Pacific Crossing 2010-11
Nuku Hiva, April 29th – May 10th
Early Friday morning Roger checked us into French Polynesia without a sideways glance from the officials. We were now legal. He returned to the boat only slightly worse for wear after an incident involving a slippery boat ramp. Despite bumps and bruises the crew headed back into town for lunch to celebrate our completed paperwork. We made our way to a restaurant called Moana Nui, which means “big ocean” in Marquesan. We ordered the biggest salads we could and washed them down with several beers. All was right with the world. On our way back to the boat we stumbled on Rene and Helga from Amigo and made plans to tour the Island with them the following day.
Tour Day dawned dry and clear (a major deal from our recent experience) and we loaded ourselves into a rented four wheel drive and headed out of town. The first stop was Taipivai, setting for Herman Melville’s Typee. The Baie Du Controleur, which the Village overlooks, appeared distinctly rolly. Even rollier than Taiohae Bay if that’s possible. We decided we could check that anchorage off our to-do list. Unable to find the first archeological site on our list we headed on our way.
The drive across the Island took us through an amazingly varied landscape. The road wound its way up through a thick swath of coconut palms and into a somewhat hair-raising series of twisting, cliff hugging switchbacks which climbed the hills into the interior. The views alternated from distant waterfalls to valleys full of pastureland as we made our way north. After cresting the high point of the Island we began to wind our way down to the north coast. A stop at the archeological site of Tohua Kamuihei reminded us that now, in its post-cannibalism phase, was the time to visit the Marquesas. We found lunch in the coastal village of Hatiheu. Chez Yvonne’s was a wonderful spot to spend time. I opted for Chevre au Curry. Given the number of wild goats wandering the Island I figured I couldn’t go wrong. Roger went for the Poisson Grille. Despite getting somewhat lost on the west side of the Island during our return trip we managed to make it back to the Taiohae waterfront with ten minutes to spare on our rental. We were exhausted but in one piece. A good day.
We filled several days with chores. This included getting my hair cut. Getting a haircut requires finding someone who cuts hair which can be a problem. If your “stylist” is a fellow cruiser you then need to find a discreet spot onshore to do the job. Ideally this spot will allow you to properly dispose of hair and be secluded enough that you don’t frighten the locals. In this case Joanne, from Spirare, and I perched in a parking lot behind a shorefront restaurant. Also on the list of chores was refueling the boat. That task involved borrowing an extra crew person (Don from Minerva) to help secure the boat to a wave-wracked concrete dock meant for freighters. Another detail that demanded several minutes of our energy was the restitching of the Quarantine and French courtesy flags which were battered beyond recognition.
We did take some time for cultural activities however. Sunday morning, May 1st, was spent at the spectacular Catholic Cathedral in Taiohae Bay. The mass, in Marquesan naturally, was spirited and the singing was wonderful. The only distraction was a swarm of small flies landing on my feet. I glanced to the side and noticed that Glenda, from Sudden Stops Necessary, was similarly plagued. Strange.
On Thursday May 5th we packed up and headed slightly west to the anchorage at Hakatea. This uninhabited village is also known as Daniel’s Bay after a former inhabitant. The Bay was the site for a season of the Survivor’s television show. There is, happily, no sign of that historical highlight.
On Saturday morning we gathered with Quicksilver, Spirare, Amigo and C’est ci bon for a walk to the Vaipo Cascade which is located above the neighboring village of Hakaui. Vaipo is (purportedly) the third longest waterfall in the world. After two and a half hours and several knee-high river crossings we reached our destination. Although we had seen the entire drop from afar we could see only the end of the waterfall’s length once we were in front of it. The noise and the force of the wind created by the drop were quite spectacular. It was a bit like being on the Maid of the Mist at the foot of Niagara Falls. In miniature of course. After squeezing under the boulder which threatens to block the swim to the falls we luxuriated in the refreshing pool until something nipped Helga’s big toe and we all decided it was time to exit the water.
After almost two weeks in Nuku Hiva it was time to head south to our last Marquesan destination, Ua Pou.
Ua Pou, May 11 – May 18
Ua Pou is the third largest Island in the Marquesas. From our perspective it was the last Island in a counter-clockwise circumnavigation of the Islands. After Ua Pou we’d sail to the Tuamotus. It turned out to be one of our favorite stops in the Marquesas.
