Failing to Head South
22 January 2020 | Ua Huka
Another long gap I’m afraid. I think this is becoming less of an ‘adventure’, in the classic sense, and more just life so it feels like there is less of note. Anyway, we have had a pretty busy time so there is enough to write up.
We had a great visit with my family and some old friends in the UK. The weather was typically English Christmas, cold and damp, which was a bit challenging for our thin blood but it was really good to reconnect and particularly nice to find everyone doing well. The flights were tough. It is a long way and we are increasingly concerned about our carbon footprint when we travel. It is all well and good crossing the Pacific on a few gallons of diesel but that is lost in the noise when you jump on a jet. Difficult decisions.... As usual we came back laden with boat parts and foodstuffs that we cannot get here so we are hopefully in pretty good shape until we get to Tahiti later in the year.
Back on the boat we decided to start moving towards the Gambier Islands, our summer destination. So far we have made it to the small island of Tahuata, just south of Hiva Oa. The main aim was to find some clear water to clean the hull. We had a VERY slow passage down from Nuku Hiva, dragging a fairly large ecosystem with us but we got to the sandy bay of Hanamoenoa, at the north end of Tuahata and the fun began.
I guess I got about 25% of the bottom cleaned before the sharks arrived. They were a pair of Gray Reef Sharks that our guide describes as “occasionally aggressive and dangerous”. I’m not sure how one defines ‘occasionally’ in these circumstances but they were way too friendly for my liking. At first they just made passes on the bottom, about 20’ below me, then they started to come up to nearer the surface and circle tightly - not good. I hung in there for a while until they started running straight at me. In the past I have driven them away by swimming straight at them but that did not work this time so I beat a hasty retreat to the dinghy. There I found a breathless Janaki who gone for a swim and had already been chased back to the boat. Enough for one day..... I was hoping they would lose interest by the next day but they obviously did not have a lot going on because they were circling underneath the boat before I even got in the water. Hull cleaning was going to have to wait....
Fortunately we spoke to some cruising friends on the short wave radio (SSB) and they told us the bay to the south end of the island, Baie Hanatefau, was normally shark free, possibly due to the large number of Dolphins. We are so glad we headed down here. It looked an unlikely location on the charts, just a nick in the coastline with no beaches, but it is a delightful spot. We are nestled in near the rocky shoreline under a very steep and high mountain. The wind loops over the mountain top to create an onshore airflow but without the usual wave action one associates with that wind direction. The scenery is magnificent although too close and large to photograph easily, and the snorkeling is much better than anticipated.
It is also locally known as Baie des dauphines with good reason. They are not there every day but there are sometimes dozens and dozens of small spinner(?) dolphins cruising the bay and leaping out of the water. I managed to snorkel out to them once and it was a remarkable experience. The water filled with high pitched chirps that even my old ears can hear and pods of dolphins swam below me. They are not inquisitive and make sure they maintain a reasonable distance but otherwise seem to ignore me. It was very difficult to keep up with them so I have dug out my free diving fins so that I may be able to keep up with them next time.
There is a small village at the other end of the bay. Like all the Polynesian villages we have seen, it is pretty and immaculately clean and the locals are a delight. Everyone greets you, no one pesters you. There are no shops but we have been given as much fruit as we can eat and a lovely lady called Taihena(sp?) provided lemonade and Internet access. We could do with some vegetables but that will probably have to wait until we go to Hiva Oa as no one seems to grow them here.
We are going to somewhat reluctantly head out on Sunday to go over to the town of Atuona on Hiva Oa and gets some diesel and provisions. Hopefully there will be some left. The supply boats take a remarkably long vacation over the Christmas break and all the Marquésan islands ran out of diesel, gasoline and most everything else. Everyone seems to take it in their stride so I guess it happens every year. Once we are topped up and the boat has been checked out we will head down to Fatu Hiva, the most southerly island in the Marquesas, and look for a suitable weather window for the one week passage down to the Gambiers. They are at 23S and out of the trade winds so we are having to brush up on our temperate zone weather forecasting, particularly in cyclone season. We are a good way out of the normal cyclone area, particularly in an El Niño neutral year such as this, but we are being VERY cautious.
I would like to post some photos but the little internet access we can find is not up to that so it will have to wait a while.
There in no Internet here so I will just keep writing. Our departure has been delayed by the locals preparing a feast for us. Actually it is everyone mucking in and the boundary between cruisers and locals is not really apparent. Many of the French cruisers have been here for many years and we are all treated like family. The whole thing deserves a separate post and photo album so more later.
Finally, a very slow Internet connection and more changes. The feast was great and I will post commented photos once I get the chance. We were ready to head over to Hiva Oa when someone showed us pictures of the museum at Ua Huka and we just had to go so we headed back North, the way we came.... and are somewhat precariously anchored bow and stern in a narrow canyon on Ua Huka and heading to the museum today. The museum is several miles away and the only way to get around on this small island is to hitchhike (le stop) but everyone is very friendly so it shouldn't be a problem.
After that we think we will head back to Nuku Hiva for a few days to reprovision before we make a second attempt to go south. We don't actually need to be anywhere in particular so all is well.