Saturday, August 31, 2013

Passage Gambier to Marquesas - Pictures

Picture time! We finally have internet again...

Here are some photos of Irie's six day sail from the Gambier to the Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia, early this month. To read the daily stories of that trip, click on "older posts" at the bottom of this page and scroll down...

The first sign of a grey and rainy crossing - but it is a nice one!

Soaking up the first sunny day underway, albeit still with a lot of clothes on...

Sailing towards another squall.

The climate is getting sunnier and warmer.

Trying to stay ahead of a front behind us.

We had one nice sunset and enjoyed it!

Blue sky... yes!

The green tomatoes we were given by a local in Rikitea are turning red. Tasty and very special!

Grey sky... we were getting used to it.

Surprise front, coming out of nowhere, and in our path.

Good morning, Pacific Ocean!

And, finally, we caught AND retrieved a big and delicious tuna

Fatu Hiva, here we come (and stay)!

Monday, August 26, 2013

In the Grip of Fatu Hiva

I don't think Mark and I expected to be in Fatu Hiva quite this long. As we are running out of food and money (both available in Hiva Oa, our next stop) and while the messages are no doubt piling up in our unreachable mailboxes, we still find ourselves in pretty Hanavave Bay. for just a little bit longer. Something is keeping us here. It might be the fact that we are in a comfortable anchorage without having to move every other day (like in the Gambier), knowing that most other Marquesan harbors are rolly, it might be the balmy weather we have missed so much, it might be the awesome scenery, the friendly people or the good company. Or, it might be the combination of it all.

While basic foodstuffs, like flour, sugar, milk, butter, canned vegetables and even chicken are readily available in the small village store, fresh produce - other than onions, garlic and potatoes - is missing. We ran out of our last carrot days ago and all we have left are some radishes. And plenty of cans. The promise of fresh baguettes, eggplants, tomatoes, lettuce and other veggies in Hiva Oa is tempting, but surely we can live off onions and potatoes for a few more days. Because we managed to trade for souvenirs, the cash we have left - all of $30 worth - can be used for more food. I do think we can last a bit longer.

One of the reasons we have survived on so little for the last two weeks is the presence of other sailboats in the bay. Some have left, others have arrived and we are all getting along quite well. The unwritten tradition of taking turns hosting dinner parties has continued, so we have been eating well and enjoying our social events. If you ever want to lose weight, sailing in the South Pacific, meeting other cruisers who all know and like to cook tasty amounts of food, inviting the neighbors to help consume it, is not the way to do it! But, we are not the ones to complain about that. And, it is not our fault that some of them have birthdays with a mandatory party to go with it.:-)

As the days go by and we are cooking and baking and hanging out and visiting the same waterfall over and over again, we are - really - planning to sail to Hiva Oa any time soon. Just not tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Still in Fatu Hiva, Marquesas

While the first week of our stay in Hanavave, Fatu Hiva the weather was pleasant and the days were filled with fun or interesting activities like hiking, meeting locals and watching a Marquesan church service, the second week looked very different. It rained practically all day and night, so we stayed on Irie for some maintenance and relaxation indoors. The water tank filled up, but it was impossible to do laundry. On shore the road and trails were wet and muddy, so going on walks was out of the question, and the sun came and went out of view, the western horizon absent of any sunsets. We did manage to find a friendly local on shore who let us use his internet service to figure a few things out in regards to our sat phone email problem.

The bay filled up with a few people we knew. Mark and I caught up with Ursula and Michael on SV Kril, a German couple we met many years ago in St. Martin and with whom we kept in touch via email. We also got to know Giorgio, an Italian single hander, and our Gambier companions Birgit and Christian on SV Pitufa recently arrived as well. Being surrounded by good company means social evenings with yummy meals and endless conversations. For many days, there was an invitation from as many boats to enjoy the evenings together, taking turns cooking and doing dishes. It has been over a week now since Mark and I watched an episode of an older TV series ("Six Feet Under") we are following on the laptop!

