Where in the South Pacific are we now?
Just a bit about the Marquesas. Rugged, wild, steep cliffs and deep valleys describe the Marquesas Islands. Reefs haven’t formed yet, possibly due to the colder south equatorial current. The Marquesas are known for swelling anchorages due to exposure of ocean currents and yet typically visited by those on sailboats crossing the Pacific Ocean. The younger of the archipelagos, the volcanic mountains have not receded yet, remaining tall and auspicious. Sharing the same latitude as the Solomon Islands, these mountainous, cliff bound islands are the farthest north of the high islands of the South Pacific. Known as Te Fenua Enata (“The Land of Men”) by its Polynesian people, it suffered under the visits of explorers and missionaries who inadvertently brought alcohol and diseases unknown to the indigenous people. There are twelve islands, however only six are inhabited. Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou, and Ua Huka lie in the northwest area and Hiva Oa, Tahuata, and Fatu Hiva lie in the south east area. While all speak the same language, dialectal differences can sometimes be confusing. Hiva Oa (Atuona) is well known as the home as well as burial site to Paul Gaugin in the early 1900’s. While Gaugin’s paintings tell of a mystical beauty, his love of alcohol and debauchery kept him in constant conflict with the officials. The subtropical climate lends itself to an ubundance of fruits such as lemons, pamplemousse, bananas, mangoes, papayas. More taro and breadfruit (Uru) grow than what can be consumed. Marquesans of pre-European discovery, had houses built on high platforms known as paepae. Many of these remnants can still be found, the black grey lava rocks appearing oddly unified in the forests. There are ceremonial places called tohua where festivals of great importance took place, and stone temples or meae still hidden in the jungle terrain. There are still a few tikis remaining in situ. The Marquesans were seen as warriors, often noted historically with their war clubs as symbolic virtues. And yes, there was known cannibalism. Yet they were also known for their intricate carvings and designs, whether on wood, stone, or even tattoos although this practice was banned by the catholic missionaries. It is believed that both Hawaii and Easter Island were colonized from the sea faring Marquesans. Fatu Hiva was the first island to be named by Alvaro de Mendana in his second voyage of exploration from Peru. He named the southern group of islands Las Marquesas de Mendoza for the Spanish viceroy and then proceeded with a murdering spree in Tahuata that would leave over 200 dead Tahuatans/Polynesians. The northern Marquesas Islands were “discovered” by Joseph Ingraham from the American vessel Hope almost 20 years later. The decline of that indigenous population came with disease, alcohol, and firearms as American whalers often called in to the islands. The French took possession in the 1800s, but that didn’t stop some Peruvian slavers to kidnap many Marquesans slaves for work. Some returned, bringing an epidemic of smallpox back with them. Their numbers continued to decline. With numbers declining perilously close to extinction, they have survived and islands now become the hope and inspiration for a simpler life as many leave their first world problems behind them.
We left Fatu Hiva and Tahuata was our next island as we moved up the southern chain of the Marquesas Islands. The smallest of the six inhabited islands, it is only fifteen km long and nine km wide. Tahu means fire and ata means spirit. It is said that this was the island where the Marquesans would have their first experience with the hao’e (white man). The main village, Vaitahu is on the west coast and the popular anchorage of Hanamoenoa is just north of Vaitahu. The village is known for its bone carvers as well as wood carvers, it’s churches and it’s ruins. The water is usually clear as there are no rivers to run off into this bay. However, in the typical fashion of “Captain Ron” (If you haven’t already, watch this classic comedy), Hanamoenoa would be our stop on this island. We were looking for a restful night before continuing on to the north side of Hiva Oa and then to Nuku Hiva (to begin our CDS Carte de Sejour process for our long stay visa ), we could not make out the island of Ua Pou in the distance, however, I am pleased to say after years of being teased regarding the Green Flash, John finally saw it. We were on the boat, and multiple times in past evenings he would make some snarky comment about possibly seeing it, waiting for it, and maybe this would be the night, mocking me the entire time. I suggested that he have another sundowner (drink) and that might help him focus and at the very least, stop the mockery. Yet it would be here, that I made the comment that the sky looked right, and as we watched, we did experience the Green Flash (and without cocktails…) as the sun dropped from the horizon. I am vindicated. The water isn’t clear here, however, the Marquesas are not known for their clear diving water yet there is some diving with pelagics out deeper past the bays where the current is often strong. The Marquesas are touted to be the youngest of the islands and therefore not many reefs surrounding them and are instead known for lush mountainous terrain, tikis, wood carvers (the abundance of trees in these lush islands) and the resurgence of their history with the art of tattoo. Oh, and their fruit, including the pamplemousse ( a tastier cousin to the grapefruit)…..I am having to pace myself with one a day and hope that I will find a way to replenish soon…. Thankfully, John does not like them (or fruit at all!). We have been traveling solo since have left Fatu Hiva. The beaches are quiet and there has been no one else in the anchorages.
