Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The soft edges of Nuku Hiva

For the purposes of border control we are now caught in the net of an administrative subset of France known as French Polynesia. It's a huge net with a very very loose weave, covering thousands of square miles of ocean. What it's doing here is another story, and you do wonder. You can't even buy decent bread in the main town of the Marquesas. The baker has shut up shop and where the sub-standard baguettes sold in the general stores come from is anyone's guess. This is a long way from France, believe me.

We found out from other cruisers in Taiohae Bay that the French Polynesian customs patrol boat visits Fatu Hiva once a year. That's what the patrolmen themselves told the cruisers they fined on their visit this year. They took cash only. Those people who had a lot of cash on board paid more than those who had less. Stands to reason? If you make landfall on Fatu Hiva on any other day of this year, it seems that the rules, such as they are, do not and cannot apply. I write this information for those who follow, to use as they wish. Next year may be different. Who knows.

The blog likewise has entered a blurry zone. There is an internet service in the Marquesas, but as I was told by the cheerful young man in the post office, don't come back to me if it doesn't work. He sold me a Vini sim card plus 400 MB of pre-paid credit (their biggest bundle) for 4100 FPF, which is about $A50. I get a green light in my dongle (do you remember those?), but no lift-off beyond that. The first mobile phone tower was built by the Survivor TV series team about 20 years ago, apparently. The network is 2G, and unless you are sitting right beside a wifi hotspot, say the one at Snack Vaivae on the dock, and (let's imagine) drinking a jus de pamplemousse and munching your way through a plate of raw fish marinated in coconut, you're fresh out of luck with the internet in Taiehoe Bay. It's workable, but as I say, it's going to be a bit hit and miss from now on as far as the internet goes.

That's bad news for those of you who love Alex's pictures. As I do. They're either going to come in large dollops, or I'll insert them into the text after the event.

Right now, we're anchored in a bay which defies description - my powers of description, that is. Its entrance, invisible from the sea until we came close to the cliffs, was rough but once inside, the waters are fairly well protected from the swell, which means that this morning I am rested. Taiohae Bay is a splendid wide and safe anchorage, but it is not restful. We're surrounded here by magnficent cliffs on one side, and behind the beach at the head of the bay (Anglo cruisers call it Daniel's Bay, for an old man who once lived here, but its local name is Hakatea) is a verdant valley. There's a 600 m high waterfall up there somewhere, and the cruising guides, scanty as they are on general touristic tips, suggest trekking in to see it. For the beauty, one imagines, because it's a 5 hour round trip. Usual waterfall tips are more practical i.e here's a place you can get water to drink, clean your bodies and wash your clothes in.

We're planning to do the trek tomorrow with some new friends, Marce and Jack (from the American-flagged catamaran Escape Velocity), though vigorous walking per se doesn't drive our agenda as it does some people's. We seem to need the scent of a ruin to draw us into the hills. Nuku Hiva has a few ancient tikis (rustic stone statues) in remote settings but not many. The missionaries saw to that. All of those we've seen thus far, even in the archeological site up behind Hatiheu Bay, have been modern reproductions of the ancient gods, though thanks to the weathering of the ocean climate they look as old as the earth itself. Know the feeling.

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Sunday, 21 June 2015

Panama to Marquesas wrap

On our long passage to the Marquesas,  it felt as though we hardly picked up the camera. But there's enough in the selection below to give you an idea of the voyage.

Three days out from Panama, lunch is still looking fresh and simple

In the ITCZ, there was often a great cloud bank brewing

Birds often circled Enki II looking for shelter from the storm

We picked up a couple of booby hitchhikers near the Galapagos (and below)

We saw two yachts on our passage - this is Evasion, a 54 ft French ketch

Beer o'clock was impossible to miss

Before the swell came in...leek and dried mushroom risotto

Crossing the equator (and below) meant we were back in the southern hemisphere 

Pleased about that!

We picked up favourable current and trade winds at about the same time

Sometimes the sun set spectacularly, but mostly not...

