Bai Hanavave lies on the west side of Fatu Hiva and said to be one of the most beautiful anchorages on the world. Its French name is Baie des Vierges. ‘It has been rumored that the bay was originally named Bai de Verges (Bay of the Phalli) by early explorers because of the shape of the rocky pillars. Supposedly the missionaries disapproved, and inserted an ‘i’ making it Bai des Vierges wich translates Bay of the Virgins’ – from Charlie’s charts, French Polynesia.
The wind decreased a little and I furled out the jib half way, we were still a good five miles away from the shore, north-west. The effect of the island was already palpable, the wind dropped further and shifted so, that it came from directly the bay. There was no way I was going to be able to tack back and forth into this catabolic wind. It seemed too hard work after the irksome night sail we just’ve been through. I turned on the engine, and after nearly two hours tedious motoring we finally arrived to the bay that was going to be our home for the next six weeks.
There was one other yacht there Avatar, they greeted us and we and we waved to them as passed by, and dropped the anchor at somewhat shallower water in the middle of the bay. It was one o’clock in the afternoon, we had plenty of time left of the day. The relief and the joy was immense, but we were tired enough and decided to stay on the boat and not going ashore until tomorrow. We had time to look around. The bay is U shaped, open to the west, perfect to enjoy the sunset, provided there is no other boat behind you with an anchorlight on top of the mast, with the strength of a reflector. It is about 200 metres wide and high but climbable cliffs emerge on its north and south side. On the east lies the lovely Hanavave village, with its church, football pitch, a small river running into the the sea, and the newly built and sufficiantly ugly harbour for the small fishing boats. The harbour consits a concrete quay, some mooring balls to tie the boats bow-to and stern to shore, and the jetty to protect it from the swell. The jetty is built of enermous concrete blocks, and really doesn’t fit into the picture of the advertised ‘most beautiful anchorage’. Luckily, there is a tall, yellow construction crane stationed temporarly in the middle of the vista, so that puts the mind in place. I thought the French have visual style?
The afternoon went quickly, I had my well deserved beer and not much after dusk we were sound asleep. The night seemed to be quiet enough, I slept fairly well, and just woke up before sunrise, at about five o’clock. One quick look about – and I didn’t recognize one bit of the landscape that was around. I called Ana, somewhat nervously and panicky. ‘Ana, Ana get up, we have to go! Now! We dragged the anchor!’ We were near some cliffs and rocks, at safe distance but God only knows what is underneath. I looked left and right and could not see the actual bay we supposed to be in. The wind blew strongly to my face if the coast was on my left side so I assumed that is the direction we have to go. That much was how far I could think just after waking up. I was more preoccupied about the situation of the anchor. Is it stuck, how deep it is, is the chain around some coral head and how I am going to retrieve it? Engine on, crew at the helm and I started to pull up the rope and the chain. With a bit of a fiddling with the last few meters of the chain and the anchor itself was coming up, and we were heading back to the anchorage. This island doesn’t give itself to us easily! It was a good bit of motoring before we were back at the bay. Avatar was gone already (I met them later, they thought we reanchored during the night because of the strong winds. Needles to say they were stunned by the dragging story.) and we parked somewhat nearer to the shore. I dropped the anchor and dived down to check it. The bottom was mostly rocks, pretty bad holding, but it looked ok this time. It was hopefully time to relax a little after these big excitments.
The water was clear blue, the weather was warm and the landscape around us, despite of the yellow crane and the concrate jetty, was beautiful. Let’s discover the coast, I thought after breakfast, and started to get the inflatable dinghy ready to use. It was punctured. A small hole was letting out air from one of the tubes, the bubbles coming up in the water showed it clearly. I had no repair kit with me. That was one of those plans I made, the next time I am in a suitable place, I will have to get a dinghy repair kit. Too late. In my mind, I went through all the materials I had on the boat to find something to use for to plug the hole. I remembered, I had bought plenty of silicon adhesive in Panama and I had an old sailing salopates cut up for patches. I hauled the dinghy out of the water put it on the foredeck, cleaned the area around the hole with aceton and patched it up with the silicon like you would do with a bycicle tube. It needed a good 24 hours dry, so we were stuck on the boat for another day, but we didn’t mind.
