miércoles, 16 de mayo de 2007

Magical Marquesas

The Marquesas have been little short of magical. Thousand foot cliffs dive into the ocean as often as beaches dot the Costa Rican coastline. Lush valleys cut into the rugged interior of the islands filled with coco palms, mango trees, banana trees, grapefruit and lime trees, breadfruit trees, and other trees bearing delicious fruits I still don’t know the names of. The trades blow steadily at sea, but most anchorages have been surprisingly well-protected. The air temperature hovers around the mid-eighties while the water is a perfect 83 in the ocean and a delicious low 70s or so in the inland streams. And these lush, stunning islands are inhabited by under 10,000 people in total (or so I’d guess). Even Taiohae, the capital city of the group, has just 2 small grocery stores, 1 bank, 1 police station with a handful of employees, and under 2500 inhabitants. I’ve yet to come across a local who didn’t return a greeting or give a friendly smile, and despite the tragic language barrier the Polynesians still come off as some of the nicest people in the world.
Remote. Dramatic. Stunning. Lush. Warm. Such are the best words I came come upon to describe these islands. Their remoteness has been their greatest blessing, and at times feels like my greatest enemy (only because all communications are via satellite and thus very expensive, including the slow internet connection here). Being 700 miles and a $700 flight from Tahiti has prevented the tourist invasion from reaching these islands. Nature still reigns supreme. The interior of many islands remain inaccessible, the beaches are deserted (partially due to the nonos which tend to terrorize cruisers but frequently leave me alone—I guess I must smell really bad), mangoes fall to the ground to rot, coconuts are swept down gentle streams, packs of wild horses roam freely, and the locals still smile at us voyagers who do pass through.
After our stay on Fatu Hiva and stop in Atuona (where I posted the last blog if memory serves) Avventura called at the island of Tahuata, returned to the northwest coast of Hiva Oa, checked in at Oa Pou, and sailed up here to Nuku Hiva. At every anchorage there has come a time when I think it is perhaps the most beautiful place I have ever visited. Each place has its own striking, unique beauty. On Tahuata it was the calm clear waters of Hanamoenoa Bay with its shimmering white sand beach lined with coco palms and without any inhabitants. Here we snorkeled with a vast array of tropical fish, and once thirst set in we opened coconuts on the beach, squeezed in some fresh lime juice from a tree inland, and quenched our thirst before returning to the inviting waters to cool off once more. The beauty of Hanamenu Bay, Hiva Oa came from stealing dozens of fallen mangoes from the herds of wild horses who fed on them, from bodywhomping the head high waves at a beach nearby, and failing to overcome my fickle fear of heights some twenty-five feet up a thirty-five foot high coco palm. Instead we settled for the milk and meat of freshly-fallen nuts. Here Mike came across our first wild breadfruits and we were introduced to the tasty “Polynesian potatoes.” Here also we savored Trinda’s homemade key lime pie aboard Katie Lee before sailing away in the black of night for a great overnight run to Oa Pou where we arrived in water where I could see rocks on the bottom 95 feet down according to my depth sounder.
Oa Pou saw the crew of Avventura wipe the dust off their surfboards and paddle into a few small lefts at a break right beside the anchorage. We also sought local advice and went on a couple unsuccessful adventures in search of better waves (I’m sure there must be a wave in the last bay on the north end of the windward side of the island, though we never did make it there.). The first wave search was by dinghy to the gorgeous, empty bay just east of the anchorage at Hakaha where we bodywhomped small shorebreak in crystal clear water. The second adventure took us on a hike, and when we apparently took a wrong turn we ended up on the road to the very bay we had visited by dinghy. Instead of returning we hiked up to the cross for a splendid view of the anchorage and town before calling it a day.
A nice daysail brought us to the island of Nuku Hiva where we made landfall in Comptroleur Bay and dropped the hook in the middle finger of the bay where, over a century and a half earlier, Herman Melville deserted the whaling ship Acushnet and lived amongst the locals in the valley of Taipivai. From these experience came Moby Dick and Typee. We anchored well off the small town all by our lonesome and spent just 24 hours exploring the surroundings. We hiked up what is perhaps the most beautiful valley I’ve come across, cut by a large stream and filled with coco palms between two steep sides, and visited our first old Marquesan sacred site. In a grassy clearing in the hills above the valley 3 structures were erected out of lava rocks, all platforms where religious ceremonies must have taken place, and all adorned with tikis, stone carvings of the Marquesans’s gods, and strikingly similar (especially according to Thor Heyerdahl, see Fatu Hiva) to the larger stone figures of Easter Island. Back down at sea level I collected a bottle of sand from both the black sand beach at the base of the bay and a white sand beach half way out the west point where we also collected cowry shells and I saw my first Marquesan wavy-top shells (the only place other than southern California I can remember coming across them).
The past few days we’ve spent anchored off the capital in the bay of Taiohae. The first day I ventured ashore and hiked up the hillside to another Marquesan sacred site before carrying on up a small path, collecting mangoes and breadfruit along the way, and ever winding higher till I reached a glorious view of the bay below. Before long the path connected with the main road and I walked higher till the road began to curve off towards Taipivai and a car came by heading back to Taiohae. I stuck out my thumb and the truck pulled over (I have hitched rides about 7 times in the Marquesas, and have never had a car drive past when I stuck out my thumb. Twice I was picked up without sticking out a thumb. The people are so friendly you don’t think twice about accepting or asking for a ride from a total stranger.) and I hopped in the back, returning to sea level in fifteen minutes after a two hour uphill hike. Since then my time has been mostly spent working on Avventura. I spent a day and a half repairing the mainsail, re-stitching areas where the stitching chafed through on the crossing (my fingers are still numb); learned my tuner is broken beyond the point where I can fix it; changed the fuel and oil filters, and in the process discovered a leak in the engine’s cooling system which I traced to a leaky hose in the back of the ship’s water heater which took nearly 6 hours to diagnose and fix. My to-do list remains long, but it feels like time to move on so tomorrow we’ll weigh anchor and head around the point to Daniel’s Bay where I can knock off a few more items.
The Marquesas have exceeded all of my high expectations, and I have enjoyed my time here thoroughly. The lone drawback seems to be the lack of surf. We have heard there is a wave at Daniel’s Bay and are anxious to see if we find anything; but mostly I look forward to the reef passes of the Tuamotus where there should be waves. The plan is for 3 nights at Daniel’s Bay before making our way down to the Tuamotus (500 miles away), with perhaps a stop first on Oa Pou’s leeward side. Plan is to stop at as many as 6 atolls: Kauehi, Faaite (surf), Fakarava (surf), Apataki (surf), Ahe, and Rangiroa (possibly surf) before heading for Tahiti. I extended my visa today and now have until August 15 before I have to be out of French Polynesia. I plan to use every bit of that time exploring the beauty of these islands. As my SSB Radio will be out of commission till Tahiti at least I cannot guarantee I will be able to keep in touch or even update position reports, but I will do my best. Till then fair winds and following to seas to everybody on the water and Pura Vida.

