Cruising again . . . for a while!
03 June 2012 | Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva, Marquesas
One of the many pleasures of the cruising lifestyle is having time to read - something I found precious little of while still on the treadmill. One of many things I did to get the boat ready to leave Olympia was load a library of books that had been waiting for years for me to read - one of which was James Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific," which I finished the other night sitting at anchor in beautiful Anaho Bay on the north shore of Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas. Of course, Michener's South Pacific is not about cruising in French Polynesia; we have other books on board that cover that subject, from Jack London's account of being here in the early 1900's in "The Cruise of the Snark" to more modern cruising guides. London laments the hapless demise of once flourishing, proud and fierce Marquesan tribes with the advent of contact with the outside world. Today there is evidence of efforts to reclaim some of that lost heritage and pride. But contrary to some accounts of hospitable and outgoing modern-day Marquesans, we have yet to see any real effervescence in the local population. The people seem very reserved, if not unhappy, especially in larger towns; perhaps it is with the continued intrusion of outsiders and their influence on this tropical island "paradise." Unfortunately, we will not be here long enough to prove our first impressions wrong, because we are just one of the multitudes of cruisers 'passing through' paradise and trying to leave a clean wake.
But we have stayed long enough to get back into "cruising mode" for the past few weeks, and in the process have visited many of the islands and stunningly beautiful anchorages here in the Marquesas. We will be in "passage mode" again soon, as we head for the Tuamotus for a visit to a couple of atolls, and then on to Tahiti and the Society Islands (more on this in a moment). We started on Hiva Oa, where we stayed first in Tahuku Bay - a nice but very crowded anchorage with a commercial wharf, the local fishing fleet and nearby town of Atuona. We then went to the nearby island of Tahuata, where we anchored in the picture perfect Hana Moe Noa bay - with rugged, verdant hillsides leading down to a white sand beach lined with palm trees and absolutely crystal clear, aquamarine water with schools of fish swimming by and, to top it all off, large manta rays - five or six feet "wing tip to wing tip" - cruising through the bay and right next to the boat! The allure of this place took a small hit when I decided to go for a swim and got tangled up with a jelly fish that left welts around my neck and down my back; the next time we went in the water to go snorkeling it was with our full-body lyrca suits!
We tried twice to go to the southernmost island of Fatu Hiva - a favorite among cruisers - but it just wasn't in the cards. The first time we turned back with mechanical issues - the mainsail furler went on vacation with the first 10 feet of the sail rolled out, and when got back to Hana Moe Noa to deal with it we found a bolt that holds the alternator on its bracket had broken. The next day, with these problems fixed, we headed out again, only to get turned back yet again, this time by heavy wind and seas that would have made the 35 mile beat to weather miserable for us, and hard on the boat; motoring was not an option (we were too low on fuel), and crashing into the waves we were lucky to keep forward progress over 3 knots, so it was doubtful we would make landfall before dark. We turned around and enjoyed a brisk downwind run back to Hiva Oa, where we put into Hanamenu Bay on the northwest sided of the island. One cruising guide says Hanamenu is like anchoring in the Grand Canyon - well, there were some impressive cliffs lining the bay, but nothing like the Sea of Cortez where the Grand Canyon analogy is much more apropos! At the head of the bay was a small beach with what was supposed to be an abandoned village tucked back in the palm trees. That evening several villagers appeared on the beach - not so abandoned after all! The next day we might have gone ashore, except that it rained all day and so hard at times we could not even see the entrance to the bay; and this was supposed to be the "dry side" of the island!
From Hananemu we headed north to the island of Nuku Hiva, where we made landfall at Taioa Bay, also known as Daniel's Bay - the site of the TV series "Survivor Marquesas" episodes. To say this bay was breathtaking would be an understatement. (The new picture at the upper right of the page is of Bright Angel at anchor in Daniel's Bay.) We spent the first day napping (we had both been up all night on the passage from Hiva Oa), and the next day we hiked to Vaipo Falls - a spectacular 900 foot cascade over hills that look like something out of Jurrasic Park! The three or four mile hike started out in a small village at the head of neighboring Hakaui Bay, where the well-manicured tropical gardens and fruit orchards were a delight, and wound its way up through forests of mango and palm trees and lush green meadows, past towering cliffs and remnants of ancient stone walls, cisterns and "pae-pae" - stone ceremonial platforms. Along the way we had to ford the river coming down the falls five times - refreshing, but sometimes challenging as the water was flowing swiftly and at times thigh deep! On our way back down we stopped and bought some fruit from a couple in the village - bananas, pamplemouse (grapefruit on steroids!), oranges and mangos - we were loaded down for the trip back to the dinghy!
