Sunday, April 19, 2009

Marquesas in French Polynesia May 2008

We arrived in French Polynesia at Traitors Bay on the island of Hiva Oa of the Marquesas on May 23, 2008, after a 3000 mile passage from the Galapagos Islands that took us almost 20 days. Originally we planned to make landfall at Fatu Hiva, even though it is not an official port of entry. But we had heard through the cruiser grapevine on the SSB radio nets that the gendarmerie were checking boats at Fatu Hiva and there would be a stiff fine if they caught us there before we had officially cleared in. Besides that, there was absolutely no wind on the final day of our passage and it was a bit closer to motor to Hiva Oa than it was to Fatu Hiva. It had been a long passage, but we arrived completely rested and ready to explore French Polynesia.

Hiva Oa was exactly as I had pictured it in my mind's eye. Very striking topography with the high mountains and stark rock formations and cliffs; truly beautiful. We contacted Polynesia Yacht Services to act as our agent while we are in French Polynesia. The local office is managed by a very nice and efficient woman named Sandra. Sandra met us at the dock, took our passports and boat papers, and gave us a couple of forms to complete over the weekend. She will again meet us at the dock at 8 Monday morning to collect the completed forms and to clear us in. The local gendarme office is only open on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. so it was not possible for us to be cleared in on Friday and we must wait until Monday. Sandra will also obtain a Duty Free Fuel Permit for us; that will take 3 days because the application must go to Papeete, Tahiti and then be returned here. Not sure if we will hang around Hiva Oa while awaiting the fuel permit; might go down to Fatu Hiva and then come back here to pick up the fuel permit later in the week.

Sandra kindly gave us a ride into the main village of Atuona. It is about 2 miles over hills so we really appreciated the ride into town. The walk back was bad enough to give me blisters on the bottoms of all my toes; not sure I would have made it if we had been forced to walk both directions. While in town we went to the Snack Make Make - a little bar/restaurant. We each had a simple hamburger and fries for lunch; Bill drank one beer and I had a soft drink. The tab was a whopping $50 USD! About double what we thought it would cost. Don't think we will be eating ashore often in French Polynesia. Bill is now glad that we bought all those cases of beer back in Panama.

Late Friday afternoon we worked on removing the marine growth that had accumulated on BeBe during the passage. You absolutely would not believe how much junk can grow on the boat even though it is moving rapidly through the water. The entire rear 1/3 of the boat was covered in 2-inch long gooseneck barnacles. These barnacles were purple and very soft. More experienced cruisers had warned me that we should remove these barnacles within 24 hours of anchoring. The barnacles stay pliable and soft as long as the water is rapidly moving down the hull while underway, but they harden when the boat become stationary and the water is no longer flowing by. Bill screwed a 10-inch plastic drywall spatula onto a wooden broom handle; we got into the dinghy and scraped off thousands of barnacles. The barnacles were the easy part. There is also a brown marine growth at the waterline and about a foot up the side of the boat. That brown stuff is really hard and very difficult to scrub off. We did less than half the port side before crying Uncle and stopping for the day. Had good intentions of getting back to work on it Saturday morning, but got invited to walk into town for the local Mother's Day festivities instead. So boat cleaning got put off to another day.

Saturday morning we walked back into town -- wearing proper walking shoes this time and I used a walking stick for the hills. We walked with Amy and Bill from S/V ESTRELLITA. The reason for this trip into town was to attend a festival to celebrate Mother's Day. They had set-up awnings and locals had table-stalls selling all kinds of things. There was a musical band and cotton candy and one stand was selling grilled meat of some kind. I bought another pareo that was painted by a local woman and we bought a jar of homemade jam of some unknown fruit. The woman who made the jam said it was plum but it does not look or taste like any plum we have ever seen, so there might have been something lost in translation. Amy and Bill bought a gorgeous paddle carved from rosewood that they will use as a wall-hanging when they move back into a land home someday. The four of us also walked up the road to the largest grocery store; not to make purchases but just to scout it out. Then we walked back to the festival grounds and made our purchases. I also bought a few fresh veggies from the back of a nearby pick-up truck.

At the festival we met up with Guy and Karen from S/V SZEL (pronounced sail), a very nice 64-ft boat designed by Steve Dashew. There were only 10 hulls made from this design and we have now seen 2 of them. The other one is JEDI and is owned by Nick and Josey. SZEL is anchored off our starboard stern here in Hiva Oa. SZEL completed the passage from Galapagos in only 17 days. Their long, ultra-slim boat is very fast. At the festival we also ran into Jeff and Kathy from S/V BEATRIX and their crew member Delilah. BEATRIX is anchored just off our port side. Delilah decided to walk back to the anchorage with us.

