Sunday, May 29, 2011

When the Aranui is in Town




Hakahau is a small anchorage by any stretch, but when there are twelve boats anchored inside, all trying to get behind the breakwater for protection, it gets a little too cozy for comfort.  We are all anchored bow and stern, which means that in addition to the regular anchor at our bow, we have an anchor setting the back of our boat to provide for a few things: First, it prevents us from swinging, which is essential for a small anchorage if you don’t want to play bumper boats.  Second, it keeps our bow into the swell which creates more comfortable living.  Having a bow and stern anchor also allows for boats to be closer than  they otherwise would be to their neighbors. However, as we sit out this weather of 30-35 knot winds, it is essential that both anchors are set.  Unfortunately, there are always a couple of boats that ‘drag’ because their anchors haven’t been properly set, and usually boats with anchors that get tangled in other boats’ anchor chains.  We never know until we raise our anchor how smoothly it will go.


The pattern of boats changes somewhat when the Aranui comes to town.  The Aranui is a 300+ foot (102 metre) cargo ship out of Tahiti that services the islands of the Marquesas and the Tuomotus.  The remarkable thing about it in my opinion is that it is also a somewhat basic cruiseship for up to 200 passengers for the 14 day round trip, allowing them to see the islands that they would have trouble getting to without a boat.  The Aranui is the Marquesan lifeline as it carries supplies, even cars sometimes, to their islands.  You will always notice that the stores are much better stocked just after the Aranui has been in port. It is amazing, though, that a ship of this size makes a stop here in little Hakahau Bay.


We were informed by the Gendarme (the French police) that the Aranui was arriving the next day and that our boat was parked too far forward.  We would have to move.  Rather than re-anchor, we decided to let out more chain to allow us to drop back 30 feet and then we re-set our stern anchor.  Our neighbors behind us on Brittania kindly obliged and they moved back too. We went back to the Gendarme to get confirmation that we had moved back enough. 


The next day when the Aranui was viewed on the horizon, it seemed like the entire town was abuzz.  The artisans take their places in the small covered market, the drummers and bands play traditional Marquesan tunes, the people who are waiting to get across to another island are ready at the quay, and the empty cargo containers are waiting to be loaded up.  We viewed the boat’s arrival into the bay from an internet café up on a hill, but realized that something was awry when the Aranui let off 5 short horn sounds, indicating a problem.  We decided to call the ship using our VHF and were told by the captain we’d need to move.  Oy.  We told him we’d be back at our boat in about 10 minutes as we were on shore and proceeded to run down the hill and into our dinghy as we saw this 300 foot ship coming straight at us.  Michael maneuvered around it and hustled us to our boat, which was surrounded by the Aranui’s own barge vessels.  A couple of men had already boarded our boat and opened the anchor locker to see what they could do to raise our anchor.  In the meantime, the ship went right past us, creating an ominous shadow over our much smaller vessel.  Obviously, they were fine without us moving as they used bow thrusters and rope the size of a large tree trunk to haul their stern into the quay.


Michael and I decided it would be best to speak to the captain ourselves, to confirm that we still needed to move, given that there were no problems getting the ship docked. We dinghied back to the quay and boarded the Aranui, as its passengers were getting off for a few hours of sight seeing. We were escorted up to the bridge deck and left there alone for a couple of minutes before the captain arrived.  You’d never know we were in the post-9/11 era, that’s for sure.  The captain’s concern was that his motors would suck up our chain as they were backing up, something neither of us wanted.  We devised that the Aranui would hail us over the VHF 15 minutes before departure so that we could lift our anchor at the last minute, hover for only a short while until the Aranui left the bay, and then re-anchor in our original spot. This was the easiest solution given how tight the anchorage was already. 


All went as planned, and we managed to keep our spot behind the breakwater just as several of the other boats re-anchored to fill in the void in front of the quay that had been required for the Aranui’s arrival. We finally breathed easier the next day when we could confirm that our anchors were in fact properly set once again. [Michael and our friend Krister on board Brittania surprised each other at 3 a.m. when they were both up checking their anchors at the same time, naked – one of those priceless cruising moments.]


The whole exercise, involving a day and a half anchoring or worrying about our anchors, was just another example of how boat management, often unexpected, regularly takes up a good chunk of your day out here in paradise.  Not that I’m complaining…




Hakahau Bay, ‘Ua Pou, Marquesas Islands

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