16 June 2002 – 10° 30S / 128° 32W Land Ho! Marquesas[An excerpt from Carl’s Log] We spotted Fatu Hiva, Marquesas at 0930 local time. Islands first appear as an indistinct gray smudge on the horizon. Finally your eyes recognize structure and you realize it’s not a cloud or wave. It is always exciting. Land means seeing colors other than blue, resting at anchor and taking a walk. A major island means meeting other cruisers, eating fresh fruit and vegetables, going to a small restaurant and sitting at a table without having to hold onto your plate with one hand! Land also brings the danger of hitting something and the worry of finding a secure anchorage. We are all three on deck for most of the morning and we are almost always looking towards the island.
As we close with Fatu Hiva colors and civilization start to appear – green, a microwave antenna high on a mountain, a lone white cross on a hill. Finally there are huts, houses and tended fields. The smell of land is intoxicating – dirt and vegetation, flowers, smoke. The island is gorgeous. By afternoon we’ll be anchored in the Bay of Virgins. The old name for the bay, before European churches arrived, described the phallic rock spires the stick up around the area.
It took 19 days to get here from Galapagos. It was a wonderful passage and faster than average. Slower boats have required 30-45 days for the trip.
Dinner will be the remains of the 4 foot Mahi Mahi we caught yesterday afternoon. Plenty will be left over to make pate’ and Karen is thinking about trying a pickling recipe someone gave us.
Tonight we’ll sleep together for the first time in a month. Both of us will wake up at our two hour watch intervals. There will be a sudden panic with the realization that no one is one watch. It takes a couple of nights to adjust to the lack of sailing noise and motion and to relearn how to sleep for several uninterrupted hours. We will jump at the sound of a dog bark or a motor.
18 June 2002 – Fatu Hiva, Marquesas 10°27S / 138°29W
The anchorage here is beautiful but the holding isn’t too good. People anchor in a horseshoe because the big area in the middle is rocky and boats tend to drag in the 30+ knot gusts that come screaming down from the mountains. It’s not rolly so we are grateful, but we pop up every 5 minutes or so with each gust to make sure all is well in the anchorage. Makes one nervous about leaving the boat unattended.
Yesterday, we went ashore with the crews of two other boats. The French officials say we aren’t allowed to stop here without first visiting an official Port of Entry far downwind from Fatu Hiva. The Marquesans have always been sailors and the locals know we are not going to beat several miles to windward after passing their island. The Mayor of Fatu Hiva welcomes cruisers and invites them to stay for a few days before continuing on to talk to the French. The welcome is passed over the long range radio nets used by cruisers. There is no airport on the island, no normal tourists and all supplies arrive on a small freighter. We are an important source of trade and we buy crafts that would normally be sold at a discount to a dealer in Tahiti.
A breakwater is being built in the harbor. We were stunned to see heavy equipment moving concrete blocks and dirt and the noise is incredible after days at sea. The equipment and material came on a barge and will be taken away when the job is completed. It’s a scramble to come into the landing and climb up through the mess to shore. But we’ve been to worse landings and it is a delight to be ashore.
Immediately on shore, a lady greeted us and asked, in a mixture of French and English, if we wanted fruit and had anything to trade. As we were to learn hot items are perfume, lipstick, nail polish, ballpoint pens, t-shirts and jewelry. We didn’t want to haul fruit around during our walk so we declined and carried on.
The lady mayor is also the school teacher. It was break time so we went into the school yard to say hello and ask permission to stay. Children came running from everywhere. They were anxious to try out their English skills the whole of which consisted of, “What is your name? How old are you?” Each child came up and asked that in turn. We must have answered the questions a hundred times and were delighted to do so. The children were amazed to hear our ages and went to great pains to translate carefully for ones who didn’t catch our English numbers.
The mayor spoke English well and grabbed her purse and took us to see the town. A cluster of children joined our parade and people came out to say hello to us or speak to the major. Our little group of eight cruisers turned into a small mob of thirty or so. We were taken to the houses of the lady who bakes bread, a local wood carver who happens to be married to the mayor’s sister, and a lady who makes tapa – art on a cloth made from the bark of trees. Children were assigned as tour guides to lead us around.
At one point we pulled out a guide book of the Marquesas Islands. We had carried it ashore because it had a map of the small village and we thought it might help us get around. We had no idea that a local child would always attach themselves to act as our guide in the village and would help us find everything including the trash land fill. The children were delighted with the book especially when we showed them the chapter on Fatu Hiva. Published pictures of their bay and a couple of sites around the area fascinated them. Despite the fact that it was written in English, they loved it because they recognized their town. They really wanted to trade for it – one small girl offered the plum she had in her pocket. We needed the book as we continue through the Marquesas and kept it, much to their disappointment. It’s not at all that they are uneducated or backwards but Fatu Hiva is a tiny dot even on a map of the Pacific and to see a publication with a whole chapter dedicated to their bay delighted them.
The town was a great introduction to the South Pacific and Rebecca even got to see some ladies with flowers in their hair. She’s been looking forward to that for a while. No grass skirts, much to her disappointment, but maybe on another island because they are practicing for the big dance festival that happens next month.