Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pickles and Preserves

Pickling vegetables, fruits and chilies was part of the cooking routine for my mother and older sister while I was growing up in England. My father does not like spicy curries but loves hot pickle and chutney on the side so we always had a large jar of limes, chilies and ginger sunning on the kitchen window ledge. I think mum placed it there to accelerate the softening of the limes and to keep the mold in check.

Sadly I was too wrapped up in reading and watching television to take any real notice of these activities. However, last year on my visit to the U.K., I quizzed my sister about pickles and watched mum blending her scrumptious mint chutney. Knowing I would have lots of time on my hands on this voyage, I bought some spices in Vancouver and limes and chilies in Mexico. In Los Frailes, I canned a couple of jars of lime and chili pickle before our passage to the Marquesas. We opened the first jar a couple of days ago while entertaining friends and I received very positive feedback. In the Marquesas where fruits were abundant, I cooked and canned some mango and sour apple (pomme citrine) chutney and have been experimenting with coconut chutney. I am truly enjoying the experience and Chris is the perfect guinea pig as he has no authentic Indian reference to judge the results.

It would have been fun making marmalade as citrus fruits were plentiful in the Marquesas but we could not afford to use up so much propane.

Here is my recipe for coconut/mint chutney:

Grated or minced fresh coconut meat from one small coconut
1 heaped teaspoon of crushed dry mint or one tablespoon of fresh chopped mint
1/4 teaspoon of salt (or less if you have high blood pressure)
1 hot green or red chili (crushed)
juice from half a lime
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon sugar

Blend all by hand and allow to sit for half an hour before serving. Keep the remainder in the fridge or the coolest place on the boat.

Snorkeling at Kauehi

We are still anchored in Kauehi, though on the way out, so to speak. Anchored by the pass just off the palm lined beach, which is unfortunately a lee shore most of the time. The thing is, we are near the pass where the best snorkeling can be found (on the south east side of the atoll). With the current north easterlies, this is at the end of an 8 mile fetch and we had a pretty bouncy night last night.

You need a whole set of new skills in these atolls, due to the coral heads and deep water, particularly when anchoring. Sailing in the atoll should be very pleasant because of the shelter from swell and the steady winds. However, someone must always be either perched on a ratline halfway up the mast or at least standing on the cabin top, to keep an eye out for uncharted coral heads. These can come up out of great depths (at least 100 feet).

When we anchor now, we use floats to lift the chain off the bottom about half way along from the anchor to the boat. The theory is that this helps prevent wraps around a coral head. The floats are salvaged oyster farm buoys we found on the beach and we have 4 now - 2 large and 2 small. They are hard plastic spheres - 12 inches in diameter for the smaller ones and 20 inches for the larger. The only feasible anchorage on this side of the pass is on a spur of shallower water that pokes out a few hundred feet from the beach, where we are anchored in about 50 feet. We are still quite close to the shore, but just a few hundred feet away from our spur, the bottom drops immediately off to 80 or 100 feet.

There are still have plenty of veggies and fruit on board from the Marquesas, which is a good thing as we would otherwise be on a steady coconut diet. Apparently some vegetables are grown on Fakarava - a large atoll to the south east where we intend to sail next. We will leave here this afternoon about an hour before dusk and sail overnight so as to arrive mid-morning. The passage is only 35 miles, so you would think we could sail it in daylight. However, if we left in the early morning at slack water, we would arrive a bit late in the day to safely navigate the coral lined pass into the lagoon.

While we wait, we will snorkel off the boat and toward the pass. There is a coral forest that runs along the shore here, with yellow, dun, and black corals in grotesque forms. Packs of brilliant parrot fish swim along the reef and great ugly groupers peer out at us from most of the coral heads. Rani now swims with a short pole ready to prod any curious shark. We have seen many black tipped reef sharks in the shallows here, though none have come closer than about 15 feet. The visibility here is quite good - 40 to 50 feet anyway, but varies with the tide, clarity improving an hour or two after the tide begins to flood into the lagoon.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Night Diving

Rani woke me at 1 am with a shout, "Where is the dinghy! It's gone!"

False alarm - Because we had had guests on board, I had moved our dinghy to the stern from its usual position and I told Rani so. Going aft, Rani noticed that the dinghy had its painter wrapped around our wind vane. While trying to free the line, she dropped my precious waterproof flashlight over the side. A few choice words were spoken as we leaned over the transom watching the light disappear into 40 feet of water. The visibility was quite good here and I could see it as it reached the bottom, batteries first, and stuck in the coral sand facing up at us.

While 40 feet is deeper than the 30 I normally dive to, I was not sure how long the flashlight would continue to keep the water out at one atmosphere. It would also be easier to locate it now from its beam as it shone out in the dark. So against Rani's advice, I put on flippers and mask, and jumped into the inky water. Taking several deep breathes, I kicked for the light, clearing my ears as I descended. About half way down, I had a strong urge to turn back for the surface, uncertain I could hold my breathe long enough. But I kept swimming and was surprised at how quickly the light came up at me. I grabbed it and swam for the surface taking care to swim away from Ladybug to avoid an unpleasant bump on the head. I surfaced with plenty of breathe to spare.

No harm done and as a bonus, we now know that the flashlight is really waterproof.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Cheshire Clams

Our life here is a placid blend of boat maintenance, peeling, drying, cooking, and eating bananas, and the occasional trip about the lagoon or on the reef. I tried to find the leak we noticed on the last crossing, but at rest in flat waters, nothing was obvious beyond a little seepage in a cockpit drain through hull and obvious water ingress around the rudder stuffing box. I tightened the rudder stuffing box and the engine shaft stuffing box, but we will have to check for leaks while under way in a heavier sea.

