Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Rolling, Rowing and Rambling in Ua Huka

Not many sailboats visit the smallish island of Ua Huka in the Marquesas. The only anchorages are on the south coast and reputed to be uncomfortable, in turn making landings difficult as well. Marks’s first comment “These bays should not be called anchorages!” sums up our time onboard. Even though we planned to be there in pretty calm conditions (NE winds 10-15 knots, swell under 2m), the wind was very gusty and fluky, turning Irie around and around and having her sit on a lee shore regularly, when the wind followed the land and, accelerated, came into the bay from the south. The swell still managed to enter as well, so we rolled and jerked the whole stay. The constant flow of seawater onto our bottom steps turned them green, just like Irie’s water line and bottom! Our recommendation to visit Ua Huka by boat is to wait for a forecast with winds less than 10 knots from the northeast and a swell of less than 1.5m – it will be as calm and comfortable as it ever gets, but you have to get there first…

Rowing to shore and parking the dinghy in Hane Bay
Luckily, once onshore, it is comfortable and there is plenty to see and do. But first, with no dock or big sandy beach to land, there is some exercise to be had. Every morning, we dropped our engineless inflatable dinghy and clumsily rowed the half a mile to shore, which took about 20 minutes. Then, we had to haul the awkward thing over some rocks and above the high tide line to a level “parking spot”, where we left it, unlocked, and set out for half a day or a day. The islands of French Polynesia are very safe and the people – especially in the Marquesas – are extremely friendly. They all greet you; some of them shake your hand, introduce themselves or have a chat. Others invite you over to their house or give you a stack of bananas. The result of that is that we have about 100 bananas, all turning ripe as we speak!

Students carving tikis out of rosewood
On our first encounter in the small village of Hane, we met the principal of the local vocational school. He gave us a tour of the buildings and the garden, introduced us to teachers and pupils and encouraged us to chat, in English, with some of the students. After checking out the little store (no baguettes – they had been out of flour for three weeks) and church, and waiting for an hour long rainstorm to pass, we headed for Vaipaee, the biggest village on the island with about 200 people. This town lies only 2 miles away over the water, but, by winding road it is about 10 miles. We started the walk through the barren, but fascinating landscape, enjoying the views and the good, paved street. It was cloudy, so not too hot and the road was leveled against the rocky cliffs, so not too steep. This is my kind of walking!

South coast of Ua Huka towards Vaipaee
About halfway, near the airport and the nicely erected structures at the site of the upcoming December festival, we hitched a ride with one of the few cars, hoping to avoid the next rainsquall. A friendly lady picked us up and gave us a tour through the village, before we got out to inspect the narrow, canyon-like bay of Vaipaee. We both agreed that Hane is the better place to anchor. The small town boasts an interesting museum – called “the best of the Marquesas” in a few guidebooks, a nice church with all its statues and scenes depicting facets of the bible carved out of wood, and a few stores. We easily hitched a ride back to Hane in the afternoon.

Church entrance in Vaipaee

Vaipaee museum
The following day, we walked the coastal road to Hokatu, passing a viewpoint and some wild goats and horses. These animals outnumber the local people by 10:1. Once in the beautifully located town, we braved the heat and the humidity, to hike up a few hills to see what we could find. We were looking for artisans, willing to sell or trade for their wood carvings. These are known to be the best and most affordable ones in the Marquesas. It was very quiet all around (the Taporo cargo vessel was in Vaipaee, attracting everyone to pick up goods, especially flour) and in the end, we found someone with a key to the artisanal building near the water. After looking around and choosing and comparing some pieces for an hour or so, Mark and I went home – by car – with $100 worth of wooden treasures. It had been a while since we spent some money; believe it or not, but life in the Pacific can be cheap! :-)

Hokatu’s waterfront
A day of rest, while rolling, was in order, after barely sleeping at night, and on our last day in Hane (Sunday), we set out towards the hills. One of the church going villagers gave us good directions to reach the local archeological site. The walk was uphill the whole time, but doable, albeit the high level of humidity and the gallons of sweat we had to shed.  We took our time and easily found the ruins on a flat part up one of the hills. Three ancient, weathered tikis stood on the edge of it. Once back in town, we watched the quiet Sunday scene for a while before rowing home, into the wind once more, since it had changed directions… again.

