E3. South Pacific Adventures: Les Iles Marquesas

March 10, 2020 – LAND HO! Cindy spied the tall peaks of Fatu Hiva, thereby winning an umbrella drink in the “when will we get there” contest. By 1300, our anchor was down off the beautiful little village of Omoa, one of the two largest towns on Fatu Hiva – Population about 500. Passage statistics: 851 miles in about 5 1/2 days. 29 hours running engine without wind, 20 gallons of diesel burned, 1 big tuna to share. 

As always, the night after passage is rewarded with a fine nap and wonderful night’s sleep. Cindy was delighted to find a solid internet connection at the small (and only) beach-front café in the village. Unfortunately, we couldn’t pick it up with our antenna booster so we were forced ashore behind a stout breakwater where a short walk leads to the village. Locals were friendly with no interest in our paperwork showing clearance from the Gambiers. Mangos were in season along with avacodos, pomplmouse, and bananas. The little café has a generator with cold Coca-Cola. 

We spent a few days in the small bay, visiting with other cruising yachts, mingling with locals, and hiking into the hills behind the village. Particularly noteworthy was the cleanliness of the village. Not a scrap of litter. Yards are well raked of leaves – definitely pride of ownership in evidence. 

Just a few miles north of Omoa lies the famous “Bay of Virgins” or locally known as Hanavavei. This picturesque bay is iconic with its towering cliffs, majestic spire rocks, and lush rainforest foliage. A more fitting name would be “Bay of no more Virgins” since Hanavavei translates roughly to phallic or penis – reference to the towering stone spires. This was our third visit to Hanavavei. We fondly recall our first visit on Tom Rigg’s “Amazing Grace” from 1986 with dear friend Tim Tretheway aboard. “Gracie” visited the bay in the month of November, well after the milk-run parade of yachts travelling the south pacific had moved on. Our welcome was memorable. Locals were excited to find a yacht in the bay and anxious find out about this late-arriving boat. They were happy but not pushy to trade fruits and vegetables, carvings, and tapas for anything we might have on the boat. Brother John made a good deal – exchanging a quart of 2-stroke motor oil for a wheel-barrow full of pomplemouse, bananas, and coconuts! 

Our second visit was in 2004 with Pazzo and our family. We arrived in April after 17 days at sea from the Galapagos. Our welcome was cool. We caught a large tuna on our way into the bay and proposed to trade it for fruits, vegetables, or art. The locals snubbed our offer, proposing a few pomplemouse for the nice fish – a fish they cannot catch, by the way, with their small fishing pangas. The children showed no interest in our kids with blonde hair – except to the extent that they might buy something from a local grandmother. The welcome was nearly 100% transactional. Very disappointing. 

We are happy to report that this visit rekindled our fond memories of the Bay of Virgins. Our March arrival put us ahead of the milk-run crowd so we were early in the season. The locals were friendly, the village was spotless. We found no evidence of the barter system. Locals were happy to sell their carvings and produce, but weren’t pushy. We scored some nice avacodos and mangos were everywhere – on the trees or on the ground – delicious wherever! 

After only a couple of days, Team Pazzo moved north to the adjacent Island of Tahuata. 8 other boats pretty much filled the recommended anchorage in Baie Hapatoni. After 3 failed attempts to get our pick set well clear of the other yachts, a friendly family dinghyed over to recommend a big sandy patch just around the point. We were happy to be swinging well clear of other boats with a good bite in deep sand. The following morning, Sunday, we went ashore to enjoy another Polynesian church service. The locals seemed very interested in our recent whereabouts. They were relieved to hear that we’d come from Fatu Hiva and before that, the Gambiers. March 15, 2020 and Coronavirus was on their minds. 

Other than concerned pearl farmers whose star grafters were prohibited from returning to French Polynesia after enjoying their new year’s celebrations in China, we were mostly blind to what was going on elsewhere in the world. Good friend Frederic Lafitte alerted us to the escalating problem in Italy and Europe, but the problem seemed far away from the isolated South Pacific Islands. Then Chloe ran into the shit-storm while trying to return to Seattle from her medical school rotation in Uganda. Her flight plans disintegrated when Trump banned all US bound flights from Europe. She was scrambling and this Corona thing seemed to be getting serious. 

As we explored a couple more anchorages north of Hapatoni, we were without internet or news. We had no idea how quickly the world was changing.

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