I swam ashore where it was nearest and there was a reef to climb out of the water and got some fresh coconut for us. We drank the coconut water and grated the coconut meat. I bought a special device for that purpose in Atuona. It is a small, spoon-shaped, but flat stainless steel tool about 8 inches long. The wider, round part has little teeth around, and it is fixed to a wooden plank, like a chopping board, the round end stcicking out. You sit on the board with a half coconut in hand, and grate the white meat on the theeted part of the tool, that’s sticking out over the edge of the board. The noodle-like grated coconut drops down to a bowl on the ground. Continue until you have enough. To make coconut milk, you squeze this white mash in a cheese cloth (I use a bit of mosquito net). Delicous for marination, or sauce and has millions of use. Coconut oil can be made out of the coconut milk, by boiling away the excess water. It has literaly for hundreds of use, from skin moisterizer to lamp oil. Coconut is a god-sent plant, and we didn’t yet talk about the shelter and the good quality timber it can provide.
The grated coconut was cooked with rice, and provided a dinner of plenty for us. Another day is gone in Paradise, and how lucky we felt, as we sat in the tiny cockpit of Comino and stared at the stars and the Milky Way in the dark, moonless sky.
This time the anchor held, the dinghy repair was a succes and we were ready to get acquinted with the village of Hanavave. Rowing the dinghy slowly becomes a natural exercise to anyone who is guest on Comino. I just can’t see the point of an outboard most of the time. Living on a boat means lack of physical activity day after day, why would you steal yourself the pleasant experience to get to wherever you go by your own power, and substitute it with a noisy, smelly, expensive motor-driven lazyness. Ana was getting better and better with the rowing, and despite of the strong wind against us we made it behind the protective jetty soon. The secret is in the long strokes, with streched arms, and to use your whole upper body not just your arm-muscles. Make yourself comfortable, hold the paddles properly and you can paddle all day without getting tired.
The dinghy was put on the dry, beside the new, concrete slip way, and the two boats slowly dissapeared from view as we made our way inland. It is always a nervous time, to leave your boat at anchor, unattended, especially after such an experience two nigths before, but one has to do it sometimes.
Fatu Hiva is, maybe, the least developed island in the Marquses. There is no policeman and political institution deserved to be mentioned, consequently there is no crime and everyone seem to be living their slow paced life as happy as humanly possible. The church in Hanavave is the centrum of the activities outside of the working commitment. There is church service every day, and is well attended. It is a mix of catholic and protestant community, with only one church, so the service is a mix and for everyone. Right beside the church is the elementary school, with three teachers and plenty of kids. When the children grow out of the elementary school they go to Hiva Oa to study, and only come home about every five weeks for the long two weeks holydays. It is a couple of hours boat-trip with the ferry, but it is expensive even with the government substitution. The main road leads out of the village across the mountains to the town of Omoa and the abandoned village of Ouia. The one junction to the right will take you to the ‘Mariee’ – the town hall, the doctor’s office and the post all in one building. If you take a right again just after you left the main road and crossed the river you get to the football pitch and back to the seafront.
We continued straight on the concrete road the river on our right side, in search of the ‘Cascade’ the famous water fall of Fatu Hiva. We passed the well-kept front gardens and the little houses and soon left the last dwelling behind. The scenery was beautiful whereever we looked. The streams coming from the hill were softly washing the huge boulders in the river beds, the banyana trees with their magnificant look suggesting a misthycal atmosphere, the mango trees with the tons of half-riped mango hanging off the branches. The steep slope the road was climbing up was hard to ascend, but it provided the most beautiful scenery to the bay with Comino in the middle and the village with its roof tops scattered around in the various green vegetation. We didn’t find the cascade that day and we didn’t mind it. We ate as much mango as we could (always wash foraged fruit, leprachosis, spread by rats can be fatal) and found a banana tree by the road side with a ripe bunch of banana that was begging to be taken. The banana tree is a bit like very thick reed but soft and not hollow, and full of water, and it has to be cut to be able to get your banana. It will grow out again from the root and their life finish with having bore the fruit. So I got my knife out, felled the banana plant cut of the buch of banana, posed with it for a picture and we were off to the boat happy and satisfied.
One evening, when we finished our usual daily stroll around the valley and a bit farther and farther away, we sat down on the lawn at the harbour. It was early to go back to the boat, sunset was an hour or so later, so we watched the sea, Comino in the bay, the goats high up on the cliffs doing their breath taking acrobatic show and that few people who were about. The boys just finished their soccer traning. They are very serious about it. When we get up in the morning at five o’clock, they are already on the pitch and the afternoon training is from to three to five. In three weeks Fatu Hiva will host the soccer tournament for the South-Marqueses islands. Hiva Oa and Tahuata are expected to come for the weekend, and try to take away the trophy from Fatu Hiva, won last year.
