It was with some reluctance that we left Hiva Oa yesterday. Two of our fellow crews had just arrived, several made a first stop at Fatu Hiva and thus we had not yet crossed paths, and one was still at sea. But enough of hanging out in the Big Town — we had things to see. We had heard that at the neighboring island of Tahuata there are manta rays, and you can swim with them, and watch their magnificent slow flight through the water. Tim said if he could witness this it would make his trip!
So in the morning we went shopping. One mango excepted, I think everything we bought was imported. The beer was from Tahiti only 700 miles away, but the frozen meat came from New Zealand, the brie and other cheeses from France.
And then off we went. It had been suggested that we go to a particular bay on the west side of Tahuata, but there was a town there, and I thought it would be fun to stop in one of the more remote bays a few miles north. We spoke on the radio with another crew that had hired a boat/guide to bring them here, and they said there were mantas near the north end of the island, so that settled the matter. The first likely cove had two boats anchored in it. Although there was room for a dozen more, we decided that was too crowded, and we pulled into the next cove, which we had to ourselves.
We had been warned, and we quickly saw for ourselves, that the wind gusts coming down from the hills ashore blow very strong over the anchorage. “Williwaws.” No problem, though. The worst that would happen is we would drag our anchor, and that would take us out to the open sea, and we could just come in and try again. Sometimes with the wind comes a quick rain. The clouds and the sun (or full moon) and the winds are quite a show; I could sit and watch for a long time.
We saw no mantas on the way in. I swam ashore to see if I might speak to someone in one of the two structures visible, but no one appears to be around. We switched our focus to dinner — experimenting with cooking breadfruit two ways, along with some tuna that another crew had given to us. The breadfruit was good, but I think we can do better with a little more experience. At nightfall we watched divers with underwater lights apparently scouring the rock edges of the cove, but for what we could not tell. There are sea urchins and a blobby form of star fish; maybe they were collecting urchins.
In the morning I took the dinghy around the point to the cove that had the two (now three) boats anchored, and asked them about mantas. Yes, there had been mantas at the mouth of that cove two days before, but not yesterday and they had not seen any this morning. I learned that you spot them by their “wing tips” which they poke up out of the water a few inches when they are near the surface. On my way back to the boat I thought I saw a rock ahead as a rounded the point, and then realizing there couldn’t be a rock there (the waves would have been breaking on it) I thought it must be a shark fin. And then I realized this was what we were looking for — the wingtips of a manta ray. I saw two, close to the surface, just a few feet away. On to the boat to rally the snorkelers!
When we came back to the spot some time later, sure enough, we could still see wingtips here and there. Into the water we went, and WOW — these animals are sooo cool! Massive yet graceful, not in any hurry, not much caring about our presence, they slowly flap their wings and fly along. They have huge “mouths,” wide open, taking in water and filtering out the plankton as their food. The water flows out through slots on their undersides. Their backs are black; their bellies are whitish with some black spots; their mouths are white and look very ominous when coming directly at you, wide open. They bank when they turn, like an airplane. You can dive down below them and look up at them flying overhead. Awesome…magnificent…
Our goal achieved before noon, we are “just sitting” at anchor enjoying being in an amazing place with no one around.