Atuona Stern Anchoring School

(Tahauku Bay, Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquesas, French Polynesia)

I’ll be the first to admit the sail over to the island of Hiva Oa was less than a cheery experience. Greg, I’m sure, would have liked to be the first to admit this, but he was more concerned with the wave of seasickness rendering him unable to do anything but lay uncomfortably on the couch.

After two glorious weeks anchored in the Bay of Virgins, it was time to head to over to Atuona to legally check in to French Polynesia. Greg is a fine sailor and is the number one reason Oceanna has covered the miles she has, but unfortunately, at the onset of a passage after multiple days at flat anchor, his body fails him with medium symptoms of dreaded seasickness. Give him a handful of hours and the rest of the passage he’s as chipper as a squirrel, but during the initial recalibrating stage Greg is made to be pretty pathetic.

Sadly today’s passage was just about the same duration as Greg’s uncomfortable readjustment time and to add insult to injury, when we arrived at the crowded Tahauku Bay anchorage we had to stern anchor for the first time in our abbreviated sailing careers. (I won’t even mention the fact that no fish were caught on our sail over.)

The usual mode de employ for anchoring involves a spirited discussion on where each of us differentially thinks we should drop anchor, motoring to the compromised location, Greg lining us up for our main bow anchor drop, me making my own slight recalculation as to where it should actually be dropped, and finally dropping it. The chain is then stretched out to its required scope, I attach the snubber which takes the pressure of the windlass, Greg throws Oceanna in reverse, and we watch as the anchor does its job holding us steadfast in place. We’ve near to perfected this little anchoring dance with far less visible bickering – a sure sign of our nearing veteran status.

So imagine our dismay when everything we’ve read on this particular anchorage is turning out to be true and we do in fact, need to set a stern anchor as well. Coupled with the main bow anchor, the stern anchor holds the boat in a fixed  orientation. A necessary arrangement for tight anchorages with ever-changing current and wind conditions.

There we are floating in this maze of boats completely unprepared for something we’ve never done before with a Captain just regaining his sea legs.

As Greg digs out our secondary anchor and rope from their deep, nearly forgotten locker location, I do my best to keep Oceanna steady in our previously decided compromised location. A task I am less than good at. Once Greg has the stern anchor geared up with impromptu tackle we begin our increasingly more advanced anchorage dance. I dropped the main bow anchor with all our chain to allow us to reverse to whereabouts we wanted the stern anchor to lie. Greg heaved the stern anchor into the murky water and began to feed out its rope as I brought the bow anchor chain back in. When I reached the appropriate shortened length I attached the snubber and doled the slack chain back out. By this time the stern anchor had grabbed and set itself fairly well allowing us to tie its rope off on an aft cleat. Meanwhile we reversed attempting to set the bow anchor although the suspect ground consisting of mostly fill was not working to our favour. We drug and then drug some more, making it necessary that we pick up, redrop, and try to reset our main anchor again. A pain in the ass of a manoeuvre regardless if you’re attempting to set a stern anchor for the first time as well. So up with the bow anchor, forward with Oceanna, out with the stern anchor rope, back in the water for the main anchor, reattached with the snubber, hauled back in with the stern anchor rope, reverse now with Oceanna to hopefully set main anchor, cleat off the stern anchor rope, and voila, we’re anchored.

Stern anchoring, not a habit we’re planning on making.

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