I hope I take this back numerous times between here and New Zealand, but we’ll see: for the rest of my life, when I hear the word “idyllic”, I’ll think of Hanamoenoa Bay.
Hanamoenoa Beach

Hanamoenoa Beach

About noon today, preparations were finally complete, the stern and bow anchors had been hoisted, and we left Hiva Oa and Taahuku Bay. We motorsailed west through Bordelais Channel and then headed south to sail along the west coast of Tahuata. We didn’t know precisely where we were headed, but we decided on the way to have a look at the bays on the northwest portion of the island, to stay if we liked them, and to head to the bays farther south if we didn’t. We lost our cruising guide to French Polynesia somewhere between Panama and the Galapagos, but Paul on Disa (the Swedish boat) had the same book as well as a cruising guide just for the Marquesas. We borrowed them for a couple of days, took some notes, and then photographed every page of interest. Cruisers are generally short on cash and even less able to take advantage of cheap and timely mail services, so things like charts, CDs, DVDs, and books are copied and shared freely (we just loaded up Paul’s 500 GB hard drive with movies yesterday). This all resulted in Lauren holding the Nikon and using its picture-viewing screen to zoom in and read photographed cruising guides out loud as we sailed by the bays she was describing.

We really wanted to enjoy a clear bay and we’d heard Hanamoenoa recommended by a couple of people. When we saw the water color lighten to a light turqoise and then break onto a sandy beach backed by coconut and lime trees we decided to turn in. We furled the jib and headed in. We knew there were some coral heads, so I walked to the bow to prepare the anchor to watch the water and point the way to Wes, who was at the helm. As I started walking forward I noticed I could already see the bottom very well and asked Wes what the depth was. “40 feet,” he answered. I hollered back that I could already see the bottom and everyone was excited. This was Bahamas water! Wes pulled out the snorkel gear and I changed into a swimsuit and headed for the bow. There’s only one thing to to on a warm afternoon when you’re anchored in clear water for the first time in forever — dive in.

Diving in

Diving in

Tiff and Lauren followed me and soon we were all in the water with snorkeling gear. The bottom wasn’t near as bad as I thought, which is good news (but not as good as Wes volunteering to clean it tomorrow). The rudder damage from the fishing line caught on the prop during our last passage looks worse than I remember and the underwater camera is only taking pictures above water, but c’est la vie. On our way to check the anchor we swam over a 4-5 foot stingray just resting on the bottom and soon after that we found two about the same size laying on the bottom right next to each other. We saw several fish, but the water was still a little deep for us and didn’t have many heads so we started swimming toward the cliffs on the south side of the bay. Both the north and south side of the anchorage are lined with small volcanic cliffs. You can see the lava folds in many places and in a few others you can see the red rocks characteristic of oxidized iron. On the way, Wes spotted a small octopus that quickly disappeared in to a hole the rocks. I’ve only seen one octopus underwater. An octopus moving through the water around a coral head is a really weird sight, much stranger to me than seeing an eel, and they seem to be pretty shy.

The coral near the cliffs didn’t seem to healthy, but there was no shortage of it and we saw a lot of interesting and colorful small to medium-sized fish. We’re pretty familiar with most of the fish of Florida and the Bahamas, but we all saw some new fish today. The underwater camera wasn’t working, so as inadequate as my descriptions are, I’ll mention a few. There was a small fish about 4 inches long that was an extremely bright, vivid orange with flourescent blue rings around it’s eyes, and lines of the same color along it’s gills and tail. Wes and Tiff spotted a rainbow-colored fish with stripes including green, yellow and purple among other colors. There was a thin, round fish about 10 inches long with an alternating black and yellow stripe pattern in a large circle around the edge of it’s body; its sides were a pale color witih diagonal burnt orange stripes. We saw a very long thin fish that looks like the trumpet fish we’re familiar with, but instead of being fairly boring in marking, it was very dark with a black and yellow tail that also had spots arrayed across it. There was also something that looked was shaped a lot like an angelfish but had an orange body, a black head area, and a very long nose (roughly 14 inches overall with 3 inches of nose not more than a centimeter wide). Lauren’s snorkel broke and she also lost a fin when a wave swept her off while trying to climb a cliff, but other than that it was good times.

We swam to the boat in time to relax for a while before sunset and watch the four young children from the three other boats anchored here playing in the surf on the beah while the adults walked the beach and hung out in the shade. The bay is open to the west, so we saw our first sunset into the ocean in a week or so. It was a good one. There was a low layer of clouds that kept us from seeing the sun slip into the water, but the sky above them was a soft orange that faded into light peach, followed by broad area of pink, and then finally the twilight blue of the larger sky. Right as the sun was setting, people from the two boats here that we hadn’t met before came by in their dinghy to say hi and welcome us to “the most beautiful bay in the Marquesas.” They’re both Americans (the first we’ve seen in a while). The large, beautiful mono Uliad is from Minnnesota and the catamaran Independence is from New York.

There’s really no excuse not to give the girls a break from cooking when we’re at anchor and there’s a nice breeze blowing. The wind blows down pretty forcefully off of the small mountains behind the beach which is a really nice change — the boat is cool, the wind generator is keeping the batteries topped off, and we’re riding nicely to our anchor, especially with the swell being blocked by the island. I volunteered for galley duty tonight and made pasta with a caramelized onion and mushroom alfredo and cheezy garlic bread. We’ve been away from cheap supermarkets for about 6 weeks now and although we have plenty of food, we’re staring to be a little more dependant on what’s available locally. For lunch we had veggie burgers on baguettes with a salad of local Chinese cabbage, tomato, and onion. Instead of croutons we had some French’s fried onions (the ones that are used on green bean casserole) that are part of the food still left from the US.

Chillin' at sunset

Chillin at sunset

With plenty of power from the wind generator we were able to listen to some great music while eating dinner. The only ambient light in the bay was from 3 anchor lights (for some reason, in the last two anchorages only the the American boats have used anchor lights) and with no clouds the sky was full of stars.

When I saw the relatively small size of this bay, I was surprised that when I asked him abot the Marquesas, Jeff on S/V Stravaig had been able to remember the location and the name Hanamoenoe off of the top of his head years after last sailing the Pacific. After less than a day here I now understand why.