The Tahuata festival

or, As the anchor drags

I left one Friday, after I had said good bye to Danny and Chris, as they were the only ones staying behind. I assured them, I will be back next year. My new plan, that was firm now, was to go up to the northern Marquises Islands after the festival, stay there until February, and slowly stroll south after the cyclone season, to Tahiti.

 I pulled up the anchor and sailed to Hanamoena Bay where Steve lives and where we stopped before with Ana. There was still an hour or two before dark by the time I have set the anchor, I quickly jumped into the dinghy and rowed ashore to see if my friend is at home. He came out after some yelling his name, but he looked like he wasn’t in the best of form. ‘What’s the matter?’ I asked, I thought he was drunk, or seriously hangover. ‘I’ve got ciguatera.’ he said.

 I broke out in laugh. Ciguatera can cause a serious sickness, you get it from eating certain fish on certain places at certain times. It is a fungi (or algae or something completely else, still not proven either way) accumulating in fish that feeds on coral and in fish that eat the fish feeding on coral. It cannot be eliminated by cooking and there is no method to determine* if a fish has it or not: the best advice is to ask the locals which fish can be eaten from where.

* Later on I heard a method: leave the fish after it died for a few hours, if it feels rigid eat it, if it stays soft it has ciguatera. (Or was it the other way?)

 Clearly, Steve is not your local guide to ask about fish and ciguatera, even though he lives in his own bay fishing and eating fish for years. He said ‘It was a good fish, it was worth it.’

 We sat down and talked. I asked him about our piglets we washed in the sea two months ago with Ana, and he said they escaped back to liberty. He asked me what happened to her and I told our stories from Fatu Hiva. We drank the warm beer I brought and then I went back to my dinghy, which I couldn’t find in the darkness. It took me some time and a near heart attack before I noticed it a-washed completely, moving with the waves on and off the sandy beach. I didn’t pull it up high enough after landing and the rising tide took it and submerged it completely. I found the oars and the thwart, turned the dinghy upside down to get rid of the water and rowed back to the boat.

 I sailed off the anchor next day and an hour later I was looking for the best spot amongst the number of boats in the bay at Vaitahu village, to drop it again. It was a lively sight with all the various sailing boats and catamarans, the navy ship and small power boats ferrying passengers from all the other islands. It was a smaller festival this year (every four year there is a big one on a big island, this one was a small one on a small island) but it still looked too big for me, with too many people after the long isolation of the last couple of months. I decided to stay on board this night to acclimatize.

 The next day I tentatively approached land, stopping by at boats I met before. Heaven’s Door, a big catamaran with Jem the owner-skipper anchored not too far. I met him and crew Sophi, a young French girl in Hiva Oa. This boat was which Ana crossed the Pacific with, from Panama. I had a coffee with Jem. Then Rosanna was not too far, I said hello to Chris. Always a good chat with him. The girls are out walking across the island, most certainly gossiping away. Jeremy’s mast less catamaran was full with the young French crowd, they have been here for a day or two now. On land I met Christoph and his friend Tiery. Christoph is like he lost his soul. His ex-girlfriend is here around, with her boat and crew as a journalist, reporting from the festival, and he is trying to straight out things but it isn’t easy. Tiery, a lucky man, sailing with his family of three beautiful children and his wife, supporting Christoph as much as a friend can (rum) but Tough is not taking life easy just now. I understand him.

 As you can see, the festival was lead on two lines, one of the dance and culture festival, and one that goes on around the boats. The latter is like a TV soap opera, if you follow it closely, the stories, connections and interactions are unreal and sometimes farcical. But real life is the best story writer, and bystanders started to call it by the title ‘As the anchor drags’.

 The main festival’s main attraction was the evening dances that were performed on the stage in the middle of the village, every day by different islands. The musical-like performances were similar to each other, as they were based on the traditional war dance, but each had its own special marker. They told stories of old times and tried to bring your mind into a kind of state of trance, like you are just getting ready to conquer the neighboring tribe. When 30 to 60 men and women dancing and banging their feet to the same rhythm, and the aggressive beating of the huge war drums provide the music, you feel the message of the past ages they convey. I was sitting there every night from seven to ten or later, jaw dropped, listening and watching the beautiful show. (It has to be said, it was an alcohol-free festival, and this made significantly easier to enjoy it.)

