Sweet Home Seattle
24 April 2017 | Seattle, WA
On Tuesday, 4/26, Rob will make his way to Raiatea to check on Athanor and tend to a few projects. Making travel arrangements, connecting with friends as they make plans to return to their boats following hurricane season, scanning dozens of “boat cards” from fellow cruisers, and reviewing lists upon lists – feels like old times.
As I packed the “bag o’ boat stuff” this morning, I take note that we’ve largely tucked away our life on the boat since we’ve been home. In January, we had a brief but wonderful reconnection over Sunday brunch with Randy and Ruth, from S/V Velic, who had made the crossing parallel to us last year. But it wasn’t until our friends Tom & Sylvia (who also made the crossing at the same time we did last year) embarked on a 2nd passage with friends of theirs aboard S/V Shindig, that we began reminiscing. Every morning I couldn’t wait to get to my computer to see how their previous day’s passage went. In an event most unbelievable to me, I found myself saying, “I want to make that passage again!”
We’ve been back in the states for 6 months now. When we landed in Seattle on October 3, 2016, we were firmly rooted in our plan to return to Athanor, return to our cruising friends, and return to exquisite French Polynesia after 6 months (April, 2017), for another season of sailing. Plans change. Within a couple of months, it became pretty darned clear that we would need to stay here for an additional year. Although we had some grieving to do, we quickly made a list of all the great experiences we could have by being home for longer than expected: spending time with family and friends, exploring new places in the states, etc. And, we made a commitment to each other to make them happen.
After a brief adjustment period, we’ve easily slipped back into our “land life.” Rob’s business required his full attention from the get go, while I had some time to ease back in. For everyone’s sanity, I needed to feel useful again. I am an expert multi-tasker; however, I have zero experience at “not-working.” So when we decided we’d be in Seattle for a year +, I figured that I might as well get at it. Little did I expect that I would receive a call from the Board of Directors at the organization I ran prior to our adventure. For the next 9 months or so, I will be the Interim Executive Director at College Access Now – round deux.
To all of our cruising buddies: we love you, miss you, and wish you amazing adventures this sailing season. Most of all, we can’t wait to reconnect next year.
To our family and friends: we treasure our time at home with you – including making plans for you to join us in the South Pacific next year!
Susan and Rob
Raiatea - Final stop in French Polynesia
02 October 2016 | Raiatea
After reading our last blog post, my dear friend Tracy (Wenatchee) commented that it left her with a pit in her stomach. When I queried her, she said, “I think I’m wondering if you’ve changed.” Her comment has had me thinking a lot about whether/how I’ve changed over the past year+. I asked Rob to think about it too.
Our overnight sail from Papeete to Raiatea was one of the best we’ve had in the past year. It didn’t start that way, however. We came out of the harbor to decent winds, and “confused seas.” We put the sails out and, seemingly within 30 seconds, a squall we thought would pass behind us was instead all over us – clocking 33 knots of wind. S—t! Totally caught us off guard. Rob used all of his might to get the headsail furled in and we started forereaching into the wind-driven swells. We were safe – just pissed. Thankfully, the squall passed, with no others behind it, and off we went!
As I came on watch at 10p.m., the skies were clear and the stars were out. We had our full main up and our genoa pole’d out for a nice downwind sail. I saw a fellow sailboat, one we knew, on the chart plotter – sailing towards Papeete. This big ‘ol ocean felt familiar and smaller tonight. I noticed a light on the horizon. I thought it was a freighter – no AIS identifier showing on the chart plotter – hmmm. It was a ways off, so I didn’t worry about it too much. The next time I turned my head; I saw that the freighter was actually an enormous, nearly full moon, rising on the horizon. For the next hour, I sat and stared at the moon, and the stars and planets around it – as we sailed along at 6 knots in calm seas. I thought about Tracy’s question. I have changed – in so many ways, the depth of which I cannot fully imagine right now. But for starters, I don’t believe I’ve ever sat for that length of time to watch a moon rise, and definitely never with a 360-degree view.
We approached Raiatea feeling a sense of melancholy. The island was brilliant green, with the reef surrounding it. This was the only island we’d be visiting where we knew we wouldn’t be doing much exploring. We had 10 days of serious work to decommission Athanor for her summer stay here. We made our way through the pass and around the island to the marina. Based on recommendations from fellow cruisers who have decommissioned their boat many times over the years, we rented a cottage in town – nice to get off the boat at the end of a long, sweaty day.
That night, the owner of the cottage gave us a lift to town for dinner – both of us taking note that we’d have plenty of time on the way back to walk off our dinner! We had a great meal and began our long walk to our cottage. We were tired, and complaining about the walk. Poor us. LOL.
As we walked, Rob heard drumming and singing – a familiar sound to us now. Around the corner we came upon a group of 40 adults and kids, practicing a dance. As we stood on the sidewalk watching, 1-2-3 people waved us into the yard. We sheepishly walked in, not wanting to disturb. I really wanted to pull out my phone to film them, but I resisted. I just wanted to be in the moment. They were all so beautiful – every shape/size/age – even the little girls had mastered that incredible swing of the hips! As the practice concluded, the owner of the dance studio came up to chat with us. He asked us where we were from, and shared that this group was heading to the U.S. shortly to perform in San Diego and Las Vegas. And it gets better…they guided us out of our chairs to join hands in a singing circle of thanks. Of course we didn’t know the words, but we did what one always does when you don’t know the words – mouth “watermelon, watermelon!” They were also celebrating a birthday and we were welcomed – in fact they insisted – that we stay and join them. An hour later, we made our “not so long walk” home – feeling blessed beyond words.
Over the course of the next week, we were up by 5:30, out the door by 7a.m., back at noon for lunch (and a siesta), then back to the boat for another several hours. It was essentially moving out of an apartment – all food had to go; everything (from the cupboards to the bilge) had to be scrubbed and wiped down with vinegar/water; sails had to come off; water tanks drained; engine oil changed, lines washed and stowed; clothes washed and sealed in vacuum bags – the list goes on. Rob also worked with a local mechanic to drop and inspect our rudder, and to get dimensions for two new rudder bearings that we’ll have machined while in the US.
Even though the work was not fun, it was a cathartic experience for us. Each of us – separately and together – had time to reflect on how this year+ has changed us. And, even here – in a dirty, dusty boatyard, we continued to warmed by the wonderful people we met day in/day out (see separate post “Boatyard John for more).
Yesterday, I cried as we left Athanor at the boatyard. She has been a loyal companion – our home - for over a year now. She’s carried us over 7,500 miles since we left Seattle last September.
This morning, we hopped a puddle jumper from Raiatea to Papeete. As our small plane flew over Huahine and Moorea, I had a very different vantage point of waters we had recently sailed. I spotted the blue/green reefs surrounding the islands. I noticed the natural breaks in the reef allowing boats to anchor. I envied the sailboats enroute.
Tomorrow, we will be in the states by dinnertime.
