Published: April 24th 2008April 24th 2008
They call it Stormy (petrel) Monday
Recycled Casserole - Deja Stew
Nurse Hurts Worse - the Killer Cure
I thought all waves were the same….until I saw you wave good-bye…
Reporting in from the extraordinary Marquesas. Minute specks of volcanic crests truly in the middle of nowhere. Beautiful isolation and laidback lifestyle. And the French influence, fine when it comes to bread but for almost everything else…hmmmm
And all these Photos are from Jim’s camera, Thank You so much!
So, back to where it all began, leaving the Galapagos…..
I’m just starting to realise just how big this Pacific Ocean is, deserves capitals, makes the old Atlantic a bit of a puddle but you can google on any number of facts about the amazing vastness, the depth, the isolation, the ant-like sense of scale, being one tiny dot, nothing and no-one in sight to the endless rimmed horizon, for how long? 5,000 kms? And except for a few pinprick islands, 10 or 15,000, it goes on forever!
We tore ourselves away from Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island, the largest settlement in the Galapagos and a very cute little town too. The
long malecon winds its way around from a dock where the water taxis land around the little bay. The shops are neatly set out, crap T-shirts, travel/tour/dive shops, restaurant/bars and then the bank, the open-air fish market where hundreds of pelicans jostle right up to the cutting benches, virtually snatching fish bits from the tables. Further around, tucked discretely into the mangroves a fabulously over priced restaurant, The Red Mangrove, and further on, the big Darwin centre for all things turtle hugging, a fantastic establishment. Well, I’m presuming it still is, I had seen it before so I skipped that tour this time.
Jim and I spent the best part of 4 days getting provisions, we already had plenty of stuff but we needed a lot of fresh fruit and veges, meat etc. It takes an inordinate amount of time to get this stuff done.
We persevered and made numerous trips to the markets, the fabulously named Mega Prima Vera hardly lived up to its name however, and we wandered the back streets checking out the little stores. All over town you can hail twin-cab utes and go anywhere for $1, like down to the dock. There you
Bay of Vigins
Fatu Hiva, Marquesas
get a water taxi out to the boat for 60 cents a go, all v efficient and sometimes pretty exciting getting on and off at the boat as the harbour is wide open and the big swells get quite severe, the height between taxi and yacht shifting a metre vertically with unnerving uncertainty, the gap stretching to a metre, then the taxi’s bow slamming against the stern, all well and good for young athletic types as we are, but with huge bags and boxes of stores or late at night after a restaurant…take a walk on the wild side.
Sometimes I like to lie out on the tramp and hang over the front. Hearing the bows slicing thru the water, up and over a swell, down, across the flats, up and over again. A disconcerting but refreshing draft of air pumps up thru the mesh with each downwards thrust of the boat. Looking out at the slow moving swells rolling towards us. About 20m out they appear to start rearing up, higher than the horizon, then we ride up and over, once again I am acutely aware of our fly-speck existence out here.
We motored the first 30
Fatu Hiva, Marquesas
hours to chase the winds and caught enough this afternoon to shut down the motor and run with the main and jib. We are doing 4 hour, overlapping watches. It’s now 4.45am and I’m alone out here. This 4 - 6 shift is great with the piccaninny dawn from 5.30 and some sort of speccy sunrise from 6.
And of course the full moon. Nothing makes a night sail so sublime as a full moon, it is almost daylight bright and the reflected patterns on the water, the shadow and light shows thru the flitting clouds, silhouettes of the thunderheads of distant squalls, magic!
Charley is our Mr Fixit and electronics officer, rewiring, rebuilding, setting up, diagnosing, everything that moves. He spent several hours dismantling the ice maker and checking out why it had died, eventually discovering a tiny hair in the pump! Next day it was the duo-gen not working, he had that stripped and fixed and back in the water muy rapido, he loves his projects, I’m offering my now totally dead camera to him for something to play with!
