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VOYAGE FROM GALAPAGOS TO FRENCH POLYNESIA.

 

The first experience can never be repeated. 

The first love, the first sun-rise, the first south sea island,

 Are memories apart, and touched a virginity of sense.

R.L.Stevenson (1850-1894) From ‘In the South Seas

 

5th April;  a south east wind of 14knots blows outside Wreck Bay on the island of San Cristobal, Galapagos, under full sail Pylades runs off down the rhumb line on the longest crossing yet with over 3,000 miles to our planned destination, the French Marquesas. Conditions are perfect, blue sky, 6 knots plus a knot of current.  With the approaching night, the wind dies, the sea swell increases and it rains.  These would be the conditions over the next few days, good sailing interspersed with a bit of motoring.  All indications by our weather forecast GRIB files, which we download every day, was the more consistent wind lay further to the southwest. At 08.00 and at 20.00 we listen on SSB MHz 8104 and get the positions of other boats on passage and reports on weather conditions. Some days it’s all crackle and pop and others clear as a bell.  With lots of ‘good copy’ ‘negative’ copy, how you folks doing? ‘Roger’ the accents of the world pour forth.   Positions are logged and if folks were to go missing it would decrease the search area! 

6th April;  12.00 the first day’s run 146 miles, this is pretty good considering we were under engine for a good part of the day which brings the average down, but a 1kt  west going stream more than compensated. Watch system is divided into three hour slots, from 21.00 to 00.00, midnight to 03.00, 03.00 to 06.00  and so on, both taking rest during, the day.  Since we have set up better cockpit reading lights the night watches are a great time for reading and writing.

Kay’s farming has now paid off and we have fresh basil on hand, two 4”x4” pots one with basil and one with cress are under constant care. Unfortunately over the following weeks with the surfeit of flying spray the crop diminished.

9thApril; a pod of large deep breathers surround the boat riding our bow wave, bigger than the Atlantic dolphins, they throw up sheets of water in a display of awesome swimming power, study our whale identification book and conclude that they are false killer whales. We conclude  that the title ‘Pacific’ might be a misnomer, large swells up to 3.6M coming up from the SE but not quite in line with the wind waves cause a lot of twisting and throwing of the boat and its contents, us.  Due to the occasional wave breaking over the boat we cannot afford to open hatches and it’s hot and clammy below so we unscrew the fan from the unoccupied front cabin and fit it over the leeward bunk, big improvement.  Over the next nine days the wind continues to hold fresh and our runs improve. Our best being  166 miles on the 15th.

16th April; passed the halfway mark at 03.00, plan to celebrate with a glass of wine before dinner. This is likely to be the most remote point either of us will ever again be on earth from land or civilization. The night sky is glorious with the waxing moon, the complexity, depth and the brilliance of the starscape make the night watches  stunning.  Shooting stars flash across the sky as another piece of galactic debris incinerates in our atmosphere. The rim of our galaxy, the Milky Way glows so bright that its reflection is caught by the sea. All watched over by the Southern Cross and its unfamiliar outriders.

GRIB files which we receive through our SSB and pactor modom are showing a diminution of wind and sea between here and our destination. It is also likely that our beneficial west going ocean stream will also diminish. The ocean is teaming with flying fish, generally smaller than those found in the western Atlantic, they are of many species some tiny, like beautiful fishy butterflies to species about 150mm long which can stay airborne for hundreds of meters. At night ‘the watch’ reading in the cockpit can be joined by  a flapping fairy which you feel obliged  to rescue, they, however, will do everything to prevent being picked up, so you end up covered in fish scale fragrance. In one night 28 flying fish were cleared off the deck.

20th April; An American, his wife and 11 year old daughter had set off a couple of days before us in a 46’ motorboat and thousands of gallons of fuel on the long haul, we had been in touch over SSB radio so we knew his position and speed - a steady 5knots and track, at 03.00  hours we picked up his lights and at dawn, intercept. It was a great diversion as we sailed down on him and took a load of photos in the large swell, I think they were genuinely pleased to see us and we them. We are social animals after all and out on this vast plain of water the sight of this vessel struggling through the seas was somehow appealing. They took some great photos of Pylades.

22nd April; wind backs more to the east and we change from a broad reach to a run, this is the first time we have altered the rig in about 13days apart from our mid sea encounter. The motion of the boat improves as we put    the big swells directly behind us. The average speed over the 3000 miles worked out at 6.32knots helped by the west flowing current, much better than anticipated.

