The Soaring Marquesas Islands and the Lows of Boat Maintenance

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Thursday 19 June 2014

Adina in Hiva Oa

Adina in Hiva Oa

Our Pacific Ocean crossing had us arrive in the town of Atuona on the island of Hiva Oa, one of the ten islands that make up the Marquesas Islands. Keep zooming in on google maps and you’ll soon find it. Up to now we’ve realised we could name a place and the average person would be able to place Adina on a map. But now we are in the throes of the many islands that populate the Pacific Ocean the average person, ourselves initially included, will need to deploy an atlas or google maps! Our first pit stop is French Polynesia made up of five groups of islands – the Austral Islands, the Gambiers, Marquesas Islands, Tuamotos Islands and the Society Islands (including well know destinations such as Tahiti and Bora Bora). We are visiting the latter three island groups before moving further west on to the Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji etc. But relax, the concentration can stop as for now the geography lesson is at an end. Although don’t close that atlas or shut down google maps as you’ll need them to follow us through the Marquesas Islands!

After getting some sleep after our arrival, we headed into town to do important things like buy baguettes (these islands belong to the French), source internet and find James our Pacific Ocean crossing friend some flights home from the Marquesas Islands. We’re usually quite dab hands at getting to know the lay of the land having done it numerous times but Hiva Oa was not as straight-forward. No coffee shops with wifi, no bakery, no butcher. Internet could be bought on a pre-paid card after queuing for an hour in the Post Office and even then it hardly worked. But James got flights and we retired to a small restaurant for lunch and to discuss plans. The specialities here are goat and Poisson Cru. Goat comes in curry form or with coconut milk – both we can report are not too bad, if a little tough as the Marquesan hills are very steep and the goats get a good work-out. The Poisson Cru, however, was a firm favourite. It’s very similar to the divine ceviche we love but as the white fish (typically wahoo) goes into the lime juice, coconut milk is added and the dish is served immediately so your thinly sliced fish is enjoyed more raw than it is in ceviche. Very, very more-ish.

Tikis in Hiva Oa

Tikis in Hiva Oa

Happily, James was to stay with us another week so we made plans to see some of Hiva Oa by land and then sail around it. A Danish boat called Ansoba who anchored next to us in the Galapagos Islands arrived and we arranged to do a land tour with them. Ansoba is owned by two retired headmasters, Gordon and Tina, and on board they had their youngest daughter Andreas and her boyfriend Mikhael who are spending nine months sailing on Ansoba. We’ve quickly become good friends and indeed plan to sail together for a while. The tour was a guided 4WD trip along some bumpy, winding roads.

DSC_8612 (Small)To put it mildly, the Marquesas are unique and often breath-taking. “It’s just so beautiful” is a sentence repeated several times a day here. Lush and green, with majestic hills and peaks soaring into the sky, a mixture of palm trees and wild forest, you get the feeling you are walking in a 3D version of one of the wonderful BBC ‘Planet’ series or one of those National Geographic magazine articles that always took my breath away as a youngster.

James and Pamplemousse!

James and Pamplemousse!

The islands are abundant with fruit such as bananas, papaya, limes and the rather unique pamplemousse. Pamplemousse is essentially a very big grapefruit but it tastes a little sweeter. You just keeping wanting more but the risks are a rush to the toilet if you over indulge! And as for bananas, the locals have shown us you can slice and dice them in so many ways. James, who is a bit of a banana addict, was in heaven (apologies for revealing that, James!)

Beach sundowners with Ansoba

Beach sundowners with Ansoba

After a few days in Hiva Oa, we upped our stern and bow anchors and set off to circumnavigate the island and find a bay in the north, while our friends on Ansoba set off to enjoy a white beach on an island called Tahuata, to the south. For some curious reason the regular south-east winds became northerly meaning we couldn’t stay in our planned bay and had to make a dash south. In fading light we anchored next to Ansoba in Hanamoenoa Bay on the island of Tahuata. The bay is a sailor’s favourite, reached only by boat with little more than a golden sand beach and palm trees laden with ripening coconuts.

Early the next morning, I woke to see Gordon, Tina, Andreas and Michael snorkelling and shouting they could see a manta ray. One of my life’s ambitions has been to spontaneously grab my mask and fins and jump off a boat to swim with manta rays. The time had arrived. There were two of them who idly swam around us and for fifteen minutes we enjoyed their company, getting as close as we dared. After a while Ansoba went back to their boat for breakfast. I decided to hang around, and likewise so did one of the manta rays. The manta was curious and friendly. He came swimming out of the blue, looked at me and then proceeded to peel off three perfect loops, swam right up to me, looking me in the eye as if to say “Now can you do that?” I had so loved playing with sea lions in the Galapagos but there was no way I could do three loops and instead offered up a messy single loop, a few un-coordinated spirals and a rather giddy head. For 40 minutes we played and checked each other out. Standing still in the clear blue water, the manta ray would circle, coming and going, elegantly gliding by and looking me in the eye no more than 30cm away. It was so easy to admire this majestic creature, at times just dipping directly under me while at other times I struggled to keep away from his large black and white wing tips as he turned and banked next to me. A little sprinkle of magic.