As you might imagine, our range of emotions are running high. We’ve missed our friends and family and can’t wait to hug our kids. We feel incredibly blessed that we had the opportunity – and the courage - to make this journey happen. We have fallen in love with this part of the world, and are sad to say so long. We’ll be back.
Once we’re settled in Seattle, we’ll write and let you know how re-entry is going! Thank you all for coming along with us – it’s been fun to share the highs – and lows – of our adventure.
Susan & Rob
02 October 2016
RAW HUMANITY – FORGET POLITICS. I was high above the ground on Athanor’s deck; John was on the ground prepping his boat for a fresh coat of bottom paint. Not that he could have done anything other than break my fall, I nonetheless asked him to hold the very tall ladder for me as I descended steeply fourteen feet to the ground. Rob scrubbed barnacles off the hull as I chatted with John. Over the course of the following ten minutes, our conversation – his story – epitomized the love and the utter humanity that we have felt each and every day we’ve spent in French Polynesia.
After a few minutes of typical “boat talk”, he asked where we were from. That sparked his sharing how surprised he is that U.S. politics is dominating the news worldwide. He commented that it must be hard to know what we’re going home to (the election season). He went on to share that he (a Kiwi) and his wife (French) spent an incredible two years roaming around the United States in an RV. He said with such fondness, “We were like kids! We loved every town we visited. We loved everyone we met. It was just wonderful. But the politics are atrocious!”
Mid-conversation, we were back around to talking about sailing. He shared that, when he and his wife (Annie) sailed across the Pacific, they made landfall in Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands. They fell in love with the islands. His wife told him, “When I die, I want to be buried here.” Then he delicately, quietly, slipped into one of the next few sentences that Annie died 1-1/2 years ago. I stopped him to confirm what he said. I’m not exactly sure how much time passed between their time in the Marquesas and her passing, but John shared that, following her death, he brought her ashes back to Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva. He planned to spread them in the bay. Before he did, he went to visit the local priest. He talked with the mayor. They were fine with his intentions but, being very Christian, they asked him to consider burying her instead. He agreed.
Which brings me to the utter humanity we have found in the Marquesas, the Tuomotos, Tahiti, Moorea, and now Raiatea. With tears in his eyes (and mine), John shared that the community came together to celebrate Annie’s life, and to bury her. They dug one grave. John then spotted two trees on a hill, and he knew that was where he wanted to bury her. He felt terrible asking them to dig another spot, but he did, and they didn’t hesitate. The women from the church brought flowers, several people played music – and they buried her. Neither John nor Annie is Marquesan. They never lived in Nuku Hiva, let alone French Polynesia. And yet, John’s heart will always be in Nuku Hiva, a place few ever have the privilege of experiencing.
14 September 2016 | Papeete, Tahiti
When we talked with friends from home about our impending voyage west from the Tuomotos to the island of Tahiti, it felt like an "ah ha" moment for many of them. Most of us grew up associating Tahiti with picture-perfect images of the nearby island of Moorea (and perhaps Bora Bora), rather than the island of Tahiti itself, or the broader collection of islands comprising the "Society Islands" within French Polynesia. Much like the Marquesas and Tuomotos, most folks are not familiar with the other islands that make up the Societies (Tetiaroa, Huahine, Raiatea, and Taha'a). Conversely, our fellow voyagers are well familiar with Tahiti and, even more so, with the primary city here, Papeete. For our friends on boats, Papeete typically brings up: (1) boat projects (work); (2) a dirty, noisy, unattractive city. In short, we weren't hearing much love about this port of call that was to be our first stop in the Society Islands.
Luckily, we've been quite surprised to have a much different experience. After spending months in remote places, we had our share of smaller projects that we'd been saving up, and we had limped along with our batteries since we were in Nuku Hiva. Taking delivery of our batteries did not go as smoothly as hoped, but it provided an education for us on several new levels. As for the city...for starters, Rob and I both like cities,and love to explore what they have to offer. We love the quiet and tranquil island settings experienced over the past four months, but we had also been looking forward to a change of pace. Oh, and we LOVED the idea of being in a marina for a short while...water that comes out of a hose to wash the boat; toilets that flush; showers where water spurts out above your head! And we had an added bonus to look forward to -- coming to Papeete meant that Kate's visit was finally here!
Our arrival in the big city was a bit surreal. The downtown marina is adjacent to the Port of Papeete - the primary port for all of French Polynesia. The airport is also within eyeshot, with the daily arrivals published in the paper. The more we've learned about Papeete, the more impressed we are. Papeete is one of the most remote cities of its size - lying mid-way between the West Coast of the Americas and New Zealand. Their reliance upon cargo ships to import supplies -- not only for Tahiti's 250,000 inhabitants, but also distributing supplies to neighboring Society Islands the more distant Marquesas, Tuomotos, Gambiers -- is nothing short of impressive from a sheer logistics perspective.
A lovely "promenade" follows the edge of the waterfront, providing awesome people watching. This strip of waterfront greenbelt is used by thousands of people a day - young, old, locals, tourists...jogging, walking, pushing strollers, but is also frequented by lunch-goers, high school couples seeking a place to press up against one another, and a few folks who make it their home. The promenade also seems to facilitate a focus on health consciousness for the city, complete with a par course. One day, we happened upon a giant Zoomba class, consisting mostly of women, with a handsome "Richard Simmons" type of celebrity from France man on stage. The city itself if not particularly "clean" by any means, but it is full of life - commerce, food, entertainment, and people from all walks of life.
Kate was indeed a sight for sore eyes. We had a total blast. She's the first one of our family/friends to visit us since Carah spent time with us in Mexico. And, as Kate had never spent any real time on the boat, we were a bit apprehensive (she shared that she had similar thoughts). But she totally stepped into life aboard! She got herself organized in her berth and, just like when she was a babe, she didn't stop until her head hit the pillow every night. This girl's got amazing energy and though we were much more active when she was here, we also had wonderful time just hanging on the boat. When she left after 10 short days, both Rob and I felt a bit empty.
We rode scooters around Moorea. Despite the fact that none of us had ridden scooters before, we survived. No surprise, Kate was in the lead 100% of the time! We challenged ourselves to make the best Mai Tai. We spent a full day hiking to the top of Belvedere (10-mile round trip). We discovered incredible farmland, pineapple plantations, archeological sites, an Agricultural College, and quite likely our favorite part was reaching the top to find a man selling coconuts, cooled in an ice chest. He lopped off the top, inserted a straw, and voila, we sipped the most refreshing drink (which tastes nothing like the coconut water sold in the states) while taking in a stunning view of Opunoho & Cooks Bay below. Note, the empty coconuts were re-used for Mai-Tai's later that evening (see pics). We got up early to take the dinghy to the head of the bay to buy fresh Crevette (shrimp) direct from a local shrimp farm that is only open 4 hours each week. We visited an amazing vanilla and fruit farm high atop a hill, carrying back way too much!
