Pétanque and a haircut anyone?
As a May Day treat, Chez Jimmy’s Jimmy sold us some doughnuts, treated us to beer and a game of pétanque. Fortunately, John (half the crew of our long-term coronavirus-isolation neighbours) pre-warned us about Jimmy’s boule throwing skills; we think he is the chairman/president of some pétanque society. John had already lost to the tune of a case of beer, so all bets with us were off.
Maria represented team GB and ended up with gold – fighting off competition from Jimmy, John and Jimmy’s cousin, Kahu. Although if there was serious beer at stake, I think she might have been disqualified due to her one-legged throwing style. So, in the interest of international diplomacy, I played and let all of them win their pride back.
Then later, Jimmy handed me his Kala ukulele to play so that I could join him in an alcohol-fuelled Marquesian jamming session. George Formby, RIP, eat your heart out.
A walk in the woods
Our regular walk has been up the hill to the cross and back again. Although it’s very nice and always slightly varied by the type of animal blocking the road, we thought we would mix it up a bit. Instead of turning left at the top of the first hill, we carried on towards an unmade track that leads to the coconut plantations. This route also leads to several old village settlements.
Because many of the stones used to create the platforms are still intact, it is still possible to make out the structure of the old villages. Unfortunately, because I am an idiot, I forgot to take enough photographs. But Jimmy later told us that this was the place where his ancestors used to live before they felt safe enough to move closer to the sea.
Hairstyling Marquesian style
I don’t think there are any hairstylists on the island, so this is as good as it gets. I doubt the intention was for John to end up with a crew cut, but as many politicians (and maybe hairdressers) say: ‘Mistakes were made.’
Hike to mango road
From the cross at the top of the hill, the road continues north overlooking the coastline facing Hiva Oa. And on 8th May we decided to see what lay beyond. The answer to that question – after a walk of 7.5km generally upwards – is a road filled with mangos.
The interior is lovely. It’s a subtly different landscape, but it is hard to capture on camera.
After that hike up in the hills, we decided to take it easy. And what better way to relax than to drag out the Hookamax and dive on the hull to clean it and scrape off the accumulated calcium deposits on the propeller.
Being here for so long seems to have made Lady Jane a haven for all sorts of sealife: We have a crab living in the deck drain and their smaller relatives in the rope cutter; a school of territorial tiger fish permanently hovering around the bow thruster; some things that look like urchins attached to the keel coolers, and enough slime on the hull to keep a class full of 7-year olds entertained for a week.
The entire process to transform the hull from underwater forest to aquatic desert took four hours. And I had to go back in again the next day to clean the keel. This water is rich, but it is also very clean. Most times, it is possible to see the anchor chain at 10 metres below.
Buggered up bits
And because it is so clean, it’s a great place to make water. Unfortunately, we again developed a problem with our low-pressure Shurflo pump. Two of the valves inside the pump split, reducing the pressure to the watermaker from 150psi to around 120 psi – reducing water production to 6 litres per hour. Not good. Fortunately, we had two more spare valves left from the old pump I took apart, so I was able to fix it.
Why these things are breaking, I have no idea. The suppliers contacted the manufacturer on my behalf, and there is no record of a manufacturing defect. Disappointingly I didn’t get much else in the way of proactivity. Not that they could have sent me anything – it’s hard to get things shipped here from other countries at the moment. We are trying to get a new backstay adjuster shipped from the US to replace the old and leaky version we have on Lady Jane. FedEx isn’t sending anything because of border restrictions; UPS say they can (with delays), and DHL said they could (at great expense). I believe the FedEx folks.
On our next walk up the hill, we stopped to talk with a local man at a house located halfway to the cross. Donacia (I think) wanted to trade some fruit for rope. So, the next day, we walked back up the hill with 6 metres of old genoa sheet and left it with his daughter. Later that day, Donacia delivered a sackful of pamplemousse, oranges, tangerines, limes and a stalk of bananas to us at Chez Jimmy’s, and his daughter, Marilyn, followed that up with an additional bagful of limes. I’ll try that at Tesco the next time we are in the UK.
While we were waiting for our fruit delivery, Jimmy told us a little of his life story. It’s his story to tell, so I won’t repeat it here, but it’s an interesting one. What he also explained to us was that children on Tahuata need to attend school on Hiva Oa when they reach 12 years old. And, because the one-way ferry ride between Tahuata and Hiva Oa is 20,000 XPF (around £150), they only come home during the school holidays – staying with relatives while over there. After finishing school they may go to university in Tahiti. There’s no complaint about this, it’s the way things are.
Also part of the Marquesan way – if you are into repurposing stuff – here’s a great example using some old plastic bottles and a bit of creativity:
And how about a floating tree trunk? We thought it had drifted in with some heavy swells, but the Taporo supply ship dropped this massive lump of tree in the bay when it last came to Vaitahu. The Taporo is delivering the trunk to each of the islands to soak it in the local water. After that process is complete, a woodcarver will then fashion it into a pulpit for a church.
Sailing care in the community
From time to time boats would shuttle into the anchorage for any combination of internet, shopping or water before heading back to one of the other bays in Tahuata. The crew of Zazie were particularly kind to us: Herve gave us a US-style propane tank they no longer needed and Sophie gave us a piece of tuna they caught. Both very welcome. The photograph below is of them leaving after obtaining permission to leave French Polynesia to go home to New Caledonia.
We continued to exchange bread, fruit and fish with John and Clarice; they even gave me what they called a birthday fish instead of a birthday cake. We also spent a lot of time with Martine and Yanic on Zounos. Martine helped us a lot when trying to navigate the complexities of food shopping just after lockdown. But they too have left as they need to get to Raiatea to get the boat lifted out.
So, things and people are moving on, and it’s about time for us to leave too.
Maria and I felt that we had unfinished business up in the coconut plantations. The last time we stopped a bit short of the end of the road. So, we decided to rectify that and go on another hike. It had rained tropical-style the day before, so we grabbed our walking poles and used them as support as we sloshed our way past the horse up to the end of the road where we arrived at a pristine-looking coconut grove that looked to be part of an old village settlement. Our destination would not look out of place in a 5-star resort, yet it was utterly un-manicured by human hands.
We arrived at Jimmy’s place two hours later, a lot wetter and a lot blacker.
That’s it – Ascension day – and our home is invaded by strangers from other lands – mostly Hiva Oa – so it’s time for us to leave.
Although international travel is still not permitted, the government has announced freedom of movement between islands and almost total lifting of restrictions within French Polynesia. In practical terms, this means that sailboats can now sail freely from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus, and the Societies after requesting permission.
Shortly after the government announcement beat its way from Tahiti through to the sailing community in the Marquesas, many of the folks cooped up in the confines of Atuona made a quick exit to Tahuata and eventually arrived here in Vaitahu. Within the space of a few days, our anchorage transformed from an exclusive two-boat bay to a relatively crowded eight-boat harbour with representation from Germany, Austria, France, Netherlands and under-representation from the UK – just us. And we met most of them at a traditional lunchtime feast laid on by Jimmy. Ever tried Crab Cru? Best served with lime in my view.
So on Tuesday 26th May, we rolled our way over to Hiva Oa to restock on propane, more groceries – and to get our laundry done. Our laundry bag is looking like one of those sacks of sand that Travis Perkins lift off their lorries with a crane.