Tahuata is situated just south of Hiva-Oa and is a small island with a population of only around 600. The centre of the island is a 1500 foot mountain chain, radiating out in steep ridges and valleys to the coast. As Fathom approached from the Canal du Bordelais the rugged coastline made a spectacular site. The first anchorage I chose was off the white sandy beach at Baie Hanamoenoa. Eric Hiscock described this bay as one of the three most beautiful in Polynesia.. I don’t disagree, it is up there with the best spots i’ve ever dropped the hook. No houses on the shore just a copra drying shed surrounded by rows of palm trees. After arriving I immediately jumped in for a swim and found myself above a manta ray that was sweeping along the seabed. Later I opened a bottle of wine and drank a glass or two while watching a beautiful sunset. It doesn’t get much better.
The following two days were spent enjoying the tranquillity of the anchorage and catching up on some boat maintenance. The problematic washer on the Aries self steering arm was replaced and a new one attached with epoxy and later shaped with the dremel cutting wheel. Several splits in the Aries paddle were repaired and new seals added to the cockpit lockers to ensure they remain watertight. I also rebuilt the support for the companionway steps which had split. All in all a productive couple of days. Two other yachts at anchor but they kept to themselves. One night the heavens opened and it rained heavily for several hours. I was glad I had put up the rain catcher and caught around 50 litres. Without a watermaker onboard and with few places to fill up with good potable water in the Marquesas fresh water is a bit of a luxury so rainwater makes a welcome addition.
The next stop was Baie Vaitahu, situated 2 miles SSW of Hanamoenoa. The village of Vaitahu is the largest on the island with post office, small museum and one shop. I anchored Fathom in front of the village in between two other yachts. After going ashore I got chatting with Marianne, Kolbjorn and William from Norwegian yacht ‘Impuls’ and French Canadians Carl and Anny from catamaran ‘Muse’. They were about to hike to the next village and invited me along. We arrived at the village of Hapatoni over two hours later after a fairly taxing walk. Along the way we stopped to pick mangoes, papaya and lemons from the trees and passed dozens of wild goats.
I had read that the village of Hapatoni is one of the friendliest and attractive in the whole of the Marquesas and that proved completely true. The villagers welcomed us with a sincerity that was heartwarming and the area had a very tranquil feeling. It is off the beaten track and there were no visiting yachts in the bay. Carl and Anny, being French speakers, talked with the locals who all appeared to be happy and contented. The children rode past us on bikes shouting bonjour and smiling. We were invited into the homes of one of the local bone carvers who offered us fruit from his garden. I later returned to Fathom with a whole branch of bananas, mango, papaya and grapefruits for free. We were not overly keen to walk all the way back to Vaitahu so a local lady offered to be a taxi for 20 bucks each. That evening I was invited aboard Implus for drinks with my new friends.
We discovered that the next day, Sunday, a cruise ship was coming to Baie Vaitahu. The bad thing was that the village would be swamped by a load of tourists for a few hours but the good thing was that all the wood and bone carvers from the island would decent on Vaitahu to display their craft. Before the ship arrived we all attended the local church service. This was a very upbeat affair with lively singing to guitar and plenty of flowery attire on show. The impressive church and stained glass was built to mark the 150th anniversary of the first missionary arriving on the island. Not a word of French was spoken during the service and it was a really authentic Polynesian experience.. After the service several locals sold food and drink from small stalls. We found a very smiley lady selling a selection of tasty treats from her landrover. All very exciting when ones diet has been rather limited for the last couple of months!
In the afternoon we made sure to visit the carvers before the cruise ship passengers arrived. Some of the work is of a very impressive quality. Many combine rosewood, ivory, fish bone, animal bone and shell in one piece. Prices for the best pieces went up to 900 USD! A nose flute can be yours for 300 USD and would surely guarantee an impressive and unusual addition to the village band back home. However my budget dictated that I could only walk away with a small bone carving of a Tiki. As the passengers arrived in their jeans, trainers and loud voices it felt like an invasion from an unwanted civilisation!
The morning of 8th May was quite eventful. I had rowed ashore in the dinghy to pick up a couple of baguettes reserved the day before. There is no easy place to land a dinghy at the village. The concrete wharf requires putting out a stern anchor due to the swell or one can risk the surf and land on the beach and pull the dinghy up. I had gone for the later. All went well going ashore but on launching the dinghy to head back out I mistimed and found myself side on as a large wave began to break. In desperation to pull past the surf I pulled too hard on one oar and snapped the rowlock off. The dinghy then flipped and I was thrown out onto the rocks. I managed to drag myself and the dinghy back to the shore without drama and wasn’t hurt, just a bit scratched. Good job the outboard wasn’t on the dinghy. The worst part of the whole débâcle was that my two lovely fresh baguettes were now soggy and and the shop had sold out. I spent the afternoon cleaning the sand out of the dinghy and even found two small crabs at the bottom I had scooped up.
While visiting Vaitahu, Kolbjorn had opted to have a tattoo from the renowned local tattooist Felix. In Polynesia tattoos are an artform and taken very seriously. Felix is a great character and likes to welcome family and friends of his customers to dinner at his house. It took nearly 10 hours for the tatoo to be completed and later in the afternoon I was invited to join the others for dinner. It was an amazing experience to spend time with this local family, be invited into their home and dine with them.
9th May marked exactly 12 months to the day since Fathom departed Yarmouth having now safely carried me 11,113 nautical miles. As I watched Felix demonstrate the proper technique for skinning a coconut, sat in the garden of a house in a small village on a remote island in the South Pacific, Yarmouth felt a long way away.