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Hanamoenao Bay, Tahuata

June 5, 2011

Hanamoenao Bay, Island of Tahuata (See “Where’s Murre?” tab for specific coordinates)

The New Zealander on PAPILLON called it shifting, as in, “we’ll shift tomorrow to an anchorage on the north side, but only if it’s not raining.”

And we have finally done same. Most boats stay but a few days in Atuona, long enough to check into the country, have a shower, buy some fresh bread. But Murre and I stayed eleven. On seven of these it rained torrentially, but that wasn’t the reason we stayed. The infamously rough and insect infested anchorage was, for us, neither, but was rather a relief from the constant demands of the passage. After twenty six days of ***going*** it was delicious to ***stop*** and stay stopped.

But now we have shifted, if not very far.

Hanamoenao Bay is on the north west side of Tahuata Island and is just fifteen miles out of Atuona, around its bay’s southern point, through the Bordelais (Haava in Polynesian) Channel, and down a bit. The channel is rough, a mix of accelerated wind waves and waves that refract off the two islands, but they are warm and soft, and Murre’s motion in them is heavy, solid. Within moments she is streaming seawater again and screaming along at six knots in a steady easterly breeze.

Tahuata is but a quarter the size of Hiva Oa, but from the water it looks as large and imposing as its northern neighbor. High mountains, sheer cliffs, and the north side is a saw tooth of tiny bays each with a tan colored beach lined with coconut palms–one after another.

Hanamoenao is one of those bays. It’s a horseshoe between two uncharted points (“zone non hydrographiee”), and even here, on the lee side of the island, a slow swell rolls in and cannons off the bay’s rocky sides as if the two are at war. But the “zone” is remarkably different from Atuona. The trades blow steadily out to sea. The cloud over the mountains dissipates over the bay and has, thus far, refused to threaten precipitation. I can see the sandy bottom where Murre’s anchor rests at a depth of twenty five feet.

And I was the only boat here, for a brief time.

Ashore and half hidden by palms is a lone, large shack. The yard is fenced with wire, but has been cut along one section, so I explore. The shack is a single room, a floor made of plank with spaces between and raised three feet off the ground, a corrugated roof, and small storage area (pad locked). No walls. A mattress hangs from rope to keep it aired, but otherwise the room is empty. There’s a water catchment tank in back and an out house further on.

Rumor is one can find fruit trees–mango, papaya, banana, breadfruit–in such yards with fruit for the taking, but here there is only coconut and a lime whose zest numbs my tongue. Coconut trees are so dense they provide complete shade. And the nuts are piled or scattered randomly and rotting. No husking spike has been set up, however, so I leave with just a branch of limes.

To the north side of the beach, a fire pit and a makeshift picnic table in the shade. Something draws my attention to a tree–a touch of orange. Fifty feet from the water and in a notch of limbs at waste height, a hermit crab. The drab, bark-colored shell is as big as a billiard ball and the animal too. I think it must be dead–placed there by some previous tourist as a curiosity–but as I reach, its eyes retract and it shoots water. Mosquitos swarm, so I retreat.

No stream enters the bay. The ever-present cloud is either previously drained or the low hills of the near surroundings are too low to drive out its moisture in quantity. So the water of Hanamoenao is turquoise and clear. In the afternoon I explore the northern reef where a hard, fan-like coral and dark urchins with needle-thin spines of two feet and more describe the depth at twenty feet. The sheer black cliffs enter the water and stay sheer to the sandy bottom forming sharp precipices and overhangs coated in a rainbow of sponges. The fish are so recognizable…and yet not.

I can immediately make out Angels, Triggers, Surgeons, Sergeant Majors, Moorish Idols, Parrots and Wrasse, Damsels and Chromis, but though the shapes are diagnostic, fish coloration and even size are different from those of the Sea of Cortez. The Sergeant Major seems as prolific here, but it is larger and has none of the yellowish, bluish tints I’m so use to seeing in Mexico. The Moorish Idol and Convict Tang are the same in size and color, but the small “cleaner” Wrasses lack color though not stripes. I recognize none of the Angels, Triggers, Surgeons or Tangs.

The water is warm, much warmer than the gulf and warmer, I think, than Hawaii, but without a wet suit I am still deeply chilled after an hour and a half.

The sun sets to the west and straight out to sea. Once at the horizon it sinks quickly, brassy at first, then burnt orange, and no green flash. The moon is a sliver and starlight is piercing. The Big Dipper points to a spot well below the horizon. I turn; the Southern Cross rides high over the hills.


One Comment
  1. Bolster permalink
    June 6, 2011 4:08 am

    Hurrah, Southern Cross!

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