 A big turn out was expected on the kai-kai day. Free, traditional food for everyone, your job is to show up. The rumor was, you have to bring your own environmentally friendly bowl or plate to eat from. Sounded very sensible so we got ready with our coconut shell bowl and palm leaf plates, but the organizers weren’t so strict. Disposable plastic plates filled up the bins by the time I arrived. Every island had its own big stall or tent and the tables were filled with food of all type. Roasted pork, dripping of grease, goat meat, fruits, seafood of all kind, poisson cru, and sweet stuff, like the Fatu Hiva specialty: dried banana and mango lumps soaked in coconut milk. No-one stayed hungry that day. ‘Just try this one, for last! A bit more fish, you haven’t tasted it yet! Some fruit, it is good for you!’

 As the festival wore on, on land, so it did on board the boats. I listened people who needed it, witnessed big break ups, and laughed at the gossips talked. I was part of the ‘As the anchor drags’ too. I made attempts to talk to my ex-crew and to come to a friendly term but she was unable to bring herself to a discussion, and had none of it, so I gave up eventually. It was a pity, as I knew we will have to spend the next few months on these small islands avoiding each other and pretending the other one doesn’t exist. I had and made a lot of new friends who helped me through these problems, and I learned and awful lot about human relationships in a short period of time.

 On Thursday, as the festival was practically over anyway, I pulled up the anchor once more, between two strong gusts and started to sail out of the bay, zig-zagging between the remaining boats. It was windy in the morning and was blowing from the high hills that surrounded the village, so I thought it would be easy and professional looking to leave under sail alone. The water was warm and clean in the bay, and I had spent hours to clean the hull in the previous days. The boat should be flying! Except the wind died immediately as I needed it. I tried to keep the faith, even after Tom sailed me around with his sailing dinghy, that he usually stores on deck for the children. Well, he is a racer back in the Solent so he should know, but still… Anyway, we agreed to catch up in Nuku Hiva in the New Year and I started up the engine to get out of the shelter of the islands and find the NE trade winds to sail away with.


Hiva Oa again

So I was back in Hiva Oa again, and the next day I started to go around visiting all the boats and friends whom I knew from before. Danny on his catamaran in the middle of the bay, parking semi permanently, Chris on the boat-yard ever getting ready to put Sagacious back on the water, Frank and Celine anchoring dangerously close to the new quay with the Wi-Fi signal, Jeremy still waiting for parts to finally erect his mast…
It was a bit like being in a city again – everything is relative. I had to tell my stories from the wilderness to everyone and they told me what has changed in Hiva Oa in the last two months: not much.
City or not city, even with the better shopping opportunities I continued my habits of Fatu Hiva, and went foraging in the jungle. I had my banana and grapefruit source, I knew where they grow wild. It was a long walk and some exercise to carry them back to the boat but it is always worth the effort. You don’t have to check your pockets for money, car key, mobile phone etc. Have a machete and a big backpack, and in a few hours time you are back with a load of fruit.
The gas system has started to sort itself out. Danny remembered he had a spare long gas line somewhere in his boat and he wasn’t going to need it anymore. If we can find it, I can have it. After turning the boat inside out and moving everything in all the lockers, I found the seven meter long USA standard LPG gas hose. Impossible to buy anything good quality like that here, it was worth its weight in gold to me. I worked it off by doing this and that for him, and we enjoyed the afternoon beers together.
I only had about three weeks before I was planning to leave for the Tahuata festival, just around the corner on the next island. I was certainly excited when Chris mentioned that he is splashing his boat in any day. After 2.5 years on the boat-yard even if it is not ready he was going to do it. He was becoming a permanent fixture on the boatyard living on the boat feeding the wild chicken and cats around, and now suddenly everything was going to change. The date was put off one day after the other, but just before I left, we gathered on deck, a few of us, and rolled out of the yard. Somewhat nervously we put this beautiful Columbia yacht on her element, the engine started and after a brief circle around the bay we dropped each of the three anchors to their places. A successful day deserves a beer at the end…
Two weeks were gone from December and lot of boats left for Tahuata already, to find the best spots to anchor or just meet up with each others on a cosy anchorage. Anticipations arouse, as lot of friends and not-so-friends are expected to attend to this major event. More than forty yachts were supposed to be there, more or less knowing each other, and this isn’t always the best start. In a small world, and in our micro-community of the boats wintering out on the east Pacific, funny domestic stories are inevitably going around…


