Fatu Hiva

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Sat 5 Feb 2011 03:09
Position: 10 27.89 S 138 39.99 W
At anchor, Baie Des Vierges, Fatu Hiva
Wind: East, F3 Gentle breeze
Weather: Mostly cloudy, sunny periods, occasional showers, warm

We didn't make it before dark. The wind angle was wrong and the westerly set pushed us away from Fatu Hiva such that as yesterday's sunset approached we found ourselves about eight miles downwind of our destination and in the wind shadow of the mountainous island. The bay is unmarked and too small to attempt an entry in the dark so I resigned myself to the night at sea. I tacked and headed to the north nor' east with view to positioning ourselves towards the northern end of the island towards dawn and a short distance from Baie des Vierges. After a few hours of working the light and baffling winds behind the island we made our way back into the uninterrupted flow of the trades where I reduced sail to a single reefed mainsail and a small amount of jib. This had us gently shouldering through the slight swell and made for a comfortable ride. At three in the morning I tacked and we jogged our way back towards Fatu Hiva which come sunrise was a convenient few miles ahead. And half an hour later we sailed back into the wind shadow. I persisted for a while but after about 40 minutes of going nowhere started the engine and dropped sail to motor the last four miles into the bay.

Baie des Vierges is formed by the seaward end of a beautiful valley, its volcanic sides rise sheer at the approaches, and as it continues inland pinnacle formations of the soft black rock look like ancient sentinels guarding the entrance to an enchanted and perhaps somewhat foreboding fantasy land. Thick clouds cap the summits and lush green vegetation fills every nook and cranny. Forgive my pathetic attempt at lyrical description but my sister wrote me that even Melville said the beauty of the Marquesas defies description, so what chance do I have? At least my readers have Google earth, not that a photo can ever do justice to the reality. It is at times like this I cannot help but find myself looking over my shoulder for that someone to be able to share witness to some of the beauty of the world. One day.

In the middle of the bay right where I wanted to anchor was a mooring buoy. I scouted around it and then thought what the hell, I will pick it up, and if it looks any good use that. If I am not supposed to use it someone will soon tell me. So I picked it up, a very stout line lay underneath it so I was very confident it would hold Sylph but 10 minutes late a passing aluminium dinghy advised me that in fact I could not use it. No problems, the anchor was ready for letting go, the motor was still running, I slipped the mooring, moved 30 meters and dropped the anchor. The bottom is rocky and I often have difficulty getting the CQR to dig in through rocks and when I backed down on the cable this once more proved to be the case. With the motor going slow astern we slowly proceeded to back out the bay and I could plainly hear the anchor clattering over the rocky bottom doing diddly squat. I weighed, motored back in to roughly the same spot, not a lot of choice in locations espacailly with that damned mooring right in the middle, dropped the anchor again and put out a little more chain. This time I adopted the strategy of not setting the anchor but just letting it settle for a bit and checking it later. Once I felt reasonably comfortable I felt the need for a little snooze.

This in fact turned into quite a long snooze and I awoke to the sound of drums ashore. I arose to check it out. While I had slept the sleep of Rip Van Winkle a small ship had anchored further out in the bay and amongst its cargo had discharged a bunch of tourists into the small village. Well this motivated me to rub the sleep out of my eyes, get the dinghy in the water and row ashore. Sure enough there was the usual cruise ship display going on. The best example I have seen of this peculiar phenomenon, of an otherwise quite conventional community transforming itself into a Disney show was in Bermuda when a large cruise ship came in. This was the same thing only on a much smaller scale, talking to one of the passengers ashore there are about 150 of them on board versus about 3,000 in big ships that visit Bermuda! I made it ashore just in time to catch the dancing girls do there last bottom wiggle then pose for photos with the tourists. Bother! But I did manage to inconspicuously mingle and score a bit of a free feed at the spread of tropical fruit that lay out on a table. And the best part of the day was all the local children helping me get my dinghy in the water and then having six or so of them hang on to the gunwales, laughing and playing as I tried to row. Having managed shake my little limpets off, I rowed back on board and then went for a snorkel to check the anchor, it has found a nice patch of sand to dig into (I will check it again tomorrow), and gave the hull a bit of a once over looking for any errant barnacles that I might have missed back in the murky waters of Hiva Oa.

Now for a quiet night. Still waiting for my crew to show up. Hello ...

All is well.