From Hao we had to cover some 325 miles to the NW to Fakarava. The charts showed a very small atoll named Hariaki half way that one of our guides said was uninhabited and reportedly had a shallow but possibly navigable pass on the southern side. In other words, no one ever goes there, and be careful if you do. Hariaki will forever be a defining stop on The Best Odyssey. After spotting a couple whales upon exiting Hao atoll we sailed all night, arriving early the next morning. Two fishing lines started zinging just as we were bringing them in. Tobey landed a nice Snapper and myself a very large Giant Trevally, which we let go as fish poisoning is prevalent in this type of fish in the Tuamotus.
I sent Lars off in the dinghy to scout the pass, which looked dicey at best. 45 minutes later he returned and said he thought it was doable. I put Martin up on the first spreader, took a deep breath and followed Lars in. In short, we made it, with my heart in my throat. My log entry, once we had the anchor down was “I’m a fucking nut ball.” I downed a beer, then told Lars that he and I would have to get together on what was “doable” in the near future. But god what a place. Once my pulse and breathing returned to normal I took the time to look around and found what everyone else was gaping at. This kind of beauty cannot be captured and is rarely seen. We had it all to ourselves. If this island was in the Caribbean it would have a marina and a line of high rise hotels. We had sharks, fish, sun, palm trees, crystal clear water and not a lot else.
Knowing sharks would again be in play we headed out through the break to the outside in the dinghy to have a look around. Lars and I brought our guns hoping to get something tasty for dinner. I would put visibility at about 80′ as we dropped in- awesome. Varying coral fish roamed, but not in great numbers and only a solitary shark or two. I speared a small mackerel, then we moved back into the pass. The current was strong enough that swimming against it was a bit of a challenge, but we anchored the dinghy to have a go. This area was filled with all types of reef fish, and plenty of sharks- mostly black tips. I began to hunt a very thick but wary snapper, briefly wondering if I shot anything what the sharks would do. Martin came around and the two of us tried to work the fish together, but then a nice parrotfish presented and I took the shot. It was a good one, just behind the pectoral fin, but it also presented quite a bit of blood. By the time I had the fish in hand a very large black tip made a run right at me. I turned on my back, flipping my fins in his face, banging at his nose with my gun. As my spear line was through the fish I couldn’t reload the gun, and to be honest don’t think I could have anyway- it’s hard to reload when a shark is coming after you! Then for some reason the shark jerked away in telltale aggressive form and started after Martin, who was nowhere near my bleeding fish. I thought briefly my best move would be to get further away from him to draw the shark away, but at the same time I was the one with a gun and knife! Martin had nothing more than his fins, which he was using to pummel the shark in the face as best he could. Then just as suddenly as the shark attacked he went away, which had both Martin and I cheering in relief. The dinghy at this point was still 100 feet away and I yelled to them to get over to us. Then the shark returned, this time looking quite motivated. Again he went for Martin and as I closed the distance between us realized we had three more sharks coming into play. Now they were all around, coming at us from every direction.
Martin and I were desperately trying to close the distance to the dinghy while keeping our fins between us and the sharks. It occurred to me I should drop the fish, but I wasn’t quite ready to give up the goods. I yelled again for help from the dinghy, but they seemed to be having trouble with the anchor. Finally we closed the distance and I think in unison Martin and I literally flew into the dinghy, breathing hard. Martin and I looked at each other and just gave the universal high five. We’d made it and the adrenaline was coursing through our veins. He later told me this trip was the best of his life, and the shark incident the highlight by far. I couldn’t have agreed more. No one was really all that psyched just then to get back in the water so we retired to Discovery to swap death stories.
That evening we built a bonfire on the beach under the nearly full moon. Lars and I scaled a couple palm trees, whose coconuts make for delicious rum drinks and also provided our chefs with fresh coconut for dinner- a mix of fresh fish and coconut rice wrapped in banana leaves roasted on the fire. The moonlight; the remoteness; the laughs and smiles; the amazing food; the beauty of our private paradise all came together to create a perfect evening. Well, that and a hysterical performance of “puff the magic dragon” by Iain, who had to serve two forfeits compliments of Dirty Clubs that night (the other a naked swim around Discovery, which given our shark encounter that day was not a light one). These are simply the moments that define our lives and these moments just can’t be beat.
Our schedule unfortunately forced us out of Hariaki the next day, which was as thrilling and scary as it was coming in. The forecast showed one more day of light airs but wind on the horizon to finish off the trip in style. We sailed 24 hours up to Fakarava, the second largest atoll in the Tuamotus. A few hours before arrival the wind kicked up as predicted and we punched it to get in early to take advantage of the day. The Tuamotus are all atolls and never rise higher than a coconut tree as they have almost no real estate. Their reefs circle sometimes vast lagoons, which no matter the wind direction present glassy flat water in their lee. We anchored under the north side of the island just inside the pass and wasted no time getting out the gear.
Everyone kited all day. Then again the next. And now today, the last day of the trip we’re all a little bit sun burned, a whole lot worn out; and I suppose all feeling a bit like I am now writing this log. That we’ve tasted something few ever will and however life spins in the days to come this trip will always be a precious memory.