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That Last Day

May 28, 2011

May 23

Position at 0630: 09.35S 138.31W

Course: 225t

Speed: 4.5 knots

Bar: 1012


That last day refused to dawn.

All night I took wind on the beam into a deeply reefed jib and main so as to slow Murre down and make landfall in the broad of day. All night I slept in thirty minute increments because Marquesan fishing craft were said to be out. I slept lightly and not in my berth but leaning against a bulkhead. Again and again I checked the chart and each time it said there were neither reefs nor rocks between Murre and harbor–just blue water and then, suddenly, the island, but I could not be sure. It seemed too easy.

The night went on and ever so slowly the miles passed under us. I rose in the dark and made coffee and eggs and washed my face and tidied the cabin and still there was no day each time I checked.

Impossibly late a gray light in the east revealed total cloud cover and an indistinct horizon. At 0630 we were 18 miles off Cape Balguerie, but I could not see land. I wrote in the log, “I am worried. Where is Hiva Oa? Do I have the right ocean?”

At 0701 yet another gray silhouette of cloud on the horizon, but this one sloped down and into the sea the way no self respecting cloud would do and it came to a blunt-nosed point that could only be land. Hold breath. Wait. And yes. “LAND HO two points to starboard!” I yelled and laughed and cheered as if I were a crew of many.

Hiva Oa comes up out of the sea

Slowly the silhouette grew into a scoured cliff, barren, hulking, volcano-black at its base. Races where waterfalls had been could be seen. Then beyond, high plateaus lushly green and topped with white cloud. Everywhere the island fell steeply into the sea and the waves crashed and crashed forming a string of pearls along the margins. Just past the cape, a line of alpine-like peaks, jagged and toothy. The canyons were a jungle of palm right down to the beach.

Slowly we sailed the coast in a lightening wind and a heavy chop until, at 1100, my impatience to see Atuona harbor forced the engine and we motored the last two hours into the crescent bay that defines the island’s southwestern edge. Past the loaf shaped rock of Hanake Island, past the breakwater, and we were in.

The small harbor was full. Twenty other sailboats were anchored bow and stern, facing the swell that wrapped the point and came rolling improbably in against a shore of volcanic rock. Their masts jumped and swung about in a way that suggested danger, as did their proximity to each other. Where I would put Murre was not obvious. I circled twice and dropped two anchors near the back of the pack, near the beach and in ten feet of water, stern anchor first, then riding forward to drop the main anchor and then settling back. Neatly done, I thought. It was 1300 hours.

Cloud over Mountain

Almost immediately a dingy put off for Murre from a nearby boat. A man, alone, gray hair, stylish glasses and tight swim trunks introduced himself as “Gerard from Paris”. He explained in halting English–far better than my French–that the day was unusually calm and sunny and that he had seen the swell breaking on previous days right here where had anchored. He suggested I move forward and offered to help.

So up came both anchors. At Gerard’s insisting, I inserted Murre between two boats that already seemed awkwardly close, dropped the main anchor, and then Gerard towed Murre back and into position and dropped the stern. And it was done. After twenty six days of ocean, suddenly Murre was at rest in a valley of green whose cool breeze smelled of flowers and wet, rich earth. I inhaled deeply and smiled and began to look around.

At Anchor in Atuona Harbor

One Comment
  1. Doug WIlson permalink
    May 29, 2011 12:08 am

    Holas Randall,
    Thanks for sharing your trip. Enjoy your time in paradise.
    I am in La Cruz, somewhat of a paradise, except for replacing spreader plates and main shrouds. Very quiet here now.
    Hope you can run into Archituthis somewhere.

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