Cruising Notes: Hakahetau, Oa Pou and Daniel's Bay, Nuku Hiva
30 May 2012
Cuisine d'Cruising: The Marquesas
20 May 2012 | 8N 140W
Cuisine d' Cruising: The Marquesas May 21, 2012
If all bananas were like this I could become a big fan of bananas! I have no idea where Chiquita grows their bananas, but in the States I never cared much for bananas because they're astringent and after eating one my teeth are on edge. The few bananas I tried in Mexico were even worse, hard and tangy, or soft but flavorless.
Ah, but the bananas in the Marquesas! Small and tender, they have none of the little brown flecks inside that I always thought were seeds and their flavor is dependably sweet and delicious. Somehow they never oxidize, either, so a fruit salad in the fridge never ends up with mushy little brown bits that need fishing out to make the salad attractive.
It's a good thing the bananas are so wonderful here, both for the local population and for us! Fruits and vegetables are generally unavailable in the stores of the Marquesan Islands. For the most part, people engage in a subsistence living and they consume the tropical fruits, mangoes, papaya, pompelmousse, bananas, coconuts, guavas, lemons and sweet oranges that grow in their own yards and elsewhere in abundance on the islands.
Visitors, primarily the yachties who come through seasonally on boats from the west coast of the Americas, do not find fruit in the few stores that exist on the larger islands. Instead, we depend upon the generosity of the locals for our fresh produce. And generous they are! On Hiva Oa, Fatu Hiva, Oa Pou and Nuku Hiva people came out from their homes and their gardens, even stopped their cars while driving down the road, to share their abundance with us. This failed to happen only on the island of Tahuata - we stayed on the boat and did not go ashore on Tahuata!
I've had one opportunity to buy vegetables, when a truck farmer brought his produce to Atuona, Hiva Oa, and I bought tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, one head of cabbage (cabbage is very common here) and a bunch of leafy greens that turned out to be more cabbage, but it was mild enough that we could pretend it was lettuce.
At Fatu Hiva a week ago, I met a sweet lady named Blondine who was walking down the street with a very small white puppy in a cardboard box. Naturally, I stopped to admire the puppy, which I felt qualified to do in universal ooh-and-ah-talk despite the inability to speak Marquesan or French. Blondine turned right around with a ¬"you, come¬" as if she had left the house to fetch me and was going nowhere else at all. We walked back to her home where I met her husband, Mark. Robbie caught up with us (he had paused to exchange pleasantries with some other islanders as we passed the church) and we inspected Mark's intricately carved jewelry, small polished tikis made of bone, hair ornaments, black pearl and mother of pearl necklaces and bracelets. Mark asked if he could try my eyeglasses - he's 51 and thinks his current glasses are too weak to help him see his close work. My glasses hold prescription lenses and barely work for me let alone anyone else, but I handed them over, he tried them on and rolled his eyes. Just that morning I had run across a few pairs of readers that no longer worked for me, and I was happy to give them a new home if they would help Mark with his beautiful art. Dusk was coming (it's late fall here in May) and we promised to return the next day with some eyeglasses that might be more suitable.
I ran an errand the next day to Kati's home nearby and was stopped by Madeline, an elderly lady, all smiles, who ran out from her yard to grab my arm. ¬"You need pompelmousse?¬" Madeine wanted to know. And she loaded me down with several large pompelmousse, the large sweet grapefruit that grows here, then realized I would have no hands to climb back into my dinghy, so she ran back into the house for a plastique, a recycled grocery store bag in which I could carry the fruit.
Madeline tried to give me bananas, too, but I've learned how heavy bananas are on their stalk, so I demurred at the offer of bananas, accepted a big fresh bunch of some unidentified fragrant herb, probably oregano, and made my way back to the boat.
The unknown herbs made a rich and tasty enhancement to our pork stew that evening.
Mark had gone to his other house, everyone here seems to have more than one home, often just a roof on four posts completely open to the outdoors, and when we saw Blondine and him that afternoon he had picked half a dozen sweet oranges for us, which we accepted gratefully even though we were secretly wondering why anyone would pick and give away a dark green orange. Fortunately I read a few days later than these were sweet and dark green, so I cut into one to find out what was there. Now I know oranges do not have to be orange to be juicy and ripe and Mark wasn't crazy or wasteful.
But the Marquesans do eat some fruits long before they ripen. They pick their papayas green and use the grated fruit to make a salad with a homemade vinaigrette dressing. We tasted a delicious one with olive oil, mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
We enjoyed our first homemade Marquesan meal at the home of a family in Puamau on Hiva Oa. A party of six from Gato Go, C'estLa Vie and Mersoleil, we were touring the island with local taxi driver/tour guide Marie Jo. On a hair-raising ride for those in the back of her truck (I stuck to the front seat) Marie Jo took us to visit several archaeological sites, stopping for photos at some stunning view points, making homage to the largest tiki in the world and lunching in the open air at Puamau where I'm confident Marie Jo's lunch was gratis for delivering paying customers. The meal, which, I have since learned, is typical Marquesan fare, consisted of white rice, coconut rice, grilled fish, poisson cru, boiled red bananas and curried vegetables allegedly with shrimp although I did not see any in my portion.
Poisson cru (PWAH sahnn CREW) is a Marquesan variation of the popular raw fish dishes found in many seaside cultures, Poke in Hawaii, Ceviche in Spain and Mexico. It is characterized by chunks of raw fish cut about the size one finds in pickled herring, 'cooked' in lemon juice and soaked in coconut milk. Beyond these constituent ingredients there is some freedom to be creative and each cook has her own recipe. Marie Jo dices the fish, adds lemon juice (about one lemon per person) and salt, then sliced onion, minced garlic, chopped tomatoes, bell pepper and scallions. Coconut milk, more than I think necessary, is mixed in last and Marie Jo says the poisson cru should be eaten immediately.
Each poisson cru that we've tasted has been delicious and we've tasted four or five variations, the best in my opinion being the one at the Snack Snack restaurant at Hakahau on Oa Pou. It was much like Marie Jo's recipe, and the chef showed restraint on the coconut milk. Don't misunderstand me. I love coconut milk. But it's generously laden with calories and most of it remains in the bowl to go to waste. I might drink the milk at the end of a bowl of delicious granola, but I have yet to be struck by an urge to slurp up the remains of coconut milk mixed with fish, lemon and onion juice. Poisson cru is delicious and I will certainly make some one of these days. If I can ever find any vegetables.
With bananas dripping from their trees by the millions, the Marquesans have found some ingenious ways to use them. Of course, bananas are eaten raw, as we learned on Friday from Monette whose home and hand-built Catholic chapel line the path at Daniel's Bay, Nuju Hiva, which we passed on our hike to see the 3rd highest waterfall in the world.
Insert Photo: Monette and Matthias' Chapel, Hakaui, Nuku Hiva
We had stopped to admire the charming covered chapel and stepped in to offer a quick prayer. Coming out into the sunlight again, we were met by smiling Monette, who had built the chapel together with her husband and who lives in the house next store. Monette had just constructed a necklace of frangipani blossoms for me and she placed it around my neck and gave me a hug. Then she led us to her house, we all kicked off our shoes at the edge of the lanai and she sat us down, handed us several bananas and noticing that we were already laden with gifts of fruit from Auguste, Monette said, ¬"Eat!¬"
Monette had the good sense to realize that she couldn't load us down with a whole stalk of bananas - we were already carrying more than twenty pounds of fruit. Instead, she selected only half a dozen individual ripe bananas, then seeing that even those would be pureed in the carrying, she commanded us to eat. Dutifully, I peeled and ate a banana. Robbie set his banana down next to his seat and continued his conversation with her about the building and the use of the chapel, but Monette was having none of that. ¬"Eat,¬" she told him, picking up the banana and thrusting it into his hands.
