Monday, June 13, 2011

The Yachtie Olympics

In Atuona, the 'big city' and administrative center on Hiva Oa, we checked in with the gendarmes, making our official entry into France's Pacific colonies.

Once there, we found ourselves in the demanding round of events that I think of as the 'yachtie olympics' . We hitchhiked into town with our two small children - we did our duty by the gendarme (hoping that we were lying convincingly about the amount of alcohol that we have on board) - we paid our ridiculous bond at the bank, insurance that we wouldn't suddenly morph into 1970s-era hippies who decided spend the rest of their lives in the Marquesas - we sought out baguettes and exhaust repair compound at the local stores - we hauled drinking water from the wharf - we caught up on all the laundry that we didn't get to during the passage - we went up the mast to investigate the out-of-order forestay - and well, you get the picture. Is it any wonder we didn't get around to posting our stunning photos onto the blog?

The harbor at Atuona has a terrible reputation, but we were initially quite pleased with the setup. It was very crowded, but once we got our Fortress stern anchor put together correctly so that we weren't dragging down on the nice cat next to us in the middle of the night, it was OK. There were three other boats with small children in the anchorage, the town was small enough not to be overwhelming but big enough to give us a measure of anonymity, and it seemed like we had found a nice base where we could live comfortably while I took care of some of my work commitments.

But after two days the southern swell kicked up big, the legacy of some nautical misery thousands of miles away in the Southern Ocean. The anchorage went from rolly to ridiculous. I slept incredibly poorly that night, mindful of the reputation of this place for breakers that appear among the anchored yachts, and our position at the shallow end of the bay.

The next morning we made tracks. Pulling our two anchors from the still-crowded anchorage was a bit of a cluster, and we went to sea without being nearly prepared. The inflated dinghy was still hanging from the topping lift, the starboard side of the boat was still festooned with fenders, the stern anchor and all its rode were still piled on deck, and all the dorades were still in.

So imagine our consternation at getting out of the harbor and finding ourselves in the midst of nature's own drink mixer. The waves were much much bigger out there - funny, but we had thought only about escaping the lousy harbor, and not about what deteriorating conditions on the inside might say about the state of things on the outside. So we got to idle into the steep waves at 1500 RPM (LOVE the new autopilot) while we put everything away, ocean water rolling around our ankles all the while and Elias jumping up and down in the cockpit like the larrikin he is.

That's one thing about the life afloat - you never know when poor foresight or bad luck might see you in a Moment of Interest like this. Luckily, Alisa and I have always worked very well together in these sorts of situations. Under the strain of the moment I was sarcastic when she asked whether the stern painter on the dinghy should get untied, and inconsistent and then overly domineering with Elias about what behavior was and was not allowed while we got the boat sorted - two things that I regretted afterwards. But we got it all together without too much drama, though Alisa insisted that the three waves that swept under us just as I was up the granny bars to attach the main halyard were 24-footers ('Big as houses', she said, her tone inviting no contrary opinion).

Then we got to wonder if the channel between Hiva Oa and Tahuata would hold conditions that were dramatically worse, as its reputation suggested.

But we had a nice sail through the channel, running under double-reefed main and full jib.

We were anchored at Baie Hanamoenoa, Tahuata, in time for a late lunch. The water was clear blue. Little waves chewed at the broad sandy beach at the head of the bay. Palm trees leaned over in the tradewinds.

We were glad we moved.

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