Fatu Hiva - in the eye of the beholder

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Sun 13 May 2018 06:59
Our Norwegian friends loved Fatu Hiva, “it’s our favourite island,” they told us. Lionel, the French guy anchored next to us, has been here since October, “when I swallow the anchor, this is where I will live,” he explained. Rick, the Belgian, told us about ‘his great friend Simon the wood and stone carver’ but when we visited Simon, he only mentioned in passing “the Belgian sailor who speaks a bit of French who’s bought a couple of my carvings”.

Others only stay a couple of days. Connor, our new friend who sailed away in his student digs with brother Chase and friend Stuart (he bought Sea Casa to live in while he was studying because it was cheaper than renting a room) summed it up: “Yet another cute anchorage, so what?”

We stayed 8 days in the Bay of Virgins because we wanted to understand the magic.

Simon the sculptor has talent. He prefers to make large stone sculptures and apparently one of his pieces sits at a prime location in the carpark of ‘Carrefour’ the main supermarket in Papeete. Although his work isn’t cheap, money isn’t important to him, he carves because he wants to and makes what he likes. He is genuinely a nice person, but he is also an ace businessman, precisely because he doesn’t try to sell you anything. He shows you his work, tells you he’s busy preparing for the exhibition in Tahiti in a month’s time, but if a visiting sailor wants something, he’ll do his best and sends you on your way with a couple of grapefruit. 

“Next time you come” he says, “I’ll give you plantain.”

Result: everyone else in the anchorage had ordered something! He’d made a very beautiful bowl, perfect for our giant grapefruits, only it would have taken up most of Caramor’s cockpit!

Rick and Denis had both enthused about the women making ‘tapa’, a bark cloth, in Omoa, the other village, just 3 miles south. We clipped the kayaks together and paddled over. It was great to be kayaking on the sea again, to feel the swell under our hulls. Ahead we could see large fish jumping out of the water, as we approached we realised they were spinner and pan-tropical spotted dolphins, who apparently, much to our surprise, hang out together. They are small and very acrobatic, leaping full out of the water and spinning.


The kayaks on deck, the dinghy makes a great ‘roof rack’


Omoa from the sea 

In Omoa, we met an Australian couple on the shore who were keen to chat. They were from south of Melbourne and had been in the village two weeks and were staying another three days. It seemed a long time to us. He was a painter, taking photos that he would then paint back home, she was a sculptor. They liked the peacefulness of Fatu Hiva. I mentioned that I liked Melbourne, a mistake, as it sent his blood pressure soaring:

“Melbourne’s been ruined, property’s gone real expensive. It’s the Chinese that have done that, bought everything, they have.”

We left him to his vitriol and wandered up main street. At the store, we recognised a man from Hanavave whom we had met before. He had been keen to barter. This time he gave us the tour guide pitch:

“I have a boat, I could take you to Ouia.”

“We kind of walked there already,” we replied, somehow we didn’t have a good feeling about this guy.

He had nothing else to offer. If you’ve been to Hanavave and Omoa, then there is only Ouia left.

Nobody was making ‘tapa’ in Omoa that day, it was a bank holiday.


Omoa church

On the village noticeboard there was a sign inviting everyone to ‘come along to the pétanque competition for lots of fun and laughter’. Although we have no idea how to play, it sounded friendly and a chance to meet people. We sauntered over. Our presence was not acknowledged, we were not welcome. This is their lives, not a tourist attraction.

We returned to the dock and ate our picnic in the shade. A couple of muscular young men turned up with very short surfboards. As they were preparing their motorboat to head out, they spotted the kayaks. 

“Are they yours?” They asked in sign language. 

Franco went over and had a chat, the surf wave which we had heard about was just around the corner. 

“How long did it take you to paddle over from Hanavave?” The lad wanted to know.

Franco told him about an hour, we’d been exploring the coastline on the way.

“Ha! Our outriggers are much faster, it takes us only 30 minutes!” 

He explained to Franco that they are very tippy, something we had worked out for ourselves as they are very narrow.

We paddled out of the bay and quickly found their launch anchored a short way from the wave. It looked gnarly, a reef break that dumped onto a steep boulder beach. There was nowhere to peel off. We watched them for a while, skilfully riding the steep wave and somehow avoiding being crushed. They appreciated the audience and waved us goodbye when we set off.


The Omoa wave


Franco paddling off the south-west of Fatu Hiva

When we got back to Caramor, we found that the bimini had developed a large tear. I’d checked it in Valdivia and it had been fine, if a little grubby. On the passage it had started showing a bit of wear but when we took it down to examine the damage, our fingers went straight through the fabric, it was rotten to the core. I spent most of the next two days making a new one out of a scrap of fabric and by hand cranking the sowing machine. I was pleased with the result.


The new bimini

 Later I put on my ‘white’ blouse (no longer white since I washed it in Hiva Oa and it came out pinkish) and within the hour a large tear had appeared down the front. Everything is just rotting.

The water from the tap on the dock tasted good so we decided to fill the water tank. Franco did the bulk of the work, two runs. I was left with the five litre containers. There were dozens of people hanging around the dock, seemingly with nothing to do. I tied Arnie (the dinghy) up to the dock (nobody said anything) and walked over to the phone box as I wanted to arrange a trip to see the rare ‘pahi’, a Marquesan king fisher on the island of Tahuata. I dialled the number and, like in Hiva Oa, a voice told me the number was invalid. 

“Excuse me,” I asked the nearest man, “do I need to add anything to this number?”

“Its obvious, you have to add 40 before all landline numbers.” He explained. “But today is a bank holiday,” he added. It was beginning to feel like every day was a bank holiday.

At that moment a woman came over. 

“Are those dinghies yours?”

Well, one of them was, the other belonged to a Norwegian. I suddenly clicked, there must be a large boat expected which was why there were so many people.

The man who’d tried to sell us the boat trip to Ouia told me that the priest was coming on the ferry from Hiva Oa because the children were going to be confirmed the next day. 

Lionel, the French yachtsmen was hanging around, I asked him what it was he loved about Fatu Hiva. 

“I love the quietness of the anchorage,” he replied and proceeded to complain about the Oyster Rally where one boat with loudspeakers in the rigging called out the names of the yachts as they arrived in the anchorage. “The ARC was even worse, this large catamaran had its generator running 24h. In the end I had to tell them to turn it off.” I had to smile, dawn and dusk, Lionel had subjected us to the cacophony of his appalling ukulele playing. The first time we had heard it we had thought it was goat bells.

“What else?” I insisted.

“I can live here for free. I can fish, hunt wild pig and pick fruit from the trees.”

The next morning we left for Tahuata, none the wiser.


The waterfall near Hanavave, the plunge pool is deep and refreshing


Ancient structures are everywhere in the forest