May 29, 2011

French Polynesia!

Iles Marquises
After a amazing 3095 miles and 19 days at sea we made landfall at our first island Fatu Hiva in the southern end of the Marquises.
The Marquises are the northern most group of islands that form part of French Polynesia and they have their own distinctive setting and appeal . These highly volcanically formed islands have steep black cliff-edged coasts indented with many valleys. The marquises are located 8 to 10 degrees south and 138 to 140 degrees west longitude. Ten islands and numerous rocks and inlets compose the group which has an are of 1418 sq. miles. The total population is only 6000 descendants of a proud and warlike Polynesian tribes that once numbered over 100,000 when Captain Cook visited the islands in the 18th century. The islanders were decimated by western contact and disease brought by Great Britain and Europe (Charlie’s Charts, 2007)
The earliest inhabitants are believed to have migrated here from Melanesia at about the time of Christ. The population reached its maximum development from 1400-1790 AD. The first European to visit the island was Spanish navigator, Alvaro de Mendana in 1595 who named the islands. They were claimed by France in 1842 and looks like not much has happened since?
We anchored in Bay Omoa for the first few days catching up on emails and contacting family back home. The islanders here are very warm and friendly. A few days later we moved a few miles up the coast to the Bay of Virgins. Sailing into the bay was breath taking beauty, like sailing into mystical place. The head of the bay has a winding valley lined with black cliffs with palm trees growing along them and mountains rising in the distance. We along with 30 or so other cruisers were invited the seasons first “Island Party” The locals cooked a whole pig in the ground along with fish, chicken and local bananas and salads, “poison cru“ - typical local dish, raw fish with veggies and coconut cream. Dinner was a feast to remember and after the meal we were all entertained with local live music, singing and dancing. The money raised from the dinner was used to help send the kids off the island to go to school and meet a mate with different blood lines. But one from our crew Tom was sick next day… so don’t eat too much from the buffet!!
It is always interesting to see the way other people live, and it is no exception here. The life here is a simple one. About half the population works for the government, 30 percent are on welfare and the other 20 percent fend for themselves, similar to the States. There is coconut/copra harvesting in which they dry the meat and send it off in sacks to make oil. It takes about 5000 coconuts to make a ton of copra. The oil price has fallen in the past so the government now subsidizes the price to keep the people busy! The only other industry is wood carving and some fishing, but with fuel at $7 per gallon fishing is no money maker. The food in the stores is expensive, like twice what we are used to paying. Beer and alcohol is like 4 times!! Beers are $3.50 in the store and $7 at the bar! A bottle of rum is like $50, so I think there must be a lot of weed being grown here!!
The villages are kept very clean and people have pride in what they have and it shows. Everyone was very generous with giving us fruits from their trees or trading for them. The local grapefruit (pamplemus) and mango’s were in season and we loaded the boat with them for next to nothing! It appears the locals don’t eat the grapefruit because they are just falling off the trees and rotting on the ground?
Continuing on to the next island we sailed to Tahuata that is located 30 miles too the north. The island also has steep volcanic cliffs and just a few anchorages along its rugged coastline to stop in. Tahuata is home to only 400 to 500 people. We anchored in Hapatoni Bay for a night and the next day moved along the coast to Bay de Hanamoenoa. This is where that during my weekly check in I found out that my Mother had a severe stroke an I would need to fly home as fast a possible. This was a Sunday and there was nothing I was going to do to be able to make my way home, so we jumped in Super Dink and went to the church that was a few miles south in Bay de Viatahu. Dressed in our Sunday best we drove right into a rain squall on the way to church, all those rain jackets do not do much good on the boat if you do not put them on! We got out of the dink drenched and walked into church a dripping wet on Palm Sunday. The service was in Tahitian and we did not understand one word but it was a moving experience. The local women wore bright colored flowers in their hair and sang beautifully. The kids all sat together in the front and behaved well through the service.
The church they built here is beautiful!!, recently constructed to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Catholic missionaries to the islands. The structure has been designed to artistically combine local wood and discarded ballast stones from the 19th century trading ships, round granite stones from half a world away. The ceiling was lined with local wood that to me looks like walnut. There is a beautiful stained glass window above the hand carved altar and the structure has a open feel to it with the sound ocean in the background.
After church we walked around the village and traded for more mango’s and grapefruits which made Daria very happy to have so much fresh produce back aboard Downtime.