Two of the players walked towards us, young men, in their twenties, and started to inquire about us. They were happy to learn we are not French. Ana speaks no French at all, I understand a few words and the boys had very little English. We told them to sit down and they shared their after training pipe of ‘pakalullu’ with us. We made friends with them quickly, Basil and Afoky. They were from two different family (unlike seemingly everyone else who were ‘cousins’ to each other) and didn’t look alike at all. They both had dark, brown skin, Basil had a serious countenance with courious eyes, black sharply trimmed hair, and lean, strong body, while Afoky was more on the chubby side, still full of muscles though, his face more youngish and this effect emphasised by the thin facial hair he seemed to groom with great care. Basil was more talkative, and he had better English, so he lead the conversation. We had a great chat, and agreed to meet up again. Another day, I was looking for a passage into the hills just behind the village, and saw a path that could have been one. It passed near a house, so just in case I called in to see if there is anyone there and if I can pass by. I started to talk to the young couple who was sitting in the kitchen and after the inevitable question, if I have .22 or .033 munition on the boat for sale they told me that this is indeed a private property and there is a set price to pass through, to take a photo of the tiki on the property etc. I politely declined the offer. Then they said it is OK, I walk through, can take fruit from the places where the grass is not cut but cannot take photo. And do I have strawberry onboard? I wasn’t sure if I understood the last question right in the mix of English and French but pictures proved I did. A few days later, when Ana was talking to the school children and their main question was the same, we understood the thing a bit better. Strawberry was something like a mistery fruit here, obviously never to be had, and maybe not even real it was the dream of a lot of people.
It was mid October, and I still didn’t have a definit plan what I wanted to do. Ana was in a similar situation, only that she was keen to restart her writing of the book as soon as possible. We made a pact, that we will decide by the end of the week. She had to find an office (I mean a socket to plug the computer in) on land, and I had to make up my mind. Friday came and things happened. This time, out of season, Comino was the only visiting sailing boat in the bay. The ones leaving Panama in January-April left the Marquses already hurrying to New Zealand, Australia or Fiji and so on, and the ones coming north from the Tuamotus to be in a safe place during the cyclon season haven’t started to arrive yet. The few yachts hanging around were scattered between the islands and various anchorages. We were adopted by the kind Fatu Hiva people. Ana made friends with the school-people and were offered a room to use for writing. I spent days roaming the wood for fruites and adventures, sometimes with Basil sometimes in my own. We decide to stay, it was just too good to leave. It meant, that I have to consider abandoning any further progress to west until the beggining of April. Ah well, could hardly be a better place to get stuck.
A few weeks back, on my walk between Tahauku Bay and Atuona, my path crossed with a girl, and we said the compulsory ‘Bon jour!’ to each other. We took a few steps to the opposite direction before she called after me. ‘Excuse me. Are you from a boat?’ She was looking for a lift from Hiva Oa island to Fatu Hiva, hitch-hiking a boat, a common way of travelling here, especially for backpackers and tourists. We talked and I explained her that although I am actually leaving soon for Fatu Hiva, if I were her, I would think twice before I take a passanger place on my tiny, little boat. Ana, a world traveller, who hitch-hiked from Croatia to Bora Bora between 2012-’16 and now is here to write a book about it, said she will think about it.
I was still undecided what I want to do. I had two options, either slow down and spend the coming cycle season at the Marquises (until March, a good six months) or speed up and try to get as far west as possible before December when you should be out of the water unless you like gambling with the elements. The Marquises is generally safe all year around, while south and west of here is a cyclone zone between the end of November till March-April. I let myself to go with the flow and see what happens, but I was sitting in one place for a month now, and was itching to go somewhere.
Ana thought about it twice or three times and decided considering all the circumstances that she accepts my tentative offer for a ‘ride’ to Fatu Hiva including a stop in Tahuata the island just off Hiva Oa. We set the date of departure, then we put it off, then we had to extend our stay, then something happend, but eventually on the 4th October she brought her big and heavy back pack to the boat, we picked some poplomus (a huge grapefruit-like fruit) from a nearby abandoned garden and got ready to hoist the anchor. It was stuck again in the garbage and wire mesh at the bottom of the harbour, so I had to dive to free it but we were off in no time anyway. Ana sailed only on catamarans before, so heeling of the boat was a new experience for her, but I eased her worry, no we are not going to capsize just now. The weather was clear, we motorsailed down wind towards the famous Stephen’s Bay on the west side of Tahuata about three hours away.