26th April; through the night a dark mass to the west grows ever larger, land ahoy! We hove to off the island of Hiva Oa, of the French Marquesas Islands and at sunrise slide into Traitors Bay to enter the anchorage of Atuona. We lay out bow and stern anchors to mitigate the swell..  All trace of tiredness vanish as we take in the soaring hills swept with mist in the early morning sun, the smell of the land trees and growth pervade our senses, the effect after our time on the ocean is stunning.  The Marquesas islands consist of about a dozen islands and only about 6,000 people on them altogether.  They have the reputation for being the most beautiful islands on the face of the earth.  They are also an archaeological treasure house – their distance from anywhere makes them difficult to visit  and adds to their magic.  We check in with the Gendarme, a very painless procedure compared to the insanity of Panama and the Galapagos.

The only disadvantage of the anchorage is the opaque water and the recommendation that one does not swim due to the presence of sharks. We enquire further about this and were informed that no one has been killed but a few years ago a man had his arm almost severed by a shark and had to be rushed by air to Tahiti for repairs. We concur with this recommendation. Recent reports are that a group of five people snorkeling were circled by Hammerheads a week before we arrived, and encouraged to abandon the water promptly, albeit with no attack. 

There is a tap and shower on the quayside spouting the best water we ever tasted, we stand under the pipe and luxuriate in this exquisite power shower of the mountains as it washes the salt from our very bones. A bottle of Champagne which we have carried from Ireland for this occasion is opened and we quaff with impunity, count our blessings and sleep the sleep of sleeps.

Over the next few days we explore the village, visiting Paul Gauguin’s museum and muse in his ‘House of Pleasure’, visit his grave high on the slopes  above the village. Near him is the grave of Jacque Brel  ’la famous French singer’. We go tramping to view stone cut petroglyphs located deep in the jungle interior. These and the remnants of the Tiki’s, the very strange indeed fearsome stone carving of previous gods  many of which have been  destroyed or at least castrated  by the missionaries are scattered throughout all the islands. Before the arrival of the Spanish and French the islands had a population of about 80,000.  These were reduced by, guns, germs, missionaries and steel to the existing 6000. 

1st May; exit for the island of Tahuata and the anchorage at Hanamoenoe  which was one of the ‘Hiscocks’ favorites. Only a very pleasant 7 miles away and the water is clear, so snorkeling recommences and a very beautiful sandy beach caressed with the ubiquitous coconut palms. Land crabs abound ashore and we encounter the largest hermit crabs, one of which takes a shine to Kay’s finger, that is dropped fairly quickly. Next day we move a few miles to Hapatoni which provides very high quality snorkeling. A huge pod of spinner dolphins occupy the anchorage and perform much ‘spinning’ as they spook the fish shoals and consume. A visit to the beautiful village, tree lined road, one store, church, we meet some of the ‘carvers’ who make a living carving from bone and wood, face masks, spears, paddles etc. lovely gentle people.

4th May ; a fine sail to Hiva Oa and anchor at Hanamenue which proves so unsettled and rolly that we  push on for Baie Hanaiapa. During our scout of the village ‘William’ intercepts and introduces himself, we go to his ‘yacht club’ house and  sign in his log of all the yachts that have called over the years, Pylades was the first Irish boat he had recorded. He gives us quantities of pamplemousse, red and standard bananas and looks to trade first for antibiotics—no deal, then settles for a few cans of beer and popcorn. He asks to visit Pylades, we row him out for coffee and cake but he quickly becomes unsettled by the roll and requests transport ashore.

Two days later yet another great sail to the island of Ua-Pou with its pinnacled rocky coast, some shaped like witches hats. Lofty cliffs penetrated  by  deep inlets.  Entering the harbor of Hakahua we moored Mediterranean style behind the breakwater. This was a tiny town, beautiful, our walks into the hills were very enjoyable, in the evenings families gathered in groups on the beach, lit fires, roasted pig played soft music and danced.  The sandstorm incident  whereby some sweet person had decided to store fine sand on the breakwater which blew copious amounts onboard, saw us attempting to leave - can we exit , no - a dredger has commenced work in the harbour and has run cables to the breakwater effectively jailing us, we can leave tomorrow they say.  BUT on our last night on this island the local football team was celebrating a ‘win’, the village came out to celebrate with lots of eating and singing and the final curse had yet to descend.  At 03.00am a gang of youths arrived in the harbour with boom boxes and blast us into constant awakeness with Polynesian rap which sounds just as bad as any other rap. The skipper fumes in his bunk conjuring up torments in the deepest recesses of hell for the nincompoop who invented amplifiers.

