Sail to Dive
When we began planning for our new cruising life I knew I
wanted a SCUBA compressor. During the three years we spent buying and rebuilding
our boat I researched nearly five hundred issues, visited thousands of web sites
for marine equipment, diesel generators, flat screen displays, etc., etc. I
spent at least ten hours researching SCUBA compressors and I never found one we
could fit easily aboard (without modifications to either the boat or the
When we got to Hiva Oa in the Marquesas after our passage from
Mexico one of the first people we met - perhaps THE FIRST person we met, was
Chris Medak. She was sitting on the cement pier washing clothes in a bucket at
the spigot. Within 3 minutes of meeting she was asking us if we SCUBA dive and
if we are going to the Tuomotus. Three minutes later she had us following them
and drift diving. You see, they were a couple (with no kids) and still needed a
third person for drift diving. Of course, I never factored this into my
thinking, but it is obvious now that if you are drift diving you need one person
in a boat following the divers and two or more in the water.
That was our first lesson: try to find people who like to dive
as much as you do and travel together. The more divers the more options.
Chris and Markus on Pez Vela had a compressor. I was
immediately envious and at the same time attracted like a moth to a flame. My
inner voice said "follow that boat". What we found in the end were two
good friends and some great diving!
Two days later he came by in his dinghy and asked if I was
serious or not, he wants to sell the compressor. A stroke of luck on our part I
would say because the entire character of our cruising has been altered by our
possession of this machine. It turned our the machine was a Coltri Sub, an
Italian company, and one I had never heard of. It was far smaller then any of
the other commercially available units I had researched and fit easily in one of
our cockpit lockers. We had to shift some stuff around but it was no
The rest of this article is a tour of the diving we did on our
first trans-pacific voyage. Our first stop being the Marquesas, our last being
Although we did a half dozen dives in the Marquesas I would
not suggest that it should be a diving destination. But since we were there we
had to check out what was underneath the surface. We did see huge schools of
small fish, some barracuda and many large jacks of different varieties. On some
dives sharks were seen though not be me personally. The coral was almost
The real diving was ahead in the Tuomotus and we arrived there
in late May at Makemo in the central Tuomotus. The pass at the village was our
first experience with pass diving and was a good training ground. The pass was
wide with excellent reefs on either side, though a few dead spots. The reef
outside the pass was outrageous, the visibility beyond compare, easily 100ft on
good days much more.
We anchored just behind the town pier where the island traders
stopped to offload everything the village used from toilet paper to automobiles.
The dinghy trip to the reef outside the pass was less then a mile and easily
accomplished in twenty minutes. Standard practice was to put in down the reef a
ways to enjoy the outer reef before entering the pass.
Even better was the pass on the NW side of Makemo about 35
miles away. There is no village at this pass but a horseshoe shaped coral basin
provides total protection. The pass is less then a half mile from the anchorage
and the natural inflow of the tide pushes the diver right into the anchorage, an
excellent safety feature. The Western side of the pass is a wall to about
40-50ft which is absolutely festooned with coral and abounds in fish. The reef
outside the pass is unbelievable, far more extensive coral then at the main pass
by the village.
The greatest single feature of this site, however, is the
sharks. A school of 40 or 50 animals, Gray Reef sharks, sits inside the pass in
a deep hollow at about 65ft. They hover facing the pass presumably hoping for a
nice morsel to float past? The divers come in the pass and drift straight for
the pack and just as they become visible in the distance the current turns to
the right and pulls you right past their hide-out. Very exciting. Occasionally
one would strip off from the pack and come over to investigate, sniff a bit here
and there but they never showed any hostility or made threatening moves.
The diving at Tahanea was the best I have ever done. The reef
outside the pass was the most incredibly lush reef I have ever seen. Not a
wasted spot was uncovered by some coral lushness. The fish were so numerous I
felt I saw clouds floating by in all directions. Large Dogtooth Tuna swam buy
and even a Wahoo I believe (though it could have been a large Barracuda). Right
from the minute we got in the water there were sharks around. Three large Grays
swam up from deep below and sniff us out as we clung to the dinghy putting on
our gear in the water. We decided a rapid descent was the best move and quickly
got down to 120ft where the sharks decided we were not edible and swam off.
On the other side of the pass is a sheer wall going down to
about 200-250ft. We got as far as 130 on a few dives and the sharks at that site
were curious. We saw several Silvertip sharks as well of 10ft or more who
fortunately were not interested it us as well as many grays. It was a strange
feeling to be backed up to a wall at 120ft with your buddy trying to melt into
the rock as the shark drifts by. They always keep going though so we peel
ourselves away from the wall and swim on, always peering seaward to see what
might be coming.
After Tahanea we visited the famed Society Islands of which
Tahiti is the largest and most well known. We were not expecting much from the
Societies, dive wise. We had our fill in the Tuomotus and were biding our time
for green pastures to come. But we did make some effort at Huahine and Raitea
and at least in the latter our efforts paid off.
At Huahine we only did two dives, both on the same site right
outside the pass at Fare the main town on the island. The coral was wonderful,
in very good condition and the water clarity was fabulous, well above average
and certainly on the first of the two dives as good as the Tuomotus (which is to
say as good as I have ever seen it anywhere). But the fish were disappointing.
