Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Panoramic Peaks of Ua Pou ..... September 2015

16 – 23 Sept 2015:  Hanavave, Fatu Hiva to Hakatau, Ua Pou ~ 09 21S  140 02W


Return to Hanemoenoa ..... Again!

P9150109 With a forecast of increasing tradewinds we decided to leave spectacular Hanavave Bay on Fatu Hiva, we thought the infamous wind bullets down the valley into the anchorage were something we were happy to only hear about, and not experience directly.  So with a pleasant 15 – 18 knots aft of the beam we retraced our steps north back across to Tahuata.  Another lure was sacrificed to a sea monster, but no fish were landed.P9150111

Conditions were lovely and as we rounded the bottom of Tahuata the seas flattened but the winds became fluky with strong gusts accelerating down the towering cliff faces. We continued north under double reefed main only, awaiting the expected bullets off this steep sided island, and bullets we did get, might go so far as to call it automatic gunfire!   We have experienced catabatic winds in our time, but this was absolutely wild.  The water turned black with fury and Balvenie rolled with each punch as 40 knot gusts lasting just a few seconds hit her from all directions.  P9150104

We passed our first potential anchorage of Hapatoni with 20 knots coming in from the west, not a good thing ~ then we passed the village anchorage at Vaitahu with 40 knots blowing through it from the east, a little breezy.  There was nothing for it but to continue a couple of miles north to lovely Hanemoenoa Bay for our third stay, the land is more low lying so no wind bullets, the sea is flat, and a gentle breeze cooled the air, the water was clear enough to see the anchor dug into the white sandy bottom ~ why go anywhere else!

Time For A Change

We spent a couple more days in Hanemoenoa, David and Kim off Maluhia rejoined us after an aborted attempt to anchor in Hanamenu on the northern coast of Hiva Oa, next day Kaimaloa came in also after turning away from Hanamenu on Hiva Oa, guess we won’t try that as an anchorage, sounded quite nice in the cruising guide!


Bypassing Hanamenu meant it was 65 miles to Hakahau on Ua Pou, so it was a departure at very first light for the 3 of us, north west bound. P9220212 We had a great start, then we got into the wind shadow of Hiva Oa for a couple of hours and had to motor, then the breeze returned and we flew along, tucking in behind the breakwater at Hakahau with plenty of daylight to spare.  

It was another fish free day which was just amazing as at one point we had skipjack tuna jumping all around us, so many that we thought one might actually land on deck!  No such luck.

Our Fairytale Skyline

Hakahau is a pleasant spot to while away time, the view is sensational and really belongs in some fairytale wonderland set.  It changes with the shadows, clouds, sun angles, we have not tired of it and its moods.  The harbour is ok, the breakwater softens the swell and with a stern anchor deployed it is a comfortable enough spot. P9230245 

Ashore there are a handful of extremely well stocked minimarkets, a bakery with crusty fresh baguettes each morning , the community centre sells fresh produce and provides an excellent buffet lunch each weekday for 500CPF (USD5), there’s even free wifi there, sometimes.  For excellent regular bread you need to visit the local mechanic  who was a baker in France in a previous life, and order in advance.  We thought we would pop a couple of loaves in the freezer, take a look at how big they are, good thing there was plenty of room in the freezer!! P9150114  

Unplanned Overnight Excursion

Kaimaloa moved on, Maluhia stayed, Mezzaluna arrived.  They had been successful in catching a tuna enroute so a potluck dinner was planned, but an afternoon earthquake in Chile soon put that idea on hold.  We had watched most of the local boats move off the dock, taken out of the water and driven away on trailers during the late afternoon and had double checked the weather in case the wind and swell forecast had changed but everything looked ok.


Then around 5.30pm we had an announcement in French on our VHF radio in which we could pick up some key words, the major one being Tsunami – flip!  P9230229They kindly repeated it in English when we called them, and yes it was a Tsunami warning for the entire Pacific.  