It was nearing dark so we bid farewell to Monette and Matthias and she invited us to leave via their manicured grounds, walking past the dogs and the chickens, through their ti plants and fruit trees instead of down the path that served as the public thoroughfare. We accepted this nice honor and took the scenic route back down to the beach where our dinghy was tied up on the sand out of the surf.
Aside from eating bananas raw, the Marquesans eat boiled bananas. I'd never heard of boiling bananas, but they're a delicious variation. According to Marie Jo, the bananas are peeled then placed in a pan with water to cover. The water is brought rapidly to a boil and the banana is done when it turns red. I think they call this dish red bananas, at least I've heard that expression a couple of times. If the boiled bananas I've eaten are typical, they're surprisingly good. They hold their shape much better than I would have expected, retain their normal texture, and have increased sweetness but less starchiness. But I would not call them red. Settle for pink if you try this recipe. They're not going to turn lipstick red, they'll just take on a rosy tinge.
While researching this season's travels and trying to plan provisioning of the items I should not expect to find in the South Pacific, I ran across a treatise on the diet of South Pacific Islanders. The author concluded, sadly in my view, that the obesity which is common among many of these peoples, and getting worse, is the result of the Americanization of the islands to the extent that it has occurred. The limited menu of available native foods includes mainly bland tasting starches plus fish and fruits. Foreign cultural influences have introduced tasty fried foods to the native diet, adding little nourishment and enormous amounts of calories. Hence the people, who've been naturally large for centuries, are now getting downright fat.
Another use for bananas comes to mind. The banana beignet. A popular local recipe for banana beignets requires eight peeled and mashed bananas and three eggs, mixed till smooth. This is mixed with a little sugar and a bit of pancake or biscuit mix, then fried in hot oil. We bought some beignets yesterday morning after church and, believe me, there's precious little effort to flash fry the dough or to drain the oil off the finished beignet. There was enough oil left in the paper of the bag to make another batch! The beignets were OK. Oily. Definitely not that deceptively 'light' confection from Krispy Kr√®me that seems so innocent.
When Europeans first began to settle the Polynesian Islands they came with the idea that they could establish plantations here. They brought in Chinese laborers and horses, sheep, cows, pigs and goats and things went well for the first ten years or so until a drought ruined the plan. The settlers fled when their plantations failed and soon thereafter the Marquesan Islands were overrun with wild herds of horses, in particular, but also sheep and goats. Wild horses are a common sight today and the bleating of goats is commonly heard from the boat resting in a quiet anchorage.
I have not found any goat to buy yet, but I'm looking for it. At Hanavave, Fatu Hiva, I heard an hysterical radio transmission one day on VHF channel 16. I didn't notice how the conversation started between an islander who spoke a little English with a strong French Marquesan accent and a European on another boat in the anchorage, but when I picked it up, it went like this:
¬"This is Roberto and I make pizzas. You want pizza, I make you a pizza. I have goat, too, My name is Roberto and you want goat, I have goat. One goat $70,000. You want not so big goat I have half goat for $35,000.¬"
Then I heard a horrified cruiser, who must have expressed interest in a little bit of goat say, ¬"Oh, Roberto! I can't POSSibly use that much goat!¬" Our refrigerators are small and some boats have no freezers at all.
I was tempted to canvass all the boats in the anchorage and see how many would like to share a half of a goat, but decided other cooks are not as adventurous as I am and it might not appeal as much to the Germans and Swiss as it did to me. So far, I have no goat. But I do have some room in my freezer ow, so I'm on the hunt!
Oh! I could go back over to Daniel's Bay where Auguste has goats! Auguste lives further up the valley from Monette and Matthias and it was thanks to Auguste's generosity that we were already laden with fruit when we reached Monette's chapel.
Walking down the valley after our hike to the waterfall, we met Auguste going in the opposite direction and he insisted that we turn around and go with him to his house. Auguste's house was spacious inside, open on all four sides with a high thatched and metal roof. He had a few 'things' here and there, I saw a boom box and a pair of metal dumbbells lying on the dirt floor, several fruits on a table and a couple of large tins that originally held crackers.
In one room (areas were separated by walls or posts or shelves) there was a cow's skin stretched out and nailed to a huge table. Auguste has ten cows, which he raises for meat. Presumably he had eleven not too long ago.
And he has the ubiquitous fruit trees in his beautifully manicured gardens, the most lovingly tended gardens I have seen in the Marquesas.
Auguste offered us bananas, to which we said yes (it wasn't too far to the dinghy!), and then he went out into the garden and picked green papayas, and green oranges and several lovely pompelmousse. These filled our nylon sacks, the shopping bags that we always carry at the bottom of Robbie's backpack, and when he did not mention the bananas again neither did I. I knew we couldn't carry a stalk of bananas along with all that other fruit after a six hour hike through the jungle!
Auguste is a huge guy, muscular and tattoed with beautiful geometric Marquesan designs that cover his entire left arm, much of his chest and back and, well, I did not get a complete inventory. He wears bone rings in his ears and has stretched impressive openings into both earlobes through which I could easily pass my index finger. He has wildly curly long hair, black eyes, dark skin and a look that I judged at first to be fierce. Around his neck was a necklace that may have contributed to my impression of ferocity. It was stunning, he probably made it himself, it was in grand scale, perfectly proportioned to his build, but I could tell those things hanging from the leather thong were somebody's teeth and I did not know whose. Upon reflection, I think they may have belonged to aforesaid cow.
Auguste spoke passable English, which he as picked up from others who've passed his house hiking to the waterfall, and he told us he has two sons ages ten and sixteen. The sixteen year old goes to school in Papeete, as do most of the high school aged Marquesans, and was returning the next day on a flight from Papeete to Nuku Hiva. Auguste was going to walk down to the beach to herd his cows back to his own land, so we departed together and continued to chat as we walked along. In the morning, Auguste would ride his horse to Taiohae, a four and a half hour ride, five nautical miles by boat, to meet his son's flight and the family would return to Hakaui together for the weekend. His wife, a secretary at the hospital in Taiohae, lives in their house in Taiohae during the week and Hakaui on weekends. But Auguste generally lives at Hakaui tending to the animals and the garden, and lifting weights.
As we walked down the path toward the beach Auguste suddenly remembered he had not given us bananas! I told him not to worry, it was OK. Good lord, we couldn't have carried bananas along with all the other fruit and the blisters on our feet from the jungle hike.
Later, we stopped by Charisma on our way back to Mersoleil to return Ann and Bob's walking poles. We met them on their way down from the waterfall as we were walking up and they had kindly given us their poles to use. ¬"We don't need them on the way down,¬" they had said.
Well, we must not understand walking poles. Robbie and I both thought they were great. Lightweight and no burden to carry, handy for probing the rivers for those big eels or to avoid stepping in a hole, and a nice little aid to the balance when one makes an occasional misstep. But we thought they were even more useful going down the mountain than they had been on the ascent! So we must be missing something essential and we plan to look into it in New Zealand where everyone carries them.
Ann and Bob had met Auguste, too, and Bob had been lucky enough to ask what was on the fire. I had noticed a big flaming fire set several yards away from the house, and if I had only asked I would have learned that he was making a huge goat stew. Bob and Ann and Dave and Kathy (sv Lightspeed) had been rewarded for the question with a large bowl of goat stew which they had shared and pronounced delicious. Ew! I wish I had asked about the fire!
We never found a decent loaf of bread in Mexico, but it is the great fortune of these islands, at least in terms of cuisine, to belong to France. Every village has a baker and if you can figure out where to find him and you're willing to get ashore at o-dark-thirty you can buy delicious crusty baguettes at a modest price. (Note that everything else is hideously expensive, about twice the price you'd pay for the same item in the US.)
