Atuona was interesting. We got fresh baguettes and a slab of tuna at the local gas station. We played frisbee on a well-kept soccer field right off the beach where the breeze gave a steady lift to the disc. We even went to the local Friday night music event at the tin roof, open air bar where a half dozen giant Marquesan men played big drums and what looked like tiny ukuleles. A diverse group of locals, expatriots from around the world, and visitors watched, danced, and sang along. My face was sore from smiling so much. But our business was done in Atuona and it was time to move on.
Saturday morning we sailed to Hanamenu bay on the North side of Hiva Oa island. Ori, our jeep tour guide, told us about this bay and that he would spend the weekend there with his family. This is a remote bay on the north side of the island that has no access by road. The journey to Hanamenu was interesting. We were sailing along in Canal du Bordelais between Hiva Oa and Tahauta and buzz, buzz – fish on! We were trolling with two rods when a fish hit one. When a fish strikes, the line spools off the reel and makes a happy ZZZZ! sound. Max jumped to the rod and I turned the boat into the wind and started bringing in the second fishing line so it wouldn’t get tangled with the boat or the other line. But this one also had a fish on it! We quickly landed the first fish, which was a 10 lb bonita. As we pulled the second fish near the boat it dove straight down with uncanny force. What is this giant fish?? When it stopped diving we easily pulled it back up, gaffed it (lifted it by the gills with a hook) and tossed it in the boat. It was a 30 lb yellowfin tuna with its tail nearly bitten off. A shark had tried to take our fish. Not today sharky.
As we approached Cap Kiukiu at the far western side of the island, the wind and seas changed dramatically and shifted direction from east to coming from the north. Hanamenu Bay is totally exposed to weather from the north. Nonetheless, we wanted to see this beautiful place and there is frequently a “cape effect” around sharp features where the winds and currents interact with the land and dramatically amplify the conditions. It took over an hour of wet sailing to get 3 miles upwind into the bay and clear of the cape effect. Seeing that the big waves were not making it into the bay we sailed in and dropped our #1 anchor, a 45 lb Delta (which looks like a plow.) But it was still very windy. As we were dropping the mizzen sail, we saw that we were drifting toward the rocks. Our anchor wasn’t holding. We reset the anchor and let out additional chain, which appeared to hold well. Then we dropped a second anchor, a 33 lb Danforth anchor (which has big flat flukes). To do this, I put myself, the anchor and the 60 feet of chain into the dinghy and rowed 150 feet upwind while Max played out the anchor rode, which is ½” rope. I dropped the anchor and Max pulled it tight.
This configuration of connecting the anchor to the rope with 60 feet of chain works well. The weight of the chain helps make sure the load on the anchor doesn’t lift it from the bottom, and the chain is tough enough to be dragged along sharp rocks and coral on the bottom where the rope may be cut. But the rope is plenty strong and it’s stretchy so when a gust pushes the boat, the force on the boat from the rope is gradual, where the same conditions with all-chain would cause a shock as the chain is pulled tight. Both anchors had plenty of scope, which is the rode length/depth ratio. More scope holds better. Too little scope and the anchor gets lifted from the bottom. The second anchor was also holding tight.
We cleaned up the boat and looked ashore towards the beach. The chart showed that the bay became shallow towards the beach, so we remained offshore by about 800 ft. The wind was strong and gusty and while we were safe from the big Pacific swells, the seas were choppy. Max wanted to go ashore, but I was nervous. We had two anchors out with plenty of scope and everything was secure on the boat. We could see the waves breaking on the shore and Max would point out a small one and say, “See that doesn’t look bad.” But then I would then show him a larger one that would tumble our small dinghy if we didn’t ride it correctly. Max then asked “When did you start becoming so afraid? I remember riding surf bigger than this and it was fun, even when we flipped the boat.” Once again, he was right. We tied the fish and a dry bag with our shirts, hats, and camera into the dinghy and made the quick downwind trip to the surf. It wasn’t so bad. We waited for what looked like a small wave and I rowed like crazy to match its speed. It wasn’t a small wave. We accelerated and surfed the wave all the way to the top of the beach where it left us high and dry, next to Ori.
We said our hellos and offered him the fish. He told us that his sons were out hunting and may be back soon. We went to his small tin roof house where he gave us cool lime-aid and talked about the weather, our trip, all the fruit, and the fish. He took us to a spring-fed pool where he tossed the fish in the water. We had already gutted and bled out the fish, and standing in the pool of water with a 3 ft eel swimming around him, Ori expertly filleted the fish, cutting off the meat from both sides and leaving the skeleton and head. He cut holes in the filets for handles. His daughter took one of the tuna filets, carried with a finger through the hole, and his friend took the other. A small child of a family friend took the two bonita filets, one in each hand. In the meantime, I washed up in the spring and Max went for a swim in the cool fresh water.
We walked around the valley and collect papaya, mangos, guava, limes, and coconuts. Unfortunately, the pamplemousse was still too green. Ori’s daughter prepared bonita for poisson cru, which is raw fish in fruit juices. Ori showed us how to take the outside husk off of the coconuts, exposing the round brown inner nut, which is what we see when we get coconuts in the store. This outer husk is really tough. He cracked the nut, scraped the white meat out, and used bark from the tree to press the shavings to get coconut milk for the poisson cru. It was almost dark and his sons hadn’t returned, so we went ahead and ate and prepared to return to Akela.
Looking out from the beach the boat seemed far away, the surf looked intimidating, and there was an 8’ shark swimming back and forth just outside the surf. The shark left (or chose to lurk beneath the surface) and we loaded the dinghy with our stuff and 30 lbs of fruit and set off into the surf. We pushed the boat into the first set of waves, then I got in and rowed for all I was worth. Max pushed from behind and got in. Since I’m facing the stern of the boat to row it, I can’t see the waves. I ask Max, “Talk to me, talk to me.” He says, “Big wave, hold on!”. The bow shot straight up and the wave broke right past us. We made it. With this nice adrenaline boost, I very quickly rowed us well clear of the rest of surf.
Nightfall came quickly. With no moon, thick clouds, and no lights ashore, it was completely dark out. I wanted to sleep and Max chose to fish. I set up a bunk on the poop deck where I love to sleep, and Max rigged a fishing pole with weight, hooks, and chunks of fish for bait. As soon as I was asleep Max woke me up with “I caught a shark!” Sure enough, he caught a small black tip shark. He released the fish and later caught a small hammerhead shark. Up close, these fish look like space aliens or something.
Max finally gave up fishing and I got some more sleep. At 1:30 a storm came through with lightening, rain, and lots of wind. With the changing wind direction, the two anchor rodes had crossed and were chaffing each other. In the wind and rain, I straightened out the anchor rodes. Satisfied that we were safe, I went below and tried to sleep. But the noise, the motion, and my adrenaline kept me up for a while.
In the morning, we headed out into a fresh breeze to go to Hanamoenoa Bay on Tahuata Island. Along the way, we caught another nice fish – a 25 lb wahoo. We made Hanamoenoa Bay in a few hours. This Bay seems completely sheltered from the waves and the trade winds, but it has offshore gusts that keep it interesting. The water looks perfectly clear. It’s a popular spot with 5 other boats already anchored. We cleaned and fileted the fish and went for a swim. We had much more fish than we could ever eat, so Max rowed around the bay and offered fresh wahoo to the people on the other boats. Then we had poisson cru with rice for lunch and pan fried wahoo with papaya and bananas and a fancy coconut-lime-mango-mint rum drink for dinner. With two anchors out and no storm, I slept for 9 hours straight.