We made water regularly, and twice ran the washing machine 

There was a daily flying fish harvest off the decks

The NZ-flagged ketch d'Oude Liefde did a mid-ocean drive-by

We compared notes on the radio with Gerard and Rebecca on d'Oude Liefde

Weeks passed.... and eventually we were close enough to land to hoist the Q flag.

Our approach to Ua Pou was exhilarating (and below)
Alex was thinking about a stern anchor - we needed a rope slice

We failed to set the anchor at Ua Pou....and tried not to look behind.

We finally we made landfall in Taiohoe Bay (Enki, centre)

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

We must be there

People were rehearsing last night in Taiohoe Bay. The music came out of the night, over the sound of crashing Pacific swells meeting land, from somewhere above the road which skirts the steep, lushly-covered hills which surround the main settlement on Nuku Hiva. Growling basses grunted what sounded like a Maori haka and over their chant flew an angelic female chorus, of the churchy persuasion. A strange hybrid. Still, tonight, 24 hours after we dropped anchor (and there's a story to be told) it's the music which convinces me we have arrived. The rest is still a little unreal.

Those with a better-than-passing knowledge of the Marquesas will know that we are in the wrong place. What are we doing in Nuku Hiva when every sane sailor makes landfall in the southern island group, if not at Fatu Hiva then at Hiva Oa. I explained that in my last post, didn't I?

Look, things happen at sea. The wind gets up, the sea gets up, and suddenly, it doesn't seem to be such a great idea to be making landfall in a bay where, in strong trade winds, you probably won't feel comfortable leaving the boat to go ashore (boats often drag at Hanavave, so we had read, and the more anchors you can put out, the better you sleep at night). So, we passed on Fatu Hiva and for a period were heading for Atuona, the capital of Hiva Oa. We would check in there, and maybe, if the trades calmed down, backtrack to Fatu Hiva. People do that.

No-one has a good word for Atuona. The swell's always awful, the anchorage is small and usually crowded, and it's prone to silting, so pretty shallow (2 to 6 metres). The island itself offers only one other anchorage, so not somewhere to cruise, per se. What tipped it, I think, was that we were not going to make either Fatu Hiva or Atuona until after dark, and so would be obliged to spend another night at sea, bobbing about with either very little sail up, or hove-to.

So why not press on? We took a chance on Ua Pou. Ua Pou is about 60 miles north of Hiva Oa. We would get into Hakahau Bay first thing in the morning and maybe even be able to check in the same day (the gendarmes close up shop for clearance formalities at 11 am, I'd read). The anchorage behind the breakwater was small, and not very deep, but at a pinch (according to the cruising guides) a boat could anchor outside the breakwater in 16 metres where the holding was good. There was a rider: depending on the swell, it might not be possible to anchor there at all.

When I can post pictures of Ua Pou you will see what an extraordinary place this was to make landfall, truly an island from special effects. As if to make sure that we understood that, as we reached up the east coast, beneath those vertical mountains climbing hundreds of feet above the rim of the extinct volcano, an exuberant crowd of dolphins came bounding out across the whitecaps to greet us, the show-offs leaping and twisting like paid performers. They were in no hurry to leave either.

We might have bypassed the mythical Fatu Hiva, but Ua Pou would do us nicely.

We came into Hakahau Bay in 25 knots of breeze. Behind the breakwater the sea was relatively calm and with only three yachts at anchor, there was room for us. No-one seemed interested in our arrival, either then or later. The only sign of life on the water were boys in their bright plastic outriggers, riding the surf.

So there we were. At the finish line. It was 1 pm. We'd have lunch once the anchor was down, we said. It is almost worth forgetting, but I'll mention that we were bone tired. We'd had a difficult last night at sea. We elected to go north of Hiva Oa, and the wind backed into the north east and then it died. The pole went up and down twice (we don't like gybing at night usually). We both got much less sleep than usual. We were ready to stop.

But wouldn't you know it, we couldn't.

Our Rocna anchor, our hefty all-round performer, the anchor we can always rely on, would not set. We tried seven times. At least three times when I winched it up, the spade was clogged with fine sticky sand, sometimes with a bit of gravel in it, but on first pass, perfect holding stuff. We were mystified. Should have been a shoo-in. Talk about an anti-climax.