9th May ; We escape Ua-Pou,:a wild and very fast sail under a clear blue sky,  waves wash across the boat washing away our sand deposits and our boom box blues for 25 miles to Taiohae Bay on the island of Nuka Hiva. We set bow and stern anchor to keep us into the prevailing swell in the crater of this awesome extinct volcano.  Lots of boats on anchor but plenty of space and of course all free. The town  of Taiohae, the adminsitrative centre of Nuka Hiva and the entire Marquesas, is  a small town with a vegetable/fruit market and two supermarkets, limited supplies and quite expensive, ‘Gort prices but not Gort quality’. One never sees fresh fish for sale but loads of tinned fish and freezer full of frozen fish fingers. People are generally most friendly and always ‘bon jour’ smile. Four days pass quickly but lulled by the tales of other more exotic bays we decided to circumnavigate the island.

14th May; a few hours motor sailing into a headwind brings to Hakahoa bay, and at its head the village spelt ‘Typee’ by Herman Melville who stayed in the area  about 1820 for a few months  and became the subject of one of his most famous books of that name. It was here, on a lake that the apparently very fair ‘Fayaway’ heroine of the book removed her pareu to become a sail and she the naked mast to transfix the hero Tommo and legions of readers of his book who to this day seek out the sensuality of these south sea islands.  As we walked into the village we beheld what we assumed to be the featured freshwater lake, and there frolicking in the water, three very fair replicas of the famed maiden.  Further along our path was a large group of villagers listening to a live band and playing boules! What enhancements the French have brought.

When anchoring earlier, we had been struck by the murkiness of the water, but night time brought a phenomenon, the intensity of which, we had not before witnessed. The density of phosphorescence in the water caused the whole bay to glow.  The night sky was unusually cloudy and dark and likewise the surrounding hills, providing a perfect setting for the bay and particularly all around the boat to produce this eerie glow and onto this stage danced the light actors, a glow of brighter light would zigzag towards the boat and transform into a light fringed ray.  Darting bolts of light as fish sought or avoided being prey. Finally the piece de resistance, a hammerhead shark with all its leading detail reveled in perfect traceries of light and its threshing tail but a swirl of flame.  We spent hours peering over the guard rails watching this show before tiredness brought our sleepy heads to bed.

The next jump brought us to Baie D’anaho, we had intended spending just a night there, but as soon as we had the anchor down and took in our surroundings our will to move was severely dented. This must surly be the finest, calmest stop in the Marquesas. The snorkeling is magnificent, though the skipper is a bit taken aback when a six foot white tipped reef shark slides by him. He is assured later by a local that “ no they have not harmed anyone”  One night we have a beach BBQ with some of the boats and we sing songs of Ireland and play the box.

21st May; Decision made  to move on, however, the skipper’s impatience in trying to lift the anchor cable from the cockpit results in a major jamb of the rode in the windlass. Nothing for it only to dismantle a section of same, it proved easier than expected but took about an hour. Just again, about to leave Kay announces that the bathroom is flooded and water rising fast.  Pumps are produced in double quick time and the hunt for the leak commences. First taste the water, salty. That rules out all internal plumbing and tanks.  All sea cocks check out OK, Stern gland OK, got it!, the engine cooling water anti siphon drain was disconnected and now discharging into the bilge. Shut down the engine, pump out and mop up all around and we are on our way.

 A two hour motor and anchor at the town of Hatiheu., a small village beautiful with its exotic flower lined street in which stood one store, post office and red tin roofed church dedicated to Joan of Arc.  The setting is again exquisitely dramatic with soaring rock spires rising out of lush green forest.  We walked up behind the village in search of the famous archeological sites, there are no signs, no maps, no tourists, so we ask direction for the archeological sites from a very authentic looking local, he insists we jump into the back of his pickup and tears off up into the hills.  It is an exhilarating ride standing on the back holding firmly on to the cage and ducking down as branches sweep the truck. An abrupt stop at the edge of a jungle clearing, he points out the sites. We shake his hand many ‘mercies’ are offered and he is gone.  We were not prepared for what we see, the site covers tens of acres of intricate stone paving and levels. These ruins are of an advanced society, with town planning, statues of their Tiki gods are scattered throughout. But the fact that jungle was now encroaching into the heart of these ruins and they were almost in darkness, and the only calling bird was a coarse croaking from the raven like bird gave the whole scene a macabre feeling. This being reinforced by the presence of deep circular cells, these were said to imprison victims, for fattening prior to ritual sacrifice and consumption.  It must be borne in mind that these tales may well have been fabricated by the following ‘civilization’  to blacken and  therefore justify the destruction and wholesale slaughter of the previous. The Tiki images have now been replaced by crucifixions and statues of virgin’s and the legends or otherwise of human sacrifices and consumption by that of the mass and communion. The following day Kay was speaking with the lady who  ran the village store, she tried to discuss her visit to the ‘sites’,  three or four times each time the  subject was changed., Kay eventually gave up !  Had we stumbled across huge taboos with some sections of society wishing to eliminate all references and traces of the past and others wishing to integrate the past more into their present lives?

