Sunday, June 12, 2011

Marquesas Islands - Fatu Hiva and Tahuata (2011)

We set sail for Fatu Hiva, the southernmost island in the Marquesas, on May 22nd.  It was a 50 mile trip to windward, so we were underway at 6 am.  We had ESE winds at 10-15 knots, with seas ESE 8-10 feet.  It was a wet ride, pounding into the seas, but we made it to Fatu Hiva on one tack.  As we approached, the steep green cliffs we had heard so much about came into view, and we could see four boats in the anchorage at Baie Hanavave. 

After the last anchoring experience, we were a bit apprehensive, as this is also considered one of the more problematic anchorages in the Marquesas.  It is a difficult spot to anchor because the land is steeply sloping, and there are lots of rocks on the bottom in the shallow end.  Not only is the holding not good, but the valley with steep and tall cliff walls on either side creates a wind funnel that blasts high gusts right into the anchorage.  After a long day of sailing, we dropped our anchor in about 25 feet of water, just as the sun was going down.  Our first night (Sunday) was calm, with a few gusts to 20 knots, but really quite pleasant.   
This is one of the most beautiful and unspoiled places in French Polynesia, and we were anxious to have a look around.  The next morning, our first priority was to fix the dinghy so we could row ashore.  Andrew spent Monday morning applying epoxy to the crack in the hull and reattaching the oar lock.  Certainly a lovely setting for some boat work!  Later that afternoon, the winds picked up and gusts of 20 to 30 knots were quite common through the night.  We were up periodically, making sure we hadn’t dragged and checking the snubber line for chafe. 
Baie Hanavave and boat work
The next day we were planning on taking a walk around the village, but the winds increased even more, and everyone was staying put to make sure anchors were holding.  That was a long day, with 20-25 knot winds gusting to 40-50 through the following morning.  We did anchor watches that night, and didn’t have any issues.  By this point, there were seven boats in the anchorage, and four had their anchors drag.  Two were able to come back and reset, and the others spent the night drifting offshore waiting for the sun to come up to try again. 
By Wednesday morning, our anchor was pretty well tested, and we were getting more comfortable that it was well set.   So when Jack and Zdenka aboard s/v Kite asked if we would like to join them on a hike to the nearby waterfall, we accepted.  We did the hike with another couple, Roy and Margaret on s/v Barnstorm from New Zealand.   It was about a two hour hike round trip and a bit of a scramble at times, but it was worth it when we finally saw the waterfall cascading over the steep cliffs into a beautiful pool at the bottom.  We rested on the rocks surrounding the pool, taking in the view.
waterfall hike
One last stop on our way back to the dinghy was at the house of Poi, a local wood and bone carver.  Roy and Margaret had done some trading with Poi for bananas and pamplemousse, and Poi showed us some of his work.  It was quite impressive, although a bit expensive.
By the end of day Wednesday, there were 11 boats anchored in the bay.  The winds picked back up gusting to 40 knots again during the night, and several boats were having issues.  We awoke on Thursday morning to find three boats were gone, as they drug anchor sometime that night and were now waiting offshore for daylight to make another attempt.
We had considered making the five mile walk to Omoa, another village to the south, on Thursday, but it seemed like a long time to leave the boat in the heavy winds and gusts.  So instead, we decided to row to shore and do some provisioning at the nearby village.  We were happy to find the small local store open (hours seem to be arbitrary), and we purchased a few provisions.
We were really craving some fruit, which the stores do not carry.  So we asked around, and one of the women in the store spoke a little English and said she would be willing to trade for fruit.  Her name was Marie Yvonne, and she led us through the village to her house.  She had several fruit trees in her yard and picked six huge pamplemousse for us as well as about 30 lemons.  We told her that we also wanted bananas, so we took another walk over to her sister’s house. 
Her sister’s name was Suzanne, and she led us to a picnic table on the patio and invited us to sit, along with Marie Yvonne, her daughter Cecilia, and a friend named Ellen.  They put a bowl of bread on the table and told us to eat.  The bread seemed to be deep fried, almost like a donut.  It was fairly sweet and tasted really good.  While we were eating, Ellen showed us some of her tapas, which she was trying to sell.  Tapas are a local art form, with designs on a cloth made from the inner bark of certain trees. This is the only island in French Polynesia where tapa cloth is still made and can be purchased directly from the artist.  There were three pieces, two of lighter brown color made from the bark of breadfruit trees, and one of darker brown color made from banyan tree bark.  We told her we like the one with two tikis made from the light brown breadfruit bark. 
They then asked us what we had to trade for the fruit and tapas.  As this is such a small island, the locals are more interested in trading, than selling for money.  There are only a couple stores on the island, and they mainly carry a small selection of food staples, so they are more excited about items that cruisers bring to the island.  We brought out some extra rope that we didn’t need, as well as some perfume, lipstick and mascara, which we bought in Mexico specifically for this purpose. 
Then we started bartering, trying to figure out what each item was worth in fruit or tapas.  They really wanted one of the longer pieces of line that Andrew brought and at one point offered to trade it for “pig”.   We explained that we were on a small boat and didn’t really have room for a pig.  Marie Yvonne realized the miscommunication and started laughing, saying not the whole pig, but some pork to eat.  She translated for everyone else, and we all had a good chuckle out of that one. 
Anyway, we left about half an hour later with lots of fruit, including about 75 bananas (about 25 ripe and 50 quite green) and a tapa.  We traded that for both pieces of rope, a bottle of perfume, two lipsticks and two mascaras.  Everyone seemed happy, although I’m not sure how we are going to eat all of the bananas.  We’ll probably have to give some away.   Marie Yvonne then called over to her brother and told him to take the bananas down to the shore for us, and then they packed up the rest of the bread for us to take with us.  What a pleasant and hospitable people the Marquesans are.  We said our good-byes and headed back to the dinghy.

