......................Tahuata, Hiva Oa and Fatu Hiva.......

May 2004


......Tahuata, Hiva Oa and Fatu Hiva....

As the grey dawn became daylight, the “lump” that was land grew
into a beautiful green coastline: the island of Hiva Oa.  GREEN !
what a shock it was to the eyes, not having seen that colour for
nearly a month!   We felt like the first discoverers, seeing it for the
first time ever, leaning outside the cockpit with smiling faces and
looking up at this grand escarpment just coated with thick green
vegetation, like a lush,expensive carpet.  It was truly magnificent,
and though we were very tired, we were elated, and not just a little
bit pleased with ourselves, that after 25 days of crossing the Pacific
Ocean, there were the Marquesas, exactly where they should have
been and as grand as we had been told…. We had arrived: May
2nd, 2004.

We stared at this beautiful volcanic island for about 2 hours as we
passed it to starboard: this was supposed to be our first port of
call, but we had been persuaded by a fellow cruiser a few days
ahead of us, to leave it be for a while and continue on to another
island, only 8 miles further, for the benefit of a  calmer, hassle-free
anchorage: Tahuata Island.   We were spoilt with scenery: the
magnificent escarpments of Traitors Bay, Hiva Oa on our right, and
the lofty green glossy hills of Tahuata to port side…. It was a
joyous day.   We rounded it’s northwest point and came into full
view of a lovely bay “crammed” with boats – may of our fellow
“Puddle-Jumpers”…the first other human contact we had had in
several weeks….. while it was cosy, they made room for us, several
came over in their dinghies to welcome us and congratulate us on
landfall: we had 2 beers, blinked at the bright white sand, the palm
trees and the aqua coloured water, then passed out for 17 hours


We anchored in Hane Moe Noa Bay – the 18th boat in, and during
the 4 days we stayed there the population shrank to 8 boats – very
nice indeed.  A sailors dream from an anchorage perspective, we
had dropped the hook in 25 ft of white sandy bottom with plenty of
room to move, a picture postcard vista (what in the Marquesas isn’
t?!) and a peaceful place to recover from the marathon.  Recovery
involved all sorts of busy and wonderful activities, cleaning the
green moustache we had grown on the port side hull(the passage
being mostly on starboard tack), snorkelling, a sortie to the beach
in the dink, generally cleaning up the boat which had become a
little dishevelled due to our commitment to the wheel for the prior
12 days.   Our first steps on land, ie, to the beach, were quite weird:
walking on something that didn’t move, had us staggering around
like drunks for about 10 minutes until our brains adjusted the leg
movement to suit terra firma.  No-one lives here at this bay, so we
were still amongst our “own kind”.  We took about 4 days to fully
recover from the passage: the body was so sleep-deprived and
had been functioning on un-natural time slots and doses of
adreneline for weeks, that when we thought we were back to
normal, we really weren’t : we took sleep as and when we needed it
until the time came to depart Tahuata for the big island of HIVA OA,
and formally check in with the French authorities.


We had been coached that the anchorage in Atuona (the main town
on Hiva Oa and the official check in point) was rolly and difficult:
that it was…. Small – too small for the 19 boats that were crammed
in, with fore and aft anchors, shallow, muddy, with a swell to rival a
surf beach.   Having said this, it is also surrounded on 3 sides with
beautiful tropical hillsides.  Within the first  hour, 2 boats dragged
anchor on us, the one in front and the one to starboard: the former
had an interesting story to tell (we discovered later)…. A single
hander, from Texas, who is currently trying to be the first hearing-
impaired person to circumnavigate: he had lost 3 anchors to date,
had no charts of the Marquesas (had no intent to stop here and
only had one GPS waypoint from a world cruising guide)… was
using a mere 14 lb dinghy anchor for his 37 foot boat (Tartan), no
stern anchor, no radios (after all, he could not hear) his only form of
communication is
e-mail… all in all,  a somewhat distressing scenario.  The other
boats used their dinghies help him anchor in the ship turning
basin, which is generally off limits.  We met him the following day
and he explained (through speech training after a traumatic
accident) that he was enroute to American Samoa, direct from the
Panama (a heck of a long way) and he had accidentally blown into
the Marquesas after 30 days of storms, and contaminated water
supply…he topped up with fuel and water, and left 23 hrs later.  We
believe his website is silentvoyage or silentvoyager.com.  A gutsy
goal for a deaf landlubber – we wished him a safe passage.

