The Marquesas! Spectacular volcanic islands in the east of French Polynesia, and our first experience of this amazing part of the world. We have definitely regained land legs, and have enjoyed walking in the steep tropical terrain. The contrast between the sharp basalt fins, verdant valleys, and beautiful beaches of all varieties is truly striking.
- Hitchhiking! The first time for Magnus and many (30!) years ago for me! In the back of a “pick up” usually, or inside if there is room. Local people are super friendly and often offer us a ride as we walk along the road. We gained confidence, and followed our friend’s lead and began actively seeking a ride using our thumbs if we had a long way to go, or lots of groceries.. We are most often lucky, and have had many good willed conversations using gestures and the odd word if we get a seat inside the car. If we sit in the back, we enjoy the breeze while sitting on coconuts, or trash, or whatever other cargo is invariably in transit.
- Having to stay on the boat all day, due to a very strange anchoring situation. Usually anchored boats perform a graceful dance, all swinging the same way at the same time with the wind. Most people use an appropriate amount of chain for the depth, so it is generally a predictable waltz, with boats swinging gently past one another with plenty of room. If boats have different lengths of chain out, the waltz does not work AND when there is no wind, or fickle wind, or currents as well – the dance becomes less ballroom and more disco or even a bit mosh pit! It was mosh pit this day – so we had to stay aboard to fend off approaching boats, as they drifted slowly but determinedly towards our stern (and precious solar panels) or pointy bow. We put fenders along the most at risk side, and sat tight as many owners did. Usually we would not stay in a crowded situation like this, but we had had to wait several days for there to be room in this very popular anchorage – and so wanted to stay at least two nights. (It was Hanavave – the all time most featured anchorage on yachting magazine covers, and deservedly so.) Luckily the view was nice.
- Beautiful, dramatic scenery at every turn. Some of the bays in these volcanic islands are home to coral reefs – and sitting in turquoise water, looking back at a pristine white beach, up through bright green coconut palms at a cornflower blue sky, interrupted by tall rocky outcrops topped by fluffy white clouds is almost too much to look at all at once.
- Meeting up with our friends on Gemma from Panama for walks and daily outings, sharing shopping, dinners etc together. The difference in our legs and general cardiovascular fitness after some time on land is a relief! While we were able to keep pretty strong on passage with daily strength exercises, we had poor cardiovascular fitness. On land we had no choice but to improve, because our friends on Gemma like walking as much as we do, especially on “unmarked” trails. It is always an enjoyable, and often tough adventure when we go walking with them.
- The first time I heard Nate say grandma -“bye gam ma” before expertly hanging up from one of our frequent video calls. He likes seeing the boats mostly, and shows me his trucks. Sometimes we sing some songs. Lara’s whole family was home with COVID for a while, and Magnus aka “Toutou” and I sent some “Grandma and Toutou’s Playschool” nursery rhyme videos to torture them during their isolation. Nate requested to view these performances by asking to “watch gam ma dancing!”
- As I mentioned, the walking here is incredible. We have done many beautiful walks, but a special mention must go to the walk from Hanaipa to the beach at Hanatakuua – 2 hours of steep, hot and dusty track over 2 headlands to finally arrive at a stunning, palm fringed turquoise beach. (Of course we were in flip flops/thongs! We managed, but wouldn’t recommend it for this particular track.) The swim on arrival was heaven.
- Another special mention must go to an attempt to walk to a cross high up on a ridge that we could see from our boat. After a polite enquiry to a local, we were assured that yes, there was a track to it, and we were kindly guided to the beginning of said track by a lovely lady called Louis, who dropped what she was doing and walked the half kilometer or so with us, to ensure that we found it. Well, “track” may have been an overstatement. After a couple of hours of “following” (losing, looking for, missing, and pushing through) an almost imaginary overgrown prickly track, our legs were scratched and bleeding, and our will to reach the cross on the summit lost. We got pretty close – but were not willing to go the last section, knowing it would be no better than the “track” so far. Note to self: carry long pants.
- Great sailing between the islands. After the long slow downwind passage, it was nice to get some wind on the beam and get cracking through the water.
