Unfortunately, it was time to move on – we had to check in to French Polynesia before the customs boat arrived and gives us a ticking off for not following the correct procedure and a $200 fine.
The passage to Hiva-Oa is only 40 miles and our decision to visit Fatu Hiva first paid off with a nice beam reach with 2-4 foot seas at 7 knots to our destination catching a small tuna along the way – sushi tonight.
Oh no! civilization and crowds. We could not believe the number of boats that were packed, stern anchored, into this small harbor, hardly a boat length between each boat and with a reasonable amount of surge coming in from the open sea. We managed to find a spot about 50ft from the harbor wall in 20 feet of water, quickly taking out the stern anchor in the dinghy to set it before we drifted into another boat.
We all looked at each other and sighed, although the surroundings were magnificent this anchorage was far from paradise but it is one of the only places we can check into the country and get Internet to order the new autopilot, do laundry and purchase some more food. We agreed to get this done as quickly as possible and head back to paradise.
The following morning, we met Sandra, the representative from Tahiti Crew, who would be helping us check into the country and obtain our duty free fuel voucher. Sandra drove us to the Gendarmerie where we completed the paperwork for our entry, got our passports stamped and left to have a look around town and see what it had to offer.
We were pleasantly surprised by the selection of food and by the prices, which were of course higher than Mexico but not as expensive as we had expected, unless you wanted to purchase alcohol which was extortionate - $62 for a small bottle of Gin, around $70 for a bottle of rum and beers at $3 a bottle.
The town had a salon de the where we managed to get some slow internet to check out our options for a replacement autopilot and have a meal off the boat – chicken curry! Atouna is the town associated with the harbor and is about a 45-minute walk from the docks and can be cut short if you walk across the beach at the head of the bay. Atouna has a few modest grocery stores, a post office and a bank where we withdrew some French Polynesian Francs (approx. 106 FPF = US$1). We purchased more baguettes and some ice cream as a treat and walked back to the boat through the tropical rain.
The high mountains covered with rich green vegetation that surround the harbor ensure that the harbor gets it fair share of rain, sometimes torrential and other times a drizzle but mainly torrential so we enjoyed showering outside as often as possible to save on water as we either have to make our own, which I would not be doing in this crowded anchorage or carry it from the docks in jerry cans, not something I relish.
The harbor facilities are as you would expect in such a remote place, pretty limited. The dock itself, although concreate is not a place you can tie up to with the boat and even with the dinghy it can be hazardous due to the sharp edges and hidden objects below the water that will hold onto your anchor and not let it go. We watched several people each day having to dive for their dinghy anchors and one boat ripped their dinghy on some iron bar sticking out of the dock. The water is a muddy brown from the river run off and with 30 plus boats each emptying their holding tanks into the harbor it is not a place you want to swim never mind the local warnings of aggressive sharks in the area. As you cannot tie up to the dock you have to fill your fuel tanks with jerry cans, not that easy a task in the surge that comes into the harbor. All in all it is not an ideal place to complete your land chores and if I was doing all this again I would consider checking into the country in Nuku-Hiva, but I have not been there yet.
The island is supplied by several ships, one of which, The Aranui 5, came into the harbor while we were there. About 1/3rd of the sailing boats had to move out of the harbor to let this supply ship come cruise ship enter the harbor. We watched it disgorge its goods and then slip out at 3am with lights engulfing the harbor.
Many of the other cruisers rented cars and took guided tours of the island or horse rides in the mountains but we just wanted to move on to another beautiful anchorage and swim again. Sandra, the local clearing agent was wonderful and drove us into town on a few occasions and helped answer many of our questions.
Having completed all our tasks, parts ordering, laundry (extortionate pricing but still glad to pay) provisioning and purchase of a local SIM card for the phone we departed after four days head for the island of Tahuata.