Drying bananas 

Leaving Fatu Hiva


Plans are made to change, so say the sailors, and when you have no strict plans it is easy to change them. At the end of November Ana moved off the boat as I requested from her. We didn’t have any real problem, but there was no cooperation anymore and it is hard to live on such a small place for two individuals. It only works as a team effort. Unfortunately, we didn’t part on a friendly term, and I wrote this to the account of handling the situation on an immature way, by both of us.

I thought it will be best to head back to base one, Atuona, Hiva Oa. Around this time I made a big decision, and ended my long term and recently long distance relationship. It didn’t seem fair to stretch emotions for either party. A lot were happening in a short time.

A couple of new boats started to arrive into our bay by now, some from the Tuamotu and Tahiti. Gegenwind a German boat who I met with in Ecuador just crossed the Pacific in a negative record of 52 days, and some from Panama who left their crossing for later than recommended. Amongst the boats was Rosana, an English boat with a young couple, Chris who is French – Scottish origin but for us he is just English, and Zane from Latvia. We quickly made acquaintance and spent lot of nice time together in the coming months. The discussion between the boats revolved around the main topic still, to go or to stay, but for me it was decided now, I stay around the Marquesas for the cyclone season until March at least. It is a long time but still better wait and be safe than got caught in a weather. Although, it is a La Nina year, maybe it would be worth to try… No… Yes… No…

The next subject that started to exercise everyone’s mind is the coming Tahuata Festival, a biannual folk festival that moved around the Marquesas Islands and meant a week show of traditional dance, craft market, food and happy time. This year it is going to be on the island of Tahuata just before Christmas, and all the boats and boat people I met promised to come.

Meanwhile, my gas system gave up its soul, and I lost two bottles of gas in quick succession. The first leaked out, and I thought I found the leak, so put on the new bottle, but two days later that was empty too. I was left without cooking facilities, I had to take my fish I had caught, ashore and cook it on a camp fire. The problem now seemed to be in the copper tube system leading the gas from the cylinder to the cooker. I didn’t mind to make some radical changes, throwing away the whole thing replacing it by something else, as long as I can find ‘something else’. However, it was impossible to conduct the repair here on Fatu Hiva. Everything just came together to make me to leave.

On the 22nd November, at 0445hrs I lifted the anchor and sailed out of the Bay of Virgins. I didn’t know if I ever be back, although I promised to my local friends to stop by in March on the way to the Tuamotu. It was just a Polynesian type of promise, if it happens happens, if not, not… By 1340 hrs I sailed a stunning 10 miles. The catabolic winds that usually blow up to 50 knots from the shore (once they flipped the dinghy upside down that was tied up behind Comino, never before and since saw anything like that) and made a hell of coming in, dragged our anchor, and made it near impossible to row ashore sometimes, were nowhere to be seen. I tried to tow the boat with the dinghy, by rowing, but it was hopeless. At least I know now, I always wanted to try it. I didn’t want to turn on the engine because I had decided not too, and it would have felt like cheating… But the wind was non existent, the sea was calm like I have never seen the Pacific before, and the lush island of Fatu Hiva just didn’t get any farther. I decided to trick the wind gods and jumped into the water, while the sails were up the wind-pilot engaged and the boat crawling along with o.1-o.5 kn speed. When I pushed my head above the surface the wind felt stronger than before. I grabbed the gunwale before it passed by me and pulled myself up on deck. The boat was moving. Albeit only flickering initially, the wind was getting stronger and stronger, and soon I was sailing, taking the easterly trade wind beam on. By nine in the evening I was east of Tahuata and beating into the NE wind. No sleeping tonight, a bit of wind shift and the wind-pilot will take me straight ashore. But Comino sailed well, and in a few hours later, in the height of the night I motored in to Tahauku bay, like I was coming to my home port.