These islands are captivating in every tropical sense. The weather is delightful to the skin, the scenery is pleasing to the eye, and the desire to stay longer is easy to be lured into. The coconut palms that seemingly cover every inch of ground make it challenging to believe that these islands used to have a population well over 80,000 people in the early 1800’s before more settlers arrived! Even now the population isn’t near that but it is well over the 2,000 inhabitants that it had decreased to at its worst. It is easy to see how one could wax poetic about the islands.
It was a semi restful night with some swell, as is normal with all of The Marquesas. There simply is no protection from the open sea to the bays. We are heading for the north side of Hiva Oa, the island we first made landfall but that was on the east side. We will sail north along the west coast and tuck in at the top of the island. Here we will find Baie de Hanamenu. As these archipelagos are under a strategic location plan for France, the main language is French although the kids are learning their own Marquesan language as well as English. School age kids attend the elementary grades in their respective island but will attend high school on the bigger islands and of course, university in Tahiti. They can also live in France to study. We haven’t seen as many kids as we anticipated by reading other sailors accounts in the compendium. The compendium? Have I not told you about The Compendium? We printed off the Soggy Paws Compendium for the areas we planned to travel. Soggy Paws is the originator, a sailing couple that began keeping excellent notes and coordinates of places they stopped in the areas. They had other sailors contribute what they had found as well, and now you can imagine, as they have continued to update it, that it is almost a bible of resources for the new sailors in the area. Everything from GPS coordinates, hazards in and out of the water, where to find fresh water for boat tank refills, fuel, groceries, and well, you name it. The perfect wheel has been created. If you get a chance, go to the internet and type in Soggy Paws Marquesas Compendium. Even though you might not be sailing this way soon, you may find interesting accounts from various sailboats.
Hanamenu is beautiful, we had a lovely walk not to far into the jungle to see the paepae. We were able to see the small, fresh spring waterfall called The Hollywood Pool. On our return, we saw a large mango and stopped to ask some guys sitting there if we might have it. We are quite uncertain what they said, as I am sure they don’t know either as all four were glassy eyed and higher than a kite. Their dog seemed a bit anxious and the situation did not feel comfortable at all, so we thanked them and turned heels and walked away. On the beach, a grandmotherly woman watched over a couple of young kids playing in the sand and water as she waved to us. We stopped to say hello, her English minimal and our French equally little, we used the universal smile. And we had a nice snorkel where the visibility was okay and in the distance we could make out the eagle ray but had to common sting rays to entertain us.
Unfortunately, the no-no’s also love the Marquesas. No No’s. Noseeums. Sand Flies. Tiny, barely visible to the naked eye, these ravenous biting flies that avoid some, but delight in absolutely attacking other humans. John is in the first category. I, sadly, am in the second as evidenced by the tiny round scars that vaguely resemble freckles. Oh, we hear various reasons as to why some get bitten more than others, or how it is gender specific, and how you can build up a tolerance (seriously?!?!), but once bitten and what I mean is once bitten multiple times at any given time, the reaction is the same. Red welts with a painful stinging itch that is unconsolable with normal remedies. My only alternative is Benadryl and that makes me sleepy but keeps me from scratching my hide of the bones. Trust me, I have tried things I dare not even admit, let alone put into print. Let’s just say that any and all liquids you can find on a boat have been applied. AfterBite, my favorite tube of burning liquid containing seven syllable chemical compounds has now resorted to sodium bicarb. Yes, only five syllables and no satisfying sting that says “I got you covered” when applied to a bite or sting. I became a pin cushion of welts on my legs (later, over a hundred could be counted!) Reminiscent of Roatan, Honduras and my bites there, I sigh as I wake in the morning to cover myself with oily 98% DEET. We had a white sand beach and thought it would be nice to snorkel. Gentle swell of the beach made for an easy landing and take off. Nothing left to do but scratch.