When we reach the Society Islands, I'm confident that we'll find an even stronger French influence, in Tahiti, but even here the stores have - among what little they carry - small tins of foie gras and confit and cassoulet and other French staples. At the wharf in Taiohae Bay there's a little restaurant that sells crepes. That may be an overstatement. There's a trailer that looks kind of like an Airstream and has a pop -up side. The little whiteboard propped next to the trailer offers nothing but crepes and I chatted with Larry and Karen Nelson yesterday while they were eating away happily. Karen said her choice was ham and cheese and there was a large flat square affair on her plate which she was cutting easily with knife and fork. She neither complained nor raved and I did not inquire.
Across the wharf we found good coffee, fruit juices (they'll squeeze any kind you like, it'll take a few minutes) and croissants. Here too the beignets were heavy, but the croissants were delicious and my pompelmousse juice with a little mango was refreshing.
There are very very few restaurants in the Marquesas. At the Snack Snack on Oa Pou my poisson cru was outstanding and the frites on the side were perfect, too. Potatoes fried in coconut oil have a delicious smooth sweetness that makes them taste a little like sweet potato fries. Again, the French influence, with a Marquesan twist. They were perfectly salted and a nice departure from fruit.
On Nuku Hiva I aspire to a meal at a restaurant on the north side of the island that serves pit roasted pork. I don't know if we'll get there, but the cruising guide says it's the best restaurant in the Marquesas.
Beyond that, I've only seen a couple of pizza places(not counting Roberto, who didn't seem to have a place, just pizzas) and I have not yet had the pleasure of trying one. This may be my lucky day. We're going to get together with Morning Star later this afternoon and plan to hit the pizza place, if it's open, at six. Before six they don't serve pizza. (I don't know. Maybe they open at six.)
Pizza seems to be the choice for offering to yachties who do not yet embrace the local cuisine. Don't you wonder why someone would sail a small boat around the world to amazing new cultures and peoples and cuisines and places, and then insist on having a pizza worse than the one he could have had at home? I overheard a conversation in Mexico that was a pitiful rendition of this theme: ¬"¬...Yeah, we ate there last night. It was OK. But, want to out tonight and get some REAL food, like ribs? Or a burger? Or pizza?¬" All God's children seem to appreciate a cold beer, though, and even despite its outrageous price, Hinamo, the Tahitian beer is pretty tasty on a hot day! I'll be happy with a cold beer even if the pizza is dreadful.
Fish #2 - Yellowfin Tuna!
12 May 2012 | 225 Miles Off the West Coast of Mexico
Fish #2: Yellowfin Tuna! April 11, 2012
Unfortunately, it's difficult to locate a book that shows pictures of all the fish one might catch around the world along with a list of which ones are good and good for you and which, like the cute little puffer fish, will kill you if you taste its liver. Sea Mar didn't have one. Presumably most of their clientele knows which fish is which. Amazon was no help. I'd found a great website with details on all the fish in Mexican waters, their habits and habitats and color photos. But it was nested in hundreds of separate web pages and would have taken a lifetime to download. And still have given me only Mexican fish. I wasn't even fishing in Mexico.
Squinting down his long narrow nose at me, the man in the gift shop at the Scripps Aquarium in San Diego let me know in response to my query for a fish identification book telling which fish are edible that they do not approve of such activities. What was I thinking to even ask such a question there? It seemed like such a good idea at the time.
I think somewhere in the back of my Cruiser's Handbook of Fishing there must be a list or something to help me identify my catch, but I hadn't seen it yet and as I hauled up the very first fish I just knew that I'd be sure of nothing except whether or not it really was a fish.
Luck was mine! This stunningly beautiful shiny fish with the lemon yellow stripe down each side had smooth skin and a lovely yellow fin. A yellowfin tuna! Not a bad start to my fishing career. Plus I actually knew what it was and it would be delicious.
He was already dead from the fight I had missed, or at least too exhausted to resist, so I pulled the handline, monofilament line, rig and fish hand over hand up onto the deck. An extra piece of white Starboard left over from the watermaker installation had been reserved for our fish cutting board and it was exactly the size needed for this guy who was about 24¬" long and weighed perhaps 12- 15 lbs. Robbie ran below for the knives I'd asked for.
Photo: Our first catch. Yellowfin tuna.
I have watched fish mongers clean and butcher fish on many occasions, most recently at the Marina Malecon market in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. I understand the general principle and wish I had the big specialized knives that they use to clean fish behind the counter.
My knives are excellent quality and sharp, but a bit small for the job at hand. And I'm inexperienced at this art. I had not yet enough interest to read beyond the first thirty pages in my Cruisers'' Handbook, the author having lost me with is discussion of sport fishing and rods and reels to carry on a powerboat. So it took me a while to reduce my lovely fish to meat only. I tossed the lines back in the water and carried our dinner below. It was delectable seared medium rare with a rub of cumin, cinnamon, brown sugar, salt and pepper, parsleyed potatoes on the side and I reveled in the satisfaction of catching our first meal ever.
While Robbie washed the dishes I went above to check our instruments and scan the horizon and, now that there was hope, I couldn't resist a glance back at the promising spot where I knew the ends of the fishing lines bobbed through the water with their tantalizing little iridescent plastic squid.
I did not see the iridescent squid. Where the squid should be I saw two more fish following precisely at boat speed! Two more yellowfin tuna, one twenty pounds and the other about eighteen. I spent the rest of the evening cleaning these two - this time I consulted the book - and making room in the freezer.
This is surprisingly exhausting work, killing, bleeding, gutting and butchering fish. I have excellent sharp knives in my galley, but can readily see that if I'm going to do this kind of thing frequently I'll want larger weapons. A larger galley, too, come to think of it. This is difficult and messy activity and I've had kitchens in the past where I could have handle the job of preparing a forty pound fish. At that time, I had no fish. Now fish, but no kitchen. So? We will make do with what we have and be grateful for these delicious gifts of the sea!
I don't dare put the fishing lines out again for a while. The freezer is full. And I'm dying to try again. This must be what heroin is like!
Photo: I'll have two more of the same, please!
On Our Own at Last, in Fatu Hiva
11 May 2012 | Fatu Hiva, Marquesas, Fr. Polynesia
On Our Own at Last, in Fatu Hiva May 10, 2012
It may sound oxymoronic to say we're finally on our own. There's an excellent argument to be made for our being 'on our own' as we sailed across the Pacific Ocean from Mexico to Hiva Oa. During the three week passage we never laid eyes on another sailboat and saw no more than half a dozen other vessels of any kind. Certainly we were alone then.
But on the crossing we had daily contact with our friends, others making the crossing at the same time and we did not feel very alone at all. On the daily radio net self-organized by a small group of sailboats leaving Mexico in April, we checked in daily sharing our position, weather, and excitement of the day with friends we had met before departing the Mexican coast.
Upon making landfall in Hiva Oa, Marquesas, French Polynesia, we immediately became wrapped up in the business of recovering from a long passage; cleaning the boat, finding some fresh foods in the local stores, exploring the island. And we have only dropped in on the radio net once since our landfall, that to offer information to our friends still crossing, to answer any questions they may have about making landfall themselves.
Our arrival in Hiva Oa coincided with the arrival of our friends, Craig and Bruce of Gato Go, the same friends with whom we spent the evening before sailing away. Bob and Jody arrived on C'estLa Vie at about the same time, and while we were still in Hiva Oa, JP and his crew arrived on Morning Star. We were among friends in Hiva Oa and enjoyed seeing them again, sharing the details of our passages and sipping wine on the decks of one boat or another in the evening.
