May 5th: The Cruising Life

With bodies and boats reclaimed, and as the squalls have abated, we’ve begun the cruising life. We enjoyed two days of beautiful snorkeling at Hauamoenoa Bay on Tauhata Island. A long coral and rock reef on the southern side of the anchorage provided habitat for scores of tropical fish. While much of the coral had died, there were numerous patches of vigorous growth, with stag head coral predominating. We spent hours diving and observing the interactions of brilliantly colored and patterned fish, large and small: parrot fish, Moorish idols, squarespot anthias, sergeant majors, bluebanded surgeonfish, orange striped triggerfish, puffer fish, butterfly fish, sergeant majors, angelfish, and white margin unicorn fish. A lone barracuda and a four-foot blacktip reef shark raised my heart rate, but they were so clearly non-threatening that I was able to observe them, rather than flee for safety. On the second day of snorkeling Anson spotted a large octopus, tucked into a crevice of dead coral, its massive body protruding into open water and its arms suctioned tightly onto the rocky entrance of its lair. It was only three feet below the water, so we hovered nearby, floating on the surface of the water, and watched as it changed its color and texture in fast succession. From smooth whitish grey, to match the bleached coral, its skin became wrinkled and rusty red, mimicking algae, and fluttering back and forth with the wavelets to complete the effect.

On our final morning at Hauamoenoa Bay, while enjoying our morning coffee, Mark and I noticed the distinctive sign of a manta ray: two wing tips gently gliding above the water’s surface. We donned bathing suits, grabbed snorkeling gear, and dinghied towards the rocky outcrop on the northern edge of the anchorage in search of the manta ray. After several failed attempts, we managed to slip into the water just as the giant manta ray was gliding by, mouth open to filter its breakfast from the sea. The ray banked to curve around, heading directly for us, only 20 feet away. Awed and a bit unnerved, I backed up until I was half under the dinghy at its closest approach, only several feet away. It banked again, and delicately stroked its wings to leave us to its port; its eye gazed directly at us, perhaps as curious about us as we were of it.

From the magical, back to the mundane, we ate breakfast and checked the weather, just in time to see a sweet window for beating the 45 nautical miles to the island of Fatu Hiva. The waves were small, the wind from as favorable an angle as likely during this time of year, so we quickly stowed awnings, got the dinghy on board, up anchored and sailed down the island and back out to sea. Once again we were dodging squalls, with ST at the radar, keeping full sail up and a sharp watch on the anemometer, as the light winds and steep chop required all the power we could deliver. It was slow going, with long tacks dictated by squalls on the horizon and the island to make. For dinner, Devon and I became the upstairs/downstairs chef team: I chopped veggies topsides for a stew, then passed the bowl of food down to him to cook on the stove. Dinner was turn by turn, as squall lines finally found us, and the rain washed Anthea once again. The final hour and a half was under motor, as the wind died and the clouds hovered over the island. We entered the anchorage at night; there were no obstructions and a straight approach took us to the center. Several boats were relaying their position through AIS, confirming the accuracy of our electronic chart, as the boats were shown displayed in the center of the anchorage, rather than on land. We motored in at a crawl, search light ready, all hands on deck, with the plan of arriving at the 100 foot line and dropping anchor. We expected we’d be nicely outside the rest of the boats, but found the 100 foot line to be rather crowded. Carefully we picked our spot and set the anchor, with only minimal chaos (Mark: “Anson, come quick!” Anson leapt forward in time to grab the end of the chain with Mark and haul it aboard before finding out whether the line attaching the end of the anchor chain to the boat had weakened with age) and no cursing. Those in the anchorage hoping for a full spectacle were disappointed (for those non-sailors, anchoring is one of the prime spectator sports for cruisers), but we were greatly relieved.
We awoke with a view of views. This anchorage has appeared on more sailing magazine covers than any other in the world. Google Bay of Virgins, Fatu Hiva and you’ll see the view we are feasting upon. Kim

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