Ashore we walked across the atoll to the reef. A palm-tree lined road runs along the inside of the lagoon with occasional side roads that branch to the reef. The roads are made of coral plowed flat and suitable for trucks or 4WD vehicles. The coral soil produces vegetation that is neither as as lush nor as varied as that in the Marquesas. Even the coconut palms seem less productive, the nuts smaller and fewer than those we saw in the volcanic islands. The reef reminded us of the tide pool shelf at Botanical Beach, back on Vancouver Island. A two meter easterly swell pounded the outer edge, which dropped off quickly into deep water. We saw a dozen turquoise coloured foot-long parrot fish and a one meter white tipped reef shark cruising in water barely enough to cover its tough hide.

Our English friends on 'Chapter Two' had us over yesterday for tea. Karen had baked a banana cake that was superb, so we used her recipe today to make our own version, which ended up tasting quite different. Not sure how this happened, but maybe their Panamanian flour is different from the Mexican flour we used - or perhaps it was that they used baking soda and baking powder, where we just used poweder? Whatever the cause, I have lost my title of 'Master Baker'.

The dinghy continues to fall apart, with a new crack in the hull by the mast partner. I 'welded' this with the soldering iron and riveted an aluminum patch to reinforce this highly stressed location. Today I sailed a couple of miles along the lagoon beaches to test the repair. The lagoon is like a large lake - 8 miles across ad 12 long. The land on the opposite shore is so low that you cannot see anything on the horizon except the top of an occasional palm tree. You have to be a bit careful to avoid coral heads, which are sometimes hard to see when lounging in bottom of the dinghy.

I stopped along the way to retrieve a pearl farm float that had washed up on the shore. As I waded ashore, a white tipped reef shark swam hurriedly away - no threat to humans I would guess. I was startled to see what looked like brightly coloured pouting mouths apparently embedded in the coral heads. On closer inspection, these belonged to clams about 15 to 20 cms wide. Each mouth was green or turquoise or blue (this is apparently caused by algae growing on the mouth lining). The effect was comical because the lips look like they were covered in a brilliant lipstick. Because the shells were completely encased in coral, the 'smile' was disembodied, like the Cheshire Cat's smile in "Alice in Wonderland", and appeared to come right out of rock.

Salvaged pearl farm floats are useful for lifting the boat's chain to keep it clear of coral heads. I have collected 3 so far and will try to buoy the chain the next time we anchor. The wind is supposed to build to 20 knots tomorrow, so we will stay here at least one more day.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Anchored in an Atoll

After 9 weeks of rolling passages and swell-wracked anchorages, it feels like we are anchored in a palm fringed lake. And what a lovely feeling that is! Only the most gentle lapping of wavelets and caressing our hull to tell us we are on water.

We saw our first atoll around supper time two days ago. Barely visible at 10 miles, a blur of stubble on the horizon, like a 13 year old boy's moustache. Tikei proved to be a-typical of the atolls we will be visiting, for it was very small (3 kms long) with no lagoon and quite heavily forested in palms. We had altered course to visit this atoll so that we should not arrive too early the next morning at our destination of Kauehi. It felt strange to rein in Ladybug, but the consistent stronger winds (15-20 knots) gave us daily runs of over 130 nautical miles and our best day's run yet of well over 150. This meant we would arrive near midnight at the pass into Kauehi unless we reduced sail.

Before the advent of GPS and radar, the Tuammotus were less visited by yachtsmen. We were very thankful to have good electronic charts as well as a working GPS, and radar, for approaching these low lying islands on a night when there is no moon would be dangerous without an awareness of one's exact position. Our friends on 'Chapter Two' had arrived earlier and heaved to off the north end of he atoll. They reported that a current of about one knot from the south east had set them to the west of the island in the night. Currents and invisible coral reefs make for little sleep. However the charts here are very accurate and on the radar Kauehi and Raraka atoll to the south showed up as thin crescents when we were still about 10 miles off. We sailed through the wide pass between these atolls until about 6:30 when we turned our bows toward Kauehi.

'Chapter Two' led the way into the pass around 10 am. Mike and Karen had bought their boat in the Caribbean and had spent a couple of years cruising in areas of coral. We were grateful to have them lead the way on our first foray into coral infested waters. A tide was still ebbing quite strongly, but we decided not to wait for slack. We saw about 3 knots against us with a few overfalls, but no standing waves. We motored against this and across the lagoon toward an anchorage 7 miles distant that we had learned of in the "Tuamotus Compendium" - an online guide compiled by sailors who have recently visited these isles. Coral can rise instantly from 100 feet, so while Rani steered, I climbed up the rat lines to get a better view down into the water.

We had our first view of an isolated coral patch about half way across the lagoon. Disturbed water - white and frothy - and then an area of light green with a brown patch in the middle. All of this in nearby depths of 80 to 100 feet. We saw one more coral head, this one buoyed, before reaching our anchorage off a large 'motu' or island lying within the lagoon. The waves died down as we approached its palm lined shores, dropping our anchor in about 40 feet over sand. We are anchored at 15 56 S 145 03 W

Monday, May 21, 2012

Maggie Goes To Sea

This is a true story of an innocent little stow-away - told in her own words...

My name is Maggie - at least that is what my brothers and sisters call me, for I have never known my parents. I grew up in the warm tropical jungle of Nuku Hiva in a small but cozy lemon-coloured home. My life was idyllic - plenty to eat, no school work, and lots of little friends to play with. At night the gentle breezes would rock us to sleep. Sometimes I felt there must be more to life than eating, playing, and sleeping, but none of my playmates seemed to worry about such things.

One day there was terrific tremor that shook our house from top to bottom. We all snuggled together in our soft squishy bed. It was a long time before things stopped moving. I noticed after this that our home did not rock us to sleep. Maybe something had broken? Life continued - eat, play, sleep.

