Friday, 31 May 2013

a taste of humble pie

Yesterday, we sailed along the rainbow highway. Every time we'd glance over to port, there would be another rainbow, more spectacular than the last. I like to think of rainbows as good omens.

Imagine my surprise when I experienced what I would consider my worst case of seasickness ever. The seas were a little sloppy, but I've been fine in much worst conditions. I've only been seasick a handful of times, and usually that would mean headaches and a touch of nausea. Well, I made up for that yesterday! I was violently ill all day. It kind of put a damper on things... During my overnight watch, I managed to feel better by staring at the sea for hours - no reading, no writing. No distractions at all. That gives you a lot of time to think.

Today is touch and go, but I definitely am doing better, good enough to write a blog post anyhow. Rick on the other hand, has never been seasick. There are lots of bananas, rice and beans to keep him fed, I'll stick to crackers for now. What can I say, it's humbling. The sea, once again, has shown me who's master.

The good news is, there was plenty of wind for the past 24 hours - the Tuamotus are getting closer and closer. And, the sun is shining bright.

Position: 11* 31.888' S 141* 20.155' W
Distance: 150 nm
Heading: 200* T
Speed: 4.6 knots

Thursday, 30 May 2013

the next hop

Everyone this is our passage to the Tuamotus, passage to the Tuamotus, this is everyone. We have been underway since 0650 this morning. We were going to leave yesterday afternoon, but we didn't. We chose to finish a couple boat chores, have a nice dinner and watch what turned out to be a mediocre movie. After a good night's sleep, we bade farewell to the Marquesas.
There's a nice breeze propelling us toward the world of atolls and coral heads. We don't know how long it will take us to get there: a few days. I won't venture a guess, we'll see what the wind gods have in store for us. (See, Barb? I did learn from our Pacific crossing - I will not make predictions, I will not make predictions!)
After much deliberation, we have decided to first go to Makemo in the central Tuamotus. The Tuamotus are vast, there are 77 atolls in this archipelago. Some atolls are charted, some while on the charts, are not detailed enough for our comfort. We imagine we'll have time to explore 3 atolls before we move on to the Society Islands, (Tahiti, Bora Bora, etc.). We haven't decided yet which ones we'll explore beyond Makemo, we'll decide later.
For now, we're settling into our passage. The fishing lines are deployed, our hammock is laden with mangoes and pamplemousses, and two stalks of banana are hanging on the arch. The sun shade is up, the breeze as of 15 minutes ago is light, but we're hoping the forecast was right and that the wind will kick in again.

Position: 09* 17.117' S 140* 20.397' W
Distance: 23 nm (5 hours)
Heading: 200* T
Speed: 5.2 knots

P.S. Happy Birthday to our nephew Alex, and our niece Aquilina!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

ups and downs on the south island

Approaching Fatu Hiva
At first, Fatu Hiva didn't seem to want us there. The Hanavave harbour certainly looked welcoming, with its dramatic spires and green lushness, but anchoring was another story. The bay is small. A narrow shelf near shore is all there is. The shallows are strewn with rock and once off the shelf - the bay is deep, very deep.

Straight up
We tried to squeeze in near shore, but our anchor wouldn't set. The water wasn't clear, and patches of sand seemed scarce. We ended up anchoring just off the shelf to avoid playing bumper boats in the crowded bay. The steep seaward slope made us uncomfortable because we knew that strong katabatic winds blow through this anchorage at night. When you are anchored on such a sharp incline, there is the strong possibility you'll drag out to sea in those conditions. I obsessively checked our position throughout the night, but we didn't budge in spite of having 25 metres (and more) under our keel. Another boat was less fortunate and there was a fair bit of drama. Luckily no boats were damaged. That boat re-anchored in what we began to refer to as the "pit of despair". The next morning we moved into their old spot, next to our friends Anne-Marie and Chris (and crew) on SV Starship, whom we hadn't seen since last December. It was a happy reunion, and Nyon finally made herself at home near the cliffs.

When you are not worried about your anchor, your boat, or other people's boats - Fatu Hiva takesyour breath away. This place was once called "La Baie des Verges" (The Bay of Penises) in light of its phallic landscape, but horrified missionaries quickly changed it to "La Baie des Vierges." By adding an "i", it became the Bay of Virgins. We couldn't help ourselves. We called it by its original monicker. It just seemed right, in a juvenile sort of way.

Rick and Chris (SV Starship), taking a breather
No matter the name and the obvious jokes that ensued, this place was magical. And gruelling. With our friend Chris (SV Starship), we walked from Hanavave to Omoa, the other village on the island. A long, steep climb rewarded us with incredible beauty. We loved all 17 km of that beauty - but I'll admit it, by the third offer of a ride, we saw the last 2 kilometres from the bed of a pick-up truck.