We ended up doing anchor watch during the 3 nights at Atuona:
the possibility of anchor dragging by other boats, and ourselves,  
was too high to afford the luxury of a normal sleep schedule.  That
was the only negative about the place: this was our first contact
with the Marquesans and the French who govern the islands….we
got lifts to town (2 miles away) in the back of 4 WD late model
trucks every day from cheery people with whom we tried to
communicate in our broken French.  Our check-in was painless:
the young Gendarme had been to Perth a few years prior and was
heading to Queensland in July, and was way more interested in
discussing those places, than in any official business!  We were
checked in pronto and did not have to pay a bond (most Non EU
boats are required to pay a refundable deposit if staying more than
30 days).   We felt it unfortunate (or bad judgement) that almost all
of the US cruising fleet had chosen to race through the Marquesas
and the Tuamotos in less than 30 days to make their exit from
Tahiti…. They have missed sooooo much here.  We were the only
boat in the group of 48 that left Puerta Vallarta, that had taken the
trouble to obtain the 1 year visa for French Polynesia.

Atuona has a population of 800.  About 80 percent Marqueans and
20 percent French nationals.   The Marquesans are a handsome
Polynesian race, proudly marked by big tattoos which depict
centuries old icons of fish, tikis and other elements of their culture.  
The tattoos essentially tell the stories of their lives, with a new
tattoo added for each significant life event.  A kind of pictorial
biography on living flesh.   The women all wear a flower in their hair
and are particularly blossomed on Sundays, for church.

The island of Hiva Oa is grand and lush.  Fruit drips from the trees
(you cannot buy it in any of the 4 grocery stores), flowers abound,
with groves of huge crimson hibiscus everywhere.   There are
wonderful vistas from almost every point on the island, particularly
the high roads.  We took the time to visit the cemetery, in particular,
Gaugin’s grave… as cemeteries go, it has to be one of the prettiest
and in one of the most beautiful locations in the world.  There are 3
restaurants in town, well 1 really, the other two are more like snack
bars: items are expensive – one small beer is about 5 dollars. The
bakery is behind one of the stores and turns out baguettes early
each morning: it was a treat to have fresh bread again.  In fact,
most of the baguettes we had were given to us by fellow cruisers
or islanders.

We met Felix and his wife Christina in Atuona.  Felix is Melanesian
(from Vanuatu) and speaks good English: they own quite a bit of
land adjacent to the anchorage and grow fruit for local sale and for
export to Moorea where it is processed and re-exported.  We found
them delightful as we negotiated for fruit….. they don’t have it
displayed: it is bulging from the myriad of trees and one wanders
through the muddy orchard in pursuit of the nimble Felix who
scales whichever tree you fancy and harvests the best fruit: we
bought pampelmousse (a wonderful Polynesian version of
grapefruit, sweet rather than bitter), a hand of bananas and some
other sweet yellow fruit we’d never seen before….. we exchanged
gifts: lipsticks for Christina, and a dozen tiny cowrie shells for me
from Felix….. larger than life people, living out a basic existence
(Christina drinks instant coffee with powdered milk from a soup
bowl as they do not have any mugs)…..they live in 2 buildings
without the benefit of walls, the mud encroaches the white (I think)
tiled floor, ants march across the many cut fruits that lie on a
bench, a playful kitten rolls on the table, and life is sweet….they
have very little, but they have so much…living in this fertile
orchard.  Christina has 3 teeth and I think Felix sports 4.  Christina
looks at me and explains in broken English “I burnt the house
down” …. Nods towards the stove “left it on”… “Felix not happy” (I
feign surprise)…. “new house coming on next boat”:  it seems a kit
home is being shipped from Tahiti to Hiva Oa to replace the one
Christina accidentally  incinerated…. I ask “ do you have to erect it
?”…. “No… they send people for that”.   So, the French
government is clearly subsidising its people here in a significant
way: we saw many vehicles that we could not possibly afford (eg a
Mercedes Benz 4 WD), being driven by locals who do not have
jobs: there are no jobs here, or precious few.  It is simply not the
Marquesan way of life.  


