Tack up to Taipi Bay

Well, that name is actually just printed small and in parenthesis on the old French map from 1881 that is the official source for the NIMA chart of Nuku Hiva. The “official” name is Baie du Contrôleur, French for Controller Bay and you can do your own guesswork about what the story behind that one is. It is a three pronged, maybe four mile deep inlet just inside the outer ridge of old eroded crater wall that makes up the islands East Coast. At the end of the middle finger, which ends at the beach of the little hamlet of Taipivai, we’re now anchored in shallow water, swinging slowly from side to side in the gusty winds that funnel through the valley formed by densely overgrown steep cliff walls. But let me tell you a little bit how we got here.

Pulling up an anchor by hand with no mechanical means is always quite a workout. So getting up the two of them we have gotten used to setting wherever we land, literally brought my heart rate up to where it should be, were I fanatic enough to train for a marathon. Heavily breathing I run back to the wheel to take over from Beatriz. The moody winds of Taiohae Bay have us fall off to starboard and we start making way straight towards our neighbors in their blue steel ketch, their two dogs getting ready to bark us to smithereens. I decide to pass them on our lee, praying that the ever-possible wind shift to the opposite direction will wait until we’re past their stern. The old guy with his grey white beard raises his beer to a toast, we throw a joke or two back and then swing around behind them just before setting our course towards the stretch of rippled horizon at the seaward end of the Bay. By now it is noon, after having had to wait for the filled gas bottle to arrive at the shop, then raise the sails, clear the decks and the already mentioned raising of the hooks, I’m wondering if we’ll be able to make it to our destination before sunset.

But the elements are willing to cooperate with our plans today, in about half an hour we make it through the cycle of gusty eddies swashing about inside the ancient eroded crater walls and we now stick our noses out once again into the Southerly trades. They’re not as feisty as they were when we came in from the blue a little over two seeks ago, but still the sea is choppy with white caps everywhere. I tell Manuel, our trusty autopilot, to hug the wind as close as possible and check our actual course on the GPS. We’re pointing slightly to the East of the mysterious silhouette of Ua Po, the Island directly South of Nuku Hiva, and for almost two hours sail away from the rugged cliffs we’ve been calling home for the last couple weeks. At 1:45pm we tack. It’s the first time we’re doing this on our own, just Beatriz and I. I turn the autopilot off and release its clutch. Turning the wheel right makes Aluna fall off the wind just a bit and she picks up speed. I’m waiting for a suitable wave top to turn. The first two are too steep and the third too flat. The fourth one has to do! I turn the wheel two full turns to the left and pass it over to Beatriz. I had previously eased the starboard sheets of the mizzen and main sails for them to fall into their new positions after the tack by themselves. So all that is left to do is run to the foredeck and back the main into the windward side to make it through the eye of the wind. I’m scanning the horizon to see if Aluna is actually coming about, and she is! The sail is pulling me over to port and starts pulling on the starboard sheet. We did it! I run back to the wheel, straighten the rudders and counter steer. Now we’ll see if I judged the tacking angle right. When Aluna settles on her new heading she points straight towards the cliffs of the islands Southeastern extremity. Pretty soon the GPS confirms it: taking leeway and a possible current into account we’re heading straight for the entrance of Controller Bay.

In another hour we’re entering the wind shadow of the ridge to the East and again make way by riding the puffs of wind coming at us from all directions. There are the three fingers of the Bay in front of us and we’re heading for the middle one. Towards the entrance of this one the wind stabilizes aft of our beams and pretty soon I have to brail the sails to reduce the speed as we head for the beach of Taipivai. There’s another sailboat anchored in the bay. We pass it and drop our first anchor further towards the beach. We could have gone further and reduced the distance we have to row the dinghy, but we need some room to tack out here once we leave. The 15’ of chain run through my hands and soon after I feel the anchor touch bottom. The rode runs out, including the two extensions still attached from our set up in Taiohae Bay. At the end of it I cleat it off. Aluna comes to a full stop and I throw the second anchor over the beam. Pulling the two extensions back in and letting out the second anchor’s rode brings us to our resting place for the night and hopefully for the next few days. We’re ready for some hefty dinner now, it’s five o’clock and the sun will be down in an hour. It lights up the mighty valley behind the dark sand beach with shafts of rays shooting down through black clouds. Lush green glistens and forests of coconut palms stretch along the bottom of the steep walls rising up on either side. There is always that notion on Nuku Hiva, at any moment you expect a dinosaur breaking through the foliage or some other ancient creature staring you down.

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