Keeping Busy

‘Busy’ is a relative term. On this trip it tends to mean swimming, exploring, or opening coconuts, with the occasional bit of travel between anchorages. Here are a few of the things that have been keeping us busy since our last blog post.

The first two weeks after arriving on Nuku Hiva were spent exploring its various anchorages. After that we sailed south to the island of Ua Pou, but found that the small anchorage there was too crowded. Instead, we got to see the valley where Herman Melville’s Typee took place. We then sailed down to Tahuata and stayed at one of the most beautiful anchorages of the Marquesas. In exchange for some fruit and local honey, we helped the bay’s inhabitant deliver bags of dried coconut, known as copra, to the town where large ships would pick it up. The next bay we stayed in had great snorkeling very close to the boat, where we got to swim with manta rays. We again traded some various supplies with a local for a huge pile of fruit, including a ten-pound hard squash and a stalk of 74 bananas.

With the stalk hanging off our backstay, we set sail for the Tuamotus. Two days in, there was light rain of bananas in the middle of the night. The change of watch was made exciting by a hurried effort to bring down the looming banana cloud and re-secure its contents indoors. After several days at sea we had an easy arrival at Fakarava, and were quickly ashore in the town of Rotoava to resupply some non-banana items such as fresh baguettes.

After a few days enjoying Internet access and ice cream, we crossed to the south of the lagoon and stayed at a very calm anchorage called Hirifa. We made friends with some cruisers there and snorkeled at a channel marker nearby. Further south, we picked up a mooring near the pass, which was promptly attended by five black tip reef sharks and several tropical fish that started eating algae off our hull. The pass was our first drift dive, where we drove the dinghy out towards the ocean and then snorkeled back on the incoming tide. It was great fun; like riding a conveyor belt through a teeming tropical aquarium.

Back north in Rotoava we splurged and treated ourselves to a two night stay in a local “pension” where we were served breakfast and dinner and got to take hot showers daily! Refreshed by our stay on land, we restocked again before sailing up to Anse Amyot on Toau. Just before leaving we met up with a professional captain/sailor who was looking for a ride to Tahiti. We clicked immediately and welcomed her aboard. Our days now are spent playing games together, snorkeling, visiting the friendly people on shore, and generally lounging. So much more has happened in between, but now we have to go grill some fish that Paul speared for lunch. Au revoir!

15

Welcome to Paradise

Ah, sailing…

For many people our plan of sailing to the tropics seemed like a lovely dream. They envied the idea of relaxing in pristine anchorages and enjoying exciting destinations. But we had oceans to cross beforehand, and during those types of long passages there is often little to be jealous of. No one envies their friends while they’re standing in line for airport security or squished in little seats on a plane. Thus it has been a little ironic when friends have told us that they wished they were with us. That is, until now. After nearly two months at sea and over 5,000 nautical miles, we are finally relishing the exotic vacation that we have all yearned for. And in every aspect of it we have found that idyllic vision of paradise.

The start of our stay in the beautiful South Pacific was every bit as inspiring as the parts that followed. The approach to Nuku Hiva by sea was dramatic, revealing an impressive landmass with towering spires among the steep emerald hills. From there it only got better, with the fragrant scent of rain on the verdant jungle adding to the relief of being at anchor. Even as we worked on re-provisioning and reconnecting with loved ones back home, new island experiences appeared around every corner.

The anchorages here are by default picture perfect. Pale sand stretches beneath coconut palms and banana fronds, and cerulean blue water shades through teal and turquoise to the shore. Nearby, a commanding cliff might rise straight to the heavens, bedecked with a spring green draping of wild flora. Or a distant waterfall will rush down the side of a tree-lined slope amid curling mists above. All of a sudden the sun will shine a golden ray on the swirling clouds and a pair of white birds will soar up toward the top of the cascade, completing the scene. Even a simple sunset on the sea casts a lovely glow on the ship, resting in the sheen of the placid bay.

Our days and nights in this sublime setting have been filled with all sorts of diversions. We have swum in crystal clear water by the boat, and snorkeled with brilliant tropical fish flashing every color of the rainbow. One big hiking expedition was full of adventures, from trekking through fruit groves below massive bluffs, to fording rivers and climbing trees. The end result was a narrow river valley beneath imposingly high cliffs from which descended the third tallest waterfall in the world. In addition to all the natural beauty, we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of traditional culture one evening at an intense performance by a Marquesan dance group. The heart pounding drumming invoked an irresistible trance that transported everyone to a time when the island’s tribes first raised their powerful chants into the dark night.

Much of our enjoyment comes from simply not being out in the middle of the ocean. The steadiness of boat means open hatches for sunlight and refreshing land breezes below deck. Since cooking is far easier we’ve taken advantage of the abundance of fresh produce in every recipe. We’ve readily adopted many local options such as pamplemousse, snake beans, and of course, coconuts. Locally baked baguettes are a cheap and delicious addition to any meal. The comfort of good food goes well with a favorite cocktail, or a new one we might invent on a whim (see below). Going ashore provides chances to sample exotic regional cuisine. Hanging out with other cruisers is great for updated info on the islands, hilarious sailing stories, and just making new friends.

Although these paragraphs have covered many features of our first dozen days here, there are countless details missing that would take far too long to relate. The best part is, this is just the beginning! Many more islands await us, with their own aspects to explore and stories yet to unfold. Our exciting journey cruising through French Polynesia is finally real and progressing every day. It is definitely worthy of envy, starting right about… now. 🙂

http://map.iridium.com/m?lat=-8.822212&lon=-140.064303

CocoMousse Cocktail

1/2 cup pamplemousse juice
3/4 cup coconut water
1/2 cup rum
3 tsps sugar

Stir together all ingredients and chill or pour over ice. Serves 3-4.