After 4 days of the rolly..muddy anchorage, we decide to migrate
back to Hane Moe Noa Bay on Tahuata Island (to await the arrival
of much needed diesel fuel) …this time populated by only 7 boats:
it is lovely.  We swim, clean DreamCatcher’s hull again, dry our
laundry which has been in a state of damp for 3 days in Atuona’s
rain forest climate, socialize with the other boats, and take a day
trip to Resolution Bay.   It is about 3 miles south of our (now
favourite) anchorage: named so as Captain James Cook took his
barque Resolution into this bay in 1774.   We anchored in 34 feet of
clear water, along with 2 other sailboats.  A dinghy ride to the
slippery concrete dock got us onto land where we sauntered about
in the tropical sun, viewing the school, the post office and simple
local monuments to French dignitaries, past and present: GT in
particular was disappointed that there was no recognition of the
good Captain Cook anywhere.  Trust the French to ignore the
achievements of one of the world’s great mariners simply because
he was a Limey!  We toasted him later, anyway, with some
champagne (Italian).  A quite modern church with a beautiful
stained glass window and prominent red steeple encasing a statue
of a Marquesan style Madonna and child, is prominent on the
island.  It was built mostly from the ballast stones brought there by
the early sailing ships who returned to Europe with coconut as

The practice of Christianity is widespread in the islands:
missionaries from France brought their customs and religion here
200 years ago to convert the “primitive” islanders to western ways.  
The islanders take it seriously: they attend church services twice
on Sundays, beautifully dressed in Sunday- best tropical fabrics
and flowered hair for the ladies.   There is a church in almost every
village with the predominant religion being Catholic.  On some of
the highest escarpments, right next to the microwave towers, there
is often a large white cross standing out in the green growth.  
Some  homes display a shrine made from palm leaf and lavishly
decorated with tropical plants, with a beflowered Madonna
sheltering inside.  They are quite ornate and we have some
excellent photos of these.  Here is an 1842 quotation from Herman
Melville (ship-jumper in the Marquesas and subsequent author of
Moby Dick), with which we take a sympathetic view:
“Among the islands of Polynesia, no sooner are the images
overturned, the temples demolished and the idolators converted to
nominal Christians, than disease, vice and premature death make
their appearance. The depopulated land is recruited from the
rapacious hordes of enlightened individuals who settle themselves
within its borders and clamorously announce the progress of the
truth.  Neat villas, trim gardens, shaved lawns spires and cupolas
arise while the poor savage soon finds himself an interloper in the
country of his fathers, and that too on the very site of the hut where
he was born.  The spontaneous fruits of the earth which God in his
wisdom ordained for the support of the indolent natives are
remorselessly seized up and appropriated by the stranger, are
devoured before the eyes of starving inhabitants or sent on board
the numerous vessels which now touch at their shores”

Departure from Resolution Bay was a little tricky, with the dinghy
stern anchor stubbornly clinging to a rock …. Each time, a local
Marquesan free-dived to loosen it, happy to do it – they are a
cheerful, giving people.   A quick return to our (fast becoming)
favourite bay of Hane Moe Noa, to welcome friends in from their
crossing, then a departure back to Atuona, Hiva Oa (a bumpy 10
miles) to re-do the stern anchor routine in the rolly anchorage.  This
trip was for a specific mission: diesel fuel.  These islands depend
on the monthly arrival of an “island packet” called the Aranui III:
she’s a large new freighter, with room for 200 paying passengers,
which delivers supplies and materials to the islands and collects
cargo like fruit and cococut meat.  The 24 hours before and after
the ship arrival was interesting: 4wd’s coming & going, people
rolling barrels and placing crates, working up to frenetic activity
when the ship actually started unloading: we were on the dock
with everyone else, complete with jerry cans waiting to get fuel.  
Atuona had been out of diesel for 10 days and out of flour for 3: the
latter causing the French great consternation “eeess terrribbbllle !!!  
eeess no baguette!!!” they had been complaining for days.  
Naturally, the first thing off the ship at 0200 hours was the flour,
and sure enough, fresh baked baguettes appeared at dawn!  There
were people and forklifts running everywhere and vehicles lined up
at the (only) petrol station for several hundred yards…. We were
first in the standing queue awaiting diesel: by they time it was
gravity-fed from the ship into the station tank it was 11.15am and
they closed the station at 12 noon! A mere 45 minutes.  We slogged
80 lbs of diesel each by hand, the 300 yards to the dinghy then
manhandled it aboard DREAMCATCHER into the tanks, collapsed,
then left the following morning (after a frustrating 1 hour battle
freeing the stern anchor) for Fatu Hiva.