View of the anchorage from up high
(And we were still climbing)

So many photo ops

Learning how to be cool Marquesan style
In Omoa, we found cold drinks at the village store and were soon surrounded by the children of Omoa. The guys watched bemused as I entered into lively introductions with the kids around me. We quickly moved on to serious topics, like how I got my nose pierced. Eventually, we waved goodbye, while shouting English, French, and Marquesan farewells. The guys and I walked to the dock and hopped into the Starship dinghy left behind by Jonathan, their crew who did the hike in reverse. It's only 3 and a half nautical miles to the other village by water - a short ride to that cold beer waiting at the other end.

Some of my new friends

Fatu Hiva is a place you need to climb into, to feel its charms. My favourite hike was to the waterfall. The waterfall was a tall, thin sheet of water that fell down a rocky cliff with a small pool at the bottom. The trail to get there is when I basked in Fatu Hiva's embrace. Rick and I both loved this hike and the refreshing pool. When we returned to a Hanavave overrun with tourists from the Aranui, (a delivery/cruise ship), we quickly made our escape to Nyon after viewing some traditional dancing and drumming. Hanavave had become a tourist trap and we missed its more casual vibe.
The next day, the village was back to normal. Normal on a Sunday afternoon is boys and men playing football (soccer) on the quay, and small clusters of villagers gossiping in the shade of trees. Some of the sailors organized a football game with the villagers later in the day. We missed it, but I was told by the SV Orion crew that the villagers ran circles around the sailors.

Understated, yet pretty fall

A refreshing dip
We stayed here longer than planned, but we didn't mind. We were happy to meet a few "young" boats here. There is a greater age range among the sailors in the South Pacific than there is in Mexico. Many countries are also represented out here, among them: Sweden, France, Canada, U.S.A., Britain, Mexico, Italy, Denmark, and of course, New Zealand and Australia... It's been fun to meet such a variety of sailors.

In time, we headed north once again, but that's for another post.

UPDATE: There is a shift in the air, once we pick up our latest forecast, we'll know if we can leave later today or tomorrow for the Tuamotus.

Monday, 27 May 2013

thank goodness it's not the rainy season

Hello World,

It's the Nyon crew here. We are still in Hakatea on Nuku Hiva. Our old boat has been getting intimate with her leaky self here. The skies have unleashed torrential downpour after downpour on us and the old girl this past week. All this rain reminds us of the Pacific Northwest, at least it is warm here.

At first, we hunkered down in the cabin with towels stuffed in every leaky corner. Then we somehow rediscovered our rainforest hardiness (after a year of Mexican desert living,) and went playing in the rain instead: best idea ever. I'd forgotten how much fun it was to ford rivers and come home covered in mud.

We are waiting for a good weather window to sail to the Tuamotus. There is practically no wind out there and the seas are sloppy. It is possible the conditions will improve by Wednesday. We hope to leave then for our 500 nm passage to the world of atolls, palm trees, and white sandy beaches.

What does this wait mean to us? It means we are going with the flow. We are glad to have chosen this particular anchorage. It's pretty and the hiking has been fabulous. (Andy and Dana, I especially thought of you two!)

We have a lot of exploring to do, boat jobs to finish, books to read, and friends (sailors and locals) to visit. Sure, we look forward to the Tuamotus. The promise of sunshine and clear, turquoise waters is definitely appealing. After days of rain, the run-off from the surrounding land has turned these waters murky. Yet, I have never seen such brilliant shades of green as we did on our hike to a 300 m waterfall some two hours inland. The rain and the wait may not be what we had anticipated, but it is the gift we have been given and we gladly accept it.

ASIDE: The last time we were in a town with Internet, we had no end of trouble trying to post new entries about our adventures and uploading photos made me want to tear my hair out.

We have more stories to share about the Marquesas and have decided we'll post them on the blog *sans* photos. Whenever we find Internet that's fast enough, we'll throw photos your way. We have some catching up to do and I miss writing regularly, so satellite posts it is. Hopefully, there won't be long periods of silence anymore.

We also want to thank everyone who has commented or sent us messages - we have not forgotten about you, we are playing catch up and we'll get to you, we promise. But first, I need to write back to my sister and we owe our friend KK a proper birthday e-mail.

"I sure am glad we didn't come here during the rainy season!" - Rick, after a week of downpours in Nuku Hiva.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

wherever paths may lead

The scenery as we entered Vaitahu Bay 
A large pig goes for a walk on the waterfront. A man holding a rope leash strolls nearby keeping an eye on it. The sun is piercingly bright as we watch from the shade of a tree. This is Vaitahu.

