After six days on Thor Heyerdahl’s Fatu Hiva we decided that we had better clear in and become legal in French Polynesia. There are only two islands here in the Marquesas where it is possible to clear in, Hiva Oa approximately 60nm from Fatu Hiva and Nuku Hiva, 120nm northwest from Fatu Hiva. We have decided to spend the hurricane season here in the Marquesas, with Nuku Hiva as our main base. We therefore sailed for Nuku Hiva, so we could see what facilities etc. we would have for the 5 months we are going to spend there. So we have a 24 hour sail ahead of us to Taiohae (the administrative center of the Marquesas) to clear in – officially, we haven’t made landfall anyplace else. We had a comfortable broad reach with both wind and swells from the stern most of the way, but as we pass Ua Pou, an island 25nm from Nuku Hiva, the seas turn choppy and the ride becomes uncomfortable. Well, there are only 12 nm to go and a couple of hours later we drop anchor in the huge bay in front of the town.
Nuku Hiva is famous for two reasons. First because this is the island where Herman Melville jumped ship when he was a seaman on a Boston whaler (1841-1842). Herman Melville, of course, was the author of Moby Dick. His exploits as a whaler and his time on Nuku Hiva and in the Marquesas are detailed in two of his other novels, Typee and Omoo. Here he describes the native culture, amongst other the dances where he notes that “the dancers moved with a voluptuousness that I dare not describe”.
Nuku Hiva’s other claim to fame is being immortalized in song by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in their song “Southern Cross” where they sing about sailing in the South Pacific and the first time they see the Southern Cross (Seeing the Cross for the first time is a moving experience and it is one of those memories that will stay with you forever – it will always remain crystal clear).
After anchoring and some brunch, Carsten says he is going below to rest – he doesn’t feel well. We take his blood pressure and pulse. To our dismay, the display on the machine says his pulse is 180 and the blood pressure is 75/70. Christ – Carsten is having another attack of Atrial Flutter. This one lasts almost 1- 1 ½ hours. It feels like an eternity. I imagine him having this while we were on passage – 23 days with no place to get treatment.
Carsten, in spite of the situation, is quite calm, especially compared to me. I get more and more concerned as the attack continues. It isn’t always an advantage to be a professional who knows what might go wrong, when you don’t have access to all the equipment and staff you have in a hospital. I can only sit and hold Carsten’s hand and hope that the betablocker he has taken and the water he had drunk will cause the attack to subside.
After an hour, I am so afraid that I begin to cry. I feel totally helpless. I don’t know if Carsten will end up losing consciousness, get a blood clot in his brain or heart failure. I’m sitting here with a patient, my life’s love, and I can’t do anything – even if the worst should happen. Should I get on the VHF and call “Mayday”? hoping that someone will come and help get him into a dinghy and to shore for treatment? But that will take too long if this worsens and any treatment will be much too late. I feel horrible. Carsten looks at me, concerned, and says quite calmly, “Vinni, don’t worry – this will pass just like it did in Charleston. Just calm down.”
Fortunately, he was right. After an hour and a half, his heartbeat suddenly returns to normal, his pulse drops to 85 but his blood pressure is still low at 100/60. After another hour, Carsten feels well enough to launch the dinghy and we sail into town to clear in. Just across the street from the police station, we see the hospital. It is late afternoon and there aren’t many cars in front, everyone has gone home for the day.
We wait until the next morning and we are there early. We were met by a young French doctor, who (thankfully), spoke fluent English. Carsten gets an EKG, which shows a normal heart rhythm. The doctor then phones a cardiologist on Tahiti for a conference and decide what medicine Carsten should have. For safety’s sake, we also mail with Carsten’s cardiologist in Copenhagen and he agrees with the treatment.
We don’t have a travel insurance at the moment. The one we had has expired and the new one doesn’t start until a couple of weeks from now. So we have to pay for this treatment out of pocket. We get off cheap – $50 and the following control visit is free.
A positive note in this critical situation. Patients are always weighed when they come into an emergency room. Carsten gets on the scale, smiles and lets out a whoop. He is at his fighting weight, 187 pounds, that means he has lost 20-25 pounds on the passage out here. He convinces me to climb onto the scale. I can’t believe my eyes – I’m down to the weight I had when I was a young woman and that means I’ve lost 15 pounds. Can we stay this slim and trim? Reality will catch up to us later – the answer is “no”.