PS This was written in haste and not spellchecked or re-written, so please accept my apologies for any errors in advance. It’s after 9 p.m. which is late for us “cruisers.”

viernes, 4 de mayo de 2007

Marquesas Arrival

Avventura has reached the South Seas. After 22 days at sea and over 3,000 sea miles she touched down at Fatu Hiva on April 27. The crossing started off with two and a half days of motoring southwest to get into the southeast trades. Once the wind trickled in at 0300 on Easter Sunday we set sail and kept the sails up for the remainder of the voyage but for an hour break when the seas were sloppy and the wind died. 19 days straight of sailing, only running the engine to charge the batteries every three days, wind never forward of the beam and varying between a comfortable broad reach and downwind the entire time as the trades varied between southeast and easterly. We came across two nights of squally weather on the crossing, one with some lightning about, and both of which made sleep impossible and sailing difficult, but for the most part the trades persisted wonderfully and the sails propelled us along at a six knot average. The lone downside of the crossing was the persistent sloppy swells, often coming from a couple different directions, and rarely from the same quarter as the wind. The swells kept Avventura rocking and wreaked havoc on her sails, spilling their wind often, but our speed remained constant and the miles ticked away, averaging over 135 NM a day. Fish were scarce for us, though to be fair we didn’t fish much in the middle of the Pacific where I was loath to slow down if we did catch a fish so we refrained from setting any lines. Wildlife was equally scarce with the exception of flying fish which persisted the length of the crossing, flying from our bow wave and doing various acrobatics as they fled from our path. In the midst of the Pacific, as some may have noticed, my SSB Automatic Antenna Tuner broke which made it difficult to send any e-mails or position reports. The tuner is still broken so communication may be scarce from me in the coming weeks and even months. Internet access is far from cheap here, as are all other communication forms.
Landfall was a moment I’ll never forget. After 22 days of seeing nothing but the vast blue, oft-white-capped sea, land sprang from the sea at sunset on April 26. Mike and I were eating dinner in the cockpit when I glanced ahead beneath the mainsail and saw a change—land under the cumulus clouds on the horizon! A hoot escaped involuntarily as I raced for the bow and gazed in disbelief. A mix of emotions assaulted me and I was left on the brink of tears. All the long years of dreaming of the moment, all the hard work that had gone into making it a reality, all the people who have helped along the way, all the long night watches, the squalls and calms had led to that very moment. And the sight of my first South Pacific island overwhelmed me and assaulted my emotions like I hadn’t expected.
After a night of lingering offshore we arrived at the Bay of Virgins on Fatu Hiva in the early morning hours of April 27. Fatu Hiva rises dramatically from the sea with sheer cliffs leading up to the ridge of the island, covered in dense vegetation, and the Bay of Virgins is a little nook tucked at the base of a valley on the leeward side of the island. We spent three glorious days on Fatu Hiva, hiking in the lush rainforest, gathering fresh mangoes, eating coconuts, and just enjoying the feel of stable land under my feet. On the first day Mike and I followed a stream inland for an hour or so till it ended in a sheer 200 foot high waterfall. The flow of water was gentle and the pool at its base stagnant, but it was awe-inspiring nonetheless. The following day we went on a long hike into the hills, following a rugged road over to the island’s other town, Omoa. On the way there we were given a much-needed break when a car drove past and we were given a lift by an old local and his grandson who were searching for bananas and other fruit along the road. The hike back took four full hours, eating fresh mangoes along the way and enjoying the spectacular views of the inland valleys and the steep hills falling to the deep blue sea.
With the arrival of May 2 it came time to continue on. In the early morning we picked up anchor and had a nice day sail up to Hiva Oa, dropping the hook in Baie Tahuku close to the island’s main town of Atuona. This is where Paul Gaugin spent his last days after a stop in Panama where he helped construct the Canal. Yesterday (May 3) I hiked around the area, visited the cemetery where Gaugin is buried, and enjoyed a refreshing day of strolling around in the rain, walking into the hillsides and soaking up the aura of the rainforest. Spent the afternoon reading on a seawall overlooking a black sand beach and bodysurfing small waves at the beach break. We will be leaving here on the morrow for Tahuata and plan to spend a month in the Marquesas followed by a month in the Tuamotus before heading for Tahiti in early July. As I said, communication will be limited till I get the Antenna Tuner repaired, so bear with me…

From the gorgeous South Pacific where the voyage has just begun…adios de Avventura.