After a couple nights here in Hanamenu, we planned to visit the island of Ua Huka. We left Hanamenu with a motor and then soon, sails only. As we neared the bay, we could see and feel the powerful swell and inside we could see masts bobbing back and forth like fast metronomes. Nope. Not doing it. We are looking for calm water, not rock and roll. We were hoping to find somewhere, where the swell would be minimized so we didn’t have to hold on to something solid while we slept. We had heard of a bay, well protected on all three sides anyway, where the swell was absent. This would be Anaho Bay on the north side of Nuku Hiva. We turned off to sail away and will sail through the night rather than sit in an anchorage that will beat us up. Our sail down to Fatu Hiva from Hiva Oa was a beat, however coming back up north should be a charm. Most of it was a pleasant sail in fact, but there were times of little to no wind and the iron sail (the engine) had to be used. The waves. Oh those waves. The wind and the waves just could not, would not synchronize. There were a couple times when, off the stern, that one wave holding lots and lots of salty water would throw itself upon us.
Nuku Hiva is the largest of the islands (339 sq km)and was originally annexed to the US in the early 1800’s by Capt. David Porter from the Essex. Unfortunately the act was never ratified by congress. Melville’s Typee was written after a one month stay in the Taipivai valley in the mid 1800’s and is still considered a classic narrative and even Robert Louis Stevenson (In The South Seas) penned his love for Hatiheu bay although Jack London (South Sea Tales) wrote of Taipivae as a wretched swamp , in a style that is Jack London’s, a product of his time.
Nuku Hiva Island
Baie de Anaho. Our sail was fine as we neared Nuku Hiva, the wind dying out the last hour or so. Oddly enough, the overnight sail here or there now feels more like an annoyance as compared to the passage across the pacific where you get into a routine. As we turned the corner and came into the bay, the calm serenity could be felt immediately. There were already a few sailboats here. We turned to the bay portion on our right, where the reef was tricky and quiet shallow at low tide. We knew there was a small pension that offered a dinner if you arranged it in advance. There is a farm in this valley that grows fruit to be carried over the mountains to Atouona. Right now, we just wanted a still, non rolling boat. We wanted to feel it’s non movement. Even with other boats here, 6 in the area, it was serene and quiet. Our neighbor boat informed us that there are reef manta that swim among the reef regularly, unafraid of human swimmers. The visibility isn’t great as all the rich food in the water is what keeps the Reef Manta and others content to not leave. Grab my snorkel! Where’s my mask? Say no more, just hand me my fins and the GoPro. And after a quiet sleep tonight, in a non-rolling bed, I will get up and snorkel again! This is heaven. The temperature is perfect! We have heard others speak of Anaho bay and how they ended up staying up to six weeks, afraid to take the rolling again. Look out, we may just stay as well! It is well protected with high mountainous cliffs surrounding and except for the entrance. On shore, there is a lovely little shower house and a tap of spring water that is potable. A nearby home serves as a pension and yes, while not the original people noted in the compendium, they do serve Marquesan home made meals to those wishing to buy a meal off the boat. Roosters can be heard doing their cock-a-doodle-doo, the similar wild chickens often seen in Hawaii, sharing some of the same lineage as when they were brought by early explorations. Baby goats could be heard, calling out to their moms on the mountain side as they foraged on the abundance of green. We did not see or hear any wild pigs but an occasional crack from gunshot could be heard, suggesting someone had located one for the family meals. John set up a dinner off the boat for us on the next evening. The boat bottom was beginning to look a little like a science experiment as growth (normal process) was beginning to accumulate and would need to be scraped off. SY Ocean Maiden (Silke, German) was here, as well as SV Cinderella (another Washington, U.S. boat), SY Blue Spirit (Holland), and a few others. I recognized one of the sailboats as being a moderator for the Facebook Page ‘Women Who Sail’ originally from New York. Quite often, our sailboat stands out and is recognized as a Passport 40, the most popular Robert Perry design, and I am amazed at those who recognize it here in such remote places. We are hearing of another Passport 40 also sailing French Polynesia just ahead of us, as everyone asks if we know SV Little Wing. We don’t…yet. It seems boats are continually hop-scotching around the bays, some stay only a day here but a few days (or sometimes weeks such as Anaho Bay!) there, and it is only a matter of time before you meet up with the same cruisers. The only exception being, those who have chosen to not jump through the bureaucratic hoops of a Long Stay Visa or Carte de Sejour. Those on a short visas must keep moving if they are to see as much as possible and be in New Zealand before the start of cyclone season of the Southern Hemisphere. As we were late arrivals (per Mexico departures) and all the puddle jumpers had already moved through, now we were smack in the middle of cruisers who crossed through the Panama Canal, some came from Galapagos. Our cruising network seems to be mostly British, European, and Australian!
