After a few days at Atuona all our shoreside chores were done; we were all checked into French Polynesia, so we said good-bye to our wonderful crew member Matt who roamed around on shore for another week to explore on his own before flying out to Tahiti and back to San Francisco. We paid the most we’d ever paid (about $90 US) to have our laundry done (but there was no way I was washing six loads of clothes, sheets and blankets by hand!). Our veggie bins had a meager supply of produce that we’d purchased but the cockpit was chock full of fruit that had been simply given to us: pamplemousse, bananas, avocadoes, mangoes, papayas, limes. We very much enjoyed the full nights of restful sleep, despite the bit of rolliness in the Atuona anchorage (but with all the boats being stuffed in like sardines we all had stern anchors out which kept us into the bit of swell coming in).
We only have a month to explore this beautiful and wild island group (since we have three months total in French Polynesia) so it was time to move on. Our original plan had been to head next to Fatu Hiva, the southernmost island about 45 miles away. But it took us nearly two hours to retrieve our stern anchor (stuck a little too well in the mud) and our bow anchor (stuck underneath the boat anchored in front of us). With a little help from new sailing friends we got them both onboard and were off.
By that time however it was too late in the day to be able to make Fatu Hiva before dark so we put up our spinnaker and scooted downwind through the Bordelais Channel between Hiva Oa and the island of Tahuata and made landfall 10 miles later at Hanamoenoa Bay. After we dropped our hook in 30 feet of the brightest, clearest aqua water we’d ever seen and gazed about us at the stunning bay we were sure glad our anchors had been a bit difficult after all. It was a large bay with very little swell and plenty of room for a number of boats, although there were only two other boats in the bay when we arrived. In front of us was a scene like you’d see in a stock photo: brilliant aqua water that you could see through nearly 100 feet, bright tropical fish darting under the boat, a nearly white sand beach backed by gently waving coconut palms and behind it lush green valleys and hills that rose up up and up into the island. It was stunning.
Here, we enjoyed several lovely quiet days of just being a family together again. We explored the beach, played in the 85-degree F waves, swam around the boat, snorkeled on the nearby reefs. The tradewinds blew down from the valley in front of us everyday and kept us cooled down nicely.
A few days later we went around the corner to the village of Vaitahu where our friends on Convivia (who had made it to Fatu Hiva) were meeting us. The kids were all glad to see their friends again (as were we of course). As seems to be the trend around here, this bay was even more gorgeous than the last two; the colorful small village was nestled in a towering lush green valley. Even from the boat we could see the tidy homes, flowers growing everywhere, the beautiful church made of local woods and stained glass.
I will always remember Vaitahu as the village where we collected things: the sight of nearly-naked local kids curiously surrounding ours as they waded in the surf with lifejackets, huge sun hats, long-sleeved sunshirts and bright plastic shoes. The hands that appeared from out of nowhere — even in the dark — to grab our dinghy painter and help a child each and every time we exited or boarded our dinghy on the slippery, sea-washed cement quay. The delirious scent of flowers which lined every street, surrounded every house and was worn behind the ear of nearly every smiling woman we passed. The sweet sweet Polynesian harmonies sung in the open air Catholic church on Sunday morning. The taste of one of the fresh bananas handed to us by a man as we strolled past his house one afternoon. The laughter and camaraderie we shared with Convivia each night as our kids played and we took turns making dinner for each other. The sound of the heavy warm rain that pounded down on our boat several times each day and filled our rain buckets to overflowing. The burn of the tattoo as my story came alive on my arm in the smoky, music-filled shack.
When we did finally point our bow south for Fatu Hiva yesterday, we felt a little homesick for this sweet, kind village. But our treasures will always remind us of our visit here.