Friday, May 31, 2013

Getting our Butts Kicked from the Marquesas to the Tuamotos

On the 14th of May, we waved goodbye to the Marquesas and set out for the Tuamotos.  We had figured the trip would take between 3.5 to 4 days since it was just over 500 miles to the island of Kauehi, our intended destination.  The winds were predicted between 15-18 knots directly on the port beam (left, middle of the boat for you non-sailors).  While that’s a very fast sailing angle for us, it’s not optimal in ocean swells as the waves hit you directly on the side of the boat causing an uncomfortable rolling motion.  But that’s the prevailing wind direction most days, so what’s a sailor to do?  At some point you just have to GO!

So go we did and our first 8 hours were almost pleasant, even though the winds were higher than predicted.  We even had some very pleasant lighter winds right around dinner time – nice to be able to eat without holding on to something!  But after that it pretty much all went to hell in a hand basket.   Right after dark (of course) the winds picked up and overnight were in the 18-25 knot range.  When the wind is behind you that is a very comfortable ride – but unfortunately the wind was on our beam and with the waves building to about 15 feet it was like riding in a big nasty washing machine.  Nothing like pitching forward and back, rolling side to side, combined with a little shimmy, shimmy coco-puff thrown in for good measure.  I actually threw up for the first time in I don’t know how long – that’s how bad it was!

I’m sorry to report that is exactly how it continued for the rest of the trip.  Winds in the 18-30 knot range with about 12 to 16 foot seas on the beam.  It was impossible to move anywhere in the boat without holding on for dear life.  It was easily the worst trip we’ve had since coming down the Washington/Oregon coast last September.  Adding to the fun was that seawater was spraying into our cockpit about every 20 minutes, drenching everything and making it impossible to stay dry.  In our entire 20 day trip from Mexico to the Marquesas I think we got water in our cockpit about 5 or 6 times.  I’m here to tell you that wind angle is EVERYTHING when it comes to comfort.  

The second day out the wind shifted forward a bit, which means a lot more water on deck and with the seas that big the boat was flexing a ton.  We’ve been having issues with our forward hatch leaking when sailing to wind in rough seas, so with all that water on deck the hatch was pretty much a constant issue.  We did what we could to capture the leaks inside with buckets, but when you’re being tossed around like a bobbing cork it’s hard to keep water contained.  This trip was long enough and bad enough that the boat actually sprung all sorts of new leaks that we’d never had before – minor ones, but still a pain to deal with.  Suffice it to say we had a LOT of drying out to do upon our arrival in the Tuamotos.

Unfortunately we also got another small rip in our mainsail – so looks like we’ll have to fix that ourselves as there will be no sail lofts to repair it until we get to Tahiti in about a month.  Good thing I got all the supplies from Fisheries and North Sails before we left!

So after 72 hours of hell; sailing with a double reefed main, a handkerchief of headsail, through multiple squalls with the threat of lightning (one of my biggest fears) we finally arrived at the “pass” into the Atoll of Kauehi at the time of slack tide – the best time to enter – PHEW!  We got through our first “pass” with no issues (we’d picked an “easy” one for the first attempt) and motor-sailed the length of the island to the town before gratefully setting our hook and collapsing in a heap of complete exhaustion.

At this point I would like to know why all those books, articles and blogs about cruising we read before leaving never talked much about the bad stuff.  All they cover is the wonderful, the beautiful and the fantastic – no discomfort, no fear, and certainly no throwing up!  Is it because everyone wants to just believe in the DREAM of cruising?  That for the sake of dreaming we can’t introduce the actual FACTS of the experience?  

Well dear readers (few that you are!), I promise to give you the complete and unvarnished truth about OUR experiences.  I will write about the good AND the bad so that you will know the REAL story about cruising.  I’m sure that there will times you will be jealous and wish you were here with us, but there will also be times (like this) when you are SUPER glad to be sitting comfortably at home reading this post!  Either way, I guarantee you will get to vicariously experience the REALITY of this life with all its various ups AND downs – not just the high points with pretty pictures.  

