Skippers log 8: Marquesas towards Tahiti
The first couple of days at anchor at Hiva Oa, we basically used to rest and recreate.
The clearance formalities took a little longer than usual due to the old fashioned rule of yours truly having to cough up the equivalent of an airplane ticket to Australia. This bond will then be returned to us when we clear out of Bora Bora. It’s to ensure that all people arriving by sea don’t get stranded here, and until recently it applied to all non Polynesians, but now EU citizens are also accredited with access without the bond. That’s lucky otherwise with up to 12 people on board we would have been talking major dollars.
This sorted, and fresh provisions on board, we decided to make the 50 mile slog upwind back towards Fatu Hiva. This sparsely populated island is described as one of the most spectacular in the Marquesas and one of the worlds truly isolated destinations. With towering peaks surrounding the anchorage, we were rewarded with wonderful views.
We took a hike up through the dense tropical jungle, crawling over fallen limbs and crossing small log bridges, to swim in a lovely waterfall with a free fall of about a hundred meters. It was a cooling experience to bathe in this lovely lake, so high up in the mountains and look up at the towering cascades.
Fatu Hiva a small and very religious community celebrated Palm Sunday in true style. Some of us joining in the celebration, to hear the singing in the little chapel by the sea.
Fishing, Copra production, (coconut oil) are the mainstays of these small villages.
After three days it was time to shove off toward our main destination in the Marquesas, the island of Nuka Hiva.
We planned to anchor in Taohoie bay for the next 14 days to do some maintenance and head for the hills to have a little time ashore. We have all been working and living together pretty much continually for a good stretch, so we decided to split up into two groups and take turns to have a few nights ashore, to get off the boat and enjoy some island life.
For Ea and the boys and myself it was the first night ashore in 10 months. We had heard from the rest of the crew that a good pension was over on the other side of the island at a bay called Anahoe – there was no road in, only a foot path.
So after hiring a ride in a four wheel drive over the precipitous mountains we found ourselves deposited at the start of a foot trail by mid morning. With backpacks and all gear set we began the two hour hike in hot and humid conditions. The grumbling of my two sons, their parents insisting that this was healthy and a good thing.
Suddenly the sounds of horses hooves could be heard coming up behind us, a caravan of four packhorses led by a couple overtook us and asked if the boys wanted to jump up into the homemade saddles and catch a free ride over to the bay. They didn’t have to ask twice! We also were able to hang some of our gear, easing the burden for the sweaty hike.
The couple Moana and his partner Marie Louise ran a small fruit plantation in the next bay on from Anahoe, so they were passing the beach where we intended to stay. This was great! The boys sat tall and joked back and forth to each other that this was the only way to go and that all this hiking stuff was for the birds.
Walking in the Marquesas, contrary to my sons opinion, is a great way to see the lay of the land. Until recently it was the only way around, so a complex network of ancient trails criss cross the islands often following the contours of the land and providing the walker with spectacular views on the way.
The abundance of mangos along the way provide good refreshment for the hot work, interspersed with a swim in the many steams and ponds.
After bidding farewell to our newfound travelling companions, with the promise of visiting them the next day, we idled up the idyllic palm swept beach towards the pension at the western end of the bay. If it sounds beautiful, well it was. Pristine waters and hopping fishes, to say the least.
Sadly the pension was shut and the owner was away – oops a bit of a mix up! This we discovered after a convivial dialog with his brother Leopold who incidentally owned the more prominent villa overlooking the beach. He was unfortunately unable to accommodate us due to the party he was holding for his friends that evening.
Faced with the long trek out and the encroaching darkness we decided to take a swim before heading back. But in true Marquese style we were invited to join the festivities and indeed stay the night.
Hasty moving of beds and sleeping gear and we were furnished in rustic opulence, the palm trees gentle sway easy to spy whilst reclining on my bunk.
That was lucky and even luckier loads of locals – some with kids the same age as ours and some older folks as well – loads of great food including locally caught octopus in coconut sauce, grilled breadfruit and one of my new passions, Poisson Cru or, raw tuna in coconut cream.
A good evening was enjoyed by all. This charming place had it all. Huge sand crabs sitting in the toilet bowl, scorpions in the shower alcove and cockroaches the size of Chinese lacquered coffee tables flying around.
We didn’t care, we were on holidays. Our host Leopold, a charming marquise surfer, entertained us with stories from his childhood bay.
We ended up staying three nights giving ourselves good time to actually do nothing for a change.
The return trip to Yukon, without the aid of horses, was broken by an overnight in the neighboring village of Ateheu to celebrate my Birthday.
Back on board it was business with four new crew joining in two days, it was a case of make ready for sea.
The log reads Monday 2nd of May, anchor aweigh our next port Daniels Bay, just around the corner to take on water. Strange as it seems even though it rained considerably in Taohoie bay the water is not drinkable.
The short passage downwind gave us a chance to get the new folks on board, setting some sails and learning the ropes so to speak.