Along the way we stopped at the Paul Gaugin museum. The artist Paul Gaugin lived here for many years and is buried up on one of the hills. We opted not to walk up the hills to the cemetery (after all, it is just a grave - seen one, seen enough), but Amy and I did visit the museum. The others waited outside while Amy and I did a quick 15-minute tour because the museum was closing for the day. The others didn't want to spend the $7.50 entrance fee for such a short visit but we saw all we were interested in seeing at the museum. Neither of us knows a thing about art but we decided that Gaugin had a foot fetish because in almost every painting at least one person's foot was grossly out of scale.

May 27, 2008 Tuesday
Yesterday our agent Sandra picked us up at the dock and brought us to the gendarmerie to officially clear into French Polynesia. It was a simple task and we are glad that we used Polynesia Yacht Services to act as our agent in French Polynesia. A few others we have met are clearing themselves in and think they are saving lots of money by doing it themselves instead of using the agent. One guy said on the VHF radio that he and his wife are saving $500 by handling the clearance themselves. Au contraire! This guy obviously has not calculated the costs correctly. Our friends on FREE SPIRIT handled their own clearance rather than using the agent and told us what it cost them. Sure the actual clearance is free; but by the time they had paid the bond fee and charged their credit card for the cost of airplane tickets back to the US, the total cost difference would have been only $59 more per person to use the agent and avoid all the hassle. Either one must convert cash to local currency to secure the bond (about $1500 per person) or one must charge than amount to one's credit card. If you convert cash there are considerable bank fees; if you charge it to a credit card then there are foreign currency transaction fees of usually 3% (not to mention the credit card companies give you horrible conversion rates). We are happy that we paid the extra $59 per person and used the agent and avoided all this. So much simpler. The only inconvenience is that we also purchased a Duty Free Fuel Permit. The application must be processed in Papeete and then returned to Hiva Oa; this supposedly takes 3 days. We do not want to sit in Hiva Oa and wait for the fuel permit. Instead, we will sail down to Fatu Hiva for a few days and then return to Hiva Oa to pick up the permit and get fuel. This duty free fuel permit is only available if an agent handles your clearance and will save us approximately 30% on cost of diesel.

This morning a Customs boat arrived and checked all the boats in the anchorage. Good thing we got cleared in yesterday. They went through the boat and looked beneath the floor boards and in several cabinets but did not do a thorough search of the boat. Only thing that struck us as strange is that they went through every zippered compartment of my backpack. They even had Bill unzip our cooler bag to check that there was nothing inside it. Cannot imagine what they were looking for in those little zippered compartments.

May 28, 206
Hanavave (Bay of Virgins), Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands
Anchored at 10.27.889S; 138.40.068W

After 5 days in Hiva Oa we set off for the 42 mile sail down to Fatu Hiva. Guess we have forgotten the proper way to sail because we forgot to check the GRIB files for weather prediction. It was a very rough little passage that took the entire day. We had 20-25 knots wind right on the nose and seas were 6-ft wind waves on top of 8-ft swell. It was just plain awful with all the pounding. The other 2 boats making the same passage that day opted to sail way off course and then tack back to destination. That would have involved an additional 21 miles of sailing so we opted to just motor directly on the rhumb line and arrived there first. Glad we did because we had an easy time anchoring in the spot of our choice and spent a pleasant night. The other 2 boats arrived after dark and had to "anchor" in depth of 125 feet at the outside section of the bay and they had to stay awake all night for anchor watch.

The Bay of Virgins at Fatu Hiva is unbelievably gorgeous. I do not see how any place could top this anchorage for sheer beauty. In archaic Marquesan, the bay name of Hanavave means "strong surf bay" and it is a most appropriate name. They have recently constructed a breakwater and it was easy to land our dinghy at the protected concrete wharf. Supposedly the original name given by early explorers was the Bay des Verges (Bay of Phalli or Bay of Penises). The later Christian missionaries were appalled by this name and inserted an "i" making it Bay of Vierges which translates to Bay of Virgins. Erosion has caused rock pillars that are very suggestive of male virility so it is easy to see why this was called the Bay of Penises.

We stayed at this anchorage for 4 nights and the winds howled down between the high mountains and through the bay at 30-35 knots every day. It also rained many times each day. One day we hiked to the waterfall behind the village. This was supposed to be an hour hike but it took us about 2 hours. There were 12 of us for this hike, including one local Marquesan man. It rained several times and the lichen-covered boulders and stones on the path and climbing up the mountain were very slippery. This was not an easy hike as it was mostly uphill over mud and slippery rocks. At the end there was a 200-ft waterfall with very little water falling into the pool beneath it. All the other hikers went swimming in the pool but both Bill and I opted not to join in. The area was swarming with mosquitoes and I felt that it would be wiser to stay covered in my long pants and long-sleeved shirt. There were large fresh-water shrimp in the pool. One of the other couples had brought freshly baked sourdough bread, smoked bananas and pampelmouse and several people shared a small picnic. The walk back down to the village was hard on the knees and quads and people slipped and fell several times. We are glad that we did this hike. Definitely do not want to attempt any hikes that one bit more difficult than this one. It was probably our physical limit these days.