Both of us could remember the only other time we couldn't get the anchor to set. We sailed all night to the next island (in the north of Greece). Both of us knew where this was taking us, but we didn't have another night in us.

It was 2.30 pm when we gave up Ua Pou and headed back out into the breeze. We didn't consider going around to another bay on that rugged island and coming back to Hakahau the following morning. We needed certainty. We needed a resting place. We set a course for Taiohoe Bay on Nuku Hiva, 25 miles away. Sunset was in three hours. If necessary we could come into Taiahoe Bay at night. It has lights. It's famously wide and welcoming. We could stop there.

We had the ride of all rides across from Ua Pou. Enki flew over the swells. When the speedo dipped below 8 knots, we frowned and she lifted her game again. They weren't a hardship, those extra 25 miles. I opened a can of baked beans and poured them (heated) over yesterday's bread. I drank Coke. Desperate times etc. We came into the anchorage just as the sun was going down, and our anchor grabbed first time.

A stern anchor to keep our nose into the swell would have to wait until morning. We had no idea how to set a stern anchor yet, but we would figure it out.

We were finally stopped.

People have been asking us today, how long did you take? It seems we had a fast passage at 27 days from Panama. We couldn't have known. We just took it as it came. And now we'll work out how to cruise the Marquesas from the wrong end, and listen out again tonight for the music.

It's good to be here.

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Friday, 12 June 2015

It's swell out here

I won't say we've given up fishing - we haven't - but events have somewhat overtaken our pre-occupation with our No Fish status.

A couple of disincentives: a shift to squally weather and, as the miles roll back (500 to go), fatigue. Now, as Alex is wont to say, "if I had a crewed boat, I'd....(blah blah blah)". I don't take offence. I pull my weight, but there's one of me, and I'm not what you'd call muscle-bound. I couldn't, for example, help him pull in the gennaker if the breeze got up suddenly to, say, over 15 knots, so after that first idling-along day out of Panama City we've not taken it out of the bag even if, on some days, it would have been a better choice of sail than our heavy-weight genoa.

The same goes for fishing. If we're pitching around in rolly seasLas, and we catch a Big One, can we land it? Let's get real here.

We don't know what's cooking up these squalls - this is when you'd love to have a weather fax on board so you could rustle up a synoptic chart - but they've been slamming us for 35 knots as they bear down on us from the east south-east. Not exactly tropical. When you're concentrating on keeping the boat trucking - i.e. stable and moving fast - down swells which are running up to 3 metres in that kind of breeze it's disappointing, but pretty obvious, that you don't put out a line. You think to yourself, tomorrow. We'll have fish for dinner tomorrow.

The last big fish we failed to bring in made off with the lure too. That was about five days ago, I think. Time is very blurry now. I remember it was just as d'Oude Liefde was coming into sight, and there we were, headsail furled (to slow down the boat - tip from Elias), reefed main, bobbing about like a small dinghy and fiddling around on the aft deck like the odd couple, trying to make sense of another fishing adventure gone belly up. And that's when d'Oude Liefe (which in Dutch means something like heart's delight) came bearing down on us, under yankee and jib and reefed mainsail, no mizzen sail, like the grande dame that she is, confident in her head-turning beauty, with Gerard at the wheel, and the boys and Rebecca up on deck, waving, as they made a couple of sweeps past us, and then gybed once again to resume course. D'Oude Liefe isn't cruising. She's on a mission, with a pit-stop only planned for Hiva Oa, and next stop Tahiti. Gerard, who is a medical prof in Melbourne, has a job to get back to by August. He doesn't have time to muck around in boats really, though you sense he's longing to.

I can't post pictures of D'Oude Liefde now, but if you go back a few posts, you'll see her ahead of us in the Miraflores Lock of the Panama Canal. She's New Zealand-flagged, 67 feet long, and if you're into pretty boats, you'd pick her out of a crowd every time.