We had seen the silhouette of Ua Pou from Nuku Hiva and it was quite spectacular even from twenty-five miles away. The Island is noted for the seven basaltic spires which tower over the landscape. As we approached our anchorage at the village of Hakahetau the clouds lifted enough that we could see the bulk of the spires in front of us. It was quite a sight.
Our first adventure ashore involved a hike to Manfred’s Farm. Bright and early Thursday morning the 12th we followed our noses through the village toward the hills and the mythical vegetables that grew there. In Fatu Hiva, Michel from the German boat Mariposa insisted that if we went to Ua Pou we should visit his friend who had an amazing farm in the hills above Hakahetau. This was the day’s plan. Up and up the hill we went. An hour later we reached our destination. After we wove our way through the chickens and past the horse we were confronted with a rather noisy dog. Happily we were soon greeted by Therese, Manfred’s wife. Manfred was away but she gladly seated us in her wonderful kitchen, introduced us to the dog and poured us some orange juice. We had a somewhat halting but enjoyable conversation in French while Therese cooked spaghetti (for the animals?) Before we left she provided us with a freshly baked loaf of bread and climbed a tree to pick us a half dozen gigantic avocadoes all for a very small sum. It was a very enjoyable trip made even better by the fact that Therese descended the avocado tree unscathed.
On Friday morning we and Serge and Joanne from Spirare tackled the hike to yet another waterfall. This waterfall was a much easier hike than the last waterfall, requiring only one hour. The falls were much smaller but very beautiful. We were happy hikers as we relaxed in the beautiful secluded pool. On our way back to the boats a fellow in a pick-up stopped to ask if we were looking for fruit. “Always” was our resounding answer. Holler (pr. Olair) offered to take us to the farm where he and his parents lived. Into the back of the truck we climbed. A short while later we were at our destination being greeted by several dogs and many cats. We were introduced to Holler’s mother, Ivonne. “Just call me Mme. DeGaulle” was her little joke. Soon the fruit was flying. Oranges, star fruit, Pamplemousse, guava and bok choy piled up on a table nearby. Meanwhile Ivonne started to prepare poisson cru, asking if we wanted to stay for lunch. Lunch it was. We had a wonderful afternoon relaxing in good company, looking down onto the harbor below.
The following day Holler guided the crews of Shango and Spirare on a fishing expedition. Shango stood in as the fishing boat and we trolled our way north towards the airport where Holler wanted to use the dinghy to go bottom fishing. We anchored the big boat in the Bay and the guys headed off to an outer reef. Holler hooked a shark which he wanted to bring into the dinghy but Roger and Serge had to explain that angry sharks and rubber boats were not a good pairing. They eventually returned to the mother ship with a variety of small but edible fish. During our post-fishing lunch we heard the sirens of the local gendarmes. When we looked ashore we saw the authorities frantically waving their arms at us. We took this as a sign that perhaps we should not be anchored so close to the airport so up came the hook and away we went toward home.
By this point in our stay we were beginning to think about the passage to the Tuamotus. The wind situation was looking better and preparations got underway. We were not to get away without one more fete (“kaikai” in Marquesan.) This one was hosted by yet another of Ivonne and husband Etienne’s sons. Fifteen cruisers were in attendance and everyone was in fine form. The highlight of the evening was watching the male cruisers learn “The Pig Dance” with Etienne fulfilling his role as teacher. Careful guys. A video exists.
Passage to the Tuamotus, May 18th – May 21st
On Wednesday morning the 18th of May, half of the ten boats in the harbor headed out with the weather window. Everyone was headed for the Tuamotus, though specific destinations varied. Both Shango and Spirare were headed for Raroia Atoll. Once we were out of the lee of the Island the wind was blowing 10-15 knots but inconsistently. It showered off and on through the day and into the night. At the end of my 6-9 p.m. shift it rained so heavily that the reef we had put in before sunset filled completely with water. The bottom of the mainsail was a giant water balloon. Needless to say it was a pain in the neck to sort it out but nothing was damaged and we were soon off and running.
Thursday brought us one brief shower before the day cleared nicely. The wind had filled in and we were sailing on a nice beam reach. The only thing that diverted our attention from eating our way through Therese’s ripe avocadoes was the sighting of a humpback whale. Although beautiful to see, their size and proximity often give me pause.
Saturday morning May 21st we arrived at the “Passe Garue” of Raroia Atoll, seventy-two hours and 420 miles from the Marquesas. We were two hours early for low slack so we tidied up and watched the seas in the pass. At the appointed hour it didn’t look too bad so in we went. It most certainly wasn’t slack but it was do-able. With four knots of current against us we followed the range into the atoll. By 1:00 pm we were anchored in front of the village. Passage complete.
