May 20 – 21, 2013
It was nearing sunset when we arrived in Hanamoenaoa Bay at Tahuata. As we were sailing towards the bay, we couldn’t help but notice the large Customs vessel anchored near the entrance. Since we weren’t officially cleared into the French Polynesia yet, we were a tad nervous about our stop in Tahuata.
Atuona in Hiva Oa was where we were planning to clear into the country. However, not only does the Atuona anchorage have a reputation for being extremely rolly, it is also known for causing anchor retrieval issues. Therefore, we made plans to anchor at Tahuata, just 8 miles away, and then figure out how we would deal with clearing in.
Fortunately, when we arrived in Tahuata, the Customs officials were hauling their dinghy out of the water for the night. They had apparently made their rounds within the anchorage, checking everyone’s papers and making occasional inspections. We were flying our quarantine and French courtesy flags, so it was obvious to anyone that we weren’t officially cleared into the country yet. It didn’t take us long to decide on going to Atuona first thing the next morning.
While we thought official business would be the first order of the morning, a group of manta rays feeding in the anchorage became the first item on the agenda. Wil and Colin quickly threw on their swimsuits and followed the rays around the anchorage. Justine was still sleeping, and I was busy prepping the boat for departure.
Once all passengers were back onboard, we started the engines, and motored the 8 miles upwind to Atuona. There is a breakwater wall that most boats anchor behind, but this is the area known for anchor retrieval problems. Therefore, we took the advice of a fellow boater, and anchored outside the breakwater wall. There was quite a bit of swell, and it was 40 feet deep, but it was only for the day. We would quickly do our business, and then leave.
Via last minute email through the SSB, I arranged to meet the local Puddle Jump agent, Sandra, at the main dock. However, there were other cruisers that arrived to the dock before us, and they were all gone by the time we got there. Bewildered and unsure about what to do next, as it’s a long walk to town, we talked with a few people nearby and discovered that a taxi would be arriving soon. Along with some fellow cruisers, it wasn’t too many minutes later that we caught a local cab (a small four-wheel drive truck with canopy bench seating in the truck bed).
In order to be able to pay for our cab ride with Polynesians francs, the cab driver took us first to the bank, and then to the Gendarmerie. So we could have time to explore a bit after clearing in, she offered to pick us up in an hour. We declined and said we would continue our exploring by walking the return trip to the dock.
While we waited for our turn in the Gendarmerie, we hailed Sandra on the VHF, and she arrived within 5 minutes to assist us with our clearance. Since we were part of the Puddle Jump Rally, she had most of our paperwork already filled out. We only had to fill out one form, show our passports, and let her do all the translating. We were amazed at how simple it was. Soon, we bid our farewells to Sandra and headed off to see the town of Atuona.
First, after a month of being somewhat isolated, we desperately wanted to find the grocery store (magasin). Atuona is a quaint town and everything is quite close together. There were a couple of small groceries, a bakery, a hardware store, and roadside farmers selling their goods. The cemetery where famous painter Paul Gauguin is buried was also nearby.