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Jon Bowermaster

From the Field
Expedition: Dangerous Archipelago
Kayaking French Polynesia's Tuamotu Islands

Explorer Jon Bowermaster sends dispatches from the deep South (Pacific).

Dispatch 4: Manta Rays and Black-Tipped Sharks

October 1, 2002

[Note: Nationalgeographic.com does not research or copyedit field dispatches.]

We left the beach on Fakarava at about 4:30 a.m. in the morning under moonlight, paddling across the 14-mile [22.5-kilometer] lagoon of Fakarava to the west side. We wanted to see what it was like to try to navigate a little bit by the stars and to watch the sun come up over this big lagoon. Fakarava is the second largest atoll in the Tuamotu chain. It would take us four or five hours of paddling.

We then spent a few days on a tiny motu, a tiny little sand spit on the far ocean side called Kirea where we had an incredible aquarium just off the beach and on the other side of the reef in front of us. It was filled with manta rays. Alex [Nicks] had six of them swim by in one day and [photographer] Pete [McBride] had what he called "a religious experience" as three of them played with him as he photographed. All of this was a little nerve-wracking only because there was always at least a trio of black-tipped sharks watching—which, even though we know they're safe or non-aggressive, is still a little bit intimidating.

The only small hitch in our plan was one night we had big winds come up—something we hadn't anticipated. Fortunately Pete was up early making pictures and prevented our tent from blowing into the water, because neither of us were sleeping in it.

Another day we paddled down the western coast and then portaged the kayaks up and over the reefs out towards the edge of the ocean. The hydraulics here are incredible in regards as to how the water flows in from the ocean, over the reef, and then back out the opposite the way. Then we rigged the boats in a trimaran and sailed them back up the interior lagoon along the ocean side, which was quite beautiful.

—Jon Bowermaster

Next: Dispatch 5: Anaa and Faaite >>

Click map to enlarge

Look for Jon Bowermaster's feature article on kayaking the Dangerous Archipelago in a future issue of Adventure. Subscribe Now and Save 62 percent off the cover price >>

Funding for this expedition was provided by the National Geographic Society Expeditions Council. For more information on the Council, its projects, and grants, e-mail ecouncil@ngs.org.


Photograph courtesy Jon Bowermaster; Map by NG Maps
  The Team
  Photo Gallery
  Dispatch 1
  Dispatch 2
  Dispatch 3
  • Dispatch 4
  Dispatch 5
  Dispatch 6
  Dispatch 7
  Dispatch 8


Audio: Dispatch 4: Manta Rays and Black-tipped Sharks (1:43)
"We had an incredible aquarium just off the beach... filled with manta rays. ...three of them ...swimming up around [Pete McBride] as he photographed."
RealPlayer: 28.8 | 56.6

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Related Web Sites

Ask the Expedition Advisor
Jon Bowermaster fielded reader's questions on planning an out-there adventure.

Descending the Dragon
Hear Bowermaster's dispatches from his kayak odyssey down the Vietnam coast.

Dispatches From the Birthplace of the Winds
See photos and hear dispatches from the expedition that inspired Bowermaster's new book, Birthplace of the Winds.

Video: Bowermaster on His Aleutian Odyssey
Find out what it took to take Alaska's Islands of the Four Mountains by kayak.

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