Marquesas: Finally in the South Pacific!
28 May 2015 | Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
Ah! The exotic French Polynesia! One thinks of Gaugin, tattoos, fire walking, James Cook, coconuts, breadfruit, The Bounty, and, of course, beautiful Tahitian girls moving their hips in unbelievable enticing ways. Many of those thoughts were propelled more by movies than any serious reading I had done.
French Polynesia comprises several groups of islands, each one at a different stage of atoll formation (do a google search for atoll formation. It is absolutely fascinating). Marquesas are in the younger stage so they have almost no coral reef around the original volcanic cone. The lack of surrounding reef makes most of the bays susceptible to swell (translation = rock and roll at anchor, especially when the swells gets the boat side ways).
We visited three anchorage on the island of Nuku Hiva: the main harbor and town in Taiohae Bay, Daniel's Bay just 5 miles to the west of Taiohae, and Anahoe Bay in the north of the island, the quietest of all anchorages. The island is typically tropical, which means lots of lush greenery everywhere, frequent rain, and great heat and humidity.
On our way to Daniel's Bay, Mark tried to fine-tune the pesky autopilot, but no matter what he tried, the autopilot was still wandering a bit. We anchored and met with our friends from Miss Behaving and the flotilla of boats-with-kids that they had been traveling with from Panama/Galapagos. The whole group of families was going to hike up to a beautiful waterfall through a meandering trail with multiple river crossings. It sounded fun, so we joined in. It was well worth it, especially the refreshing swimming in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall.
In Daniel's bay our dinghy's painter kept on getting stuck around the bottom of the port hull. One of the times, Mark had to dive in to get the rope untangled. He surfaced and said, "We are missing the port rudder". "Say, what?" I responded without comprehending. "There is no rudder on the port side," he repeated. OMG! And suddenly, everything made sense: there was nothing wrong with the autopilot; the poor thing was struggling because it only had the starboard rudder to maneuver. We had probably been sailing for almost a week before arriving in Nuku Hiva. Strangely, we had not heard any big bangs; no noises or any indication (except for the wandering autopilot) that a rudder was missing.
We assessed our options and decided that our best bet was to have a new port rudder made in Papeete in the big island of Tahiti. The starboard rudder could be used as a model. We have been sailing with just one rudder for a while, so unflappable captain Mark did not see a reason to change our plans to visit the Tuamotu Archipelago before reaching Tahiti mid-June. The Tuamotu Islands are coral reef atolls that you enter through narrow channels sporting rushing currents with shallow reefs in close proximity – my Spanish heart was accelerating just thinking about it.
While making long distance arrangements with a company in Papeete to make our new rudder, we enjoyed Nuku Hiva. We ate French baguettes (a must in all French territories) and "Poisson cru" (sashimi tuna in a coconut milk sauce, yummy!). We hired a four-wheel drive car and drove around the island's only road. We visited the ruins of Pa'eke Me'ae and Hikoku'a Tohua. The first one had several original stone tikis guarding a stone rectangular structure. The second one had been partially restored to give a better idea of the tikis and structures would have been in older times. Here, we also found some petroglyphs.
Mark enjoyed driving the four-wheeler through the goat track that took us along the north coast (this was the only "road"). Going back to Taiohae, we passed through steep mountains with tall cypress-like trees. It felt like being in the Alps minus the cold. It was a world apart from the palm-tree beaches of the coast.
After two weeks in Nuku Hiva, it was time to leave for the Tuamotu Islands.