miércoles, 13 de junio de 2007

Faaite Pics

Faaite Heaven

2007, June 4. Monday—8:15 A.M.
Faaite. Your average atoll in many ways, skipped over by most “cruisers” on their way from the Marquesas to Tahiti. But for those of us cruising surfers it is heaven on earth. An atoll is formed after the crater of an extinct volcano slips beneath the surface of the sea and over millions of years a coral reef builds up on the rim of the crater till it protrudes from the sea with sandy islets called motus. Atolls are hazardous to navigation by the fact that the only things visible from afar are the coco palms that adorn the low sandy motus. Add to this the currents flowing both in and out of the atolls and between the various atolls of the Tuamotus, and it is no wonder the island chain was once known as the “Dangerous Archipelago” and avoided by sailors altogether. But in the modern age of GPS and electronic chart and tide programs the archipelago has become more accessible, so as the years pass more and more sailors stop off in the Tuamotus.
After a hectic five day sail down from the Marquesas, made interesting by squally winds the entire time ranging from a comfortable ten knots to an obnoxious 35 knots plus; on the afternoon of May 23 the coco palms of Kauehi Atoll rose from the sea to break the monotony of putting in and shaking out reefs with the passing squalls. Unfortunately our arrival at the atoll’s entrance was timed with the setting of the sun. To enter the reef passes without the sun overhead is dangerous because it makes spotting the coral heads more difficult, so after looking over the pass from the exterior I decided we’d push on to Faaite rather than wait outside for the night.
Faaite is unique in more ways than one. Its reef pass faces west and outside the pass is a shallow shelf of sand and coral that allows one to anchor outside the atoll in the lee of the main motu. Thus with the arrival of daylight Avventura settled in on her anchor just south of the main current roaring out of the atoll. With no swell in the water Mike and I spent the first few days exploring the various motus, snorkeling in the brilliant clear waters of the lagoon and its pass (visibility over 80 feet), and getting to know the friendly Polynesian inhabitants. A couple of the local surfers introduced us around, and since they were the only two English speakers on the atoll, Francois and Carmen became fast friends. Francois works for one of the two surf charter boats that run around the archipelago, and he also seems to be related to everybody on the island which made him a good friend to have. One afternoon he introduced us to the “local beer,” a hideous concoction allowed to ferment for three months till it was somewhere between beer and rum. We gathered with a group of local men in the shade of a tree overlooking the lagoon drinking, learning a bit of Paumotu (“ma-ru-ru,” thank you; and “ai-ti-ta-paea,” your welcome) and talking with the group in broken English.
Faaite began to show its true colors one Tuesday morning when a south swell began to trickle in and the reef pass came to life. A beautiful little left began to peel over the shallow coral reef of the south side of the pass while a scary right-hander dumped on the north side of the pass in front of a nasty patch of dry reef. Later in the morning, after my first taste of the fast, hollow left, a huge power-cat charter boat showed up with big “O’Neil” stickers plastered all over it. It turned out to have eight pro surfers on board out here on what is called “O’Neil—The Mission,” a week-long “free-surfing contest.” Among the surfers on board were Ian Walsh, Roy Powers, Raimando (a Tahitian known for towing in at big Teahapoo), Australian Derek Howse, a young French surfer, a 17-year-old Maui kid named Clay who was really good, and a few others I never met. Also on board were some 26 members of the “media” along for the ride. All of a sudden the perfect empty waves had a crowd waiting.
The swell arrived right on cue the next day and, lucky for me, the pros decided to surf the gnarly right (7 of 8 were regular-footers), leaving the left for me to share with a handful of media members and a couple locals on boogie-boards. For the first time in my life I was introduced to a true South Pacific gem of a wave, a fast hollow left breaking over a shallow coral reef with the same shape every time and two separate tube sections that could be connected all the way through on the good sets. Over the next three days I caught more great waves and more clean barrels than I ever have before. The swell peaked at 6–8 feet, and for a couple hours I had it to myself with the pros and media all filming over on the right. I surfed two straight 8-hour days, and after another three-hour session on the third day I could no longer paddle from fatigue and rashes.
The swell backed off Friday as the pros left the atoll in our hands once more. Throughout their stay they had been exceedingly nice, especially Raimando and Derek Howse, both of whom I talked to for quite a while. Howse was really interested in my voyage and said his father was thinking of buying a sailboat on the east coast of the USA and sailing it back to Oz. Raimando served as the event host since he was the local of thr group. He always had a huge grin and called me into many a set wave, including my first legitimate barrel of the South Seas. He also provided some good information about surfspots in Tahiti and the Society Islands.
Despite how nice they all were I was glad to see the charter-cat leave with word that the swell would return on Saturday. Sure enough, the surf came up on cue and I surfed another 6 hours, just myself and Carmen (the self-proclaimed “barrel King of Faaite,” a statement he backed both on his boogie board and surfboard) surfing the biggest and best waves of the swell. We traded off sets, hooting the entire day as each of us ventured deeper into the pit and came out screaming. A few of the young local kids gathered on the inside shoulder on their boogie boards and every time I came out of a tube they’d give the “shaka” sign and say “Good wave!” I returned the shaka with a big grin, gave a hoot, and paddled back out for more. Never have I seen such beautiful emerald tubes forming one after the other, and to have the break virtually to myself was too good to be true. Another cruising boat had pulled up and anchored in the pass and they say they took some pictures, so if I get them I’ll be sure to post them ASAP. In the end I got the two biggest tubes of my life and the longest barrel-ride, at least four seconds connecting the two hollow sections.
Sunday saw the swell die out and it is back to waiting for the return of the surf, hoping it picks up before Saturday when we need to leave for Tahiti so Mike can make his June 14 flight home. For my part I'm thinking of returning to the Tuamotus after spending time in Tahiti making some much-needed repairs to Avventura, especially in fixing her autopilot and SSB tuner. But for now it’s another handful of days in paradise before we return to civilization.