We moved into a zoo
Oops! Due to ‘technical difficulties,’ this is a bit out of sequence …
By the time we arrived at Hiva Oa, most of the boats languishing in Tahauku Bay during the lockdown period had cleared out, enabling us to secure a spot towards the back of the anchorage in 3 metres of water. After setting our main anchor and plopping a stern anchor into the mud to avoid being turned beam on to the swells that had been terrorizing the harbour for the last few days, we set about trying to make the boat a bit fresher.
An unexpected consequence of staying parked in one place for so long was that soon after raising the anchor in Vaitahu, a smell not unlike a zoo enclosure on a hot and sweaty day oozed out of the anchor locker. We guess that the sea life we dragged onboard as we lifted the anchor already smelled pretty funky in its living state. But, after shuffling off the mortal coil (or in this case, chain), the smell became a whole lot worse and permeated the entire boat. There wasn’t much we could do about it while in Tahauku Bay, given that there are now more sharks there than in the whole cast of Jaws, so we temporarily ‘improved’ the smell with a bit of air freshener and put up with it. After all, we weren’t here for an extended stay; we were here on a mission.
We spent our first couple of days in Hiva Oa dragging our laundry up to the old semaphore station to give it to Sandra to wash and dry. And, because our gas supplies were lower than a 1960’s gasometer during a miners’ strike, we cleaned our empty gas cylinders and took them over to the MMS boatyard to be refilled.
The exercise in Tahuata paid off. Hiking up into town to do some shopping and visit the Post Office card to get a SIM card seemed like a walk in the park.
The Post Office had sold out of SIM cards, so I traded cash for a ViniSpot WiFi card, and later found out that the service is not as bad as one might think. It isn’t exactly broadband at around 2 Mbs, but it’s relatively fast compared with what we are used to: good enough to download several programmes from Netflix and fast enough to avoid beard growth while waiting for emails to come through.
Time to leave
Because we had been in one place for so long during confinement, we felt the urge to move on. So, after another couple of days of activity, meeting up with old sailing buddies and keeping ourselves busy by tidying the wiring in the battery compartment, hunting for cockroaches (none found), and collecting our gas bottles and laundry, it was time to go.
On Saturday, 30th May, after wrangling the stern anchor out of the thick mud, plopping it into the dinghy, then lifting it back aboard and rinsing both it and me, we upped the main anchor. We sailed north to Hanamenu, where we hoped the water would be clear enough to clean our anchor chain to get rid of the all-pervasive pong.
Up North in Hanamenu
Early Saturday afternoon, we dropped our anchor in the beautifully quiet Hanamenu bay, where only two other boats bobbed about in the anchorage. The water was beautifully still; there was hardly a breath of wind, and we sat peacefully in the cockpit, watching the rays glide around the bay. One of the boats was the tiny yacht we saw in Tahauku that had sailed from Panama.
Because it was so calm, it was a perfect opportunity to drop all our anchor chain in the water – 80 meters of it – and clean off the accumulated dead sea creatures.
Maria was in charge of the buttons for dropping and raising the chain, while I stationed myself in the water with a scrubbing brush, brushing the anchor chain as it went down, and again as it came up. Maria cleaned the anchor locker and had the unenviable task of stuffing all that chain back home with the help of a long stick. Our combined efforts seem to have done the trick: the elephants have left the bow locker.
The next day a boatful of chaos arrived.
When the fishing boat came closer, we could see that on board were John and Kahu from Vaitahu. They arrived alongside and asked if we could take the captain of the boat ashore from his mooring. We, of course, agreed. And after changing into long trousers and long-sleeved tops to protect from the sandflies (on John’s recommendation), we headed over to pick up Joseph. He helped us to pull our dinghy up the beach, then invited us to stay to eat with them.
There’s a freshwater pool served by a source up in the hills that provides not only drinking water but a place to swim, wash and clean your fish. The pool water runs off into the bay, so that isn’t as daft as it might sound. We stayed here for a while watching the merry band of fishermen, getting even merrier on Hinano beer while cleaning the fish.
After a while, we went to find the other half of the Exocet crew, Clarisse, who we found sat at the far side of the village with a crew member from the other boat in the anchorage. This guy had just learned how to extract coconut milk and was practicing his newfound skill. It’s amazing how much liquid coconut shavings contain. The extract here goes towards making poisson cru, and whatever is left over is fed to the pigs.
Before lunch, we walked through the village and made our way along the trail until it ran out. On the way back, a couple of boys met us and beckoned us to follow them off-trail to show us more of the village. So we followed them, past the villagers’ hoses, stopping at a group of giant mango trees for the boys to pick fruit for their family and us to eat before returning to the village and showing us this unusual collection on the washing line:
Beer, pigs, wild horse and fish
We missed last night’s party. John, Clarisse and Kahu had just arrived back after hiking from the south of the island to the north. The villagers had gone up into the hills hunting and had come back with a wild pig and (not for sensitive equine lovers this) wild horse. The hunters butchered both on the spot, then carried them back to the village in large and very soggy backpacks.
Later that evening, they cooked a sizeable portion of both on the barbecue and salted the rest to store in barrels. I know this because Joseph, as well as showing me his incredible wood sculpture, let me take a peek at his barrels of pork and horse.
Before setting off on that day-long hike, the Exocet crew had the foresight to deliver crates of beer to the village to accompany this meat fest for hardcore carnivores. By the look of the people lolling around the village, it would appear they had a great time.
No horse or pork was on the menu today – just the fish that the guys had caught, together with some rice. And it was delicious.
John and the merry men
As the afternoon rolled on and the beer stocks diminished, another boat arrived in the anchorage. Spotting an opportunity, the merry gang of fishermen who were now near terminally cheerful from the copious quantity of beer consumed, asked if they could borrow our dinghy to go to see them: they wanted to trade fish for rum. We said it was OK and off they went with John as the English translator. They returned mission successful – they came back with the rum.
Maria and I, on the other hand, were as sober as a temperance society convention. We had decided to sail over to Nuku Hiva that evening in fair winds on our fine-smelling boat. So, we reluctantly said au revoir and headed back to Lady Jane. Then, just before sunset, we dragged the rest of the anchor chain on board and were on our way for an overnight sail to Nuku Hiva.