We were up and out early the mornings we went to visit the stingrays and black-tipped reef sharks. We had heard that an early morning arrival would beat the hotel boats filled with tourists. We loaded ourselves and our gear into the dinghy and ventured off with pretty vague directions...from the anchorage, follow the white markers about 1-mile west; look for a couple of mooring balls, and if you get to Motu Mihi, you've gone to far. We saw another dinghy out in front of us, so we followed them for a bit; however, they went beyond where we guessed we should be stopping. We spotted a couple of mooring balls and coasted near them - me telling Rob I was pretty sure we were at the wrong spot - Kate saying, "Mom, we only need one captain." Ouch. As we were having this discussion, we looked over the side of the dinghy to find 4,5,6 stingrays gathering below us in four feet of water - just a wee bit intimidating. And, even though we didn't want a bunch of people around us, we were the only people there. As is customary, we made Rob splash first.
The hour that followed was simply magical - a wild aquarium - which our images and video speak to best. As we slipped into the water, these beautiful rays were curious to meet us. At first, they swam by appearing to check us out. As time went by, they allowed us to pet them, and swam up the front of our bodies to give us a hug (I swear to you it looked like they were trying to take Kate's top off). Yes, there was some squealing heard. While our attention was focused on the stingrays, a dozen black-tipped reef sharks swam about. Rob tapped on my shoulder to say, "Hey, do you notice that you're not afraid of the sharks?"
Another highlight of our time in Moorea was sharing the experience with our friend Nico (27-year old who singled-handed from Berkeley) and his parents who are visiting for a month from Paris. Kate and Nico paddled kayaks to yoga one night; we cleaned and cooked 60 shrimp for a fantastic meal (followed by many rounds of Bananagrams); we also shared our Stingray experience with them.
Kate and I took the ferry back to Papeete for a girl's day before she headed back to the States. We swam in the hotel pool, napped in poolside lounge chairs, sipped umbrella drinks, and laughed a lot!
This week we are attending "Festival Polynesia - Te Moana Nui a Hiva" - the first festival of its kind in Papeete honoring the deep, rich cultural history and connection French Polynesians have with the Maoris (New Zealanders), Hawaiians, and Easter Islanders. We've seen two dance shows so far - we have been brought to tears by their intensity and beauty.
With our return to the states only six weeks away, many of our conversations have made that difficult shift to focus on departure planning. Wasn't it just yesterday that we left the comforts of our home in Seattle? It is yet another opportunity to practice being in the present moment. Just as on land, there is no shortage of experiences/advice shared amongst cruisers. On the re-entry subject, I'll save you the details, but the bottom line we've heard from those that "re-entered" before - it's difficult. Much like our excitement about arriving in Tahiti (despite what we'd heard), we are also excited about returning to the states. We miss our family. We miss our friends. We're looking forward to the adventures we'll have when we return.
Later this week we'll sail to Huahine (our final overnight sail this trip) and finally Raiatea to haul the boat out and make our way back to the states.
Susan & Rob
Fakarava - Shark Town
22 August 2016 | Fakarava
Every conversation we'd had with anyone about Fakarava quickly turned to the diving and snorkeling, particularly at the South Pass. Typical words/phrases: NOT TO MISS EXPERIENCE - sharks - big fish - beautiful coral - grouper - LOTS (as in hundreds) of sharks - black tip reef sharks - grey sharks - lemon sharks - sleeping sharks. So, you can imagine the anticipation. As we approached the pass in our dinghy, my anxiety level was peaking. I'll attempt to describe how "diving the pass" works: At just before slack tide, we drive our dinghy from inside the atoll lagoon through the pass opening towards the ocean. Next, we pull on our snorkeling gear and grab the line tied to the dinghy. Then, it is time to spill into the water - I made Rob go first, just in case. LOL. As the current picks up, we floated through the pass - no effort - it feels like flying.
Over the course of 3 days, we snorkeled the pass a total of 7 times - the experience blew our minds! Unfortunately, we didn't get great shots with our GoPro; however, this link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3s1qO6Hb3o), plus a few shots in our photo album might give you a visual sense of our experience. As we dropped into the water, the first thing I saw was a group of scuba divers below us - surprised me (at least it wasn't a shark staring me in the eye). As things came into view, we saw a hundred+ sharks 80 feet below us. Try visualizing this - it looked like they were treading water. I kept thinking about my brother, Greg. He would be in heaven. On day two, we gasped as we saw 1,2,3...6 eagle rays - ranging in size from a 3 foot - to 8 foot wingspan - gracefully swimming together in pairs. Just to keep me awake, I glanced over my shoulder to see a grey shark about 20 feet away checking me out - followed by an up close and personal visit from 50 or so of his friends. My personal favorite was the sleeping shark resting on the coral floor below. As we floated through the pass into the lagoon, it became shallower (and faster) as the reef rose from the ocean floor. We passed thousands of brightly colored small reef fish tucked safely into their coral homes. Absolutely an experience I will never forget - and, hope to do again.
..........Starting at the beginning
Our sail from Kauehi to Fakarava was one of the best we've had. We had a 15-knot downwind sail and used our spinnaker pole for the first time, flying wing-on-wing the entire 35 miles. We entered the north pass at just the right time (unlike Kauehi) and actually sailed through...no pedal to the metal this time! From the pass, we followed a well-marked channel to the anchorage where we slipped onto an available mooring buoy.
We spent nearly a month in Fakarava, making our way slowly from the north to the south end, each anchorage unique and special. Fakarava was a perfect balance of remote beauty, with the added bonus of those basic services we adore. All of the food on the atoll (save for the bread) still arrives by supply ship; however, it comes once a week making it much easier to extend our stay. It had been six weeks since we had purchased anything fresh, so when we first took the dinghy ashore and found vegetables, a boulangerie with freshly baked croissants, and tuna tartare -- we were in heaven! Add Internet and a cold beer and we were happy campers.
Once we had our civilization fix met, we began our short jaunt down the east coast of the atoll. The coast of Fakarava is dotted with small pensions, with colorfully painted over-the-water bungalows - elegantly simple, with none of the hype (nor cost) that we see in Bora Bora brochures, for example. If you need a place to get away from it all - this is it! Fly into Papeete, with a connecting flight to Fakarava. Spend a couple of weeks reading, sleeping, swimming, diving, and snorkeling.
Next stop, Pakokota. There we met owners, Matthieu and Agnes, along with their 5-month-old daughter, Hanni Hia. We fell in love with this adorable - and ambitious - family. Their home, and budding Lodge/Yacht Services business, is several miles south of where the concrete road ends in Fakarava. They have built a lovely eating/drinking/gathering space, along with three small bungalows (one for their family and two others to rent out). Our drive to town with Matthieu was awesome! Matthieu's early '80's Isuzu Trooper is reportedly the 1st of its kind in French Polynesia - our drive into town was definitely a 1st of its kind for me! When he said it had air conditioning, I had no idea the air was coming through the holes in the floor. We made it back safely, and enjoyed spending our lazy days visiting with fellow cruisers, kayaking, and swimming with a 10' wide manta ray.