And the books…I read about 20 on the crossing…the Panama Canal story, Magellan’s epic trip,
6 idiots circumnavigating, sailing solo in the early 60’s, On the Trail of Robinson Crusoe, the Essex, The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float ..and a few more, all salty, seafaring, scare-the-shit-out-of-you books…just great!
Thursday, perchance the blog becomes diary now, not consciously avoided previously but surely contrary to my style, however, now becoming as much a means to provide the eyelets through which the threads of this voyage can be ordered into meaningful sequence as a safety line on which to secure my grip on reality. (Perhaps the result of too many strange, dangerous and tragic seafaring yarns I’ve been reading)
Anyway, it was Thursday we left, passing by the last islands and probably not looking back forlornly as one might have knowing the vast emptiness that was to come.
I got a big yellow fin tuna, it weighed in at 20lbs after gutting,,,, a monster. It was not so much longer than the others but tuna seem to increase 5 times in girth for every inch of extra length, he was solid.
Saturday I finally got down to baking. I’ve been avoiding it all along for some unknown reason and yet it turned out fantastically. Half a
it did not look happy
dozen rolls and a small loaf, I can see this being a regular event. Made spicy pumpkin soup and a shrimp fried rice. I was feeling so positive again I added some tuna chunks to the shrimps. In the afternoon I spotted a fin just off to starboard, we all jumped up and saw just one more flick and it was gone. Shark maybe.
Sunday. We had been motoring with the mainsail up trying to get south where the winds are (?) enjoying occasional spells when we could turn off and run with the wind. In the morning it got so slack I was able to swim….keeping close to the swim step as big red was up and a slight breeze and she’d be off! Also it’s a little unnerving on top of a mile of water, sort of vertigo inducing somehow, and the shark factor too…
I have a regular visitor, a cute little bird who passes by from time to time. Brown coloured with a flash of white on his tail so he stands out, swooping low over the crests, down into the troughs, disappeared! Later he’ll show up again.
I’d just been reading the
intro to a Melville novel (not Moby Dick), looked up and saw a spurt, just of the port beam. I yelled to the others and we saw one more little blow and the little whale was gone. What a coincidence, was it great grandson of Moby Dick?
Monday, 3 little whales late in the afternoon, one I’m eyeballing coming straight towards me, grinning and puffing, then slips under the boat….awesome indeed!! , they were only little tackers, pilot whales maybe? Probably only 4 or 5 metres long, looked to be an olive green or grey colour.
High up I spotted a big frigate bird, what’s he doing out here?
It’s fantastically reassuring to see my little bird come by again.
It’s sloppy, slapping choppy seas, we’re back in the hole, then out of nowhere 15 knots, big red inflates, puffs out his mighty chest and hauls us off down the track.
It must be near the tropic of cornucopia. I get sunsets around 6.00, dinner prepared, sundowner cocktails in hand, moonrise from sunset, later each day of course, moonset and sunrise, an unbelievable feast of visuals.
The moon rose last night late into my 8 - 10pm shift. In the gap between the horizontal base of a squall and the horizon, a red band showed then slipped behind the thunderhead, a few minutes later the bulbous top edge glowed, gilt edged, so sharply defined, then the moon bashfully slipped clear, still shrouded in wispy cloud then accelerated upwards, clear and high.
The Sun always rises out of cloud and sets into cloud, more or less. The dawning seems to take longer, reluctance? The scruffy, sooty little scudding clouds that have been crossing me all night suddenly become soft and fluffy powder puffs of pinks and mauves, purples against the newly duck egg blue background, aaahhh
Tuesday and we get out of the hole, big red straining, fishing line almost impossible to reel in as we hit 12 knots, big swells become just big choppy shitful waves, getting tough to cook, brace yourself in to the galley.
Wednesday. I got out for my 4am shift and they were just taking down big red, we had been thundering along, surfing sideways, the huge seas, towering waves, pissing down rain, at 13 knots in 25 knots of wind the bows had been digging in, it was too much…
I saw the wonderfully reassuring little bird out in the tempest, I wish he’d come and get out of the rain on board.