Every bay and valley is private on these islands and in the hands of a big family. The land is usually too big to be cultivated and only consists of coconut trees, wilderness and maybe a shelter for hunting or copra making. They come to visit the property occasionaly from the village or town where they live permanently. In some bays though, a small family or a few people live and look after the place. You can land on the coast (according by Mark, the propreitor of Make-Make bar in Atuona, the consequences of an unsuccesfull rising by Marquises people in the XIX. centiury was, that the French goverment took ownership of the all the coasts 50 m deep in land, and forbidden any kind of building there) but walk farther and you are on private land. Stephen lives in his own in one of the bays and there are contradictory reports about him, some say he is an antagonist lunitic, some say he is very friendly and worth a visit. We have to see this man.
We were there in no time, Bai Hanamoenoa it’s official name, incidently the best anchorage near and far. With white sandy beach, green surroundings, and none of the high mountains around to generate the crazy catabolic winds, protected from the ever present oceanic swell and waves it is your tipical leaflet material anchorage. Anchor dropped and set in good holding sand, we went ashore quickly swimming and rowing the dinghy. There was only one more boat there, a small, blue french yacht with Damien and Delphina, whom I knew from earlier.
Two men were taking copra in bags to a small speed boat, walking into the sea chest deep, sacks on the shoulder so we sat down and waited soaking up the atmosphere. When the boat left, and the young looking man who stayed behind sat down on the beach to smoke his cigarette we approched him. He was Stephen, a bit reserved and always trying to maintain a misthycal air around him, nonetheless seemingly appreciating human company. He had near perfect English so communication was not a problem, and soon he invited us for a cup of tea. He made the open fire boiled the water and we sat down talking around the table behind the trees that made up the natural fence between the beach and his garden. He complained about the yachties who dont respect the signs that say ‘Private’ and just take everything they want, coconut, chicken, fruit, and have no manners and behave like they own the place. We must have got into the good books as we were invited back for the next day, which we were too glad to accept.
Damien came around to Comino the next day and said he just shoot a parrot fish with a speargun and we should make a bbq. We went ashore, asked and invited Stephen respectfully, and had a nice afternoon all together. Stephen caught two piglets the night before, whose mum kept coming back and destroying his garden. He intended to rise the piglets (tied to a tree by their hind legs as they do here) but they were full of ticks, so we were assigned the job to wash them in the sea. The poor things, they were tiny and scared, but it was the funniest thing to see them swimming around in the water. When they got too cold we took them out, and buried them in the warm sand, only heads sticking out. Well, thats some memory from Tahuata…
Before we left Hiva Oa, I checked the wind forecast and picked Saturday evening as the best time to leave Tahuata for Fatu Hiva. Fatu Hiva is south east from Tahuata, and the general direction of the trade winds is south east so it wasn’t going to be an easy sail. We planned to leave early morning, stop for a couple of hours in Vaitahu village, the next bay, then continue to Fatu Hiva, about 40 miles away. All started out well, we sailed up to the bay where the village is, dropped anchor and landed on the shore. We went for a walk, and were given bananas and mangos and lemons by the locals as a present. They are really wellcoming here and proud of it too. Some countries could take examples of it!
It was time to leave, and that was when we encountered our first problem. The swell increased while we were inland and waves were breaking on the shore. There was no way to launch the dinghy. We sat down on the shore and waited. Comino was safe and happy a hundred yards away, so near and still so far away, and we couldn’t get to her because of this mere couple of meters wide surf. But it was impassable. We waited hours and hours, and tried to figure out the sequence of the big and smaller waves, and when finally it seemed to abate a little (or is it that we just wanted to see it like that?) we made a plan. We semi-launched the dinghy and waited for the big ones and when we thought they were the biggest we pushed the dinghy, we commited ourselves jumped in and paddled like hell to get over the surf. It was a lucky escape, but we were on our way. There was no time to waste, it was getting late in the afternoon. The usual routine of hoisting the anchor followed and we sailed out of Vaitahu Bay. The wind let us down not much time later, as we were still in the shelter of the island and we kept losing steerage way. We tried to hug the coast not get too far west but the wind was shifting back and fro and up and down. We were too close to the rocks darkness started to descend and after an accidental tack when we headed straight to the coast I decided to furl up the jib and start the engine to get out of the situation. The jib didn’t furl it get strangled in the spinnakker halyard and the engine stopped after some minutes of running. It was getting dark. Ana looked at me with panic-striken eyes searching for a sign of reassurance, so I took a deep breath put on my most confident countenance and said ‘It is OK, it is absolutely normal, dont you worry!’.
