Friday, November 7, 2014

Hawaiki Nui Va’a Races: Lots of Canoes and Even More Water

Mark and I left our pretty and shallow anchoring spot near motu Aito for three reasons: a change of scenery, supposedly decent WiFi (from an internet service we still had soon to expire credit of) and to do some hikes in Taha’a’s interior. We would return after a few days for the annual canoe races. Once we arrived in Haamene Bay on the east coast of Taha’a, the weather changed for the worst. The rain became more incessant, the already murky bay turned orange/brown and the hiking trails melted into piles of mud. More than a quick walk through town and up a hill was not feasible. The scenery was nothing special and the expected and needed internet was fluky at best. In between rain showers, we lifted anchor and gladly motored the 7 miles back to our – so far – favorite Raiatea anchorage, across from the capital Uturoa.

Every year, the Hawaiki Nui Va’a races take place in the Leeward Islands of the Societies. This year, over 80 va’a (skinny canoes with an outrigger), each with six experienced and mostly professional rowers, left Huahine for the first leg to Raiatea on November 5th.  It was another rainy day and while keeping an eye on the commotion in the distance – near the closest pass where the group would appear – with binoculars, we hoped for a dry period before the outriggers would reach the finish line. When the troupe of local fishing boats, ferries, catamarans, jetskis, skiffs, any other local craft, and helicopters moved closer to Uturoa, Mark and I braved the weather and jumped in our dinghy to join the fun. Despite the wind, the waves and the rain, we did not want to miss out on the biggest sports event in French Polynesia. Soon, we were part of the immense chaos of zipping boats, massive chop and wake, and the sounds of drumming, cheering voices, revving boat engines, and buzzing news and rescue helicopters.

While our little, almost invisible, dinghy bounced all over the place and drowned in some salty waves, I tried to take some pictures of the event. The movement of the boat and the stubborn rain did not create any impressive photos, but I hope the shots underneath provide a good glimpse and feel of what was going on. A nice surprise awaited us when we were ready to go ashore and find some shelter. Our friends Patrick and Rachel on SV Namaste had picked up a mooring ball on the sidelines of the event and we happily climbed onboard. It was great to see them and to catch up on the last six months. They had sailed all the way to Tonga and back, while we made our emergency visit to the States, explored Tahiti and Moorea and received visitors.

An hour into discovering the couple, a greater reunion took place, when – unexpectedly – Phil, Zoë and their friend Scott showed up on SV Namaste. We had not seen the youngsters since Christmas in Taiohae, Nuku Hiva. It was a good reason to celebrate and soon, the rum went around and the mood of the day was established. We chatted, watched the start of the women’s and junior’s canoe races, went ashore to eat lunch and hang out, and became wetter and muddier, when the rain became a consistent downpour and the paths swampy rivers. In the evening, the three person crew of SV L’Obsession (a 45’ Lagoon catamaran) invited us and Rachel and Patrick over for good times aboard. Finally wearing a set of dry clothes by then, we enjoyed great company, food and drinks until 1am! Unfortunately, on the way back home, we were caught in another nasty squall, which produced more wet clothes and towels to contribute to the growing pile in Irie’s cockpit.

Blue skies again after a very rainy week!
On November 6th, the race would start from Raiatea and head to Taha’a. The rain had not subsided. When we were ready to brave it again and drop the dinghy, we realized that the start line would be out of reach of our slow mode of transportation, while the starting time was already upon us. We decided to stay home and dry instead. The day after, we were hoping to catch up with the race and join the rowers to Bora Bora with Irie. It would have been a great spectacle with an awesome local party at night, but, when we opened our eyes in the morning, it was pouring yet again and the sky did not look promising. The wind was blowing like crazy, just like the days prior. Around noon, the sun finally and surprisingly reappeared in all her glory and the amazing blue colors of the lagoon blinded us. By then, it was too late for us to get ready and head west, so instead we did laundry and felt a hint of regret not being able to be present during the finishing touches and celebrations of this year’s Hawaiki Nui.

Haamene valley full of palms

View of Haamene bay from the top of the hill

All our plants were swamped by the rain and some died

While it rains, we get work done: a router out of cardboard!

Mark and I reproduced a cardboard router based on the dimensions from the factory, to do some try outs

Haamene Bay in Taha'a after more rain

Chaos at the finish line of the first Hawaiki Nui leg

One of the first va'a to arrive in Raiatea

Passing the finish line

Paddling in sync

A cargo ship entering the commotion near the finish line

Finally rest after a long ocean passage

And a welcome sip of water

Skinny va'a with outrigger

The rowers don't mind the rain!

A last effort to the finish line

Patrick, Mark, Liesbet, Scott, Zoe, and Phil in Namaste's cockpit

The women's (vahini) race

Some of the heavily sponsored va'a onshore

A wet and muddy day!

The evening light casts some color on the busy inner harbor

Soaking wet and ready to head back to our boats


Lisa Dorenfest said...

Love your photos of the Outrigger Canoes! Glad to hear that Namaste made it safely! Miss you1

Liesbet said...

Thanks, Lisa! Your shots of the va'a are not to be equaled, however! :-) Enjoy NZ!!!!