22nd May; after a fine rollicking sail in a fresh breeze we shoot our chain in Haahopu a much less dramatic setting  than that we had grown used to.  Unfortunately a gathering of campers were ensconced at the head of the bay and were ensuring that its environs were filled with ghastly sounds of boom boxes at max volume, sound has no borders, even in the most remote corners of the world.  The sight of many children gave hope that at bed time silence might prevail. Sure enough about 22.00 brought a major reduction in volume and sleep won the night.   Early next morning a resumption of canned sound helped speed our departure. By 11.00 we were entering the awesome Daniels Bay. Daniel and his wife had apparently lived here for well nigh sixty years. However, rumour has it that a film company had paid him to demolish his house, that they might use the whole bay as a film set and one can see why., he now resides in the village.

24th May; A hike to the waterfall at the head of the bay : passing up the river by dingy we tie to a tree and commence a two and a half hour walk first through almost manicured banana and coconut plantation and then through dense jungle paths. All the time leading between steeper and higher mountains with the roar of a river, we were running out of superlatives to describe the stunning scenes that graced our eyes.  The water fall, the third highest in the world, was unfortunately running a little dry,  it being the dry season. To get under the fall one had to swim across a deep cool pool, scramble through some rocks then across another pool, looking at the water cuts in the rock I suspect one would not go into the second pool while the fall was in spate. On our way back we again had to plunge in the rivers rushing torrents, having being so frugal with fresh water for so long one just has to revel in its copious quantities.

25th May; returning to Taiohae where we started our circumnavigation of Nuka Hiva Kay goes to check out with the Gendarme, who stamp nothing, issue nothing and just wish her ‘bon voyage’.  A burst of diesel and food shopping and we are on our way to the Tuamotu Islands 485 miles to the SW and a little sad to leave the Marquesas which we feel may well be the jewel of the Polynesian islands, we shall see .

27th May; first day out was plain sailing fair winds of 14 knots, light seas, warm and sunny. The night had been dominated by a magnificent full moon, but they say that for the benefit of sailing under a full moon one pays the price of squalls. And so it came to pass and on the second night Kay on watch called all hands on deck as a line squall was upon us. The wind which had been a steady 12 knots was now 28 and the rain was stair rods” have you felt the thresh of the deep sea rain” quote. Lots of reefing with the benefit of a cold water shower.  This was to be the pattern of the rest of our trip SW. Over canvassed, under canvassed. Dawn on the 29th finds us off the west coast of Manihi, a thirteen mile long line of surf, we were on the lee of the island topped by dense lines of coconut trees. These are the notorious islands of the Tuamotu archipelago with its many shoals and poor anchorages with a reputation of being one of the most notorious ship-swallower’s in the Pacific.

Pylades has now got the brakes on to arrive at the proper time, downing sail and scudding before the breeze. At the south west tip of the atoll, sail is rehoisted and we close-haul to the south coast entrance pass. The optimum time for entry is given as;  low water  plus one hour or about 13.30, we decide to wait until 11.30 to get the sun ,or what’s there of it,  high enough to read the coral heads..

With mainsail set and engine buzzing, we go for it,  breaking through the turbulence rushing out the entrance at us, after  the three green marks have passed to port, a more worrying turbulence about two thirds of the way in is observed. However, being assured of depth, press on to be hit by this rush of water on the starboard driving us towards the port side reef.  Engine now to full power and within another ten minutes a shaken skipper turns the north cardinal and heads to wind across the atoll. Kay calls directions on avoiding the coral heads which rise to just below the surface  from the bottom of the lagoon.  A French yacht which has followed us in lacks the power; we see them fall back before the stream. But the courage of the French prevails; they hoist all sail and develop the power to break through.  We are in our first atoll.

31st May; a day of great beauty spent walking the windward side of the motu the surf roaring in on the coral reef while we pick shells and observe the abundant marine and bird life. The high surf is breaking about 50meters out on the edge of the reef and the space from there to the beach is approx. 400mm deep, all sorts of unidentified crabs, eels, and small fish abound. We notice some tiny purple fish being cast on the sand and we rescue some. But then look down the length of the beach, millions  are stranded, musing on the proliferate ways of evolution and nature, we cast a cold eye on life, on death, and pass by.