Before heading to the south pass, we stopped for two days in a quiet little anchorage called Takaega. We were the only boat there and thoroughly enjoyed the stillness. Rob enjoyed some coconut hunting, and I read for hours on end.
Pulling into Hirifa felt like old home week. Friends we met upon our arrival in the Marquesas greeted us. We spent our days walking the reef, shell collecting, and chatting for hours and hours. I dabbled a bit in the galley baking a fresh coconut cake that we shared with our friends. And, that takes us back to where we started this post...snorkeling with the sharks!
Departing Fakarava is bittersweet. We will miss the simple way of life in the Tuomotos, yet we know that moving west means the creature comforts of staying in a marina, showers, real grocery stores, and the best of all - a visit from Katie babe!
We'll write from Tahiti.
Susan & Rob
Kauehi - the friendliest place on earth
26 July 2016 | Kauehi atoll
After two glorious weeks of solitude on Raroia, we were in the zone - a Zen state, if you will. Our departure from Raroia and passage to Kauehi was another reminder from our Buddhist friends that nothing is permanent, including our Zen state! We weighed anchor at daylight and made our way across the lagoon under cloudy skies - no sun to see those pesky bommies = stress to start the day. We approached the pass with trepidation seeing standing waves to our right, and rushed through at over 8 knots = stress diminished. As we set our sails we spotted a whale a ways off our beam - we haven't seen a whale since Mexico = Happy.
For the next 30 hours we were spanked - first, no wind and big seas, then big winds and big seas, then squall (rain) after squall (rain) after squall (more rain). At last, we approached the pass to Kauehi. The winds were blowing 20+ knots; the seas were 6', and it wouldn't stop raining. We were late to the pass. We had been told that this was an easy pass - wide, short, not huge currents. Rob says, "We've arrived at the worst possible time. Let's check it out and go from there." Given the current sea state, the options didn't look promising to wait outside the pass. As we approached, we couldn't tell what the current was doing, but we could see 6' standing waves. We knew that with the winds already at 20 knots, they were not likely going to get lighter as the day wore on. So, we went for it. Rob had it floored (7 knots) and we were moving at 2 knots - meaning, we had 5 knots pushing against us. Can you say white knuckles? Yes, I was praying once again! On the other side of the pass, we still had 8 miles across the lagoon with 20+ knot winds and 3' waves hitting us on the beam. More than an hour later, we were relieved to finally drop the hook, cut the engine, have the all important arrival beer, and take a nap!
With each visit to the village, we grew more and more fond of Kauehi. We were fortunate to be one of only two boats at anchor for the week we were in Kauehi. We felt completely embraced by the community. Every person we passed on the street waved and smiled. We were included in all the Heiva "reindeer games." We were hugged; we were kissed on both cheeks (European style), and the children exuded sweetness and great energy. Kauehi is a beautiful example of a community that is focused on raising their children in a loving and involved way.
On our first visit to the village, we stopped at the local Magasin (market) - that, much like the church in each town - is a local meeting spot. The proprietor, whom we later learned is the un-official mayor, enthusiastically greeted us. For $9, we happily purchased the one head of cabbage and bag of carrots in the cooler, along with an ice-cream sandwich - followed by a beer, which we enjoyed on the bench outside the grocery store chatting - in very broken French - with a few locals. "Tia" - said Magasin owner/pearl farm owner/un-official mayor - then invited us to join in the Heiva activities of the evening. When we arrived that evening, there was a soccer game underway, as well as a serious Bocchi ball competition. For Heiva, the community set up a circle of tents housing an ice-cream store, two restaurants, a discotheque, with the Bocchi ball court in the middle. As we ate dinner, the un-official mayor informed us that the kids were purportedly going to have a dance contest. In reality, it ended up being the boat ladies dancing with some kids. We were rewarded with a prize of a beautifully woven hat of fresh palm frons.
On another of our leisurely days in Kauehi, we spent the day at the airport - can you imagine spending the day at the airport as a pleasant experience? We finally dug out our folding bikes - and took a 10-mile ride to the Kuehi airport. The road is packed crushed white coral, lined with palm trees - the lagoon on one side, the lagoon reef and ocean on the other. Along the way, we were passed by several cars - all waving hello as they passed. Atop the cab of one of the passing trucks sat a teenage girl, crossed legged, smiling ear-to-ear. Tia, along with his family, was one of the trucks that passed us on the way. The side of his truck read Kauehi Transport, so we added transport services to his long list of businesses - and connected the dots that a flight might be arriving today. We later learned that there are two flights each week - Wednesday & Saturday. The open-air airport is the size of a postage stamp, with a handful of tables and several beautiful benches. The short runway sits between the ocean and the lagoon. I can imagine how spectacular it would be to fly above these waters. While we all waited for the flight (maybe it will arrive at 1 or 2 or 3p.m.), Tia invited us to sit with him to have a soda and a chat - another opportunity for Rob practice his French! Turns out the Magasin owner also owns a "snack bar" at the airport. LOL.
Bastille Day was the highlight of our time in Kauehi. For the entire day we were the guests of honor. And what a day it was. Organized - no! A hoot - yes! We were to arrive before 7a.m. to participate in the parade, followed by "cocktails" - the definition we quickly learned does not translate from the US - but in fact, was watered down Kool-Aid served out of a small (clean) garbage can. Dip your cup in - out comes your cocktail! The parade consisted of 40 people dressed in every color of the rainbow walking through town to the town hall, singing the national anthem, then walking back. The day continued with sack races, tug of war, and yet another "dance contest." After our turn at the sack race, Rob took it upon himself to change his status from honored guest to game show host, organizing a 3-legged race including the unofficial mayor - a real crowd pleaser.
For our last night, we planned to stay on board to prepare for our departure. Not so much. Tia insisted that we dine with him that night! So, instead of bringing the dinghy on deck, we headed to the dock once more, navigating through the shallow coral heads for the evening. Tia greeted us at his store and presented each of us with a beautiful shell necklace and a handful of "irregular, yet beautiful" black pearls from his pearl farm. Tres jolie! We ate chow Mein with Tia, his wife Andrea (in the pics) and our new friends An & Ivan aboard Vaguebond (Belgium).
One last note from the nature experience category: One evening as the sun was setting, I was so blessed to see something that goes un-noticed thousands of times a day - and reminded me a scene in Finding Nemo when Dorrie and the Dad encounter a school of fish that make the shape of an arrow to direct them. One hundred flying fish, together, leapt out of the water like a dolphin with a bird hovering above them. This happens - thousands of times a day, and we get to witness it - magic!