On Sunday it seemed to be a better and clearer day for an outdoor activity. Our whole group walked to the waterfall (again) for lunch. The hike was pleasant and beautiful as always and a dip in the pool under the thundering water was refreshing. Once we came out and put all our sweaty clothes back on, it started to rain. Then, it started to pour. Drenched and miserable we stared at each other and at the grey sky above. After a half hour of showering with our clothes on, we decided to head back to our boats. Luckily, we were in the tropics, so the air was relatively warm. Somewhere along the road, we found a covered bench, where we ate the varied foodstuffs we brought, while mosquitoes ate us. It was a fitting reminder that this is the wettest island in the Marquesas and probably in all of French Polynesia.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Mountain Expedition

Mark and I are still not able to receive or send emails through our trustworthy sat phone; the one way of communication and weather information we need and hoped to rely on. There is a problem with the mail service we use and nobody can figure out what went wrong. So, we still feel cut-off from the world, being on an island without internet facilities. We hope to respond to everybody when we get to the island of Hiva Oa, the latest, where internet is available. Not sure when that will be. Fatu Hiva is still amazing and we are not ready to leave yet. To be honest, I don't even know whether these blogs are getting posted, but I'll write them anyway. :)

We were very lucky with the weather on Monday, when we planned to join a crew into the mountains, where they would clean up a trail. On Sunday, it rained all day, making us question the expedition or the state of the trail the following day. On Tuesday, after a rainy night, it kept raining throughout the day, turning Hanavave Bay into a massive brown mud puddle.The highlight of that day was a morning show performed by a big pod of dolphins. They jumped, turned and flipped at the mouth of the bay for hours, feeding and frolicking. When we finally joined them in our dinghy, they played with it and jumped alongside. Too bad the water was so dirty or we would have been able to snorkel or swim with them.

On Monday morning, it stayed dry. Mark and I were picked up at the "Mairie" (town hall) of Hanavave by a truck full of old people. Were these the guys responsible for widening the trail in the mountains? No, they were just getting a ride to Omoa, the other town on the island. Where did we want to be dropped off? Well. How about the trail head where Lionel and his friends would start their work? The driver didn't seem to know anything about our arrangement, but luckily he did know which trail I meant. There really is only one trail into the mountains, which ends in Ouia, an ancient village of thousands of people hundreds of years ago, but empty and abandoned now. Together with a local guy, hiding in the bed of the truck, we were deposited
halfway between Hanavave and Omoa, at the highest point of the bumpy road, which had been extremely steep the whole way. In the chilly mountain air, we waited for Lionel, our French friend we met a few days earlier in Omoa.

After twenty minutes or so, he showed up with three big guys and a truck load of equipment. They unloaded the four weed whackers, extra cans of fuel, cooking utensils, food, cooler, propane, stove, and personal belongings, and arranged everything on the covered picnic benches along the road, one of which they wrapped into a tarp. They would spend the night here. Then, we all set out on the overgrown trail, at a fast pace, following Lionel, the aged leader of the gang. The path was hard to see at times and so narrow and muddy that it was a bit scary. We tried hard not to slip and fall into the depths, off the rocky, steep slopes.

Every 25 minutes, a man stayed behind with his gear to clear the trail towards the beginning. We followed our host until the "col", the highest point on the trail, where the last man started work. The same group would do the second half of the path, the steep decent to Ouia Bay, a few weeks later. Mark and I also turned around, getting freaked out by the steep, muddy, overgrown and narrow continuation of the trail. Our old sandals with no traction were not up for the job, and we had both already slipped a fewtimes. The hike back was at our own pace and very enjoyable, apart from the narrow stretches and one short fall off the side of the bushy mountain, a good scare. We took in the amazing scenery and magnificent views, the different kinds of trees and ferns, the strands of bamboo, and many colorful flowers, the songs of the birds, the sight of green parakeets, the quiet of the mountains. We took our time getting back to the main road, following short lengths of neatly cleared path at intervals, handing a homemade peanut butter cookie to every member of the work force we passed and thanking them for their efforts.