1st June; howling squalls, lighting , thunder and persistent rain all night and a forecast that says the stationary front that sits on us should stay for a few days. The sky is relentless grey, we are reminded of home.  It is a constant much cooler 25deg and so much easier to do bits of boat work. After lunch we motor in the dingy to the village of Manihi where everyone is very friendly, the village had none of the order and wealth of the Marquesas.  The 600 people of this small atoll belong apparently to seven separate church congregations, pious people of dissipate persuasions. We buy a few items in the local shop where the stocks are sparse; we buy the single piece of vegetable, a tomato it is weighed, costed and paid for.  As we wet shoppers motor back to base against the wind and the rain, we gaze at the 3M shark keeping pace along side.

2nd June; an enormous and much tattooed native in an outrigger canoe boards. He calls for a table with cloth and like a Fagin from every pocket, pearls of all shapes, form and cost are produced and his wares are spread across the table. Our obvious apprehension dissuades him from trying to sell us the main items at many hundred a shot.  Kay and he hunch over the goods and trading commences. The end result is one and half bottles of rum for two rings and a fistful of pearls. We feel a right pair of oceanic traders, we doubt our dealings to be cutting edge, but then rum had been but $6.00 a bottle in Panama.

3rd June; plan to exit Manihi, pack away the dingy and make ready for sea, but our anchor is locked firmly to a coral head 36’ below, every dodge is tried, the skipper snorkeled down but visibility had deteriorated and 30’ is now about max depth to accomplish anything.  However, help was at hand, an adjacent French yacht watching all the goings-on shout over ‘ve are sa  diver , in minutes one of them donned his gear and in a cloud of bubbles descends. He attaches a line to the crown of our anchor.  With Kay translating, he instructed, loose chain, motor forward, winch line, presto we are free.  We present a bottle of Paddy. The pass is calm and course is set for Rangiroa, a journey of less than 100 miles to the South West.

A squally night, over reefed Pylades slides slowly along and arrives at the Rangiroa pass with the flood. From a distance it looked impassable, however we were off line and as soon as the range markers lined up it was no problem. .The anchorage was delightful, silky smooth; one could see the anchor bedding into the sand 30ft. down the crystal clear water. This atoll is the second largest in the world about 40x17 miles but the land strip running around its outer edge is but a few hundred meters wide, and in a few sections no land at all just reef.

The order of the day was every morning and an hour and a half snorkeling on the coral heads before breakfast and admiring the vast hoards of reef fish and coral formations all within a hundred meters of the boat. On the second day we noticed an unidentified fish had been circling Kay and obviously had also being thinking about breakfast. For just as she was about to board the dingy, like lightening it went for her finger, we were both rather taken aback to put it mildly, Kay a little more so as the teeth slashed her finger  blood spewed forth, all  headed back for the ship and the TCP. By the time we reach Daly’s of Bellharbour this story may well have grown wings and be a full scale shark attack!!

8th June; our French gets us into trouble ordering petrol for the outboard engine, we get a 1:50 mix which does not dawn on us until the engine begins to run poorly and finally gives up.  Time is spent draining the fuel tank, carburetor and lines. A loan of a pair of bicycles is offered` from another boat sailing with an intriguing young Russian woman and a German man. Offering the fuel free to a dive school as we notice they have two stroke engines. They take the fuel but give us back the same quantity in pure petrol, problem solved.  We then take off on the bikes and have a glorious three hours cycling the motu.

10th June; very reluctant and sad we are to leave this glorious atoll, but water tanks are running low and the fleshpots of Tahiti are calling. Exiting the pass at 14.00 the flood runs against us, indicating that the tide tables must not be taken too seriously.

12th June; after two nights and a day of idyllic  sailing in light wind, no sea and 210 miles  we arrive off Papeete harbour, calling channel 12 for clearance..  It is still dark as we follow the leading lights through the entrance, as the night retreats the quite harbor is revealed. Picking up stern lines Pylades moors bow on to the dock in the town centre. That night the crew dines out in a street cafe. A most memorable evening, excellent food with a setting and characters such as the two girls from Paris who dance barefoot most beautifully, all worthy of a “Toulouse Lautrec’ painting and we too dance under the night sky of Tahiti in the streets of Papeete.

MILES SAILED SINCE BELL HARBOUR…….12238  

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Posted: 9:00:21 PM - 5/7/2010

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