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First full day in Fatu Hiva

Waking up in Hanavave and taking in the surroundings makes all the effort of getting here worthwhile. The place is astounding. It has to be noted though that this is the first land for the wind which has crossed nearly 4,000 miles of sea from South America to the east. With 3,500 feet peaks the air is pushed up and the moisture condenses giving a lot of cloud and occasional rain.

When we woke it was quite overcast so we planned to go ashore in the afternoon after we’d done some boat work. John (and later Helen after she’d written her blog) set about the transom steps which had collected a lot of growth during the passage. As hinted at in my last blog I set about the failed components. It was a great relief to find the charger working. On first thought it would have been better the other way round as having abundant fresh water aboard makes a huge difference and we do have alternate ways to charge the house batteries. However, the water maker, being more componentized, will be simpler to fix than a solid state charger.

When I managed to connect and receive emails I received some instructions from Spectra to check a few things out. This involved checking the input side to the high pressure pump including going in the water. I had other things to do in the water so I set about cleaning all the through hulls and checking / cleaning the barnacles. I had feared there would be a lot of scum and barnacles based on what we could see on the steps and one patch of barnacles on the stern. These fears were allayed when I found the hulls largely clean from 3,000nm of sailing. The through hulls had a few barnacles established but no blockages. They were easy to remove with an old chop stick. The barnacles came off with a scraper. I missed a bunch at the bows which John dealt with later.

Having ensured the through hull to the water maker was clear I set about checking all the input lines to the high pressure pump. All appeared ok. It does appear the pump is faulty. It is not clear why it didn’t come on in automatic mode and then when it broke in manual mode. This is a question I have open with Spectra. I must note, again, that the main reason we bought the Spectra water maker was due to the reported responsiveness and quality of their support. They have yet to live down this high reputation. I’m very happy and reassured by the support service we get from them.

Next chore was to ready the dinghy. John cleaned the base out as it had received it’s share of flying fish on the journey here. I’d removed them during passage but they’d probably left their stink. Next the tubes were pumped up to make them firm again. Then on went the outboard, the fuel tank, the anchor/chain/rode and the security chain. The motor started easily enough.

Throughout this time and for the rest of the day we would see some boats leaving and some boats arrive. Merlin, in front of us, left. Helen wanted to move the boat forward so we did. With a working house bank charger I was back to reconditioning the batteries which means bringing them up to full charge and leaving them there for an hour. With 1,320 of Amp hours on the house bank this can take a while even if we’re starting from around 70% to 80% charged. While the house bank charges, so does the drive so moving the boat around on battery power and recharging later added little to our consumption of fuel.

John had started cleaning the sides of the boat. He was a bit embarrassed how scummy they were. We weren’t the only boat like that but it’s always nice to be seen clean. I joined him in this. It’s a slow process. We use green plastic scouring pads to scrub the scum off. Some comes off easily but some takes a lot of scrubbing and this takes a lot of time.

We were in the water until lunch time. I didn’t quite finish my part before being called in. While in the water a French Polynesian customs boat had arrived. The worry for a lot of boats here is that we’re here without clearing in at Hiva Oa. It’s a lot easier to sail from here to there than the other way round so for boats crossing the Pacific stopping off here is natural even though it breaks formalities.

Before could start our soup we were boarded by two gun toking customs officials to do some paper work. It was the usual stuff capturing information about the boat and contents. All went well until we got to the bit about the alcohol aboard. When asked about how much we had we said, quite honestly, we didn’t know but it was about enough to get to New Zealand. They wanted to see it all and made us open up the various hatches and floor boards in the boat. It turns out we are allowed only one bottle of spirits, three bottles of wine and one case of beer each to consume in French Polynesia. The rest can be taken through but to ensure it is, it needs to be bonded. That means placing it in compartments in the boat, drilling holes in the doors/covers and having official customs seals placed through the holes. This was as bad as losing the water maker. We like our bottle of wine with our evening meals and the odd beer after a days hard activity is often welcome. But this allowance was draconian given we expect to be here for nearly three months. At $4 for a bottle of beer ashore and who knows what for wine our supplies were vital.

We didn’t really have anything tucked away in places we were comfortable not declaring so we ended up showing them everything we could think of. That didn’t stop us trying to negotiate a better deal for us and push the boundaries a little. First I negotiated an additional three bottles of wine for the spirits which we don’t drink much of. Then they agreed that a 1 liter carton was ok instead of a 75cl bottle. Then they agreed that our 1.5l bottles were also the same as a smaller bottler. We had about 10 of those. I also asked if we could have a bottle of wine for lunch. That was ok too so we put that one aside. I also left another bottle of wine on the table in front of them separate from our ‘allowed’ pile which went unnoticed. When taking out the boxes of wine from our transoms there were some odds and sods of beer and wine there which the nicer of the customs guys said I could leave. I also had to clear out our ‘beer locker’ leaving only 3 crates – 72 cans/bottles. I was left unattended while doing this so I buried a few under the other stuff kept in the same locker leaving the allowed beer visible. I had a few bottles of beer that were equivalent to 3 or 4 regular bottles. Turned out these counted as one as well so these were swapped into the official allowed pile.