It is the evening of our date night. Our dinner out. Dress is casual. Clean t-shirt and shorts. We take the dinghy to shore, tie up and walk the path to the pension. I am well oiled with DEET as I am still scratching miserably and not wanting to add more. We see sweet little baby goats tied up along the path, keeping them close to home and their moms not far away. We were taken around the house to the back yard where a table was set up, lighting hung from the trees and we had a view of our boat and the expanse of the bay before the final sunlight fell to night. Do we like curry? Why yes, we do! Do we like goat? Well, we are open to trying! Excellent. And it was. Over rice, some mango, some salad. It was a delightful meal. We were leaving and stopped at the house to pay when a couple of young French men were speaking to the owner. They translated for us, the meal was the equivalent of $15 usd and yes, dollars were fine. Did we enjoy the goat? They killed it just that morning for us. What?! Petting the baby goats on the way back, I wondered which one was missing.
Snorkel, snorkel, snorkel some more. Indeed, there are a few reef Manta here. So graceful, so elegant, and not at all scary even though they technically are part of the shark family. I am loving being in the water more although the clarity is not wonderful, I am still able to get some video. We added to our library of dive books when we were in the states, adding the Reef Fish and Reef Creatures of the Indo-pacific by Humann/DeLoach. The fish are so much more colorful in the South Pacific as we go further west.
There is a small school here, designed for a one or two week camp for young Marquesans to learn the arts and history of their ancestors. At the end of their time here, they put on a show for whoever is anchored and chooses to come, there is no charge. We joined seven or eight other boats in watching the kids perform dances that spoke of their ancestors life. The pig dance and the bird dance were big hits and they had audience participation which led to many laughs. Returning to our boats after, the moon lit up the sky, what a magical place and how fortunate we are to be here. We spent a week here before moving around the island to Taihoe Bay. If it rains, we catch water and if it doesn’t, we make water.
After spoiling ourselves with calm rest filled nights, we decided to go north, around the point and back int to Taihoe Bay. We raised the main as we motored out of the entrance, the wind filled in and we let the jib out. The wind petered out until we reached the corner. The wind filled back in and we were off to the races as a squall showed up at the same time we did. With wind on the beam and waves over the bow, we sped along. The rain came down and we were soaked from the salt water waves over the cabin and rinsed by the fresh rain falling from above. Over and over and over, this cycle repeated.
The melon head dolphins enjoyed our passage as they bounce dangerously close to the bow and at the stern. So graceful and quick, none ever seem to be in danger. We could have stopped in to Daniels Bay or Controller’s Bay. Hoping to see them when we leave, made us think to pass them for now as well as the desire to stay in legal line with immigration and our CDS (Carte de Sejour).
Marquesan Tattoos. Known for the intricacy and quality, not only the written language and story telling, but as a practice of protection agains natural or supernatural threats, the Marquesas tattoos might well be considered the ultimate art. Although for many centuries and nearly all civilizations, pigmented skin has been recognized. European explorers marveled in their interest of the tatau of the islanders. Tatau had significance in every part of daily life for both male and females. The tattooer played an important role, in the development of the ancient civilization to the solidarity of daily life. Banned by the missionaries, revered by the explorers. While techniques and instruments have changed, the history has had a a resurgence.