More stunning scenery in Nuku Hiva

More stunning scenery in Nuku Hiva

We stayed a few days, a dinghy trip to the village a couple of bays down, swimming and enjoying drinks with Ansoba on the beach. We sent James off for a snorkel to a nice spot abundant with fish. He returned summarising it so well by saying he was really struggling to work out his top favourite experiences of this trip. We headed back to Hiva Oa to drop off James. The bay there is crowded so you need to use a bow anchor and a stern anchor to squeeze everyone in. We now knew what we were doing, prepared well and it was easy – well easy-ish (for sailors see our Sailing Notes on how to perfect this!)

 

James and Tom stroll the beach

James and Tom stroll the beach

The next morning we bid James farewell. He’d been with us a week in the Galapagos, crossed the Pacific Ocean, and then enjoyed a week in the Marquesas. In our minds that’s a pretty unique and special ocean crossing. James is an experienced sailor and it was such a pleasure to have him on board. He fitted in so well, chipped in with everything, always positive, always contributing, a great sense of humour and we just could not have asked for more. Our sincerest thanks James. We hope the journey will stay in your memory as long as it will stay in ours. And we do think of you every time we buy a banana tree for the boat!

The beautiful bay of Fatu Hiva

The beautiful bay of Fatu Hiva

So back to just the two of us, we headed off south on a very bumpy, windy crossing to the famous anchorage of the Bay of Virgins on the island of Fatu Hiva. We squeezed in just as it was getting dark, trying to drop anchor in an empty spot. The reason it was empty, we learnt the next day, was that many had tried there before but it was shallow sand over rock and no good for anchoring. So after three attempts and a friendly call on the radio from another boat, with it now pitch dark, we headed to the back of the bay and anchored in 30m of water. And it got windy! The bay with its steep sides meant the wind gusted down and through the bay. Most boats like us ended up doing an anchor watch which means one person stays up and watches the boat and the boats around us while the other one sleeps. Added to that, there was a swell and the boat was rolly. The next day, no let-up. But we left the keys in the ignition, agreed to share boat watching with another boat and headed off for an enjoyable waterfall walk and more “It’s just so beautiful” exclamations! Given the wind strength we decided to head back to the island of Tahuatu the next day, finding a slightly less windy and rolly anchorage.

Taioha'e Bay, Nuku Hiva

Taioha’e Bay, Nuku Hiva

Since hitting the Pacific our fishing success rate seems to have gone up. Crossing from Fatu Hiva to Tahuata we cast in our rod for the first time in a good while. Halfway along it shot out. Whenever we’ve hooked bigger fish we’ve had crew to help us – not this time. A real struggle ensued but Tom’s mind goes into another league; his technique has improved and there’s a definite determination – it’s coming in. Three frigate birds started to chase the fish fighting beneath the surface; when they are below the surface you know they are big – up went the determination. As it dashed around we knew it was a treasured Mahi Mahi (Dorado). We hauled it in, saw the size of it and wondered how we’d get it on board. Did we mention determination? Tom hauled the last bit of line in by hand. The fish was nearly as tall as him. Our preferred method of dispatch is a dash of cheap whisky to the gills – this Mahi Mahi finished our bottle! We weighed it and it came in at 30lbs (19kg). Too much fish for us, we shared it out!

Salt, sea and constant use in oceans all take their toll on boats and after two ocean crossings and various long passages Adina was becoming no exception. Sailors spend a lot of time maintaining their boats and some nutters even enjoy it! On the whole we’d had good fortune since our last run of bad luck in Gibraltar. But the omens were changing and our ‘to do’ list was seriously starting to add up. What’s tougher in remote spots is supplies are hard to come by and despite having a lot of spares, you can’t carry everything. Every big passage we do, we prepare for by spending a day or two going through a comprehensive check list. But items were starting to fail. Our SSB radio we use to send email and get weather wasn’t working properly, the cursed electric genoa had a broken circuit breaker, the generator was out of order with a broken metal pipe, we couldn’t use our spinnaker, the water towable generator wasn’t working and so on.

Always start with the priorities. The generator! An item you need to recharge your boat’s batteries, we need to use it every day. Our Fischer Panda generator is being a right little princess at the moment; we nurture her and love her and for a number of days she works, then she sulks and we spend an age working out what’s wrong with her. This time undoing a pipe to clear part of a broken impeller, the pipe simply sheared off and we had no spare. Brain wave time, we had some serious steel epoxy (claiming to be the strongest glue in the world) and, much to the surprise of a very experienced sailor who advised us it wouldn’t work, it worked! Generator back up and running!

