This is going to be a great day,” smiled Diane as we loaded up into the dinghy to head to shore here in Hanavave Bay. We arrived yesterday afternoon, after leaving Hiva Oa at 6:30am and sailing at around 6.5 knots on a close reach. It took a few tries to anchor, with poor holding, other boats to avoid plus 30 knot gusts. We prevailed and enjoyed the sunset gleaming off the sculptural volcanic spires, one with a emotive face, as if we disturbed her peace.
Today we enjoyed the feeling of land under our feet for a few hours. We walked up through town, past the soccer field, church and school. Susan bought a dozen eggs at the corner store and I walked back to place them gently in the dinghy. We continued along the river flanked by modest one story homes, patterned fabric swaying in the windows and doorways, each with their freshly painted boats, copra (coconut meat) drying areas, crew of roosters, dogs and goats. Friendly folks invited us to lunch tomorrow at their home, we exchanged easy “bounjour” and “kaoha” salutations with people as we continued along the cement road up into the valley.
It was a strange transition to go from 22 days at sea, with a daily rhythm, to being anchored near a town, with each day tumbling into the next, a series of fix-it projects, provisioning and indeed some fun.
On Saturday morning, we met our private tour guide Jocelyn at the Yacht Services tent. She smiled and welcomed us to hop in a white pick up truck. She seemed unassuming enough, with her classic jelly sandals and close cropped white hair. Oh how wrong first impressions are, most always. She began telling us about the town as we wound up a precipitous, winding road, the steep valley veering off to the right, no guard rails or shoulders. Anytime one of us asked a question, she would say “I will answer that later,” or some terse variation of “Not now.” It became comical to a point, and then at long last we gave up and just followed her program. We did learn a ton about the island, and covered a lot of ground, just at her speed and within all of her rules.
We learned about the trees (teak, rosewood, pine, ficus, ylang ylang, acacia), the sacred sacrificial sights, the long tailed tropical birds, plants (the tree of life from Avatar is based off a flowering and deadly tree here)and where they filmed a season of Survivor. She showed us the valley where Herman Melville wound up and fell in love with the chief’s daughter then wrote a romanticized book about his escapades. Nuku Hiva unfolded in all of her lush, exquisite, dramatic and tropical glory as Jocelyn took us up and down valleys, into the forests, to different coves. We lunched at an open air restaurant on the north side of the island, and feasted on huge plates of curried coconut milk goat, fried bread fruit, butter sauteed cassava and fried seafood. You know you’re eating well when you are shoulder to shoulder with the Taiohae gendarme officers.
After lunch, Jocelyn asked us if we’d like to feed the scraps to the eels? Why yes, yes we would. She gave a sly smirk and piled up the bones and tender morsels onto her plate, then walked us over to the creek alongside the restaurant. Plop! She tossed the scraps in, and in a moment, thick black glossy fresh water eels started to slither upriver to dine. A beautiful brindled hunting dog, with square jaw and shoulders like Ceberus, looked on longingly, salivating at either the scraps, the chickens walking by or perhaps both.
Thank goodness we did the tour because the next few days were about getting the boat ready to go, but island time is a real thing. You have to slow down, even when you are trying to leave. An interesting paradox. Greg and Diane ferried the whisker pole to shore so Kevin could fix it. When our buddy boat Tango arrived after a semi-harrowing passage, Captain John was on Rapture the next day fixing our boom vang mount on the mast that had shorn off. Greg and Susan worked on smaller projects everyday, greasing things that need grease, cleaning, organizing, on repeat.
Susan, Diane and I all helped lug bags of groceries from the three magazines (small grocery corner stores)to the boat. It was fun poking through the freezer cases, seeing chickens from Argentina, bags of foie gras, fresh endive from California in the fridge. We eagerly shopped the Wednesday am farmers’ market and bought a treasure trove of veg and fruits. We woke up early another morning to buy fresh yellowfin tuna from the fishermen carving it up right off their boats, two kilos for 1000 francs ($10).
In the afternoons we swam off the boat, watched kids and grownups go for their daily outrigger canoe workout and stared at each other, beginning to feel a bit restless. We know how to function as a group on the move, we are still learning how to be together in stationary mode.
