Sixteen years ago this afternoon my wife Hinano and I sat at a table in front of a couple of hundred people. We had been married for about 3 hours and it was now time for us to get up and do our nuptial dance – of course I foresaw a disastrous performance. The setting for all of this was quite dramatic. We were in the gardens of the Gump House, the Director’s lodging at the UC Berkeley Gump Research Station on Moorea. The house and gardens are about 50 meters up on a knoll along the shore of Cook’s Bay, with a spectacular view of the whole of the bay all the way out to the barrier reef. On most days this is wonderful place for a party, but on this day in late June we were being buffeted by a wind that was gusting up to 40 knots. This is the Mara’amu that shows up every Winter and usually brings a day or so of rain, and then a couple more of just high winds. The Mara’amu blows out of the south so that in Cook’s Bay, which runs north and south, the effect is to funnel the wind and increase it’s speed (thank you Mr. Bernoulli). Lucky for us, the rain had stopped earlier that morning because the big garden tent that we were sitting under would have done us no good, the rain being horizontal in these conditions. The tent in fact was threatening to take off with each gust, and certainly would have if it wasn’t tied securely to several stakes and every tree and bush in sight. The dance floor had been laid out in front of the tent and we were sitting facing it at the table of honor with a spectacular four-tiered wedding cake on the table in front of us. Finally there was nothing to do but stumble out there, so we got up with our white wedding clothes flapping in the wind, and made our way out front. Then just as we stepped out from under the tent a heavy gust of wind struck, and we watched the table cloth where we had been seated ripple, and then begin to lift, and then very quickly the whole wedding cake, with the little plastic couple on top riding it out, flew off the table and landed on the grass between the table and the dance floor. It wasn’t quite four-tiered anymore, in fact it was just sort of a heap, but a tasty looking heap. Hinano’s mother looked really bummed out until guests moved in and began picking pieces up and placing them back on the big platter on the table, and pretty soon the cake was served, and we didn’t even have to cut it. The Mara’amu thus became a part of our family lore, and whenever we are with the right group of people, and have a guitar and ukulele handy, I can usually cajole Hinano into dancing a beautiful dance about this wind.
On that evening our wedding reception went on in fine fashion despite the wind, and one of the wonderful things about this region is that there is hardly ever any need to stop doing what you want because of the weather. Last week I was in the position of making and proving this point with a group of two families that arrived to do a three-day version of our Moorea Outrigger Expedition the day after our first mara’amu of the season started blowing. The first morning we gathered there were whitecaps on Cook’s Bay and intermittent rain was blowing sideways. We decided to roll with it and adjust our schedule to do our planned hiking on this day instead of the next. Walking the forest trails of Opunohu Valley is actually really nice in this sort of weather. That far up the valley the winds are broken up and are just sort of blustery, and the rain drips down from the canopy cooling you off as you walk. We had a great time exploring our way along, stopping at various archaeological sites, talking about the plants and animals we saw, and discussing the way of life of the first Polynesian settlers. Then the next day, as is usually the case, the mara’amu had eased, and the rain had stopped, and by day three the weather had returned to its usual idyllic conditions for this time of the year – warm, sunny, with light breezes. Nothing off our planned itinerary had been lost due to weather, and in fact I think everyone was in agreement that the mara’amu added richness to the natural scene, and an edge to the sense of adventure for the trip.
Natural History Note: The Mara’amu shows up every year between May and October. It is a south or southeast wind that can blow to 30 knots and usually brings rain with it for the first day or two and can lower temperatures to 20°C (68°F). The wind usually lasts 3-5 days. In an average year you can expect about one Mara’amu every three weeks, but this varies quite a bit year to year. During this season this is generally the only perturbation to the normal weather, which is warm (25-28°C), with clear skies, and light easterly trade winds.