Fatu Hiva

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Author: Pete
Location: Fatu Hiva, Marquesas
Date: April 28 – May 2

 

Sailed a relatively pleasant 45 miles from our cozy anchorage on Tahuata to the southernmost island in the Marquesas, Fatu Hiva. It is yet another spiny high island, visible from Tahuata. I wrote ‘sailed’ colloquially. It was upwind, directly upwind, and for the first time since the Bahamas, we plugged along right into the waves and wind.

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Pulled into the Baie Hanavave (Baie des Vierges)on the sheltered northwest side of the island and picked a spot to drop anchor. There were about ten boats in the little bay, which went from 15 feet very close to shore, to 300 feet just offshore, to 3000 feet about a mile from shore. The bottom consisted of large stones which the anchor wasn’t pleased about biting into. I wouldn’t be either. I went down and set the anchor by hand while Miranda back Tayrona up to tension the chain and help it dig in, the water silty and dark.

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The spectacular part of the anchorage was the view up a canyon carved into the island. Tall spires of exposed rock poked out of the foliage like incisors through green gums. Ah, to come back with a full rack of climbing gear! Through the valley a stiff wind whipped most of the time, sending the boats swinging perplexingly wide on their moorings.

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We went in to the tiny town. Kids ran around us and laughed, laden trees dripped fruit, and life itself seemed to creep along without hurry. Most of the days we were in town were weekdays, but all the kids seemed to be outside the school. A guy asked Felix how many papayas he wanted for his shoes. It was impressive what a trading culture the island has. We gave some colored pencils and notebooks to a couple of kiddos for some oranges. Met a man named Christian, a wood and stone carver, who had a pretty wicked cut on his leg from his work. We traded him one of my big squid lures as well as gauze, bandages, and antibiotic ointment and a big squid lure. In return he gave us five big grapefruit and five papayas, and told us the way to the fabled waterfall.

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The reason for most cruisers to journey to Fatu Hiva is waterfall set back into the jungled hills and the great approach hike. The morning after a quiet night on anchor we followed the breadcrumbs into the hills. The road turns to dirt, turns to two track with waist high grasses bordered by hibiscus, turn to single track footpath through jungle along a steep hillside with stone pile terraces that have enough overgrown moss to be original to an old native ceremonial site. Cairns dotted the way. It really felt like something out of Indiana Jones.

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Then the trail spit us out under a 100 meter waterfall, lazily spraying and bouncing water down into a deep, cold pool at the bottom. We had the place to ourselves. We swam, and jumped off the rocks into the pool. A strange sensation of cold returned to our tactile repertoire. We sat on the rocks and ate cheese, crackers, grapefruit, and bananas before the hike home.

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That night the wind howled and the boats pinballed around the anchorage like something out of the exorcist. I didn’t sleep much, being ready in most moments to fend off boats or shoals should our anchor cut loose which felt immanent. I don’t give that thing enough credit. The anchor is bomber, but in the morning we decided it was time to roll out. For some strange reason we decided to sail overnight back to Tahuata, so we hung around for the day, which generally has calmer winds than at night.

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Took the dinghy out to a nearby point to do some snorkeling. The cliffs rising 300 feet vertically out of the water should have given us a clue that there was no safe haven to anchor, or even anything to snorkel on. We jumped in the water, leaving one boat tender. The rock underwater followed the surface topography. It plummeted away from the surface. In two fin kicks from where the cliff fell into the water, the bottom was out of sight in a formidable, deep deep blue. We chickened out and got out of there. Invited ourselves later on land to the island’s celebration of May Day, a curious mix of Catholic prayers mixed with flowers and native chanting.

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Pulled anchor at 10PM and motored out of the windy harbor heading back to Tahuata. Put up some sail but reduced it several times over the next hour. A series of squalls swept over us, kicking winds up to 30+ knots. The full moon helped with the visibility though. Who’s idea was it to night sail there? Bah!

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Hiva Oa and Tahuata

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Author: Pete
Location: 07°54.559S’ 79°18.846W’
Date: April 22 – 27

 

Well we spent our first couple days ashore hucking around Hiva Oa. There was the obligatory formalities to attend to. Our agent Sandra and the Pacific Puddle Jump made paying the customary French Polynesian bond for our flights home happily unnecessary. It was pretty painless actually, coming from Panama and Galapagos, filing income taxes in China with instructions written in Swedish look easy. We celebrated our happy crossing with pizzas out at a great wood-fired pizza place along our walk home to the harbor.

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The island is stunning. Most notably it’s tall and lush with a sharp spine and incisor-like teeth biting into the sky. Most of the day there is a cloud cap that sits just on top of the main peak towering over little Hiva Oa. The town is cute and sleepy, completely closed from noon to 2PM. They sell pan au chocolat and baguettes in the stores, tropical fruit hangs along the side of the roads from laden trees. It is, quite simply, paradise. Days are hot and sunny, but it cools off enough at night.  The Hiva Oa harbor is a little choppy. Boats are anchored bow and stern in good holding at 6-8 meters with 1 meter of tide. The main negative is the green soupy water, churned up from the rain runoff of the squally days prior to our arrival.

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We spend a few days reconnecting with the world in the Salon de The, which also made great crepes, and did tattoos! All of the locals are tattooed in the traditional style. I felt naked and white walking the streets without any ink. Miranda and Felix fit in fine. The Marquesians were so friendly and welcoming. We only walked the 2 miles from town to harbor once in the several days of provisioning, water runs, bureaucratic fun, and internet obligations.  Stocked up on bananas, rambutan, pomelo, and mangos!

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Our last day in Hiva Oa we rented a tee-ruck and checked out the north side of the island, a eye-popping, perilous drive along dirt switchback roads over the razorback mountain spine of the green island. I haven’t driven in months! Just like Panama, a trial by fire. We explored a tiki site with carved statues of warrior gods on ceremonial sites where the Marquesians used to sacrifice and eat ‘long-pig’… vanquished people. The site, at the foot of the high peaks, all set about with ancient trees, made for a apt location to make offerings to the gods. Let’s stick with goats and shells though, hey?

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On the 26th, after getting our four day fill of civilization, we set sail again, this time for closer horizons. Just south of Hiva Oa is Tahuata, a less populated (does it get less populated that 3000 inhabitants in the middle of the Pacific?) green saw blade with several leeward anchorages. Sailed right past the first big bay with twelve boats all crammed in, swinging on their anchors (suckers!) and in the very next, slightly smaller bay, with its own white sand beach, found ourselves alone!

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We put ourselves in the water immediately with snorkels, masks, and spearguns, and didn’t get our for three days. Incredible clear water, deep, sandy anchorage to ourselves, and fantastic snorkeling. Also saw three manta rays. They’re out in the deep, so we went out one day, jumped in off the dinghy and there they were! We floated around, our curiosity of these ten foot oddballs outweighing the nagging voice in our heads that we couldn’t see the bottom in water infested with, according to the guide books, “enormous sharks.” Bah.

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Spent most of our waking hours in the water. The underwater topography drops off as sharply as the wicked slopes ashore, making for more nooks and crannies than an English muffin for fish to hide in. There were myriad tropical fish in blinding colors. Speared a humpback snapper and a peacock grouper and turned them into some dynamite fish tacos!

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Today we’re moved to Fatu Hiva, another lush, steep island with some good hiking. More to come.

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