After 20 days at sea, as the sky brightened, we could make out the outline of an island on the horizon. We consulted our chart plotter to see what we discovered. It was Motane, a small, uninhabited bird sanctuary, 14 miles southwest of Atuona, our destination. The cliffs were a stark contrast from the open nothingness of the ocean, and it was a welcome sight.
We eased past the breakwall and bow and stern anchored among a large group of ARC boats. The ARC is an around the world rally, in this case 27 boats came from the Galapagos. They have a similar itinerary to us, so we will see any new friends often. It had a heavy European and North American flavor, with Spanish, German, Canadian, American, French, British, and Danish flags visible in the harbor. It took a few days, but eventually we broke into their circle.
Before we made friends, we had to entertain ourselves. We cleared customs easily with the help of a friendly customs agent. He was stationed in Iraq with the French Army a few years ago before getting this job. No wonder he was so happy to work in a customs office. Then, we ran some errands, and returned to the boat to catch up on sleep.
The next morning we completed a wash down, fixed chafed lines and sails, and did other boat maintenance. My dad says world cruising is really just “boat repair in exotic locations”. That opened up Monday for exploring. We rented a car and drove off with no map, no cell service, and no GPS on what we thought was going to be a loop around the island. After about an hour and a half of driving and several dead ends, we doubled back and returned to the port. The views were spectacular, and the roads were narrow with steep drop offs down cliffs. There were few guard rails. Texting and driving is not an issue here, because either you don’t have service or you will drive off a cliff. Had we looked at a map, we could have gone to see tikis or a waterfall, neither of which we found.
The highlight of Atuona was a party at the Pearl Lodge, which is a swanky hotel with bungalows for rent. It was a bit of a tourist show with traditional Marquesan dancing and a great buffet. The party had many of the ARC people, and Gemma and Ed from England invited us to join their table. They met while they were backpacking, Ed was in the midst of a six-continent epic trip. Now they have a few kids running around so they have to settle for more relaxed adventurers like sailing around the world on a 42 foot boat with the kids. Rounding out the adult side of the table were Bence and Blanca from Spain on an Amel 50 and a Dutch crewman with the Brits on their Hallberg-Rassy. Bence mentioned that he dropped his anchor chain bag overboard and couldn’t find it with the 8-12 inch visibility in the harbor. I told him I would take a look for him in the morning in return for a coffee and a tour of his boat. We struck a deal as the show began.
The dancing was like nothing I had ever seen. The men were incredibly masculine and massive, with boar’s tusks around their necks, making primal sounds that I could not begin to imitate. They were backed by four drummers with large, ornately carved drums 2-4 feet tall. It was powerful. The closest thing to it that I’ve seen is the haka before an All Blacks rugby match – or Harry and Luke at the beach club on New Years – but the Marquesans were clad in palm leaves and most of them had tattoos. The women, or girls rather, arrived and did something similar to a hula dance. They had on dresses and were all very young and slender, the opposite of the men. I felt uncomfortable watching the coupled dances since it was strangely intimate. It all made for a memorable night.
The next morning my dad and I went over to Bence’s boat, Niobe, to look for the anchor chain. After about 20 minutes my dad was getting impatient and said I get one more dive. I descended and slowly glided along the bottom for about 15 seconds, then I spotted it. A blue bag, right in front of me. I quickly tied the line I dragged around for the last 20 minutes to the bag and triumphantly ascended for my coffee. Bence and Blanca – and their three children – were great hosts and touring Niobe made us realize how spartan our accommodations were.
Honorable mention for the highlight of Atuona was a barbeque at the Semaphore, which is coincidentally my favorite blogging spot. We bought two pounds of yellowfin tuna caught that day for about $5 at the gas station next to the dinghy dock and cut it into steaks for the barbeque. We seared it at the party with my homemade marinade and it was incredible. For all of you chefs out there, I’m open to new ways to prepare and season tuna since its the only fish we’ve eaten the last month – at least ten pounds – leave a comment or message me. This was a party for the locals and more free spirited cruisers and almost everyone was speaking French.
We became friends with Etienne and Louise, a relatively new couple, at the barbeque. Etienne is Swiss and met Louise in France when he was working as a “Jack of all trades, master of none.” He makes money doing short term jobs like landscaping, construction, and as a handyman until he has enough to cruise for another season. He asked Louise, whom had never sailed before, if she wanted to go on an adventure. She joined him in Tahiti and has taken to it quite well. His long term plan is to sail to to Japan and Alaska. Etienne spoke four languages, which impressed me. I asked him how he learned so many languages and his response was priceless. He said, “It’s really easy. First, move to a place. Then, get a girl.” With Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, and Babble among other language services available, I think his method may be the least advertised and most fun.
As much as I wish we could stay on each island a month, we are in a bit of a rush, so after a week in Atuona, which was only because we needed paperwork to get fuel that took three days to process and we arrived on a weekend, we bought one final fresh baguette and set sail for Tahuata.