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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