Next stop - Fakarava. Fakarava is the 2nd largest atoll in all of the Tuomotos. Being a bit closer to Tahiti, we hear it is much more developed than we've experienced in weeks - the big city! We're excited to get laundry done, to have a meal on shore, to access Internet, and most importantly, to re-connect with cruisers we've met along the way.
Susan and Rob
On to the Tuomotos -- Raroia atoll
11 July 2016 | Raroia atoll - Tuomotos Islands
Setting sail for the Tuomotus was a big deal for us as it would be our first significant passage since our arrival in the Marquesas over two moths prior. Unsure of our actual arrival time and weather that we’d encounter enroute, we decided that we would split the difference and set a course that would allow us to make landfall at either Raroia or Kauehi. As it turned out, our timing was good and we picked a great window for sailing; we had good winds, reaching almost the entire way. We were able to sail through the nights under clear skies and bright moonlight, under full sail with 14-18 knots of wind behind us.
On our third day, we sighted two low-lying atolls comprising the Disappointment Islands. We set our final course for Raroia and, later that day, encountered a trough in the weather and a line of squalls as far as we could see. We managed to slow down to let a few of these squalls pass in front of us, but when we saw the “gray weather wall”, we ran like hell! With motor and full sail together, we managed to slip between two squall lines and find our way to clearer weather. Our final night sleepless, as we were still running into squalls along our route, and we were thankful for the sunrise as we first spied our destination – Raroia!
While still a part of French Polynesia, the Tuomotus and the Marquesas could not be more different. The Marqueses are relatively new, geologically, with high mountainous volcanic peaks and sheer cliffs dropping down to the ocean. The Tuomotu Archipelago is much older, consisting of atolls that are basically collapsed volcanoes. So far, our experience of “making landfall” meant seeing mountains in the distance. With atolls, we could see tiny specs of palm trees – through the binoculars – at no more than 10 miles out.
The Tuomotus are the stereotypical picture of an “uncharted desert island” from a movie scene – think Gilligan’s Island. Comprised of some 78 coral atolls, and spanning almost a 1000 miles across the ocean, each has a fringe reef with an inner lagoon that is relatively shallow – 150 feet or so, in the case of Raroia. These are not small atolls; Raroia is about 25 miles long and 8 miles across. Scattered along the fringe reef every ½ - 2 miles or so are various “motus” – basically piles of coral sand that have accumulated from the pounding surf, upon which some vegetation has taken hold (bushes, small deciduous trees, palm trees, etc.).
Strong currents often flow out of the lagoons, making entry difficult unless timed for a relatively slack tide. Once inside, we have to navigate around various “bommies” which are small coral atolls themselves, maybe 25-200 feet in diameter and 3-8 feet under the water. Until recently, sailors did not typically visit these islands, as they are very difficult and dangerous to navigate. In fact, the archipelago is often labeled on paper charts as the “Dangerous Islands.” But the advent of GPS, and then chart plotters and even Google Earth, has changed all of that by giving us much more information about what lies under the water between and within each atoll.
Entering the pass to Raroia was an entirely new sailing experience for us. Keep in mind, we had been sailing for three days, with little sleep – our anxiety about what lay ahead was keeping us alert. The first task was getting through the pass and into the actual lagoon itself, and there we had the new challenge of threading through the “bommies!” These atolls are immense “pools” of water and, with the tides, have incredibly strong inflows and outflows of water each day. Currents in the pass entries can be up to 8 knots. This means that, if your boat normally travels at 7 knots through the water, with an 8-knot current you are actually travelling BACKWARDS in the flow of water with 1 knot of speed. Timing your entry with the slack tide (neither ebbing nor flooding) is of course, ideal. The trick with this is … no one really knows when that time actually is. And on some atolls, if there are strong winds washing water over the reefs, there actually is NO slack tide, only a weaker tide. There is an excel-based tool developed by some of the cruisers that is called the Tuomotu Tide Guestimator that tries to provide guidance in all of this. But at the end of the day is it just that – a big guess. And so, ultimately, you need to rely upon what you can see and experience as you enter the pass.
We expected to encounter a slack tide, but what we saw looked anything but “slack.” We were told to hug the north side (left) of the pass, as it was deeper. To our right, we saw waves crashing on the reef. In the middle we could see the current. I was nervous, but I had confidence in Athanor, and in Ev – our engine, so I gunned it. We had a strong outflow of current – approximately 2-3 knots which, when combined with a 20 knot headwind, reduced our speed over ground to approximately 3.5 knots. We powered through the pass, approximately 400 meters long or so, and then our speed started to ease up to 4 knots, then to 5 knots, and then we were back to our usual 6.5 knots. Whew!
But then came the next challenge – BOMMIES! We honestly had no idea what to expect. Susan I both had visions of tall skinny formations that would be lurking under the water, very hard to see, waiting to pierce the hull of a reckless sailboat. In reality, it turned out to be far less stressful than this. These “bommies” are coral formations rising up from the bottom of the atoll (approximately 50 meters in depth), approximately 25-50 meters across, that sit just below the surface. Usually, but not always, these formations have sand on the top that reflects the sunlight and makes them quite easy to see – as long as you have good sunlight and this sunlight is behind you rather than in your eyes! But not always -- there are some that are very hard to see, can sneak up on you, and that require us to be extra vigilant. We took it quite slow across the lagoon, motoring at 4-5 knots with me at the wheel and Susan spotting from the bow. We were quite lucky that another cruiser provided us with his track across the lagoon – helped a lot. No major mishaps, just one small motu hidden below the surface that caused Susan to yell “hard to port” … a new skill acquired.
Our first stop in the lagoon was the Kon Tiki anchorage. We anchored right behind the “Kon Tiki” motu, which is where the famous Kon Tiki expedition raft washed ashore following its 1947 voyage across the Pacific from Peru. The first night at anchor we watched a black and white documentary on the expedition. It is eerily spectacular to see footage of them on this exact motu some 70 years earlier. We explored the Kon Tiki monument, “reef walked”, etched our name on a mooring ball that had washed ashore, picked up trash that had washed ashore from sea, visited the pearl farm. To see – and hear - the ocean waves crashing onto the reef, just beyond the motu, is so strange. Here we are, anchored in crystal clear water, dead calm, and there’s just a reef between the powerful seas and us.
After a few days, we moved to a motu that lies at the far south end of the lagoon. The motu is nicknamed Jurassic Park and is home to THOUSANDS of birds, with birds coming and going all day and night. The name is amazingly appropriate. Upon anchoring in the bay, I donned snorkel gear to check our anchor and be sure it would be clear of any bommies should the winds change direction. Soon after entering, I heard Susan calling me, drawing my attention to a shark nearby in the water. And then another shark; then three sharks, then soon seven sharks! These were black tip reef sharks, approximately 4-5 feet in length, curious about the ship that had just invaded their space. I decided to dive the anchor a bit later. ;)
Here, we met and had great fun with Andrew & Claire aboard Eye Candy. They have been cruising for 11 years! They’ve seen it all, have great stories, and are wonderful people. Claire taught Susan how to make fresh bread; Andrew assisted me with our electrical charging system, and we compared notes on anchorages and weather patterns. We launched our kayaks and somehow felt much safer paddling in the lagoon watching the curious sea-life from above the water line! We had fun paddling up the estuaries, then cruising back with the current behind us. Susan set/achieved a goal to snorkel/swim for 10 full minutes – testing her courage to overcome her fear of the sharks. Indeed, they really could care less about us – it’s just hard to remember that as they swim about. We had heard about Coconut Crabs, so one afternoon Andrew and I (me with my PNW crabbing skills), made way to shore to catch dinner. We brought home 7, and enjoyed a “very light” meal (not the big Dungeness crabs we’re used to back home) with Andrew and Claire.
