Traitor’s Bay, Hiva Oa and the town of Atuona

[ This blog entry from May 17th was not posted until today, May 22]
Hiva Oa and Atuona

We remained in Hanamoenoa Bay, Tahuata for another day on
Sunday (13 May). We took our kayak and snorkels to explore the
two neighboring bays to the south which are magnificent. There
is an abundance of interesting sea life and each bay has a beach
to rest on. “Rishu Maru” and “Yara” left Saturday after sunset
for the 100 nm passage to Ua Huka. We have since heard from
them via email that the anchorage is very rolly and it is almost
impossible to land a dinghy on the beach. “Vera” stayed in
Tahuata with us and we planned to sail to Hiva Oa together and
tour the island.

We got up early on Monday morning to pull up anchor for
Traitor’s Bay (Tahauku Bay) on Hiva Oa. The customs boat that
found us on Saturday insisted that we check-in on Monday at the
Gendarmerie in Atuona, the town on Hiva Oa that is the
administrative center of the southern Marquesas. We had heard
bad things about Traitor’s Bay and had not intended to stop
there but rather check-in at Nuka Hiva to the north. But since
the customs boat had directed us to Hiva Oa, we were obligated
to go. Traitor’s Bay turned out to be even more unpleasant than
we had feared. The bay is open to the east and south and is
exposed to the ocean swell. To keep the swell down, there is a
breakwater across part of the entrance to the upper bay. The
problem is there is major dredging and construction work going
on behind the breakwater so that the protected area of the
anchorage is closed off. The water is dirty and brown with lots
of floating junk as a consequence of the dredging, plus there is
the noise of the dredge, pumps and dump trucks for 12 hours a
day. In addition, “Charlie’s Charts of Polynesia” recommends
against swimming because of the large shark population.

There is too little space available for the sail boats that
are directed to Atuona so that they are packed in like sardines
in Trraitor’s Bay. Boats have to set both a bow and a stern
anchor to keep from swinging into each other and to keep their
bows pointed into large swell that rolls into the opening of the
bay and is amplified as it comes into the anchorage. When the
swell hits the western cliffs of the anchorage it erupts into a
30 foot spray of white water. This has been the worst anchoring
that we have ever experienced. There was almost no space when
we entered the anchorage and we had to drop the bow anchor very
close to other boats and with less than 2 meters of water under
our keel. As we dropped back to deploy a stern anchor, the
depth quickly fell to less than one meter. Thankfully, a
cheerful Englishman from Derbyshire rowed over from his boat and
offered to take our stern anchor out another 60 feet and drop
it. It was extremely hot on deck as it was late morning, the
sun was blazing in a clear blue sky, and there was not a hint of
a breeze. We were drenched with sweat once this playing around
with multiple anchors business seemed to be over.

As we started to cool off with a couple of Diet Cokes, we
noticed that the Mexican boat (“Iataia”) next to us was drifting
uncomfortably close to us as the current shifted. They were
there first, so we decided it was prudent to adjust our stern
and bow anchors, working up some more sweat. The young Mexican
couple stopped by on their dinghy on their way to shore and said
not to worry because all the boats get very close depending on
the tide but never seem to make contact. The tidal variation is
a bit over a meter. An hour later, we were less than ten feet
away from the Mexican boat, which is too close for my comfort.
So we got up on deck for the third time to reset our anchors.
As we did, we saw “Vera” with our friends Michael and Britta
come into the anchorage. “Vera” left Hanamoenoa Bay at the same
time as us, and we planned to spend time together in Hiva Oa.
Unfortunately, they had an even worse morning than us. They
started to pull up anchor in Hanamoenoa Bay at the same time as
us (and only 50 feet away) but could get very far because their
anchor chain had wrapped itself around a coral head three times.
Michael had to dive 10 meters to unwrap it. Then, when they
unfurled their genoa jib, it just fell in a heap on the deck.
The halyard had chafed through and they had to motor all the way
to Hiva Oa, arriving more than 90 minutes after us. They twice
tried to anchor near us in Traitor’s Bay but were not
comfortable with the tight space (we really had the last spot
for any boat with a 6+ foot draft), and had to leave and anchor
in the wide open area in front of the breakwater where the roll
was even greater than where we were anchored.

The handsome young couple on the Mexican boat “Iataia” told
us not to bother going to the Gendarmerie to check-in but to
call “Sandra” on VHF radio channel 11 and she would do it for us
and save us money to boot. In my state of heat exhaustion, I
misheard them as saying ”Sharon” instead of “Sandra” and, of
course, no one by that name responded on the VHF. The young
Mexican couple, she always attired in a bikini, and he with red
hair and beard, were always followed around by two large Mexican
men whom Laura guessed were bodyguards. It seemed like a
reasonable guess.

Michael and Britta of “Vera” showed up in their dinghy, and
waited while we got ours all set up and then we all headed off
to what is generously called the dinghy dock. It was a small
pier of rough concrete decorated with a large tractor tire. The
surge pushed the dinghies with great force against the pier and
would knock them to pieces if one did not use a stern anchor on
the dinghy to keep it off the dock. Getting on the dock
required a well timed jump and some upper body strength (not my
strong points) to get ashore after setting the dinghy stern
anchor. I hated to think what leaving the dock would be like in
a few hours.

