We finally made it to Amanu yesterday afternoon, after beating and slogging for 5 days nonstop. The moment we hit the lee of the island and the seas calmed, I rushed downstairs to grab my long-awaited shower. Thank goodness I did, because after a few unsuccessful attempts at finding a suitable place to anchor, we gave up and sailed away.
The winds were still up and blowing across the length of the lagoon, so there was about 3′ of chop and there was nowhere protected we could go that wasn’t littered with coral heads. None of the crew wanted to have to head out for another sail, but it was our only suitable option, so with groans and grumbles, we took advantage of the relative calm to cook up some grilled cheeses (everyone’s first meal of the day), and sail on a beam reach 16 miles south to Hao, home to a former French naval base that was the control station for France’s nuclear testing operations in the South Pacific. We made it in about an hour and a half, arriving just as the sun was setting, around 5 p.m. We are almost as far east as you can get in a very wide time zone now, so day comes and goes early.
Our visit to Amanu was brief, but there was a beautiful white church alongside the narrow pass into the lagoon, and its small village was composed of small, simple homes, made mostly of what looked like corrugated tin and plywood. The church was the only sturdy building we could see, so I guess that’s where everyone hides out during hurricanes. It was the closest to a village untouched by tourism that we’ve seen.
We took a walk around the village of Otepa today in Hao, and it’s been a welcoming experience. The whole town has turned out a welcoming committee for eclipse visitors, namely a small cruise ship with about 100 passengers, and us. There are dances and a fishing contest and kids’ races going on today on the wharf, and there’s been music echoing over the anchorage all day. All the local kids are out in force, running shoeless and jumping into the water off the dock in their underwear.
They see us and scream out random English phrases like, “What’s your name?” and then look very startled when it elicits an answer. If we ask them back, it takes them a second to get over their giggles and surprise before they produce an answer. We were also accosted at a roadside magasin by a gaggle of older ladies eager to chat with the tourists. I get a feeling we’re a rare breed in these parts. The ladies kept chattering at us in French, and I mostly managed to get us through understanding it, but when we came to standstills, one would shout at the other behind the counter that she knew better English and to get over here and help find us communicate. It was great.