Later, we felt another tremor and many aftershocks. It was as if our home was moving of it's own accord, like a living creature. The light dimmed and our home tilted at a crazy angle. We adjusted our bed to the new angle and tried to get used to the motion, but many of my brothers and sisters were ill.

This morning, a final tremor shook our home and the roof came right off. A bright light shone in and I saw a huge creature standing over me. In a panic, I climbed along a wall and saying good by to my brothers and sisters, curled myself into a ball and leapt clear.

As I spiralled through the air I heard the creature yell - "Ewwww, a Maggot!" and barely had time to yell back - "No - My name is Maggie" - before I hit the ground. I saw the creature reach down apparently trying to find me, so I moved quickly and hid myself in a crack.

I miss my family and my home and wonder where my next meal will come from, but I am excited by all the possibilities of this new world.

An embarassment of bananas

Yes - we have bananas. Just before leaving Uo Pou, we bought a stalk of bananas that was delivered to us in the back of a pickup by Norbert, the carver, along with the carved paddle Rani had selected earlier in the day. The stalk (or regime as it is called en Francais) arrived split into bunches, which completely filled two cardboard boxes, both of which were as heavy as I could comfortably lift. We felt like smugglers as we loaded the boxes off a rock breakwater into our tippy dinghy, in the dark. Rowing across the harbour, we tapped on Chapter Two's hull and transferred a box to their deck. The remainder we brought on board Ladybug in bunches, hanging some outside on the stern rail and washing others to stow below.

We have learned that heat, light, and salt water all conspire to ripen a banana. Some we placed in hammocks, which we made up from fish netting purchased in Mexico. We covered these with cloth hoping to delay their ripening. Others we placed in the long term veggie storage area - dark and hopefully cool. Unlike Mike & Karen on Chapter Two, our fridge is too small to make this a viable option. Rani estimated the number of bananas on the stalk at about 170 - quite a haul for $10 - but a problem if they ripen at once. What to do...

We could bake banana bread and muffins every day, but this would heat up the already toasty boat and would use lots of butane. We had tried dried bananas in Atuona and seen them for sale in some of the stores, so this seemed like a better solution.

We saw banana drying racks on Ua Pou - plastic covered frames with screened sides - and would like to make a smaller version for the boat. For now, however we are using broiling trays with slotted bottoms that allow air flow. Placing the trays on a rolling sea-swept boat can be tricky and only in harbour have we been able to put the trays in full sun on the deck. Under way we place them under the dodger where they are kept mostly dry and get slightly filtered sunlight. We were told it takes 3 or 4 days for the drying process and this has been our experience with our first batch, which we have just finished drying. They taste like candy!

It would be fun to try drying pineapple or mango and we may try this when we find some of these fruit in quantity.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Recent Books

We have been reading a few books that are relevant to our south sea travels and thought it might be useful to someone if we shared our thoughts.

Cruising guides consulted so far:

"Exploring the Marquesas Islands" by Joe Russell - This paperback volume covers the main anchorages for all the islands and a few less visited ones. We like he sketch charts for each harbour and his walking tours as well as the local knowledge imparted. The book is a bit dated unfortunately, as it was published in 2000, so some things have changed, including, for example the location of the main anchorage for yachts in Taiohae, Nuku Hiva.

"Guide to Navigation and Tourism in French Polynesia" by Bonnette and Deschamps. Another paperback volume, this one quite thick with nice colour photos. It covers the Australs, Gambier Islands, Marquesas, Society Islands and Tuamotus at a reasonable level of detail. It is translated from French and not always well in some places. The mini charts could be better and way points are not included for approaches, passes, or anchorages. The information is also a bit out of date.

Nature guides:

"Collins Guide to Tropical Plants" by Lotschert and Beese. We have used the excellent photos in this book to identify edible and medicinal fruit and plants. Has good detail on common plants - their appearance, locations where they are found, how they spread through the tropics, and what they are used for.

"The Pacific Islands" by Douglas L. Oliver. This is an excellent paperback book for those interested in the geology, geography, economics, history and ethnology of the many island groups in the South Pacific. I found it easier to read than many books written with such lofty aspirations.

"A Naturalist's Guide to the Tropics" by Marco Lambertini. I have not read this yet, but it is nicely illustrated (with colour photos and drawings) and runs the gamut from geology and soil through animals, fish, and plants. It covers the tropics around the world.

Travel writing/Fiction:

Typee and Omoo by Herman Melville - These are accounts, somewhat dressed up, of the authour's experiences in French Polynesia, the first one being of his stay with cannibals at Typee valley on Nuku Hiva. We enjoyed the description of everyday tribal life and the Polynesian culture. The second continues where the first left off and describes life on board a whaler and in Tahiti, where the author was imprisoned. I found the writing surprisingly modern, sympathetic to the natives, and humorous. We have these as e-books downloaded from Project Gutenberg.

"Mystic Isles of the South Seas" by Frederic O'Brien - An account of the authour's stay in Tahiti shortly after the first world war. This and two other books that cover O'Brien's travels in the Marquesas and the Tuamotus are great reads. The authour predicts the impending extinction of the Polynesians, which at the time he was writing seemed inevitable due to catastrophic population decline. O'Brien digs deeper into the cultures he visits on his travels than most travel writers and I thoroughly enjoyed his descriptions of the places he visited and people he got to know. Very critical of the missionaries, traders, and most colonizers, he is sympathetic to the plight of the Polynesians. These books, too, can be obtained as e-books from Project Gutenberg.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

5 am - How not to deal with a squall

We hot bunk these days and when I come off watch, I switch places with Rani, lying on the settee berth while she takes the quarter berth beside the instruments and companionway. I had not been long asleep when I awoke because the boat was moving differently. Rani told me that we were hitting 9 knots at times, so I hurried on deck in time to see a huge black mass almost on top of us. Rani had not noticed the squalls because most of the horizon was black with them and it was difficult to tell them from the few patches of lighter sky at 5 am.