Is it plankton that glows in the dark? Krill? Whatever, the luminescence in the water is generally pretty pretty at night when anything stirs it up. We leave behind a trail in our wake and the froth of the white caps all around gives a ghostly touch to the waves. It also makes them appear a lot bigger and a lot closer! One of the new toys onboard is the DuoGen, a wind generator that pivots down into the water thereby generating electricity in both media. Since we sail predominantly downwind we get little apparent wind for a conventional generator so this one, with a change in propeller, hangs out the back. At night it really stirs up the plankton and every 10 seconds the whirring little prop catches a bunch and it goes off like an explosion! Way behind on the steeping waves I can still see the angry burst still glowering after us.
I like my shifts at the moment. After dinner and clean up we sit around, Jim and I might try another fine Cuban with a little scotch, and generally everyone is down by the time I start the 8 - 10pm.
Finally alone, at the controls, with the run of the boat, no-one for a million miles, it’s a fabulous feeling….and/but then the mind goes wandering and you never know where that’s going to end up.
Jim and I share the cooking which has been such a relief after the 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, buying, planning, prepping, cooking, serving and then the whole fcuking wash up and clean up! Jim is particularly good at breakfasts and lunches that I don’t care for so much so I concentrate on dinners. Yesterday Jim wanted to cook up a bean and sausage Spanish dish, and to break in the new pressure cooker as well! It was the first day I didn’t have to cook anything since I’ve been aboard! I felt a bit strange…..like really good strange!
Let’s call it Thursday. A quiet one, we just relax along with just the gib, still getting 6 - 8 knots and the fishing line in. Bang went the reel, hardly stopped, got to the end of the line and kept going! Something BIG!, fcuk, there goes the new, go-deep, killer lure, $25 and only one bite! I’m feeling bad about it. I wish all the tackle was degradable.
The seas have been a bitch. No swells just ugly great brutes of waves, 3-4m high surges rearing up and battering into us. Coming from behind at 45 degrees they hurtle recklessly towards us, no rhyme or reason, we surf and slew down the slopes The auto helm jerking the wheel like an invisible helmsman with St Vitus’ dance. Crashing wavetops flooding the scoops, great walls of water coming up from the bows washing right over the boat…all hatches double-dogged down!
Regularly, the waves forced under the boat slam into the starboard hull with a truly gut wrenching sound, especially if you’re in the forward cabins, the sloshing, slapping sound of the sea, rushing past, surging up to side hatch level, smashing against the hulls, forcing back up the drains, heads, basins and galley sink plug holes, great gushes of spray. The deck drains likewise suffer blowback and it can be very unnerving if you sit over the drain hole under the cockpit table, while dining, suddenly and without warning a blast of water ejaculates up your leg!
I was just contemplating this whole trip, especially after reading so many accounts of the early explorers and the crap they suffered and trying to relate. Altho’ we still face many perils, hardships, dangers of this epic crossing of a quarter of the globe in a (relatively) tiny speck of a craft, mere fibreglass and aluminium at the mercy of gigantic maelstroms, ship-breaking seas and all that versus luxury living, restaurant quality food, wine from glasses, cocktails too, 3 types of rum, vodka, scotch whisky, 3 brands of beer, Cuban cigars, Colombian chocolate, fresh bread, yoghurt, fish, GPS navigation stuff, with backups, electricity from wind, water, solar and generator, 2 motors, clean sheets on the queen size beds, ice maker, water maker, washing machine, all manner of radio, internet, telephone services with backups and auto helm steering…3 laptops, 4 iPods, 2 sat phones with internet interface, eperbs, distress beacons, multiple life saving products and procedures, life jackets, life rafts, dinghy…..we are almost superfluous. Charley is in daily email contact with home, Jim almost as often, but I want to have that sense of isolation, no matter how artificial.
Altho’ we might not actually see another boat for 3,000 miles it’s not called ‘The Coconut Milk Run’ for nothing!
Friday. Baked some hot X buns, well, glazed raisin yeast buns, worked out pretty well.
