Flitting through French Polynesia June 6 2007
It is great to be anchored in a harbor and Hanavave Bay is spectacular. The island of Fatu Hiva is the southern most island in the Marquesas and one of the least populated (population 630). It does not have an airport but a supply ship does stop monthly. We explored the second (and only other) village, Omoa, on Fatu Hiva via dinghy...two dinghies and six people. Omoa is a 4-6 hour walk or a 15 minute dinghy ride...sounds like a slam dunk; however, the dinghy landing spot is a bit treacherous. It is a cement wall with 4 foot ocean swell, slimy/slippery steps...and no spot to tie the dinghy. We powowed for a few minutes and decided to anchor one dinghy then have one person remain in the second dinghy while the others went ashore. One person would come out and rotate every 20 minutes or so and everyone could see the village. Timing the ocean swell with the jump from the dinghy to the stone step was a bit like timing an entry into a game of jump rope. Chris got real lucky during his dinghy shift and visited the Soren Larson (British square rigger that cruises the South Pacific). He met the tapa clad captain, saw how they navigate by the stars and joined in a bit of tea and biscuits. He thought it was pretty cool but lacked a bit of ventilation. Omoa had one main road with a church and a supermarket. Happily, we also found a tapa cloth maker - Julianna. Tapa cloth is produced from the inner bark of trees (mulberry for off-white, breadfruit for medium brown and banyan for dark brown) and Fatu Hiva is the only island where it is still being made. Juliana also introduced us to dried bananas...no, not banana chips...they are moist like fruit leather and tasty. Back at anchor and we swam and hiked a bit more before pulling the anchor (5/30) and heading to the island of Tahuata.
We again had a dolphin escort during our journey and arrived in the afternoon in Hanamoenoa Bay to find only s/v Sifar and s/v Serai anchored...paradise for us and our friends. We got the hook set as Geoff, Merel, Jason and Emily swam over. We jumped in, too, and caught up while floating around in the clear, warm water. Serai left later in the day but we joined Sifar on the beach for a campfire and fireworks (Chris's prized purchase from the Bahamas). There is no village ashore on this beautiful, sandy beached bay...just palm trees with a backdrop of jagged cliff walls. Tahuata was first reached by Spanish navigators in 1595. It is 8.5 miles long (North to South) and 5 miles across with a population of approx 600. Chris did some barnacle scraping with the scuba gear and we got a bit more sorted out after the passage. Chris was joined during his work by three graceful stingrays that "flew" below him.
The wind is supposed to get fairly strong over the next few days so we decided to make the 85 mile jump to Nuku-Hiva...a protected anchorage and our official check-in spot. It was an overnight trip that was not as billed...there was no wind. We wanted to motor but were afraid of running out of diesel. It was a slow night and we arrived at the entrance to Taiohae Bay (0.8 miles wide marked with two rocky spires...Eastern Sentinel and Western Sentinel) in fog and rain. Luckily we could just make out the land mass and matched it to the radar image. In we went and anchored in 30 feet...and pouring rain. Erin drew the short straw and was out on deck with the anchor looking quite like a drowned rat...at least the air temperature is warm. The rain did not let up but we headed into town to make ourselves official with the Gendarme...three days, two bank trips, three Gendarme visits and a stop at the Post Office and we are checked-in with a 90 day visa...bond the price of an airline ticket back to the states (one for each of us) to be returned in Bora Bora before we leave...minus fees and commissions on the currency conversions. Okay, the French are very good at bureaucracy...and make sure to remind you of it numerous times throughout the process. Another big "To Do" project for Nuku-Hiva was filling the diesel tanks. Holy guacamole - this was quite the adventure. We needed 90 gallons of diesel...without the likelihood of much diesel available until we get to Tahiti (700 miles away). It seems they are rationing and only "advertise" availability of 25 gallons per boat...aaagghh...Erin used her French and was able to get an okay for our 90 gallons as long as we spaced it out over a couple of days. Great! Now for the adventure...we dinghied to the 15 foot cement wall of the fuel dock; Chris scampered up the shell encrusted, rusty ladder; Erin tossed three empty 5 gallon jerry cans to him (along with a rope); Chris got the cans filled and returned via wheelbarrow to the cement wall; Erin returned from circling just beyond the wall (and thus avoiding the 5 foot swell and subsequent spray that shot out with every surge just below the cement wall); Chris tied a rope to a can (35 lbs each when filled with diesel) and lowered it to Erin in the dinghy...repeated three times; Chris scampered back down the ladder and into the dinghy; back to Barefeet where we got the cans aboard and poured into the tanks. We did this adventure a total of six times over two days...the second day was easier since we had the hang of it but gosh were our muscles sore.