I told Rani to slack the jib sheets and tried to furl the jib, but it would not come in. I had forgotten the lashing holding the drum together, which was now jammed around the partially furled drum. I went forward to clear this as the wind began to howl and spray from the rearing bow showered down upon me. Coming back I furled the jib, but the sheets were now flying and they wrapped around the sail as we brought it in. What a snarl!

The sail was flogging in the wind and I thought it would come apart. Forward I went again and asked Rani to join me to untangle the sheets so we could release and refurl the jib. It was far from easy to stay calm with the sail snapping just over our heads, but we soon had the lines free. I decided to drop the jib altogether because it would have been very difficult to furl now with the sheets flying loose. We brought it down without dumping it in the sea and soon had it lashed to the deck. Despite the flogging there appeared to be no damage to cloth or stitching - a testimony to the quality of the 25+ year old sail.

We continued to run under main alone before the squall and were lucky that it did not last long. Three more squalls came through after this one, one with winds of at least 35 knots and lashing rain. As the day dawned, I re-fed the furler line and cleaned up the grease that had decorated it when the drum had separated. In a gap between squalls we ran off downwind and I fed the jib into the furler foil as Rani hoisted. We threw a second reef in the main and unfurled 70 percent of the jib and Ladybug settled into the groove again. We have sailed most of today with this configuration in winds of 15 to 20 knots and short period steep seas.

we later heard that another boat nearby had not been as lucky as us and had a similar jam with their furler during which their genoa ripped.

Our position at 9 pm is S 11 39 W 141 50 and we are bucking along at 6 to 7 knots broad reaching in about 20 knots of wind. We are about 315 miles away from Kauehi atoll.

A Midnight Squall

It is 1:30 am and Ladybug is rolling in the aftermath of a squall - confused seas and little wind to steady the sails. I began my watch at midnight and noted that the wind was lighter than when I had gone off watch three hours before. On deck a rising darkness on the eastern horizon blotted out the stars. Going below, I turned on the radar to see if this could be a rain squall. Sure enough, a blob, 3 kms wide and about 6 kms away was visible, bearing down on us at about 12 knots.

Trying not to wake up Rani, I moved the companionway hatch board into the cockpit, ready to deploy when the rain reached us. I closed the hatches we had cracked for ventilation (it is 30 degrees and 70 percent humidity, making sleep difficult).

When the radar showed the squall to be about 3 kms away, the wind freshened and I woke Rani to let her know there was a squall approaching and that I was going forward to prepare for furling the jib. Ever since the roller furler bearings failed, I have had to lash the furler drum together to prevent it coming apart when the wind increases. I removed this lashing so that I could furl the jib, returned to the cockpit, and rolled the sail up. We were now running with only the main - single-reefed.

The squall was moving faster than us and most of it passed in front of Ladybug - a great ragged cloud of light on the radar and darkness as viewed against the stars. Light rain accompanied winds of 20 knots and the hatch board was needed for only 5 minutes. The deck was wet as I went forward again to lash down the furler drum after unrolling the jib. We were on our way again.

We are bound for Kauehi - an atoll in the Tuamotus about 430 miles from our current position. I am excited about seeing my first coral atoll and snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of the lagoon and pass. We spoke on the SSB radio today with Mark on 'Southern Cross' who has been in the Tuamotus for a couple of weeks. He told us that the weather was cooler with lower humidity than the Marquesas, which will be a welcome change. He also let us know that the visibility in the water has been 80 to 90 feet! Nothing comes without a price and the negatives of visiting these atolls include currents, tricky entrances into the lagoons, and navigating amongst coral heads, which can rise out of very deep water and are usually not well charted.

Our position is S 10 12 W 140 34. Winds from the east between 6 & 15 knots, boat speed averaging 5-6 knots.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Ua Pou

We are anchored in Hakahau Bay on Ua Pou island - the 5th and last of the Marquesas Islands that we will visit. The harbour is quite large, but only a small portion is protected from the prevailing swell by a breakwater. We are crowded into this somewhat protected area with 8 other yachts, hailing mostly from France and the UK. We are all anchored bow and stern so we won't bash into each other and so that we face into the swell, which still manages to work its way in here around the breakwater.

The 25 mile crossing from Nuku Hiva was a pleasant sail with 8-12 knots on or just forward of the beam for most of the voyage. We lounged in the cockpit enjoying the ride with one reef in the main and the wind vane steering. However as we approached the harbour, the wind came more and more in front of us and we were set to the west by a current and heavy swell. The last mile was an agonizing motor into heavy swells reflecting off the cliffs at the harbour mouth. I foolishly elected to bring down the main and and the motion while trying to flake and tie the sail down almost threw me from the coach roof.

In the three days we have been here, we have met a few of the local characters including an ex-Australian who has been married to 2 Marquesan wives over the last few decades. Keith can carry on a very effective 'conversation' without the other party even opening their mouth.

We also met Xavier, a retired Frenchman who has lived here for 10 years and swims leisurely around the anchorage chatting with the boaters each day. Finally we chatted with Jerome, whom our friend Randall on Mure had told us about. Jerome - ex French military - runs a pension, offers guided hikes, and serves meals and drinks in his restaurant. The pension commands a fine view of the town and harbour and we enjoyed this view and lovely cold juices while catching up on emails and calls. The mountains behind the anchorage are remarkable for their sudden appearance from relatively low land as well as their steepness and concave shape. They poke out of the nearby hills like spear blades, often shrouded in banners of cloud.