A metre high wave was expected to pass through around 11pm, it may amount to nothing but we had seen first hand the devastation in Thailand and Sri Lanka caused by the 2004 Tsunami, it would have been very foolish to stay so at 10pm the 3 of us set off out to sea.   Maluhia had planned to go to Nuka Hiva the following day so went overnight instead, Mezzaluna and Balvenie just sailed around till dawn and returned. P9230241 There was no sign of damage at all but it was much better to be safe than sorry.

Surprise Rendezvous

The Aranui III freighter/cruise ship pulled into harbour at dawn one morning, it was on its next round of deliveries since we had seen it in Fatu Hiva.  We went ashore to join the passengers watch a dance display performed by a small group of local dancers which was very good but the highlight of our day was getting a tap on the shoulder from very good ex cruiser friends from Auckland, Chris and Hilary ~ first met in Papua New Guinea onboard their yacht Moon River in 2005 and last seen in Thailand in 2007.

They had arrived on the Aranui III and seen Balvenie at anchor and had been trying to find us ashore.P9270013  What an absolute treat to be able to spend a few hours with them catching up on the last 8 years, so much water has gone under both our keels and our time together was way too short!!

So What Else To Do

We have a full day island tour planned, we will explore those fairytale peaks and see if there are pixies and goblins up there.  We are really in “passing time” mode now.  Our original plans to cruise all of French Polynesia over the cyclone season have changed as it has turned into an El Nino year.  This means that the weather is warmer, the sea temperature is already 2deg C warmer than average for this time of year,P9250096 there have been way more hurricanes in the Northern Pacific than normal. 

All these indicators combine to suggest that the cyclone season in the South Pacific this season may affect the Society Islands and the Tuamotus so we will be staying up here in the Marquesas until probably at least March.  We really need to slip into island time now for a few months!!  We are too late to make the run home to New Zealand.

So what more do we need here, well skipper would very much like a little bar with a big screen TV showing all the World Cup Rugby matches, both the little bar and the TV have so far alluded us so flaky wifi text updates are sufficing at present but I suspect we will be relocating before the beginning of the final rounds!  Rumours have it that Taiohae on Nuva Hiva might be the spot for that.P9230231

Slowly Slipping Into Island Time

Monday, 21 September 2015

Simply Stunning Setting in Fatu Hiva ..... September 2015

26 Aug – 12 Sep 2015:  Tahuata to Hanavave Bay, Fatu Hiva ~ 09 54S  139 06W


Dining Out with the LocalsP8280002

After a week in Atuona on Hiva Oa it was time to go troppo again and we moved the 9 miles back around to Hanemoenoa Bay on Tahuata.  There were some stronger winds and high swells forecast so this was the best place to sit them out.

On arrival this time there was only one other yacht and it left early the following morning, but we were never alone there, a few boats came and went.  We ventured ashore one day by dinghy, managing a successful landing and departure in the surf.  Steven (one of the 2 permanent residents) invited us back for a late lunch, along with a French boat at anchor with a family onboard.   They have taken 4 months off their jobs in Switzerland and chartered a catamaran out of Tahiti , spending the 4 months cruising French Polynesia with their 2 young daughters (7 & 4).  

So it was quite a novelty for them to have freshly caught fish made into Poisson CruP8280003 with limes just picked and coconut grated and pressed into cream minutes before, followed by wild pork and whole roasted breadfruit cooked over an open coconut husk fire, fresh island oranges and bananas for desert – another perfect day in paradise! 

After a few days the weather settled so we headed, along with Mezzaluna who had rejoined us in Hanemoenoa,  the 40 miles south to Fatu Hiva, the southernmost island in the Marquesas and reputed to have one of the most spectacular settings for an anchorage in the world. 

The Beauty of Nature

We have set Balvenies anchor in a fair number of stunning locations over the last 11 years so our expectations might well be higher than the average cruisers but we can honestly say that Hanavave Bay (aka The Bays of Virgins) is right up there with the wow factor.  It is not a great anchorage ~ not much room, very deep, can be rolly and if the winds are up the bullets whizz down the valley ~ but for sheer natural beauty its 10/10.

