Respecting Paradise
Ocean Navigator|July - August 2021
Thoughts on voyaging responsibly
ELLEN MASSEY LEONARD

You’ll find the stuff of dreams at Hanamoe-noa. The golden sand of its beach is so fine that your feet sink deep into the warm, soft grains. The turquoise water is so clear that you can see your boat’s shadow on the bottom thirty feet down. The patches of coral teem with brightly colored reef fish. Manta rays glide gracefully around the bay, scooping up krill in their wide filter mouths. Wooded hills rise gently from the beach, giving protection from the strong easterly trade winds to leave the bay tranquil and calm.

Hanamoenoa Bay, in the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia, is the kind of place sailors fantasize about. It’s the kind of place that keeps up morale on the long ocean passage that’s required to reach these tropic isles. And it’s the kind of place that, once you find it actually exists, brings out first awe and then exuberant excitement.

Most cruisers who reach the Marquesas have heard the fables. We’ve all heard of the abundant tropical fruit, seemingly growing wild in these verdant, fertile islands. We’ve heard of the sailors before us being showered in hospitality, being loaded down with fruit and fish, welcomed almost as if they were family. Some of us have even received that hospitality ourselves on earlier voyages, many years ago. We’ve heard of, or experienced on earlier voyages, the empty anchorages where it’s just us and the wilderness, the untouched reefs alive with all kinds of fish to spear and eat.

Today just fables

Unfortunately, these tales, while they were mostly true at one time, are today just that: fables. Even before the pandemic, the locals in the South Pacific were becoming overwhelmed by the increasing number of cruisers, especially in French Polynesia where even non-European sailors could (before the pandemic) stay up to three years with the right paperwork, whereas we used to be given only three months. French Polynesia is essentially facing a problem of over-tourism of yachts, which has led to a whole range of problems between cruisers and locals. My own anecdotal experience has shown me that these fables are one contributor to the problems. Enough sailors believe the fables, and even believe they are entitled to the same experiences, so troubles are bound to arise.

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