Taioha'e Bay: Small World, with Sharks!

We’ve spent the last four days readjusting to having land nearby and getting into the swing of things in Nuku Hiva. Our first task was to get ourselves and Helios checked in through customs. This took us two visits to one of our new friends, Kevin. Kevin is an American and runs a Yacht Services business assisting sailors in jumping through bureaucratic hoops upon arrival. We made our first attempt to get checked in on Monday at 11:30 am; Kevin told us to come back at 7:30 am on Tuesday because the gendarmerie was closing in ten minutes. This is a pattern we’ve come to understand as the norm, businesses generally begin operating between 6 or 7 am and close before the heat of the day sets in. We’ve fallen into the same rhythm, naps being a key feature of the afternoon.

There are well over 60 boats sharing this bay with us; Taioha’e Bay is the largest, most developed village (but don’t be fooled, there’s still only one main road about a mile long) in the Marquesas and the only place to get diesel and gasoline, making it a transit point for most cruisers that pass through the region.

While waiting for Kevin, we had the chance to start to get to know some of the other cruisers in the bay. The smallness of the world quickly became apparent. Of the ten or so people we met at the time, six heralded from the Bay Area. And they seemed to get closer to home as we continued to chat, Saratoga, North Beach, Rockridge—College and Broadway, just five blocks from our home of three years. We had sundowners with a family on a neighboring cutter that made landfall just a few hours ahead of us, Asmara Sky. The captain onboard had graduated from the same small private school in Ojai, California at the same time as two of my cousins. He estimated that their graduating class had about 60 people—a small world, indeed.

Aside from making new friends, we’ve been taking walks through town and spending time jumping in the bay and cruising on the paddle board. We were swimming quite liberally, until a fateful stop at the dinghy dock. We were headed for our Tuesday morning appointment with Kevin, when Dominic slowed the motor as we approached the dock, a cement quay with a stainless steel ladder dropping to the water line. There were fisherman on the quay cleaning the day’s catch and tossing fish heads and entrails back into the water. In the water, there was a violent thrashing of fins.

“Those must be sharks,” Dominic said. And in a moment of pure denial I responded with, “No, those have to be more Manta Rays.”

Getting closer, dorsal fins came into focus, and we realized that Dominic was correct. There was a frenzy of five foot sharks feeding between ourselves and safety. And then came the moment of throat constricting terror when I realized I had been swimming in shark infested waters…I didn’t even know it! I remember being anxious about sharks during morning swim practice in high school, and that was in a chlorinated swimming pool far from the ocean. This was absolutely horrifying.

Kevin assured us it was still safe to swim, and it had been sometime since any “cruisers had been turned into lunch.” We still jump in the water to cool off, but I hop out with great efficiency. Dominic’s technique is to exert himself as the “apex predator." I’ll swim more when we have better visibility of any lesser predators beneath us, which will likely be very soon. We need to make water in a less populated bay, so we purchased fresh groceries (abundant here: tuna, eggs, tomatoes, green beans, romaine, papaya, baguette) and are probably going to raise the anchor and head west to Hakatea Bay tomorrow…if we feel like it.