Ah, but now we are really alone! We sailed from Hiva Oa after about five days, only as far as the island Tahuata, six miles away, where we anchored in idyllic Baie Hanamoenua. Where Hiva Oa's anchorage had been bumpy and rolly with surge from the swells rolling along in the trade winds, Hanamoenua was flat as a pancake, still and calm, and we found it restful and delightfully quiet. This little bay is quiet open to the sea, but on the west, the leeward side of the island, and unless the winds make a dramatic change in direction, this lovely little anchorage never experiences waves or wind above a gently breeze.
We joke about these incredibly beautiful places in terms of whether or not they measure up to the 'pictures in the brochures.' There's no brochure, at least none I have seen, but it's easy to conjure up the images of the waving palms, the little hump of sand rising in a gentle mound out of the ocean, the sparkling water in impossibly blue colors.
Well! The waters of Atuona Bay, the cruiser anchorage at Hiva Oa, were brown with silt stirred up by the constant surge. It was warm enough. But when we dove on the prop to free a line that had wrapped around it (admission here: Robbie dove and several helpful friends - I did not) visibility was only a foot or so in the muddy water. In fact, I can attest to that fine silt. It is my job, generally, to bring up the anchor, and when we departed Hiva Oa our primary anchor brought with it to the surfact an enormous load of pure fine black mud, smooth as potter's slip. Having been too lazy to prepare the deck wash down hose before bringing up the anchor, I had the privilege of scraping the mud off with my fingers and today, four or five days later, I STILL have filthy little black lines under my fingernails! This is the first time in my entire life that I have been unable to get my fingernails clean. Even after several attempts with files and brushes, my nails are dirty with this silt so fine it just won't come out!
Oh, the waters of Baie Hanamoenua, though! Straight from the brochure! These waters are the brightest purest aquamarine you can image!
Insert photo: Bluest Waters We've Ever Seen!
We knew no one at Hanamoenua except Terry and Margeaux from Switzerland and their dog Yuma. (We met someone a few months ago with a dog named Taos. I think we should get a dog an name it Brussels.) There were seven or eight other boats, but we did not know them and were so ready to rest and relax after turbulent and social Atuona, that we did not do the polite thing, which is to visit other boats in our dinghy to say hello.
Our two days at Hanmoenua were delightful and calm. We relaxed and caught up on our rest, then sailed south and east, beating into the trade winds to see the not-to-be-missed destination that is known as the most beautiful place in the world, Fatu Hiva.
Gato Go had come to Fatu Hiva a few days ahead of us and we spent a pleasant evening in our cockpit with Bruce and Craig before they sailed away to new destinations.
Now we are alone or, more correctly, surrounded by boats we have only just met in the past 24 hours. Patrick and Brian have sailed here from New Zealand. They've been at sea for 30 days and this is their first landfall. They'll go directly to Hawaii next on their way back to the United States after four years.
I believe we are the only Americans here at this time, Partick and Brian and Robbie and I. There are a few boats from Switzerland, including Didier and Marie Lucia who arrived yesterday from the Galapagos. And at least three German boats, Henri and his crew from Munchen, another boat from Munchen with Svetlana and her husband, Hans their crew member, and two or three young blond children. I think there is at least one French boat here, and one bearing an Australian ensign sailed away yesterday afternoon before we made our rounds so we did not meet them.
This is the 'being alone' that we have been seeking! Here we sit, snug and comfy aboard the most wonderful sailing vessel in the world among people from many lands and many cultures in a place that is completely new to all of us! What could be more fun? This is where the rubber meets the road in terms of human relationships and we welcome the challenge. It's exactly the reason we came! With nothing more than a friendly smile and a few words of our broken languages, we will see how well we can harmonize with others and make the world a happier place!
Cruisers have so much in common, and it would be easy to socialize only among ourselves. So much to discuss and to share about places we've been, places we're going and how best to tackle the process. We have a reputation for being an insular community, sticking to ourselves and sometimes failing to engage the locals in the places we visit. Yes, there is a temptation to do that. I did not foresee it, but those things that draw us together, the sailing, the weather, the sea, the repairing one's boat in exotic places do sorely tempt one to spend time with our neighbors on the boats around us at any anchorage.
It's the people of these remote and unique cultures who have drawn us here to begin with, though, and what a shame it would be to miss this opportunity to become a person of Fatu Hiva instead of just another yachtie. We have made it a priority to divide our time, meeting other yachties whom we know we'll see in other ports in the future and treasuring the unique charm of the people and the places we visit. If we place any emphasis, we hope for it to weigh more heavily upon the peoples and cultures of our landfalls.
Today, Mersoleil is anchored in Baie de Verges (Bay of the Virgins, so named by Christian missionaries who disapproved of the previous name which referred to the multiple erect spires of stone that rise from the steep slopes reminding one of ¬... well¬... not virgins). This spot on the island of Fatu Hiva is widely reputed to be the most beautiful and the most photographed place in the world and we would not disagree. It is simply stunning.
Blessed with daily rainfall, 80-90F degree weather day and night, and an inspiring volcanic mountainous terrain, the tiny island of Fatu Hiva springs up out of the sea and delivers the intoxicating fragrance of tropical flowers for miles to northwestward tantalizing anyone arriving, as we did, from that direction. Even having been forewarned of the beauty of this place, Robbie and I motored into the bay at midmorning the day before yesterday with our jaws agape, overwhelmed by the beauty of the place.
Insert photo: Beauty is Fatu Hiva
We were exhausted when we arrived due to a little complication with ground tackle that had kept us offshore overnight. (Arkane note for other sailors: several feet of chain somehow hopped up onto deck in the beat to windward and got jammed in chain wheel - took six hours to free it, finally resorting to servicing the windlass, which was due anyway.) So shortly after getting settled we collapsed into a four hour nap spent the evening with Gato Go, and went to bed for the night.
It rained bullets once or twice during the night, Mersoleil was happy to have the bath, and we arose to find ourselves in paradise once again. The clouds and mist wafted through the valleys and occasionally dropped showers of fresh water upon us. In between, they parted for sunshine and bright rainbows, made the lush mountainsides sparkle and freshened the air. We spent the early part of the day bustling about putting away tools and preparing a meal of fettuccini with tomatoes, onions, black olives and bacon and a salad with the wonderful bitter greens I had purchased at Hiva Oa.
By mid afternoon we were concerned that interesting things might be going on on shore and we were not yet involved, so we raised the dinghy off the deck, lowered her into the water and motored into the village at around four o'clock. We smiled our friendliest smiles, spoke our three or four words of French to the people we met, and wandered the little village until dark. The Catholic church, no priest, but a dedicated congregation, were preparing for the children's service at 5:30PM and we stopped to chat with the greeters outside, one of whom was Kati, a charming woman about my age (OK, we're probably both grandmothers) who invited us to her home for a feast of local foods. She loves to prepare meals for visiting cruisers, asking only a small sum in reimbursement for the food and that we round up at least six people to participate in the feast along with her family.
After spending some time chatting with Kati, we wandered further up the road and found Florida who offered to show us her tapa cloth paintings, a woman who was carrying her new three week old grandson to the children's service, and Blondine who was carrying her eight week old puppy Sam in a cardboard box. We walked home with Blondine, met her friendly husband, Mark, and spent a pleasant hour chatting and looking at Mark's jewelry. He carves bone and mother of pearl and makes jewelry with these items and black pearls. His work is lovely. It was hard to resist buying something and we told him we would return later.
We'd said the same to Florida and to Katie, but it rained hard this morning and we were loathe to venture out. At noon my conscience got the better of me and I hopped in the dink while Robbie did other things and I went to town, first calling on the neighboring boats to see who might like to join us for a Polynesian feast. Brian and Patrick we game, but all the others had only just made landfall from the Galapagos and were not ready to make social plans. They were sleeping or getting their boats back in order, just as we had done last week.
