Taiohae Again

Yoan and Taifun joined me early in the morning on Aluna for the short leg back to Taiohae Bay, where under the hopefully lenient eyes of the gendarmes we will have our last fix of civilization for a while. Beatriz decided to take the day off from navigating the seas and joined Maimiti and Camille to go to the rehearsals and traditional costume fabrication for tonight’s performance of Tahitian dances at the catholic cathedral’s monthly fundraiser. So the gender gap was wide open and clearly established today, us doing the guy thing and girls doing theirs during the day with the plan to join and share the experiences towards the late afternoon.

It has been a while now that we wanted to give our local friends a good experience of wandering on the sea as a thank you for the tremendous help and support we have the honor of receiving. Today’s mostly downwind run should be perfect to show them the brighter side of it all without getting into the realm of physical and spiritual banging and bruising that can be so easily associated with sailing out into the blue yonder. Although the wind promises to be a quite a bit fresher than over the last couple days more than half of the sail will be done within protected bays and the short stint out along the coast we’ll be literally going with the wind.

Neither me nor my new uninitiated crew have any knowledge of French maritime terminology worthy of that name, so with a lot of the classic “pull this thing over there” and “give that one over there a shove” we’re going through the sequence of transforming Aluna from a comfortable home on the more or less quite waters into a vehicle in perpetual motion pushed mostly forward by the wind and shoved back and forth by the waves. Alunita is pulled up on board by her nose with the main halyard and then turned belly up on the starboard foredeck.

The mizzen is raised and unbraided at once. Next the mainsail goes up but that one stays braided shut for now. We want to have the anchor up first, so I’m scanning the surface of the water around us and wait for a lull in the wind. My wish is almost instantly granted, so I decide to go for it and start to pull up on the anchor rode. There’s so little water under Aluna’s keels that I get to the shackle connecting the rode to the 15’ of chain before feeling the strain of having to pull the anchor out of the bottom. It all goes easy and the claw shaped anchor now sits in the slot where it rests while underway. Very obviously my two guests are unaware of the precarious quality of this moment.  The boat is no longer securely attached to the sea bottom, there is no drive yet in the sails nor can you change its position by way of how you normally steer, which depends on the water moving past the rudders. Unlike a car a boat is most vulnerable when it is stopped, especially in situations without a steady and therefore predictable wind. So unfortunately I have to interrupt Yoan and Tayfun’s discussion about some function of the digital camera, and have them pull in the sheets of the main sail, while I release the brailing lines. Now Aluna is ready for leaving! The winds seem to be friendly today. A gentle breeze comes along from the beach, inflates the sails and like with a magic wand induces forward motion into our vehicle. She starts to respond to the steering and turning the wheel to the right brings Aluna’s bows to look out to the entrance of Controller Bay.

While slowly starting to make way we progress towards our neighbors for the last couple days, Corinne and Oliver who have just started their one year cruising dream on the beautiful ketch Don Pedro. We were invited over for tea last night and had promised to swing by for a photo op. They are already on deck with camera in hand as we approach. Once in comfortable shouting range I present my two friends, one of which is from Brittany, as is Olivier. Just as we are passing by their stern the nice following wind we’ve had since lifting the anchor stops and soon thereafter comes towards us from the other side. Aluna falls off to port and straight towards Don Pedro, as if she wants to go and check out her new lover at first sight. She drifts closer and closer and only slowly starts gaining just enough speed to ghost by our still smiling friends. Saved from yet another just a little too close encounter with fellow boaters!

A flock of frigate birds rides some invisible thermals overhead, circling graciously round and round, getting ever smaller as they climb up high towards the heaps of cumulus clouds. I never tire of observing their daily hunts skimming the water surface of harbors and bays with their curved down beaks, or simply diving, interrupting their survey flights by folding their wings to corkscrew down and splash into the water. As long as you’re not a little fish somewhere in their pass, there’s a hint of freedom in their ways, which can teach us trapped and crooked souls many a thing about what to do with our daily lives. After all we’re also born to be hunters, even if it is only hunters of happiness!

The size of the waves rolling under us slowly increases as we make our way out of Controller Bay.  Yoan is now on the wheel and clearly happy with it. After all boats are really good big boy’s toys, letting us dream for short stretches of time that we’re in charge of things. Tayfun seems to feel a little queasy, so when he gingerly tiptoes up to the foredeck with Yoan’s expensive looking camera in hand to take this picture I have all kinds of man-overboard drills racing through my head right next to my major worry about the main sail gybing violently to the other side. The fresh breeze that caps in white the sea around us is now dead astern. The main is in the turbulent wind flow behind the mizzen sail, bellowing open and closed like a dragon’s rib cage when spewing its breath of fire onto some sinful medieval township, and if Yoan lets Aluna wander a little too hard to starboard it will flip. So I’m standing here with sheet in hand, ready to pull it in should that happen to reduce the distance the mainsail travels across the ship’s centerline and thereby also the force of impact once it slams into the sheets on the opposite side.

All my worries are, as in fact most of the time, in vain. Tayfun makes it back safely into the protected space of the cockpit with his action shots in the box and the main sail eventually peacefully obeys our controlled maneuver once we have altered course sufficiently towards the South end of the Sentinelle de l’Est, one of the two rocky islets that stand guard at the entrance of Taiohae Bay. The surf pounds constantly at the cliffs that pass to our right in the eternal encounter of sea and rock, washing away grain after grain of the volcanic rock that was pushed up from the ocean floor eons ago and will end up again somewhere down there on the lightless bottom of the submarine world. It is a fragile equilibrium that allows our many life forms to cling to ephemeral surfaces between two or more elements, and we’re glad to be part of it, bouncing up and down on the wave trains that swell in from the Southeast.

Yoan is still happy at the wheel, now that we are rounding the corner of Motu Matavapuna, which is the Marquesan name for the East Sentinel. Two lonely palm trees stand up there on the cliffs amongst ochre brush. They are combed and groomed perpetually by the constant winds, and peak out over the seas through their clenched coconut eyes. Heading into the bay now the motion calms instantly and riding the riffraff eddies of wind over the flat and slightly rippled surface we get closer and closer to the little town at the end of it.

The anchorage is crowded and I decide against the purist sailor in me, open the covers to the starboard engine box, lower the engine well, tilt the outboard motor down and give it a couple cranks. It putters to its explosion powered life and pushes us safely through the twenty or so boats and we anchor right off the jetty. We’re in full view of the entire town here, but we’ve come to do business, so efficient use of the time is of the essence. We hopefully won’t be losing too much time with spotty WiFi, nor with long distance rowing to shore!

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