Once back at the road, the next part of our walk started. We followed the rickety dirt road all the way down, first to where the rutted and rocky part turned into pavement, then to Hanavave village, all the while enjoying the views, taking lots of pictures and cursing the steepness of the track, holding ourselves back, making our knees suffer. One car drove by. We watched the sailboats deep down in the protected bay. We passed the little Maria statue, where our driver had stopped and everybody in the car had said a long prayer. We saw the waterfall dropping off a steep cliff in the distance. We cut off a rack of bananas and carried it for miles and we finally found a mango tree with (unripe) fruit. We walked and walked for hours in the sun and finally arrived on Irie, exhausted, covered in mud and happy to be home, and to have been part of this interesting "expedition"!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Settling into Marquesan Life

It has already been a week since Mark and I arrived in Baie Hanavave, Fatu Hiva, and we have been enjoying our time here tremendously. A lot of time is spent in our cockpit, just enjoying the view and the nice weather, and getting to meet the locals. It is great to be able to take salt water showers and to eat outside again, devouring good food. We love good food! When we have time and the right moods, cooking is one of our favorite pastimes. We've been making bread, cakes, chocolate cookies and potato chips (a time consuming, but successful first), on top of preparing some delicious fish dinners with the big tuna we caught before we arrived – fried tuna, sushi, tuna egg rolls, breaded tuna, tuna pasta sauce, tuna burgers, tuna salad. Now, it's time to catch another one!

Every evening we have a sundowner, a mixed drink with some fresh juice of local fruits we obtain ashore (lemons, oranges or pamplemousse) and some quickly diminishing rum. Soon, we have to start making our own alcoholic drinks as well. We have a homemade snack and our drinks while the sun sets. And what a sunset it is, every day. Since Irie is faced east, towards the indented valley, the western horizon is visible and vivid with colors, sometimes reflected onto the impressive landscape around us. This is life!

One day, Mark and I went to see a tall and spectacular waterfall in the area. It is an easy, relatively short and great hike, if you know where to go. We didn't and we didn't bother to ask any of the friendly people around. So, we followed the first dirt road we found and spent about an hour climbing hills and following trails that dead-ended. The environment was pretty and the sun hot. After a second attempt, following the main road up, towards Omoa, the only other town, we rested to catch our breath and have a sip of water. That's when we saw the waterfall along a steep cliff, in the direction we came from. After this "vision", it was easier to get on track and finally find the 300 feet (100 m) high, narrow stream of thundering water. We had the magical and tropical place to ourselves and the water was great for a refreshing and invigorating swim. Pictures will have to wait until we have "real" internet again.

Yesterday, we took the dinghy to the capital of Fatu Hiva. The three mile trip along the south coast of Fatu Hiva took about an hour. The sea was pretty calm, thanks to settled weather and little wind. The swell bouncing off the steep cliffs onshore, created some choppy areas. Omoa is not much bigger than Hanavave, set up the same way: one long paved road with houses spread out along the sides and a cute church. The biggest village store – one with real aisles you could browse! - had more items than we have seen in a long time and the second store had fresh baguettes. We hiked up a hill to see an ancient petroglyph of a fish (dorado) and met the friendly head of the tourist board and pension owner Lionel. He invited us to join him and his crew next week to a newly developed (and hard to reach) trail in the picturesque wilderness of Fatu Hiva, they will work on. It promises to be another unique expedition.

Other than the couple of excursions and straightening Irie out a bit, we have made some local friends, who gave us fruit and shared stories. My knowledge of French is improving and really coming in handy. We managed to trade some goods we bought for that purpose in Panama for nice souvenirs (wooden tikis and tapa cloth), without spending a franc, or better, thousands of francs. It is an interesting and entertaining tradition to exchange items that they can use (and are impossible to find or immensely expensive here) for artwork that we like. Desired items are make-up (lipstick and especially nail polish), small bottles of perfume (very popular!), reading glasses, cleaning supplies, colored pens, handbags, and shackles or other boat parts for the fishermen. The number one thing men ask for is spirits like whiskey and rum, or wine. Not only do we not have a lot on board (anymore), but we really do not want to encourage the indigenous people to drink. We have seen the results of that and it isn't pretty. It is also one of the reasons why some communities do not like to have visiting yachts, or cruisers, in their waters.

