We sailed back out the north pass and around Apataki to the south pass, looking for Lucio’s wave. We saw waves breaking outside the south pass, but they weren’t quite big enough yet. Teresia continued 10 miles past the main village of Niutahi to Totoro where the Apataki Carenage shipyard is located.
It looked improbable, a dozen masts poking out above the coconut tree line, with a few buildings tucked near the beach and a tractor lined up on a concrete ramp into the sea. We anchored nearby and hoped to refill our gasoline, propane and find some WiFi at this remote outpost.
In the morning we met Tony, the man in charge at the Carenage. He was business like and organized, in his late 20s, with a black pearl hanging from a small gold hoop earring in one ear. Gasoline, propane, WiFi. Check, check, check.
We left Fatu Hiva and headed for Apataki, an atoll in the Tuamotu islands. Lucio heard there was going to be good surf in a few days there and his whole trip was geared toward finding that wave.
As we left the Marquesas, an almost full coconut white moon dripped coconut cream moonbeams onto tuna jumping through indigo black waves.
The passage slowly rolled along. We entered daily routines of eating pamplemousse together, where everyone took a slice then turned outwards to eat the extra juicy fruit over the side of the boat. In silence, content. We caught a bonito, Alex and I played chess. We journaled, I colored. The guys baked bread on the stovetop. We broke down fresh coconuts to make coconut rice.
We arrived with the last afternoon light, the sculptural Virgin’s Bay beautiful and golden again for my second visit. Anchoring was difficult because the small, narrow bay was packed with boats and the bottom is rocky. After a few attempts, Teresia’s anchor held and we could sleep.
In the morning we watched the local soccer game by the beach and chatted with sailors who’d just arrived after their Pacific crossing. Alongside the soccer field amongst the spectators, a baby sat tucked into blankets inside a wheelbarrow, an ingenious alternative to a baby carriage.
I walked with Alex through town and bought a bar of dark chocolate at the tiny corner store on our way to the waterfall. This visit felt more relaxing and enjoyable the second time around. As we crossed the river I spotted a mossy human shaped petroglyph carved in a large rock.
We settled into life in Vaitahu for a few days to enjoy the warm community vibe. Alex has a welcoming manner about him, people just walk up to him on the street to give him fruit or offer to show him around the island. Luckily I got to tag along.
Alex met Alexander, husband of Tatiana, who runs a small open air restaurant next to Chez Jimmy. Alex and Alexander hit it off so we hopped in his truck to check out his family’s land.
Tofu, Alexander’s floppy eared black hunting dog, ran alongside and almost underneath the truck as we wound up the red volcanic valley. We passed folks working to free snowy white coconut meat from tough fibrous brown husks. They loaded up the coconut meat to dry under corrugated metal roofs to a partially dehydrated state. Alexander explained they sell this copra by the kilo to a transport ship that comes every two weeks. Copra is pressed to make the perfumed monoi body oil and other cosmetic products. The toasty, sometimes rancid coconut smell finds your nose on the wind throughout town.
We turned off the dirt road to a lush rambling parcel tucked into the steep valleysides. Giant pamplemousse, lime, bread fruit, mango and lychee trees, laden with fruit, accented the low lying volcanic rock wall terraces. Alexander threw a fiber sack over his shoulder and started twisting off pamplemousse.
I found a new boat to continue my journey through French Polynesia. We’d met the week before at Sandra’s cruiser party at the hut on the hill in the Atuona anchorage. After meeting again at the same party the following week the Teresia crew asked if I was still looking for a boat? Yes, indeed I was. After another lovely night of singing together with guitar players and drummers, eating potluck style from a grill over coals on the ground, they invited me to see the boat, Teresia the next morning.
I hopped on board and checked out their boat, she looked strong and cared for in the functional ways. Her wooden interior was clean and organized. Martin (68), the captain from Austria, his crew, Alex(24) from Germany and Lucio(46) from Brazil, are all easy going, generous souls. After a chat they said yes, I could join them.
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.