tradition. Some nights just before we crawled into bed, exhausted from a day of playing, working, and living fully in Missoula, we’d pull up Google Earth on the laptop. We’d huddle close to the screen and zoom in on islands and bays we hoped to visit on our voyage. The ones that called us back time and again were the strange-looking thin circles in the middle of the Pacific: hollowed-out islands that looked like a lifesaver or a really skinny doughnut. But instead of a cream-filled center, these narrow coral islands encircled marvelous blue-green lagoons, teeming with some of the richest marine life on earth. The Tuamotus.

fishing for bonefish in tuamotus, rob on the horizon line sailing blog

And now we’re here. We get to spend every day inside of Google Earth, and it’s way better up close. We snorkel before breakfast, and then head to shore. I dance in front of some coconut trees, and watch Rob stalk the white sand flats with his 9-weight fly rod, playing with sharks, bonefish and jacks. “Isn’t it awesome?” he calls over his shoulder as we watch a pair of trigger fish mow down on some bait fish. “It’s like hunting, but in the ocean.” Lunch break consists of tuna on crackers, some raisins and almonds, and coconut water straight from a fresh-plucked nut. Then it’s on to more snorkeling, fish stalking, or beach-combing and biking with the local kids.

These islands are why we wanted to leave our beloved mountain home, why we left good jobs and great friends in search of unknown shores. The French sailboat anchored in front of us in Kauehi City (a village of 200 people and 2 roads) has been here for over a year. I can see exactly why, and would probably do the same if French Polynesia wasn’t strict about stowaways in their gorgeous, coveted country. If you’re not a citizen of the E.U., the government only allows you to spend 90 days in French Polynesia.

Unless Rob or I suddenly fall in love with a Tuamotuan or a Tahitian who wants to marry one (or both?) of us, we only have until the end of August to indulge our love affair with these spectacular coral atolls. Which means it’s time to stop writing and dive overboard to caress the psychedelic clams and majestic mantas again.

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