Aranui 5 in Hiva Oa

Life on Fatu Hiva


I was inaugurated to Basil’s family. That was the beginning of my anthropo-sociological study of Fatu Hiva and its people. Ana was preoccupied with her writing and disappeared every morning either to work or to help out with the English class in the school. A big disappointment to the male population of the village who adored her. As a second best, a novelty, I was introduced to everyone and everything around. I was invited for lunch and there was no way to say no. The local cuisine is amazing though. Poisson cru (row fish in coconut milk or various sauces), roasted chicken, dried banana in coconut milk, fried and roasted fish… there is no hungry man in the Marquesas. I told them about the weather in Hungary, how cold it can get. Their biggest regret was, that we have to eat everything warmed up then. True, I looked around the table, all the dishes were served at room temperature, including the rice.

Basil’s family, like nearly every family on the island, makes money by wood carving. They carve small and big tiki statues (tiki-s are the stone statues that said to be containing the souls of gods and spirits, and are all over the Pacific) traditional masks and other ornaments. In a couple of weeks there is going to be an exhibitions and market specially for Marquises crafts in Tahiti, so now the whole family is participating in the process of manufacturing. Basil’s father showed me proudly the ingenious tool for the final finish of the wooden items after the waxing: a toilet brush stuck into the chuck of a power drill makes a brilliant polishing tool. Sopi, who is a trained carver, and cousin of Basil invited me to his house to show around. He works at Basil’s family house, doing the carving. When he finished at three in the afternoon we walked to his house together. Basil was off for his football training of course. There are two houses on the land Sopi owns, the big and new house is rented out for the Tahitian construction workers who are building a road extension somewhere, he, his wife, and his smallest son is living in the small house. Sopi’s second smallest son, in his late teens was home just now too, having a school holiday from Hiva Oa. Very nice and polite boys. The inevitable kai-kai followed, (strictly speaking it means communal eating) then I was showed more carved tikis from different wood (coconut, breadfruit etc.) and stones as well. I had to sign the visitors book, and was showed the book ‘Fatu Hiva, Back to nature’ by Thor Heyerdahl. I had been aware of Heyerdahl other works about the adventure of Kon-Tiki for instance, but this book was new to me. Not the last time, turning the pages of the book, looking at the pictures and reading a few lines here and there I was overwhelmed by history. Decades ago these explorers were here at the same place, taking notes and photos and reported back what they found. I saw myself as a child reading these books and wanting to be here and dreaming about these places. And now I was here, I felt to be the luckiest man alive to have my dream come true.

I was again filled up with a mixed load of vegetable and fruits (aubergine, tomatoes, banana) before I was let to go. There was a lot to think about again in the evening, under the starlit sky, sitting on the gently rocking boat, enjoying the caressing of the trade winds.

The days were quickly passing by. Some no-no (sand fly) bites from Hiva Oa on my legs got infected. It is quite common on the Pacific to have wounds and cuts that don’t heal. They were getting worse and worse, so I had to go to the local nurse for advice. I was given a dis-infective wash and was told not to go into the sea. Four weeks of ban for swimming followed. Quite depressive. The weather wasn’t too warm and it was raining a lot, that helped a little bit.

infected leg

Badly infected

Sometimes a boat sailed into our bay on the way here or there. A young American couple stopped on the way to Hawaii. They had fire on board, caused by some electrical problem. We gave them plenty of fruits as they were too busy to go ashore, cleaning and fixing up the boat. Before they left, they gave us two bunch of garlics, as they won’t be able to bring any vegetables to American waters anyway. We haven’t seen garlic for a long time, it made us happy like a rich Christmas present. We had this undiscussed experience going, how we can get by on the least amount of expense, and of course the challenge how long can we live on a tiny boat at the end of the world. Of course we knew it won’t last forever, but the good thing with a boat is, as small as they are come to, when you get bored of the place you are at, you just pull up the anchor and sail away.

The experiment went pretty well. We lived on mango, banana, coconut, rice and fish. Breadfruit was scarce this time of the year in Hanavave. Once we had two when we walked to Omoa (a good 40 km round trip, in one day, across the hills, with about 600m elevation) and picked them there, carrying the heavy fruits back all the way. Another time, when I found one in the forest high up on a tree, no-one could reach. I made a mental note on the location, next time I had a length of rope with me and climbed up about 15 meters high to get it. I was very proud of myself not falling off the tree, made slippery by the tropical rain.