At last, we were out of the lee of the island and were hit by the wind immediately. It was a beat into the wind, if we are lucky, a fetch to Hanavave Bay. The waves were moderate the wind F3-4, I put in a reef then two and full jib. Under the twilight of the setting sun, we got a half an hour breathing time, before my crew brought my attention to the dark clouds approching from the east. Crew have these annoying habits of asking inconvinient questions. I was just getting comfortable after working hard bringing the boat this far, and might even thought about a glass of rum, when Ana asked if those clouds are not dangerous, are they? There are not dangerous clouds here, I said, we are too close to the equator to have any really bad weather, and anyway I checked the wind forecast before we left. Just to ease her feelings I prepared the third reef in the main so it is easy to put in. Ten minutes later we were hit by the wind under the cloud and I was running to put the third reef in and roll up most of the jib as well. Comino was sailing beautifully close hauled under tiny canvas but it was far from pleasant sailing. The waves were huge, it was raining, water was pouring through the hatch that wasn’t locked properly and we were slow of course making only 1-2 knots. It lasted all night. That much about me picking the right time for a passage. Luckily my crew was completely seasick, so she wasn’t under my feet, I fixed the engine during the night kept watch, and got enough rest for the day coming. Sunrise (I suppose , I couldn’t see it behind the clouds) found me on deck enjoying the battering of the elements, it was good to be out at sea again. The wind was still strong, F5 true, and the salty spray was flying around but the new-to-me island was visible and we were going to sail into our new anchorage soon.
The time has come to say goodbye to the beautiful Marquises Islands and the nice people I have met here, and head for the Tuamotus archipelago. After spending more than seven months between Nuku Hiva, Fatu Híva and the rest waiting out the cyclone season, I might call this paradise on earth my second home. Whatever the landscape with the lush mountains, sandy beaches, coconut trees, streams and boulders, abundance of fruits, curious fish in the clear sea water, would not have been enjoyable if it wasn’t for the warm welcome from the generous local people. Vaiei nui. I will never forget the many friends I made here, all the people I met, travelers, sailors, locals and foreigners. They made every moment unforgettable. Thank you, I will be back.
Below is pictured my computer hard drive. It is dead. All my unsaved data (a lot) is lost, pictures, videos, cruising guides, manuals, documents etc. Another, external hard drive went up in smoke in Panama a couple of months ago with a set of digital valuables, and that means I am left with hardly any saved memories. However, the main problem is the loss of the collection of all the software I used for writing, video editing, file organizing, navigating and so on. Even to buy a computer is hardly possible in this remote part of the world, let alone downloading everything that is required to maintain the blog, you-tube channel, communication, all these sci-fi wizardry. It is a big set back. I am hoping to be able to sort something out in Tahiti when I get there in about April or May. Until then, I enjoy the low-tech reality of Marquises and Tuamotu archipelago.
One day, we went up to the Semaphore, which is the maritime radio station at Hiva Oa, and also a place for the sailors to get together on Wednesdays, when barbeque is organized by the volunteers. Christophe was there, Jeremy, and Daniel playing with the local band. He is a French guitar maker who settled in Atuona, the main town of the island after travelling around the world, and now he builds guitars on order, from locally sourced wood. I just arrived a week ago or so, but was welcomed into the small community of the healthy mix of locals, travellers and sailors, some of them staying short, some putting off and off their departure. I had no definite plan either, and it felt good, there was no pressure on me to be haste.
More people were coming as the night progressed and most of them had interesting stories how they ended up on this beautiful and far away part of the world. ‘I am Brian O’Connor’ introduced himself with perfect English a local fisherman. I nearly spit my beer from laughing; I thought he was pulling my leg. ‘We leave in Hanaiapa, the village on the north side of the island. Nearly everyone is O’Connor there. I have eight brothers and sisters, some of them have red hair and white skin some a mix, we all look different. My great-great-great grandfather was originally from Ireland; he went to New Caledonia then here to Hiva Oa, got married and established quite a dynasty.’ He told me, he studied in Hawaii, hence his good English, and came back living on the island with his Thai girlfriend, who he met at college. I was flabbergasted by the story, only a little bit more in a few weeks later, when reading Moitessier’s book ‘The logical way’ found a reference, that him, arriving to Hiva Oa spent weeks with a family who called themselves O’Connor. The man must have been the grandfather of Brian.