bartering on Fatu Hiva
Later on, we were walking along the shore, taking some pictures and we passed by a young girl standing with her wheelbarrow, watching us with interest.  Di walked over to her and gave her some crayons and a pad of paper, and she seemed very excited and thankful.  We kept walking and on our way back, we saw her coming towards us again with her wheelbarrow.  She wanted to talk to us, but we had a hard time communicating due to the language barrier.  She spoke better English than we did French, and we finally discovered that she was trying to give us something in return for the crayons.  She wanted us to take her picture, and that was our gift.  We were happy to do so.  Her name was Therese, and she was just beautiful.  She also wanted to show off some of her English and recited the days of the week and months of the year for us.
Back at the quay, we loaded the dinghy with all of the fruit and other provisions.  We spoke to some other cruisers there and heard that the locals were going to host a feast on Friday night, and all cruisers were invited. We were planning on leaving early Friday, but that sounded like it would be an interesting experience, so we considered staying a little longer.   
On Friday morning around 4 am, the winds really starting picking up again, blowing 20-25 knots with gusts over 40.  Andrew was really ready to leave, so we wouldn’t have to deal with the winds any more.  But with the winds blowing so hard, it was going to be a challenge getting the anchor up.  The winds were so bad that pretty much everyone sat in their cockpit looking around to see if they were dragging and giving other boats advice over the VHF on how and where to anchor after they dragged. 
One Canadian boat dragged in the middle of the night and spent all night out at sea drifting.  After the sun came up, they tried to anchor again and after three failed attempts, decided to tie up to a mooring ball in very shallow water at the head of the bay.  Someone dove down to check out the mooring ball and noticed that it was attached to a huge piece of concrete about 2ft x 6ft x 8ft.  They came in and tied their boat to it and were very relieved after trying to anchor for many hours.  About an hour later, Andrew went into the cockpit when he noticed that they were close to hitting us.  The high winds had caused them to drag this huge piece of concrete across the bay.  They quickly untied and headed back out again. This kept up all day.  So, we decided to stay put, and on the plus side, we could now attend the feast.

Around 6 pm, our neighbors picked us up on their dinghy in the pouring rain, and we quickly made our way to shore.  The feast was held in a building near the quay, where the locals had set up a long table to seat at least 40.  A young Marquesan girl greeted each person with a flower to put behind their ear.  A Marquesan band was playing inside, and the music was lovely.  Once everyone arrived, the food was served buffet style: roasted pork, poisson cru (raw fish in coconut milk), roasted bananas, and lots of other local dishes.  Our favorite was the poisson cru – delicious.  It was fun to spend the evening trying the local foods and meeting cruisers from all over the world.
By Saturday morning, conditions had calmed significantly, so we weighed anchor and set sail for the island of Tahuata.  We had ESE winds at 20-25 knots and seas from the ESE at 10-15 feet, and made over six knots under double-reefed main and working jib.  The following seas were quite uncomfortable, and we had a few random waves smack us just aft of the beam and jump into the cockpit.  We were longing for the lee of Tahuata, and once there, we enjoyed the protection from the seas.  We reached Baie Hanatefau on the southwest side of Tahuata and dropped the anchor just as the sun was setting at 5:30 pm.  We wanted to make it to the anchorage on the northwest side of the island, but knew we wouldn’t have enough time before the sun went down.  We were exhausted and had no trouble falling asleep at 8 pm.
The next morning we got up and moved a few miles north to the anchorage at Baie Hanamoenoe.   This was a beautiful anchorage with white sand beaches.  We spent the next few days there just relaxing.  Most of our time was spent reading and snorkeling in the calm anchorage.  After a few days we headed north to our last island in the Marquesas, Nuku Hiva.