After two glorious weeks of near solitude, we realized that’s all we could stand and began plans to move on to our next atoll – Kauehi. We’ve heard wonderful things about this small atoll – namely the quaint village. We promise to share our experiences very soon!
Wishing you wonderful summer days,
Rob and Susan
11 July 2016
We haven’t written in awhile – too long. We’ve still got our training wheels on!
When we last wrote (6/3), we were departing Nuku Hiva for the Tuomotos, with several stops in between. We had a great sail from Nuku Hiva to our first stop, Ua Poa, which was a surprising gem. Approaching from the north, the island has a very dramatic visage consisting of tall spires that reach up into the clouds that typically sit overhead. We anchored off the Hakahau village in a small – and unbelievably rolly (= “uncomfortable”) anchorage. The village, however, was quite something. As we walked through town, we loved that, in every aspect, it was so “cared for.” Now that we’ve spent time on several islands and in several villages – all are subsidized by the French government – we’re noticing that each has it’s own distinct energy and feel, and attention paid to the surroundings. Susan couldn’t help but wonder if this community came together to request more funding from France to improve their village. Whilst strolling about, we met the “mayor” of the island, Joseph, who talked with us at length about the history of the relationships between the various islands; specifically how they used to operate very separately, and now they are coming together to reclaim the deep culture and Marquesan traditions that they share. As we said goodbye, he sent us on our way with several fresh mangos from his trees.
Attending church in Ua Poa is one of the most memorable experiences for me thus far. Susan and I put on our most “presentable” clothes; we dinghied ashore at 7a.m., hauled the dinghy up on the beach, and walked a mile into town. As we neared the church, we began to see what felt like the entire village making their way toward the church – young, old, on foot, in cars, in strollers – all dressed in their Sunday best. As we entered this exquisite open-air building, our senses were pleasantly heightened. The church was filled with 400 people! The women, in particular, were in bright, colorful, and well tailored dresses. All wore their hair “up,” and most were adorned with sweet smelling flowers that filled the air. The men, too, were well dressed, some in long dress pants and button up shirts, but also many in shorts and sandals. We saw families, extended families, and many women attending with their children. Watching the children throughout the service was particularly fun, as they made faces at us and other kids -- a kind of subtext to the main service which was spoken in a combination of French, Marquesan, and Latin , and none of which we understood. The alter attendants were all bare footed, as was the priest. A dour older French male, never smiling, he embodied the stereotypical image of a catholic priest. In stark contrast, the Marquesan singing nearly brought us to tears. Susan discreetly captured an audio recording on her phone.
Amidst the splendor of Ua Pou, and as we waited for the next weather window to the Tuomotus, we were debating what to do about some issues we’d been having with our batteries. Since we rely heavily upon these batteries as the backbone of our electrical system, it seemed prudent to address this while we still had access to services and before we headed for more remote places. Reluctantly, we decided to return to Taiohae Bay to tackle the problem. We rented a portable generator and spent three days giving our batteries a deep charge. Ultimately, we were satisfied that the batteries would carry us for another couple of months, and ordered four new batteries to be shipped form the US to Papeete for delivery when we arrive there in mid-August. We’ve read many times from cruisers….cruising is simply working on your boat in exotic places!
On June 11th, we headed south on an overnight sail for Tahuata, where we planned to spend Susan’s birthday. We anchored in one of our favorite anchorages – Hanamanoe Bay. It’s quite nice to have been in the Marquesas long enough that we have the privilege to “return” to a favorite anchorage! We were in the company of three boats that had just arrived from the Galapagos – two from Norway, and Jonas, a single-hander from Sweden – plus “Scoots,” a 50’ Able Apogee that was also on the Puddle Jump with us from Mexico. For Susan’s birthday, we invited folks from all the boats over for Pamplemoose and Mango cocktails. The Norwegians regaled us with stories of their month-long stay in Cuba and, upon hearing that Susan’s grandmother came to the US from Norway, sang Happy Birthday to Susan in Norwegian! The next morning, Friday, we weighed anchor at daybreak and motored five miles over to Hiva Oa to spend a day stocking up on food and diesel prior to heading to Fatu Hiva. Early Saturday, we departed Hiva Oa for Fatu Hiva, a day sail of approximately 35 miles south, the last island we would visit in the Marqueses.
Entering the “Baie de Viergens” (Bay of Virgins) in Fatu Hiva is the most dramatic of all the islands in the Marquesas. A note of history: This bay was originally – and aptly - named “Baie de Vergens” (Bay of Penises). The pillars at the entrance of the bay can only be described as phallic looking. You can imagine how quickly the Catholic missionaries addressed that issue! With nothing more than inserting a small “i” – Voila! the bay became “Baie de Viergens.” All was right with the world. This magical and mysterious bay is surrounded by cliffs pounded relentlessly by the surf. The anchorage is very deep, and surrounded by tall and majestic cliffs, with steep columnar outcroppings. When we arrived, five boats were already anchored in this small bay with the best places for anchoring already taken. We had heard multiple stories of high winds, with boats dragging anchor and floating out to sea, so we had a fair bit of anxiety when we anchored in 90 feet of water! With a minimal 3:1 scope, we had almost all of our 300’ of chain out and little left for an emergency. Luckily the holding was in mud and quite good, even as 30+ knot gusts roared down from the mountain above. We didn’t sleep much. We stayed on the boat much of the time, mostly due to rain and the high wind gusts (and not wanting to leave the boat unattended), but did make it ashore a couple of times to explore the local village Hanavave. Locals were very generous in offering us various fruits and we arrived back at the dinghy with two bags full of pamplemouse, limes, oranges, bananas, and even some basil! On our first shore visit, Susan noticed a group of young women playing soccer, so she jumped at the chance to make sure they had a new, Wilson, soccer ball! Joy!
Our time in Fatu Hiva was shorter than we liked but, after three days, our weather data (watching the weather is a HUGE part of our daily lives!) showed that we had a short weather window that we could take for our passage to the Tuomotus or we could stay and wait a week or more for the next window. We decided that we would make a run for it, hoping for a fast and relatively easy sail down to the Tuomotus. Reflecting now, all throughout tour travels in the Marquesas, we thought about Fatu Hiva as leaving the best for last. As we’ve written in prior posts, we’ve tried to be very conscious of “staying before leaving”, and realize now that we missed that opportunity in Fatu Hiva. A lesson learned.
