From Nuku Hiva, and filled with as much locally grown produce as we could buy, we sailed 28nm to anchor at Baie de Vaiehu on the western side of Ua Pou. This anchorage is a little daunting with a swell lifting the boat beneath a cliff while the waves crash on the banks, but the anchor held and we had a comfortable night. There is no access to going ashore at this anchorage, perhaps if it’s very calm.
The following morning, the sky was clear, giving us a great view of the rugged peaks of the small island as we sailed south.
This was Friday 22nd April and the wind was blowing in from ESE. As much as we would’ve liked to visit Hiva Oa, the consistent ESE wind would not allow us to sail in that direction. Our destination was Makemo atoll and we had to reach there before Tuesday 26th when a huge blow was coming in from the south east. The distance is 480nm from Ua Pou so we had to plan our arrival into the atoll, as the passes can be turbulent and possibly dangerous if entered at the wrong time of the tide.
Blue Heeler sailed from Ua Pou at 4pm and in 10-15kn set an easy pace in perfect conditions to make sure we could enter Passe Arikitamiro on the low tide slack on Tuesday morning. A steady sail averaging 5.5kn had us arriving two hours before slack water so we waited outside with three other yachts; all arriving at the same time from different locations.
The tidal race outside the passe was fairly boisterous even in the calm conditions. We sat and watched as the outgoing current clashed with the ocean until conditions settled and the tide reversed. Blue Heeler took the lead and Wayne navigated our entry. We had 1kn against us and it wasn’t long before we had made it through and made our way around to the anchorage outside the small village of Pouheva. The Navionics charts were good and the channel markers were in place.
Makemo is one of the largest atolls in the Tuamotos, and Pouheva has a small population of around 600 people. The anchorage is filled with coral bommies so anchoring in sand is a feat, but we did find a sandy patch for our anchor to hook into.
That same day the wind began to pick up and would increase over the next three days. While there is a small reef and wharf to help temper the fetch of waves coming across the atoll (it is totally exposed to the south and south east), conditions did get a little wild over the next three days. Mostly, the wind was from ESE consistently blowing between 20-30kn, at times hitting 40kn. Our anchor held but there was no way we were going to leave our boat in these conditions on a dodgy coral bottom, particularly on a lee shore. Others did though…
Once conditions settled, we could relax a little and headed ashore to check out the village of Pouheva. We made sure our anchor was okay and added a couple of floats to keep the chain from snagging the coral in the lighter winds.
The village of Pouheva is tidy and the locals smiling and friendly. It is low-key – not ‘in your face’ boat boys or people flogging souvenirs like some islands in the Caribbean. As visitors, we respect their small village and try not to intrude on their daily lives. Walking around we are greeted with ‘la orana’ or ‘bonjour’ by children and adults walking or biking along. A couple of times we stumbled upon a couple of groups playing guitar and singing beautiful harmonies. Perfect.
The streets are swept clean, and skinny dogs in various states of producing offspring roam for scraps, while a pleasant whiff of burning sandalwood fills the air.
After the recent storm, the swell is pumping so much that it has filled the atoll and the outflow of water from the atoll is running at around 4-5kn on the incoming flood tide. We watched as yachts attempted the rough passage into the atoll motoring at just enough speed to pass through; so much different to our unremarkable entry.
If you’re heading down this way, make sure to stock up well with fruit and veggies from Nuku Hiva. While the best supermarket in Pouheva is the Opareke Market, there’s a definite shortage of fresh produce. The market has a good variety of dry and canned goods, and some items are reasonably priced due to subsidies, while others are expensive. Eg: A packet of muesli was around A$15; potatoes around A$9/kg. Whereas a can of coconut milk was around A$2 and a packet of self-raising flour A$2 – coconut milk on pancakes for breakfast seem like the way to go!
Fortunately, the supply ship came in during our stay so I managed to buy 2kg of potatoes, two cucumbers, bok choy, three packets of fresh ham, and a couple of other things for 4000FP, around A$55. Not cheap, but it was nice to have a fresh ham and cucumber sandwich. Unfortunately, it seemed the cucumbers must’ve been frozen or chilled, as they didn’t last long in my fridge and started to dissolve. Making the most of my dwindling stock of veggies, now is the time we start to work our way through the canned stuff I’ve been squirrelling away for the past year.
Across the bridge from the supermarket is an egg farm and I bought two dozen fresh eggs for 1000FP – about A$12.50. There is a boulangerie, but I make my own bread so we didn’t buy any from there. I bought a 2kg box of frozen chicken legs for around A$10 – they came up a treat on the Cobb BBQ. Wayne thought he’d hit the jackpot when he found Twisties – a clue we are getting closer to Australia!
From my reading, I understand the economy is supported by copra and pearl farming. Besides a College, Town Hall, Police Station, there’s a large undercover sports pavilion near the fishing boat dock to keep the kids happy. Many of the locals have reasonably new battery powered bicycles – a great way to get around the small village. Once the weather calmed down, teams of young people in outriggers paddled hard to beat the other teams, laughing and squealing as they sped by. Life seems idyllic here.
Pouheva has a small Post Office with an ATM and I bought another Vini SIM card and top up cards. Vini has 4G here so while hunkered down during the storm, we at least had access to internet. The ATM was a problem for me; two attempts at withdrawing money came up with a declined message and no money discharged, but it turns out my bank thought otherwise, deducted the second attempt from my account. The lady at the Post Office was super friendly and tried to help me (she also speaks English), but there’s not much she could do at this point, so I’ve left it with my bank to sort out.
We stayed on a few days more and snorkeled on the nearby reef and enjoyed the peace after the wild conditions; even got the Cobb out and cooked up some chicken pieces to share with the crew of Kismet who we invited over for supper.
Leaving Pouheva, we motor-sailed through the maze of bommies 16nm until we reached the motu of Punaruku. Navionics charts are okay and the Community Edits do identify some bommies, but eyeballing the bommies is the best way to navigate through the maze. I stayed at the bow for four hours as we made our way north, spotting bommies that weren’t marked and noting them on my iPhone Navionics app which I’ve added to the Community Edits. The depth was typically 20m .
The next morning after a peaceful night and a tasty pizza cooked on the Cobb, we motor-sailed 9nm to the northern Passe, again keeping watch for bommies, and exited in calm conditions with 3kn of current spitting us out of the atoll. From here we planned an easy 80nm overnight sail to the south pass at Fakarava.
One of the world’s best diving places.
Special thanks to SV Soggy Paws for the useful info on their blog. http://svsoggypaws.com/files/