We spent over a week on Tahuata Island, which is just to the south of Hiva Oa. Tahuata is small, with about 27 square miles, and mountainous, and only 700 people live there. We stayed at three places on the western side of the island.
Our first stop was Hanamoenoa Bay which is the northernmost of the bays. Hanamoenoa Bay was idyllic. It has a classic fine sand beach that is fringed with coconut trees. The water there was crystal clear, and the variety and colors of the fish were dazzling. Being on the western side of the island, this bay is naturally protected from the big Pacific surf driven by the trade winds. But the shape of the land also provides a nice offshore breeze. One person, Steven lives at Hanamoenoa, and as you would expect, he’s quite interesting. Since it’s so nice and it’s close to Atuona, Hanamoenoa Bay is quite popular with boaters. About 20 boats from the World ARC around-the-world rally came through in the 5 days we were there. This rally has about 40 extra-fancy boats that meet up along the way of a 2-year circumnavigation. With their own cliques and million-dollar boats, the ARCers came off as snotty to me.
Our next anchorage was near the town of Hapatoni further south. This was completely different. The anchorage was surprisingly close to a rocky shore at the base of steep cliffs that rise over 3000 ft. The cliffs completely block the wind, but allow a weak counterflow, which is an onshore blowing breeze, opposite the direction of the trade winds that blow constantly from east to west. We were reminded of the powerful trade winds by watching the clouds zipping off the island, going quickly out to sea. This bay has a sandy bottom fringed with a rocky shore that extended out several hundred feet, making it a tricky place to anchor. We wanted the boat to be near the shore where the wind was nice, but the sand tended to be further away from shore and deeper than we usually like to anchor. We saw 3 boats in that needed divers to clear their anchors that had become stuck in the rocks. The visibility wasn’t very good, but the diving was interesting. We saw big schools of medium-sized (10”) fish and a lot of other larger fish. We didn’t spend much time diving (other than checking the anchor) because the silver-tip sharks were always lurking. Later Max caught one of these sharks while fishing. He caught a nice snapper and the shark tried to take it. But the shark had been previously caught and a large rusty hook was stuck in its mouth. When this shark tried to steal our lunch, his old rusty hook got caught on our fishing line! Up close, he wasn’t as scary as he seemed in the water. He was less than 3 ft long, and his teeth looked sharp and pointy, but they weren’t going to bite through a leg or anything. In the commotion of releasing this guy, our snapper also got off the line.
Our last anchorage on Tahuata was in Vaitahu Bay. This is the commercial center of Tahuata with a small boat basin, a church, a few dozen houses, and a giant sports complex that they use for football (soccer) and festivals. As an anchorage, this place is tough. It gets deep quickly and the winds there are ferocious. Vaitahu sits at the bottom of a deep valley where the trade winds are funneled into turbulent mess. In the bay, we had steady strong offshore wind, which would be fine by itself. But on top of this there were crazy big gusts that would shriek in the rigging, coming from different directions, and sometimes causing the boat to tilt over considerably. The bay was crowded and the winds changed direction, so we couldn’t make use of a second anchor. We used plenty of scope (more anchor chain gives better holding). We rigged a long rope through a block at the end of the bowsprit and tied it to the anchor chain so rope stretch would absorb the shock from the big loads. And we rigged a riding sail (small sail at the back of the boat) to try to keep the bow of the boat into the wind in the same way the feathers on the dart work. After watching the conditions for over an hour, I was satisfied that we were soundly anchored.
We rowed ashore where we were met at the dock with a man selling pamplemousse, delicious giant green grapefruit. Hell yes! I love these things. The juice also goes incredibly well with spiced rum. We wandered around the town and saw the old open air church, lots of fruit trees, semi-wild chickens, and always children playing and laughing. Over the hill we found the football field where we got to stretch our legs by running and playing frisbee. There were no other people around.
Back on the boat in the evening, the crazy wind machined turned off. A light breeze was blowing in the wrong direction. This caused the boats, which had been pretty stable with respect to each other, to react differently. We were close to two nicely polished 50’ ARC boats that nearly bumped. Expecting the winds to shift back to the we just watched and waited. But in reaction to the near-paint scratching collision, one boat (Ice Bear) adjusted their position that put it pretty close to us. The nice lady on Ice Bear then shined her spotlight in our eyes and told us that we needed to move. She couldn’t sleep if our boat was this close. WTF. Resisting the urge to return the spotlight salvo, we told her politely that we were watching and that we would take care of any problems. Shortly afterwards, the wind machine kicked back on and we were back to our usual crazy situation, well away from Ice Bear.
Later in the night, the wind change repeated. At this point I was actually concerned that we would swing into the ice lady, so Max and I reset our anchor in deeper water. We have gotten really good at handling the boat and anchor in all kinds of conditions. But before the anchor had time to really dig in, a gust from side pulled the anchor free. Now we were dragging our anchor quickly across the bay towards another boat and the winds seemed significantly stronger. We reset the anchor a second time and maintained an all-night anchor watch.
In the meantime, Ice Bear ran into their cocktail party friends who attempted unsuccessfully to move. In the middle of a moonless night, fully illuminated with the ice lady’s spotlight, the boat pulled in its anchor and headed out to sea.