Rhythm, a sleek black monohull and her friendly captains John and Justine, anchored near us one day. I’d met them when I was crewing on Celtic Song in La Paz, Baja California, Mexico bank in November. They recognized me and invited us to join the other cruisers in the bay for dinner at Henri’s snack shop near the dinghy dock. It was a total joy to share stories and crack jokes with everyone, to eat fries and listen to a live band. Barry from White Shadow, a single hander, had a grueling 71 day passage across the Pacific. He painted a coconut with a face and named it Wilson to get him through. Captains of catamaran Moggy bought a cocaine-carrying catamaran aptly called Bad Kitty that had been impounded by the government, and are waiting on $30,000 worth of gear in order to outfit it and sell it. It felt like the last night of summer camp, the jollyness, the camraderie shared between strangers who are now new friends. Diane and I looked up at the bright rainbow circling the fullish moon and said yup, this is living well.
As the universe is all about balance, I came down with a nasty fever the next morning. Janet on Tango hailed me on the VHF both to ask what medicine I needed and that I should look out the front door, there was a shark feeding frenzy. In a feverish haze I stumbled out carefully into the daylight and watched a fish ball boiling under the surface, and every few seconds five razor sharp shark fins broke the surface in a coordinated, steady circle. A frigate bird swooped in occasionally for fish scraps. It was surreal, on a dead calm morning with that overcast light, not fully in my mind or body, witnessing apex predators eating breakfast. Thank you Janet. Also thanks for the Mucinex.
A gentle peace filled my veins and dove into my bones as we turned into Taiohae Bay. Not just because we had successfully crossed the ocean. More so because the sweet land, swaying trees, glowing grasses and rugged rock formations all welcomed us in high definition. For 22 days our senses were attuned to slight changes in our environment, which was fairly uniform except for the shifting sea, her sky, clouds and the occasional bird. Now we had sunbeams highlighting steep valleys covered in furry green trees, bright in spots and at the next rock ripple hidden in shadows. Shiny vertical mineral veins looked like waterfalls, glinting silver in the early evening sun. Homes in various sizes and colors peeked out from lush gardens on the hillside deep in the bay. As we slowly turned the corner we saw more and more anchored boats, around 35. At once I felt excited and nervous, almost like that feeling in your stomach on the first day of a new grade in school, who would we meet?
Six guys methodically rowed a sleek outrigger besides us, it glided through the water like an arrow. They crossed the mouth of the bay behind us, drawing our attention to the sculptural Ua Pou island in the distance. It’s sharp columnar mountains shooting towards the sky.
Greg slowed Rapture down to a pleasant crawl so we could find our spot amongst these new neighbors. It felt intimate, to wave at people, to know with many we share this experience, of crossing the sea. Like we are all in on the same secret even though we don’t know each other yet. Folks waved back, a man in a full wetsuit puttered back to his boat in a dinghy outfitted with a red dive flag. Catamarans, steel boats, red hulls, orange and blue hulls, long and short, all tucked into the safe calm belly of Taiohae.
Greg, Susan and Diane expertly set anchor while I started to cook dinner. Auspiciously we settled in next to a monohull named Hanna (my sister’s name minus the final H) and a diy steel monohull that Susan and Greg know from Santa Cruz. Once the hook was set everyone congratulated each other, high fives, laughter. Sweet relief. With no one on watch for the first time in weeks, with the boat at rest, our minds eased.
A huge tiki woman rock carving sat proudly on a hill, with a tattooed male warrior carved besides her. Drumming on land began as night fell. We all raised glasses of proper red wine and toasted to arriving in French Polynesia. We toasted to the people that helped train us and teach us. We toasted many many toasts, later with passion fruit liqueur. Gentle rain clouds misted us as we sat together around led candlelight. The half moon and Orion poked through the rain. We rolled into bed for our first full night’s sleep. Content.
A few hours into a deep sleep we awoke to torrential rain coming through the hatches. Susan jumped up to close them. She’s always at the ready. In the morning, Rapture’s salt crusted decks had washed clean from the rain, a welcome luxury. We immediately set to work assembling and inflating Velocirapture, our dinghy that ferries us to and from land. LAND. We had to meet with the gendarme (police) before 11:30am to check into the country. After a solid team effort, sweat and at least an hour, Velocirapture was in the water with her custom red chaps on and her outboard engine purring.
“We are actually leaving the boat!” I hollered with unexpected glee as we took off towards the yellow Yacht Services tent and dinghy dock. Local kids played under a plumeria tree laden with fragrant white flowers, many already scattered on the ground like confetti. Adults breakfasted at long picnic tables under blue vinyl tents. I stepped onto land and felt immediately dizzy. So did Diane, so we took a knee as Greg passed up the garbage to us. We plopped down in front of the Yacht Services office to let the dizziness pass while Greg and Susan filled out paperwork with Kevin, the logistics man in Taiohe. After a few pleasantries with fellow cruisers we plunged deep into the world of wifi, returning messages from friends and family, posting pictures.