Hiva Oa is the largest of the Marquesas Islands and the main island of the southern group that also consist of Tahuata just a stone throw away, Fatu Hiva the most southern, and Motane which is unpopulated. The stunning rugged coastline, the lush vegetation and the high reaching mountains create a picturesque countryside. Since my arrival, when Rob from a boat I met in Colon waved a fresh baguette into my hands before I even dropped the anchor, I am having a good time. It is an amazing experience to meet up with friends after 3500 miles of sailing, ending up in the same little harbour on the huge ocean. I wasn’t even too surprised to see Andrea’s boat at the back of the bay. Easily recognisable, with shark jaws and teeth painted on the bow, they made remarkably good time of 27 days crossing from Panama, while I spent my time in Ecuador. Now it was time to celebrate the reunion before he must leave to be in New Zealand as soon as possible to prepare the boat to spend a winter frozen in the Antarctic ice. His short term goal was though, to beat me in chess at least once, and when it was done and the boat was ready he set sail with his screenshot charts to cross the Tuamotus. I am a bit torn between going and staying. The cyclone season is approaching and this would be the place where one can spend it safe and quiet, protected from the worst of the elements. On the other hand, it will be nearly half a year before I can get underway again if I don’t go now. Well, we will see, it is sunshine and calm water right now.
But the conditions are not always that benign in a Pacific Ocean safe heaven. It is two o’clock in the morning and someone is knocking on the boat while I am in my deepest and sweetest dream. ‘Attila, wake up!’ It is Jeremy. He is my neighbour, only one boat is between us. His de-masted catamaran soon could be a landmark (or I should say a watermark) staying this long in the bay. They arrived to Fatu Hiva at the beginning of the season, young French surfers with big plans to setting up a mobile surf school in the Tuamotu Archipelago, but due to a small, stupid mistake during a rigging maintenance session the mast came down. They motored up to Hiva Oa for repair, the friends left, and now Jeremy is looking after the boat and organizing the refitting. He is running around all day, barefoot, wearing only a surfing short, doing something, going surfing or talking to everyone, generally knowing and wanting to know everything that is worth knowing around the Bay of Tahauku. Now, he is coming around with the news that there was an earth quake in Mexico and we have a tsunami alert and all the boats are leaving the harbour for safe deep water. Strangest thing is, I just talked to Chris about the tsunami alert last year, and how the water was sucked out of this bay and pumped back many times creating a big whirlpool damaging some boats that didn’t bother to leave. That time the gendarmerie came around the boats, and told everyone to leave, but not everyone believed them. Eventually, some people had to be forced off the boats. Incidentally, Chris had no engine, so accepted a tow, but was dumped right outside the jetty leaving him in a dangerous situation. But that is another story…
The tsunami is only dangerous close to land. If you are sufficiently far away and in deep water, you will not even recognize the wave generated by the earth quake passing through, under the keel. It is also very well forecasted these days, scientists can calculate the possibility and strength of it based on the available data and issue an alert. It seems, every one heard the story of the last one, as all the boats were either motoring out of the harbour already or hastily pulling up the anchor. I thanked Jeremy the warning and tried to wipe the sleepiness out of my eyes. I was hesitating and thinking of staying put. What a miserable idea to pull up both my stern and bow anchor, and spend the night out in the dark motoring or sailing around for hours aimlessly. When I eventually forced myself to do something, the main anchor got stuck in the wire mesh that is laid down some places at the bottom of the bay to stop erosion. I had to dive down in the dark and murky seawater and free it out, working blindly, standing in the mud. Let’s not think of the sharks now! I can’t afford to lose my good plough anchor. At last it gave in and I was ready to go. Back on the deck I looked around. Danny, whose boat was the one between me and Jeremy, was helped by Axel from ‘the Norwegian boat’ as we called it in Panama. He wouldn’t be able to move on his own, but now he was sorted. I engaged the gear box, pulled on my makeshift throttle cable to rev the engine and motored out of the bay.
We were hanging around, just outside the bay, trying not to crash the boats, shouting at each other when we recognised who is beside us, but it was generally a big confusion, no one knew what to do. I tried to anchor at the 25 fathom line, so maybe I can stay and rest there, but a big fishing boat was drifting slowly towards me and Jeremy, with his mast-less big catamaran was also circulating around, so I decided it was not the best idea. How bad the idea was actually, I just realised when I started to retrieve the anchor. The 25 metre, 6mm chain and the 30-40 metre 3/4inch nylon rope felt like they weighted a ton. It took me the best of two hours before the anchor finally was fixed back on its place on the deck. Well, at least the sun was up by now. The yachts and fishing boats slowly dispersed, most of them heading back to the bay. Nothing happened of course, no tsunami wave came, it was a false alarm. I started off towards the Bay of Motopu on the north-east of Tahuata, the next island, less than 10 miles away and motor-sailed across the Canal de Bordelais between Hiva Oa and Tahuata islands. I thought I would look around if I am out at sea already, but the bay looked very unfriendly with the onshore wind and the swell breaking on the shore. I evaluated the situation and did a quick u-turn. It was a tough sail upwind against the current and bashing into the waves, but Comino again worked hard and took me back to Hiva Oa, no trouble.