It rained. Actually, rain is a understatement. It poured. Buckets of water. We rounded the final point to enter the bay when the clouds opened up and sun shine on the bay and the village. We entered like drowned rats. We could see some cruising friends already here as SV Kokopelli was anchored. Here we met Vicky and Jeff, of SY Wraith, enroute back to Australia where they hailed from.
We had the opportunity meet a young man, Teiki Huukena in Taihoe Bay. He is humble and gentle despite his almost bear like presence. I had already expressed an interest in the tradition of tattoo with the crossing of the Pacific. What I learned over the next several day however, impressed upon me the importance of patutiki or Marquesan tattoo. In the end, what Teiki said to me and what he has written in his book, a compendium of Marquesan patutiki dictionary and years of research, it is an example of his pride for his ancestry and his art. “I have often heard it said and seen written on forums that Westerners did not have the right to have Polynesian tattoos (I am of course speaking about Marquesan tattoos), because “these tattoos belong to our families and ancestors…. So be reassured, for those who fear, there is no problem n having yourself tattooed with Marquesan symbols, even if you are not Polynesian. Quite to the contrary, it is a real pleasure that you wish to share our culture, insofar as your wishing to wear it permanently on your skin. I find it more than honorable that you have such a high level of consideration for our culture and tupuna (ancestors).”
I was the first to set under the care and artistry of Teiki. Little did I know that John, who maintained a “not me” stance was planning similarly. With our coffees in hand that morning, Teiki and I sat and talked of what was important to me and what the Marquesan symbols would look like. The Haha’ua (Manta Ray) a protector animal, wisdom would be the focal symbol and within it would lie many more symbols of importance in my life. With a couple of breaks to make sure we were of the same thoughts and of course, another cup of coffee, some laughs as I had been covered with no no bites that he could have played a connect the dot game, my ankle tatau was complete. There was no pain for me, I actually relished in the needle against the bites as it felt better than scratching. Instructions for care and covering to prevent dirt or immediate germs to the skin, and I was as surprised as I was thrilled. I had actually done it. I have my tattoo with all the meaning attached. With a lift in my step (more so because of the no no bites) I walked back to the Snack Vaeki (a small food service) where John and my friends would be waiting. Also sitting there at the Snack Vaeki, was Henry. Henry immediately noticed my new tattoo and that it was a Manta Ray. Henry, a local Marquesan asked me if I knew why the Manta was so important to the Marquesans. I knew something more would come of this, so I politely said no, why? Henry sat back on the bench and tole me how the Manta’s were a connection to our ancestors, and before the missionaries insisted they would go “up in the air after dying”, Marquesans believed they would go “down in to the ocean and become these important creatures, that Manta were their ancestors souls”. In fact, on special occasion a chief would allow a manta to be harvested and that the entire village would share in the communal with their ancestor. And, the fact that this protective creature with its wisdom had its tail wrapping around behind my achilles tendon and ending under the other ankle bone would protect me with every step. Okay, cool factor just hit the top. Henry then asked if I wanted to see his story. He pulled back his shirt and took my on a family trip around his body that included his parents early demise and being raised by his sisters. I began to notice more and more of the delicate symbols that before appeared as simple design. SV Kokopelli met up with us in Nuku Hiva and we laughed about continuing Brian’s birthday, calling as he likes to celebrate longer than a day, Bri-Fest. When he thought he might consider a tattoo, it seemed only fitting that it would be here and he should be introduced to Teiki, starting with Teiki’s book. The next day, John wanted to run some errands and asked if I wanted to go ashore. Always wanting internet as it is so sparse here still, I said yes but would stay at the Snack for wifi until the Magasin opened and I could get bread. Off he went. Soon, it was time for the magasin to open and wanting to have the bread ready when he returned, I set off. Walking along the road, I looked up to the place where I received my tattoo and I blinked. That body out front. Could it be? I turned up the road and yes, yes indeed. It was John. Waiting for Teiki. Hmmm…. On my return from the store, with some coffee for Teiki, I found John laying on the table as he too, was now in process of tatau. Teiki does not have a photo album of his work. You sit and talk with him and he creates. While John wanted a Manta as well, he has many different aspects in his. Turtles, sharks, compass rose, 4 winds, tikis and more. And Brian? Yes, for Bri-Fest, he outdid all of us in size and detail, truly commemorating Bri-Fest in the Marquesas!