We have been laying in provisions here for our 3-4 weeks in the coral atolls of the Tuomotus, where fruit other than coconuts is rare and veggies non-existent. We have had little success here, despite recent information stating that this town is the best place to provision. Not true anymore I'm afraid. Prices were high for the few veggies we found - $6+ a kilo for tomatoes and $5 for a bunch of green beans. We did find plenty of fruit today and stocked up on the local sweet grapefruit that we found in a school yard as well as citrons (limes) given to us by a friendly Marquesan woman. We also picked a nice breadfruit from a public tree. We have been making breadfruit chips (french fries) from this volleyball sized fruit - frying slices in olive oil and spices.

We also located a stalk of green bananas, which a local carver agreed to drop off at the wharf later in the day. In the meantime he showed us his very creative work - full of traditional Marquesan motifs but with a more imaginative rendition than much of the art we have seen. Rani bought a carved paddle and I have my eyes on a substantial tiki, though where it will fit in the boat - heaven only knows!

We plan to leave for the Tuomotus tomorrow, but this may change if we stay for the dance on Saturday night or I end up buying the tiki, which still needs finishing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Garden of Eden, Garden of Death

The valley that runs from Hakaui into the mountains that enclose French Polynesia's tallest waterfall is a veritable paradise - a spring fed river, groves of bananas, coconut palms, and all manner of fruit trees. A well made stone road runs for a kilometer along the river, lined by hedges of colourfully leaved plants.

The people we met in this valley were very friendly. The first house that we came to after fording a two foot deep river sells fruit to the cruisers who come here mostly during the months when cyclones are not a possibility. Two Marquesan men and a woman invited us over and gave us samples of their fruits - they sell bananas by the stalk, breadfruit, star fruit, passion fruit, and papayas. Having not brought money, we chatted with them for a while and then told them we would come back the next day.

The road passed by a few modest homes before plunging into the rain forest, which is aptly named as it rained here for much of our walk. In the forest were the pai pai home sites of the thousands of Marquesans who lived here before they were decimated in the 19th century by the diseases of foreigners. Now only a handful of families lives here with more coming from nearby Taiohae on their vacations.

We crossed the river several times, each time having to wade up toour knees on slippery and sharp stones. After more than an hour of following the muddy trail, we came to a look-out from which the waterfall at the head of the valley could be seen. A French couple was resting there and the woman warned us in broken English against going beyond the point where the valley closes in, due to danger of rock falls made worse by the recent rain. She also told us that the missionaries were responsible for building the trail we had been following and pointed out a side 'hidden valley' in which women, the old, and children were said to have hidden in times of war.

At the bottom of the hill, we reached the point where crumbling thousand foot spires hem in the valley. The trail from this point criss-crosses a turbulent stream several times and, so high and near are the cliffs, that it is difficult to see the sky. During one river crossing, I tried to stay dry shod but slipped while jumping to the last rock and badly knocked a shin, tearing the skin in several places. Any sort of open wound here is a serious matter due to ease of infection, but we decided to press on and clean things up when we returned to Ladybug. At this same crossing, Rani had just finished wading across when we spotted a 3 foot long eel swimming inches from where she had just stepped. A few hundred feet further we found the bag of hard hats that someone has donated to make hiking through the gorge safer. We each donned a hat and proceeded to the pool below the falls.

The pool was muddy with run-off, but we stripped to our bathing suits and waded in, as the heavens opened yet again. We swam across this first pool and clambered over some rocks into a second pool lying beneath the falls. Only the last 100 feet of waterfall was visible from the second pool, but the velocity of the water attested to its descent from the heights. The mist made it almost impossible to open our eyes as we swam toward the falls. Another cruising family was just returning from a swim and they told us of a shelf behind the falls where we could rest after we swam under the cataract. I could not persuade Rani to join me, so I dived under and swam beneath the pounding water, coming up in a narrow gap beside the rock wall. It was difficult to breathe in this small space and I did not linger.

On our return, a handsome cinnamon coloured dog that had followed the other cruisers to the falls 'adopted' us, trotting happily along between Rani and me for the entire return trip. I wonder how many cruisers this attractive fellow has guided to and from the falls?

On a sobering note, we learned that only a few weeks ago on this trail a woman from one of the cruising boats had been struck on the head by a falling coconut. When this sort of thing happens in cartoons we laugh, but a ripe coconut can weigh 4 or 5 pounds. Anyone who has heard the WHUMPH when one of these hits the ground nearby can understand how important it is to try to avoid walking under coconut palms, especially in any sort of a wind. After the accident, the woman was driven to the beach by one of the Marquesans we had talked to earlier and evacuated to the hospital at Taiohae where she died the next day. Another Marquesan told us that he has cut down the palm tree that caused the cruiser's death as well several others near the trail, but there are still dozens if not hundreds of palm trees that one passes under on the hike to the falls.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Life is an adventure in Taiohae Bay

A southerly swell rolls in to Taiohae Bay at certain times of the year and this was clearly one of those times. No-one who has lived only on land can understand how truly irritating it is to have your home continuously tipped from side to side and fore and aft, sometimes to an angle of 25 or 30 degrees. I get irritable after a few hours of this and we stayed in this bay for 4 days and nights! Poor Rani. Making meals, eating, and even sleeping are all adventures in this environment.

The reason we were there, along with 30 to 40 other yachts is that this is the largest town in the Marquesas and the only place where one can buy duty free diesel at about $1.20 Canadian a liter. It is also a place where vegetables can sometimes be found - although the best appear at 5 am on Saturday morning and are snatched up and gone by 6 am! Finally, one can access the internet via wifi and a satellite link - sort of and sometimes...