- Anchor life in pretty, unspoiled bays. Snorkelling, swimming from the boat, paddleboarding, using rainwater, and doing small repairs/maintenance tasks. Learning about local life and food, gathering ourselves for the weeklong sail to the next island group. We have been to some indescribably beautiful bays, including Hanavave and Anaho. Hanavave was previously known as “The Bay of Penises”, in light of the phallic rock formations dotted around the shore. Apparently offended missionaries renamed it “Bay of Virgins”, but now most people refer to it by its local name of Hanavae. Anaho is a large, sheltered, palm fringed bay with a coral reef inside part of it. Colored all shades of turquoise, mint green, aqua and royal blue; it is the archetypal tropical beach. Even the tourist brochures describe it as one of Polynesia’s most beautiful beaches.
- Getting up close and personal with some enormous manta rays in Anaho Bay. Many reside there, and it seems they are unperturbed by dinghies quietly puttering around, and often approach both dinghies and boats. We heard many stories of people swimming joyfully with the mantas, but we were happy to observe from above. As we crept around a rocky point we saw a frenzy in the water, and first thought it was sharks, as the fins of a manta ray can appear to the uninitiated if you don’t pair two of them together. But the disturbance in the water was in fact a squadron of manta rays. Gracefully, they approached the dinghy in a train of 7, and swam underneath within touching distance. There were many more, moving around and under the boat almost like playful dolphins. Their sheer size surprised me – but apparently manta rays can get to 5-7ish meters. These ones were definitely wider than our 3m dinghy is long, and watching them glide elegantly about was a moment I won’t forget.
- Visiting many historical and archaeological sites, often after trudging many kilometers, coming upon them shyly shrouded in greenery. The evidence of large residential and ceremonial centres seemed at odds with the tiny villages that we see now. These islands were once home to more than 40,000 people, but now only, 9000ish, after a low of 2000ish in the 1920s, partly due to introduced diseases such as smallpox.
- Tikis! There are statues and representations at entrances, in buildings, parks, poles, everywhere! Often carved from wood or stone, they are detailed and expressive.
- Fantastically intricate wood and bone carvings, and fascinating tattooing on many Polynesian people. Apparently tattoos (tatuas) are “ more than skin deep” in Polynesia, in fact part of a way of life.
- Feeling welcome, and also unnoticed at the same time. If we initiate a wave, or a greeting, it is returned with warmth, and any questions answered generously. (But we need to improve our French to understand the answers!) We can observe life here going on – and try not to get in the way.
- One rough morning on anchor the boat was really rolling from side to side. At a distracted moment, I put the full coffee pot down on the bench, instead of the gimballed stove top. In a millisecond the whole thing emptied over me and the kitchen. It was a mess, I had a slightly burnt arm, and a VERY bad temper. My language was somewhat impolite, enough to rouse Magnus from bed. To add insult to injury – it used up precious water to sooth my arm, and clean up the hideous mess, and we are STILL finding coffee grounds in far flung places. But on the bright side the coffee pot is still in one piece. Living the dream!
- The price of eggs! We baulked at paying 700 XPF, (over AUD $9) but have decided that we draw the line at 1300 XPF (over AUD $17!) It seems ludicrous, as there are chickens literally everywhere! If we were on land I think we would trade for a couple of chooks to keep ourselves.
- Deciding to use the expensive laundry service. We mostly wash onboard ourselves using the wine making method of stamping around in a big tub, rinsing in the same manner, then handwringing and hanging out on the boat to dry. (Securely tied on of course!) However it seems that the occasional thorough machine wash of towells and sheets is probably a good idea. But at these prices, just the bare minimum I think. (Of course we happily pay when people are helping us, and are grateful to be welcomed here, just have to get used to the going rates.)
- Jelly fish stings. We have been pretty lucky – but gosh you know about it when you get one! Magnus recently got a sting while under the boat – and while vinegar is supposed to help, it does not feel like it at the time.
