As Nuku Hiva fades from view, the conditions are much as they were three weeks earlier when I limped in at the end of the passage from Panama. The sea is confused with an aggressive swell from the southeast, which punches the hull and rolls the eight-knot tailwind out of the sails every few seconds. A mug of tea just went flying. my last clean, dry towel caught most of it…
At least this time I have a passage of just 760 miles, with enough diesel to motor half of that distance if needed. However, acquiring that diesel was not straightforward.
Nuku Hiva boasts the best fuel facilities in the Marquesas, and if you own/skipper a ferry or two hundred foot fishing boat that can rub against a large concrete wharf with a four foot swell rolling along it, then it’s a doddle. A little yacht has two options, back and forth in the dinghy with 20 litre containers — shredding the dinghy each time on said concrete wharf — or try and come stern-to, being ever so careful not to grind a half meter off the transom. I choose stern-to as the lesser of two evils. It was evil enough.
Before this re-fuelling could take place, and to avoid paying tax on the already expensive fuel, I had to wait three days and pay an ‘agent’ USD 150 to complete the required paperwork. That is a lot of money for a couple of documents, but I did the math and I would just come out ahead. I convinced myself that it was worth it as I could then use the same documents to get tax-free fuel in Bora Bora. There was only one agent on the island, which was Nuku Hiva Yacht Services. I didn’t get a good feeling about the owner, an American named Keven, who seemed most interested in how soon I was going to pay him. He was the only person on the island with that attitude.
Once tied stern-to, Next Chapter was laying side on to the swell and rolling heavily, which felt very precarious with lines stretching bar-taut and playing a symphony for the nerves with every passing swell.
I had to use a rope to pull the three-inch diameter fuel hose from shore to boat.
‘Be careful,’ yelled the cheerful Polynesian.
‘I will,’ said I.
Then I pulled the trigger.
The hose discharged diesel like a fire-hose discharges water. Each container and tank that I filled resulted in a great plume of fuel and foam spurting out over me and the deck as it approached full. After the ordeal of getting tied stern-to in these conditions I was beyond caring. My Polynesian assistant sat on the wall, smoked a cigarette and looked. He’d seen all this before.
The rest of my stay in this quiet island was completely enjoyable and trouble free. After the disappointments of the Caribbean, I had wondered before arriving, if perhaps I would find these islands changed in a similar or equally negative way. But there were no groups of sullen adolescents with ball-caps, ill-fitting trousers and an insatiable need to spit. No bars discharging aggressive rap music and thick sweet smelling smoke. No loud-mouthed drunks expecting a hand-out because you are white, and they are black and stoned. There was no graffiti and no trash strewn along the roadsides. The market vendors didn’t try to force their goods upon you, but sat quietly until asked a question, which they always answer with a smile. Their voices soft.
Those adolescents that I did see — and they were not that many – would frequently be riding small ponies bareback along the beach or one of the valley roads that I walked. They would raise a hand and say hello with that easy smile that one gets used to seeing here. I wondered how some places get it so right, and others so bloody wrong.
Whilst returning from a walk one day, I noticed two boys about ten or twelve years old walking toward me engrossed in whatever they were holding in their hands. In most places it would have been some kind of electronic game of death. Here it was roosters. Pets I guess.
When I spoke with the Gendarme in Nuku Hiva, I told them that I would like to proceed to Bora Bora, from where I would be clearing out, bound for Tonga. They told me this was no problem, but on checking online later that night, I found that it was still compulsory to visit Papeete, to complete the clearing in process, before customs would issue an outbound clearance. This was the way it was when I was last here eighteen years ago. That time I didn’t bother visiting Tahiti, and the Gendarme in Bora Bora gave me a right bollocking and threatened me with a fine.
When sailing away from Nuku Hiva, I laid a course for Bora Bora anyway, thinking that I could blame the Gendarme in Nuku Hiva if they got up me. However, the wind was such that I had to head almost south, in the direction of Tahiti, in an attempt to keep wind in the sails, and as a result, I decided to keep with it and call into Papeete. As I had never been there before, it would be a new experience.
As usual, once I get clear of land and settle down to the rhythm of life at sea, those recent shore-side difficulties and annoyances fade into the distance as quickly as the shoreline itself. Whilst putting away paperwork from Nuku Hiva, I glanced at the receipt for the diesel to find that they had charged me the full tax-inclusive price. All of the running around and waiting an extra three days for documents, and the $150 for the agent was all for nothing.