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.