The town of Atuona is about 3 miles from the dock. We started
to walk in the early afternoon heat and sun on a narrow road
used by huge dump trucks carrying silt dredged out of the bottom
of the bay. They created huge clouds of dust as they went by,
making this a most unpleasant experience. We put out our thumbs
and soon had a ride into town, and quickly found the
Gendarmerie. It is closed from 11:00am to 1:30pm for lunch, but
it was now nearly 2 pm. To our dismay, we were informed that
boat check-in was only done until 11 am. We ran into the
Mexicans from “Iataia” who straightened out my confusion about
Sharon’s (the agent) name and even had her cell phone number.
We called her at a pay phone and she came right by. She offered
to check Laura and me in for something over $400, which we
thought was outrageous. It was not until the next day when we
actually did the check-in by ourselves, did we realize why
giving her $400 would save us money even though there is no fee
to check-in. Non-EU citizens must post a bond (or show a return
airplane ticket) to get a visa. The bond is acquired at the
nearby bank which takes $2800 from our Visa card and charges a
fee for doing so. Then on the day that we leave French
Polynesia, we can get our $2800 back (after checking out at the
Gendarmerie) but only in French Polynesian francs. We can
change these francs to dollars only by incurring the 8% spread
between the buying and selling price for US dollars, plus the
banks commission. All told, this financial transaction costs
over $400, with all of this going to the bank. What Sharon
would have done is put up our bond for us, using our Visa
imprint as collateral. By using the bank, we also had to pick
an island from which we will depart French Polynesia – if we
left from any other island we would lose our bond (we chose
Bora-Bora). At least we got our 30 day visa plus a 60 day
extension making us legal until August 11.

After failing to check-in the first day, the four of us
walked up a steep hill to Calvary Cemetery to see the graves of
Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel, which are only 100 feet apart.
Laura is a big fan of Jacques Brel and a visit to his grave site
made our visit to the “harbor from hell” a bit more palatable.
We could find no place open for supper and wound up with lousy
and expensive Chinese and then had to walk in the dark to the
dinghy dock. The tide had gone out and our dinghies were now
five feet below the dock. Michael and Britta were worn by all
of this and said that they wanted to leave the next day as soon
as they were checked-in. They found the place too trying to
stay an extra day. During that extra day, we had planned in
share in a rental car with them and tour the island, and then
eat at the highly recommended Hiva Oa Hanakee Pearl Lodge up on
a hill overlooking the bay.

The next morning the swell was even larger. Some of the
waves were huge and as the boats rode up and down the steepest
of the waves, the two young American guys on “Namaste” off our
port quarter would yell “Yee-Ha” as if they were riding a
bucking bronco in a rodeo. The trick now was to get into our
dinghy tied to the stern of “Sabbatical III” as it and
“Sabbatical III” were getting tossed about. After a large wave
passed by, kicking the transom up violently, I put a foot into
the dinghy and shifted my weight off of the transom steps – but
not quickly enough. Another wave hit right after and the next
thing I knew I was doing a backwards flip into the dirty brown
shark-infested water of Traitor’s Bay. Laura was down below and
the ladder was not in place so I had to yell to get her
attention. After a shower and change of clothes (and wallet),
we headed back to the dinghy dock to finally complete the
check-in. But now the dinghy dock was completely untenable
(which explains why there was only one dinghy there). The large
swells made tying up an invitation to a dunking. Laura and I
watched Michael and Britta have a go at it. Britta got off
first by grabbing the tractor tire with both hands and feet and
crawling over it to the dock. Meanwhile their dinghy got caught
under the dock and Michael yelled things in German that I would
like translated some day. Laura and I headed for the rock
strewn ramp used by outriggers. Michael and Britta helped us
carry the dinghy and engine up high enough on the ramp to avoid
being bashed around when the tide rose again.

After checking in, we said goodbye to Michael and Britta
who were retuning to Hanamoenoa Bay, Tahuata in order to get a
roll-free night, and to go up the mast to fix their jib halyard.
Laura and I were just about to sit down in a little snack shop
when she saw the minibus of the Hiva Oa Hanakee Pearl Lodge drop
off some hotel guests in town. The bus gave us a ride to the
hotel and we had a fabulous lunch that was no more expensive
than the bad Chinese we ate the evening before. The hotel
manager took an interest in us and offered us some fruit and
fish from the kitchen at a good price. We got 2.5 kilos of
shashimi-grade tuna filet, plus pamplemousse, limes,and bananas.
Later that afternoon, we took the dinghy to a small dock
behind the Mobil station, accessible only at high tide, and
bought groceries from the Mobil gas station store (they were out
of diesel fuel so this was their major business until the supply
ship arrives). They had some decent stuff and it was a lot
easier than returning to the dinghy dock and hitching a ride to
town again, even though we were in desperate need of diet Coke
which they have in town but not at the Mobil store (diet Coke
comes in with the diesel we were told).