I continued into the village with only a count of four for dinner, asked at the little store (you wouldn't call it a store and we would not dare buy here knowing that everything we bought would be unavailable for those who live here and are not sailing on to bigger retail markets) where might I find Kati, and was guided directly to her house by a person who was presumably a man, but who had a very effeminate manner, carried a basket on his wrist and wore a flower behind his right ear symbolizing that he was available. I don't understand this, but I think there is a huge cultural variation here and this person was not a homosexual, but something more complex and culturally defined. In any event, he was nice enough to lead me to Kati's home and I hope it was not a faux paux when I said ¬"Merci beaux coup. Messeur.¬"
Kati agreed to prepare dinner for us tomorrow at two in the afternoon even if we were only four people, and I promised to come by at eight in the morning with a final count. I memorized and the white rock and the plant with the long yellow leaves at the point where you leave the road (I use the term loosely) to go to Kati's house (I use that term loosely, too.) When I asked Kati about tapa cloth, she showed me to the home of Florida and they brought out some of her work, black pictographs and stylized designs on beige and brown paper make by pounding out the pulp of breadfruit trees and the banyon tree.
Kati introduced me to a wood carver, too, who was working over large pieces, baskets and bowls and vases, doing all his work by hand.
It would be wonderful for the people of these islands if Robbie and I felt like buying an artisanal item from each of them. I wish I could do that. But we have not room aboard for such souveniers and we both know the feeling one has after having brought home a turquoise wooden coyote baying at the moon and realizing it looks ridiculous in a townhouse in downtown Chicago, that makes one question, 'what was I THINKing when I bought that!?' I resisted any temptation to buy.
I stopped atMark and Blondine's on my way back down the road and enjoyed a nice visit with them, scratched little Sam behind the ears and told them I would return tomorrow. Mark asked me my age, which seemed odd until he explained his reason. Mark is 51 years old and is beginning to struggle with that far sightedness that afflicts us all as we mature. He wanted to see my glasses to see if they would help him see his work better and said that he needs stronger glasses. Amazingly, I had reorganized a locker only this morning where I keep my eyeglasses and some other things, and had found a couple of pair of readers that no longer suit me. They were already set aside to give as gifts to anyone who might need them (it's SO hard to buy things on these tiny islands!) and I will take them to Mark tomorrow in hopes that they'll help him. If he needs something stronger, I hope Robbie will part with one of his many pairs of reading glasses. And I believe I will give Blondine one of my monogrammed hankies as a gift. The letter B works for her, too, and it's common for women here to carry a handkerchief or a scarf to blot away the perspiration from face and neck. She will appreciate it and I have about a dozen. I carry a hankie all the time, but surely I can part with one.
Leaving Mark and Blondine, I continued down the road and was greeted with a friendly 'bon jour' by an old woman in her garden. Madeline she was, and with no language in common, Madeline determined that I would love to have some pompelmoussse, that I had plenty of bananas, and that, sure, I would use those aromatic green leaves (I think they're some kind of basil or oregano, but really I don't know and if we're dead by the time you read this, you'll know I misunderstood what she said). She loaded me down with three enormous pompelmousse and a nosegay of the herbs and then realized a bag was in order. She disappeared into her house and returned with a mylar grocery bag which I gratefully accepted, knowing it would be hard enough to hop into the dinghy at low tide even without an armload of loose produce.
At the dinghy dock I found many of the newly arrived Europeans and the Swiss, who do not have the indulgence granted to EU citizens, had apparently begun worrying about the fact that they had not yet checked in to the country of French Polynesia and were probably all going to have to pay a security bond equal to the cost of a plane ticket home. French Polynesia does not take kindly to freeloaders and they want make sure everyone who visits has the wherewithal to go away at his own expense after a suitable time.
Finally back at home, Robbie and I shared our afternoon experiences, he working aboard on downloading weather from Honolulu and redesigning our preventer system yet again, and I on land. We enjoyed huge bowls of tropical fruit (there are stalks of bananas hanging in our cockpit!) and leftover risotto with shrimp and scallops. Between eating, reading, writing and our conversations, we ran to close hatches and windows with each sudden downpour and opened them again when the rain passed.
It has been a beautiful day. We love Fatu Hiva!
The ITCZ and Its Friend, the Squall
17 April 2012 | 6N 126W
The ITCZ and Its Friend, the Squall April 18, 2012
Closing in on the ITCZ (the intertropical convergence zone) we're still unable to get Hawaii weather except by email which is slow and power consumptive. I would be happy with about eight different weather products: surface analyses, surface forecasts for 24, 48 and 72 hours, wind and wave charts and the East Pacific Discussion which is a text file. But I'm settling for the text discussion and a gridded binary (GRIB) model of wind and waveforecasts.
Robbie sent an email to Lee Chesneau asking what's up with the weatherfax Hawaii signal being gone and Lee forwarded it to the weather office there. Just a defensive reply suggesting that we didn't have current data because our email referred to the guy no longer in that position . (Of course, we got his name off the current instructions for ftp weather downloads, so, let's see¬... who's not current?) Bottom line seems to be that the Navy has shut down the Hawaii radiofax activities right in the middle of the season when short-handed sailors cross the Pacific in small sailboats. The Navy has its priorities. They are not quite the same as my priorities!
The NE trades are still blowing fresh and we're making decent progress at 6-7 kts even sailing nearly dead downwind. This point of sail is a very rolly position and we'd rather be at a broad reach, but we just can't get there. Convective activity at the ITCZ has narrowed the window through which we want to cross it, so we'll stay downwinding for another day or two and enjoy the rolling.
I think I'm beginning to understand the Intertropical Convergence Zone, at least I'm getting a big picture of what's going on here. I've learned everything I know about meteorology from Lee Chesneau, and Lee will probably kill me for cooking up my own ideas of how it works, but this is my mind in action. I'm sitting here at 6 degrees North wondering why the weather is acting so oddly and my mind is going to come up with a hypothesis. Lee's not here to tell me how it really works, so I shall be creative and let him correct me later. Sorry, Lee. Here's Bev's simplified and ignorant ITCZ primer.
NOTE: Inserted April 19, 2012. OK. The next day's experience was different from what I'm about to describe and it blew this theory out of the water. But I still think it happens this way some of the time. Read on for other options.
There's a lot of moisture in the air here. It's clear and blue in the early morning, but by noon the haze has turned the sky milky and by mid afternoon, like in the desert, the squalls are beginning to form. Unlike desert storms, though, which move across the earth's surface with the wind, these squalls don't go anywhere. Or they don't appear to. They are moving UP, not across. As the NE trades blow toward the equator from one side, the SE trades do the same from the opposing side, They meet approximately at the equator, within a couple of degrees of the equator, and the place where they meet moves backand forth generally in the vicinity of the equator, rapidly and frequently, as atmospheric pressure and wind speeds change on one side or the other. The atmosphere is a fluid. (Lee would tell you that, by the way!). This is the Intertropical Convergence Zone, the area where those tropical winds converge.
Two bodies of air moving toward one another in a steady and constant flow change direction and both move UP when they meet, up into the atmosphere, the only place they really have to go. As that warm moist air rises, it generates the perfect conditions for squalls, short, often violent, little storms that reflect the instability of that air that's moving up into the atmosphere. It's really an interesting phenomenon, and not all that complicated. The area of convergence moves around apparently unpredictably like the balance between two arm wrestlers. It would take a Kray computer and more to figure out precisely where the ITCZ is going to be, but in fact, the only practical way to sail through it is to gather the best data you can, set your course, then work within the limited ability of your sailboat to miss squally areas that pop up seemingly out of nowhere.