During the night the duo-gen stopped, Charley and M got it back in the water after some modifications! That sounds a bit trite, actually Charley, in his inimitable style, patiently dismantled the whole head section, identified the problem, reamed out the shaft and got it all back together. A few nights later the whole thing broke off but luckily M was able to retrieve it by the slender cord still attached. Once more Charley into the breech and he and M got it jury rigged and back.
Got big red up at 8am after another sloppy night of 6 - 8 k under the gib, now 8 - 10 and more with the big one hauling us thru the same sloppy, choppy mess of waves.
Out ahead a big flock of seabirds, must be 100 of them, long way out babies! What are they doing?
Still millions of flying fish constantly launching themselves and flappering off out of our way. Sometimes a whole school together, 50 or more simultaneously burst out of a wave and flash off. When the sea is so confused as this is now they often miss their direction, they’re going in all directions, luckily no collisions.
They are about 150mm long, little blunt headed bullets, big eyes and a long fin down each side. When I pulled the fin outward it revealed a delicate filigreed wing, transparent with black framework. Every morning we have to remove the ones that land on board, up to a dozen, even one on top of the bimini like 4 m above the water, always lots on the tramps. And no, we don’t eat them, v v boney!
Saturday. Flying fish, the only other life form out here, constantly leaping from the water and escaping. I have noticed more in groups, all going together but some get only a metre, others 50m, others 100m. I am concerned, What if they are a family group? How will they all catch up? What about the kids? I hope they are all one big extended family.
Sunday: We established a program for watches thinking we could adjust by 2 hours each week to relieve the boredom but as we are crossing so much longitude our time changes by 1 hour every few days thus the shifts are altering perfectly. We are sticking to ship’s time and have adjusted our eating times so it all runs smoothly. One bummer is that I now miss sunrise.
Another quiet, day, sort of, still a very ugly chop and still plenty of shmacking and thunking against the hulls but not nearly as severe as the other night when the creaks and groans in the superstructure and the vibration of each thwack threatened to tear us asunder.
It’s a bit like being in a truck, with very sloppy suspension, driving down a mountain track, very twisty switchbacks, and constantly bottoming out in enormous potholes. The jarring thuds can be felt throughout the boat, everything rattles and groans, it is violent in the extreme.
Yesterday I saw a flock of birds about a mile off, circling and diving I couldn’t see what they were, maybe following whales.
This morning I saw my little petrel with the white spot back after a couple of days absence, fantastic!
I did see the dawn quite by chance. The first blinding rays speared directly thru’ my side hatch from where I watched, once more, the scurrilous, scrofulous, sooty, shitty, scudding little cloudlets morphed into pink and blue fairy floss.
Just missed the 200 mile-day, 190, best yet but Big Red will have to stay on duty another 24 at least…gotta get to 200!! We take a noonsite every noon to get our daily progress report with little side bets between us on how far we’ve come.
Pesto pasta with chorizos on the side and green salad. And a toast to our Father who would be celebrating his 102 birthday.
Monday: Saw my little bird in the afternoon, also a few of the white birds, must get the bird chart and get the names right. I’m hoping he’s a Stormy Petrel.
Weather constant 12 - 20 knots and the sea starting to get organised, big, well spaced swells instead of the rough chop we’ve been suffering. Big red puffed up.
Tuesday: April fool’s day but we’ll see.
Up at 4am for my shift and we have company!! 2 big fishing boats 6 miles ahead but heading south, look like huge processing plants lit up by dazzlingly bright spotlights and hauling enormous nets several miles long, they take out everything!
Wish we had some way of chopping their furshlugginer nets….they are vandals and pirates.
By 8am the wind had picked up to 25 k and we were getting up to 14 across the water, pretty hairy, corkscrewing in the waves as we are back to the short, brutish, broken wave swells of before, light shower of rain. I got up at 8 to start baking, 1 regular loaf and some olive and rosemary rolls. Tomorrow an attempt at Anzacs! I’ve got a recipe for oatmeal cookies that looks similar but I’ve only got honey, no golden syrple!
