Saturday, June 17, 2006

June 16, Tahuatu, Marquesas

The strong winds that have prevailed were predicted to subside. With this information I weighed anchor on 14 June bound for Tahuatu, an island about 45 miles northwest of Hiva Oa. I was happy to be sailing again. By 1300 hrs. I pulled into the lee of Tahuatu and the real fun began. In the lee there are a few minutes of gentle breeze followed by very strong gusts lasting a minute or two. I severely shortened sail just in time to avoid the worst of it, though at one point I was on deck adjusting the running back stay when a gust hit. The auto pilot could not hold the boat from turning up which laid her over into a broach. I thought we might go over like we did so often in the race boat but Rasa just spilled her wind and came back on her feet. Yes, I was harnessed and tethered.
The only habitation in this cove is a little shack above the surf line among the coconut palms. There were two or three people out, each waving in greeting. One was burning coconut husks and the others were attending. The gusts hardly enter this cove and my night's sleep was exceptionally restful. After two rather crowded anchorages I find myself alone here. The ridge of the island rises abruptly several hundred feet above the shore. There are some rock cliffs shining through the vegetation and when it rains the water spouts over them. The trees are a dense mass or variegated greens and textures. All the rock is black, young, volcanic.
It rained heavily overnight and all day, 15 June. It rains in bursts of several minutes. During a dry moment I put the dink in the water, thinking that I would go over to the next cove where there is a landing and stretch my legs. But it kept on raining until later afternoon. The dink had four inches of water in it!
On the 16th I finally rowed to the landing. The village is small and exceptionally beautiful. There are ancient stone ruins in the center of things: quite extensive low walls of lava rock facings filled with coral pieces, and stone paved terraces. Beside it was a small Christian cemetery and a small stone church, quite handsome.
I stopped and talked to some young men who spoke some English. They asked what I wanted in the village. I told them I was looking for fruit. They laughed and told me to pick the papaya along the road. One man is a carver. I asked to see his work. We walked to his house along a raised, narrow roadway buttressed with lava rock just above the beach. He hauled out his machete, a stout knife about 20 inches long and pulled down a bunch of bananas, far more than I could ever eat, and whacked them off. Then he showed me his lemon tree and we picked some lemons. Then he offered me some coconuts. I was all set.
He showed me some of his work which demonstrated a strong sense of design and considerable skill in carving traditional designs in shell, boar tusk, bone, marlin backbone, mother of pearl. How I wanted to buy some of his work! But until I reach Nuku Hiva I don't have the cash. I had some trade goods in my backpack and left him with a bar of soap. He hardly needed it. It was clear that he was making a good living. The prices of his work ranged from $140 to $6000. His house is big and nicely painted. It turns out that a boat load of tourists from all over the world, about a hundred at a time, stop in this village once a month. They are fed and entertained then walk around and visit his workshop. He also sells in Papeete twice a year. He does pretty well. He's 25 years old.

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