We refilled one propane bottle here with butane. To save the $5 charge at Yacht Services, we (foolishly in retrospect) hoofed our empty tank up the hill towards a white building to which we had been directed. We got lost, of course, and a very kind French lady originally from Toulouse, drove us to the building, only to find it closed. We left the tank with a friendly Marquesan mechanic and returned the next day to meet with Kevin - an American who married a local and runs a woodworking shop and does butane refills. He uses a gravity feed system that required us to leave our cylinder there for the day, while liguid butane dribbled into it. 400 CPF (about $4 US dollars) per kilo - and the small tank took 5.5 kilos using his method (more full than it has ever been in Mexico I believe). He later delivered the tank to the dinghy dock during a deluge - inches of rain in two hours - strapped to the back of his motorcycle. When we came back to our dinghy, we found it filled to the gunwales with muddy run-off. I was badly scraped down one side from where it had been bashed by a dozen other dinghies against the rough barnacled concrete. The local kids were amused by my attempts to bail it dry without sinking it and ending up in the water myself. Refilling a propane/butane tank can also be an adventure.

We also refilled our diesel tank using jerry jugs and towing our dinghy behind Chapter II's inflatable as a sort of fuel barge. To do this, you motor over to a seawall with a ladder and rings set in it that forms the end of the main cargo pier. The swell was so bad that one of us stayed in the dinghy to fend off the sea wall, while the other two scrambled up a ladder and bucket brigaded the empty cans onto the dock far above. To make things more interesting, the giant hawsers that secured a large cargo vessel to this pier were rising and falling immediately above the ladder, making timing critical. We then walked to the fuel station, which serves all the local vehicles for a town of 2500, and waited in line to fill our 6 containers. Next, we lugged them back to the pier, ducking under the cargo ship lines as they rose on the swell, caught a rope tossed from the waiting dinghy and, tying this to each can, lowered the cans to the man in the dinghy. Mike who was in the dinghy had no easy job as he had to catch and stow each gyrating can in the 'fuel barge' tender while fending his own dinghy off the barnacle encrusted seawall as it rose and fell in 5 foot swells. We then returned to the mother ships and filled our tannks, repeating the entire procedure so that we both had extra fuel for our 4 weeks in the Tuamotus. Refuelling is also an adventure here.

Even shopping for groceries is not the simple act it is in a typical small town in Canada or the US. The Marquesans are not great consumers of vegetables and we chased rumours of fresh produce all over town. After 3 days of shopping, interspersed with social visits and boat tasks, we managed to procure a few cauliflower heads (very small), 8 eggplants, 3 taro, 3 sweet potatoes, 2 cabbages, a squash, and a couple of kilos of carrots. Most of these are locally grown, the carrots being shipped in from Tahiti. We supplemented this with some canned green beans and carrots. We hope to obtain lots of fresh fruit in Ua Pou, where we will sail in a few days.

We are currently anchored in the next bay over from Taiohae (known as Daniel's Bay and also the site of the 2002 season of survivor, I believe). This is much more well protected and hence relatively swell-free and is surrounded by rugged peaks and gentle valleys. There is a hike to a 1000 foot waterfall - the tallest in these islands - which we plan to undertake tomorrow. Our friends from Chapter 2 and Sockdolager are here and we will have them over in a few hours for home-made chili and an evening of music.

Photos from Tahuata

These pictures really go with text in earlier posts related to our stay in Tahuata island...

Hino at his bachelor pad in Vaitahu

Pan bread rolls - we bake these on the stove top in a heavy frying pan.

Can you spot our dinghy?

Church in Vaitahu 

Stained glass window in church

Pamplemousse in the village

Small pirogues

Carved post at one of the stores

Larger pirogue

Artisans at Hapatoni

Bone carvings

Lovely octopus necklace

Bone tiki (2 sided)

Hapatoni church

Raised stone road at Hapatoni

Hapatoni Bay

Chris avec une vache

Papaya off the tree

Giant leaves dwarf Rani 

Ken Burns prepares a drinking nut for us - removing the husk against his knee - do not try this at home!

A friend of Hino prepares mango salad

Pakalolo's pîglets - pakalolo is the local term for marijuana...

Hapatoni artisan

Photos from Fatu Hiva

Ladybug at Hanavave Bay

St. Michel's Catholic Church - Hanavave

Copra drying rack

Petroglyph near falls

Rani at Vai'e'enui falls

Enjoying a cold beer at the falls

Chris & Mike gather bananas

Chris, Mike, and Karen hiking near the falls

Vai'e'enui Falls - Chris, Mike, and Karen (from 'Chapter Two')

Hanavave village scene

Woman beating bark to make tapa cloth

Tiki at Hanavave dinghy dock

Shrine above Hanavave

Hanavave village overlook

View over Hanavave Harbour

6 inch centipede

Petroglyph we saw in a field on our hike

Picnic site for Aranui cruisers on road from Hanavave to Omoa

Sprouting coconuts

Hiking near Omoa valley - rain in distance

Ripe bananas - ready to eat

Small but delicious (the bananas, that is)

Children with freshly caught octopus

Roller furler failure - fixed with string & grease for now

Madeleine and Rani in Madeleine`s garden - the peppers were extremely hot!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sleepless in Anaho

The wind is sweeping down from the mist shrouded hills and dark clouds obscure a swollen moon, telling us to shut the hatches, for rain is on its way. It is 2 am and Rani cannot sleep because her no-no bites are itching. She has collected close to 200 bites from two separate beach visits - one on Hiva Oa and one here. The downside to paradise is that poor Rani has a strong reaction to the poison these tiny insects inject and on day one and two comes out in penny-sized welts. On day three they turn into little volcanos and it takes great willpower and antihistamines to prevent her from scratching the hellish itch. They take about a week to pass.

Yesterday we hiked along the bay toward a mile long beach that we had passed on our trip around the island from Taipivai. Again, Nicky and Dennis from 'Knotty Lady' made the trip with us on this hike that our friends on Buena Vista had recommended. Once again, the hike followed a horse trail, this time passing the farm we had learned of the day before. We hoped to obtain some fresh veggies on our way back and headed directly to the beach.