Wednesday: deadly, choppy waves again and I’m getting sick to death of it. At least I never have trouble sleeping like some of the others but it’s in the galley it’s pissing me off most. My thighs have a couple of lines of bruises that correspond to the handles on the cupboards that I’m constantly smashing into as I brace myself with some huge pot of boiling soup or something. And always at some critical time of pouring or trying some more delicate galley-task the boat will heave over, slew back, throw every thing and person across the way, walking around is always hazardous, especially with plates of food or full glasses.
We put up the new littler spinnaker we’d got from friends somewhere back apiece to check it out. A ghastly colour of insipid blue hues, fortunately it blew apart after only 15 mins. Well, a bummer actually but not tragedy, Big Red will have to do the job. In fact I’ve been pondering the gender of Big Red, sort of soft, voluptuous, full figured and all things maritimo are feminine but also red, puffed-out-chest, macho bullshit classic maleness, and I have known more women called Big Red than men!
Hey, I found the bird chart!! My little mate is a Galapagos Storm Petrel, fantastic (just one glimpse yesterday, I think he has his mate with him) and the bigger white ones are Sooty Terns. ………It’s your tern, no, it’s my tern…….
Thursday: 2 weeks ago we left Santa Cruz and the Galapagos, doesn’t seem all that long ago, must be getting into the groove. It is interesting how constant shift work effects everyone differently.
Had to fire up the expensive sat internet and get a recipe for anzac cookies. It was as I thought but I have no baking soda, coconut or golden syrple! However, I did grate some fresh ginger and made some v edible, crunchy, chewy, oatmeal cookies….obviously passed the test as they’re all gone in 24 hours!
On my midday to 2 shift I caught a glimpse of my little buddy, and his mate, I called out ‘bird’ and the others flock to see. And then, just as suddenly, they disappear, where do they go? I’m so happy he’s a Stormy Petrel, like the Powerful Owl (Bird of my home state) there’s something in the name that just sounds right.
And we are very keen on seeing any other life form out here, this has to be one of the most isolated places in the world, no planes, no ships, nada. We have the flying fish of course but that’s about it except for my little mate. Crikey, I’m even getting fond of the little carbon dioxide, overinflated yeast things doing their rising in the bread dough!
Friday: All is calm, well relatively, the wind and the seas have died down, 10 - 12 k wind and 4 - 6 over the water, feels awfully slow but even 5 is OK. They assure me the winds are coming and we’ll be skating in a day or 2. Actually I like it, quite a relief after the jarring and slamming rock and roll.
Saturday: relentless sameness of sea, slow swells, smooth sailing, occasionally a small squall will catch us and give us a small boost along, I can see them in the starlight creeping up behind and then swooping over us, wind gusts up, big red strains, we surge forward to 8k for 5 mins then back to slow and steady.
Staring at the instrument panel, willing the wind to pick up, the distance to land (Fatu Hiva, Marquesas) now under 1,000nms, 2,800 back to Panama.
The depth page stares forlornly back at me. The underscored places where the depth shows are flashing, blank, it is way too deep, miles and miles, the graphic that indicates the seabed is showing some imaginary sea floor, it is way too deep but the video game seems programmed to give something, anything, maybe to stop my increasingly vertiginous view of my world, a microscopic bit, a sub-atomic particle, perched in a tiny leaf boat, balanced on the fragile meniscus of this vast ocean, no land for 1,000s of miles, both across the sea and possibly straight down!
Sunday, too far away? Missed my bird yesterday but someone said they’d seen a couple. Wind has picked up and we’ve been getting a steady 6 - 7 knots. Some nights we take big red down as she’s a bitch to furl in the dark if it gets to 25 or so but she’s stayed out the past few as it is clear under the full stars and the weather is stably benign.
