Ua Pou

There it is, floating suspended, sparkling green in dark turquoise waters right in front of our bows. A giant sea turtle moves its flippers slowly up and down to propel its prehistoric body just a little faster and get out of Aluna’s way. Its left eye looks back at me as I am staring at it, caught in the magic spell of wild life. It’s early morning on November 1. While people back in town are readying their procession from the cemetery to the church to celebrate the Day of the Dead, Aluna is ghosting out of Taiohae Bay, clearly eager to do some dancing again on the waves of the open ocean after having rested for over two months. The little town of maybe 1600 souls is getting smaller and smaller in the background and makes way for Nuku Hiva’s spectacular landscape. But the lush green we remember from our arrival on the island is all but gone. The dry season has spread earthly browns of thirsty vegetation over the mountaintops and flanks, pronouncing the jagged edges of eroded rocks. The surface of the bay is slowly changing from the glassy shine back at the anchorage, where we had woken up to one of the very few windless mornings we have experienced here. Patches of rougher surface concentrate along the right side of the Bay when facing out, revealing to the trained eye the fact that the left side lies in the wind shadow of its high and steep cliffs. So while still crawling along under one knot fast, I guide Aluna slowly to the Western side. As we get into a freshening breeze we’re able to ride along a strip of rippled water while leaving the glassy patch on our port side. Once out of the Bay the sea shows for once a quite benign attitude with small wave trains pushed without whitecaps by a not too stiff breeze, while a gentle ground swell rolls under us barely perceivable. Due South and straight ahead of us stands the dark blue silhouette of our destination on the horizon under a cluster of cumulus clouds. The island of Ua Pou is just over 25 miles away.

At first the going is quite slow, we’re barely getting Aluna to skid along at three knots. It feels good to be out here again, the caresses of the breeze, the pounding of the sun, the gleaming of the light, the rhythm of the waves, the humming of the hulls and even the creaking of the beams, it all condensates to this eerie sensation of being detached from the rational and steady structure of land. The eyes wander over the travelling water and under the streaming clouds, riding along every now and then with a seabird gliding fearless from here to there. Slowly the wind picks up and around 11 we’ve upped our speed to four knots and more. The hours seem to be flying by and the features of Ua Pou’s little land mass start to crystallize, a handful of basalt pillars sticking like chimneys into the sky, their tops sliding in and out of the clouds that are drifting by. By now the houses of Hakahau start popping up silver white, little dots of humanity at the foot of a slab of brown and grey. Hakahau is the capital of the island and our destination. Its harbor sports a breakwater and it’s community clinic a government-sponsored dentist. The entrance to the harbor is narrow and the wind seems to spiral around the headland to windward. Split second decisions are standard operational mode when entering unknown harbors for the first time. There’s one sail boat anchored in the tiny basin, a motor boat tied up to the jetty, a sandy beach behind them reveals the tide is low. I have Beatriz round Aluna up between the two boats on the South side of the jetty and into the wind. The claw anchor goes down in maybe 6 feet of water and slows Aluna before she crashes into the jetty. Quick, the sails need to be brailed and now we fall back. The anchor digs in and we swing in the stiff breeze to port, then to starboard and back to port. I pay out the rode and on an outward swing drop our second anchor to keep us away from the beach, so now we’re hanging on two hooks. Later I’ll attach the bridle lines from Aluna’s bows; that will kick the nasty habit of swinging. Both sails are lowered and stowed on the sides.

Before my eyes have a chance to relax and look up at the mighty pillars that are now towering above us at the end of a slowly raising valley, a little skiff with a neat French pendant fluttering in the wind approaches from behind the other side of the jetty. Three guys in light blue jerseys and topaz pants, all nicely coiffed in short hair, stand stiffly in the skiff while it curves alongside. Darn, the gendarmes, just what we were hoping to avoid! “How long will you stay?” “Oh, a couple days at the most.” “You must come by the station tomorrow with your papers!” “Of course, will do, will do.” Now, instead of getting lost in the beauty of the landscape, my mind is racing to find plausible excuses for why, ten days after having signed out we’re still happily exploring French Polynesian soil.

2 Responses to “Ua Pou”

  1. Paz Says:

    What a fabulous experience…Beat todo lo describes con uan belleza que me transporta a donde estan…los recuerdo siempre con carino y gracias por escribir!

    • alunaboat Says:

      Paz Con mucho gusto compartimos las maravillosas experiencias que podemos disfrutar en este rincon privilegiado del mundo!

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