After skirting Anaho bay along a series of white sand beaches, the trail plunged inland over a small rise and descended into rain forest. The farm was visible as a clearing on the right with plastic-mulched fields of melons and stands of various fruit trees. Soon after, we emerged from the woods onto a level plain covered in close-cropped grass and bush. Nicky, who is from the east coast of Scotland, remarked that the scenery looked just like home. Grey weather, an absence of palm trees in the immediate vicinity, and the rain squalls sweeping in from the east, no doubt added to this illusion. The sandy plain could quite easily have been made into a golf course and we were thankful for its remote location that has probably saved it from this fate.

We walked the beach looking for washed up treasure (we had told Dennis of the glass ball fishing floats that used to be washed up all over the Pacific and he was determined to find one). Later, I set up a sand bowling alley using empty coconut shells for balls and plastic bottles for pins. We took turns at this game - one point for the small bottles in front and two for the larger ones behind - before swimming in the surf.

During our swim the rain began. When we came out of the sea as it ended, the no-nos descended en masse. As Rani danced and struck at them, I tried to help her with liberal slaps and applications of DEET, but she still suffered another 50 or 60 bites to add to her 120+ existing ones. We fled the beach to higher land where the no-nos do not seem to live. On the way back, we stopped in at the farm, but finding no one there had to content ourselves with a self-guided tour. The produce at this time of year consisted mainly of melons and cucumbers.

Today I talked Rani into a snorkel on the reef. The calmer weather and reduced turbulence has improved visibility in the bay markedly in just two days. This reef is made up of coral formations like none we have seen. The corals form encrustations that look exactly like the funguses one sees on dead tree trunks in the Pacific Northwest, only larger. Some of these fans reach two and three feet across and in many places are built into conical humps that look for all the world like human-sized toadstools. Coloured mainly in shades of cream and beige, they have occasional sections of interleaved coral in green (perhaps the green is from an algae coating?)

The fish here are more diverse and colourful than those we saw in Mexico. Unfortunately, we do not have a local fish guide book yet, but look forward to finding something in Taiohae later this week. In addition to fish that are of similar forms to those in the Sea of Cortez - striped Sargent Majors, Butterfly fish, Moorish Idols, and Parrot fish, we saw some that have two little feelers, which they used to scan the bottom for food. These came in a variety of colours and ranged in size from a few inches to well over a foot. Rani also spotted two varieties of what she initially thought were sea snakes, but we were later told were most likely eel.

As we approached open water at the end of a point, two giant mantas swam past giving Rani a real scare (the first I knew of them was when Rani violently grabbed my arm!). These were much larger than the ones we had seen last week - at least 6 to 7 feet in wing span. One of them had lovely patterns on its back and their mouth openings were well over a foot across.

Last night we rowed ashore for a Marquesan meal put on by the owner of a pension located just back from the beach. He is related to Karim, whom we had met a couple of days ago, as well as to all the families on that side of the beach (6 homesteads). 'Chapter 2' and 'Knotty Lady' joined us for the meal that consisted of breadfruit, octopus, chicken, rice, and poisson cru.

The breadfruit was baked over a coconut husk fire (they burn the brown nuts split in two with meat attached) and the meat then extracted from the burned skin. The octopus is from the reef. Karim hunted for this at low tide, looking for little piles of rock that the octopus uses to cover the entrance to his cave. The Octopus was cooked in coconut milk (tenderize by pounding, scrape the skin off on a rock, boil twice for twenty minutes each time, changing water in between, then add coconut milk and bring back to boil, turn off and let marinate). I have never had such tender an octopus - absolutely none of the expected rubbery texture. The poisson cru was made by marinating in the local citrons (limes) a small white-fleshed fish from the reef, adding cucumber as a garnish. The chicken was fresh from their yard. Everything in the meal was gathered locally or grown on the farm we had passed a mile down the beach.

The Marquesans, like the Mexicans, do not seem to have developed a vegetarian cuisine (vegetables are actually fairly hard to find here, while fruit is plentiful), so Rani had to get by on potatoes and green beans, with water melon from the farm for desert.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Anaho Bay

On the north side of Nuku Hiva lies a large bay rimmed by white sand and sheltered under verdant hills that rise to grey and forbidding mountains. There is no road to Anaho bay - only a horse track that slices back and forth seven times before it crests and drops into the valley to the west running, into the town of Hatiheu (pronounced Hat-ee-hay-oo). The anchorage is well sheltered from easterly swell and one of our guides describes it as the best in French Polynesia.

Yesterday we hiked the trail to Hatiheu with an Australian/Scotch couple off a 40 foot Hunter sailboat named 'Knotty Lady'. Landing on the beach at Anaho bay, we walked along a trail that passed through what we later learned is a Catholic camp for underprivileged children. We met some workers who were weed-whacking the grass (a popular past-time in the Marquesas) and a local man named Karim, who speaks excellent English.

Karim is part Hawaiian, part Marquesan and part Tahitian. A member of a society that perpetuates the art of ocean voyaging and navigating without instruments (i.e., no compass or GPS). Karim showed us a tattoo of an ocean voyaging canoe (one of several on his leg) and explained that each island group had its own specialized designs. He has built a number of such canoes. Karim lives on the bay on what was his grandmother's land in a 'Swiss Family Robinson' style house built up in the coconut trees. He told us about the Catholic camp and pointed out the small pension and cottages owned by his cousin that occupied the remainder of this end of the bay. Bidding Karim 'Bonne Journee' we followed his directions to the trail to Hatiheu.