First, the site is used by local dive operators on a daily basis and the
practice of fish feeding is carried out as a display for divers. This causes
very strange behavior in the fish and when we entered the water where
immediately surrounded by hundreds of hungry fish nipping at our hands and BCs.
This and the monotony of the reef made the dive only average. There surely are
more and better dives on Huahine, this is obvious, but we lacked the time to
search around and find them on this pass.
On Raiatea we got lucky and picked an anchorage right at the
opening of the pass behind a small islet which broke the pass into two. Just in
front of the main town of Uturoa. We dove outside the reef in about 50-80ft
along a slope and found nice coral, tons of fish and at least a half dozen
sharks. On our final dive I startled two turtles in a cave nestled in the
wall along the North side of the Northernmost pass.
After this we left French Polynesia and stopped at Suvarov
(Suwarrow) in the Northern Cooks and due to horrible weather conditions we were
not able to dive. The anchorage was less then well sheltered and wind blew at a
constant 25k with some days closer to 30 or more. The long fetch of the lagoon
allowed waves up to 4ft to develop and the boat rocked up and down at anchor
violently at times. By the time the weather cleared and conditions improved we
were anxious to move on (having spent 7 days hunkered down in Suvarov) to Samoa.
We did not dive again until Savai'i the big island of Independent Samoa
(formerly Western Samoa).
Savai'i is a high island with no lagoon or fringing reef,
except in a few places. One of them is the bay of Asau on the Western end of the
island. The opening of the bay is enclosed with a coral reef and a pass has been
blasted in to allow boats to enter this huge bay. The pass was created by the US
Navy during WWII.
The reef at Savai'i was excellent and in pristine condition.
Clearly this is not a popular dive site or even one that any commercial operator
ever visits. We did drift diving with 2 divers in the water and one in the
dinghy (our Zodiac tender). The first dive ended badly with the dinghy unable to
find the divers who had to swim into the pass and climb up on a small motu. The
second dive went much better when the divers carried a dive flag on a
retractable pole which they deployed at the end of the dive. This allowed the
dinghy driver to easily locate the divers in the swells.
On both dives we saw huge schools of fish including jacks and
giant Queen Angelfish. The coral was a tongue and groove structure and contained
many little "valleys" to explore. We saw a wide variety of other life
including one turtle and a colony of fluorescent pink anemone, with anemone fish
of course. In general though I was really blown away by the condition of the
coral at Savai'i.
After Samoa we made a brief stop at Wallis but again, because
of weather, were unable to dive. Our next stop anyway, was Fiji so we didn't
feel any great rush considering what lay ahead. We arrived in Fiji at the new
Port of Entry Savusavu on the island of Vanua Levu. We anchored in front of the
Cousteeau Resort, owned by Jacques' grandson Michel. We went with them on a two
tank dive to Namena-Lala (called simply Namena) which is reputed to be one of
the best dive areas in Fiji.
The visibility was not what I had expected. The fabled clarity
of Fijian waters is clearly not something which happens every day. On both dives
visibility was only 50ft and large clouds of particulate matter obscured
visibility. The soft coral, however, was phenomenal and close up was more then
visible. The colors are incredible and I could stare at their translucent bodies
for hours. We dove on both the North and the South Save-A-Tack Passage (which we
later sailed through in the Queen Jane on our way to Makongai) and on the second
dive (North) we saw huge schools of barracuda as well as thousands of jacks. We
also saw a few gray reef sharks skulking about. The current was strong though
and we got separated from the group and decided to come up early rather then
risk drifting out of sight of the dive boat. We've heard too many stories of
divers being left behind on a reef until the guys wife starts asking around at
the dive shop 5 hours later. Sometimes they go back and find him, sometimes they
don't find him. So we have heard.
After Savusavu we sailed to a small island called Makongai.
This island is inhabited only by about a dozen families and are spread around
the island. A clam hatchery station and turtle hatchery are also on the island.
The diving was not bad here but we just randomly picked a spot on the reef and
dove so we had no reason to expect we would miraculously choose a primo spot.
But again the visibility was not great.
After Makongai we spent a week at Yanutha (Yanuca) in the
Mbengga (Beqa) lagoon just South of Viti Levu. This reef surrounds both Mbengga
Island and Yanutha Island and the Yanutha Island anchorage is within spitting
distance of the reef which to make things even easier for us had mooring balls
spread along it. We watched the first dive where the local dive operator's boats
tied up and the second day there we were off. I dove with a friend from another
boat and after about 25 minutes of exploring a system of coral pinnacles in less
then great visibility we started making for what looked like another pinnacle in
the distance only to find it was a 150ft steel ship which had sunk here.
The ship was adorned with a nice collection of soft corals of
varying colors and schools of little fish teemed about. The deck at the bow was
at about 55ft while the stern was down around 85ft close to the sand where you
can see the wheel part buried in the sand. She looks like she was intentionally
scuttled. There is no visible damage anywhere on the hull.
After Fiji we headed South to New Zealand. Out of the Typhoon
belt and into prime boat repair country. For the next four months we will slave
away up to our armpits in solvents, resins, cleaners and polishes and cuts and
bruises. All so we can return to the S. Pacific again next season for more
diving, of course!