Be prepared for squalls.
We hit the first two squalls that came on our radar. Or, rather, they hit us. I was at the helm and expected them to proceed off to the west in the 'normal' way of weather. But I'd forgotten the whole point that makes the ITCZ different. The squalls are not moving any direction but up. So, we smacked right into the first one rather than passing behind it per my plan. I thought we'd miss the second one, it was dissipating as we approached its fringe, but a new squall developed right where we were headed, so Mersoleil got another free bath.
ITCZ squalls form in lines that look on radar like a train marching across the chartplotter. But they aren't marching across at all. They're ascending like little angels! And a new squall is forming behind them in the unstable low pressure air that remains at the surface as more trade winds pile up there. So what I saw on the radar was, rather than a train processing across the sea, a series of intense areas forming, then dissipating, then new ones forming only to dissipate and be replaced again. And again and again.
I learned by trial and error that I have to sail all the way around that area of greatest convection, the whole thing, even if it's twenty-five miles wide. The gap that I see while approaching it probably isn't really an opening at all. It's just a spot not involved in a squall at the moment. Give it time.
The broad areas of moderate to severe convection seem to hang around for a while, days not hours, which is why the sailboat captain might as well know about them far in advance and steer clear. Hence my desire for frequent weather updates in this location. We may not be able to escape a squall line that suddenly appears five or ten miles ahead, but we can surely choose to avoid the five degrees of longitude with the strongest activity if we know about it three days in advance!
The second squall line gave me an opportunity to try out my hypothesis and it served us pretty well.
The line was around twenty miles long in a curving line from east to west and there were about seven squalls active at any given moment. I watched them form, intensify, dissipate and disappear only to be replaced by a new squall in the same or a nearby spot. My preference would have been to pass the whole line around the west end, but this is a sailboat and we were sailing nearly dead downwind in a NE wind. I had a little leeway (literally) to turn to port, so I headed off in that direction aiming for the far east end of the squalls. I knew I couldn't make enough easting before we reached the latitude of the weather, but I did my best to keep the sails filled and reach the right place at the right time.
It worked! We sailed through a sizable gap between the last two squalls. I couldn't get far enough east to miss them all, but no new squall developed in the gap (that was a gift) and we felt only a few scattered raindrops blown in from the next closest convective activity and no gusts at all.
All this convective activity increases as the earth and air warm during the afternoon and then the dropping temperatures of the evening accentuate the drama with more intense squalls, putting lightning into bold relief to add even more punch. On this night we experienced no squalls. After all, we hadn't even reached the actual ITCZ yet, we were just approaching it. This was just the premiere!
And now, additional notes based on the experiences of day two crossing the ITCZ¬.... theory needs significant modification.
I still like my neat "it only goes one way - UP" theory, but admit I was wrong. Partly. Today as we sailed through the latitudes of 5N and 4N we dealt with squalls that DID move laterally across the ground. Their behavior was quite unpredictable.
I got myself into quite a pickle early in the day when I headed around a little group of squalls hoping to pass them on the west side. Another squall or two developed still further west leaving me in the middle again. A few of the oldest squalls of the group failed to dissipate. In fact they got larger. Then I realized this group was moving, moving faster than a sailboat, which was terribly inconvenient. I had no choice but to run through the squall at a nearby point where it seemed a little narrower. This worked out just fine, but I was nonplussed that my theory developed just yesterday was already trash.
On the same watch I found us approaching another group of squalls. These too were in a cluster, not following one another like train cars. In this particular cluster there was a very promising opening and I sailed for that opening. Before I got there it had filled with a new squall and, again, the entire cluster had grown and intensified. I had to call Robbie up on deck to help me make some sail changes in a hurry and I decided ultimately that the least risky plan would be to turn around and run back in the direction from which we had come. The cluster was changing so rapidly it amazed me. And it was definitely moving, although with the constantly changing cells it was difficult to know in which direction. It was getting larger, too, which added immensely to the excitement.
We escaped both these squall systems with a good bath for Mersoleil and a generous slice of humble pie for me. Yesterday I thought I had the ITCZ squall activity al figured out.
Today I think I have the ITCZ squall activity figured out, too. Here's today's solution:
Weather in the ITCZ plays with your mind. If you actively make effort to outrun or otherwise escape a squall it will stalk you. If you try to understand its dynamics it will let you go on for a while and waste some time before it shows you for a fool.
My new approach to the ITCZ? Avoid the known problem areas, those identified by the National Weather Service. Once you've done that, get going and keep going. Most of the squalls are little more than an inconvenience. It's easier and faster to stick with your plan and keep moving in the intended direction, even when weather pops up from nowhere, than it is to try to outsmart these fickle systems.
Enjoy the rain, enjoy being in such a remarkable place on the surface of this earth. Sail on. And maintain your sanity!
Fish #1 - What's a Gaff?
10 April 2012 | 200 Miles Off the West Coast of Mexico
Fish #1: What's a Gaff? April 11, 2012
Undaunted by the fact that I know nothing about fishing, or even about fish, for that matter, until the stage at which I recognize them as steaks and filets in my fish monger's refrigerated case, I have accepted the responsibility for fishing aboard sv Mersoleil.
Growing up in a river town on the upper Mississippi did nothing for me in this regard. I suppose people there must have fished, but no one ever told me about it.
Raising my son in downtown Chicago I got as deeply involved in fishing as I have ever been before. We went to Morrie Mages or someplace and bought a couple of little fishing rods with wee little spools of green nylon line and tiny hooks already attached. Being the dutiful mother of a son, I marched out to the end of the North Avenue pier on half a dozen occasions where we threw our , no I think we cast our little hooks out into Lake Michigan and hauled in a few wriggling brown alewives. Which was ridiculous because the beach was littered with the very same fish, already dead, right there for the taking. But I didn't say anything. He seemed enthused about fishing for them the hard way.
Ten years later my son and I learned to SCUBA dive performing our certification dives in the stunning azure waters of Grand Cayman where fantastic yellow, black and blue tropical fish are varied and abundant. One afternoon as the dive boat returned us to shore he turned to me and said, "Mom, why would anyone ever go fishing when you can just go down there and take the one you want?"
Excellent point, I thought. Thus ended my fishing career. Until this passage.
Preparing myself to face the role of fish wife aboard Mersoleil, I prowled the aisles of Sea Mar several times over the year before our departure from Seattle. Seattle Marine and Fishing Supply Company is the definitive fisherman's resource in Seattle, right on the water at Salmon Bay, where all the serious fishing boats spend their off-duty time between trips to Alaska.
Sea Mar is where the Deadliest Catch boys shop. Not that I felt qualified to join them. But I knew that we would take seriously the opportunity, indeed the necessity, to provide our table with delicious fresh seafood while on long passages. I know what to do with the filet once I have it, but I've remained happily clueless of the steps up to the point at which I tell the man at Pike Place Market how much it should weigh and how thick each piece.
Sea Mar is a wonderful store! I first went there for a gaff. Our list of emergency equipment said we should have a gaff, that they are useful for catching fish from a liferaft not that I ever hope to try that. I was horrified when I saw what a gaff was. A wooden stick like a broomstick with a lethally sharp stainless steel hook screwed into one end making the entire tool look something like a letter J. What size did I want, I was asked by the lady who was assisting me. She looked like she would know what size gaff she needed, but I needed to view one first, and perhaps find out their intended purpose before I could specify a size. Oh my gosh! There were at least twenty different sizes of gaffs from which to choose, all identical but growing larger in minute increments as one walked past the display.
"I don't know, what do you suggest?"
