Weather Helmed

an adventure in renewing the spirit and living the dream…on a sailboat

Weather Helmed

Making Landfall (May 8, 2010)

May 20th, 2010 · 2 Comments · Famous Firsts, French Polynesia, Marquesas, Nuku Hiva, Pacific Crossing

In the dark, the island was a foreboding dark mass on the horizon, a threatening black image on the radar screen.  After being at sea for so long, seeing nothing for weeks, and falling into a pleasant state of not worrying about running into anything, it felt strangely scary to suddenly be within three miles of towering cliffs with waves crashing over their feet. I was relieved when my four hours were up and it was time for Matt’s watch.  I left the boat in his hands and went down below to sleep, knowing that as dawn approached, we would see Nuku Hiva in all its glory.

An hour later, I was back up in the cockpit staring open-mouthed at the spectacular view of the southern side of the island.  Steep cliffs rose up from the water, backed by tall green mountains whose slopes were occasionally interrupted by sheer rock walls.  The narrow entrance to Taiohae bay was just ahead of us and as we gybed around and faced the bay, I was overwhelmed with the reality that we had finally arrived; we had sailed across the longest stretch of open ocean in the world; we were really truly in the long-awaited South Pacific.  Fighting tears, I turned to Matt and took his hand.  “We did it.”  I said.  “Yes.” He said softly. “We did it.”  We stood there at the mast watching the town of Taiohae unfold before us, the small blue bay dotted with bobbing boats, and a sprinkling of shiny roofs among the hills, gleaming as the sun came up over Nuku Hiva.   With every day at sea being more or less exactly the same as the one before, Nuku Hiva seemed brimming with adventures and sights and smells and sounds, a much welcome bombardment of the senses.

We motored around through the boats – about 20 or so, finally picking a spot relatively close to the pier for easy dinghy access.  As we prepared to anchor, we both noticed a strange earthy smell, “That must be the smell of land,” Matt says.  After a breakfast of leftover pasta, a beer and a coke, Matt is down below sleeping and I am sitting on deck, looking around, in awe that we are really here.

The sky changes every few minutes, varying between bright blue and sunny and overcast with dense gray clouds. A thin, misty fog slinks down the hills, creeping stealthily towards the town on the waterfront, and just when I think it’s going to rain, the sun sweeps in and lights up the bay and the clouds are blown out to sea. The water is a muddy brownish green, not the crystal clear waters I was hoping for, but you can see tiny specks floating around that must be brine shrimp or baby jellies (I refuse to speculate as to what else might be floating in the anchorage), and every once in a while a school of small fish gathers around the boat, performing their synchronized swimming act until splash and flash, they leap as one and then instantly disappear.

There is a dirt road, the main road apparently, that follows around the bay, along the edge of the water, which is barricaded by a high rock wall.  A steady stream of SUV’s – mostly landrovers and pick-up trucks – winds along the road, passing by palm trees and brightly colored buildings before disappearing around a bend and reappearing near the pier where there are several buildings and a small congregation of people sitting under storefront awnings.  Peering through the binoculars, it doesn’t look like any of the stores are open.  I vaguely remember reading about everything shutting down (if it wasn’t already) during the middle hours of the day.  Several dinghies whiz past us, tying up on the far side of the concrete pier, their passengers unloading and heading towards a small brown and white building nearby.  The public showers, maybe?  I can see other must-be tourists walking alongside the main road, standing out with their hefty backpacks and wide-brimmed hats.

There is a white cross perched above the town, and later in the week we will pass by the church and hear, from a distance, hymns sung in Marquesan, loud beautiful voices filling the air.

The anchorage here is very quiet, the only noise the soft grinding of a dredge behind us as it digs around in the area near the fuel dock. The waterfront is lovely.  It looks like a long stretch of park with green grass, a variety of trees, and benches nestled under them.  The beach, though, is less appealing, black and rocky and supposedly haunted by no-no’s, those minuscule little buggers that will eat you alive.  There is a small patch of sand down towards the very end of the bay, but we’ll pass on that as we’ll later see local fishermen cleaning their daily haul in the nearby waters, fish blood and guts practically dumped on the beach.

Finally, after Matt wakes up and the sun is much lower in the sky, we decide to head into town for dinner.  We dinghy over near the pier, tie up and are immediately greeted by two fellow cruisers – crew on a 115 foot boat from the Galapagos.  They tell us where to get money and give us the low-down on the only restaurant in town that might be open.  It is dark by now, and there are a few lights here and there, but the town is quiet – no sounds but the occasional truck passing by, the ocean, and the tumbling of pebbles – crackling like falling fireworks – as waves pound the rocky shoreline, then recede back into the bay.  We pass by several closed-up buildings, peering in the windows to see if we can discern what they are, stop at the ATM machine (“Uh… do you know what the exchange rate is?”), then make our way past two grocery stores, and towards the only bright lights for miles – a pizza and seafood restaurant.  As we enter the patio, we see immediately that we are surrounded by other cruisers and, to our surprise, they are all mostly young!  We all glance around at each other, but it’s clear that no one is currently interested in making new friends, and I’m really not in the mood for socializing yet – it’s enough to simply be around other people.  We order a pizza and beers, toast to our successful passage, look out at the beautiful view of anchor lights flirting with brilliant stars, and breathe a deep sigh of relief, happy to finally have our feet back on solid ground.

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