Our departure from the Marquesas Islands was an emotional one. We fell in love with this rugged, mystical, never heard of place! It is where we made our first landfall – where our journey in the South Pacific began. We will miss you Marquesas.
Nuku Hiva. A month-long exhale.
02 June 2016 | Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands
The islands making up the group named Isles Marquesas are vastly different from one another - in size, shape, topography, and in the number of residents. On each island we've explored, for example, the north end of an island can be vastly different from the south. Taken together, the Marquesas Islands are mysterious, lush green, rugged, with caves, lava, and intrigue...a little scary even. We find it ironic that, in the 6+weeks since we made landfall in the Marquesas Islands (after sailing over 3,000 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean in 26 days), we've only travelled approximately 100 NM with 1 night at sea! We have spent time on 3 islands: Hiva Oa, Tahuata, and now Nuku Hiva, for a total 6 different anchorages. Many of our cruising colleagues have covered much more territory. We've been sad to see them move on and yet, with each passing day, we're happy that we've stayed back - testing the old adage that less is more.
Nuku Hiva is the third island we've visited. On May 1st, we sailed into Taioha'e Bay, our destination because it is the commercial hub (a bit of an overstatement) and the administrative capital of the Marquesas Islands. We planned to stay in Taioha'e Bay for only 3-4 days, a quick in/out...with 3 tasks in mind: (1) Finalize our long-stay visas, (2) Provision (food) for the next leg of our travels, and (3) Get fuel in the tanks. As I finish up this post we are preparing Athanor to depart for the Tuamotu Archapelego. It is already June 2nd, and we find ourselves back in Taioha'e Bay on Nuku Hiva. I imagine that I sound like a broken record, but I'm brought to tears thinking of the amazingly rich experiences we've had on this island during the past month. Indeed, many of the experiences involve the physical beauty around us, and yet over and over again, it is our connection to the people here, and their way of life, that makes our experience so rich. I'll share several of these with you below.
The first experience shares a slice of our daily life as well as those that live here full-time. Although we have a water maker, Taioha'e Bay is not clean enough to make water, so we decided to purchase / procure water while we were here. While in Mexico, we could have as many 5-gallon jugs of potable water as we wanted delivered to our boat, here it is a bit more complicated. Step 1: Gather our own (3) 5-gallon jugs, borrow another 7 from fellow cruisers (dinghy around to other boats to pick them up). Step 2: Drive our dinghy to the dock, climb the ladder up to the wharf - meanwhile fisherman are throwing fish guts to the sharks in the water (I'm not kidding - we had a shark show - and those darned sharks raised the stakes on me not falling in, which I'm known to do). Step 3: Pile the empty jugs in the back of a pick-up truck owned by Kevin (an ex-pat, married to a Marquesan womam, owns a Yacht Services business here). Step 4: Wendy (local Marquesan woman who works for Kevin) and I drive 1-1/2 miles up the hill where we find a water pipe with 4 spigots. Step 5: Wendy and I fill our water jugs. Here's where we all get to learn something. This spot is where the entire community gets their drinking water. Residents do not have potable water in their homes. While I was getting water, a mom and daughter drove up, filled their water jugs while chatting with Wendy, and off they went. Step 6: Unload the (now heavy) water jugs into the dinghy and make our way back to the boat (concentrating on handing these heavy jugs to Rob while keeping the feeding sharks in my peripheral vision). Step 7: Lift the jugs out of the dinghy onto the deck of the boat. Step 8: Pour them in the water tanks. Step 9: Return empty jugs. This process motivates us to conserve water. ☺. As an aside, this is the same process we follow for fuel (exchange spigots for gas station). Rob's observation....water is heavier than diesel!
With our major chores completed, we took a day to travel the island by car. The highlight of the day was visiting the rich archaeology on the island. We were awe struck by the Kamuihei-Tahakia-Teiipoka site, which is the most comprehensive in the Marquesas. We visited what once was an entire village, including community halls, foundations for homes, hiding places during times of war, etc. Prior to the early 1800's more Marquesans lived in this small valley than all of the islands combined (somewhere between 20,000 and 60,000 people). I hope the images we captured give you a sense of the richness of this archeology. We've heard from the villagers on each island we've visited that Marquesan's are struggling to learn more about their ancestor's history and bring back the traditional cultural and community foundations that collapsed once Westerners arrived.
Because Taioha'e Bay is a major check in port for boats arriving in French Polynesia, there were upwards 60 boats in port at any given time. After getting an overview of the island by car, we were ready to find a bay with only a handful of boats - and to exhale. Our first stop was Controller's Bay, less than an hour away. We felt the buzz of the village fall away quickly as we spent the day puttering on the boat, reading, and watching wild goats climb the steep mountains around us!
The next morning, Rob (and soon thereafter, I) got wicked eye infections, which we later learned are something of an epidemic in Taioha'e Bay. I pulled out our massive supply of antibiotics but of course we didn't have that one, so we packed it in and made our way BACK to Taioha'e Bay. In most circumstances, I wouldn't share that detail; however, what I want to share was our experience at the Nuku Hiva 'Hopital'. We visited on a holiday, which meant we needed to see someone in the emergency room. This doctor's visit (let alone an emergency visit) was like none I've ever experienced. The "Hopital" is a single story building, much like a small elementary school. We were greeted in the outside hallway by a lovely young nurse (French) - turns out she took a year off of nursing to work as an au pair in Seattle...is this a small world or what? We were in/out in 30 minutes. She was kind, professional, and efficient; the clinic felt very much like a "country doctor." I've taken to carrying around several coloring books with me at all times, so when I saw a little girl in the hall crying, I knew this was the perfect opportunity to unload a few of them! Because it was a holiday, we had to come back the next day to pay our bill (they simply trusted us to return)- and bring stuffed animals. Total cost: $50 including the tariff because of the holiday, including 1-2 days worth of medicine. Can you imagine going to the doc in the US and having this experience?
After several days of walking around with orange eyes (antibiotics) we were back in the saddle and off to magnificent Anaho Bay - another planned 3-4 day stay that turned into 10. Our experiences in Anaho Bay exceeded all expectations. Our first night was kicked off right! Our friends on Anakena caught a 20lb yellow fin tuna on their way into the bay and invited all of the boats at anchor for a feast of sushi.
In Anaho Bay, there are approximately six homes - with a total of 20 residents., without any stores, schools, or services to speak of. It is an hour-long (steep) walk over a hill to the nearest village. We were thrilled to spend time with our friend Nikko, whom we met in Mexico. Nikko is a wonderfully personable young French/American who single-handed his 27' boat "Yellowfeather" across the Pacific. He made many connections on shore and introduced us to several. One of which was Heretu - a budding artist who imprints bamboo flutes with a traditional Marquesan design using a wood-burning tool. We visited him at his home and loved his work so we asked him to paint a piece for us on Athanor. He created the piece you see in our photo gallery that will remind us of this magical place wherever we go.