She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Her look said 'you can't do anything for yourself, can you?' So I admitted knowing nothing and she explained that gaffs are used to help land a fish and haul it up onto the boat from the water or the net. You stick the sharp hooked end into the fish' gill and bring it up on board with a heave ho. Ew! Ultimately I selected a 26" gaff which we can't find at this moment but I know it's here somewhere. My selection criteria were two: 1, I probably don't need a gaff at all to lift a fish that would fit a smaller gaff. And 2,if I catch a fish so huge I'll need a gaff bigger than this one, I'm not going to be able to get that fishy up on deck at all. So, like Goldilocks chose her chair, I went for the gaff that seemed not too large, not too small.
My emergency equipment list included a few other fishing supplies. Hooks, monofilament line. But I needed to get this whole fishing thing under control or, at a minimum, I needed to collect a little kit of the essentials so that when eventually I got the urge to become involved in this art, I'd be prepared to engage in it. So I wandered the store and was mesmerized by the plastic lures in crazy bright colors and flashing metallics. And hooks of every size and description, numbered like knitting needles from small to large. Some of the hooks had just one simple sharp point. Others had two or three hooks each, and barbs on those points seemed to be another option whose purpose I felt quite sure I could guess. There were bins like in the hardware stores holding heavy little metal pellets of various shapes and weights, plastic beads that reminded me of the 'pop bead' necklaces I made as a little girl, even hooks named after the fish that would bite on them. How do they know which hook is for them? All very mysterious and new.
Fascinating, too. But I wasn't going to build my kit by staring at shelves full of unrecognizable doodads. I confessed my ignorance again to the lady in case she hadn't remembered, and told her our plans to cruise the world and gather our own food on passage.
"Oh!," she said, "You want to talk to Rob."
I knew it. She was unloading me on somebody else and was going to find herself a customer who would make his purchase without needing a college course in baiting a hook.
Rob Shiveley appeared and he did give me the college course! Or the Cliff Notes version anyway. An accomplished draughtsman, as he explained to me why I needed all these teeny parts, Rob sketched out how they were to be connected together, with what material, how long, how big, even the name of the knot to be used and the name of the fish I could catch with such a contraption!
Several visits to Sea Mar over the last year we were in Seattle and I had three Rob Shiveley originals, a collection of fishing equipment required to rig each of the assemblies he had drawn for me, a very vague concept of how I would use this stuff to catch a fish as we sailed across the ocean and a net bag into which I could stuff it all until the spirit moved me to go fish.
The spirit moved me the day after we sailed from Puerto Vallarta last week. Fishing is huge in Mexico. Mexico has a greater variety of fish and these in greater abundance than almost anyplace else in the world. And I heard someone say on more than one occasion, "You'll catch all the fish you're going to catch on this passage in the first 250 miles off the Mexican coast. The whole rest of the way to French Polynesia is open deep ocean and you won't catch another thing."
Finding the blue net bag of fishing gear was a trick. It was stuffed inconspicuously in the dark back corner of a lazarette. The Mexican government is so sure that visitors, most especially visitors in boats, have come to Mexico to fish that they demand high fees for their fishing licenses, around $400. And they insist that you buy the fishing license regardless of whether you've come to fish the Mexican waters. They claim that merely possessing fishing equipment is grounds for mandatory purchase of the fishing license and they interrogate arriving yachties about whether or not they have fishing gear on board. I did not come to Mexico to fish, stuffed the collection in that inky recess of the port lazarette, thrice denied that I was in possession of fishing paraphernalia and felt like St. Peter.
We did not, of course, fish in Mexican waters. We were too busy getting ready to jump the puddle, to sail to French Polynesia, and I was still disinclined to fool around with the accoutrements in the blue bag. Not to mention the dreaded gaff.
But once 100 nautical miles offshore and settled in for the passage, the obligation to fish while the fishing was good began to weigh heavily and I went in search of the Sea Mar stuff and Rob's artwork, original, autographed and including his email address. He wants a full report with pictures.
His drawings were actually terrific and I assembled two rigs exactly as illustrated. Hugely gratifying was the fact that the little knots I tied in the monofilament line actually stayed tied. I did not think myself capable of tying a good fisherman's knot. The tuna snubbers fitted nicely on aft cleats, one on each, and I ran the lines out the chocks and into the water.
How do you know if a fish has bitten? You can't tell a thing looking at the turbulent surface behind the boat. I hauled in the lines once or twice to check, but they weighed almost nothing and it was clear they had been unvisited. There was nothing live on the hooks so I left the lines running overnight. I admit a sense of disappointment, but knew I had no right to expect instant success. And, hey! I was still happy that the knots held and I didn't lose the little orange bobbing thing and the faux squid! Sometimes I can be so easily pleased.
Every now and again when the lines are out, I look over the stern to see if anything is trailing behind the boat aft of the orange thing Rob sold me which bobs up and down invitingly. On Wednesday afternoon, oh my gosh!, there was clearly a fish swimming along at the surface directly behind the orange thing! I was gleeful, partly simply because I had missed the part in which the fish fights a losing battle for its life. I didn't know what kind of fish was back there, probably would never know, but I'd captured my very first fish at sea and I was ecstatic.
Mining Guano on the Primary Anchor
09 April 2012 | 18N 119W ish
Mining Guano on the Primary Anchor April 10, 2012
I think they're either albatrosses or gannets and it was a lot easier to feel charitable when there was only one, three days ago. He landed on the stern rail after scoping us out carefully for half an hour. Multiple laps around the boat, checking things out from above and from sea level, evidently convinced bird number one that he's found a good spot to rest. He selected his first perch on the rail above the pushpit seat at the starboard corner, settled into a lengthy session of preening, then tucked his head under his wing and dozed off.
Photo: Gannet, we think. First visitor.
Hundreds of miles offshore there's not much to stand upon. We always feel sympathetic toward birds who need to stretch their feet for a few minutes, or to stay dry for a while, or to relax their wings. For whatever reason, when a bird comes to visit Mersoleil he is welcomed and we are touched by the honor that he chose our boat upon which to rest.
He was rather in the way when I wanted to relocate a fishing line and I thought when I dragged it across the rail from one side of the boat to the other he'd take flight and go find something else to do. No such thing. In fact, the bird squawked at me once to make certain I realized I was inconveniencing him. Then when I persisted in passing the fishing line across his spot, he stepped over it one foot at a time, scowling at me for my rudeness in disrupting his nap.
Later, I wanted to retrieve something from the lazarette beneath him, but I had been watching him for hours by then and had come to respect his long, hard, sharp beak, a beak that must be strong enough to rip apart a healthy fish in seconds. His feet, too. He has clumsy big grey webbed feet, better suited to swimming that to grabbing onto a perch. Closer inspection had revealed claws on those tootsies, too. Sizeable hooked claws that made me think of an eagle's talons. These are definitely not duck feet, these are the feet that grab and pluck that fish right out of the sea and they do not let go before the victim has been converted from fish to dinner. I'd already made him mad once and now I was reluctant to disturb him again.
Gee, I thought. This is my boat! I'm allowed to go to that lazarette if I want to. It took some pretty elaborate moves, waving my arms and swinging the end of a line around in the air, yelling, and generally making him uncomfortable for me to dislodge the bird so I could approach the starboard stern.
He flew off momentarily, but then resumed those decreasing circles that showed every intention of coming in for another landing, this time at the bow, further away from the maniacal woman. Again, the bird settled in. More preening. Another snooze. He was still there the next morning.
He slept in on the second day and finally, around ten, took off for parts unknown and we didn't see him all day. I fancied he was going to work. He had not eaten in a day or two. It was time to get busy.
When I came back on watch this morning at four there was the bird again up on the bow. With his entire family! There are five of the darned things now. They've deposited corrosive gifts all over the decks and the windows and I am not amused anymore.