The remaining wine and beer ended up occupying four under seat compartments which were then bonded only to be released once we leave French Polynesia. These seats were themselves full of stuff which had to be removed and found places for – largely those formally occupied by our supplies.

Once this was all done and the customs guys had left we reheated our soup and ate our lunch. We had a quick look around and as a result of our negotiating, honest oversights and a little smoke and mirrors we’ve ended up with just about enough wine and beer available for at least John’s stay with us and perhaps the remainder of our time here if we don’t party.

With the boat in a mess it was now after 2 O’Clock in the afternoon local time and we had yet to go ashore. We collected as many water bottles as we could and soon we were off ashore. We had decided to climb the nearby hill to reach a cross that overlooks the village. When I say ‘hill’ it has to be noted this was somewhere in the region of 2,000 feet high. We followed the paved road out of town which went steeply up the hill. The road looked fairly new and this was proven out by the fact we reached the part where they were laying the surface. The old road was a lot more bumpy, paved many years ago. We walked a little too far. John who was our acting guide had seen a very rough path off the side of the ride near to our destination but had carried on hoping to find something better. Nothing better was found so we descended to the ‘path’. It was a real scramble at first but soon we were walking through a flattened out path through tall grasses and reached the cross. From here we could look down onto the town and the anchorage and at the volcanic escarpment all around us. I had mentioned the weather before. The dampness of the air makes this a very lush place. The view from where we were was breathtaking. It has to be noted that the number of different species of plant and animal life on these South Pacific islands is relatively low. The islands have been around for a relatively short time – probably only a few 10s of millions of years if that. Except for relative recent imports by man, everything else had to make their own way here. Coconuts are of course ubiquitous as they are natural ocean voyagers. A coconut safely wrapped in its husk could travel thousands of miles at ease. Not so for everything else. Plants have a better time as seeds have a small chance of being blown over. Animals have to float over pregnant or pairs which is very unlikely. The exception being birds of which a few species have made it here. Looking around at the lushness of the place, the lack of variety is subtly there too. Not noticeable at first but there once you’re aware.

The walk back down was a lot easier. To support the road works a water container had been set up to collect spring water which in turn had a hose coming out of it. Helen and I showered here as we had the place to ourselves. We also drank our fill. It rained a fair bit on the way down but we didn’t care. We were damp from our shower and hot from our excursions.

As we hit the village we forded the stream to walk through the village rather than the along the ‘main road’. The houses were very simple and the curtains, should I say, colourful. The gardens were largely very well kept and often with beautifully kept hedges and flowers. We ran into a couple of locals selling tapas – locally made art work. The first house gave us three grapefruit and invited us to see their wares. The second house invited us in to see theirs as well as some carvings made by the man of the house. We were interested in the tapas but had no money on us.

Back at the dock we collected the water bottles and filled them from the free fresh water spigot at the dock. With us being unable to use our water maker we plan on using what we have for drinking water and everything else from what we can collect.

On the way back to the boat we stopped off at Kamaya to say hello. When they’d seen the customs boat they’d scarpered ashore and used the time to visit the falls. They’d bumped into the crew of William T Pickett who’d I’d talked to early on in the passage who’d mentioned us and wanted to see us. We agreed to meet up in the morning and go ashore to see a tapa maker at work and arrange an evening meal with one of the locals together.

I then dropped off Helen and John and went over to visit William T Pickett. The two crew were aboard and the captain ashore but I was invited aboard for a chat. They were a young crew doing a circumnavigation being followed by some schools back in Florida using their travels to stimulate course work and exercises. Turned out they had been using our positions given on the net relative to theirs as some sort of class work and no doubt saw our abysmal performance towards the end as a result of our lack of appropriate sails for the winds we had (at least in one piece). Someone ashore had even found our blog and forwarded parts to their boat email so they already knew of some of our tales.

From an educational angle I hope there is an important lesson from our passage blog. We deliberately wrote separate blogs not looking at what each of us wrote until the end. What you got was three different peoples perspectives on the same events. Due to our individual natures you get to see what happened from three different angles. The sum, hopefully, is greater than the individual parts. Professionally (back in real life) I had learned this and greatly valued the differences in opinions that people have on the same subject. Often what people argue over are merely different aspects of a broader picture that neither see. Even the different nuances of what folks say in agreement builds up a broader picture. So listening to others, trying to understand the true meaning of differences is an enlightening process. If I’d learned this early in life I would have been greater for it.

I stayed aboard the William T Pickett for nearly an hour during which time the captain arrived and it got quite dark. We all had stories of the flying fish. One of their crew had been hit by them two or three times while on watch. That must have been nasty and is up there with waking up with one in bed with you.

Back on Dignity I retrieved my emails. I definitely need a new high pressure pump. I also received a response from our agent in Tahiti and we have a way of getting a new part through customs and out the Marquesas. I placed my order with Spectra and asked if we could still try and troubleshoot to identify cause based on the symptoms we had. Either it was the pump failing or there is an outside cause which needs to be identified lest it ruin the new pump.

Dinner was curry accompanied by a can of beer and wine. We’re back on land. Did we just spend 3 weeks sailing?