Monday, May 27, 2013

A Day in the Life at Fatu Hiva

[NOTE: Written May 5th, 2013]

I wake up earlier than everyone else, often at 7 am. I'll sit in the cockpit and enjoy the spectacular scenery of Fatu Hiva. The lush green mountains, steep cliffs plunging into the anchorage, and rock spires for which this anchorage was named Bay of Penises. You can often hear the naying of mountain goats, and the cockadoodle-doo of wild roosters on the hillside.

Panorama overlooking the anchorage at Fatu Hiva
On this particular day, at around 8 am I started to make breakfast, scrambled eggs with caramelized onions, mushrooms and canned pork. The smell of which soon woke up the rest of the crew and we dined in the cockpit. As we sat in the cockpit after breakfast a small aluminum skiff, all of the locals have boats in the identical style, pulled up to Starship and Jonathan chatted with them. We determined he was a local wood carver, and tried to figure out what he would like to trade for... ropes, fishing supplies, our 50L water jug... Finally he said to come by his house and look at his carvings and we could talk more about what to trade.

Anne-Marie and the pregnant tiki statue near the dock.
Nearly 10am and we collected ourselves and prepared the dinghy to head into shore. Our plan was to hike to a waterfall with a pool one can swim in at the base. On the way we pass by Sopi's house, the wood carver who visited us at Starship. He didn't have too many carvings available to show us, but they were nice. Busby asked Sopi about wild boar hunting, and got some directions to the waterfall.

The whole town seems to be filled with carvers and carvings.
The town here is really small, but even still Busby asked a few more locals for directions along the way. Finally we found the right turn off to head for the waterfall. It was a two track dirt/grass "road" for most of the way to the waterfall. We are struck by the beauty of the area, which is seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but well kept almost like a garden. The final stretch to the waterfall was over a rock strewn trail by the riverside. A hand full of people were leaving from the waterfall as we were hiking towards it, and by the time we got there we discovered we had the place all to ourselves! The waterfall was a beautiful cascade down the side of a rock cliff.

Beautiful flowers are everywhere, along with beautiful views and scents.

The waterfall!

It was about 1 pm by the time we arrived at the waterfall. We sat on some large rocks in the shade and ate some oranges we got from Sopi and other snacks we had packed, while enjoying view of the waterfall and river beside us. After our snack Anne-Marie and I started to head into the pool for a swim. Surprisingly Busby said he wasn't going to go swimming. After we called that he should come in, and he discovered it was deep enough to jump off a cliff into the pool, he couldn't resist.

Chris & Jonathan ready to jump!
Busby jumps in fine style.

Anne-Marie shows off the waterfall and pool.
After a much faster walk down the mountain, we arrived in town at about 3 pm, and started looking for other wood carvers to checkout their goods. The Marquesas are well known for their beautiful and detailed wood and bone carvings. The island of Fatu Hiva is especially unique since it doesn't have an airstrip and is only accessible by boat. Busby took us to Tava's house, an artist he had met the day before. Tava's had more carvings, of better quality and at a lower price than Sopi, and we enjoyed inspecting them. Then Anne-Marie found a tiki which was calling her name! A large pregnant tiki, holding it's belly which was engraved with the Marquesan cross, the same symbol that is in the middle of her turtle tattoo. The sticker on the bottom said about $180, but after some tough negotiating Anne-Marie got him down to $80 and some items off of the boat. We asked Tava to carve his initials and the year into the bottom of the tiki, and when we returned with the items from the boat, we discovered he had carved the year as 2014. Anne-Marie took this as a sign for when her own pregnancy will occur, and was very pleased.

Anne-Marie with her pregnant tiki and "2014" as we called him.

Another wood carver, Topi, saw us at Tava's house and waited outside to take us to see his own carvings. He also had a great selection of really impressive work! I was really keen on getting an elaborately carved bowl he had, but the price tag was around $300! After some really tough negotiation mediated by Busby, we got him down to the following:
  • 1 headlamp + 12 batteries
  • Books, pencils and other supplies for his kids
  • Lotion and decorative key chain for his wife
  • Fishing gear - 4 lures and some a few dozen hooks
  • $120
Without an airstrip, stuff often has more value than money when trading here, which has been handy for us.

Anne-Marie and I with Temo, our favorite artisan.

By about 5pm we were returning to the boat when we saw our friends from SV Nyon in the anchorage. We hadn't seem them since La Paz back in December and went over to pay them a visit. We invited them over for dinner to catch up, and Busby treated them to some delicious seared yellow fin tuna (which we caught a few days ago) and flambeed banana desert. It was great to catch up and hear how their crossing went. It's always nice to see a familiar face on the other side of the world in paradise.

Finally we settled down for the night at about 9 pm, as the wind started to pickup from the valley as it often does at night here. The wind sweeps down the steep cliffs and blows out to sea. The anchorage is a bit deep and falls steeply off into the sea, often causing problems for boats the don't anchor well. At 10 pm Anne-Marie awoke to the sound of an anchor windlass running, and got me up as well. We both poked our heads out the vberth hatch and observed as a boat directly upwind of us was hauling up their anchor and driving around in the dark. Their anchor had dragged and they needed to re-anchor in the bay. When they started to drop their anchor directly up wind of us, it became time to get dressed and pay particular attention to this boat. Moment's after getting on deck it was clear that where this boat was attempting to drop their anchor would result in them crashing right into us. Busby yelled something at them and I yelled we had 300 feet of scope out, finally he realized that he was in a bad position, but nearly too late! As we had been yelling, he had been getting blown towards us quite quickly, and he was now about a boat length to port (left), just ahead of our bow. By the time he got back to his helm and gunned the engine, his prop wash (the tendency of the propeller to initially spin the boat sideways before building forward momentum) sent his stern directly towards our bow! Busby and I were standing right at the bow of Starship, Busby pushed the other boat away as it swung inches away from our bow, and had to duck as the other boat's solar panels passed over our bow pulpit!

The other boat started to pickup their anchor for yet another attempt, when all of a sudden one could see there was a problem with getting the chain up. They had jammed their windlass somehow, and were now running ropes back to cockpit winches to try and get the anchor up. Anne-Marie in the meantime had gone to the stern and started to collect fenders in case of another close encounter. While the other boat was trying to unjam their windlass, they started to blow back on us again and Busby ran to the stern to get the fenders from Anne-Marie, telling her "They are coming again!!". Now the three of us were at the bow fenders in hand as again the other boat gunned their engine to get away from us! This time they passed about 5 feet in front of our bow, which we all agreed seemed like miles away compared to the last time.

During this whole ordeal the captain of the other boat was screaming obscenities and insults at his wife, the likes of which I wouldn't say to a dog which had bitten me. Meanwhile his wife like a deer in headlights, was terrified to do anything besides the orders so harshly shouted at her, and terrified even more about fulfilling those orders incorrectly. Finally they had managed to get their anchor on board, and went out of the anchorage to get this sorted out, giving us a much needed break from the chaos. We waited anxiously in the cockpit for their next attempt at anchoring, with the spreader lights on to ensure their was no confusion as to where we were in the anchorage. A half dozen other boats in the anchorage were also lit up having seen all the commotion. Finally the third time was a charm, they came in and dropped their anchor on our port side, such that they fell back safely downwind of us. Again we waited to be sure that they were not dragging and going to make another attempt, when at last their running lights were turned off and their anchor light turned on.

Anne-Marie said she had never been so terrified during the whole crossing, or our prior year of cruising, as that night with that dragging boat. Indeed it was certainly the closest call we have had while at anchor, and goes to show that even if you are doing everything right, the biggest danger may be your neighbor who isn't.

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