The navy ship, a small beat up looking thing, arrived as promised at five pm, entered the inner anchorage and tied up to the dock.
Friday morning we launched our dinghy and went into the harbor to the concrete dinghy dock where the surge made it quite a challenge to disembark gracefully. Forget graceful, we were happy to get on the pier in one piece. We asked a man on the dock if the navy ship came in often. No, he said, it’s the customs boat. They only come once a year.
Sandra, the local agent, met us and a few others by the dock and gave us the bad news: it’s a holiday. <facepalm> Of course, May Day. That meant we couldn’t check in, which is too bad because with the nasty anchorage we’re kind of anxious to take care of business and get out of here. Tomorrow, said Sandra, although Escape Velocity wasn’t on her list and that has us worried.
We need cash so we started into town anyway, a 2-mile walk all the way around the bay. Jack and I took a shortcut that involved climbing a steep and slippery path up the far side of the bay onto the road above. I was hot and sweaty by the time we got to the road and luckily a nice lady pulled over and gave us a ride into town. She dropped us right at the bank where we hit up the ATM for Polynesian francs, then went to one of the only stores open on the holiday. We found real cheese — goodbye crappy Central American queso fresco! — but no baguettes this late in the morning. We also found a few zucchini and a cabbage. I’m pretty sure the islanders exist on pamplemousse and fish because there isn’t much fresh food in the shops. The other open shop had a few carrots and two tomatoes and that was the sum total of fresh vegetables we could find. Maybe after the weekend there will be more stores open.
As long as we were in town and not wanting to waste the trip we walked up a steep hill to the cemetery and paid our respects to Jacques Brel and Paul Gauguin, bunkmates with a fine view over the bay. By that time we were hot and cranky and we trudged back toward the anchorage. Once again a friendly couple stopped and gave us a ride, thank goodness.
The tide had come in while we were in town and the dinghy dock was awash, making boarding an even more challenging experience. When we got to the outer anchorage we struggled to lift the dinghy in the violent swell, then raised anchor and motored in past the breakwater. We found a good spot, dropped the anchor, then set a stern anchor to keep us lined up with the other boats and facing the swell. It was much calmer inside and we were happy we moved.
We got things squared away and just as we were settling in for a quiet afternoon, a launch with eight men from the navy ship came by and asked to board. They come here once a year and it happens to be the day we arrive. What luck!
There was much paperwork and many questions to answer, most of which involved firearms and liquor. They asked if this was our first stop in French Polynesia and we told them we had gone to Fatu Hiva first and told them when. It didn’t seem to be a problem. How much wine and spirits we have did concern them in between asking about firearms ten or fifteen times. I had to go count the unopened bottles of spirits, stashed in various places around the boat, and the dwindling wine inventory put me in a funk. I came out to the cockpit and reported my findings which they dutifully wrote down on the form. Then, when I thought they had completed the formalities, the head man instructed two of the men to go below and lay eyes on the wine and liquor. So once again I had to crawl around emptying things out of cupboards to reveal the eight bottles of wine and four of spirits. Apparently they didn’t believe that we only had that much so they pointed to various compartments on the boat and had me open them. No, that’s just batteries. Let me see. Clothing. Please open it. Food. No spirits? No. And so it went, all through the boat. They wanted to see inside my guitar case, too, maybe hoping it was a hidden assault weapon. They were friendly and courteous, but persistent. This is the most thorough customs inspection we’ve ever had. Actually it’s the only customs inspection we’ve ever had.
Eventually they gave up and finished their reports. They gave us a copy and said if another crew wants to board we can show them proof that we’ve already been inspected.
We arranged with the crews of five other boats to go out for pizza in the evening. The restaurant owner picked us up at the dock, a welcome service they advertise. The pizza was cooked on a wood fire and made with real cheese so it was a happy first meal out in two months. We got home way past cruisers’ midnight (usually somewhere around eight o’clock) and we dropped into bed exhausted.
About two thirty we were awakened by a bright light flashing into our porthole. It was a signal from the boat next to us. Our stern anchor had let go and EV swung around with the wind, passing uncomfortably close to their boat. We ran outside and did the sailors’ fire drill. We didn’t feel comfortable trying to spin EV back in alignment in the dark so we raised the anchor, motored toward the entrance where there was plenty of room and re-anchored where we could lie to the wind and not hit anyone. We took turns staying up in the cockpit on anchor watch.
At six am the navy boat hailed us on the radio and said they would be leaving at seven and would we please move. So it was anchor up again and tour the little bay looking for a good spot. We tried a few but eventually squeezed inbetween another small catamaran and a small monohull. It took nearly an hour to reset everything. Two other boats also moved in the early light, both having swung uncomfortably close to other boats.
This is a wretched anchorage and we can’t wait to get out of here. But first, we need to get legal with the gendarmes.