That afternoon we went for a dive and snorkel. Off the point out from where we anchored we saw splashing in the ocean and big fins coming out of the water!! We went to go take a look in SD and see what was making all the commotion? There were several giant manta rays!!! Daria and Yoana jumped in and swam with the giant rays!! You should have heard the screams through the snorkels…. One Giant Ray was over 20 feet across with a 2 foot wide mouth and they would swim right up to you and brush against your body before turning away. Later that day Tom and I went for a dive and saw lots of interesting reef fish and Tom shot Nemo with his spear gun!!
On Monday I needed to get home so we headed to Hiva Oa, the nearest island with an airport about 20 miles away. We raised the anchor in a driving rain storm and headed north. The wind in pass between the islands was howling and the waves were 3 to 5 feet right in our face!! It was a rough go and when we approached the bay we were met with another squall. With visibility next to nothing we waited out the rain before motoring into the harbor and setting the anchor in chocolate milk colored water in Bay Atuona.
By the time the rain stopped and we were ready to go into town to clear in and look for a plane ticket it was 1:00. Then we were informed that the customs office was only open until 11:00 and we would have to come back tomorrow! We were up early the next morning and at the office at 7:30 the time they were supposed to open only to be met by a official at 8 who told us the office would not be open today since he was the only one working and he was VERY busy? I explained my situation and he was kind enough to let us come back a 10:00 and clear in. I was then able to book a ticket and finally be home by Thursday. During the delay my Mother Passed away but I am glad I was able to talk to her that one last time on the satellite phone before she passed away. I am just so thankful this all did not happen when I was in the middle of our 19 day passage….
One thing about the funeral that was positive was a reason to fly back and see my children and family. I have missed my kids the most on this adventure and I am glad we were able to spend a few days together. I visited with family and friends that I have not seen in way too long. I was able to spend some time with my old school friends from elementary school and one of my best friends Tony who drove up from my old home town, San Jacinto.
With a delay in the trip Wayne, Sara, Tom and Yoana decided to go on their way for other adventures. Wayne and Sara flew to Hawaii for a week on their way home and Tom and Yoana found another boat to take them west. We secured Downtime with two anchors and I spent a week traveling to my Mothers funeral while Daria spent the week getting some” Downtime “on the boat and experiencing some of the wettest weather the island has seen in years.
Daria also found the vegetable market while I was away and with the refrigerator full of fresh veggies we headed north to the next island, Fatu Huku.
Just 20 minutes after sailing out into the pass we landed a nice tuna and then another much bigger one got away after a short fight!! We were sailing with the main sail reefed and jib out going 8 knots and when a fish strikes it is always a adventure slowing the boat down enough to reel them in, especially with just the two of us aboard! We have to start the engines, then furl the jib, turn upwind, and reel in a fish all at the same time!
Fatu Huku turned out to be no more than a large rock with no anchorage available but we hooked one fish just off of it. While reeling it in there was a big jolt on the rod and we wound up with just half a fish, a big shark ate the other half! Well, I do not know what the Fuka Huka kind of fish it was, but it turned out to have Ciguatera!!! A poison toxin that can be deadly!! We both got sick when we ate it 2 days later. Daria got the worst of it since she is so much smaller than I am. She had pins and needle sensations, headache, itching, breathing difficulties and reverse hot and cold sensations along with achy tiredness. I just got flu like symptoms for a day or so. We are lucky it was not worse!!
We continued sailing to Ua Huka and anchored that afternoon in Bay de Vaipaee. This is a narrow bay with towering cliffs on each side and always has gusty winds blowing down it and just did not feel very safe to be in. The next morning we set off to find the plantation we had heard about from another boat. A local fisherman was nice enough to give us a ride along with his big wahoo that he had caught up the mountain a few miles to the plantation. The plantation turned out to be a government research farm with a few hundred citrus trees growing on the hillside and you could pick all you could carry for free!! We would pick an orange and cut it open and taste it before we would put any in the bag off that tree, There were many varieties of citrus, some sweet some too sour. We picked 80 pounds of oranges and now were looking at a long hike back….Oh snap!! It was siesta time.., with no body on the road.. We waited out a heavy rain storm under a small shed eating oranges, then we hiked about half way back before we finally caught a ride the rest of the way down to the bay. While putting kayak back in the water I slipped and busted my butt on the algae covered ramp just after telling Daria to be careful the ramp looks slippery! We put on quite a show for the locals with oranges floating all around me at the bottom of the ramp!!
Later that same afternoon we went down the coast a ways to Bay de Haavei. Along the way to this bay we passed a rock island that had to be home to a few thousand birds that a took to flight when we sailed by making quite a commotion as they flew screaming around us.