To our surprise the anchorage has been comfortable and for the first time in months, we might stay until we actually want to leave, instead of being chased off by the weather. While we basically had the place to ourselves for a few days, more and more sailboats are turning up, this being one of the most amazing and beautiful anchorages in French Polynesia. Birds chirp in the jungle and forests, while white specs dot the steep cliffs, sometimes accompanied by a bleating sound of the goats. The main thing that is not working out for us right now is our – until now – reliable sat phone. We have a problem with the email service, which is very unfortunate. For four days, we have not been able to receive or send emails, or retrieve weather forecasts. It is hard to deal with this problem, without having internet, but we hope to be in touch again soon…

Friday, August 2, 2013

Arrival Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia

The butter is melting again. I am wearing a bikini. Mark and I are sitting in the cockpit with two well-deserved rum&cokes. The scenery is spectacular and dramatic. We have arrived in Fatu Hiva, the eastern most island of the Marquesas!

The 825 mile sail took us exactly 6 days and half an hour and was – all in all – pretty smooth, comfortable and fast. Irie behaved splendidly. We are very happy that nothing broke, while all around us boats are stuck in harbors or have to get hauled because of engine problems, failed rigging, ripped sails, lost rudders or other major ordeals.

The days are warm and contain an extra half hour of sunlight; maybe that’s why we had to set our clocks back another half an hour upon arrival… There is no internet while we are here, so we’ll have to use the sat phone for blogs and emails. After some cleaning, laundry and baking bread, we hope to go to shore tomorrow to say “hi” to the gendarme and to check out what the area has to offer. Our plan – weather permitting – is to spend a few weeks here in Hanavave Bay (Bay of Virgins), said to be one of the prettiest anchorages in the world. 

PS (From Mark).  I don’t write much here, but I have to say, this anchorage is a truly jaw-dropping beautiful place. 

Gambier to Marquesas - Day 6: A Grey World

Time: 2045UTC, COG 0T, SOG 0.0kts, Distance Remaining: 0nm

It was a day of mixed emotions. Frustration. Annoyance. Remorse. Sadness.
Gratitude. Disbelief. Proudness. Regret. We felt stupid, we felt relief, we
felt unfortunate, we felt cruel, we felt lucky. We have no idea what
happened or why, but today was not how we thought to spend our last full day
at sea on this trip.

The morning started out nice and promising. The weather predictions were
favorable, no more fronts or funkiness. The sun was out, the temperature
perfect. Mark and I shared a delicious papaya, Irie was cruising along
nicely in benign seas and we settled in for a comfy day. Within half an
hour, the sky turned grey everywhere and the wind picked up. We were
surrounded by massive clouds, with no end in sight.

Then, we caught a fish. Exciting! Our first one in a while and he was hooked
well. There was no way we would lose him. But, he was heavy. A big tuna,
hard to bring in with the hand line. Mark managed to lift him on the top
step. (Sensitive souls should skip to the next paragraph now.) While the
fish was flapping and blood splattered all over Irie's back, Mark could not
pull the weight any higher, or around the stanchions, lifelines and outboard
engine. I was just staring, stunned, not knowing what to do or how to help.
A fishing net and gaff were laying right next to me! With a last effort, the
dying fish managed to rip itself loose, leaving parts of its torn body
behind. Once back in the water, he kept spinning, turning and bleeding. It
truly broke my heart. It was awful in more than one way. Some predator had
an easy meal; it wasn't us.

Ten minutes later, we had our second chance in a similar scenario: a
relatively big tuna had swallowed the whole lure. This time, we were better
prepared. Mark and I both wore gloves and pulled the line in simultaneously.
When the fish was close to the bottom step, I held the line while Mark
gaffed the tuna and brought it on board. Success! We had a tasty lunch and
food for a week.

In the meantime, the wind kept picking up and the waves built. While the
forecast promised 13 knots out of the east, it was blowing 20-25 out of the
northeast. We put two reefs in our mainsail, while we dealt with squall
after squall, steep seas, wind speeds up to 30 knots, infinite grey clouds,
and taking waves over the side for the rest of the day. Although little Irie
did great (we managed to eat and drink her overweight in the Gambier), it
was a pretty uncomfortable ride. Twice, I was totally drenched by a wave at
the helm. The pile of wet, salty clothes is growing, and so is the amount of
washing and cleaning needed upon arrival.