- Dinghy landings! The Marquesas are a really beautiful place to be in a boat – but there are few facilities designed for visiting yachts really. Concrete wharfs for fishing boats are often available, but sometimes the swell is so big it is impossible to get to the dock, let alone get off the boat there. On several occasions the breaking waves at the dock and at the beach prevented us from going ashore some days, or at all. This is only a small inconvenience in a beautifully unspoiled, mostly untouristed area, and we are not complaining. People say that this is what the Caribbean islands were like 30 years ago, and I am happy to be here.
- The evening goat parade on vertical cliffs in many bays. We have noticed that in the evenings, the many goats seem to gather up on westerly facing cliffs and settle down on the sun warmed cliffs for the night. Before they settle down to lie on apparently vertical surfaces, they call to each other desperately, and there always seems to be one impossibly stuck somewhere. Invariably they find a way back to the herd and eventually quieten down. In the morning they are still there, lying in impossibly steep places. We have only seen one tumble down a cliff, and the fallen goat quickly got up and scrambled back towards the others, appearing unhurt.
- The stress of futilely trying to summon simple, important French words that are definitely in my brain somewhere. In attempting to think of the required French word, I lurch from Swedish to Spanish to blank – and then occasionally the French word pops up, but more often it requires nudging from google translate. This process of elimination reminds me of when my grandma used to rattle off all her grandchildren’s names until she landed on the right one. But instead of grandchildren’s names, I fruitlessly fossick through any available language, kicking through any possibilities, almost always in vain. I apologise and try to excuse my stupidity by explaining that I am Australian- not sure I am doing any one any favours here.
- Star struck again! We have found ourselves in quite close proximity to some YouTube STARS on more than one occasion, and while Magnus is a great fan of SV Delos and Parlay Revival, he does not wish to feature in their videos, specifically in the case of a problem caused by us. On one occasion we had to squeeze into a crowded anchorage just for an hour or so to enable me to collect the laundry sans dinghy motor, and while I rowed ashore, Magnus found himself swinging a little close to the boat Delos. While wanting to meet them, achieving this by colliding with them was not the plan. There was no collision, but lo and behold, the glamourous Delos crew comprising Swedish Karin, American Brian, their toddler, and a crew member approached Almazul in their dinghy! I could see this from afar as I rowed our laundry laden dinghy back to Almazul. As I arrived and attempted to land our dinghy in a small swell, not lose an oar, and get close enough to actually clamber from the rowing position to the front and grab the painter and transom while keeping the carefully balanced bags of laundry off the wet floor of the dinghy – I quickly understood that no assistance would be forthcoming because Magnus was busy chatting with the celebrities at the side of our boat. I kind of managed (some laundry got wet) and climbed aboard just in time to see them leave. It turned out to be a sweet and sour brush with fame, as the celebrities had approached Magnus in a case of mistaken identity. They were looking for Eugene, as it turned out.
- Returning to the anchored dinghy after leaving it for a few hours. Sometimes it is miles out of the water, requiring us to lug it over the sand to float it, or sometimes it is wayyy out, requiring us to swim out to it. The tide here is only about about a meter and a half – but this can make a big difference, so being prepared for any possibility is necessary.
FOOD AND BEVVY HIGHLIGHTS:
- Idiot alert, from last blog. I was waxing lyrical about a fabulous new (to me) fruit called pamplemousse. I now know that “pamplemousse” is actually the French word for grapefruit – but I have never had grapefruit like this!
- Eating ripe fresh fruit on the transom, especially mangoes and pamplemousse,. You can really dig in, and let the juice run down your chin and hands, – letting all that delicious mess just run into the water, and then dip your hands in too. Full sensory enjoyment with minimal mess.
- Meals served to us by local families eaten in their gardens. We had a couple of sumptuous yet budget friendly meals of tuna, breadfruit, green papaya salad and rice; one in a lush garden setting, and one under a large tree on the beach. One family served tuna four ways; sashimi with a sesame and poppy seed crust, bbqed, crumbed and fried, and in “poisson du cru.” Alcohol is pretty uncommon, but beer is sometimes served. The best drink though, is local fruit juice. Pamplemousse is my favourite.
- Marquesan food cooked by another local family; chèvre in coconut, rice, and sweet plantains, given to us to welcome us to their bay. We gave them some Swedish sugar cake the next day in thanks – I wonder if they liked it?