Alas, we have to wait on one more official document from Tahiti Crew, so we will meet with the gendarme on Monday. “Just don’t get in any bar fights,” said Kevin, “and you’ll be fine.” Freedom! We explored the small local farmers’ market–all kinds of coconuts, all sizes of banana, yellow and deep purple ube sweet potatoes, banana vinegar, fresh turmeric, chiles, bok choy, squashes, preserved red berries. We walked in the shade along the bay under a huge variety of trees, some dripping with vines, voluptuous pods and bright flowers. Others supported giant breadfruit and glossy green leaves. The soft, yielding, deep red soil cushioned our feet. We took out francs at the bank and sat down for lunch of poisson cru, Hintano beer and fried sliced potatoes.
Thanks for the proper welcome Nuku Hiva, we are so so very glad to be here.
Yesterday was extra pleasant. We’d made our final turn west toward the Marquesas the day before, soon after crossing the equator, so we were on our final downwind run, a sleigh ride as Greg says. We had our parasailor spinnaker flying strong and full, cruising around 6.5 to 7 knots all day with calm seas and clear skies. I chatted with a friend on the SSB radio, took naps and munched on jolly ranchers. We were resting on our newly shellbacked laurels (pre equator crossing we were mere polywogs). As the sun melted into the horizon and Venus winked her first winks of the night, we decided to keep the parasailor up til morning. The ride was so smooth, we were going so fast, there weren’t any squalls in sight.
Greg went over takedown procedures if we did need to douse the sail at night: I go on the foredeck with him, Diane steers to keep the sail on starboard, Susan blows the sheet in the cockpit, Greg pulls down the retrieval line to pull the sock over the sail, then I lower the halyard as Greg stuff the sail into its bag on the foredeck.
Diane, Susan and I all marveled at the stars for a while, pointing out new constellations we’d learned on previous night watches. The cool breeze on our sunned out skin was perfect for basking under the Milky Way. Diane and I retired for the evening while Susan stayed up for her watch. I heard Greg laugh with utter joy when he went up to serve his watch a few hours later, Susan was at the helm with the parasailor flying strong, in her bra, relishing her newfound confidence with this finicky sail.
Greg and Diane served their watches without incident, Greg saw lightning, Diane felt a rain shower. I came up at 4AM for my watch and spotted a small cell on the radar. I watched it for a while, to see if it would cross our path, it seemed like it might so I called Greg up to take a look. A band of black clouds stretched across the horizon off our port side, blocking the stars. Yeah, let’s bring it down, said the captain.
We turned on the foredeck lights, clipped into the jacklines and went on deck. The cockpit crew performed beautifully, they steered correctly and blew the sheet. For some reason, as I heard the wind whipping around the sail and saw Greg begin to pull the retrieval line, my brain switched from rational to panic mode. I started to drop the halyard, huge mistake, wrong order of operations. The sail was half in its sock, hanging dangerously close to the water, still filling with building wind and heeling the boat over to starboard. Greg had to maintain control of the retrieval line as I cranked the halyard back up into its proper position. It started to rain, lines whipped everywhere. I relayed (aka yelled) course directions from Greg back to the cockpit crew.
Greg got the sock all the way down and tied the bridle to the foredeck cleat. He called me up to the bow from my post at the main to help him untangle the mess of spaghetti around him. His headlamp got knocked into the deep when he went to the headstay to take off the soft tacker so he needed light. At this point, I did my training that I learned from SCUBA–stop.breathe.think.breathe.act.breathe. We were past the worst danger. Breathe. The sail is contained and secured to the boat. Breathe. I will shine my light on the lines and help Greg untangle them so we can start the engine and resume course. Breathe.
Susan came up, clad in head to toe star jammies under her life jacket, offering her valuable assistance and her extra bright headlamp. We all worked together, calling back to Diane to release lines from the cockpit as Greg fed them over around and through different points on the bow. The rain abated. We finally got the lines sorted, and we all helped stuff the sail into its bag. Relief.
We triple checked that there weren’t any lines in the water that would foul the prop. Diane started the motor, pointed into the wind and we raised the mainsail. We needed to motorsail for a few hours until daybreak so we could sleep and recuperate.