From Daniel's Bay we went the short distance to Taiohae Bay - a large open bay, with a town by the same name that is the capital of the Marquesas. Here we "checked in" with the gendarmes, provisioned, bought fuel, and caught-up with several cruising friends. Fueling was an interesting exercise, to say the least: it required the assistance of another cruiser friend (who had been through the drill the day before and knew how and what to do) and involved med-mooring to the commercial wharf - drop a bow anchor and then back up to the wharf, throw a messenger line to the guy on the wharf, then use the messenger to get two stern lines ashore, and the fuel hose back to the boat - all this with 10-15 knots of wind on the beam, and swell to boot! The alternative was to make multiple trips back and forth in the dinghy with jerry cans; we have three (60 liters total capacity) and we took on almost 275 liters of fuel - that would have been quite a few trips in the dink, to say nothing of the syphoning operation to transfer all that fuel from the jerry cans to the tanks! When we were finished fueling and went to pick up the bow anchor, we found it fouled on a large (1½") steel cable - that was fun! (When we left Atuona our stern anchor was fouled on a steel cable; anchoring anywhere in the vicinity of commercial wharfs now makes me nervous!)
From Taiohae we went to the north side of Nuku Hiva to beautiful Anaho Bay - perhaps our favorite anchorage so far. The cliffs and hills surrounding the bay were breathtaking, and there was a beautiful white sand beach and a coconut plantation ashore. And the swell was almost non-existent - very peaceful! We relaxed, read, went ashore and hiked to the neighboring bay, and slept out in the cockpit!
But cruising in the Marquesas is a far cry from the cruising we knew in the Pacific Northwest! There is no such thing as a perfectly calm anchorage - there is always ocean swell to contend with, to a greater or lesser degree; sometimes it is necessary to set both a bow and a stern anchor to hold the bow of the boat into the swell, and at other times (such as in Anaho) the prevailing wind will suffice to keep you oriented into the swell. But should your boat drift beam-on to the swell, the resultant rolling from side to side can be most uncomfortable and annoying - as can too much swell on the bow; but pitching is better than rolling, if only by degree! And moving from one anchorage to the next - even if only five or 10 miles away - involves an "ocean passage" where everything must be secured, above and below decks, to deal with the inevitable waves and swell out on the open ocean; perish any thought of towing the dinghy behind the boat! Moving from one island to the next may also involve an overnight passage, as when we left Hanamenu, Hiva Oa at 5 pm to arrive at Daniel's Bay, Nuku Hiva - 77 nautical miles away - just after sunrise at 7 am the next morning.
One of our favorite cruising pastimes - at least in Mexico, and especially in the Sea of Cortez - is beachcombing, which has not been very good here. The Marquesas are "young" volcanic islands with no fringing reefs ad rock rising "steep to" from the sea. When you do find a sandy beach, it is generally quite steep, with a good deal of surf, and not much above the surf line except coconuts! So our shore-side activities have involved more inland hiking: in Taiohae Bay and Atuona it was in and around town; in Daniel's Bay it was to the waterfall, and in Anoho Bay it was through the tropical forests and up and over the mountains (okay, it was probably just a hill, but it seemed like a mountain) to visit the town of Hatiheu on the next bay over (reputedly a favorite of Robert Louis Stevenson), where we had lunch in a nice (and only) restaurant and met some cruiser friends of ours, some who had hired guides and others who rented a car and had driven across the island from Taiohae (perhaps they had the right idea).
We are back in Taiohae Bay now, preparing to leave the Marquesas and make the 575 mile passage to the Tuamotus - where we expect to make landfall at Rangiroa atoll. The Tuamotus, one of the major archipelagoes of French Polynesia, are made up entirely of atolls - fringing coral reefs and low-lying motus (small islands) that encircle a lagoon. Most have villages; some even have luxury resorts, and many have pearl farms. All (that you can get into with a boat) have one or more passes through the reefs, and abundant coral heads in the lagoons to keep you on your toes navigating and anchoring. Getting through the passes is a lot about timing - going in at slack water because currents can be hellacious - and passes are sometimes narrow and shallow. This should be a real adventure!
After the Tuamotus it will be on to Tahiti and the Society Islands. We are looking forward to participating in late June in the Tahiti-Moorea Sailing Rendevous, sponsored in part by Latitude 38 magazine, where we expect to meet up with many of our cruising friends who did the "Pacific Puddle Jump" from Mexico. It should be fun!
Take care, and thanks for checking in. We will report on the Tuaomotus in our next post!