I read someplace not long ago about sea birds that were not particularly tasty. 'Greasy and fishy' was the description attributed to their flesh. These six pound beauties are no good to me at all and I really wish they would go away. I know they won't stay forever because eventually we'll be in a climate that doesn't suit them. Won't we?
And now we need to go forward to retrieve the barnacle line and drag it over to the other side of the boat, but I'm not up to picking a fight with all five of them. They've got me outnumbered. Maybe I'll go consult our birds of the world book and find out who they really are. And, if lucky, how to drive them off. Or at least how to make Mersoleil unattractive to them when they come home from work tonight.
I just noticed, it's getting light, that the deck is littered with flying fish again and the birds are showing no interest whatsoever in what could be a free meal. It's the least they could do to clean up the fish on deck for me. No.
Number six has just arrived. He's made ten passes and tried three times to land but is not welcomed by the brood already roosting here. Oh dear. Now bird wars.
Insert photo: Enough already. Cut it out.
I wonder what we have for making a slingshot. This is really not amusing anymore. Tonight it could be a whole flock!
Later¬... Not 24 hours after that last comment I had really had it with the damned birds. They were rude and messy and made it difficult for us to do any work at the bow. Robbie finally went forward performing his best imitation of my bird chasing technique, which consists of running at a flock of pigeons in the square waving my arms and yelling and stamping my feet. Something I learned from my son when he was four years old - I've always found it highly amusing and I believe the birds enjoy a little excitement now and then.
Robbie's brawking, the technical term, did the trick and the whole flock eventually flew off the rail with some nasty retorts and much flapping of wings. He reports that one of them was particularly mad at him and made it quite clear by looking him in the eye and giving him a sound scolding.
Just in case the gannets considered their eviction temporary, I remained in the cockpit for a while waving my arms and screaming like a mad woman every time one flew back in to scope out a landing place. They persisted. But so did I and in the end it was one for the humans nothing for the birds. They continued to surround the boat for another day or more, swooping in high arcs and low circles to make sure, at least, that if they were unwelcome no one else was going to get their spot either!
After three days passed the original offender returned alone to have another crack at us. We were nearly 400 miles from the point where we'd first met, but I suppose it's nothing for a large bird to scan the sea from high above. Especially when he knows what he's looking for.
This time he must've thought he had us bested. As he circled the mast and lower spreader his intentions became clear: he would land out of brawking range and start a guano mine right on the cabin roof near the mast. Wonderful.
Immediately I launched into my best maniacal hollering and arm waving routine but he had the advantage of height and he knew I was, what is it? All sound and fury signifying nothing?
Robbie was clever. ¬"He's next to the hailer! Quick! Give me the loud hailer!¬" Robbie's whooping and hollering demonstration was impressive, I thought, and I laughed and clapped my hands afterwards, but the bird only looked down on us both with an air of superiority and judgment, a touch of contempt.
I did have one last weapon with which I knew I could irritate him and maybe drive him off. Leaping from the cockpit and out to the mast, at enormous risk to my face, head and clean hair, I grabbed the starboard running backstay, a line that runs up the mast and is kept coiled at its base. Usually the running back is used to keep the middle of the mast from bending under high wind loads, but today I swung it in wide looping arcs knocking the darned bird on the head with it several times until he was peeved enough to fly off.
He took three more approaches to the spreader, but was each time rebuffed by me with the whip and Robin screaming insulting epithets through the hailer. Good thing we weren't in a marina, eh? Can you picture it?
All this with Mersoleil screaming dead downwind at about 8 kts in 20-25 kts of wind.
Finally he flew off to sleep on the surface of the water once again, the normal behavior for pelagic birds. But we are not fooled. He'll be back. We'll be ready.
Thinking again about that slingshot.
It's like geese on the golf course. You think they're quaint and charming, from a distance. Until you get closer and find out what they're really like!
Leaving on a Long Passage
06 April 2012 | Punta de Mita, Nayarit, Mexico
Leaving on a Long Passage April 7, 2012
Sailors never begin a passage on Friday. We have tried to learn why, but, so far, all we know is that they don't. It's bad luck. Being as superstitious as the next sailor and confident abiding by the superstition can cause no harm, we follow this hallowed tradition in ignorant acceptance. Today is Saturday.
The 2012 Pacific Puddle Jump began this morning for Mersoleil at 11:00 when we pulled up anchor at Punta de Mita, Nayarit, exico. Our friends, Craig and Bruce, aboard sv Gato Go were doing the same and they pulled out ahead of us into open water. Our direct route to Hiva Oa, FranchPolynesia, is 230 degrees true, but first we have a couple of islands and an unfavorable current to clear. Then if the winds cooperate, its' set it and forget it sailing for the next 2800 nautical miles.
Nautical miles are 15% longer than statute miles, wouldn't ya know it. There is a good reason though.
We highly recommend the small book, Longitude, which describes the world-wide quest during the 1700s for an accurate means of knowing one's longitude. The Brits, being the big empire builders of the day, headed up the quest by offering a cash prize of ¬£20,000 to the person who could devise a means of knowing longitude that erred within a very small tolerance. It's the story of John Harrison, a brilliant but humble guy who could build a jewel of a clock but was not in favor among the longitude committee. Harrison has a tough time getting their attention and proving his solution, but eventually, posthumously, I think, his sons collected most of the prize. ¬£2,000 was never paid because Harrison failed to cross a t or dot an i. Politics.
With the earth divided for our convenience into degrees and minutes, we have further decided that each minute should represent one mile to make life easy for seafarers, the merchants and the navies. So the nautical mile is the accurate division of the world's circumference. They thought of the statute mile first, I guess. It would have been handy if they'd considered the longitude question at the same time so we could have only one mile. But this is life. Longitude was a wonderful read about a question that proved much more interesting than I expected.
The first day of a passage is always fun and exciting even if it's not a Friday. You're not tired yet. The larder is stocked with everything you could possibly want (or if it's not it's nobody else's fault - you provisioned it yourself!). The trip is planned to some extent, but all the details, still unknown, will unfold in their own ways at their own times. This sail across the Pacific Ocean is the longest passage Robbie and I have ever undertaken and we are very excited. This is the one! We can justifiably claim that all other passages, Seattle to San Diego, San Diego to La Cruz, even practice runs in the Bahamas and the Atlantic, were nothing more than shake downs for this passage. This passage from Mexico to the Marquesas is our dream coming true. No less. It's not practice. It's not temporary. It's not a dream anymore. It's real. It's now. And we're following new friends, two wonderful guys in a catamaran, out of the anchorage to begin the saga!
Thank goodness it's not Friday.
A Test of Sailblogs Feature on Airmail-NO Special Formatting
23 March 2012
This Polynesian kingdom, situated in the heart of the South Pacific, consists of over 160 coral and volcanic islands, of which only 36 are inhabited. Best known among sailors is the northern group of Vava'u, whose maze of islets and reefs provides one of the best cruising grounds in the South Pacific. In spite of Tonga's remoteness, facilities are surprisingly good and the setting up of a small industrial centre near the capital Nuku'alofa has encouraged several boating-related foreign companies to start operations in Tonga. A dangerous area to avoid by boats on passage to Fiji is Metis Shoal (19¬į11.4'S 174¬į51'W), where there has been intense volcanic activity. Following the May 2006 earthquake, some anchorages are no longer tenable due to the settling of the islands in the Ha'apai Group. The northern part of the Kingdom, in particular Niuatoputapu Island, suffered extensive damage following the 2009 Samoa earthquake and subsequent Tsunami. Approximately 192 families were left homeless. Visiting Cruisers can help greatly with clothing and bedding donations.
Rainbow Follows Mersoleil to San Diego
19 March 2012