Rebecca came on the VHF as we passed each other to ask if we had any chocolate icecream. This is her first ocean voyage (nothing like throwing a girl in the deep end - "but she's taken to it like a duck to water", according to Gerard). I think of her often with four men to feed (Gerard, plus two de Jong nephews and an extra able body). It's hard physical work cooking on the ocean. A better stretch than pilates, and not nearly as safe. "Permission to come aboard," Rebecca piped up when I replied that we had no ice cream but we did have a stash of dark chocolate. I'd keep some for her when we got to Hiva Oa, I promised, but with this wind, I think d'Oude Liefde will have bounded away and by the time we arrive in Hiva Oa she'll be gone. More's the pity. We enjoyed their company in Panama. Not your usual ocean-going contingent, that's for sure.

Who is? Who are the people on the other boats out here, those faint, crackly voices we pick up once a day on the Pacific Magellan net "sched"? Who is Martha on Silver Fern? She sounds as though she knows what she's talking about (do I?). Why does that poor woman on Maranatha whose husband reports that she is still seasick ("she always is, from the first day of every passage till the last - we've tried everything") want to be out here? Who is that chirpy German on Joshua? And how did he land that 22 kg wahoo? Roger that.

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Saturday, 6 June 2015

Doing the miles

It's a sparkling day. I'm mesmerised by the glinting 2 metre swells, the way their whitecaps spit in the wind, the way they lift the boat up and give her bum a little twist, maybe a spank, push her about a bit and then run right under her and away to the west in a fizz of foam. The sun is high in a near cloudless sky, and the night still six hours away.


And what a difference a night makes. That was written yesterday afternoon, when I was tanked up on a full five hours of sleep from the night before. This morning I'm more than a little dusty, as Claudia would say. That playful motion I described above is a fiend to sleep with, especially when your best lee berth is at the back of the boat. Bodies with more malleable biorhythms than mine aka Alex's are thrown out of whack by what in the parlance is called a "confused sea state". But one thing you can be sure of on the ocean is that nothing stays the same.

It seems to though. Day after day, mile after mile, Enki pushes along on a blessed beam reach, with the trimmer (looks a lot like the engineer, electrician and captain) balancing her genoa and mainsail for optimum performance (never less). He never tires of tweaking, but both of us are aware of how much less physical work there is in sailing a boat like ours compared to the days before furlers and electric winches. No hauling down sails and hanking on different ones to suit changing wind conditions, as you read of Frances Chichester doing on long hauls (he was about Alex's age at the time). Men of old. How did they do it?

We see only waves and clouds, moon, sun and stars. Ships pass rarely in the night or the day now. The dolphin nation which swam so thrillingly close to us a week ago was obviously on a mission. It might have migrated to the other hemisphere for all we know. The passenger birds have left us too, those big boobies which were the closest we came to Galapagos wildlife.

Oh, we still have flying fish. Legions of them. Yesterday one met an undignified death with his snout jammed in a deck drain, tail pointing to the sky. They are careless about how they die, these flashy critters. Their larger brethren not so. Without exception so far they have elected not to stick around on our hooks. Eight strikes, none to eat. Yet. You could say we are working on our technique. We've had long-distance tuition from the fishmeisters in Patagonia. Galactic has not one, not two but four fishing experts on board, and a plea for advice flushed out tips from three of them. Eric (aged 5) was asleep at the time their email was sent, but maybe we'll hear back from him later.

It's a long way to the Marquesas. Did I mention that already? I could say we've broken the back of it, and it'd be true but there are still about 1500 miles - sea miles - to go before we make landfall. The question is where? Those Polynesian names which all blend into one another at first glance are beginning to distinguish themselves. Fatu Hiva is the logical place to arrive because it's closest and upwind of all the other islands i.e if you don't stop now, you're unlikely to beat back on your tracks. It's also the most beautiful landfall in the world, according to old hands. But it's not a port of entry. What is a pathologically law-abiding person such as myself supposed to think about that? Should we risk all (well, the wrath of the gendarme on Hiva Oa, and maybe a fine) for an abiding memory of the Bay of Virgins? We have 9 or 10 days to make up our minds. It's not knife-edge, this existence.