- Coconut straight from the tree, cut open for us to drink and eat.
- ” Fast food?” We bought a meal that we saw players and spectators eating from the local soccer canteen on a game day at Hanavave, and other offerings from a festival day and a pétanque tournament at Atuona. They were large meals of rice with very tasty bbqed pork ribs, or chicken, and/or goat. One serve is definitely enough for two!
- A welcome rest and refreshment at Chez Jimmy – tuna sashimi or steak with LOTS of fries! This meal was eaten with friends after an energetic 8k walk to town from our anchorage. (And then back again, of course.) The walking is deceptive, because it is necessarily very steep, and extremely hot and humid. We have found ourselves unusually tired after what we thought would be a moderate walk – but the terrain and temperature are gamechangers. Enough to make me order a beer from time to time. Obviously EXTREME circumstances – I am not a beer drinker, and aim to remain that way. (Under normal circumstances, of course!)
- Freshly caught wahoo from boat neighbors; a Scottish couple with a You tube channel as it turns out, who hark from up near my Dad’s birthplace in Fettercairn. Iain had been out in the dinghy, and caught a MASSIVE wahoo on a HANDLINE, and like the old man from “The Old Man and the Sea”, had an epic reckoning to bring the fish aboard. It was almost as tall as him apparently, so plenty to share. “Sailing the Red Seas” is their channel, and of the couple of vids I have watched, they are very well produced videos of an adventure starring two engaging red heads from Scotland.
- Fruit! Mangoes, papayas, coconuts, bananas, limes, a lychee like fruit, starfruit and of course, pamplemousse.
- Breadfruit. We love it! Especially when it is steamed or boiled, then fried in a very delicate oil – not sure what? Sometimes it seems almost like a tempura batter, sometimes just oil. But always light, crunchy, and delicious. (I would describe breadfruit as something like potato/yam – a starch of sorts?) We have had success with steaming it in the egg cooker.
- Boat food – no surprises really, but the baguettes available on these French islands are a treat – but only an occasional one for us. It seems you have to be up, into the dinghy, walk to the shop, all well before 7am to actually get a baguette, otherwise they are sold out. We have had many more misses than hits – and so appreciate them even more when we get one! We’ve had some nice pasta, hamburgers, and chicken meals aboard, and tried making a green papaya salad with medium success. Room for improvement, but a start. We’ve also enjoyed sharing boat meals with friends, and had some fantastic dumplings and banana bread prepared by Betsy, and a cracking Ti punch prepared by Christian.
Thankfully not as much as before we left. The boat held up very well, and apart from needing to replace some traveller bearings and tweak the jib furler – no repairs as such, just normal stuff.
- Post passage scrape of green fur around the waterline. The anti fouling held up well – but the paint above the waterline provided a rich habitat apparently.
- More nails banged down, this time on the transom.
- Changed fuel filter.
- Check on furler top up the mast. Unfortunately this was required on a “weak” day for me, so instead of his normal trim weight, Magnus felt about 120kg!
- Final unsuccessful wrestle with our “ on spec” dinghy engine…. which began to splutter to life only AFTER buying a new one. Doh!
- Order and purchase of new dinghy engine. This was probably well overdue, as we had been patching our old one together with spare parts until the bitter end, and rowing a lot. Then, we bought another non working one on spec just as we left Panama. After bringing it 4200nm across the Pacific – it didn’t work. Our hand was finally forced, and we don’t know ourselves with a quiet, functional engine! As a bonus, it did not cost an arm and a leg, the price was comparable to Panama. Phew!
- Whipping/splicing bits and pieces.
- Odd dinghy patching – we need to keep it inflated now we have a new motor!
THE SWEDISH STUDENT:
Utvecklingen denna månad har stoppats. Jag glömmer helt bort att prata svenska, och det är Magnus också, om vi inte träffar svenskar. Då kan jag följa samtalet men brukar prata engelska eftersom mitt svenska tal är så långsamt. Jag känner mig besviken på mig själv och kommer att försöka hårdare den här månaden. Jag kände att jag blev bättre, men nu har mitt lärande slutat.