Notes: Use fresh juice if possible. You can substitute grapefruit if you can’t find a pamplemousse.

Presumptuous Advice

The Insufferable Insolence of Presumptuous Advice

This post is dedicated to the people who said we shouldn’t go.

There are a lot of forms of advice, many of them positive. There is asked for advice, which whether sound or not was asked for, and is therefore naturally appropriate. There is good and useful advice proffered in a constructive way, which is beneficial even when unasked for. And then there is what I call presumptuous advice, which is advice that is universally unhelpful because the giver presumes to know what is best for the receiver, despite his or her own ignorance.

The presumption may be that the receiving party doesn’t already know whatever the giver is suggesting; this just comes off as condescending. The presumption may be that the giver actually knows what the heck they are talking about even though they don’t; this is awkwardly embarrassing for the giver, who would have been better off to hold their tongue. The presumption may be that what is right for the giver is right for the receiver; imagine if I, a consummate omnivore wasted my breath on a dedicated vegetarian on the best dishes at a restaurant; not particularly helpful.

So, to all the people who told us not to go because it was the wrong time of year, or because the up wind sailing in our route to difficult, do us all a favor and don’t assume that the rest of us share your lack of will and fortitude. To the people who told us not to go because we lacked experience, I say to you that there are only two kinds of sailors, novices and the dead. Hiding behind your fear and calling it prudence won’t get you very far in life. To those who told us not to go because we lacked the financial assets necessary, keep your priggish snobbery to yourself and accept the fact that some of us are capable of adapting our wants to our means instead of growing old trying to do it the other way around. To those who told us so many things we already knew, thanks, but you could have saved us both a lot of time by listening more and blabbing less. I don’t even have time for those handing out advice that is just ignorant and wrong.

Lastly to those who shared their genuine experiences with us, in a way that acknowledged that it worked for them but may not be right for everyone, and did so in the spirit of mutual benefit through the exchange of ideas, I thank you heartily.

You know what they say about free advice… it’s worth every penny.

P.S. This essay was authored in the midst of a journey from San Francisco to Hawaii to the Marquesas by a first time blue water sailor with six years of on and off experience. The passage certainly wasn’t the easiest of undertakings, but it was a singular adventure and well worth any pains it took. If I had to do it again I wouldn’t do it any differently.

Independence Day

Far more time has elapsed since our last post than we originally intended, but such is life. As a result, we have that much more to share, so here goes.

Our course put us into the doldrums almost exactly as predicted. We had been extra careful to conserve energy since departing Hilo, and had not run the engine at all in over 10 days, either for battery charging or driving the boat. When we started it up, we had the presence of mind to check the primary fuel filter. To our dismay, there was a substantial amount of water in the filter. It is not unusual for water to find its way into fuel tanks, but this was a lot of water. Most likely water had entered through the vent hoses in rough conditions around Hawaii, and unfortunately we neglected to monitor the filter in our hurry to get in and out of Hilo. Purging the secondary filter showed that it had gotten in there as well. Could it have passed into the engine? Might it damage something in there beyond repair? Was it the reason we were hearing lower revs than we should have given the throttle position?

These worries came at a rather inopportune time. It was late afternoon on a Sunday, and the next day was Independence Day. The chances of getting a professional on the phone seemed slim for the next 36 hours. We decided to take a break for the night, and continue troubleshooting steps the next day. At this point we had to consider the possibility that our engine was damaged beyond our ability to repair, which would seriously impact our trip, or worse, end it altogether. Even though we faced that looming threat, at least one crewmember was stress free: Zara. For her 11th birthday she enjoyed a whole can of cat food and went to bed purring happily. The quiet wind and waves meant a night of drifting and relaxed watch schedule. It was refreshing to face the next day on more sleep than we usually saw in one chunk.

The morning’s procedures went so smoothly that we were motoring with no troubles before it was noon. The relief was so great that Paul decided to put out the hand line and go fishing in celebration. He hadn’t even finished letting all the line out before we had a strike! A 3-foot yellow fin tuna had been lurking behind us and was promptly processed into all our favorite fish dishes. For many days hence we enjoyed large quantities of sushi, sashimi, ceviche, grilled steaks, fried steaks, fish tacos, and tuna salad. Even Zara had lots of fish in her favorite style: boiled and shredded.

The time since then has been a mix of smaller ordeals and laid-back periods. When we suddenly came to the end of the first fuel tank, it was late enough in the day that we spent another night adrift before diving into a morning’s work of removing the water from the second tank. There was one night where it poured rain for hours on end. In between there were a few rough days of larger swells and stronger winds, and many days of light breezes. We even spotted several ships at night passing in the distance. The most interesting occurrence was one night where we removed more than 25 flying fish that became stranded on deck over the course of about 6 hours!

As we approach the end of this passage our thoughts are turning to islands and activities enjoyed near land. But the mindset of being out in the ocean on our own is still strong. Every problem that we face is a reminder of the independence inherent in this lifestyle. Even with the consolation that we can call for help, at the end of the day we’re the ones that must fix what breaks and live with the limits of our circumstances. The occasional trying times are a small price to pay for the unparalleled freedom we continue to relish.

http://map.iridium.com/m?lat=-3.124942&lon=-139.045453