Daniels bay with its towering cliffs and surprisingly still anchorage was a joy after the rolly conditions in the main anchorage, but there’s no town, just Daniels old shack now deserted. It seems he rented the whole show out to a TV company so they could shoot some sort of castaway program and as part of the deal Daniel got himself a triple fronted brick veneer home in the next town.
The big question was where’s the water tap? Nobody knew it was a case of look and hope! The bay was totally deserted apart from some grazing cattle, so I decided to take a walk into the next town to find Daniel himself and try and shed some light on the story.
Wandering along the foot trail, we suddenly heard the sound of water and traced it up the hill to a leaking plastic pipe. This was positive. Tracing the pipe back to the anchorage, sure as eggs there was a tap with a coil of hose back up amongst the trees about 50 meters up the beach. It just seemed so unreal in all this apparent wilderness a tap with good drinking water. It was simply a case of joining every bit of hose we had on board together to reduce the walk with our 20 liter containers to the dinghy.
5 hours later 1500 liters of pure water was safely onboard. It took a while but worth it. Our next landfall was the atoll of Farkarava in the Toamotu Archipelago 500 miles to the south, here fresh water can be difficult sometimes impossible to get.
Our passage southwest was made in relatively light conditions, the trades are a little fickle every square inch of canvas set to the light easterly breeze, but we decided to enjoy the light conditions and supplement the low mileage with our main engine at night
Sunday the 8th of May a double birthday on board Kristopher 11 years and Cæcilie 24. This time two cakes and great festivities onboard, the deck rigged from stem to stern with flags and balloons and Pizza al la Yukon.
The next morning landfall at Farkarava. Quite a different landfall in comparison to the lofty Marquises. Farkarava the second largest of these atolls with a lagoon covering about 100 square kilometers, a strip of land no more than 500 meters wide and 5 meters high stretching in an arc on her easterly side for about 50 kilometers.
The sand covered coral is all that remains of once grand volcanic island which sunk long ago and is typical of atolls in the Pacific. Farkarava is an UNESCO biosphere natural reserve. This status provides funding to preserve this lagoon from over fishing and excessive pollution and is a means of protecting these fast disappearing ecosystems around the world.
We lay on mooring a couple of days, some of us taking bicycle tours up and down the narrow strip of land. Pearl Farming is a big industry in this part of the world and the black pearls of the Toamotus are much revered. The little town ship of Rotoava has several shops selling these little beauties.
Hungering after an even more remote location we consulted the much thumbed through cruising guide and set our sights on the next atoll of Toau and the little bay of Anse Amyot – a mere indentation in the reef of this atoll and not a entrance into the Lagoon itself. This meant we were not restricted by the tidal flow in and out of the lagoon; these can be quite perilous and can run up to 7 knots in poor conditions.
We arrived at first light the next day and again had the good fortune to pick up a mooring and were immediately welcomed by our hosts, Valentine and Gaston. They, together with Valentines father are the only permanent inhabitants on this tiny island. Living off fishing and coconuts they also have the reputation of putting on a banquet for passing cruisers.
We brought the beers and they grilled lobsters and tuna and of course a serve of poisson cru, all this topped off with what else, coconut cake. Hail the great coconut; it can be used in so many ways from weaving a sail to building a house not to mention food and drink.
Sitting ashore in this tropical paradise apparently a million miles from any where we had to remark on the pristine France Telecom phone box complete with solar panels and mini dish. Valentine said “Oh that, it stopped working last year and they no come and fix! It’s ok otherwise, ring all the time, people from all over the world that have visit us ring to say hello, it make me crazy!”
These guys lived the life, they had their own Frigate bird called Mo Mo and a large Napoleon fish that visited them daily for a feed and a scratch. The waters of the bay were crystal clear and the snorkeling some of the best we have seen this voyage.
After 2 nights it was unfortunately time to shove off and get down to the Society Islands. We bid them Farewell as they shot off together in their plywood speed boat over to the neighboring atoll to do some provisioning – a round trip of 50 sea miles.
The good ship made sail in yet again in very light and very warm conditions. When we start whining about the heat we reply to one another “that’s why we are here and not home in cold Denmark“.
The Tropics are lovely but the climate is hard sometimes. We sailors clearly have the advantage of picking up a breeze and keeping the flies and mozzies at bay.
That evening, a freshening breeze resulting in a good south easterly wind. So with a reefed mainsail and a good beam sea we sighted land, Tahiti! Two points on the port bow, one of life’s fantastic landfalls. Tahiti is big and green 2200 meters high and with her little sister Moorea just 10 miles distant, they make a wonderful picture.
We spent the day sailing past Tahiti in a rather awkward swell, our primary goal, Cooks Bay, Moorea. One last night at a peaceful anchorage before heading into Papeete “the big smoke the next day“.
More about that next time.
P.S. Thanks to the many people who have contacted us from all over the world in praise of my article in Woodenboat Magazine. “It don’t make me crazy.”
Cheers David and Ea
Nuka Alofa, Tonga 20. juli 2011.