With our chores mostly completed we did some exploring and even attended an evening Mother's Day Dance and an afternoon pig roast. Taiohae Bay is the same bay where a young Herman Melville jumped ship in 1845 to hide from his whaling captain, eventually to write the book Typee. They have a memorial to him on the beach. French Polynesia continues to be all we hoped it would be - beautiful, lush green islands, manta rays swimming in the anchorage (supposed to be "gentle giants", but still a bit scary to snorkel with 'em), and friendly people with tattoos all over them. Saturday (6/2) was Mother's Day and there was a big to do in town. The locals had dinner and Mothers were decked out in flowers as dancers performed native dances in elaborate costumes. We cruisers paid a small fee and watched from the wings. There were adults as well as children who moved with wonderful grace. The children were fabulous and would shame any Western adult with their ability.
Sunday (6/3) we attended a traditional pig roast hosted by Rose Corser. Rose is widely known in the cruiser community as a friendly soul ready to help in any way she can. She and her husband, deceased, first came to Nuku-Hiva in 1974 and have been encouraging local artists ever since. The buffet was a huge collection of all sorts of local specialties: raw fish marinated in coconut milk (French Polynesian version of ceviche); raw fish marinated Chinese style; Polynesian oysters; shrimp with vegetables; roast pork in earth oven (began cooking at 4am); roast chicken in white wine; cooked breadfruit, plantains and bananas; taro leaves with coconut milk; fruit salad; mixed fresh salad; banana cake; pudding from banana; and lime meringue pie. Everything was absolutely delicious. The meal was accompanied by dancers and live musicians...different than the night before but equally wonderful to watch.
The town is a welcome provisioning stop with two supermarkets, a bakery, a hardware store and several fresh produce stands. We have had baguettes everyday and bread pudding is in our immediate future. We have walked around and checked out the stone carvings and long houses along the shore, the waterfall spotted from the boat and general meandering through the residential area of the town. We see chickens and brightly colored roosters roaming everywhere...and cock-a-doodle-dooing is a constant backdrop. There is an abundance of the most amazing flowers...colorful and exotic...everywhere. And fruit trees galore; mango, pamplemousse (giant grapefruit), breadfruit, lime and mango. Being anchored in one spot has helped to increase the socializing with other cruisers. Many cruisers are good cooks and able to whip up amazing feasts with seemingly few resources. Geoff and Merel of s/v Sifar are no exception. When we learned that Geoff can create a curry dinner from scratch...it was just a matter of time before we hoped for a demonstration. Our chance came on 6/5...we provided the venue and the electric skillet for a great teaching environment, Geoff & Merel provided the curry and instruction and Mary & Dmitri (s/v Adaggio) provided the appetizers. Geoff crushed anise, cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon sticks; fried them up in sesame oil; and simmered them with onions, potatoes, coconut milk, sugar, salt, chicken, coconut powder, curry powder, sweet Thai chili sauce and garlic...the aroma while simmering was awesome! Merel plated the dinner that looked as if it came out of a five star restaurant...and tasted equally delicious. Starter kits were left for us students to try it ourselves. It was great fun and the evening was topped off with Erin's coconut custard pie.