P9030076 With only 2 other yachts at anchor upon our arrival we nudged our way in to the best spot we could get,P9010021 dropping in an acceptable 14 metres but once settled we were laying in well over 25 metres.  This is really not ideal but wind conditions were forecast to be light for the coming days so hopefully we would get none of the infamous “bullets” down the valley bringing gusts of over 30 knots.   

The vista was exceptional, the dipping sun accentuated the layers and folds of the sheer cliffs, as we looked from one rock pillar to the next we could see faces in the contours with the shadows, it was just magical. 

The small village lies at the head of the bay, and a compact breakwater tries to protect the dock from the surging swell. P9030039 For the first couple of days we were there the swell was up, surf was breaking along the beach and over the breakwater.  The local boats (aluminium runabouts about 4 metres long) still came and went, they had much more powerful engines than our dinghy and local knowledge.  We watched the action from Balvenie and waited patiently for conditions to improve.    

Exploring Ashore

Once the swell settled we ventured ashore to visit the small tidy village and to do some hiking. P9030043 First up was the waterfall hike, a pleasant walk through lush vegetation, rewarded with a dip (for skipper) in the very cool swimming pool at the base of the waterfall.  Another beautiful natural setting and just us with Jeff and Katie there to enjoy it.   Our next hike was on the road to the southern village of Omoa, you can walk all the way there and back but we decided just to go to the highest point then retrace our steps back down, even this was about 5 hours roundtrip with some seriously steep inclines then declines. 

The road twisted and turned, up, up and up some more, the views below were unspoilt and every now and then we would get a peak at the yachts at anchor, far far below.  We were passed by only one vehicle so it sure wasn’t a busy road, most of the traffic goes by sea – a much quicker option, not too sure just why they built the road really.P9060061

The paved road eventually ran out at the top and a rough dirt track wound along the mountain tops, an abandoned front end loader sat rusting at the summit for skipper to play on while I took photos of Balvenie and our neighbouring yachts looking like tiny white specs, far below – yes it really was quite some climb up there! 

You could see the wind shadow of Fatu Hiva for miles out to sea, the glassy waters below us were sheltered in the lee of the island, Tahuata and Hiva Oa were visible in the distance under fluffy trade wind clouds, it was a glorious day and the vista was outstanding.


P9040018Time To Be Tourists

One day the Aranui III was scheduled to arrive in neighbouring Omoa so we arranged return  transport by tinnie (local aluminium boat) with Poi one of the local carvers and went to Omoa for the day.   The Aranui III is a combined Coastal Trader and Cruise Ship and plies the waters of French Polynesia on a regular schedule, offering a life line of inbound goods to the communities and an opportunity for all the copra and noni to be shipped out regularly, (copra is dried coconut meat used for its oil and noni is a bumpy fruit a little smaller than a mango which is used in P9040024pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, both are major export crops)  thereby creating cash flow for the locals.  Additional income is made of course by having the visiting cruise ship passengers ashore giving them an opportunity to purchase local crafts. 

While all the freight is being unloaded and loaded the paying passengers get brought ashore in what could only be described as war time landing craft (think of the first scene from the epic movie “Saving Private Ryan” of the beach landings but without the gunfire!)   There was a considerable swell running and we watched as the landing craft came surfing in, make a sharp turn between the incoming rollers to get behind the breakwater and then surf right to the dock, quite entertaining. P9040025 

If you don’t actually think that looks too bad take a look at the photos below with the surge coming in and out and the surf on the beach.  Then take into account that dockworkers were all wearing lifejackets in case they got washed in, and the meeting point for all the passengers kept going underwater - it was lively!  We are happy to report that all goods and passengers appeared to make it ashore unscathed although we suspect not completely dry.


We joined the throng of tourists and wandered up to the local Community Centre where all the local craftspeople were presenting their wares.  There was an excellent display of wooden, bone and shell carvings along with a varied selection of printed tapa cloths.  There was jewellery, ornaments, bowls, traditional weapons, wooden and stone tikis, all absolute works of art.