Vaitahu is a quaint village on Tahuata Island. It is hugged by tall green mountains on three sides. The only unwelcoming thing here is the concrete dock where we have to tie up our dinghy.* Once on land, tidy homes line the few concrete roads, trees dripping with fruit are everywhere, and among the few buildings, there is a small store, a school, a post office, and a large octagonal church.

The village from above

Looking back at a sliver of
the South Pacific

When we wandered inland, we asked if paths we randomly chose were private and were repeatedly told we were welcome to follow them. As concrete gave way to a dirt road, we stepped into the dense tropical forest. Soon we were engulfed by the lush foliage. It was as if Vaitahu had swallowed us whole. I think that's when we fell in love with the little village - with everything: from the drying copra sheds dotting the landscape, to the colourful flowers and mango trees surrounded by fermenting fruit on the ground, while green fruits hung in clumps in their branches. This kind of landscape feeds something deep within. We hadn't realized how much we'd craved being surrounded by what Rick calls green growing things. 

Taking it all in
The guys on Mango duty
When we returned to the village, we met Teiki. It was later explained to us by Fati, that Teiki is a traditional name given to all the male children here - a descriptor is added for each individual, usually, one passed down through the generations. For example Fati's son is called Teiki who split the sky in two. 

The first Teiki we met was in his late twenties, he stopped his truck next to us and started chatting away. He told us to hop in his truck, he had mangoes to give us. We gladly accepted. Now, we know how to collect mangoes - you get a very long stick and whack a mango until it tumbles down. After hanging out with Teiki, we went looking for Fati. 

Our new buddy Teiki
We stopped by the store and asked two women where Fati might be. The eldest, who turned out to be his cousin, offered to call him. Just then, he drove by with his wife. They whisked us off to their home where we talked about art, culture, and tattoos. Fati is a well-known local tattooist. While he does traditional Marquesan motifs, he also blends his designs with modern imagery. After discussing getting ink done, we agreed to meet the next morning at 8 a.m.

Nyon looking pretty from afar
We spent a great day with Fati. While he used our skin as canvas, he would in turn be very quiet or he'd launch into yet another story. By the end of the day, we were sorry to say goodbye to this very charismatic man.
Fati sketched the design of my tattoo after our discussion.
Unlike a lot of tattooists here, he blends modern imagery with
Marquesan designs

A familiar sound: the buzzing of the needle.
Here's to tattoo number 6!

Thanks Fati!

Rick's turn: He's no longer a tattoo virgin!

Rick's new tattoo
Armand, whom we met trough French sailors, offered to trade us some fruit for a couple bits of old ropes. Once we were loaded down with a hammock full of sweetness, we stowed the boat and readied ourselves for our next adventure.

* The surge at the concrete dock can get pretty extreme. While we used a stern anchor to keep the dinghy off the dock, it appears it dragged over time and the dinghy got wedged under an overhang. Poor Pip Squeak got bashed until a fellow sailor moved her. Unfortunately by then, the fibreglass was cracked on the starboard side. Rick has since mended the damage, and while Pip squeak is no beauty queen, she's sturdy once again. 

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

here fishy fishy

Hanamoenoa, Tahuata. Enough said 
It took a few seconds before the alarm bells went off. At first, my heart skipped a beat and I froze.

We had just anchored in beautiful Hanamoenoa Bay on Tahuata Island. I had donned my snorkelling gear and jumped in the water to check the anchor. As I followed the anchor chain from the surface, I finally spotted the anchor. I readied myself to dive down for a closer look, when I caught a movement from the corner of my eye. Below me, a dark shape swam into view and my brain paused. I registered the outline.

I thought, "I know what that is." Just then, it veered course and looked up at me. I popped my head out of the water and shouted incoherent syllables in my snorkel at Rick, who was sitting nearby in our dinghy. I splashed my way to the dinghy and hoisted myself up in one fluid, if not graceful, motion. After ripping my mask and snorkel off, I sputtered, "Shark! There was a shark. In the water - RIGHT there! Oh my god, a shark."

There are many shark species in the South Pacific. Some can be aggressive and dangerous, others are shy and avoid you. I don't know which one my buddy was. I was too busy getting my plump ass out of range. I have since pored over our fish books but still, I'm not sure. He was somewhere between 4 and 5 feet, he was dark grey and well, he looked sharky.

Later that day, we went snorkelling in the nearby reefs. While we kept an eye out for the shark, all we saw were fishes that were at the most, 12 inches long. Twelve inches, now that's manageable.

A tought nut to crack
Content to be on solid ground

This is what dreams are made of...

And this...