Friday evening we joined a pot luck dinner on another sailboat. It was an enjoyable evening visiting with new people.

Saturday evening we ate dinner at a local house in the village along with another cruising couple - Bill and Amy on S/V ESTRELLITA. A couple of German men who had arrived from the Galapagos that afternoon also joined in this dinner. The 2 German men had been learning French during their long passage and it really paid off for them as they were able to communicate with Terez, our hostess. Terez is Tahitian and is married to a local Marquesan man; so she speaks 3 languages - Tahitian, Marquesan and French. We don't speak any of those languages and would not have been able to communicate with her without the assistance of the 2 German men. Local people volunteer to cook meals for cruisers; the cost was 1100 French Polynesia francs (about $15 USD) each. Our meal consisted of sliced French baguette, poison cru (raw fish in coconut milk-sort of like ceviche and very good), plain white rice, chicken cooked in coconut milk, baked breadfruit, boiled pink bananas and shredded manioc cooked in a citrus liquid. This was definitely not the best meal we have ever eaten but we enjoyed the local flavor and appreciated being entertained in the home of a local person. Best thing served was the raw fish in coconut milk. Worst was the boiled pink bananas (which I thought when eating them were some kind of weird sausage and later learned were bananas).

On our first day in Fatu Hiva a small boat with 3 native men came out and asked to trade with us. They wanted beer or rum or gun ammunition or ropes. We did not have gun ammunition or extra ropes to trade and did not want to part with our few bottles of rum, but Bill did agree to trade a six-pack of beer for 7 enormous pamplemouse and some bananas. They delivered the pamplemouse and promised to bring bananas the following day. Of course, we never saw these 3 guys again and never got the bananas. But at least they never came back to ask for more beer. Several days later another boat refused to talk beer trade with these guys. The next morning this cruiser found his dinghy turned upside down in the bay --- with his outboard engine still in place and now ruined by salt water. Better to part with a six-pack of beer than to chance angering the natives and sustaining some sort of damage to your boat. BTW, the pamplemouse were delicious.

We very much enjoyed the Bay of Virgins at Fatu Hiva. Cannot describe how beautiful it is.

Our next anchorage was Baie Hanamoenoa on the island of Tahuata, just a few miles SW of Hiva Oa. Yet again, it was a rough trip. At least this time the 20-25 knot wind was from behind rather than on our nose. It rained off and on all day and the seas were fairly large, but it was not uncomfortable sailing since it was a broad reach. The wind was coming too much from the south and we were unable to hold course to clear the southern tip of the island and had to gybe once. Then it was straight north up the western side of the island of Tahuata. Once in the lee of the island there was no wind at all so we turned on the engine and motored to the anchorage. We trailed one fishing line for most of the day and caught only one thing ----- a red-footed booby!! Other people catch fish and we catch a darn bird! Luckily this bird had not bitten the lure, but his wing had the fishing line wrapped around the tip and he could not get free. Bill reeled it in and managed to get the line unwrapped from the wing without getting pecked or scratched.

First we stopped at Baie Hanatefau and anchored long enough to eat a late lunch. This is a very deep anchorage until you are practically on shore, and the bottom is nothing but big rocks so it is impossible to get an anchor to set properly. Our friends on S/V FREE SPIRIT had arrived in this anchorage an hour earlier. They decided to leave and go to another bay farther north on Tahuata and we decided to follow them. None of us would have slept well because we would have worried all night about the anchors. S/V ESTRELLITA also arrived from Fatu Hiva and also decided to move to the northern anchorage. So all 3 of us motored to Baie Hanamoenoa, which has a nice sand bottom and is quite calm. No problem anchoring in this bay. We arrived just before sunset.

BTW, I know these names are probably difficult for many of you. Basically, in Polynesia you pronounce every single vowel in a word or name. An "a" has the soft sound like aahhh. An "e" has a long "a" sound like in Spanish. An "i" sounds like a long "e". An "o" is usually a long "o". Now you can practice Hanamoenoa. It might be easier to start with Tahuata.

Tomorrow we will return to Hiva Oa to pick up our Duty Free Fuel Permit. This will allow us to purchase diesel for approximately $5 USD per gallon vs. the normal local price of about $8 USD per gallon. And you people back in the states think you are paying a lot for gas or diesel!

Not sure if we will visit any more of the Marquesan islands. We have learned that the sail loft in Nuku Hiva will not be able to repair the UV panel on our genoa because the sailmaker is in Papeete and not expected to return soon. So there is no point in us going 150 miles north to Nuku Hiva as there doesn't appear to be anything there of particular interest to us, We might head out for the Tuamotus soon after buying more diesel. That is roughly 600 miles and we are ready to get started soon. We are now about half-way to New Zealand and would like to get some more miles behind us.

Next up, the Tuamotus.

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