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Cutting the branch, peeling the bark back then pounding it out, the different trees provide varying colours

P9060065 This island is one of the last to still make tapa cloth, made from the inner bark of either mulberry, breadfruit or banyan trees and the local women did a presentation showing the skills they have in peeling the bark from the branches, pounding it to ease the fibres and stretch the fabric.  In the right photo see how wide the piece has become already.

The Aranui III spent the evening anchored off our bay, funnily enough the Paul Gauguin (the only full cruise ship to visit this region) had passed by the evening before at sunset.  This is the most remote island in the archipelago, both geographically and commercially as there is no airstrip, and the passenger ships don’t visit often but they both swung by while we were there.  Balvenie sitting at anchor with the soft light of the setting sun on us, silhouetted against the steep sided lush mountains will forever be in hundreds of tourists photos!


We Agree ~ A Truly Spectacular Setting

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Landfall At Last In The Majestic Marquesas ..... August 2015

10 – 25 August:  Hanemoenoa Bay, Tahuata to Atuona, Hiva Oa ~ 09 48S 139 01W


Landfall in Paradise

Many a sailor has waxed lyrical about the beauty of the Marquesas Islands, honestly after 19 days and 4 hours at sea anywhere calm to anchor would have looked good to me. 

On our final approach and with just a scrap of sail up, Balvenie surfed through the channel between Hiva Oa and Tahuata to finally sail into calmer waters and as we turned down the sheltered west coast of Tahuata the swell abated, the sun was shining, and soon we saw a handful of yachts anchored in Hanemoenoa Bay.  We had done it, 2984 miles had passed under Balvenies keel since we left Isabela in the Galapagos nearly 3 weeks ago, we had at last made landfall in paradise! P8280004   

And what a stunning location to make landfall, coconut palms swayed in the breeze bordering the white sandy beach,  the water was clear, the bottom sandy, and Balvenie moved with a gentle rock but not much roll. 

David and Kim off Maluhia who we had been talking to on our Magnet Cruisers Net swung by to say hi, welcome us to “the other side” and deliver greatly appreciated fresh fruit.  We were overjoyed to be here, we had crossed the Eastern Pacific.  Only those of us who have ventured beyond the horizon in our little boats would know the sense of relief and euphoria upon arrival in a safe anchorage.  We had made it and the rum had never tasted sweeter.  

Cleaning Up and Winding DownP8280005

We stayed 9 nights in this almost deserted beautiful bay.  Top priorities to start with (after sleeping, sleeping and more sleeping) were to clean the outside of the hull, all sorts of things - dead and alive – hitched a ride across the Pacific, there were barnacles, sea snails, little squirmy tadpole creatures, seaweed and thick black squid ink ~ all attached to our paint work, yep, not the antifoul under the water, these little nasties were all on our white paint. 

Everyone that does this passage has the same complaint and there is nothing for it but to attack the paintwork with all manor of cleaning products until the white paint resurfaces.  2 days and seriously sore bodies later Balvenie was once again gleaming.  P8190063

Jeff and Katie on Mezzaluna arrived a day after us, Wapiti and Olé popped up after their visits to Hiva Oa to join the party.  An unobstructed view to the west afforded some excellent sunsets and we all happily slipped into island time.  Sundowners were shared together on the boats in the anchorage as the dinghy landings and departures ashore were a little challenging at times in the swell and sensibly not attempted after a couple of rums and in the dark! 

Across to Atuona

The trade winds eased and the swell abated so we did the big jump 9 miles across the channel into the small harbour of Atuona on Hiva Oa.  There was huge excitement onboard when we hooked a big Wahoo, just 500 metres off the breakwater.  It was a fighter though and really did not want to come and join us for dinner but man won over beast and our first Wahoo back in the Pacific was landed, 4ft long and over 12 dinner portions for the two of us, an excellent haul (pay back time for all the lures we lose!!!)P8210076

This anchorage contrasted greatly to the one we had just left.  Dark shallow waters looked uninviting over the black sand bottom, a black pebble beach lay at the end of the harbour and a large commercial dock was along one side.  The small breakwater provided reasonable protection from lingering swell but space was tight and for the first time in our 11 years of cruising we deployed a stern anchor so we would not swing. 

