Tuesday morning we went ashore again and managed a little more finesse this time with the dinghy landing. We wanted to explore the bays west of our bay this time, and particularly Invisible Bay and the main town in Ua Huka, Vaipaee. It’s ten miles away so we stuck out our thumbs and got a ride, Jack and I in one vehicle, Mark and Cheryl in another.
We only got as far as the airport, about halfway, but we saw the ceremonial site built for the all-Marquesas festival that was held here in 1913. There were performance spaces and tons of tikis created by island artists.
When we were ready to move on we again got a ride, this time in a van that could accommodate all of us, and the nice driver took us all the way to Vaipaee where we visited the small museum.
We were all curious about Invisible Bay which our nautical charts represent as a long tight squeeze in from the ocean. It didn’t look like that from land but still, we all agreed we’d rather be in our bay than this one.
On the way back we visited the pretty little church with carved everything, and the lectern is a ceremonial drum.
Back at Baie d’Hane the tide had gone way out, but we gracefully launched the dinghy and got back aboard our boats a little better than the day before and made plans to sail to the big city the next day. Prepare for culture shock.
There are six inhabited islands in the Marquesas but not many people visit Ua Huka. It’s a little off the beaten path but for cruisers the primary reason is that the only viable anchorages are on the south shore, exposed to the prevailing winds and ocean swell. Ideally you’d want to go during a period of calm weather but here we are in strong winds and big swell. Add to that a rocky shoreline with breaking waves and no pier to land the dinghy on and you know why we stayed aboard all day Sunday. We heard on the radio that French Curve, whom we’d met briefly in El Salvador, were headed our way and we hoped we could team up to get ashore safely. When they arrived we made plans to give it a try Monday.
In the morning we waited until the big surf abated then launched our dinghy, picked up Mark and Cheryl and putted slowly toward what looked like the least rocky landing place. Mark timed us through the breakers and we came to a thudding stop on a little sandspit where we jumped out and hauled the heavy dinghy onto shore using a new method Jack thought up. We put two old fenders under the keel and rolled the dinghy over them like Egyptian slaves building the pyramids. It worked great! Most people have folding dinghy wheels attached to the transom but the design of our dinghy precludes that.
Safely ashore in the town of Hane we followed the sketchy directions in the Lonely Planet guide to an archaelogical site up in the caldera. It was uphill all the way, through dense forests on an unmarked trail barely discernible on the steep slope. When we reached the site we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the anchorage and our two boats.
The site is overgrown and seems rarely visited. We wished we had a guide or a guide book that told us what we were looking at but tikis are always cool to see and the view alone was worth the climb.
Back down we explored the town a little, found the tiny grocery store and made plans to shop there at the end of the day.
We took the coast road to the next bay and the town of Hokatu, a community of woodcarvers. Ua Huka quickly became our second favorite Marquesan island — after Fatu Huva — for the stunning coastal views and the flower gardens around every bend.
A lady named Delphine opened up the craft center for us but most of the carvings are sent to Tahiti where the prices will be quadrupled. She said every man in the village is a carver and they make beautiful reproductions of traditional tools, weapons and household items, as well as more modern tchotchkes for the tourists. Jack wants a war club but there weren’t any. I don’t know, maybe that’s a good thing.
It was a beautiful walk back to our village of Hane and we were happy to see our boats sitting pretty in the crazy swell and wind.
We found someone to get the key for the museum and oohed and aahed over the displays, particularly the ancient canoes.
We made a last stop at the little store for a few supplies. There were no fruits or vegetables in evidence so I asked the clerk. She sent her little boy to her grandmother’s house for mangos and pamplemousse and wouldn’t take any money for them.
The tide had gone way out, exposing even more rocks on the shoreline. We used Jack’s Egyptian method to drag the dinghy to the water and over the rocks, but it was a struggle getting out to deeper water. We kept hitting bottom on rocks we hadn’t seen coming in but eventually we got out to the breakers and through the surf. Just as we dropped off Cheryl and Mark a squall blew in and Jack and I worked hard to get back aboard EV in the wind and rain. We were drenched and exhausted and had to wait for the wind to abate before lifting the dinghy.
It all started back at our adopted Southern Marquesan home, Baie Hanamoenoa, Tahuata, where we waited for our friends on Flying Cloud. This is not such a hardship and we’re getting good at swimming with the six foot Manta rays but most of our friends have left and we have the feeling that the “dead pig” has drifted past the boat again. Getting wifi was definitely on our agenda and we want to visit a few places on the way up to Nuku Hiva where rumor has it they’ve heard of such things. But first you have to leave.