Sharks be damned, the hull
needs a scrub!
A common sight

In his element

We like this size...

the smell of land

Taahuku Bay, Hiva Oa
Rediscovering the sights and smells of land is sweet nectar in a sea voyager's life. A verdant island whose mountains are shrouded with clouds, Hiva Oa welcomes you to its shores. Taahuku Bay, however, wants to spit you out.

Photo courtesy of Adam and Edie

It may not be obvious in the photo above, (as usual, we're on the edge,) but Taahuku is a small, crowded and often uncomfortable anchorage. Being one of the Marquesas' only two Ports of Entry, this is one busy harbour.

One of our vocal neighbours
We didn't make it to land on the day of our landfall. We slept. We wept. (Okay, shed a couple tears when I found out some precious books had been ruined by an unfortunately placed leak and mold had taken hold of our clean bed sheets. If you have washed king-sized sheets by hand, you'll understand. At 400 francs a kilo, there is no way someone else is doing our laundry.) But my distress was short-lived, there were too many other distractions. We would continually stop what we were doing to inhale the pungent air around us, while roosters serenaded us night and day. 

We did go to shore the next day, after I more or less successfully cut Rick's hair. The anchorage was so rolly that morning, he had to pin my feet down with his. The promise of fresh baguettes and pamplemousse beckoned and we rowed to shore to meet Sandra, our customs agent. Once on land, we ran into familiar faces and we all shared our war stories on the drive into Atuona. A passage is something one dissects with other passagemakers. It's sort of like when you were a kid and you'd compare scar stories with your friends.

View of Atuona from nearby

After the mock-stern reminder by the gendarme checking us in, that Rick must speak French from now on, we went in search of French Polynesian francs to satisfy our cravings.

Our companion in Atuona

Brel's grave at the Cimetiere Calvaire

While in Atuona, we paid homage to singer songwriter Jacques Brel by visiting his grave in the company of a mutt we'd just met. It took some convincing to get this dog to stop trampling all over Brel's grave. I'm sure if he were alive, Brel would have laughed at the irreverence. Rick and I both have always admired the capacity the singer had for stirring emotions through his witty and stark social commentaries and his songs of terrible heartache. Ever heard the song Dans le port d'Amsterdam? He was one of the quintessential troubadours of the sixties, Belgium's answer to Bob Dylan.

Atuona is an hour's walk from the anchorage, if you stick your thumb out, there is a good chance someone will pick you up. Sometimes, people will offer you a ride simply if they see you walking down the road, just like that. It reminds me of when I used to pick up hitchhikers in the Gulf Islands. These islands share the same friendly vibe, although there are more palm trees.

Clouds like to rest on this moutain top
The baguettes on the other hand, take me back to eating breakfast in my grandparents' kitchen in France, complete with cafe au lait. It's strange to come to a tropical island and be faced with all these little reminders of my country of birth. (Fred, remember Hollywood Gum? They have it here!)

After a mere three days, we were in the mood for somewhere quieter, somewhere we could breathe a sigh of relief, and of course, go swimming. So we pointed our bow toward what Lonely Planet calls Hiva Oa's little sister, Tahuata Island.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

postcard from the edge

Making landfall feels like a lifetime away. We have been in French Polynesia for less than 2 weeks, and already we're in love.

We are submerged in a world made of dreams. Trees everywhere bend under the weight of their fruits, the air is thick with the pungent fragrance of tropical flowers and the sharp smell of drying copra. The incredible vistas are jaw-droppingly beautiful. (Just look up the Bay of Virgins on Fatu Hiva.) If I sound a little melodramatic, it's because I find these islands intoxicating.

We have met some very friendly folks here. The Marquesans are a warm and welcoming people - readily offering us rides, fruit, and gladly sharing their culture and history with us as soon as we start asking questions. The children we met have charmed us the way only children can, with their uninhibited candour and sense of humour.

Indeed there is no denying that we are smitten. Sure, the anchorages are often rolly and the air is heavy with humidity. Chasing leaks and mold have become a pastime on Nyon, but awe-inspiring moments win every time.

Looking back on the end of our passage: the frustrating frequency of squalls, the elation we felt when we glimpsed land for the first time, (tiny Fatu Huku), the fatigue after our arrival, we see it all as a rite of passage, an accomplishment to be proud of.

It is Sunday morning, we're indulging in a second cup of coffee, listening to African singer Youssou N'dour, while outside the incredible cliffs of Hanavave hug the shores in dramatic sweeps skyward. For this moment in time, we are grateful.

A smattering of passage statistics:

Distance Traveled: 2817 nm
Hours Traveled: 624h 29m
Days Traveled: 26
Motoring: 17.4 hours
Fastest Day: 145 nm
Slowest Day: 43 nm

NOTE: We have had no access to the Internet since leaving Atuona, we will share some of our stories and photos of the past two weeks with you once we arrive in Nuku Hiva.


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