Archeological site in the hills behind Hane
One last row and carrying the dinghy ashore on Monday, to pick up some anticipated baguettes, before we slowly sailed to Haavei on the SW corner of the island. We passed two interesting looking islands with hundreds of birds circling around them, before entering the idyllic looking bay. A sandy beach with heaps of palm trees lured ashore and the dry features of the rocks and cliffs around filled our view. It was quiet and attractive, but … rolly and with fluky, onshore winds. Again. Kind of ready for some sleep at night and some chores to be done in a non-moving boat, we decided to pass on this anchorage and – even though it was already 11am - sail on to Nuku Hiva. There, in Baie du Controleur, we found an incredibly flat and peaceful anchorage (no crashing waves!) after a fun and smooth five hour sail. Ah... the pleasures of not bumping our heads and toes anymore!

Haavei Bay

Tikis carved in stone in front of Hane’s hospital

Church in Hane

Stone carved statues in front of the Vaipaee museum

There are tikis everywhere on these islands; here in front of Vaipaee’s town hall

Hane Bay – with Irie – seen from the viewpoint towards Hokatu

Picturesque rock at the mouth of Hane Bay

Interesting looking “bird islands” off Haavei Bay

Dorado (mahi mahi) for dinner, once in Nuku Hiva


Pieter said...

Hi guys, just wanted to let you know that I continue to follow your blog with great interest, as we will go to explore this part of the world soon too ( we are still comfortably enjoying the Caribbean (currently in Curacao), on route to Aruba and then across to Jamaica, Cuba and around to BVI and st Maarten ( and then first to Europe). Anyway, your posts, straight forward and to the point as they are, kind of burst my bubble, in the sence that I always thought the marqueses, and basicaly all of French polinesia to be nice islands, perfect beaches, a hassle free, sailors paradise. Now, I am reading abt storms, huge swells that make going to shore impossible, roly anchorages, and no,place to buy food... Of course I understand that living aboard also has its downsides ( I live aboard for over 4 years), but it seems that you guys are having a hard time (mainly because adverse weather conditions), so if you can, pls tell me: now you are where you are, is your opinion changing towards this part of sailing grounds, and, would it have been different if you would have been here during a different ( weather) season?. In the meantime, sail on, enjoy and keep on posting. Best rgds Pieter Kommerij, SV Onda Boa blog www.sailingoceanofdreams.blogspot.com

Liesbet said...

Hello Pieter!

It sounds like you are having a nice time on your way west. We did the same Venezuelan islands and ABC-trip a while ago. Make sure you spend some time in the San Blas at some point; they are gorgeous and awesome! Based on your current plans, it will be a while before you plan on heading this way...

The adverse weather, we only had in the Gambier islands, because they are relatively far south and therefore in the path of low pressure systems and cold fronts, during the winter months. They would be lovely during cyclone season here and we know quite a few cruisers who are heading back that way the coming months. During the local summer (not when most sailors pass through), the weather conditions should be mellower than the rest of the year.

The Marquesas are beautiful and special in their own way (nature,wildlife, people, safety, culture) and we are glad to be here and experience it all. We don't find it "out-of-this-world", however, and if someone wants easy cruising, they find beautiful places elsewhere.

We were under the same impression as you before we came here... doing the so called "milk run"; what could be hard about that? I have to say that most reports online try to make everything sound better than it is. Conditions in the Pacific are more challenging overall than the Caribbean, that's for sure, and it is a good idea to have that in the back of your mind...

These islands are not known for their beaches and snorkeling. There are a few nice beaches, but nothing compared to the Caribbean, Venezuela or even the Gambier and they are known to be infested with no-see-ums. The Tuamotus are better known for their paradise-like features and great snorkeling.

The biggest problem in the Marquesas is that there are very few protected anchorages, the way you are used to in the Caribbean. The islands are mountainous (and the bays are deep and dark)and that influences the wind direction, causing fluky winds, strong gusts and lee shores. Many times, a swell rolls into the anchorage, forcing monohulls to use two anchors, but you won't have that problem. :-) This probably explains (and the fact that some nationalities only receive three months upon entry) why most cruisers don't spend a lot of time in the Marquesas - just a few weeks.

We still have quite a few new anchorages to go to and with our slow pace, we should be OK entertaining ourselves here for another five months (cyclone season), going back to the protected places we like most.

Happy sailing and circling the Caribbean!