We eventually detached ourselves from our mooring at Pakokota after almost 3 months of paddleboarding, walking, waiting, snorkelling, boat buying and socialising – then headed to Rotoava in the north of Fakarava. Here, we heaved our accumulated laundry over to Fakarava Yacht Services for Stephanie to work her washing wonders and strolled around the town for a couple of days.
Things had moved on during our time in the sticks. Fakarava Yacht Services had flown in stocks of Vini (the local SIM card provider) travel cards from Tahiti. These, unlike the PAYG SIM cards available at the post office, give access to the 4G network wherever it is available in French Polynesia. We bought three of them, to make sure we maintained the connectivity we are used to.
Costs of lingering a long time
Lingering too long in one place can be dangerously expensive. The internet connection costs a small fortune over time; there is a tendency to buy more stuff because of that internet connectivity. And, in case you missed it in the first sentence, you can end up buying another boat.
Most of the time we spent on board as we bobbed about on the ball at Pakokota yacht services was spent making arrangements to buy a bigger yacht. And, because we were buying it remotely, we had to perform an extra level of due diligence: Apart from the boat survey, main engine survey, generator survey, oil analysis on both engines, and a rigging survey, we also enlisted the help of an expert on this type of boat to scrutinise the detail of over 800 photographs of places where there could potentially be problems. Then we had to make sure that the insurance premiums weren’t going to leave us with no money to do anything.
But now, after a thorough review of everything and multiple conversations both online and on the phone, the contracts have been signed, the deposit paid, and the balance of the cash is on its way to the document agent’s escrow account.
So, although it’s been a bit of a slack month for sightseeing as we waited for the backstay adjuster to arrive, it’s been a very active one on the boat buying front.
We shall reveal more later. In the meantime, we have a boat to sell. Soon, we will be offering Lady Jane for sale.
We sailed there, of course… BOOM!
On Saturday 24th October, with a favourable northerly wind, we sailed over to Hao. And on Monday 26th, we dropped anchor around 200 metres from land opposite two houses, near to the centre of Otepa village.
Hao used to be the staging post for the French to drop nuclear bombs on the South Pacific Atolls. I know that statement is highly reductive, but that’s the crux of it. The French Navy had a base here, and there is evidence of previous large construction everywhere around the village of Otepa. The navy base was abandoned in 2002, and much of the supporting infrastructure went with it. And the overall result is a slight feeling of emptiness. But, it is more than made up for by the friendliness of the people.
That afternoon, we were visited by these guys. All three of them swam over on their battered old surfboard to see us – and not for the last time:
And it was great fun to have them on board. All they wanted to do was hang around and play on our phones and iPads.
Quick reunion with our old confinement buddies
We hadn’t seen Clarice and John since we left them in Hiva Oa, and we said we would stop by at some point. We found John stripping out their boat, which they were able to do now that they are land-lubber types for now. And he suggested we join them for a farewell party for a family of sailors leaving in the next couple of days. So, we joined them.
Unfortunately, though, we were a bit slack on the photo taking. The only photograph we have of that leaving party is one of a dog with a defective leg. Even more unfortunate was that Maria didn’t notice when she took the photo that there’s nothing wrong with that dog’s reproductive organs. And there is no way I am posting dog porn on this site – it’s not the way we hang.
Hao is one of the few places in French Polynesia where it is necessary to check in with the Gendarmerie to let them know of your arrival. So, on Tuesday morning, we blew up the floor of the dinghy and zipped off to the main quay where the island offices are located.
After asking one of the officials the location of the Gendarmerie, she asked us to wait a minute and disappeared into her office. A minute later, she came back to ask if we wanted a drink. I said coffee would be nice. She went back into her office, returned with the coffee and, a couple of minutes later, the police car that she had arranged for us turned up to give us a lift. I’ve had far worse check-in experiences at 4-star hotels.
But that appears to the thing with Hao. It hasn’t been blighted with tourism, so the genuine friendliness of the people, and their willingness to help, really shines through.
Later that day, we went back to the offices to get some printing done. Our insurance papers were getting to be out of date, and we wanted a physical copy of our boat registration document. Despite some initial technical challenges, the guy in the photograph below got the job done. It might have been pricier than Staples, but it was worth it for the quality.
Sightseeing and dinner with new friends
Avelina, who we met at the farewell party on our first day here, stopped by on her paddleboard to ask if we would like to join her and her partner for dinner. We, of course, said yes and arranged to meet her at the post office the next evening.
The next day we got out the bikes to take a look around. Hao is a massive atoll – it’s 50km long and 14km wide – so we restricted our ambitions to just around town. Avelina suggested we stop by the hospital to say hello, so we set out to do just that and immediately got lost. But, in Hao friendly fashion, a local man came to our rescue and accompanied us there on his bike.
We spent a great evening with Avelina and her partner, Adil. He had slaved over the barbecue like a trooper to create some great food – then entertained us with some tunes on the ukulele. They were leaving the main atoll on Friday to go to one of the inhabited motus where some people, who worked here during the nuclear testing, live. Those people have regular health checks to see if there are any long term health issues caused by radiation, which is the reason Avelina is here.
We think the word got out: Lady Jane is a fun place to be, and they have better biscuits and water than the other boat. The complaint from our young friends was that they were given biscuits containing creatures and water that tasted very bitter, by the other boat anchored in the bay. Who says that French cuisine is superior, eh?
We picked up Tepiu the next day together with some other children who wanted to enjoy the Lady Jane experience. And, together with the children, she brought us a huge bag of papaya fruit.
Our plan was only to stay until the wind swung around to the east. And according to the weather forecasters, that day was Saturday 31st October. So, on Friday morning, we had the children over one last time. We gave Tepiu a t-shirt and a waterproof case for her phone. And she and the kids gave us memories to last a lifetime.
Then, on Friday afternoon, our three original explorers returned to Lady Jane on their battered surfboard to bring us flowers as a farewell gift.
And here’s a thing that illustrates an attitude that could be so useful to adopt in many other places around the world: when the time came for them to leave, they noticed that their surfboard had gone. Whoever tied it on clearly hadn’t been on an RYA knot tying course. But, there was no drama, just a shrug of the shoulders and an immediate acceptance that the board had disappeared.
We were more traumatised because, having put the outboard away, we had to row them back home.
And the next morning, as we sailed away from the anchorage, we could still hear the kids shouting goodbye to us from the shore. These are the memories that stick. We never know what our experience will be like when we arrive somewhere new, but this has been one of the most special. We even received a handcrafted card:
Sweet? I should say so.