Haven’t seen our little onboard gecko for a while and with no insects at all out here I hope he has some rations stashed away. There are some residual dead bugs under the biminy but can he get there? Last time he came out he was crossing from the pristine white wall across the faceless black of the window and his colour-change mechanism went into overload, you don’t get this Collingwood décor in nature, why didn’t they evolve into transparency instead of changeable colour?
Monday and I’m suffering an attack of the tireds, and sleeping way too much, just sleeping, reading, cooking, eating, sleeping, 2 hours on, 6 off but we are nearly down to 500 miles to go, whoo hoo!
Another breathtakingly beautiful dawn, crikey, will it never end? I slept after my 4-6 watch then got up again at 8 which I often do as I love the dawn watch. A little colombian and I’m set. And straightaway, there’s my bird, and his mate, good omen.
There’s a strange sense of calmness. Even tho’ it’s blowing 12 - 14k it is right up our clacker so you feel almost nothing except a slight back draught and the noise! And we are hurtling along, Funny to have this sense of absolutely white-knuckle velocity at 14 knots max. after calmly sitting on 140+ kph on moto!
At 4-5k it is pretty quiet but at 12 or more Big Red is rustling and snapping, the lines are straining, I can hear them stretching under the enormous pressure, all sorts of creaks and groans from the deck and the superstructure, pipes are choking and squealing from the backwash, the scoops are sloshing and steaming, big waves thwack against the hulls, the boom, perhaps feeling a bit left out of it all, makes little squeaks and creaks, fighting against the tense traveller, the shrouds always joining in with tension twangs as the mast struggles to maintain Big Red from shooting off and flying clear to the horizon.
Just off to the side a swooshing, shimmering school of flying fish splash off to avoid us. I can see flying fish doing the same thing way off, way too far to be worried by us. Are they funning? Practising? Or maybe a BIG fish chasing them, I wish! Still nothing on the line.
And another sound, the choking gasp of a dog stuck under a truck tyre, it’s one of the head outlets gagging on water on the upwave
The petrels swoop down low and ride the swells, out of site for so long you really have to watch out for them. I’m wondering if they are really the same pair or if perchance we are on the main freeway of petrel migration and my hypersensitive imagination is polymorphing (hell, what is that word when you attribute human characteristics to animals?)
Tuesday: The seas are more consistent with swells rolling in from abeam and we are sliding up and over with a lot less banging and crashing.
Eating, drinking, smoking, reading, gazing out like a hare Krishna devotee to the horizon, sleeping, reading, cooking, washing, sleeping, writing(?)
In my bunk. Beside me the watermaker roars and splutters, every 9 seconds the great KerChunk as another 50ml of salt water is forced under enormous pressure thru’ the microscopic membrane. 45ml of fresh water dribbling into the tank, 5ml of super-saturated saline solution sluices back to the sea.
Wednesday: The wind has been picking up, and staying up, spurts to 10k and consistent 8k and the waves seem better behaved and getting their act together as we slide up and over, 3 - 4m swells.
I just saw one white and 3 brown petrels? Off to port a long way and I needed the glasses. No sign of me little mate for a couple of days, I’m thinking my theory of the other day may be on the money ie we just happen to be on the migratory petrel path!
The video game is now showing less than 300nm to landfall and the countdown clock showing anything down to 40 hours depending on our speed. Looks like it will be 3 weeks almost exactly from the Galapagos, v good time but what’s the rush anyway??
Thursday: Another slow day but nice. Almost slow enough to swim at some stages but acceleration under big red can be muy rapido, I declined.
There was some discussion on whether to fire up the motor and drive the last 100 miles but we are in no hurry. Later in the afternoon the wind picked up, as usual, and we cruised on, little squalls rushing up behind us. Always difficult to read them, some look huge and black but give nothing, others look harmless, fluffy nothingness and punch us around fiercely.
Only one or two books left onboard that I haven’t read.
Expectations rising as we are under 50 miles and eventually I spot what appears to be an angled slope within a large squall out on the horizon but it’s 20 degrees off where it’s supposed to be!
But it is it. Fatu Hiva the northern/easternmost island of the Marquesas.
