Iles Marquesas, French Polynesia: Today we had one of those perfect sails that, if every day were like this, the oceans would be waaay too crowded. After spending several pleasant days on the island of Tahuata, we sailed up to the north side of Hiva Oa, anchoring in Hanamenu Bay. This bay is surrounded by high steep cliffs, and except for the black basalt rock crowned with vivid green, it reminds us a little of some bays in the Espiritu Santo area of Mexico. The palm tree-lined beach is black sand. The sail here saw us going at six knots under double-reefed main and genoa, in a flat sea! F-L-A-T. Whoop!
But let's backtrack a bit. Tahuata, the island just southwest of Hiva Oa where much of the past week was spent, is one of our favorites in the Marquesas. Hana Moe Noe Bay is both spectacular and a good anchorage, with only a little swell coming in to make it slightly rolly. (Most anchorages in the Marquesas are fairly rolly.) We spent a couple of days there as reported previously, and are glad to say that the encounter with The Blunderers ended on a good note; two days later they rowed over to apologize for waking us up so early, and delivered a small tray of chocolate banana bars. Oh hell and damnation, they're nice, we thought, chatting with them. Although we appreciated the genuine apology, events still stand as reported.
We decided to sail a couple of miles down Tahuata's lush steep green coast to Vaitahu Bay, also named Resolution Bay by Captain Cook. The Zulu crew was going there because of a big inter-island soccer match plus special Sunday church services to be held for passengers of the inter-island freighter/passenger ship Aranui, which only comes out to the Marquesas every 3 weeks from Tahiti. As we entered the bay there was disturbed water, which we later learned was several fish balls, large circular formations of small fish. A dozen or more white-sided dolphins were having a ball chasing and eating them, plus surfing around our bows. Nice welcome to the bay!
Vaitahu is a big, rolly bay with fluky winds, iffy holding for anchors (ours dragged) and very iffy surf landings, the best of which is at a concrete pier where you have to time it and jump from the dinghy poised at the top of a swell. We pulled the entire dinghy up onto the pier, where it was safe from surf but not from the locals, who were sitting on it and had draped wet clothes over it when we returned. Someone also stole both of our dinghy's nice-looking purple braid stern lines. We were disappointed but grateful that nothing else was amiss, and replaced the nice purple lines with ugly old rope. As a precaution since Mexico, we always lock the outboard to the dinghy.
But the visit to the village was wonderful. We walked up and down hills about a mile to see the soccer match being played on a field where huge surf broke over the windward side. The players in colorful red and blue uniforms were very skilled. The Hiva Oa team beat the Tahuata team, but that seemed to be of little matter to the celebrants staggering back to their Toyota Hiluxes and 4-wheelers. We met Brian, Marlene and John from Zulu over there (Marlene, a teacher, was mobbed by adoring kids.) On the way back we were offered a ride by a truck full of jolly tattooed Marquesans, but one look at them made us say, uh, no thanks. Not a one was sober, and when we asked who was doing the driving over those cliffy roads, they all grinned and shrugged. Okey-dokey, we'll walk, see ya!
Jim and I went to the little magasin (store) to get a baguette of bread and some other things. The owner was very helpful, and when we asked where we could get (meaning purchase) some pamplemousse, he took us outside, climbed precariously onto a table under his own pamplemousse tree, and kept plucking them until we said "Stooooop! That's enough, thank you!" He would accept no money for them. Then he raided his banana stalk until we cried uncle again!
The next morning church bells began ringing at seven am, and services were at eight. Neither Jim nor I are what you'd call churchgoers, but this was an exceptional opportunity. We dinghied in and walked with Marlene to the Catholic church, which is made of old ballast stones from 19th century sailing ships, topped with a most beautiful cantilevered wooden roof. Intricate Polynesian carvings of breadfruit trees and abstract subjects adorned the pulpit and sacristy. Above the altar was a huge stained glass mural depicting, we were happy to see, a dark-skinned Mary and Christ child. The services were mostly in Marquesan with a little French, so we understood very little. But the cadence of dissonant chanting in Marquesan was hypnotic (sounding somewhat Buddhist, even), and the singing was precision harmonies and gorgeous, laserlike voices accompanied by strummed guitar and ukulele, and one enormous deep drum. These people grow up singing, and it shows. About 30 passengers from the Aranui sat with us in the back of the church, and most seemed mesmerized, too. Topping off a fine morning was a craft fair organized by the town artists, with carved decorative bone necklaces, intricately carved wooden paddles, unusual red and black seed-bead jewelry, good things to eat, and a tour of their fine little museum.
Shortly after we returned to Sockdolager, our anchor began to drag (the wind had shifted 180 degrees) so, since we were on our way out to sea anyway, we bade goodbye to Zulu (who was headed overnight to the island of Ua Pou) and we headed back to Hana Moe Noa Bay, where we knew the holding was good. As we glided in, some disturbed water in the middle of the bay drew our attention. There were six or eight manta rays circling and feeding above a big fish ball, so we jumped right in the minute we got anchored and swam over to them with masks, snorkels and fins. The fish ball, about 30 feet across, approached us and soon we were in the middle of it, with big mantas swimming all around—their wingspans were six to eight feet! Jim reached out and touched a big one as it swerved past, and he said it felt leathery.
To be in the water watching a squadron of big manta rays with two-foot-wide open mouths coming straight at you was a little unnerving at first, but we soon learned that they could clearly see us with their weird little eyes, and they always changed course to avoid us. They did seem at ease, though, and soon we were, too, gliding around with them as if we were a couple of feeding mantas. We stayed in the water until late afternoon, when darkness began to obscure the underwater view. That's not a great time to be in the water anyway, because you can't see sharks. I saw a large fish with a pointed tail in dim distant light, and in my imagination it became a small shark, so we headed back to the boat, full of the magic that comes with such unexpected encounters.
So now we share Hanamenu Bay on the north side of Hiva Oa with just one other boat, a sloop from Belgium. We'll spend a few days between here and the next bay to the east (to meet up again with Shane on Clover) and then will sail overnight the 60 miles to Nuku Hiva, where we hope to meet up with our friends from Buena Vista and Zulu again.
Sent via Ham radio