Life resumed, and I went to visit Christophe on his blue boat. There are so many boats, who can remember all their brand and size. At least it was blue and not an AWB (average white boat), a bit more distinctive and easily recognisable. A Beneteau or Jeanau, one of those French ones, he was living on it for twelve years. He sailed to French Polynesia from the Caribbean, to meet with his girlfriend, who was sailing her own boat on a similar route, but she never showed up and hardly replies to his email. He is completely heartbroken, and just wants to sell the boat as fast as possible, as was his original plan, and fly back to France. The trouble is the boat has osmosis all over the hull. It is like a plague here, nearly all the boats develop it when they arrive, despite having nothing like that before for decades. It has to be hauled out at the boat yard, and it means weeks and weeks of sanding, epoxying, painting, antifouling. I persuade him to go for a hike and we spent a day in the mountains climbing up a random peak and having lunch on the top under a mango tree. We descended on the other side and hitched a car back to the boats.
I have my own trouble with the boat, but it is been decided, small boat – small problem. On the way back from Tahuata, I noticed that the starboard side lower shroud, 4mm stainless steel wire rope, broke at the lower fitting. Only 3 years old, it had no reason to do so, but what can one do. I looked around for solution. In general, you should try to avoid big repair in French Polynesia (in fact even small ones) as everything is very expensive and transport cost is high. The old rigging that I replaced in Lanzarote was still around somewhere in the lazarette, now I dug it out and used it to make a jury rig. Combined with some clamps and a couple of shackle it made a good enough impression on me. I went halfway up the mast to check the other lower shroud. Loose strands of wire were hanging out of the fitting. It was totally dead. I replaced that too, using the last of the ‘emergency rigging repair kit’ hoping everything will last for awhile now.
Meanwhile, I am running out of butane gas, used in the galley for cooking, and I have to find a way to refill the bottle. It isn’t always easy considering all the different variation in size and fittings of the cylinders. Here, the French Polynesian bottles are similar to the ones on the French Caribbean islands, but different colour. I heard about boats that managed to exchange their empty ones by merely repainting them to the local grey hue. I have smaller ones though, one from the UK (Calor, 4.5kg) and a Campingaz bottle. I use the Calor most of the time and just have the Campingaz as a backup. Cannot complain, last time I filled up my relatively small cylinder was in Portobello, Panama months ago. Now, Chris kindly offered to fill it up for me for a small charge. Chris is practically a resident on the boatyard. He arrived to Hiva Oa nearly two years ago sailing his Columbia 56 from San Diego. Originally from England, he has some interesting life behind him. After growing up on the English countryside, he learned French going to school in Switzerland. Later on he had his picture framing business and printer tone refilling enterprise; he worked in Australia in mines and in south-east Asia in the tourism industry. He sailed his boat across the Pacific with the help of friends and family, but had osmosis, engine, battery and rigging problems by the time they got to the Marquises. He put the boat on the yard and working on it ever since. He has a local gas bottle, we hung it upside down high up, connected my small one with the screw-on fitting I hacked to let the gas through into the bottle and settled down waiting with a couple of cold beer. The evening routine for Chris is to feed the cats he has, and to play with the chickens. The chickens are eating the cat food from his hand, but they are getting bold and demanding, climbing up the leader and taking over the deck. They are living wild all over the Marquises islands; you can see them in the towns, at the roadside, in the forest literally anywhere you go. There are usually hens and chicks and a cock together like a family. I heard opposing reports about the quality of their meat, some say they are lean and tough as they are near-wild animals, some say the meat is fat and juicy from the coconut and fruits they eat. I have yet to try it. At the moment they are flying around us as we are sitting four metre high in the cockpit of the boat in the cradle and they look very happy. They are useful; they help to keep the cockroach and the poisonous centipede population down.
