People were rehearsing last night in Taiohoe Bay. The music came out of the night, over the sound of crashing Pacific swells meeting land, from somewhere above the road which skirts the steep, lushly-covered hills which surround the main settlement on Nuku Hiva. Growling basses grunted what sounded like a Maori haka and over their chant flew an angelic female chorus, of the churchy persuasion. A strange hybrid. Still, tonight, 24 hours after we dropped anchor (and there's a story to be told) it's the music which convinces me we have arrived. The rest is still a little unreal.
Those with a better-than-passing knowledge of the Marquesas will know that we are in the wrong place. What are we doing in Nuku Hiva when every sane sailor makes landfall in the southern island group, if not at Fatu Hiva then at Hiva Oa. I explained that in my last post, didn't I?
Look, things happen at sea. The wind gets up, the sea gets up, and suddenly, it doesn't seem to be such a great idea to be making landfall in a bay where, in strong trade winds, you probably won't feel comfortable leaving the boat to go ashore (boats often drag at Hanavave, so we had read, and the more anchors you can put out, the better you sleep at night). So, we passed on Fatu Hiva and for a period were heading for Atuona, the capital of Hiva Oa. We would check in there, and maybe, if the trades calmed down, backtrack to Fatu Hiva. People do that.
No-one has a good word for Atuona. The swell's always awful, the anchorage is small and usually crowded, and it's prone to silting, so pretty shallow (2 to 6 metres). The island itself offers only one other anchorage, so not somewhere to cruise, per se. What tipped it, I think, was that we were not going to make either Fatu Hiva or Atuona until after dark, and so would be obliged to spend another night at sea, bobbing about with either very little sail up, or hove-to.
So why not press on? We took a chance on Ua Pou. Ua Pou is about 60 miles north of Hiva Oa. We would get into Hakahau Bay first thing in the morning and maybe even be able to check in the same day (the gendarmes close up shop for clearance formalities at 11 am, I'd read). The anchorage behind the breakwater was small, and not very deep, but at a pinch (according to the cruising guides) a boat could anchor outside the breakwater in 16 metres where the holding was good. There was a rider: depending on the swell, it might not be possible to anchor there at all.
When I can post pictures of Ua Pou you will see what an extraordinary place this was to make landfall, truly an island from special effects. As if to make sure that we understood that, as we reached up the east coast, beneath those vertical mountains climbing hundreds of feet above the rim of the extinct volcano, an exuberant crowd of dolphins came bounding out across the whitecaps to greet us, the show-offs leaping and twisting like paid performers. They were in no hurry to leave either.
We might have bypassed the mythical Fatu Hiva, but Ua Pou would do us nicely.
We came into Hakahau Bay in 25 knots of breeze. Behind the breakwater the sea was relatively calm and with only three yachts at anchor, there was room for us. No-one seemed interested in our arrival, either then or later. The only sign of life on the water were boys in their bright plastic outriggers, riding the surf.
So there we were. At the finish line. It was 1 pm. We'd have lunch once the anchor was down, we said. It is almost worth forgetting, but I'll mention that we were bone tired. We'd had a difficult last night at sea. We elected to go north of Hiva Oa, and the wind backed into the north east and then it died. The pole went up and down twice (we don't like gybing at night usually). We both got much less sleep than usual. We were ready to stop.
But wouldn't you know it, we couldn't.
Our Rocna anchor, our hefty all-round performer, the anchor we can always rely on, would not set. We tried seven times. At least three times when I winched it up, the spade was clogged with fine sticky sand, sometimes with a bit of gravel in it, but on first pass, perfect holding stuff. We were mystified. Should have been a shoo-in. Talk about an anti-climax.
Both of us could remember the only other time we couldn't get the anchor to set. We sailed all night to the next island (in the north of Greece). Both of us knew where this was taking us, but we didn't have another night in us.
It was 2.30 pm when we gave up Ua Pou and headed back out into the breeze. We didn't consider going around to another bay on that rugged island and coming back to Hakahau the following morning. We needed certainty. We needed a resting place. We set a course for Taiohoe Bay on Nuku Hiva, 25 miles away. Sunset was in three hours. If necessary we could come into Taiahoe Bay at night. It has lights. It's famously wide and welcoming. We could stop there.
We had the ride of all rides across from Ua Pou. Enki flew over the swells. When the speedo dipped below 8 knots, we frowned and she lifted her game again. They weren't a hardship, those extra 25 miles. I opened a can of baked beans and poured them (heated) over yesterday's bread. I drank Coke. Desperate times etc. We came into the anchorage just as the sun was going down, and our anchor grabbed first time.
A stern anchor to keep our nose into the swell would have to wait until morning. We had no idea how to set a stern anchor yet, but we would figure it out.
We were finally stopped.
People have been asking us today, how long did you take? It seems we had a fast passage at 27 days from Panama. We couldn't have known. We just took it as it came. And now we'll work out how to cruise the Marquesas from the wrong end, and listen out again tonight for the music.
It's good to be here.
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