Our village lived its normal everyday life. Most people were busy with last minute carvings before the Tahiti exhibition and getting ready to load their stuff on the supply ship. Aranui V and Taporo IX are the two boats passing by Fatu Hiva, taking away the copra (the dried coconut meat, every farmer has his maximum quota) and other products to Tahiti and bringing the ordered goods in. It is always a big day when they come, only better when the occasional cruising ship stops for half a day to offload the tourists for their quick local experience, before rushing away to the next stop.

I told Ana one day what I read in the Heyerdahl book about the como. It is the locally and illegally brewed beer, made out of fruits, rice and sugar, and can make you stupidly drunk. It all went well to the Heyerdahl couple until one day their host family brewed some beer and a visiting family member, brave on the alcohol started to push the welcoming family to demand money from them. (As far as I can remember the story) The situation turned sour very quick, and they had to hide in a cave living on coconut and shell fish until a boat passed near by to pick them up. We saw a few people drunk on como and it did look dangerous. I was offered to try it one day and sipped into the bottle. It is sweet and doesn’t taste half as strong as one can imagine it is. No surprise then the zombie like faces.

At least the story prepared Ana to the darker side of the paradise experience. One day, she was working on her book in the living room of the elementary teacher, as it was a school holiday and ‘her office’ in the school building was locked. The young teacher (name forgotten) was practicing his guitar in his room, when a neighbor drunk on the como, at 11am, broke into the house and started demanding from her what she was doing. Yelling and shouting without sense and apparent consciousness he accused them of having sex. Why it was his business, we will never know. The poor young teacher came out of the room and bravely tried to calm down the situation. He was at least a head smaller than the other and had far less muscle to show. The drunk kept yelling and making all kinds of noises and clearly was not at his mind. Ana ran to get someone and got the drunk guy’s father. He came over and managed to persuade him back to his own house. No apologies was ever offered.

Basil promised to take us on a pig hunting expedition to Ouia, the long time abandoned village on the east side of the island. It is the same walking distance from Hanavave than Omoa, but there is no road going there, hardly a path. The road between Hanavave and Omoa, while in big part is dirt road, most of the time passable, and the two villages are only 15 minutes boat ride from each other. Ouia is hours away on a boat and landing is practically impossible. It is a place for men. They go there to make copra, hunt pigs or just get away from everything. Women hardly ever go there.

We gathered at Basil’s house at around six. Only the three of us, Ana, Basil and me. Afoky and Cedriq gave it up before we even started, so we collected the dogs from three different places and set out to the long walk. The first half, about 9 km is on the road, then you turn off into the wilderness. We let the nine dogs roam around and they were happily running up and down. They knew each other and the order of the flock was quickly established. The hunting is simple, but can be dangerous. The dogs search for and find the wild pig, they chase it and catch it, then the man kills it with a knife. Butchered on the spot and barbecued for dinner. (Spoiler alert: we never got any…)

Once we turned off the road, we quickly forgot any pig. I was told before how beautiful this part of Fatu Hiva is, but there are so many beautiful places, I thought it would be like one of them. I was pleasantly surprised. Most of the time the path leads on a ridge of the hill, and monumental and ancient looking cliffs look down at you. The vegetation is ever changing, now you walk through a grassy hillside, then a bamboo forest, then a deciduous wood or a rocky highland. The different greens, the white and black of the cliffs, the unbelievable heights and depths constantly amazed us. From near the top you can see the end of the walk: at sea level amongst the coconut trees miles away. It was a hard enough descent on the slippery muddy track, but we made it before dark. The campfire was lit right away, the mattresses prepared under the shelter and after a brief sitting around it was time to fall asleep listening the swell of the ocean breaking on the rocks.