Although not the most ideal anchorage it was still picturesque, very sheltered from the wind, flat, gave us reasonable access to town for much needed fresh produce and hot baguettes, plus we could formally check in to French Polynesia. 

Boats jobs were attended to, so much easier to perform in flat water.  I replaced 4 slugs that had broken on our mainsail during our passage, skipper took Ray the autopilot apart again and found a possible tiny fracture in the wiring so replaced it and now Ray is back in full working order.  P8253695Had Ray been our only autopilot skipper would have persevered at sea on passage in the lumpy conditions until he found the problem but with the luxury of two autopilots he was able to defer major surgery until now.

Time For Some Tiki Touring

Different countries have unique sayings ~ in Australia if you go away for a few days it might be said you have “gone walkabout”, in New Zealand we  might say you have “gone for a tiki tour”.  Here in the Marquesas we went for a tiki tour and actually saw some tikis!!!   In company with David and Kim off Maluhia and Jeff and Katie off Mezzaluna we engaged the services of John a local and his pick up truck and went off for the day, tiki touring around Hiva Oa.

P8250139 P8250089  

The weather wasn’t promising to start as low cloud and drizzle initially obscured all the views but as we climbed higher and higher and popped out onto the eastern coast the world turned blue and sunny again and stayed that way for the rest of the day. 

P8250103 P8250134

We drove up and down on dirt roads, along narrow ledges high above the sea, out on rocky promontories with hairpin bends where only goats should have been ~ this was not an excursion for the faint hearted!!!    Every now and then we would descend down to sea level and pass a tiny hamlet of a handful of houses but this was a sparsely populated area, the fact that they had road access at all was absolutely amazing.


P8250112 Eventually we arrived at Baie Puamau and headed inland the short distance to Iipona, the site of Takaii, the largest stone tiki in French Polynesia, and depending on what reference book you use – possibly the largest in the world, standing at 2.43m high.   

Located in the ruins of an ancient me’ae (sacred temple) the setting was glorious with a backdrop of age old mature tropical trees in the foreground and steep cliffs in the background.  There were other tikis, statues and petroglyphs on site, along with lichen covered stone ruins of buildings.  It was an interesting archaeological site, tucked away in one of the locals back garden!

P8250115  P8250107 P8250105

Lunch was supplied by John (just as well as there is nowhere to stop), so we returned to a shady spot by the beach and adjacent church then indulged in an excellent hot picnic complete with fresh baguettes and an excellent bottle of wine, well we are in France ~ sort of!!

P8250128 P8250126

All Restocked And Ready To Move On

Restocking on fresh produce is not that straightforward here.  In fairness the 3 “supermarkets” are exceptionally well stocked mainly with produce from France and New Zealand.  If it is bottled, dried, canned, frozen or refrigerated you are likely to find it here and we thought the prices were reasonable for the remote location.  However it was fresh fruit and vegetables we wanted, and they are not so easy to get. 

IMG_0573 When it comes to fruit, imported fruit is in the the supermarket fridges looking unappealing but who wants that with all this wonderful tropical fruit around.  Everyone has all manor of trees in their gardens so it is almost a case of leaning over someones fence, striking up a conversation in our best French, then asking if they would like to sell any surplus fruit.  Most are happy to give it to us so we managed to get bananas, pamplemousse (huge tropical sweet grapefruit), oranges, limes, papaya and a couple of early season mangoes.

However green vegetables just don’t seem to be grown.  Seriously mouldy cauliflower was available but not at all appealing, cabbages sometimes at around $9USD each (better than nothing), one day I spotted a bag of fresh watercress so grabbed that and we managed to buy a few avocado off the back of the truck another day.  Tomatoes, potatoes and onions are available if the supply boat has been.  Anyway we will not get scurvy or go hungry in this “Garden of Eden”, we will just have fruit salad instead of green salad.

IMG_0568 P8250100 IMG_0570 

With a forecast of strong winds and increasing swells we decided to move on from Atuona back around to Hanemoenoa Bay in Tahuata to await more favourable weather before heading south to Fatu Hiva. 

Back to Clear Water and White Sand, Magic