Apparently there’s a glitch in the video game so waypoints are established by using the radar as we have to go right around the back to get in. During the night the wind swang around like crazy, I jibed but it followed me, frustrating. I could see by the half moonlight and stars, the island was miles away!
By morning the navigation had sorted itself but we had to drive 12 miles back to get there.
This first sight of land after 22 days was always going to be a treat but this was certainly dramatic. On the eastern side huge swells constantly batter themselves against the dark, bare, near vertical rock face, no way of getting ashore here. Around the back we finally get to the lee side and relative calm waters after 3 weeks of incessant rolling swells and choppy waves. It’s 7am and first light. I’d watched the sun rise thru’ the usual distant clouds and now it’s behind the island. By the time we get to the inlet it’s intermittently showing thru’ the clouds that swirl stickily around the peaks.
The coast is still inhospitably bleak and impossibly steep. The rock face is folded and it looks like buttresses against the sheer cliffs, one small indent has a couple of buildings, I think this is the ‘town’. Violent jagged peaks rise up to 1000 metres and the cliff face drops underwater to 2 or 3,000 metres just offshore, it’s a giant volcanic peak.
At least on the western side I can see a lot of vegetation. The entire view is of a beautiful furry green felt surface but bare patches confirm this is basically (or basaltically) just a massive rock.
As the sun gets more overhead I can see the waves are still smashing the rock wall and enormous blowholes send up huge spurts of frothy spume, it’s a lot calmer than on the outside but the seas are still rolling in. It seems impossible that anyone could get ashore anywhere here.
The bay has been described (like so many other places) as the most beautiful bay in the world and it is certainly spectacular. It is also crowded! Back to reality and nearly 20 other yachts here! Splendid isolation this ain’t!
But the bay itself, omg. It’s really just a triangular, steep-sided inlet about 2+ miles across and less than a mile to the apex where a rocky little beach and a couple of buildings lie.
Halfway in on the left side cliff three huge pillars defend the bay. Because of their vaguely phallic look, the early settlers called it Dick Bay or something similar in español. When the godbotherers arrived they renamed it Bay of Virgins!!
The sides of the bay are almost vertical but palms and trees grip tenaciously to the rockface and overall the brilliant greenery is dazzling. Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen anything except sea and sky for so long but it is really intense!
At the head of the bay a bunch of curly leaf, pubic palms nestle between two gigantic rock pillars and beyond, the verdant scree slopes rise up to the steep cliffs and ragged, cloud shrouded peaks. Very primeval, ‘The Land that Time Forgot’ sort of scene.
Apparently there is a road to the town we had seen on the way up the coast but it would have to be a fair hike as to move anywhere around the island would involve crossing these major peaks and ravines.
I had a quick swim, first for 3 weeks, and inspected the barnacles on the hulls. Not the usual conical hardshell numbers, these are soft tubes and apparently quite edible according to my last book about the survivors of the whaleboat Essex.
2 local fishermen came by and we swapped 2 fish for a box of wine.
Sunday: too far away.
The wind howls down the valley and all the yachts twist and twirl around their anchors in this fairly confined space. Last night we dragged. Luckily no-one behind us. It is v difficult to get a solid anchorage and all the yachts are going in different directions with currents, swells and these freaking winds!
For us it is soo calm after the past weeks, but the pounding surf on the beach and the surging against the rocks beside us, shows the swells are still significant.
Reading back a bit I am frustrated at my inability to adequately describe this place. It is so hauntingly beautiful, but with almost grotesque, tortured rock formations. Lush vegetation with such intense colours it hurts the eye. Massive cliffs rising to craggy, jagged peaks. Clouds clinging to the upper reaches. Magical, ethereal. Dragons would not be out of place here.
The sounds of the little birds ashore carry out to us. It is so calming, so peaceful. In the late afternoon, towards sunset, the light changes the appearance of everything. Another 11 out of 10 production.
