scuba diving with sharks tuamotus brianna randall and rob roberts sailing blog

Playing with Sharks

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Fishing, Ocean Tales

scuba diving with sharks tuamotus brianna randall and rob roberts sailing blog

I’ve come to peace with sharks. They still give me pause when I see them coming toward me underwater, and they definitely earn my cautious respect. But I’m over the hump on my fear factor. The turning point — besides the shark immersion at Kauehi pass — was scubadiving the so-called “shark wall” at Fakarava’s south pass. This world heritage site is famous for those interested in swimming with the sharks. We watched hundreds of sharks hanging out along the wall, cruising through the shallow flats, and hovering in blue depths at 100 feet. I spent long minutes simply studying the slow rhythm of their big gills flaring in and out, in and out.

Sharks are smart. Graceful. And not dangerous, unless you do something stupid.

scuba diving with sharks tuamotus brianna randall and rob roberts sailing blog

It’s kind of like the peace I made with bears after living in Montana for a couple of years. Respect the bears’ space, don’t harrass them or tempt them, and they are awesome to watch in the woods. Same with bees, when I helped Rob extract honey from his hives a couple of times. Respect the bees’ homes and personal space, don’t swat at them or make them angry, and they’ll give you delicious honey instead of sting you.

The sharks in the Tuamotus are mostly blacktip and whitetip, known to be curious but not dangerous. Now, if I see a ten-foot hammerhead swimming toward me, I’m not going to feel peaceful at all. But these motu sharks are kind of like pets at anchorage. They come check out the boats, circle the anchors. Plus, they know that humans often go fishing, and learned to follow along.

scuba diving with sharks tuamotus brianna randall and rob roberts sailing blog

Rob is extra careful spearfishing, since the sharks will come up and snatch the speared fish right off his pole. They’re not interested in eating him, but if his arm got in the way of their snapper supper … well, I doubt they’d complain much. Spearfishing is definitely a group activity here, just in case. On the other hand, Rob’s also had a blast flyfishing for the smaller-sized sharks. He hooks them as the patrol the shallows at low tide, so he can study them up close before releasing them back to the sea.

I don’t really want to catch a shark, even if I do feel more comfortable swimming with them. Same with bears and bees: I have no need to contain the things that might harm me, but I do want to understand them enough to appreciate their purpose, their beauty, and their role on this grand blue globe we all share.

 

 

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.

 

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