Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving at Atuona

On Nov. 14th we reluctantly left the unspoiled beauty of Kon Tiki Island on Raroia and sailed carefully across the lagoon following our in-bound track around the widely scattered reefs (that were now marked on our charts). NaomaOle, and Silent Sun were ahead of us and reported that the currents in the pass were manageable. 

Once clear of the pass we sailed a slightly lower course than the other boats (who were heading to the more eastward Fatu Hiva in The Marquesas) while we were headed to Tahuata. We had hoped to sail more on a reach, but as usual we were sailing close-hauled into about 18 knots of wind. 

We quickly settled into our “passage-making mode” for the three-day, 420-mile passage.  As usual, it was a rather arduous experience  with the waves hitting the starboard hull and splashing up at times, soaking whomever was on watch. We were so anxious to get to the The Marquesas, however, that we persevered and hunkered down. We had occasional radio checks with Naoma who was about 30 miles to the east of us sailing in identical conditions. We slept, we read, and we slept some more. 

We got hit by some heavy squalls the second night out that set us low of our course, forcing us to motor sail to windward for about four hours to get the batteries charged. This slowed our arrival time so we arrived in Tahuata at night on Nov. 17th. We could of tried to anchor in the dark at Hana Moe Noa, but decided to slowly reach back and forth in the lee of Tahuata, alternating between languid drifting and then getting hit by a 25-knot gust coming down from the mountains.  At daylight we slowly made our way into the bay and anchored among seven other boats, very very happy to finally be in the relative safety of The Marquesan Islands.

After any passage we always seem to need to fix things and this trip was no different. After resting a day we got to work repairing a broken lazy jack, replacing the genoa furling line and redesigning the lead that seemed to always chafe the line, and cleaning the bottom.  I also had to rotate the underwater inlet for the water maker (which apparently has a definite “upstream and downstream” orientation). In preparation (and out of experience) I fashioned “leashes” from dental floss for each tool I was using underwater to prevent the tools inevitable “sinking to the bottom of the ocean” when they slipped from my hand. 

The job involved holding on to the boat (which is raising up and down in the waves) with one hand, unscrewing four small screws and putting them into a small baggie with the other hand, and not forgetting to breath from the SCUBA rig as I tried to hold the bag of screws in my mouth. Once the screws were out I had to reverse the position of the brass inlet (which also wanted to sink to the bottom), then put caulking on the joint and reassemble the whole thing. You can image what a rat’s nest of dental floss I developed switching from one tool to the next, very much like the children’s game played weaving string between your fingers.

We sailed up to the village of Vaitahu to get provisions, but the shelves were bare. This peaceful village was the site of a violent massacre of 82 islander by the Spanish in the 1800s when they were vying for control of the Marquesas. 
The beautiful church at Vaitahu.
On November 20th we sailing four miles east to the small village of Vaitahu, which features a beautiful church, a bakery, and several small stores. It is a notoriously difficult harbor to anchor in given the up to 50-knot katabatibc winds that roar down the mountain valleys. I stayed on the boat while Meryl dinghied in to get some fresh bread and vegetables, but unfortunately the baker was in jail and the stores had no fresh food. On top of all of that the Post Office closed at 11:30 am so we couldn’t get a recharge card for our iPhone (that would have allowed us to access the Internet for a short while). Meryl did run into a very nice disabled man who gave her a bunch of limes, bananas, papaya, and carrots. We then had a pleasant sail back to Hana Moe Noa where we enjoyed a sundowner with fresh limes. 

The last two days were spent making water (we figured the harbor at Atuona would be crowded with boats and not a good place for water making) and doing a little snorkeling. The next day we took a quick dip into the ocean to cool off and were immediately stung by about a million little “string of pearls,” tiny jellyfish-type creatures that are very difficult to see. A quick vinegar bath seemed to help but the experience forced home the need to wear our one-piece lycra dive suits when we get in the water.

On November 25th we sailed from Hana Moe Noa to Atuona. We did not look forward to this trip since the Bordelais Channel between Tahuata and Hiva Oa is notorious for channeling wind and this is an upwind passage. The wind wasn’t as strong as anticipated, although the waves were still a challenge. Heading northeast, we hugged the shore of Tahuata and then bore off for Taahuku Bay on Hiva Oa. To our delight a very large school of spinner porpoises, over a hundred by our estimate, accompanied us along the way. They were smaller proposes with spotted noses and we laughed as some of them leapt high in air, only to have a gust of wind flip them around and body slam them back to the sea.

Given the variable winds, currents, and strong surge, it is difficult to anchor in Taahuku Bay in normal times. Now stuffed to twice its capacity, it was amazing how everyone helped each other to get well anchored.
We had been dreading getting to Taahuku Bay at Atuona since we knew it would be packed with boats. It’s a tough bay to anchor in on a non-crowded day, and we’d heard they were going to establish anchoring restrictions for the week of the Festival des Arts, but no one was quite sure what they would be.  In this harbor you need a fore and aft anchor, which we are not easily set up to do on Flying Cloud. With the gracious help of Dave on Maluhia we anchored near the front row, seemingly the only space available, only to hear about an hour later that we were in the new “restricted area” and would have to move. I went out in the dingy to pull up the huge Fortress stern anchor but it wouldn’t budge. Dave finally came over and it took two of us to lift into the dingy, the anchor now covered with a huge ball of thick brown mud.

Maluhia, a shallow draft cat, moved to the back row and we soon followed. The good news was there was no one behind us (soon to change) and the bad news was we were anchored in 9 feet of water, which with our 6 ft keel left only 3 feet of wiggle room. One big swell could spell trouble. Once again with Dave’s help we put out a large Fortress 37 stern anchor in about five feet of water, but getting the placement correct was very tricky since any shift of the wind could drive our boat close to a neighboring boat. 

A day later we removed all the junk off the top of the guest berth, then emptied everything from the deep storage to find our back-up 40 lb. Spade anchor. We set that out astern using 100 ft of ” chain (which weighs about 120 lbs), with the two back anchors now forming a wide V. All of this took considerable time and effort, and resulted in me being covered in mud. With those two monsters now set we weren’t going anywhere, but we were still concerned with the depth issue.

Kim and Dave hosted us for Thanksgiving Dinner on Maluhia. It was amazing to me how Kim could put on such a great spread given how limited groceries where on the island.
I forget to mention this very busy and stressful day was Thanksgiving Day. We were very lucky that Kim and Dave on Maluhia had invited us and another American over for a traditional Thanksgiving Day feast. Kim pulled out all the stops with an incredibly good chicken dinner with all the fixings. Thanks, Maluhia, you really made us feel like we were back home with friends and family enjoying Thanksgiving. The only thing we missed was touch football out in the street.

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