Hatihe'u Bay, Nuku Hiva

Hatihe’u Bay, Nuku Hiva

After two days of boat maintenance we headed off to the island of Nuku Hiva where we knew we could get internet and it was time to order a list of parts, including some big heavy new house batteries to be shipped to Tahiti. More wind, another lumpy anchorage! It seemed we weren’t the only ones ordering or waiting for spares. The little harbour was full of stranded sailors using the internet to order parts or waiting for deliveries. It was almost depressing. And our luck was just not going well. The seas got very lumpy and when securing our dinghy to the dock we were advised to move it to a more secure location as one dinghy had already been punctured by the dock and sank! That didn’t work and within 24 hours three dinghies had been badly damaged and sadly ours was one of them. The bottom of our outboard engine was smashed clean off. We couldn’t believe it. On the upside, we enjoyed a fantastic tour of the island with a French lady who had lived there for 15 years and our heads were reeling with the beauty of it all. But we were soon tiring of working away hard on the internet trying to get supplies from around the world shipped at some cost for us to pick up in Tahiti. Luckily we’ve found a good American company, Marine Warehouse, that is able to source a lot for us, consolidate it and it’s all being shipped to Tahiti for us to pick up in June. And sailors are a good bunch – friends Phil and Sara on Lochmarin took off their spare outboard engine and bought it round for us to use until Tahiti! Thank you!

Daniels Bay, Nuku Hiva

Daniels Bay, Nuku Hiva

In need of cheering up, we sailed a whopping 5 miles to a little well protected tiny bay called Daniel’s Bay by sailors, so named after a man who, although now in pastures green, used to help sailors with fresh supplies and water. Nice story! And it was just the tonic we needed. Not too much wind, a flat-ish sea, and peace and quiet.
The village had only ten families and we’d been advised to do the 5 hour round trip hike to the waterfall there and also take up the opportunity for the lunch often offered up by a local family. As we walked along the green grass road that constituted the main road of the village, we met the family and after a friendly chat agreed to the lunch offering of the day of goat with coconut milk.

Village main road, Daniels Bay

Village main road, Daniels Bay

Unbeknownst to us the waterfall is the third highest in the world. Unlike the magnificent Iguazu waterfalls in Brazil/Argentina or the Niagra Falls in Canada which are well visited, this waterfall had a single dirt path that led through semi-jungle and was only visited by occasional sailors stopping by. More “It’s just so beautiful” sentences became enhanced with “This is just paradise” statements. The path wandered across flowing rivers you had to wade through, lush jungle and even an ancient deserted village full of rocks that the jungle had swallowed up. It was surreal; anywhere else there would have been concrete path all the way, a $20 dollar entry tag and busloads of us wanting to visit! The single waterfall pounded into a pool we happily swam in, easing away the boat maintenance pains.

Tom getting coconut opening lessons

Tom getting coconut opening lessons

Back at the village we stopped off for our lunch with another boat of Belgiums. The family of Teiki, Kua and their son Matio were just lovely, indeed Teiki (the father) was quite a character. Marquesan tattoos are rated as some of the finest in the world and Teiki had half of his face covered with one and just looked the part. Fear not, we weren’t tempted! He sat wringing out coconut milk from a fresh coconut. While we waited we were served fresh lime juice – in fact everything we ate the family produced. Even the goat, Teiki had caught himself! They fish, catch octopus by hand, farm cows, and fruit and vegetables grow in abundance. We sat wondering whether they actually knew that they really did live in a little piece of paradise. Teiki told us the only thing he needed was gas for cooking on rainy days which he’d fetch on his horse from town. Kua, his wife, chipped in she needed flour and oil for cooking, but that was it. We passed away the afternoon chatting and Teiki gave us some coconut opening lessons. We could easily have spent a week there and we would have loved to have just spent it getting to know the little village, going fishing etc.

Oa Pou

Oa Pou

Off we headed for our final Marquesan island of Oa Pau, which the Gods deemed would be the day the supply ship arrived, which also takes tourists form Tahiti, and the town would have music, dancing, BBQ and the sailing community had been invited in advance by email. One very crowded anchorage and more swell so a bumpy boat again. We met up with our friends from Ansoba who we’d agreed to travel to the Tuamotous islands with. Two days of getting ready and stocking up the boat as the Tuamotous are reputed to have even fewer supplies.

Fatu Hiva

Fatu Hiva

Our time in the Marquesas Islands was at an end. Yes, we were worn down by boat maintenance and a run of bad luck, yes the anchorages we were in were windy and rolly, but all that will fade in the memory. What will last are our memories of this unique gorgeous part of the world, the ever so-friendly people, the constant wow factor. If I had choice of my last day on earth, I’d go spend it with that family who live in paradise…

So Adina sets sail for four days to the Tuamotos Islands. Known as the dangerous archipelago, these are a string of coral atolls spread between the Marquesas Islands and the Society Islands. Essentially lagoons surrounded by low lying coral reefs that have nothing more than palm trees, white beaches and a few villages. They are known as dangerous as they can only be seen from ten miles away and sailors used to pass around them and avoid the strong currents between them. But now with GPS and better charts they are becoming a popular stop. Not to say it’s any easier, as the atolls are entered via narrow passes and you need to time your arrival for slack water and have good weather to enter them. That and the winds can be fickle and strong. We’re going to need to be vigilant and safety as ever is the number one priority. Onward we go!

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