Mark grabbed the most recent weather forecasts with the sat phone. Nothing
new. Apparently we were in the midst of an "unknown", unobserved system; a
50+ mile area of disturbed weather. At least with the fronts, we knew what
was going on and that there was an end in sight. Times like this, we miss
the Caribbean with its trade winds, reliable weather forecasts and sunny
skies. Are we spoiled or is the weather in the Pacific really this crappy?

During the night, we took no chances; we put two reefs in the main and
placed our "comfy" chair (which is really not all that comfy anymore after
six years of use) on the leeward side of the cockpit, opposite the arriving
waves. It is blowing 15-20 knots out of the east and Irie is sailing
straight to Fatu Hiva at six knots, due to arrive around noon on Friday.
While we pierce the gray enclosure of night, I can hear and feel the waves,
but I have not had to taste them. Yet.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Gambier to Marquesas - Day 5: Fronts are Not Our Friends

Time: 2315UTC, COG 335T, SOG 7.5kts, Distance Remaining: 120nm

According to our calculations and weather sources, Irie would run into the
warm front around 3am, my shift. We mentally prepared for an unenjoyable
night and I frequently checked the radar. 3am came and went, with relatively
clear skies above. At 4am there was still nothing to be seen on the radar.
5am didn't bring any squalls or funky wind either and I started to believe
the thing had dissipated and we were lucky again. "Passing the front was a
non-event," would be my first words to Mark this morning... I thought...
until the daylight replaced the darkness of the night, and I saw a massive
grey horizon, in all directions.

We had just entered the not so pretty zone, unnoticed by the radar because
the cloud mass did not contain any rain. It was nice of the front to wait
for us until daylight, when we were both awake and able to see what was
going on! Soon enough the wind picked up to 15-20 knots and we were flying,
making good progress. Now, you can't expect to be going 7 knots and have
flat seas... For that we would have to go back, well no, we would have had
to stay, in the Caribbean; the BVI, Bahamas or San Blas in particular. Here,
when the wind picks up, so does the sea. The waves grew some and the ride
became bouncier. The papayas jumped out of the fruit net, turning into
bruised mush. The coconuts had jumped their resting place earlier on and I
had to put them downstairs. Those propelling canonballs are just too
dangerous, for men and boat!

In the worst part of the frontal system, the wind was blowing a steady 25
knots (on our not so reliable wind meter) and turned NE, which was more on
the nose. What about those benign and pleasant weather predictions? We had
all the sails reefed and Irie was a bucking horse, speeding along and taking
many waves over the side. It was a wet and bumpy ride for most of the day.
Forget about sunbathing, listening to music, trying to bake or to fish. It
was too rough for that; a good excuse to resolve to doing "nothing" again.
Today that meant keeping an eye on the horizon and the instruments,
adjusting sails, taking reefs in and out, trying to keep the spirits high
and the bodies dry.

During the afternoon things eased a bit. The remaining clouds evaporated and
the sky turned blue. On the western horizon, we saw two fishing boats within
3 miles of us. Where did they come from? Why did we not notice them sooner?
Because our VHF-radio, and therefore AIS-system, was turned off to save
power. How to not use AIS... Mark threw a fishing line out and within 20
minutes, we caught three big ones. Unfortunately, they both escaped. One day
we'll get lucky. Or skilled. One trick is doing 6 knots, but most of the
time we go much slower or faster.

Irie was our bouncy house for the remainder of the day. Mark and I bumped
our heads, kicked our toes and hurt other body parts, caused by sudden boat
movements. When we kissed goodnight, his nose poked in my eye! He managed to
stay dry during his shift and I managed to stay mattress bound and pretty
much awake.

By midnight, the wind had slowed down to 10-15 knots, and would become even
lighter, from a more eastern direction. The ride became comfortable again,
Irie sailing along at about 5 knots, still having a - now needless - reefed
mainsail. I settled in my routine: watching the night show for a couple of
hours: the millions of lights in the clear sky above and in our watery wake
behind the boat, the shooting stars, the cloudy milky way and the rising,
shrinking moon. Then, writing this blog, doing a few Sudoku's and reading my
book, all the while keeping an eye on our surroundings and the instruments.
For the record: the VHF-radio is turned on! The sea might be teeming with
Japanese fishing boats for all I know...