The Myths and Legends of Atuona Bay

Following grim tales of a crowded anchorage and an intolerable swell, we were not looking forward to coming to Hiva Oa. And, as we rounded the corner leading into Atuona Bay, we expected to see hundreds of tightly-packed boats anchored fore and aft to avoid clanging into each other, bouncing around in a nautical frenzy all over the anchorage.

Fortunately, our experience was not like that. The anchorage was busy, so much so that some boats had anchored outside the breakwater, but there was some space left inside. And the swell that finds its way into the bay is nowhere near as bad as we were led to believe.

Luckily, another monohull had just left from the back of the anchorage. So, we picked our way through the anchored boats, dodged the various markers indicating their stern anchors, and slotted in next to a monohull and a catamaran at the end of the bay. The catamaran happened to be Gemini Sunset, crewed by Catherine and Steve who we last saw in Virginia, the US in October last year. Steve offered to help with our stern anchor, so we passed it to him, and he laid it out for us. All very civilised and most appreciated.

The real reason for setting a stern anchor here is to point the boat in the direction of the waves. There is very little wind here, so there’s a fair chance of ending up sideways to the swell and rolling in a particularly uncomfortable fashion – not unlike our Santa Cruz experience I should imagine. But compared to that, the swell here is like that on a boating lake.

Anchorage marker. Bon to the right, Mal to the left.

Atuona Village

As it was Friday afternoon when we arrived, and because rumour had it that the Gendarmerie was closed, we waited until Monday to clear in. We spent the weekend doing boat-related jobs, later spending some time with Steve and Catherine onboard Gemini Sunset and with Andrew and Kate on Wildside.

Atuona village is a bit of a trek from the bay, but it’s possible to make it 30 minutes shorter by taking a shortcut across the beach and up a steepish slope leading to the road. So, that’s what we did. And it allowed us to shake off a large gang of tourists who had just been disgorged from the bowels of a cruise ship.

Maria mixing it with the tourists

Maria mixing it with the tourists

The Beach

The Beach

Unfortunately for us, it had rained heavily that morning, so by the time we arrived at the top of that slope (past some very nervous-looking people coming back down) we looked like we had unplucked ourselves from a swamp. By the time we walked through the doors of the Gendarmerie just before 0900, however, we had removed enough mud to look almost respectable.

And clearance here is easy – there’s just one form to fill in. There’s no need to present boat papers or Zarpe from the last port – just passports and boat information (Registration number, radio call sign, MMSI number, sat phone number if you have one.) Here we found out that the Gendarmerie doesn’t keep the sort of slack hours that we were led to believe. They are open 7-days a week, morning and afternoon. The photograph below shows the hours (although there’s a mistake in translation, it should read Monday to Saturday).

Gendarmerie Opening Hours

Gendarmerie Opening Hours

Gaughuin Museum

After lunch at the restaurant just outside the village (probably the only restaurant in town), we walked around town, then visited the Paul Gauguin museum. It’s worth paying the entrance fee to get in here if only for the air conditioning. The museum charts the timeline around Gauguin’s life, and the walls are full of reproductions of varying fidelity. Most of these, I assume, are painted by local artists – although some look like the product of the local secondary school.

Restaurant with the biggest portions in town

Restaurant with the biggest portions in town

Restaurant with the biggest carvings in town

Restaurant with the biggest carvings in town

As we entered the museum, the woman selling tickets told us that she was closing an hour earlier because it’s been a busy day with all the tourists from the cruise ship. So, instead of an hour and a half, we had just half an hour to take a look around. But, she said that if we come back tomorrow, we could go in for free. And that’s what we did.

After the museum, we took a look around the Atuona village, which is full of Tiki statues and fabulous wood carvings. As well as sightseeing, we used our trips to Atuona to stock up with bread – baguettes of course – and anything fresh we could get. And on the second visit, we had dinner at the restaurant (pizzas – should last for a week there are that big) and downloaded some TV programmes using their fast-for-here internet. Then, the restaurant staff then gave us a lift back to the bay, free of charge.

Images of Atuona 

Atuona Bay

It’s quite a sticky place this. We meant to leave on Monday afternoon but ended up staying until Wednesday. There’s a cafe, with the Internet, at the old semaphore station up the road past the boatyard, which serves as a favourite meeting place for sailors. And Sandra, the cafe owner, will help organise anything you need in terms of tours, car hire or provisioning.  The boatyard offers lift out services for monohulls and catamarans and can refill cooking gas tanks. Allegedly there’s a chandlery coming to the boatyard in the next few months, which should make this an attractive proposition for those wanting to stay here long term.

For food stuff, the local petrol station carries a wide variety of products including some fresh fruit and vegetables (and New Zealand butter in a tin, which I think is brilliant.) And, although we missed it because we were out to dinner, on Tuesday evening a local food truck comes along serving up food near to the canoe club (I think that’s what it is) and, at least on that day, there was a barbecue too.

And for entertainment, the locals practice racing their outrigger canoes in the bay. At one point they were using our orange stern anchor ball as a racing mark, so we grabbed front row seats for a while. A giant shark roaming the bay provides less innocent entertainment. Atuona bay used to be an old fishing centre, so sharks come here searching for fish offal treats.

But whatever entertainment there is, this is just a nice place to be. It’s calm and relaxed, and the view isn’t so bad either.

Our next stop is Nuku Hiva, which is about 90 miles away from here, so a (hopefully) relaxed overnight sail.

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