The trail was well built, designed to carry regular horse and mule traffic and buttressed by head-sized stones, taken I suspect from nearby pai pais. At the saddle, we stopped before descending into the next valley on a rocky ridge with a commanding view back over the bay. As we descended, the trail was muddy in places and seemed less well maintained. However about half way down we were in for what has become a regular treat for us - fresh fruit. Dozens of small mangoes in various stages of ripeness littered the trail where they had fallen from a huge mango tree.

As we came off the trail onto the concrete road that runs through the village, a woman leading 4 mules laden with melons and other fruit passed us. She told us that the fruit was from a farm on the other side of Anaho bay and would be taken by truck into Taiohae for the Saturday market.

The town of Hatiheu is modest - a strip of bungalows along a raised beach-front road. Its claim to fame are the archeological sites, dating from around 1600 to 1700, that lie just outside the town on the road to Taiohae. We hiked another kilometer or so to the first site, which consisted of extensive stone platforms around a grassy field - a 'tohua' - about half as long as a soccer pitch. There were a few tikis here including a macabre one depicting a warrior raising a mace in one hand while stretching back a baby's neck in the other. I am not sure, but this might have referred to the practice of infanticide, which was used for population control in parts of Polynesia. Another tiki depicted a turtle on top of a prone man who was in turn on top of another man, in a very suggestive attitude.

The second site we came to about another kilometer along the road was even larger, with huge banyan trees growing from massive stone platforms. Here the restorers had rebuilt shelters on the pai pai, to show in part how the site would have looked. There were so many platforms, pathways, and cooking pits that it felt like we were in a city of stone. Only part of the site had been excavated but this took us more than half an hour to walk around and contained in addition to the platforms and dwellings, pictographs depicting turtles and mahi mahi (dolphin fish).

Back in town we bought drinks and junk food from the astonishingly expensive corner store (e.g., $5 for a bottle of sprite - $10 for a large bag of Doritos). We supplemented this with a couple of pamplemousse from the church yard and Marquesan (Indian) almonds, which had fallen from the tree under which we were eating our lunch. The almonds contained a hard shell surrounded by a soft red pulp. They were not easy to break open, but Rani asked a local girl how to do this. She placed the shell on edge and deftly cracked it with one or two blows form a stone.

On the return trip, we passed the workers from the Catholic camp, returning to their homes in town by horseback. It was nearly dark when we reached our boats and we finished off the day by inviting our hiking friends to share a lentil curry that had been maturing while we were gone.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Nuku Hiva

We sailed from Hiva Oa to Nuku Hiva overnight. Once clear of the influence of Hiva Oa, whose mountains generate their own wind and weather, we were once again in easterly trade winds and swell. The winds were light and we sailed between a beam and broad reach with full sail for most of the passage. Rani spotted a cruise ship en route to Nuku Hiva on her late night watch and a pod of dolphins greeted us as we approached Controller Bay. We dropped anchor amongst eight yachts off the valley (Taipae Vae) where Herman Melville spent some months as a young man, after jumping ship in the next bay over.

We have Melville's book 'Typee' on board and Rani had read it on the passage, so we were interested to see the setting for this and to visit some of the sites that Melville describes so vividly. It was the 1840's when Melville arrived here and eight French men o' war lay in the next bay with orders to take possession of these islands for France. Melville and a companion, weary of an extended whaling voyage left their vessel while on shore leave and fled across mountains and valleys to the valley of the Typee where they spent months living with the natives they found there.

The valley we found was the most fertile and pastoral of all those we have seen in the islands. A broad river enters the bay and is navigable to small boats at high tide to some distance from the sea. Along the river, on either side are plantations, small wooden bungalows with corrugated metal roofs and generous verandas, and a vegetable farm, which supplied us with fresh tomatoes and delicious cauliflower. Several homes were built on the Pai Pai (stone platforms) Melville would have seen as the base of the native homes.

With Mike and Karen from 'Chapter 2', we hiked into the hills above the valley to an ancient ceremonial site. Following a muddy horse trail, we arrived at a large clearing with two large Pai Pais and a dozen mostly intact tikis, which had escaped the destructive censorship of Catholic missionaries. One of the tikis was the spitting image of a 'South Park' cartoon character with its squat fat body and round grinning head set directly on the heavy stone shoulders.

Rani led us further up the hill to what she hoped would be a look-off. Instead we found another Pai Pai buried deep in the woods on the edge of a copra plantation. We had glimpses up the valley to a 700 foot waterfall, but the trail only led to the copra plantation. Incidentally we have been told that the gathering of copra (which is dried coconut meat used, for example, in making cosmetics and oil) is subsidized by the government. One family we talked to said that they receive about $300 for a wheel barrow load of this, the production of which takes a skilled worker little more than an hour. The family would go to their plantation and gather and process a barrow load or two whenever they needed some money.

The next day we walked the road to a neighboring village through some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. The winding road ran along our bay and then over a ridge on which was a concrete cistern that supplied the village from a stream in the hills. As we descended into the valley, we passed coconut and banana plantations, pistache trees, and orchards of mangos. Orderly homes with colourfuul hedges and yards full of fruit trees lined each side of the road. We saw stone pai pais, overgrown with lichens, in every yard, testimony to the fact that this had been a village site for hundreds of years. Most of the houses were now built on separate foundations or on concrete posts, but a few still rested directly on their pai pai.

The road meandered past a little wooden church and then curved sinuously around a stream that spilled into the ocean at a large and sheltered bay. A horse grazing on the sward beside the stream completed this bucolic picture. We lunched on the sand beach under a shady tree, watching Polynesian children playing in the surf. It was May 1 - a holiday in France and its dependencies, and there were several families at the beach, picnic'ing and barbecuing.

That night a large easterly swell began to roll into the anchorage - a low pressure system over the Tuomotus had been causing unsettled weather. We pulled up the anchor and motored and sailed 20 miles to Anaho Bay on the north side of the islands, where we will spend a few days hiking and visiting archeological sites and a nearby village.