I apologized for my dangerous error and everyone was gracious and forgiving. You gotta learn somehow, said the captain. We all changed our rain soaked clothes, Susan made tea. I stayed in the cockpit for awhile to let the adrenaline run through me. Once I started yawning Susan sent me below to sleep. In dark black ink I inscribed a short log entry about the situation, thanked the stars that nothing worse happened, and climbed into bed.
I’ve got a whale of a tale to tell you sailors, a whale of a tale or two. Bout some flying fish and a stuck furling drum…
Perhaps we’d been relishing our leisurely sailing journey too much, so Rapture decided to put us through our paces today. Winds built to a steady 20 knots with gusts up to 25 knots. Friendly following seas climbed a bit larger than their predicted three meter height. No worries, we will reef the twin headsails, and keep the mainsail at it’s second reef. When Greg and Susan tried to furl in the headsails, nothing, nada, no movement. I was napping on the setee of course, relaxing after a fun morning workout that required me to self-gimble push-ups and sit ups. The captain went up on the foredeck and I popped my head through the fore hatch to see if I could help.
Greg sat facing the furling drum, flanked on either side by heavily eased headsails, our only option to keep us from being overpowered. I passed him various sizes and types of screwdrivers through the hatch, Greg handed back the outer casing for the furler. Then Susan joined alongside him and helped feed the furling line around the drum. “There’s a huge white thing on starboard!” shouts Diane from the cockpit. A what? We searched the turquoise cresting waves and a brilliant swimming white belly zoomed past us. It looked to be 20 feet long. Following this fellow mammal’s acrobatics was a welcome distraction from the monotonous waiting game of Greg rewrapping, then unwrapping and rewrapping again the furling line. Small flying fish burst from the sea surface and the white bellied creature danced behind to catch them. The beast blew its blowhole finally and gave me a wink, it was an adolescent humpback whale I think.
We regrouped in the cockpit to try the furler but it didn’t budge. Greg outlined what we needed to do, take down the poles, bring both headsails to one side, bring the headsails on the deck and tie them down tight. We clipped in to the jack lines and set to work, everyone taking care to stay on the boat in the heaving seas. Luckily it was day light. Finally we had the poles secured and the smaller jib tied down on deck. Everyone worked together well, calm cool and collected. We raised the larger jib and took a break. Greg turned on the SSB radio for his daily chat with captain John on S/V Tango and relayed our furler situation. John recommended we tighten the jib halyard extra tight to unstick the drum. Indeed John, that was the ticket. We were already mentally preparing for the coming two weeks of taking down the jib on deck when we needed to reduce sail area, which would at least be a few times a day or night. I was so grateful to see the jib spin around and reef into its proper place. THANK YOU CAPTAIN JOHN.
The drum is still a bit sticky, but its working. We will continue to unravel its mysteries tomorrow. For this evening, we enjoyed yet another lovely sunset dinner. Greg, relieved at the outcome of today’s adventures, regaled us with near death experiences that involved large wild animals charging him (black rhino) or him and Susan (grizzly bear).
Our fishing line is out with a new squid-like lure today, moving googly eyes and all. We are hoping for some kind of edible catch to add to our paella tonight. Last night we chatted with sailing vessel Pakele Loa on VHF, they too are playing around with different lures but still no luck. It was fun to swap the day’s updates with a nearby vessel, a great advantage of using the AIS system.
Last night’s watch was mellow and full-moon lit, a welcome easy entry into new boat rhythms. We began the morning under white sails, then switched to motoring for a few hours, and now we are sailing at a nice 6 knot clip with true wind of 11 knots coming from 108 degrees south.
Susan dedicated herself to the new routines of checking the vegetables and turning the eggs. Her diligence paid off as she extricated a bad orange and lime from an otherwise happy basket. I sleep above the long term veg and fruit storage, and need to remember to sing to them at night…
I’m grateful to be on a well-loved and well-prepared boat alongside hard-working and lovely people. They’ve dreamed of this voyage for a long while and it is a privilege to share this big blue journey with them. Yesterday afternoon, after a day learning the boat’s through hull locations, cooking breakfast and lunch and serving my watch, I laid down in my hammock-like bunk. I listened to the sea rushing alongside, the boat was happy under sail. I started listening to a playlist a dear friend sent me for this journey, and a big smile crept across my face.
As Susan said it best at sunset last night, “We are the lucky ones.”