That said, every day we are silently grateful for the continued fine performance of our boat which is humming across the blue desert at a very respectable speed. These past 24 hours the dial has often hovered around 8 knots and occasionally spiked at 9 knots. It's the current, stupid. People put serious technological grunt behind locating favourable ocean currents, but we're just going with the flow, and as luck would have it, the flow for the moment is going with us.

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Monday, 1 June 2015

Opposing forces

All's well on board. Covers the essentials. Will we want to remember the details?

A few frames from this morning might jog the memory.

At 0800 (we have adjusted our watches to "local" time at 101 W), Enki is bounding along in the bright light of a new day, a new month. She's got a taste for going fast, showing 8 plus knots on the dial for more than 12 hours now. We've found the SE trades all right, and we've also found the south equatorial current, we assume. We're not that clever. This isn't Enki's normal cruising speed but we'll take the current, and we'll take the 20 knot breeze for as long as it lasts. The swell's running at 2 metres, and pushing our girl around. We'd like to take the waves at a better angle, but we prefer to go in the right direction, and manage the lurching and rolling and kicking and slapping. Imagine your floor as a water bed set to storm mode. That's our living space. Your body is never still, even when you're sitting, and preparing food in the galley is a serious workout.

So, first frame. I have just woken up, having put two hours sleep in the bank. Alex is wired. He's been awake since 0530. He is furling in the genoa, hard. There's a squall a few miles to our east threatening to spoil our al fresco breakfast plans. He puts on his full Musto suit. I go down below, still not fully alert, and rifle around in stores. This is our first morning without fresh fruit to liven up our grits. The pineapples are finished, bananas, pears, pawpaw, passionfruit all gone. Bring on the canned peaches.

The squall passes in front of us, a non-starter. Alex unfurls the genoa, and fires up the generator again. We have to put two hours of charge into the batteries to make up for what we used last night. It's the autopilot which is the glutton for power. He wishes (for the umpteenth time) that we had a water-towed generator (like Sea Cloud's Watt'n'Sea) which "would make 4 or 5 amps an hour all night". There's always something...

He turns on the watermaker too. We can make water only when we run the generator. We like having full water tanks. Just in case.

We have a bread deficit too. Last night we got distracted at about the time I would normally have been mixing up the dough. A fish took our lure. It was a big fish, of course. We made a decent attempt to bring it in, but it got away. Like the four before it. Next time. So I have no bread to bake, and we need bread, more than we need fish actually. I'm bored with bread-making today. I decide to try pizza dough.

For inspiration, I pull out Jim Lahey's My Bread book. I carry a few cookbooks on board, mostly to keep my spirits up. I decide to make potato pizza. I've never done that before, and doing something I've never done before in the kitchen is my idea of a good time.

The potatoes I bought at the Panama market were a bad lot. I should have known better than to buy potatoes from a man who kept them in the dark. My new sport is to throw the rotten potatoes out the port. I peel a couple, and slice them thinly with the mandolin on my horrible flat grater (ease of storage upstages ease of use on a boat). I put them in a bowl of salted water, as Jim asks me to do, and push them to the lee side of the bench against the wall while I deal with what's in the sink.

The boat lurches. It makes a nonsense of everything non-slip on my bench top. The bowl with its rubberised bottom tips over, and salty, starchy water pours into the under-bench lockers where I keep spices and oils etc. I haul the bottles out, sponge out the lockers. They'll stay damp. The air in the boat is damp. It's also hot, and I'm exhausted before the pizza has got anywhere near the oven. I'd rather be sailing.

Above decks, the sun is out. It's 1030. Alex goes up front to tighten the genoa halyard. I don't take my eyes off him. On his way back to the cockpit, he picks up flying fish off the teak. Five of them this morning. There are lots of flying fish in these waters. Squadrons of the funny little fellows flying low and fast. Pity their sense of direction doesn't allow them to swerve when an unidentified sailing object passes by.

And now, at 1200, Alex is asleep. My eyes are scratchy but I don't sleep easily during the day. He's got an edge over me in that regard (and in several others, I know). My pizza dough needs attending to. Enki can look after herself while I try to outwit the forces of gravity down below. She's got oceanic physics figured pretty well.

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