Hakahau (pronounced ha ka how) is the main anchorage for Ua Pou (pronounced wa poo with a hard ‘a’). It is a small, rolly, exposed anchorage. There is only one small area that is “somewhat” protected from incoming wind and waves. This small area is a bit behind the sea wall. I saw it vaguely as the waves wrap around the wall causing a pretty big swell despite the sea wall. Let me tell you a fun fact to give you an idea of how big the swell and waves are. On the west side of the anchorage, locals will actually surf the waves that come in and wrap around the corner. So, any given day there will be several surfers and outriggers playing in the huge waves that crash on the rocky shoreline. A short, 50 meters, maybe!
What does that mean for Sugar Shack? It means it is a $hit anchorage at best. So, why are we spending several weeks in an uncomfortable anchorage? The Marquesas Archipelago celebrate a large festival once every four years. It is a Marquesan festival for Marquesan to celebrate their heritage and culture. This time it is being held here in Ua Pou, a very small island. There are only 2 approved anchorages for cruisers. One is marked off in the main anchorage of Hakahau and the other is 10nm away in Hakahetau. The 2nd anchorage is slightly better, but there is little transport to get you from there to the main town where the festival is being held. There are no buses and only 10 licensed taxi drivers. There is one main dirt road that is riddled with switch backs and takes 2 hours to travel 10 miles.
Getting to Hakahau
We left our super comfortable and very beautiful bay of Vaiehu to see if we could secure a spot in the “approved area” within the main anchorage. We had heard that only 10 boats could fit in this area and there were already 6 boats anchored inside. I was determined to see this festival and felt that the only way we could do that was by being at the main anchorage.
We pulled up our very disgusting chain and power washed it off before it hit the anchor locked. As we left our protected anchorage and rounded the corner, we were hit with 20kts of wind on the nose. We can deal with that. But the large waves crashing on our bow dropped our boat speed down to 3.5 kts (from 5.8kts). Soldiering on for about 45 minutes before we decided it was too much. We turned around and went back to our private bay. Sugar Shack averaged 7.5 kts on the way back to the bay – gives you an idea of how the wind/waves on our nose were slowing us down.
The photo shows you the west side of Ua Pou. The red arrow is pointing at the spit of land that sticks out giving the bay under it protection from the wind and waves that are coming from the direction of the green arrow. The green dots indicate the two anchor areas in the bays Hakahau and Hakahetau (exposed to the wind/waves).
Try, try again
We got going at 0600 the next morning, before the wind and waves picked up. It took us about 2 hours to motor to Hakahau, then 30-minutes floating around as we evaluated the anchoring situation. We were trying to determine where to anchor within the zone that was marked with buoys. Only a few of the boats had markers on their main anchor (we’ve rarely done this as we don’t tend to anchor close to other boats). However, they all had markers on their stern anchors. So, we could determine where NOT to drop our anchors as you don’t want to cross lines or disrupt their holding.
We then started the maneuvering process. We decided to go between a French cat and a French mono. As we are making our plan, the people on the mono hailed us on the radio. We had met them before and found them to be very nice. However, he was not happy about us being next to him. He gave us every excuse in the book: too close, too big, no room, crossed anchor and even its too rolly here for you. We ignored him and set our plan in motion.
Typically, Matt will captain the boat when we come into sticky situations. Marinas, fuel docks, tight anchorages. He feels better when he is in control and I frankly get nervous. I know I’d be fine, but with his anxiety up it makes it more difficult for me to “just do it.”
And the fun begins…
We dropped the main anchor and slowly started backing down on it. I’m handling the anchor while Matt is backing maneuvering our pretty boat between two other boats (about 25-meter space). Then he asks me to take the helm as he prepares to drop the dinghy and set the stern anchor. Ok….no big deal. We have dropped the main anchor, but did not set it. With less than 10 meters on either side of our boat. We have a huge swell that is tossing Sugar Shack all over the place. And Matt is leaving the boat. I got this!
He had to unbury the stern anchor from the forward locker and carry it to the transom. Then he dropped the dingy and got in. I hefted the heavy stern anchor to him. The French cat was calling him over. When he got there, he jumped in the dinghy wearing his man-thong and nothing else. Regardless he was helpful and kind and helped set our stern anchor while I kept Sugar Shack away from the other two boats. After 45-minutes we had both anchors set, relief set in.
We look lose to the catamaran on our port, because we are! This is an aerial view of the anchorage and the markers. Of course, it shifts as the wind and swell shift so this is just one shot. You can see 4 boats are outside the zone and will have to move.
Evaluating the Anchorage
We stayed on board and watched how she rolled and moved with the swell. At one point we were so close to the French cat that we could have handed him a beer over the life line. We put out fenders on both sides, just in case. A few adjustments throughout the day and we are good.
Image of the boats anchored in the approved area in Hakahau. Doesn’t look so tight from shore or the sky, but trust me, it is. Especially with the huge swell that moves the boats back and forth and side to side. Even with a bow and stern anchor we are all over the place.
The first 9 days were incredibly difficult for me. As I am prone to sea sickness, these conditions challenged my every nerve. Three boats got some weird virus, but I got hit the worst because I was already not well. There were 4 days of not eating (vomit and what not). After the 7th day, I finally could eat a small meal and walk on shore. I will be happy to leave this anchorage and the rolliness!
Protection and No Protection
Here is another map that shows “Haakuti tip” that protects the bay Vaiehu (which is under it in the photo with the blue arrow). The green arrows show you the direction of the wind and waves which creates the swell. The dark blow arrow with no arm is our boat in Hakahau.