Collette, a lovely woman who runs the visitors center,set Mizzy up with a tour guide for the six of us. We had another couple join us, to give us eight people, four would ride up front and the remaining four would ride in the benched bed with a covered roof. We rode around the island of Nuku Hiva, well, most of it. High up into the mountains where long waterfalls cascaded, ceremonial sites with actual remaining tiki’s, ancient banyan trees, and views into such bays that Melville and Robert Louis Stephenson wrote about. It was a great way to explore and have a nice overview with our guide’s knowledge as well as pointing out simple things we could have missed. Without a lot of export potential other than copra, tourism would make sense. Something seems to be working in their favor as we saw many new vehicles zipping around the island.
Nuku Hiva is known for nice magasins and a great place to provision for the Tuomotos. We would be doing some provisioning here as well. Collette also lives on a property where she has pamplemousse, mangoes, and avocados. John almost had a heart attack when he saw the large burlap bag that I hoisted a few feet, then stopped, only to do this numerous times down to the quay. I had ordered 50 pomplemousse for our provisioning trip. He asked, I think the words were, “where in the hell are you going to put all those?” I didn’t think I had better answer “eventually in my stomach” but the thought did cross my mind. I would have to limit myself to one per day, when really I could eat two or three. Yes, for whatever reason, they became my addiction. I, of course, as if to remunerate myself, reminded him that our cruising friends (on a large catamaran) had just taken on board 150 pamplemousse! Surely, my measly 50 must pale by comparison. I don’t think he bought it as I started sorting soonest to be eaten to can wait the longest. I had nets hanging on either side of the stern, I had bags of ten stashed in corners and even the anchor locker! I knew I should have purchased more.
Not only did we meet SY Wraith (Vicky and Jeff) but we also met the family on SV Nimbus. What a lovely family and we were going to be leaving about the same time for the Tuomotos and would consider buddy boating with. They are just your normal average Iowa family with three great kids out to see the world by sailboat. Soon we would be wrapping things up here and making a 400+ mile passage to the Tuomotos. ]
Looking back, I am continually amazed that we are here. The 2700 mile passage, 25 days on the Pacific Ocean, endless water didn’t seem as lonely as I would have anticipated. As we listened to stories of other cruisers and boat mishaps, we were really fortunate as we did not have the challenges of extreme weather, doldrums or breakage that others suffered. We could have sailed with just our wind monitor, rather than returning to Cabo San Lucas for the autopilot. However, not knowing what would be available when we arrived and our desire to have it instead of hand steering everywhere, made a logical choice. It wasn’t as critical as many things we have heard from other sailors. Wind gusts over 50 kn and too much sail out caused one boat to lurch so and the sailing couple was frightened enough, they gave up their dream. Another boat ran short of food as their intended passage of 4 weeks ran into almost 10 weeks. Others reported torn sails or broken rigging. I like to think that John’s attention to detail with all matters surrounding the boat, it’s functionality as well as comfort and safety, has been an integral part of our safe and easy passage. Of course, there are things that happen outside of his control but we have been spared those as well. We did not see all six of the inhabited islands but the three that we have seen will leave an indelible mark on our lives forever. The feeling of seeing land appear close after three and a half weeks of rolling ocean. Arriving at nightfall and only our sense of smell to begin sharing the delights that we would soon see in the morning. The lush green mountains, the sent of the frangipani, and the tropical rain. Then we had the Bay of Virgins of Fatu Hiva. A golden, rich fertile valleys with spires tall and sharp. Mountain faces which looked like tiki’s themselves. Valleys rich with fruits and vegetables, streets that are clear of trash and well attended. Lazy dogs that sleep in the heat of the day, not even lifting a head at those passing by. Locals who sing out a ready “Bon Jour”. Pamplemousse. Breadfruit. Waterfalls. Melonhead dolphin. Meeting new cruising friends. Learning to live without fast internet. Boat life. Yes, we spent eight weeks in the Marquesas. What a tremendous life experience!