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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Panama City, part 1

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Author: Pete

 

Well I was hoping to like Panama City more than Colón, but while the city itself is nicer, the anchorage kind of sucks. It’s packed and every five minutes a tug, pilot boat, or tourist barge throws enough wake through the anchorage to knock things off tables and annoy the piss out of you after a while. Also, the area has 4 or 5 meter tides, and heavy current associated with them. Everyone’s boat reacts differently to wind and current, so at some point in the changing tides various boats are feathered in different directions and don’t lay nicely threatening collisions.

 

Our first night a holler yanked me out of a deep slumber and I was on deck and fending off a boat before I was actually awake. Pulled in some chain and stayed up watching the boat doing a devil spiral like our wind generator. In the span of an hour the boat swung stern to wind, right across our stern, spun at the end of its chain, caught the wind with its hull and sailed through to the other end of its chain before flipping back around and being carried by current back toward us. Freaky. I slept on deck with one eye open.

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Shipped Liza and Felix off to see their friends and do some surfing.  Also brought the dinghy motor in to be service by Manuel, who works for Tohatsu motors.  Our dinghy has gone from annoying to completely non-functional in the past few weeks and rowing in the hot Panama sun has been less than fun.

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He started it up, as best one can do that these days, and diagnosed a ruptured fuel pump.  We left the motor with him and took off an hour later bound for Las Perlas!  The Las Perlas island chain is located a nice 35-mile sail from Panama City, and it was a great way to escape our less than desirable anchorage in the city.

 

Pretty good sailing with Mom and Denny in 15 knots of wind on a broad reach. Never thought I’d be able to share this experience with Mom. Thank you Scopolamine patches.God bless pharmaceuticals. Also cool to hear Denny’s sailing stories.

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About two hours in we got a bit on my new squid lure! Denny and I hauled in a 5 pound tuna! My first catch (that I landed)! Finally!

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I think I’ve been using lures that are a bit too big. It was an exciting catch, and then we set to work intoxicating the fish with a shot of alcohol in the gills and a knife to the brain. Sometimes I feel like I’ve had a knife to the brain when I’ve been passing too much alcohol through my gills too. Impressive to see how many little squid and sardines were in this guy’s stomach.

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The wind died along the way, so we motored to Pacheco, the northern most island, arriving just before sunset. The wind then picked up and the current ripped through the island cut. Plus it smelled like cormorant poop. I made the call to move one island south despite the oncoming dark.   I’m glad we did though we had to maneuver through a mooring ball field before anchoring south of Contadora.

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In the morning we moved south again to the cut between Chapera and Mogo Mogo. The name of the island was worth going in itself! We even got to dig out our spinnaker and try it out along the 5-mile trip.

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Found ourselves a tall sandy beach to swim to and lounge in the shade. Eventually we made a game of throwing crab apples at crabs the scuttled along the beach. Then after smelling the apples and finding the pleasant, Miranda took a bite of one. It tasted like sweet apple, so we all followed suit with a small nip each. A few minutes later our mouths were all fiery and scratchy. Stupid move. It went away. But stupid move.

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Really interesting to deal with the big tides. Didn’t sleep hard again as we spun and feathered in weird ways all through the night.

 

Bagels for breakfast! It’s interesting what sort of American goodies you can find in Panama thanks to the canal. I worked on the rudders and wired the LEDs for the new inverter. Took all morning, of course. We got suited up and snorkeled right around the boat. Couldn’t go far with no motor for the dinghy and high current. But we had great sea life despite the bland, sandy bottom. Five or ten big stingrays worked the bottom, and troops of puffer fish doted on them as they fluffed the sand. Two long, green eels free swimming on the bottom, a party of 100 starfish, schools of jacks and other fish all added to the fun. The water was surprisingly cold! We’ve been spoiled in the Caribbean!

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Cocktail hour, dinner and cards on a calm starry evening rounded out the night.

 

Motored back from Las Perlas in calm seas back to the crowded, rolling, annoying anchorage of Panama City. Did my dissatisfaction come out just then? Spending a week prepping the boat for the push to Galapagos. Exciting times and a lot of work ahead!