It will be hard to tear ourselves away from this place but after our poorly attended six a.m. swim with the rays — apparently it’s too early even for the rays — we weighed anchor and motored out of the bay, crossed the nasty Canal du Bordelais and found our home for the night in Baie Hanamenu on the north shore of Hiva Oa. In twenty knots of wind on the nose we fought our way in through the stunning entrance to the bay and dropped anchor all alone right in the middle. The surge was bad so we thought tomorrow morning might give us a better shot at landing cat-nip on the rocky shore.
Maybe it was the remoteness of the place, heavy surf, or the fact that cap-nip is a little overweight at 375 lbs and fitting fold down wheels to its angular transom is impossible. Regardless, in the morning it still looked dicey so we had a leisurely breakfast on the lido deck and waited for inspiration.
It came in the form of a new plan. We would sail fifty five miles north to Ua-Huka and check out Baie d’Hane. It was a beautiful day but this would be a late start. Sails up, motor off, ah yes. The plan was to sail until it looked like we weren’t going to make it in the daylight and then motor-sail if the predicted winds didn’t fill in. It would be a close thing. In my defense I have to say that it was a gorgeous sail, the winds were late and so was turning on the motor. As we closed with Baie D’Hane dark clouds hid everything in a gathering gloom, except for a cone shaped spire called Motu Hane that guards the entrance. It was not a close thing. I tell you, dear Escapees, that it is agony how long it takes to finally enter a bay after it looks like you’re almost there.
Pitch black with a couple of disturbing lights, most likely cars on shore but the chart shows a lighted buoy just off Motu Hane which rumor has it, was not working lately making it a collision hazard. We drew straws and Eagle-eye Marce lost so she went forward with a flash light to sweep the area just in front of Escape Velocity as we crept into the blackness. Never saw the buoy but the pounding surf all around us was certainly disconcerting. Finally the depth sounder said good enough and we dropped anchor in thirty feet. Switching off the motors we looked at each other and with a heavy sigh of relief said OK, never again. We tried to make sense out of the blackness but like Captain Ron says,”I wonder where we are?” We’re not going to find out until tomorrow so it was the Skipper’s duty to produce dinner. I went with my signature meal, spaghetti and red sauce and before I could put the pot on to boil M. announced, “We are logged onto the Internet!”
We travel these seas like Bedouins out on the trackless sands, unfettered and free to go where we please but you soon learn that what seems like unrestrained freedom is only an illusion. Weather patterns, sights of uncommon beauty, even bureaucracy and political concerns cause certain tracks or patterns to emerge. We even gather at certain oases along the way and while the faces may get reshuffled we’ve been gobsmacked many times at the intertwined lives we lead. At any one time there are supposed to be only some 500 yachts making major ocean passages. Our path to the Marquesas couldn’t have been less conventional, what with the Central American detour and all. But this cruiser nexus became real for us here in Hanamoenoa Baie at a beach party while we played coconut bocce with all the cruisers in the anchorage, including a charming young Canadian couple.
Back in December 2011 Marce and I spent an afternoon on a Lagoon catamaran called First and Ten in North Carolina as part of our east coast boat-buying tour. It needed work and we couldn’t talk ourselves into another project boat. We passed. Eighteen months later the Canadian couple bought her sight unseen, drove to Carolina, fixed her up, and the former First and Ten is now called Oceana and is anchored 100 feet from Escape Velocity. We aren’t necessarily being lazy here in Hanamoenoa. We’re waiting for friends on Flying Cloud we first met in St Martin and last saw on Christmas Day 2013 in Martinique. During our summer in Grenada we learned we’d been on more or less the same route south and after digging through his computer Walter showed us a photo he took the year before of their friends in a cafe in Oriental, North Carolina. At a table in the background there’s Marce and me, slightly younger, drinking coffee with a pastry or two. It was Thanksgiving and we probably had turkey in the same restaurant with Flying Cloud, too. I remember that it was cold.
So, as it turns out, my team did not win coconut bocce, even though the Canadians insisted the rules were just the same as curling, whatever that means. We managed to scare our opponents several times and while lining up my last bowl I began to notice, let’s agree to call them Wylie Coyote boulders, perched high on the flint-like ridges of the Marquesas. This one was lined up directly above us with no visible means of support, and of course goats and even a few horses were gambling about munching the grass in close proximity. Disconcerting to say the least, and with all this on my mind suffice it to say my bowl was errant. That’s my story, dear Escapees, and I’m sticking with it.
We don’t spend all our time here in Hanamoenoa but the combination of swimming with six-foot manta rays, a crescent shaped white sand beach, good holding and protection are hard to beat. We recently traveled south again to Vaitahu where we got our tattoos but they are building a large pier out into the anchorage so we went further south and explored a cute little town called Hapatoni where I found still more Wylie Coyote boulders poised on many of the peaks surrounding the town. But the siren song of Hanamoenoa keeps calling us back. It’s a nice place to gather. You might call it an oasis.