It was a 35 miles “drive”…insufficient wind for the first half, then 22
knots on the bow for the second half… we approached this
southern-most island with awe.  If you have ever been to one of the
world’s great cathedrals: Notre Dame or perhaps, Canterbury, you
may recall how your neck arches up to take in the magnificence,
your bottom jaw gently drops open as you marvel at it’s granduer.  
Fatu Hiva is like that, only, it’s all natural.  This place is as complete
as anything on earth could possibly be – it is truly beautiful.  Rich
green escarpments building to phallic shaped towers of black
volcanic rock that point to the sky.  The Marquesans had for
centuries called it the “Bay of Penis’ ”.  On arrival, the Catholic
missionaries  changed the name to “Bay of Virgin’s”….. couldn’t
see it, ourselves.  We anchored with 8 other boats – which was to
decrease to just 2 of us during the week we were there.  The
anchorage is quite small, and very deep and we were fortunate
enough to be able to move, not long after arrival, into the very best
position in the bay where we stayed for a week.

Much of the time aboard
DREAMCATCHER, we simply stared at
the scenery around us: the changing light, the drifting clouds, the
rolling rain squalls.  When we did get to the village of Hanavave
(which was nearly every day), we found it delightful – a small,
friendly place with lots of kids and kittens.  Something (perhaps a
particularly rainy time?) had happened about a year ago, because
the number of 3 month old babies was astounding.  There are
about 160 people living in the village, half of them primary school
age.  Most families had between 5 and 7 kids – Iris had 7, Chris &
his wife had just landed no. 6, the younger girls (18 ) had one or
two and working on the rest.  The Mayor (Christina) is also the
school teacher and she spent time explaining that the children
went to primary school here, then high school on the other
Marquesan islands of Ua Pou or Nuku Hiva, then if aptitude or
desire indicated tertiary education,  university/college in Tahiti or
maybe even France.  Education is free.  The kids are friendly and
open, asking for “bon-bon’s” (lollies or candy) at every
opportunity.  They spend their non-school time playing at the
beach or clambering over the rocky breakwater to fish.

Money doesn’t mean anything in Fatu Hiva: we tried to buy some
limes on our first sortie to shore and were told by one family : no,
there is nothing to buy here…. exchange was the only business.  
So, subsequent days we went armed with barter goods like
lipsticks, nail polish and earrings:  those, plus perfume, hair clips
and t-shirts were the desired goods – we would have bought cheap
t-shirts from Mexico had we known.   These folks are not poor by
any means – they have satellite TV, nice (kit) homes and are
surrounded by bounties of natural food…..most families have a
tethered piggy, whose ultimate destiny is to be centerpiece on the
Christmas table.  Handsome chickens roam the village aplenty,
supplying eggs and the occasional drumstick: we haven’t quite
figured out the ownership rules here – seems if you’re hungry, you
just grab the nearest bird.

We had a couple of fun social exchanges with other boats and in
fact, joined the family aboard Island Spirit( Mike and Jean, and their
2 children 7 and 9) for a jaunt down to the main town (population
300) of Omoa – once again, lush, verdant and this time, well
ordered and neat with a pretty church which caters for both
protestants and catholics, as opposed to Hanavave which was
wholly catholic.   We were loaded up with free pampelmousse
(sweet grapefruit), got drenched several times and had a great day,
including the hairy-scary departure from the dock in their dinghy!

It was also in Fatu Hiva where we were boarded by the French
Customs authorities: 3 uniformed and bare-footed officers came
aboard from their big 160 foot cutter, sat in our cockpit to complete
the formalities: we were way over official quota on alchohol …we
were up front about it, and once assured it was for personal
consumption, were content to let it go without comment or fine:
they did not inspect the boat, but instead were happy for us to
inspect theirs!  We had an interesting visit aboard the Customs
boat, compliments of one of the officers (Teva). It was extremely
well provisioned (no shortage of French wine in the galley) and
wonderfully appointed.  We told Teva we wanted his job! 2 weeks
cruising the Marquesas then home in Moorea for 2 weeks.  
Hardship post (hah!).

