After 23 terrifying, sleep-deprived, wonderful, boring days at sea, Akela made landfall at the island of Hiva Oa (population 2500) in the Marquesas group of French Polynesia. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marquesas_Islands> There were low clouds, so we couldn’t see the mountainous island until we were 25 miles away. With a light wind behind us, we didn’t catch our first fragrance of land until after we had rounded Cape Matafenua and were sailing only a few miles off the southern coast. The first scent that we got from the island was flowers! We have come to the right place.
As we were sailing into Baie Takauka, we were hit by a squall with rain so hard, we couldn’t see the shore that was only a mile away. This was perfect, because we both had accumulated a scent of our own that needed to be washed off. We brought the soap on deck and scrubbed and rinsed our bodies and the swim trunks we were wearing. We were excited to arrive a new place and felt totally refreshed from the shower.
After the rain, we lowered the sails, hoisted the yellow “q” (quarantine) flag, and eased Akela into the small harbor. The region behind the breakwater was crowded with other boats, but we found a spot for Akela. When the anchor was set, we realized that the passage was complete, and both Max and I just stood there with goofy grins on our faces. We did it!
We had arranged to meet with an agent to help us with the complex paperwork required of foreign vessels visiting French Polynesia. It is illegal to go ashore until we are cleared. We called Sandra, the local rep, on VHF Channel 9 to schedule our clearance. She said that she was available in the next hour, or we could wait until the next day. It was still lightly raining, but Max and I were feeling pretty good, so we went with Sandra to the local Gendarmerie in the town of Atuona, which is a couple miles from the harbor. We filled out additional forms and got several official stamps and we were free to go. The boat is registered in French Polynesia and we have long-stay visas that last for 2 years!
Atuona is cool. There are two roads, a bakery, two food+clothes+household goods stores, a bank, a post office, a church, a nice park, and two restaurants which follow the European custom of being open from 11-2 and 6-10 for lunch and dinner respectively. It was 4:30, so no restaurant food for us. We made a meal of a fresh baguette and juice from the store. The attitude of the town is much more like that of a sleepy town in Mexico than any place in the US that I know. There are kids of all ages playing or just hanging out. A swelling bunch of people hang around the bus stop until a flatbed truck with benches along the sides takes them away.
The people here seem, well, Polynesian. They have a classic appearance with dark hair, dazzling white teeth, and light brown skin that is frequently decorated with geometric tattoos. The young children look like kids anywhere, skipping and running on skinny legs, laughing and chasing each other. The adults tend to be very large people, not fat in a soft way but big in a powerful way. Groups of people appear to interact easily with a noticeable amount of smiling and laughter.
We walked back the harbor, rowed our dinghy out to Akela, ate a second baguette and slept for 12 hours.
We have since spent two days exploring the town and the island. We played frisbee with local fishermen. We ate poisson cru, which was raw wahoo fish in coconut sauce that was amazing! We joined a little weekly barbeque on the hill by the harbor. We met other sailors and several locals. Everybody in this group had an interesting story about how they got here. Shy Max even played the guitar!
Today we toured the island by jeep with a guide Ori who spoke some English. Most people here speak French first and Marquesan second. We had lunch of chicken, rice, and strange fruits and vegetables with Ori’s family on the porch of their small home in a valley with ~10 houses. This is an amazing place. The island is incredibly rugged with lush valleys set apart by jagged mountains. The south side is lush, with plants growing everywhere. The mountains are steep with volcanic rock and are often crowned with a canopy from giant trees. The north side is relatively dry, but the valleys are lush and green.
The one road that crosses the island is unpaved in most spots and often runs right along the edge of a sheer cliff. Food here comes easily. We had fresh mangos, limes, coconuts, and pamplemousse (giant sweet green grapefruit). Several times, Ori stopped the jeep because he knew of a specific tree. He first stopped at a bamboo grove and hacked out a 25’ straight pole and attached it to the jeep. Later, he stopped at a mango tree and used the bamboo pole with a metal ring and leather pouch to pick mangoes. He seemed apologetic that we didn’t get breadfruit or bananas. He will bring us these tomorrow. What a place!
We will spend 2 more days here before heading to Baie Hanamoenoa on the island of Tahuata. We have read that this bay is very calm and has outstanding diving. Our current anchorage in Baie Takauka has muddy water running into it, so it’s not inviting for swimming. We really need to take everything out of the lockers to try to dry it out. After sailing in rough seas for weeks on end, I’m concerned that many of our storage spaces are wet and will start molding. After that, who knows, maybe on to the garden island of Fatu Hiva.