Well, that was good timing. Not only did we arrive in Fakarava in time to grab the last mooring buoy, but we also discovered the fuel station (after a long wait for a licence) is now in the business of selling duty-free fuel. And, if that were not enough good news for the motley crew of Lady Jane, we discovered Rotoava to be hosting an inter-island festival the following week.
Not wanting to hang around in case some behemoth drained the fuel station’s diesel into its cavernous bunkers, we wasted no time in getting over to the fuel dock with a dinghy full of jerry cans. After tying to the dock, we plonked the cans in front of the pump and walked into the shop to fill out the paperwork.
Because we are getting old hands at this, we had all the boat documentation ready, and a copy of the duty-free certificate and my passport for the fuel station to keep. Good so far. But – and I assume this is because the fuel station has only just opened and he doesn’t know better – the manager insisted on keeping the original duty free certificate. We tried to get through to him that it isn’t necessary to keep the original and that the customs officer in Papeete told us not to hand it over – but he wasn’t for budging.
The guy in the queue before us had the same debate. And, finally, in an attempt to prove his point, the manager showed us a bundle of other original duty-free certificates imprisoned within his manilla folder. So, we had to roll over, smile, give up the document and resign ourselves to no more duty-free diesel this year.
On a positive note, he did fill up our cans and helped lower them to the dinghy. And, because we needed to come back for more diesel, he let us take the fuel without paying – so not all bad.
Rocky Road to Cape Horners
We spent the rest of the week taking care of practicalities: Laundry and gas refills at Fakarava yacht services and shopping at whatever stores were open. And for more leisurely-pursuits, we zipped over to the only beach we could find in Fakarava (near the north pass) and strolled around town photographing the sights.
Later, we went on another electrically-assisted bike ride, this one further south along a bumpy old road.
After 3 miles of bouncing over potholes and skidding on gravel, we ended up at Pakokota Yacht Services where we stopped for a drink. Matthieu, who owns this and the lodge next door with his wife Agnès, greeted us and introduced us to Jackie and Juliette, a French sailing couple, who arrived here via Cape Horn. I’m not sure we’d appreciate the cold, but that’s an impressive achievement. And by coincidence, they too are heading to the Marquesas for cyclone season at around the same time as us. So, the Marquesas option is not just for softies.
On the way back I stopped at the first flat section of the road to wait for Maria (who wasn’t quite so keen on the rough road), and a pair of dogs tentatively walked over to me. The hairy fella in the photograph below had several spiky seeds stuck in his fur, so we spent ten minutes plucking them out to make him smooth as well as cute.
The photograph below is a monument created by the 193 Society. That’s the number of atomic bomb detonations that took place in French Polynesia. The effects are still being felt, and the 193 society exists to keep things honest.
Te Nati Haga
This singing, dancing and sporting festival had representation from most of the islands surrounding Fakarava: Rangiroa; Kauehi; Niau ; Arataki; Raraka; Faaite; Kaukura; Anaa, and, of course, Fakarava.
So, it was no small gathering.
We attended the opening night and a couple of other nights to listen to the music and watch the dancing. Stalls along the side of the football field offered food for sale (something of a rarity in Rotoava during the week). So, we ordered Casse Croute Poulet et Frite, which sounds exotic, but it’s a chip butty with chicken added. It might not be the healthiest or the highest of Haute Cuisine, but it tasted like a northern England treat – with the chicken adding the extra frisson.
During the day, the coconut-based sporting activities were in full flight – literally during the competition to hurl spears at the coconut on top of a pole. It was fascinating to watch and amazing to see the competitors hit their target – it should be an Olympic sport.
We watched two other competitions during the week: One that involved throwing coconuts into an oil drum from a distance of around 20 metres, and the other de-husking a sackful of coconuts. Lobbing coconuts into an oil drum from a healthy distance away is hard enough, but chopping them up with an axe and getting the nuts out of the husk with a knife in the sweltering heat is something best reserved for purgatory. Not only did the competitors need to get all the coconut out, but they also had to bag the product and collect all the husks back together. Which, I guess, represents the work required as part of copra production. It’s backbreaking labour.
And later in the week, the canoe races were held where we had almost ringside seats.
Pakokota Yacht Services
On our bike ride to Pakokota Yacht Services, we found they have fast internet for sale. So, given that it was the rugby world cup final – England vs South Africa – on Friday 1st November (local time), we headed over on Lady Jane and picked up a mooring close to the wifi transmitter so that we could watch the match on the boat.
Matthieu and Agnès provide a reasonably-priced dinner for sailors and guests of their lodge, so we signed up for that and spent the evening in the company of a mostly French crowd on a communal table in their reception area. By coincidence, the family staying at the lodge used to sail their boat from Cherbourg to Gosport – possibly at the same time as we were sailing from Gosport to Cherbourg.
Back on the boat, we watched the world cup final by streaming Channel 10 in Australia – much better than ITV. The adverts were funny, and the on-field commentators were the personification of Bert and Ernie. Sadly, that’s where the amusement stopped: the South Africans were on fire and beat England by a healthy margin. Oh well, only another four years until the next one.
November 1st is the official start of the cyclone season in Polynesia, so it was time for us to make our way to the Marquesas where the risk of cyclones is low, and our insurance company have us covered. After a day of preparation, we slipped our mooring early on Sunday 3rd November to catch slack water at the south pass and to make use of a rare northerly wind to go as far east as possible before heading up north towards Nuku Hiva.
Everything was going well. We only motored for 24 hours to make good distance east; then we sailed on a near beam reach towards the Marquesas. The sea state wasn’t too bad, although we wouldn’t trade it for a calm anchorage. And on the third day, our speed was averaging 7 knots – on track to get to our destination the next day.
And then, in the middle of the night, the dinghy and outboard fell into the water.
If ever there was an ideal time for this to happen, the combination of 20-knot winds, 2-metre seas and darkness wasn’t it. We hove to, which made things a lot more comfortable, and set about recovering the dinghy which was held in place by only one of the davit’s Dyneema lines. The other line had broken. And the dinghy was half-deflated from being cut by the corner of the solar panel as it was dragged through the water. That didn’t help much.
Two hours later, after much wrangling, winching and creative use of ropes, we had the dinghy and outboard lashed to the back of the boat and we were on our way again.
Why the line broke I have no idea – it has a breaking strength of almost a tonne, and the combined weight of the dinghy and outboard is no more than 60 kg. All I can assume is that the line chaffed against the davits. There’ll be extra precautions in place next time.
Because of the delay, we didn’t make it to the Marquesas the next day as it would have been too dark to enter an anchorage safely. So, we slowed down to arrive early morning the day after.
On Friday 8th November, the motley crew, Lady Jane and her battered dinghy dropped anchor in the protection of Vaitahu Bay on the island of Tahuata where we set about fixing the hole in the dinghy. It’s a bit difficult to get ashore without it.
Despite the drama, the trip here was easier than expected. It wasn’t particularly comfortable, but we weren’t bashing close-hauled into steep waves either (that was our expectation.) And now, we are (hopefully) out of the way of cyclone activity and have 3-weeks to enjoy the Marquesas before Lady Jane is hauled out of the water.