The Bay of Atuona and Tahauku are like one huge south facing bay divided by a rock, Pointe Feiki with a light on it. The eastern side is Tahauku where the yachts anchor. There is a quay, currently under construction, where the supply ships go alongside. You suppose to anchor your boat behind an imaginary line in the middle of the bay to let the ships manoeuvre. A jetty runs across the harbour mouth, where the local fishing boats are tied up, stern to the jetty bow on a mooring ball, Mediterranean style. On the left side of the bay, as you enter, there are high rocks all the way to a black, volcanic sandy beach. The beach slowly and gradually drops and has more rocks as it gets deeper. Behind, there is a coconut plantation. A small river flows lazily into the bay, twisting away from your sight as you look inland. A ford lets you cross it even at high water. After heavy rain in the mountains the river can grow immensely and bring trees and all kind of floating debris to the sea. On the right side of the bay is the road to Atuona. It has some traffic. Fishermen from the boats, cargo from the quay, locals and tourists drive back and forth between the sea and the land. Behind the quay, with a high open barn to protect the offloaded goods from the rain, there is a gas station and small grocery shop. The road continues on, passes by the slipway, then splits right to the jetty, left to the boat yard and further on to the Semaphore station, famously the first in the Marquises.
Tahauku Bay is protected enough most of the time from the wind and swell, but in special circumstances, it can get dangerous. The news went around in the middle of September that a once in a five year phenomenon will create waves in our bay big enough to break and to surf on. The south-south-westerly swell combined with strong winds would push the waves through the entrance making it uncomfortable for the boats, to say the least. Everyone was getting ready to leave one way or another. Some boats were put on the hard, some stocked up with provision and left for other islands and better protected harbours. I decided to stay. When the place is crowded, it is recommended to use stern anchor to keep the boats banging into each other as they would swing around differently with no constant wind and the tide swirling around the bay. Now, that nearly all the boats are gone, I just put Comino on a swinging anchor and let her look after herself. I was helping Danny this time on the next boat. He is an elderly sailor from America, living on his catamaran. Sadly, his health is deteriorating and he is finding it hard to conduct the daily chores on a boat, let alone going sailing. Still, he loves living in the climate here, and on the boat and not willing to go anywhere. We prepared his boat the best we could and waited the waves to come. There were stories of previous big waves in the harbour and surfers surfing by the anchored boats bucking on the waves, so we held tight and expected the worst.
It was bad. It was coming slowly, getting worse and worse and then stayed for a long-long time. Comino was just fine in the middle of the harbour; I put the tiller on a bungee cord, and a very slack piece of rope to let her play with waves, and she followed the way of the flow of the water and it was even possible to make a coffee occasionally. I went up to Danny’s boat to check upon him every day. He had the bow anchor and two stern anchors out and they kept the boat into the swell. He had nearly a hundred meter scope in both direction, but the waves were big and sometimes just broke under the boat and this put enormous strain on everything. It was hard even for me to get from the dinghy onboard. Days on struggling we thought it was over, but it started to get worse again. The old catamaran couldn’t take it anymore. Things started to break. A fairlead on the bow, chafe protections on the anchor lines, hatches, everything.
One night the port stern anchor line got caught under the rudder and damaged the hull where the shaft enters. It started to leak badly. Danny told me in the morning the bilge pump was working overtime and he was worrying. I went to investigate and reported to him. He was nearly crying ‘I suppose this is the end for me. I have to move off the boat’ I told him not to worry, let’s have a beer; we will sleep on it, think about it and see what we can do. The next day he was much happier. We concluded we found the solution. The rudder was removed and the rudder stock was plugged in with a bung. All was good again. I went off to do one of my last shopping, and meet with Ana to discuss the details of our departure.
The monster subject when family, friends and enemies ask about your cruising life. ‘And how much it cost?’ The scale is infinitely long, depending on the thickness of your wallet, expectations, habits, desired level of comfort etc, etc. You heard the rumour of cruisers who left their home port with 100 dollars in their pocket and sailed around the world, and yachts that spend most of the time (and money) in marinas, the crew in elite restaurants. Inevitably, there are unavoidable associated expenses, but with a bit of discipline the cruising budget can be stretched to last longer than expected. To monitor my spending and out of curiosity I documented all my expenses from the start. The initial investment is excluded, where would you start? Should you include the boat value, equipments big or small, provision, bits and pieces? Income, if any was also excluded as it is not strictly relevant to the topic.
There is, admittedly a wind-down period after you had cut the lines. Most of us had worked extra hard to get to this point, and it is hard to hush away the inner voice that says, ah sure you deserve an ice-cream today or a cold beer. Later on, when you got hooked on your new life style, you will think, sure it is worth to restrict myself so I can spend a few more extra days in paradise.
I don’t know how much others spend nominally, as it is usually a touchy subject, but I hope my record will help future cruisers to plan their financials. There are times and places where you just have to spend a bit more, either to save on a long run (like provisioning when shopping is cheaper) or just because there is no other way (Panama Canal). I tried to include prices of individual items to show what and where it is worth to buy, without going into too much details and generating unmanageable data.
Below is the excel sheet of my first 14 months of spending. Enjoy!