After 38 days at sea, the first night at anchor in Baie des Vierges, Fatu-Hiva I slept like a log. No need to wake up every hour to check Fathom was on course or to go on deck and pull a reef in the sail before another squall hit. Bliss. The first task in the morning was to fill up the tanks with drinking water, nearly depleted after five and a half weeks at sea and seek out some Vitamin C. I found a tap near the wharf and the locals confirmed the water was good to drink. Half way through filling the bottles a little girl, encouraged by her mother, walked shyly towards me and passed over a small bag of lemons and limes from their garden. A kind gesture typical of the Polynesian people. Ian from Canadian boat ‘Fandango’ then came over to say hello and helped me with the remainder of the water filling operation. We later walked round the village and traded some wine with locals for bananas, papaya and mangos. The village only has one small shop, no ATM and I didn’t have any local currency so the only way to get produce was to trade. That evening I had dinner onboard the boat of Lionel, the French solo sailor I had first met on arrival. He circumnavigated the world alone three years ago and was on another lap because he had enjoyed himself so much the first time. Although married with a wife back in France he was alone because he said his wife doesn’t like sailing and prefers to sit on the couch and watch TV!
The next night I didn’t sleep so well. The cruising guides had mentioned that due to the high volcanic peaks surrounding the bay big gusts of wind can blast through the anchorage. Sure enough the wind howled at 35 knots during the wee small hours and the four yachts in the bay swung wildly around their anchors. I have a lot of confidence in Fathoms anchor setup but even so when the wind is shrieking in the rigging it is hard to relax and sleep. Lionel’s anchor dragged and his boat ended up hitting Fandango bending a stanchion. Luckily Fathom held station and avoided any drama. In the morning I basked in the limitless supply of sweet fresh water and gave the inside of Fathom a thorough clean and desalting. In the afternoon Ian and I hiked up to a cross on the hill looking down on the anchorage and then on to an impressive waterfall. Great to give the legs a workout. A nice dinner was spent onboard Fandango with Ian and his crew that evening.
In arriving at Fatu-Hiva first I had taken a risk because it is not an official port of entry into French Polynesia and yachts have faced heavy fines in the past. But it is to windward of the other islands and the logical first stop so I had gone for it. Lionel warned me on the 26th that the Gendarmerie were visiting from Hiva – Oa for the day and making a check of yachts at anchor. Convinced I was about to be told to leave immediately and pay a fine I went over to the officer, and in my best tired sounding voice, told him I had just sailed 38 days solo from Panama and was tired and could I rest here for two days before checking in officially at Hiva -Oa. He smiled and in broken english said “no problem, take your time and enjoy the island”. I couldn’t believe my luck.
The following day I spent four hours in the water cleaning Fathom’s dirty waterline. After so long at sea there was green weed as high as two feet up the topsides. Helpfully some fish in the bay had chewed off all the goose barnacles which saved me scraping them off. I later found out there are many sharks in the waters of Fatu-Hiva and swimming is not advised in this bay. Whoops. Ashore I found a very good wood carver and walked away with a nice carving of a Tiki in exchange for three bottle of wine. The Tiki is now attached to the mast support post in the cabin and supposedly will ensure good luck and a safe onward trip. Once I was back onboard a swiss guy called Martin from the 35 foot Defour anchored behind Fathom came over looking for a ride to Hiva-Oa as the boat he was on was headed the other way. I agreed to take him aboard Fathom the following day for the short 40 mile sail. The boat he was leaving is well known in Switzerland for transiting the North West passage. Their website is www.bonavalette.ch.
Fathom departed Fatu-Hiva on the 29th and it made a nice change to have crew onboard. I made use of the extra pair of hands to swap back the old mainsail for the good one and replace the headsail. The sail was most enjoyable with 15 to 18 knots of wind and a broad reach. After crawling along for thousands of miles with a dirty hull and faint breezes Fathom seemed to revel in her clean bottom and we charged along at 6 knots. Martin and I had high hopes for catching a fish but alas we were disappointed. On arrival in Hiva-Oa I pulled in the line and embarrassingly realised I had forgotten to put a hook on the end before throwing it over the side. To make matters worse the lure had been bitten in half. Lucky fish, stupid skipper I say. Arrived just in time to get to the customs and check in officially to French Polynesia before they closed for the long weekend.
Hiva-Oa is the largest of the Marquesas and the main island of the southern group. The town of Atuona is the administrative centre and has a population of over 1,500 with several food shops, an ATM and fuel station. All very exciting after being away from civilisation for so long. The anchorage is very tight and there is little room for all the yachts. It was the first time I have anchored using both a bow and stern line which limits swinging room and with the bow pointed into the swell the boat rolls less. The first evening was spent gorging on huge pizzas at the restaurant near town and drinking cold beer.
The next days were productive and quite social. Martin stayed for a couple of days before flying on to Tahiti. I spent some time with English couple Tom and Emily and had them onboard for dinner and drinks one night. Plenty of American boats around including solo sailor Dan and Tom and Shannon on ‘Finely Finished’. We often found ourselves meeting up unplanned at the pizza restaurant, the only place with decent internet. One day I hiked to the valley of Ta’ a Oa, an ancient ceremonial and sacred sight about two hours from Atuona. The remains of the Me’ae, or sacred site and Tohau, a cleared area used for dancing and singing performances, are still there . In the forest at the top the Me’ae is a Tiki sculptured onto a stone slab. It was here that people chosen for human sacrifice were placed on the altar next to the Tiki. Rather eerie atmosphere walking through the wood alone on a dark, rainy day.
After five days at anchor in Atuona I was keen to move on to the reportedly beautiful island of Tahuata, a few miles to the south west of Hiva-Oa. . Final tasks before leaving were to fill the jerry cans with diesel and top up the tanks, buy some fresh baguettes and do some food shopping. I paid a brief visit to the Paul Gauguin museum in the town. The French artist lived here for several years at the end of his life but the museum only contains copies and was quite underwhelming. On the way out of the harbour I spotted ‘Sea Bear’ on the AIS. I had been tracking Chris on his Vancouver 28, sister to Fathom, during his 34 day sail to the Marquesas from the Galapagos. I motored alongside and we had a quick chat. Here we were in some of the most remote islands in the world, two solo sailors on two Vancouver 28’s.