The anchorage here was very rolling and windy. When we lowered the anchor it felt like it had set firm and we had 120 feet of chain out in 30 feet of water. We felt safe being a few hundred feet out from shore. Later that afternoon we ate a dinner with some of the “ What the Futu Huka Fish” and some Dorado we caught along the way.
I checked the anchor several times during the night, but at sometime during the night a storm came through and must have popped the anchor loose!! I woke feeling sick to my stomach and to the sound of waves breaking past our port!! I jumped up and went topside to find us 2 feet off the bottom in 8 feet of water with waves breaking all around us!! With both engines at full throttle we slowly drove the boat away from the beach to deeper water at 3am!! With hearts pounding we raised the anchor back on board and decided to get out of there!! Whew!!! We almost died twice in same day!!
Thankful to be alive we set the sails and sailed toward Nuka Hiva just 20 miles away. Just as we were getting close to the island two off the fishing poles started screaming!! Fish On!! 20 minutes later we had two 15 pound tunas aboard. We motored through the first bay and decided to go to the next Bay de Taiohae instead. This bay had a nice town and internet that we could pick up on the boat over our wi-fi booster . Daria did some research on ciguatera poisoning and she found out she had all the symptoms and there was no known treatment other than time to let the toxin flush itself out. Scary stuff!!
We spent a day recuperating on the boat getting our strength back. The next day we went to the dock with SD and the first guy we met was a local named Andy who was standing next to his truck on the wharf. We asked Andy where we could find some mangoes and grapefruits? He said to hop in his truck and he took us to his home where he had 5 grapefruit trees and two mango trees full of fruit!! We loaded our bags with over 70 mangos and 40 grapefruits and a pumpkin. Then he drove us to the pharmacy to get some medicine and finally back to town to clear in. For all this we traded him 2 bottles of rum and we were both happy. We found the process of clearing in to be very simple here, The officer did a excellent job, scanned out documents stamped our passports and in 10 minutes we were on our way.
It is fun to go to the next harbor and see other boats you have met during your travels. There are always the stories on events that happened along the way. Some boats you seem to see in every port and others just once in a while. I would estimate there are 150 boats traveling the same route so the crowd is not hard to remember. One boat that seems to be going our same path is YOLO (You Only Live Once) with Jason and Karen aboard we met first them in Isla Providencia, Columbia and again in Panama City Panama and now heard them on the radio here in Nuka Hiva. Other boats are fun to meet the first time because you know you can trade information and most likely see them down the island chain at some point.
The next bay is Bay de Taioa of Daniels Bay just 5 miles to the east. The opening to the bay is difficult to identify from the sea since the entrance points overlap. The west side of the bay is a steep 1600 foot mountain and to the east is lower black cliff with a flat top. When you get inside a large bay opens up to the right with plenty of safe anchorage points in 30 to 50 feet of water, we chose 50 feet of water as far from land as possible!!
At the eastern end of the bay is the ruins of an old church and village of Hakui. A 2 ½ hour hike through the coconut palms and up through the valley floor you reach the base of Viapo Waterfall. A spectacular narrow cascading waterfall that falls from a 2000 foot plateau to the valley floor, the 3rd highest waterfall in the world!
The hike was 2 ½ hours for a goat maybe…. But took us much longer. The muddy trail was hard to see at some points due to so much rain. The ancient road was paved with large stones about half the way and then it turned into a trail through the jungle. At one point I was leading the way and when I turned back saw nothing but jungle! Where is Daria? Time for some Marco -Polo….I back tracked a few hundred yards and found Daria in tears totally lost and houndreds mosquites around…. After wading across the river several more times we finally made it to the base of the waterfall and found a cool pool to rinse off in. The trail toward the end took you into a narrow ravine with 1500 foot rocky cliffs on either side, I just kept thinking one rock falling could ruin your whole life….
The waterfall was a been there done that kind of thing for me...
There were several homes at the head of the bay and one in particular had a beautiful orchard with lots of fruit trees. This is the “banana Lady’s” house that we heard about. She was know for trading banana’s and fruits to the boating community. We were invited to sit on her front porch and she opened a few fresh coconuts for us to drink and then we started our trading. We traded for 2 pineapples, 20 guavas, 5 coconuts, 3 papayas, a big bunch of banana’s and some grapefruit for $12 and gave her two tee-shirts.
By now we had over 100 grapefruits, 80 mangos, 2 pineapples,20 guavas, and some oranges on the boat. A lot of fruit to eat!!
Our next islands would have no fresh fruit to offer so we were happy to be well stocked for our visit to the Tuamotu’s which would be a 500 mile sail to the south-east.
In our next story we will be taking you to the Archipel Des Tumotu’s!!
Until then, peace!!
The Captain Pedro