Monday we left. Only 40 something miles to Hiva Oa and several smaller islands on the way. We started out sluggishly with the main and gib but soon left the lee of Fatu Hiva and rocketed off at around 10 knots. Whoa back.
A fabulous sail but very choppy waves and a bit of slap soup. The wake from the scoops and the sound they make slooshing thru’ the water, incredible. Great gushes of water coming off the bows and up thru’ the tramps. She-it, my hatch! I’d closed it from above while we got the anchor up but hadn’t double dogged it from inside as we got underway. I went below and sure as shit my bed was a bit wet, luckily not too bad. Closed from the outside the hatches will hold off most everything but when waves come over the bows the pressure is enormous and water will shoot in thru’ the smallest gap like a fire hose.
A nice little port and we stern anchor like the other dozen boats as there’s just not room enough to have everyone swinging. Still a surprising amount of surge coming thru’
Tuesday and we wander uptown, about 5km, to the town of Atouna, v small place. We go to the bank to pay the bond (US$1,350) the post office for a visa extension ($25) and the gendarmerie for all the paperwork. Still, all done in 3 hours, quite amazing. Then to the Snack Make Make which looked like the only place with food and drink. A rude awakening to find beer is $8 a stubby!! Ayayay, in fact a lot of things are very expensive in all of Polynesia apparently.
There are 3 quite well stocked stupormarkets and I got a fine leg of Uraguyan lamb for 1,800, about $13. But the bizarrest thing about shopping here is nobody sells bananas, mangoes, papayas or cocos and they grow everywhere! Maybe the locals just pick them up off the ground but it seems unbelievable that no-one is taking the initiative to have a small fruit market down at the dinghy dock. All the yachts would pay anything for fresh fruit and veges!!
By the time we left I had to dive on the stern anchor and wiggle it free, it was well stuck in the sandy, gravely mud.
Then off to Onamatapoeia or something like that. Another island. Someone had rated this bay as in the top 3. Will it never end? But it is a very pleasant anchorage and despite the 10 other yachts, it feels sort of out-of-the-way. It doesn’t look like anyone lives here but there are signs of habitation and a sign on a beachside palm with some warning …something is taboo. Did you know that word came from here?
It’s fabulously clear water and I snorkelled over to the rock wall. Lots of dull brown early coral forms but huge mobs of fish. Nothing of much size but masses of silver and such a range of bright colours in the small fish, every shade of blue and green. Funny how here, their bright colours make them stand out in such stark relief against the dull tones of rock whereas in corralled locales they use it to hide themselves.
No idea of day or date, it’s all ‘island time’ again. Hopping from one extraordinary ‘chunk-of-rock-in-the-middle-of-nowhere’ to the next.
We watched the big full moon rise behind us as we sailed. Soon everything was bathed in that special light. And just as well as we had to round some black, jagged, v dangerous looking rocks just offshore before the breakwater. Scary how much closer the rocks and reefs and crashing waves appear at night.
This is another pretty little port and only 3 other yachts!
At some stage of the night I woke and popped my head out the hatch. Holy shee-it a bloody great ship is coming towards us. We are just inside the breakwater and really didn’t think the freighter would be coming in tonight. But here it was. By the time everyone got on deck the big ship had pulled up right beside us, like a few metres away, it’s rocking in the swell and slowly turning, backing up, swinging around. We couldn’t go forward on the anchor as it was gradually turning in front of us. Neither could we go backwards as the anchor was out front. We just stood and held our breath as the big mother crept between us and another yacht. Damned fine bit of driving by that captain!
Anthropomorphism, that’s the word I was looking for earlier, somewhere.
Finally to the most well known of the Marquesas, Nuku Hiva. This is where a young Herman Melville jumped ship from the whaling ship he was on and went native, later writing his first novel, Typee, based on his experience and the western influence.
Also, I got inspired and got my first tattoo after meeting a local guy, Mata Tiki, who is the local tat artist. His people have been here for 1 or 2 thousand years. Totally fcuked by the early settlers but sort of recovering now with massive injections of money by the French government.
Enough they cried!