One of the banes of sailing is that various bits of the boat break
from time to time: in fact, cruising is said to be the activity of fixing
your boat in exotic places.  Both our toilets crapped out on the
same day….would you believe it?  The easiest to fix was the toilet
that simply needed remounting (GT was aboard it as it detached
itself from its mountings…no comments please).  The fix required a
new piece of base timber – this is how we met Serge and his wife
Kati.  Serge is an artist and wood carver in the village – they live in
a rambling open verandah house along with 6 sons & daughters
and their first grand-daughter.  Simply lovely people.   We were able
to secure a piece of wood for the exchange of a dozen fish hooks,
but decided that the timber Serge gave us (cut and planed) was
way too beautiful to use under the head: it will have a more elegant
future.  We did find a piece of marine ply from one of the cupboards
aboard which was pressed into service.   While at Serge’s house
we saw a selection of tikis and bowls which he had carved from the
4 types of wood available (including one wood bought in from the
northern island of Ua Pou)….they were just lovely. He was
preparing a crate of artifacts for shipment to Tahiti to participate in
the Festival Polynaise, held there in July….the proceeds from this
festival will likely yield about 80% of his annual income…..we
bought a deep round bowl with carved handles – it will be a very
special reminder of Serge and the island of Fatu Hiva.

One of the attractions of the island was the 300 foot waterfall: many
cruisers had recommended we do the “hike” to it but in true
Marquesan style, nothing is written down and in the variety of
directions we were given – irrespective of the language, we ended
up hiking over more of Fatu Hiva than the early missionaries, for 6
hours one day, still waterfall-less.  We’d fiorded streams, been
bitten by mosquitoes, slipped multiple times in the Marquesan mud
and generally had jungle fever.  Nothing a rum and limejuice
wouldn’t cure, we were determined not to leave this place without
seeing it, so we set off again the following morning with a fool-
proof set of instructions.  About half way there, the skies opened
up and we sheltered from the daily deluge under a giant mango
tree.  There really is no such thing as “shelter” in these tropical
rainstorms: we were soon drenched but continued on, through
hissing streams, tangled creepers, fallen trees and landslides,
looking for the telltale indicators (3 small stones piled on a large
boulder) that would lead us to our destination.  Now we know why
the TV network chose the Marquesas for their “Survivor” series.   It
took us 2 hours of serious clambering and climbing in the slippery
wet jungle before we heard the roar of the fall.  It was worth every
bit of the effort as we stared in awe at it and swam in the clear, cold
pool.   While we were basking in the silence and the beauty,  the fall
started to power up significantly from the earlier rainfall wash-off.  It
got louder and more aggressive, shooting water out horizontally
from rock ledges – the air misted up with the spray and the calm
pool became turbulent – it was quite alarming, and we made a
quick exit away from the river it formed and picked our way back to
the village.  It was a great day.

We were very sorry to leave Fatu Hiva.  In the short time we were
there, we got to know about half the village by name and had been
invited into several homes: we were starting to feel part of the
family.  Sadly, time necessitated we move on and we had a
wonderful 30 mile sail back to Hane Moe Noa Bay, up the lee side of
Tahuata.  This was the first time we had viewed the southern part of
this island: very majestic with some amazing anchorages.  A
couple of days there, with lots of visitors (Island Spirit,  Speranza,
Blue Heron 2000) was really enjoyable, except for the dismal failure
of GT’s first bread-baking effort.  The output looked like some form
of ancient volcanic rock.  We’re working on an improvement in this
area of the cruising life.

We took a sunset departure for the 65 mile sail north to Ua Pou,
excellent 18-22 knot sailing, bar the calm for the first 15 miles from
the lee of the two islands – Hiva Oa particularly is so tall, it takes a
while to escape the wind shadow.  

We’ll get to the northern Marquesas (Ua Pou and Nuku Hiva) in our
next log…meanwhile, smooth sailing.
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