So what goes down must come up, right?  After our 72 hours of hell we arrived in a place where it seems every picture perfect postcard of the South Pacific must have been photographed.  We were surrounded by white sandy beaches with palm trees swaying in the light breeze and perfectly clear turquoise water – unbelievably beautiful.  

After our worst passage months, we have finally found paradise.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Marquesas – North Group

The beach at Ua Pou
Because of the “ticking 90-day clock” (mentioned in my previous post), we decided to only visit two of the four islands in the Northern group of the Marquesas – Ua Pou and Nuka Hiva.  We went directly to the anchorage of Hakahua on Ua Pou from Tahuata – a trip that takes about 13 hours. 

Bananas anyone?
Ua Pou is similar to Fatu Hiva in that it has the high spires and beautiful greenery – but it also has a lovely beach and a nice protected harbor!  One of the downsides of the majority of anchorages in the Marquesas is that they are not very protected, so the ocean swell torments you at all times – making the boat rock forward and back or side to side – not so pleasant!  But at Hakahua, the protection of the large breakwater made things significantly more comfortable than most spots.  

Bella Vita and the Aranui supply ship
While the town was very similar to the other towns we had seen, we were excited to find out that the bi-weekly supply ship (which also carries passengers) was going to be arriving while we were there – which practically the whole town shows up for.  We were very interested to see how this big ship would navigate within the tiny little harbor AND avoid the half dozen sailboats anchored within it.  Suffice it to say that two boats had to move and even then it was a true feat of navigation to finesse the boat up to the dock.  Excellent seamanship Captain!  It was also neat to see all the stuff that the island had prepped on the quay to load onto the ship.  We were happy to find local commerce alive and well!

Ummmmm, baguettes and croissants!

Classic Marquesan market
After leaving Ua Pou we made our way to Nuka Hiva – one of the most populated islands in the Marquesas (2nd only to Hiva Oa).  We wanted to make our way to Daniel’s Bay – where one of the first episodes of the popular reality show “Survivor” was filmed – but first we had to visit the main town to purchase some fresh fruit and vegetables.  Even more important – we needed to do a little laundry and to get a new supply of baguette’s (french bread), which we have become completely addicted to.  But lo and behold, there was a holiday going on and everything was shut down for two days!  No problem – we can wait for baguettes – especially when we might also be able to get some chocolate croissants if we get to the bakery before 7am!  There are some definite advantages to the French “owning” these islands! 

Survivor beach where all that backstabbing took place!
After stocking up and visiting a fellow cruiser in the local hospital (infections here can quickly become life threatening – which this friend learned the hard way), we made our way over to Daniel’s Bay.  While we were excited to see the beach where Survivor took place, we were really there to take the hike up to the renowned waterfall, which was every bit as amazing as it was portrayed to be.  Daniel’s Bay is a lovely place and we really appreciated our 3 wonderful days there before it was time to make the 3-4 day passage to the Tuamotos.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time in the Marquesas and only wish we could have “afforded” to spend more time here. 

Goodbye Marquesas!

Marquesas – South Group

The sunset at Hanaipa Bay, Hiva Oa
We arrived at Taahuku Bay on Hiva Oa on April 18th after a 20 day passage.  I cannot describe what it feels like to make landfall after so many days at sea.  There is nothing better after such a long passage than collapsing into your bed, knowing  there is no chance of being called up to the deck to help with a late night sail change.  To know you will be able to sleep the entire night, without interruption?  Heavenly!  
You see phone booths in the strangest
places!  Is Clark Kent nearby?
It was also great to reunite with the friends we had made in Mexico and to swap stories about our passages and catch up on how things have been since we last met.  The Pacific Ocean is the biggest body of water on the entire earth and crossing it in a sailboat in no small feat, so there is a true feeling of shared accomplishment with other boats when you arrive at Hiva Oa.  Exchanging stories about our passages (including the good AND the bad) was a great way to decompress from the stress of the voyage before continuing our journey.  

