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.