The weather finally settled down in Toau, and we jumped on the opportunity to pile in the dinghy with our scuba tanks, get out of the pass and dive the outside reef. Scooting along the reef edge was a strange experience, seeing the bottom, crystal clear, thirty feet beneath you on one side of the dingy, while it drops away to dark blue and about 4000 feet on the other side! We found a white sand patch to drop our anchor in, amongst a maze of underwater canyons cutting into the reef ledge. Hunter snorkeled above us, with some other friends, while Kai, Jon and I dropped down. It was an IMAX-movie-worthy, underwater, WOWnderland. Schools of crazy, beautiful, tropical fish, (many species new to us), thriving corals, swaying anemones, teeming with of every conceivable variety and size of Clown-fish. The "drop-off" is an absurdly intimidating thing, as you are in absolutely glass-clear water and there is the coral ledge you are swimming on in about forty to fifty feet and then it just plummets away into a black abyss-a four-thousand foot underwater cliff, right beside you!
Of course, this is where the larger creatures are cruising at depths no human could venture to without an underwater submarine, so its really thrilling to see what comes up. We dove the vertical wall and peered into the gloom beneath us but as we were also wanting to keep an eye on Hunter on the surface, we had to be content to hover around fifty feet and just speculate on what might be down there. Once in awhile, something larger and more pelagic would drift up to check us out. Kai cruised further out over the ledge and spotted giant Mantas cruising beneath us, at about 90 feet. The previous day, on a free dive in another spot, we had been blessed to have one little guy (ten foot wing span) come up to about ten feet below the dinghy, to visit us, before continuing on his way.
Back at the boat, we downloaded the weather files on the SSB and noticed another low was headed our way. This meant we would (again) be pinned down by winds too strong to get outside the pass to dive-and it was looking like that weather system would hold like that for another week or so, once it set in.
We had been lucky, during the blow last week -- secure on our mooring and piles of our own tackle -- but we were heartbroken to hear that other cruisers back on Fakarava had not been so fortunate and had lost their boat during the high winds. Something had broken free and their ground tackle had parted and the boat was dashed against a concrete wharf and then onto some coral heads. Fortunately, no one was hurt but last we heard, they were still trying to float the boat and save her.
It was hard to leave Tuoau, and the charming Gaston and Valentine (and their lovely family) who we'd had such a nice time with, but it was time to go.
Our fuel, emergency provisions (vodka! toilet paper!) and food stores had (once again) reached the point of no return. There comes a time, when you really can't invent anything new out of lentils or powdered milk or pancake mix. We had actually resorted to trying out the large snails that live on the beaches here and truthfully, they weren't too bad (steamed in heaps of garlic and butter), as long as you can get past the fact that those suckers are about eight times the size of a normal Escargot!
The lure of Tahiti and lushness and tropical fruits and huge supermarkets and promises of steak with real French fries and a real glass of GOOD red wine, won out in the end. ...and my mom had sent me new contact lenses that were already waiting for me at the post in Papeete- and I can't use the underwater camera without them!
We set sail yesterday afternoon, settling back into our "life at sea' routine. A gentle night and an easy trade wind set us on our way South to the bright lights and big city of Papeete. Our fist real city in four and a half months! Hunter and I talked all during the night watch about what we would buy and what we wanted to eat first-- perfume, get the laundry done and eat heaps of ice cream!