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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou, and back to Nuku Hiva

This morning we woke to a waterfall where yesterday there was only a sheer, bare, rock cleft in the mountain above us. Too bad we didn't have any of our rain catching gear out last night, but then water isn't a scarce commodity around here.

The last time I wrote about our whereabouts we were in Tahuata. In the late afternoon of September 14 we departed for an overnight sail to Taiohae, Nuku Hiva with only a few hours of motoring to arrive just after sunrise. This is a very rolly anchorage and we ultimately ended up moving as close to the quay as we could get. But even after deploying a stern anchor and the rocker stopper, it still was not a comfortable place to be. There were about 20 boats when we arrived and 12 remaining when we departed a week later. All of the active cruising boats are anchored near the old quay, with only three unoccupied boats over on the more remote Keikahanui Pearl Lodge side of the bay. Our week was spent taking delivery of our new main sail from Rose Corser and visiting her lovely little museum and gift shop; browsing at the well stocked magasins; making 6 AM visits to the boulangerie and the veggie marche (only one time each and hopefully never again; baguettes and most veggies - except lettuce - are available elsewhere at more reasonable hours!); and doing laundry with plentiful, though tan colored, water at the quay.

We also had a lovely night out with Rose and the crew of Quixotic for dinner at the Keikahanui restaurant. The restaurant and bar are all that remain of the original hotel built by former cruisers, Rose and her husband, Frank Corser, back in the 70's (S/V Courser). Frank passed away in 1992, but Rose is carrying on with plans for a smaller business, and she's always happy to have cruisers stop by for a visit. The tropical drinks were colorful and the French cuisine was beautifully presented and so delicious that we all cleaned our plates of curried goat, rack of lamb, duck, and a steak/shrimp combo. There was a group of young men and one woman from NASA staying at the Lodge to cover a hole in tracking coverage for a satellite launch (we passed their equipment high on a mountain during our subsequent car rental). They normally do a two month tour of duty, but it had stretched to three months this time. Tough job, but someone's got to do it!

We shared a car rental with Quixotic and Steve of Weatherly to explore the island. This time we had a four door truck so there was plenty of room for all of us with our gear in the truck bed. We started towards the airport in the Terre Deserte in a clockwise circumnavigation of the island, taking a right hand turn on a dirt road after passing a pineapple farm (the pineapple plants are obvious; don't take the turn before you see this). We scoped out several bays for potential anchoring spots, but the highlights of the trip were our picnic lunch stop at Hatiheu Bay and a visit to the archeological sites of Hikokua and Kamuihei & Tahakia, the latter two of which of just across the road from one another and comprise the largest excavated archaeological area of Nuku Hiva. Although there were no large tikis like on Hiva Oa, the size of the areas made one wonder at the lives of the people who built and lived in them long ago. We made a pamplemousse snack stop along the river in Taipivai at the head of Controleur Bay and then, since we still had some time remaining on the truck, we made an even more arduous trek over the rough road from the Keikahanui Lodge to Colette Bay, the site of "Survivor Marquesas" (2002). They must not have put the Survivor camps at the head of the bay where there was plenty of pamplemousse, citron, and bananas on private property. Fortunately one of the pamplemousse tree limbs hung over the fence to the ground and we restocked our fruit hammock.

The forecast looked good on Tuesday, September 22 for the sail to Ua Pou, 25 miles away, and after motoring to clear Nuku Hiva we were able to sail the rest of the way to Hakahau Bay, arriving in time for an afternoon swim to the sandy little beach and a walk on the quay. After the rough ocean waters between the islands, and the horrible wind chop in Taiohae, we were thrilled with the quiet, protected, little harbor. We set a stern anchor to keep us in position just off the south end of the quay in about 10' of water. Two sailboats were stern-tied to the quay when we arrived which also looked inviting (the Aranui wasn't due to arrive for another week) and, as it turned out, we had to move there for our last two nights because of the outrigger-canoe races on Saturday. Other than one visit to the village, we kicked back on the boat and read a lot during our stay. We would have left earlier but then we saw preparations for what we thought looked to be a big event, and decided to stay when we learned that island teams would be competing to see who would represent the Marquesas in the big Hawaiki Nui outrigger-canoe race in November. It was fun to be stern-tied to the quay to watch the starts and finishes of the two races (morning and afternoon) out to neighboring bays, but we never did figure out why the locals bothered setting up three tents which went unused the entire weekend. And the crowd reaction was very low key with no honking of horns even though the quay and breakwater were both lined with trucks. Maybe it was a given that Ua Pou would be the hands down winner, so people didn't bother getting too excited.

We spent one truly awful night in Hakahetau which even the rocker stopper wasn't up to (and with no possibility of a shore landing due to the swell), before we moved to Vaiehu for our last few nights at Ua Pou. Our first night there was perfect but then a larger than normal swell rolled in from somewhere out in the ocean and we lost both water clarity and peace. Without being able to swim or go ashore there wasn't much to do but read, cook, and make a weather cloth. We met Paul and Erin on Romany Star out of San Francisco, and both boats decided to leave for the north shore of Nuku Hiva on October 1.