After getting checked into French Polynesia (which is SUPER easy when you have a bond exemption), the clock starts ticking.  As an American, you only have 90 days to explore the entirety of French Polynesia, which includes the Marquesas, the Tuamotos and the Society Islands – 1000’s of miles worth of places to see.  There are so many spots that we would have loved to linger, but with just 90 days we decided we could only spend 3 weeks in the Marquesas. 

A classic local "warf"
So after re-provisioning with vegetables and fruit in the “large” town of Atuona, we started off in the company of our friends Cherokee Rose to explore the island of Hiva Oa.  We stayed at two other anchorages – Hanaipa Bay and Paumau Bay.  The shear lushness of these islands are hard to describe.  They are very similar to Hawaii in that they are fairly young volcanic islands with high humidity – so the trees and plant life are absolutely stunning.  More flowers and fruit trees then you can imagine!

The grave of Paul Gauguin on Hiva Oa
For any of you artists (or art lovers) out there, we did visit the grave of Paul Gauguin – who spent many years on Hiva Oa painting the “natives” along with chasing all of the young (12-14 year old) girls he could get his hands on.  The local clergy put up quite a fight to get him to keep his hands to himself, but apparently did not have much luck.  Gauguin died on Hiva Oa in 1903 apparently surrounded by empty wine bottles and drugs, owing the local merchant a pretty penny.  It’s ironic that someone we would consider a pedophile and a drunk in current times has found fame after death through his art.  I have to admit I always thought him very talented, but am disappointed now that I know a little more about his life…

The spires at Fatu Hiva
After Hiva Oa we made our way to Fatu Hiva – definitely the most striking (IMHO) of all the islands in the Marquesas.  The anchorage at Hanavave is absolutely breathtaking – which these dramatic rock spires that shoot high into the air, backed by a lush valley of greenery.  The beaches on most of these islands (Fatu Hiva included) consist of black sand, so swimming is not recommended as there are sharks and the visibility is not good due to the black sand.  That doesn’t stop people from getting into the water, and though I am a big part of the “JAWS” generation (you hear the theme music in the background, right???) and have an unreasonable fear of sharks, I did actually get in the water on several occasions because it is just so damn HOT here you just have to cool off sometimes!  I just didn’t STAY in the water very long!  

The local artisans in the Marquesas are amazingly talented – men focus on carving (using wood, shells and bone) while the women focus on “tapas”, which are black drawings made on “paper” beaten from local tree bark are also popular.  We had heard about the amazing art available here and so made it a point to seek out local artists.  In the town of Omoa we found a women with beautiful designs, and so purchased three small tapas that we hope to frame together, plus a medium size tapa in a classic Marquesan design.   After our purchase she led us to several other artists and then gave us a bunch of fruit from her property.  Fruit grows EVERYWHERE in the Marquesas and is in such abundance that they do not sell it at any of the markets, so you actually have to depend on the kindness of the locals to get your fruit.  Thankfully they are VERY generous with it!

Finally - a white sandy beach!
Our new paddle!
After Fatu Hiva we decided we needed a safe place to swim and so headed for Tahuata – renowned for its white sandy beaches.   They did not disappoint!  It was wonderful to finally do some quality snorkeling and swimming without too much fear of JAWS showing up.    The water temperature was in the 90’s and clear as can be, so it felt like bath water and the snorkeling was great!   Tahuata is also known for the quality of its carvers and in the town of Hapatoni we purchased an exquisite wooden paddle.   At home in the northwest, a paddle like would likely sell for several thousand dollars – but here we paid just $80!  Fantastic!  

After four days of Tahuata, it was time to move on to the Northern group of islands in the Marquesas…

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Crossing to the South Pacific, Part 3

This one's for you Jeremy!  ;)
When you do a crossing like this, it’s all about getting there.  What time of the day will we arrive?  How many more days until we see land?  How many more nights of sleep deprivation until we finally get there?  Crossing off the miles, one by one – knowing that you are that much closer to reaching your destination and wondering how that arrival will go can take up a lot of time.  Will it be a nice, easy, middle of the day arrival with lots of light or will it be a last minute call to sail around for one more night because you just missed making landfall before dark? 

