Kia Orana from Suwarrow!
The SE wind finally backed off and clocked east, allowing us to ride peacefully to our anchor. We were the only boat here for a couple days, which was quite a treat. A French boat has since arrived, but their English is very limited, so Alyssa is still waiting in quiet anticipation of an English-speaking boat to arrive with new friends.
The only people who live on this island are the caretaker and his wife. They are very friendly and welcoming to this aquatic Eden. The clearance was straightforward and the fee a flat $50 USD. The rules he laid out are quite strict. We are not to visit the other motus or move the boat; we cannot spearfish or fish; we are not to throw anything overboard including food scraps (there are a dozen sharks swimming around the boat at any given time); and you need permission for everything. He also told us there are very aggressive sharks in the lagoon including Tigers, Blue, Mako, Grey, White Tip and Black Tip. I was filling my dive tanks yesterday and I guess the loud noise brought him out in his skiff to investigate. He looked concerned and asked if I was going to be doing some diving. [I had been diving for two days at this point!] I replied that I had planned on it and would like to visit the reef with the manta rays. He replied that not only is the manta ray reef closed [I dove it the past two days] but that I needed a special permit from Rarotonga to do any diving in the preserve! [Goes to show it’s always better to beg forgiveness than ask permission!] I jockeyed with him for a few minutes and he agreed to allow us to dive some of the other reefs near the anchorage but not Manta Reef. He also said he would not be responsible for any accidents. I understand his concern – we are over 400nm from any place with medical or dive-related emergency care and there isn’t an airstrip on the island so if something happened it could very well be fatal.
The over-protective caretaker notwithstanding, the diving has been phenomenal. Yesterday I dove in the morning with the manta rays on, what I later found out to be, a closed reef. I hovered near a healthy coral pinnacle surrounded by teams of brilliantly colored fish while three manta rays glided around me within feet. They are such magnificent and graceful creatures and the experience was amazing. The dive instantly took third place in my ranking of the best dives I have ever done. After lunch and a couple more tank fills I headed out [Lyss is deathly afraid of the sharks and refuses to get in the water] to another reef to the west of the anchorage. I was pleasantly surprised that the coral was even healthier in this spot than Manta Reef. The reef was full of life and color and was everything I was looking for. I followed an octopus around a few bommies while he danced from coral to coral changing colors to blend in. It also tucked its legs in and swam like a squid – I had never seen anything like it and it was amazing to film. During the dive I had a few large grey sharks come close to check me out but I stood my ground and they kept about 10 feet away while eyeing me. I did not feel intimidated by these passes as it felt like they were just curious and by me looking them in the eye and standing my ground it would be understood that I am not prey, but an equal or a predator. – I should explain that grey sharks are the larger (5-6 foot) reef sharks that have been known to take a bite out of spearfishers once in a while. The blacktips are much less aggressive and while there were many down there, I don’t even pay them attention. – So, towards the end of my dive I was only a foot off the sand, holding myself in position with my pole spear dug into the sand and filming beautiful blue fish darting in and out of a branch coral when I saw in my periphery a grey shark snaking through the tight canyon of coral bommies and closing on my position. I wasn’t immediately alarmed so I did not pull my pole spear from the sand; instead I swung the camera around to film him pass by. Well, as he got close, instead of taking a left, and thereby putting me on his starboard side, he turned the corner, saw me, and darted at my mask. It all happened so fast that I could barely register what was happening. My heart raced as he closed within a foot of my mask and then bolted away down the canyon I thought he would head down. It caught me off guard and I found myself pulling the spear tip up and pointing it at him while screaming aggressive obscenities at him through my regulator like I was trying to intimidate an opponent before a bar fight. After much chest pounding and a few deep breaths, I was able to lower my heart rate as he disappeared into the deep. I figured he was asserting his dominance and letting me know I was in his turf. He was also seeing if I would flee, and therefore prove I was prey. I decided that was enough excitement for the day and since I was alone, I slowly made my way back to the surface and the relative safety of the dinghy. I have it on film and will upload from Samoa. What a day.
We are enjoying light winds and a calm anchorage and will stay a week longer. The winds are forecast to fill in from the SE again but not as strong. When the trades turn easterly again we will sail for Samoa, three days and 430nm west.
Until then it’s hammock time, sewing projects, laundry, boat chores and of course more diving adventures with the friendly local grey sharks.
Hope all is well with everyone. Look forward to catching up when we reach civilization again.
Lewis & Alyssa
June 24, 2015
Suwarrow Atoll, Cook Islands