Breakfast in Ouia

On the way back we took a slightly different route. We passed the stone ruins of the old buildings covered with moss and creeping jungle plants, then through the coconut plantation to the bottom of a steep hill side covered with tall and strong grass. Basil warned us to be careful, this is real pig country, and we sent the dogs in front of us to search for the pigs. The hillside was near vertical, and Ana just told me she was afraid of height. It was hard going, and looking down even I felt dizzy from the steepness and the depth. I was glad this wasn’t my idea, to come this way… We finally reached the top of the grassy slope and were in familiar terrain. A mere five more hours hike, and we were back at Hanavave. I was bold enough to get a couple of bunches of banana half way home and carry them all the way back to the boat. Are vegetarians just bad hunters?

Fatu Hiva – The beginning

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 which 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 directly from 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 have just 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, we waved back to them as we 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 anchor light on the top of the mast, with the strength of a reflector. It is about 200 meters wide and high but climbable cliffs emerge on its north and south side. On the east is the lovely Hanavave village, with its church, football pitch, a small river running into the the sea, and the newly built and sufficiently ugly harbour for the small fishing boats. The harbour consists 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 enormous 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 temporarily 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 with the situation of the anchor. Is it stuck, how deep it is in, is the chain around some coral head and how am I 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, the last few meters of the chain and the anchor itself was coming up, and we were heading back to the original anchorage. This island doesn’t give itself easily to us! 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 re-anchored 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 excitements.

The water was clear blue, the weather was warm and the landscape around us, despite of the yellow crane and the concrete 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 the location clearly. I had no repair kit with me. That was one of those plans I made, the next time I am in a civilized 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 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 fore-deck, cleaned the area around the hole with acetone and patched it up with the silicon like you would do with a bicycle 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 coconuts 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 sticking out. You sit on the board with a half coconut in hand, and grate the white meat on the teethed 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 squeeze this white mash in a cheese cloth (I use a bit of mosquito net). Delicious 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 literally hundreds of use, from skin moisturizer 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 success and we were ready to get acquainted with the village of Hanavave. Rowing the dinghy canoe style becomes a second nature 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 of the pleasant experience, to get to wherever you go by your own power, and substitute it with a noisy, smelly, expensive motor-driven laziness. 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 stretched 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 disappeared 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 nights before, but one has to do it sometimes.

Fatu Hiva is, maybe, the least developed island in the Marquesas. There is no policeman and political institution deserve 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 center of the activities outside of the working commitment. There is church service every day, and it 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 holidays. 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 in the village 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 wherever we looked. The streams coming from the hill were softly washing the huge boulders in the river beds, the banyan trees with their magnificent look suggesting an eerie atmosphere, the mango trees with the tons of half-riped mango hanging off the branches. The road was ascending extremely steep, and it was hard to climb, but it provided the most beautiful scenery to the bay with Comino in the middle, and the village with the roof tops of its houses 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 bunch of banana, posed with it for a picture and we returned to the boat feeling rich.

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 training. 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 o’clock. In three weeks Fatu Hiva will host the soccer tournament for the South-Marquesas islands. Hiva Oa and Tahuata are expected to come for the weekend, and will 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 that 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 they looked very dissimilar. They both had dark, brown skin though and their height was about the same, a bit shorter than me. Basil had a serious countenance with curious 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 was emphasized 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 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 can walk through, can take fruit from the places where the grass is not cut but cannot take photo if I find the tiki. And do I have strawberry on board? I wasn’t sure if I understood the last question right in the mix of English and French, but pictures were showed and it 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 mysterious fruit here, obviously never to be had, and maybe not even real, it was a dream that exercised lot of people’ and children’ imagination.

It was mid October, and I still didn’t have a definite 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 in the computer) 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 and we were adopted by the kind Fatu Hiva people. The boats leaving Panama in January-April left the Marquesas already hurrying to New Zealand, Australia or Fiji and so on, and the ones coming north from the Tuamotu to be in a safe place during the cyclone season haven’t started to arrive yet. The few yachts hanging around were scattered between the islands and various anchorages. Ana made friends with the school-people and were offered a room to use for writing. I spent days roaming the wood for fruits and adventures, sometimes with Basil sometimes on my own. We decide to stay, it was just too good to leave. It meant, that I had to consider abandoning any further progress to west until the beginning of next April. Ah well, could hardly be a better place to get stuck.

Crew on-board!

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.