“Arrayed in two parallel northwest-southeast chains scattered across an area of ocean 600km wide and 1,500km long, the Tuamotus are the largest group of coral atolls in the world. Of the 78 atolls in the group, 21 have one entrance pass, 10 have two passes and 47 have no pass at all” according to the Moon Handbook of the South Pacific. The Tuamotus, also known as the “Dangerous Archipelago” was our new cruising ground.
Raroia, May 21st – May 29th
After almost six weeks in the Marquesas we were in new territory. REALLY new territory. Three days before we had been anchored in front of cloud shrouded basaltic spires in Ua Pou. Now we were nestled amongst a small forest of coral heads in front of a sparsely populated, nearly sea level motu (island) in Raroia Atoll. Needless to say the contrast was startling.
Early the next morning a local fellow named Fiu joined us for a visit, arriving in a lovely green pirogue. Like many of the island men, Fiu was training for the upcoming season of paddling competitions. The biggest races are held during the Heiva celebration in Tahiti in July. We were looking forward to attending the races having watched the boats practice at every island we visited. We chatted with Fiu about Raroia and its people. He said that the population had increased a great deal since pearl farming had become a lucrative source of revenue. Until a few years ago there were about fifty inhabitants on the Atoll, now there are about one hundred. Fiu presented his pearl handiwork and I swapped a pair of sunglasses and some rum for a simple necklace with two pearls. It was an enjoyable and informative visit.
By mid-morning Sunday we had been joined in the anchorage by Spirare and Amigo, both of whom had arrived from Ua Pou. The consensus was that the less time we spent anchored on the lee shore in front of the village the better. By noon we were preparing to head across the lagoon to the more protected eastern side of the atoll. Spirare headed out first while we and Amigo pulled up our anchors. Amigo was clear. We were not. With Helga at the helm of Amigo, Rene graciously donned his mask and fins and directed Roger on the foredeck who directed me at the helm. In no time we were both underway. We hoped this wasn’t a sign of things to come, anchoring-wise, in the Tuamotus.
An hour or so later we dropped our hook behind a small eastern motu. The otherwise undistinguished spot had drawn our attention because it was the site where, fifty years earlier, Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki had washed up after it’s epic voyage from Easter Island. Needless to say there were no remains to be seen of the raft but there was a small marker recognizing the feat. The historic motu is appreciated only by birds and the occasional cruiser these days.
Safely anchored after our lumpy evening off the village we were able to relax and appreciate our beautiful surroundings. There were miles of low slung motus reaching away on either side of us into the distance. Between them were low barriers of reef, some of which allowed small streams of water to make their way through into the lagoon. None of these were deep enough for any type of boat. On the windward side of the motus and the reef there were large breaking waves which we were glad had no access to our cozy anchorage. If this sort of setting was going to be our reality for the next six weeks we were very happy.
In one last futile effort to finish Therese’s avocados (which were painfully ripe) I began to scour my cookbooks. Guacamole wasn’t an option since I was missing a variety of the ingredients. Nor were several of the other recipes I stumbled on. The one thing I found to try was an avocado soup. I’m not going to go into great detail but let me say that if Roger can’t eat something it’s amazingly bad. Conceptually he was ok with it. His problem seemed to lie in the fact that the smell reminded him of Alpo dog food. Needless to say the concoction went over the side as a warning to any lurking sharks. An elegant dinner of sardines, crackers, canned pate and cheese was eaten in its stead.
The following day we moved a bit further south. We were escorted through the buoys of a pearl farm by a speed boat which appeared suddenly at our bow. The “farmers” obviously didn’t want us straying into trouble. After a short sail we dropped the hook behind yet another uninhabited motu. This is how it went for the entire length of our stay. We spent our time snorkeling and walking on the beaches, visiting with our two neighbor boats and generally relaxing. Unlike the Marquesas there weren’t lists of “must see” destinations that required multi-hour hikes or car rentals. In the Tuamotus the focus was almost completely under water. From snorkeling on the patch reefs near the boat to the pass dives that would come later, it was all about the fish and the coral. A notable difference from the Marquesas was the solitude that was available. If you wanted a motu to call your own it was there for the finding. Raroia was a wonderful introduction to an amazing cruising ground.
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