Another of Nikko's connections resulted in us receiving two "just caught" octopuses! We sautéed one in coconut milk and BBQ'd the other. Just amazing! Finally, Nikko shared with us that a family in the bay will cook dinner for you upon request - like a restaurant, but not exactly! As an aside, Moana & Heiva are parents to son Moana who tattooed my back (small community). So small, in fact, that we've heard that many of the men head to other Tahiti to "find" their wives. Rob kayaked over to their house during the day to ask if we could come for dinner. Yes! So we took a shower, put on some clean clothes and kayaked over at 6p.m. We were the only people there. They served us a lovely meal of tuna tartar, chicken curry and pamplemousse (like a giant grapefruit). And to top it off their young daughter played guitar and sang for us.
Back to chores again. While we were at a calm anchorage, I decided to tackle sewing the enormous sun awning that's been dogging me for months. So far we've cobbled something together, but when the sun comes up a blazin' at 5:30a.m. and sets 12 hours later, we need serious protection. Sewing a 12' x 14' object anywhere is a substantial amount of fabric, but doing so at a small dining table in a small space is comical (see photo). Yes, that's me sewing in my swimsuit (daily uniform), holding a headlamp in my mouth.
It looks like the wind gods will be blowing again this Friday (June 3rd) and we'll begin our trek south to the Tuomotos - via Ua Pou, Tahuata and Fatu Hiva. We've read - and been told by friends already in the Tuomotos - that they are the idyllic picture of Polynesian islands they'd envisioned.
Thanks for reading. We miss you all so very much.
Susan & Rob
Pinch us - Tahuata
06 May 2016 | Tahuata, Marquesas Islands
With the passage and our initial recovery behind us, we truly began to rest over the past two weeks! We are beginning to step into the cruising / voyaging life. We're not sure what that means exactly, but we are learning, and the initial messages are: 1. Slow down 2. Slow down 3. Slow down 4. The strategies we formerly used to manage our careers and day-to-day lives don't work in this environment 5. Getting day-to-day chores done is frustrating and takes a very long time. And, 6. Appreciate all there is to learn in the above.
We have been told time and again - do not rush the Marquesas Islands. We are taking note as many boats quickly rush in/out of each anchorage on their way to the next stop. Luckily, because we have our long-stay visas, we are in the enviable position to more fully experience each place we visit. I have pinched myself (and Rob) multiple times in the past two weeks. Adequately describing our time and our soulful experiences on the island of Tahuata could fill many pages. Tahuata is rugged and wild and extraordinarily beautiful - the land, the water, and the 700 Marquesans who make this island their home. The village of Vaihatu is the largest with 600 residents. The villagers welcomed us with opened arms. Their homes are modest and immaculate and their communities are strong. We spent roughly 5 days anchored in Hanamoenoa Bay and another 6 days in Hanatefau Bay, and visited Vaihatu for a day via dinghy.
Arriving in Hanamoenoa Bay is the quintessential tropical image. White sand beach, palm trees - the pictures will knock your socks off. The anchorage is about 30 feet deep, and yes, you can see the bottom. We landed in paradise.
Hanamoenoa Bay is reachable only by boat and is inhabited by one man. We met Steven the first day we swam ashore. We were sitting with our friends John & Diane when we noticed Steven a 100 feet or so behind us. Steven is a 30-years old Marquesan man, with far-away eyes. He lives in Hanamoenoa Bay by himself. He has family on nearby Hiva Oa, but is estranged from them. He has constructed a small house (shed), outdoor table/benches, BBQ pit and rigged up a hose from a nearby spring. Over the days that followed, Steven cracked open coconuts for us - both for coconut meat and water - weaved a basket from palm frons and offered to host a traditional Marquesan meal on Sunday for the 10 or so boats in the anchorage.
That Sunday was one of my "pinch me" days. Our job was to take Steven out to the reef so he could fish - spearfish - for the meal. The idea was that he would show me how to spearfish as well (maybe next trip). He caught 5 small fish and as we made our way to the beach we could see folks gathering. Steven made Poisson cru (fish cooked in coconut milk and lime juice) and a root that is similar to a potato. That, together with the food from the boats made for an amazing meal...using a leaf from a nearby tree as our plate. Here we were, amongst only palm trees, the sand/sea, and 20 fellow cruisers and their families. Beautiful.
Our next "pinch me" experience was a short 3 miles south to Hanetefau Bay and the village of Hapatoni. The village of Hapatoni is adjacent to Hanatafau Bay and has 120 residents - that is, when the older kids are home from school in Tahiti. There were 3 other boats when we anchored in 50 feet - clear to the bottom. Our first morning we were welcomed by Ryan & Nicole on S/V Naoma, whom we felt a immediate connection with and are now happy to call them our friends. They were both beautiful reminders of the wonders of "staying before leaving."
We swam, snorkeled, and.....relaxed! We visited Hapatoni four times during our stay. I was excited to finally have the opportunity to deliver a few of the soccer balls, Frisbees and coloring books we received as gifts at our wedding. Even before we made it into the village with the goods, a local fisherman pulled up alongside Athanor at 7a.m. - avec trois enfants (three children, I'm learning a little French ☺) riding along in the boat. Rob grabbed our fillet knife; the fisherman expertly cut the tuna in ½ (Sashimi baby!); and I ran down below to grab a soccer ball, a Frisbee, and a coloring book.
The next time we visited Hapatoni, it was clear that the word had gotten around about "the people with the toys!" When we arrived on shore, Rob, with a soccer ball under his arm, we were quickly greeted by a gaggle of kids! Two girls and one boy were our personal tour guides through the village. Hotini, age 9, melted both of our hearts, when he pasted himself to Rob's side, holding his hand as we walked through the village. Later, I saw Hotini lying on a pile of wood - Mom right next to him - he was coloring like mad with his glitter crayons and his Curious George coloring book. We were so touched to have other boys his age asking us for coloring books.
In Hapatoni, we also met Cyril, an incredible traditional carver (wood and bone). With Ryan & Nicole, we first visited his home/studio/workshop which sits atop a hill with an incredible view of the bay and looks out to the ocean. They were picking up a couple of carvings. We saw Cyril's work and immediately knew we needed to bring a few pieces home. When we first visited he was working on two manta ray pieces for the Marquesan Art Exhibition. By the time we returned, he had completed them - and we are now proud to own one to remind us of our time here.
Reluctantly, we left Hapatoni Sunday evening for our first overnight sail since we made landfall. We sailed to the island of Nuku Hiva - the "capital" of the Marquesas Islands. There we will finalize our long stay visas, provision, reconnect with other cruisers and prepare for the Tuamotos.
Be well friends. We miss you all.
Susan & Rob