Our last island to visit in the Marquesas was Ua Pou (pronounced like Wa-Poo). This is one of the smallest islands, diamond shaped with 40 square miles. But it is the tallest island, with dagger-like amazing spires that extend to 4000 ft. Much of the 2000 population live in the town of Hakahau. We spent nearly a week in Baie Hakahau, and I think we all fell in love with this place. The bay and the mountain views are picture perfect, the people are friendly, and we also enjoyed time with some other cruisers.
The 30-mile sail from Nuku Hiva was an easy half-day sail with Akela beating about 60° from the apparent wind. The “apparent wind” is simply the wind felt by the boat, which is the combination of the true wind and the boat speed. Akela doesn’t go upwind very well compared to modern boats, not capable of sailing closer than 45° from the direction straight into the wind. Beating this closely requires all the sails to be pulled in tightly, which causes the boat to lean over. Everything that’s not tied down falls to the low side of the boat. We try to place the crew on the upwind or high side of the boat to help counter this. For a half-day sail, this is fun.
We arrived in Baie Hakahau, which is a small bay sheltered by rock breakwater and has a large loading dock. Several boats were already anchored and we chose a spot that looks good – not too deep, not to shallow, protected from the waves, not too rocky, and with room to swing without getting too close to another boat. It took two attempts to get it right. To anchor the boat, one person is in the cockpit driving the boat and handling the sails and another person is on the bow with the anchor windlass. It is difficult to hear each other so we use hand signals. We maneuver the boat to the place where the think the anchor should be, lower the anchor to the bottom, then back up the boat while we pay out anchor chain. The final position of the boat depends on the anchor position, amount of chain and the action of the currents and winds.
Anchoring in a new place involves some interesting sociology. We come into a place that is totally new to us, but there are already other boats with people who have staked their turf and are casually watching us and may be concerned if we get too close. The winds, currents, and bottom conditions are already known to them, but as newcomers, we need to make a quick assessment of these things. Often the first try doesn’t work. If it’s not right, we pull up the anchor and try again. Maybe the holding isn’t good and the anchor drags. Maybe the elements conspire to push the boat too close to another boat or to some rocks. We confer on the boat and everybody has a different idea. (Matt usually has the most creative.) We haul the anchor back in and try again. The whole time, our nautical abilities are being assessed by the sailors on the other boats. So there is some pressure to do it quickly, where the best solution is usually to go slow and watch carefully. I think all the sailors feel this way in tight quarters. We take pride in our seamanship and we don’t want our peers to see us falter.
After we were comfortably anchored in Hakahau, we found that we needed to move because we learned that our old friend the Aranui was coming. We moved without problem and were happy to see the Aranui once again.
Other than having a small area to anchor clear of Aranui, Baie Hakahau is picture perfect. The peaked mountains of Ua Pou are absolutely gorgeous, although the highest peak is usually shrouded in clouds. Just to the west of us, big Pacific waves curl and crash on the rocks sending white spray high into the air. Local kids surf the waves, turning off just before the wave break into the rocks. With a second anchor off the stern to keep the boat pointed straight out to sea, the waves that make it past the breakwater to us provide a gentle pitching motion. To the north of us, a fine sand beach provides easy landing for the dinghy and an incredible place to through frisbee. There is a paddling school right on the beach with a variety of outrigger canoes. Although, it is off the beaten path, this bay attracts sailors from all over. We spent some time with people from Canada, Alaska, and France.
The small town was clean and friendly. Although none of us speak French or Marquesan, people always tried to help us. We ate at several restaurants, including a pizza place that we’ll never forget. The church had amazing carvings, including a carved pulpit of the bow of a ship with nets and sea creatures below it.
This sport of paddling outrigger canoes is popular here, and from the intensity of these guys paddling and their physical training, people take it seriously. The big canoes would fly right by us, propelled by 6 burly Marquesans paddling with ferocity. Sometimes, the boats were modified for the kids to have two hulls, rather than a hull and outrigger. A boatload of 12 8-year old kids would paddle by, some paddling with determination, some resting, and some splashing their friends.
We had a good time with the kids here. Groups of children often come to the beach to swim and play around for hours. Some were interested in frisbee, so we got some fun games going. One afternoon, Max spent hours in the water playing with kids that ranged in ages from about 3 to 12. They played in the waves, threw things back and forth, and liked having Max toss the small ones into the waves.
When Aranui was in town, Hakahau put on its best show. They had an arts and crafts fair set up with woodcarvings and tapa painting. A ukulele trio played in a veranda where people were offered food served on giant leaves, rather than plates. The best thing was the Marquesan dancing. We had seen little kids dancing in Fatu Hiva, but now we saw the adult version. The music was guitars, singing, and drums. The women were dressed in flowers and performed graceful dances while smiling. The men were dressed in loincloths and body paint and jumped around with fierce chants and expressions.
We signed up for a tour of the island with Jerome, a Frenchman that runs a small bed and breakfast. When we showed up at his place, we found out that there really wasn’t room in his jeep because he had 4 other people. He told us that we could rent a car from Alexandria, the lady that runs the bakery. We walked to the bakery and rented her car for 5000 CFP ($50). There was no form to fill out or insurance to decline. We gave her a 5000 CFP note and we took her truck, promising to return it at the end of the day. Then we followed Jerome’s truck and had the benefit of his guidance for the tour with ample room in Alexandria’s truck. We drove the 4-whell drive truck along narrow winding roads into the hills, stopping stop for views of mountains and seascapes. We visited the home of Choco-Man where we bought chocolate and picked limes. This guy has a funky place way back in the jungle where he grows cacao and makes chocolate. We hiked to a waterfall where we had the ultimate refreshing swim in a cool stream under the falls.
The next morning, when I went to the bakery to get fresh bread for our passage to the Tuamotus, Alexandria offered fruit. She took me across the street to her yard where we picked pamplemouse (my favorite!) and a bunch of bananas (also my favorite!). I think that all of us will dream of returning to Hakahau.