So after sailing for weeks we were down to the last 36 hours of our journey and had been struggling with the decision to either slow the boat down or give it everything we had.  We were unfortunately in that fine zone of arriving JUST before dark if all things stayed equal……which of course they never do! 

"Tag alongs" goose neck muscles on the stern.
While we were currently flying along, we would have to match or beat some of our BEST day’s mileage to make it before dark the next day.  So do we purposely slow down and wait through another night of darkness (and  long watches), or do we sail “balls to the wall”, trimming our hearts out, hoping the winds stay favorable, praying we arrive before dark?  If we go for it, we could miss it and have to spend that 12 hours hove to, being tossed around just off the coast of Hiva Oa.  But if we make it?  Sweet anchors down and a real night of sleep in our own bed.  Of course we chose option B! 

So we prayed to the wind gods, changed sails like true racers, tweaked lines endlessly and sailed as fast as we could.  We watched the chart plotter count down the “hours to arrival” and nervously calculated the time difference and how many minutes twilight would last.  Could we squeak in before darkness descended?  Everyone knows you never make landfall in the dark!  As the hours dragged on (because there is nothing like being that close, but still that far away to make the hours REALLY drag!) we kept calculating and running the numbers and it was just going to be impossibly close.  With 24 hours to go, more nail biting and sail tweaking ensued.

At noon on the 18th of April, I ran the numbers for the umpteenth time and told Brett we just weren’t going to make it – we had too far to go and not enough daylight.  He looked at me, smiled sweetly and said…..”Honey, it’s just too late to stop trying now!”  So we kept going, sweating it out mile after mile as the minutes to sundown ticked by.  

Land Ho!
At 2pm…..”Land Ho!!!!!” we finally can SEE the island of Hiva Oa.  It’s right there in front of us and after 20 days at sea we can almost SMELL the dirt!  We are so close to blissful hours of sleep in our own bed I can hardly stand it.  Please let us make, it I silently pray.

It’s 4:00pm and we’re still a couple hours away.  I’ve run the numbers 100’s of times and with a slight drop in the wind it’s now looking like we might not make it.  Can we really be this close after all this time and NOT MAKE IT????????  Will we have to sail in circles just outside the harbor for the 12 frustrating hours after all this time?  We HAVE to make it!

So close, but twilight is upon us!
At 6pm we are just 2 miles outside of the harbor entrance.  Civilization is within our grasp!  The sun has long since gone down and we are full on into twilight, which is starting to fade with a vengeance.  We’ve made contact with our friends on Cherokee Rose – letting them know we may need some assistance in finding a place to rest our weary bones and they’ve confirmed there is room directly next to them.  They’ll be standing by to help deploy our stern anchor (it’s a tight and full anchorage of course!) upon arrival.  We are giving new meaning to “down to the wire”.  Who could have imagined that after 19 days, 10 hours and 32 minutes we would be so close to arriving in the dark???  But as we stow the sails and start the motor in the darkening twilight, we are fully committed – there is no turning back now.

As we enter the harbor at Tahuku Bay on Hiva Oa, there is just a scarce few minutes of twilight left.  Cherokee Rose is signaling us with a laser pointer (which is scarily easy to see) so we know exactly where we need to go.  We carefully thread our way through the multitude of boats, anchor lines and dinghies in the increasing darkness – the first we’ve been around in 3 weeks – and drop our trusty Rocna anchor about 60 feet off the port side of our friends.  Carefully we draw back, setting the anchor in about 22 feet of water and hand off our stern anchor to Michael who is standing by in his dinghy.  As he drops the Danforth about 80 feet off our stern, we quickly pull in the slack and set ourselves neatly beside them like people that actually know what they are doing as the very last bit of light fades away.  That is what I call a VERY exciting finish to a VERY long journey.


Damn, arriving feels GOOD.

Offering some champagne to Neptune after crossing
the equator, just after midnight on April 14th!