Here in the Marquesas, we are in French Polynesia with the accent on “French”. We hook up our TV and can watch the world cup. This is the major discussion item amongst the cruisers. We’re also enjoying buying fresh baked baguettes each morning. We trek long hikes around town and across the hills (mountains) around the bay. It is hot and the sun beats down unmercifully so we carry several bottles of ice water. The hikes are strenuous but Carsten manages them without incident, so we begin to feel more comfortable with the situation.
Accidents seldom come alone. One day when the wind is up and the swells are running directly into the bay from the south, crawling up or down into the dinghy is very difficult. We were in town food shopping and returning to Capri. She is hopping, dancing and doing the jitterbug in the swells, making it difficult to lay the dinghy in to our bathing platform. I do my best and feel that I’ve got her lying right on the platform but when Carsten goes to climb aboard Capri and has just managed to get one hand on a scepter, a swell comes out of nowhere pushing the dinghy hard against Capri. This results in the dinghy rebounding backwards away from the boat and Carsten is now hanging in the water with one hand clutching Capri. He can’t hang on and splashes into the ocean, landing in the shark infested waters with a backpack filled with our computers, Ipad, Iphone and wallet with our credit cards etc. in a fit of neatness, I had decided that morning that I would raise the bathing ladder (we wouldn’t need it). Now Carsten is in the water with no ladder to climb up into Capri.
Carsten is only thinking of one thing- that is to save the backpack with the computers. So he manages to haul himself up from the water like a modern day Tarzan. Once aboard, he quickly opens the pack and gets out all the electronics – fortunately none of it got wet.
But the wife is still out in the dinghy and she has a major problem. Every time she starts the engine and puts it into gear, it stalls and that means she is now drifting helplessly out to sea(next stop is Australia). I’ve started looking around for the oars when I hear a splash behind me and here comes Tarzan swimming out to rescue Jane who has drifted out to sea, all while the sharks are smelling blood. I can only sit and keep an eye out for fins breaking the water nearby and finally help Carsten up in the dinghy. A heroic act from Carsten, considering it isn’t easy to climb up in a dinghy – especially when you are in pain. Even more so when Tarzan no longer is a spring chicken (sorry Carsten), after all, he’s now 66 years old.
He solves the engine problem in a couple of seconds. The line we use to tie the dinghy to the pier has fallen into the water and wrapped itself around the propeller. Problem solved, the engine starts and we can motor back to Capri. Here we find out that Carsten has broken one of his ribs and sprained his wrist. He’s had a number of broken ribs in the past so he can tell that it is broken and that we don’t need to get an x-ray. It will heal by itself in 3-4 weeks time. The wrist is also only sprained and so is his thumb. He can move it so we decide it is only a sprain.
This is the second time I’ve had “man overboard”, the first time was back home in the canal when Carsten was getting off the boat. A wonderful “harbor show” for the neighbors as the boat, which had not been tied up was slowly drifting into the boat alongside, the skipper splashing around in the water and I was standing there crying “help, help”. Carsten broke 3 ribs that time.
But back to the fun part of this story. In the week up to “Bastille day”, the 14th of July the fairgrounds here are crammed with booths, a market and “street-food”. Every day is a party. On the 14th, the day that the Bastille was stormed and the prisoners released marking the end of the monarchy in France, there is a pompous ceremony at the local park with singing of the “Marseille” and uniformed military in full parade outfits.
Afterwards there is a parade down the main street of the town. All the farmers from around the island come to show off their livestock and riders show off their horses. There are song and dance groups and to everyone’s enjoyment a woman with her pet pig. When she scratches it behind the ears, it rolls over on its back and asks for more.
Everyone is dressed in their most colorful finery and all the women have flower wreaths in their hair. But my god, these Polynesians are fat. Yes that is the word – FAT. I asked a local doctor why we didn’t see any older persons and she replied that generally there are none. The few there are stay at home and the rest have died due to complications of overweight. Obesity is a huge problem here. Many die quite young from diseases associated with type 2 diabetes. Looking at them, it is easy to see that cardio-vascular illnesses run rampant here.
Especially the women are overweight – 75 to 125 pounds overweight. The women’s job here is to have babies, lots of babies, since the government subsidy for children is a good income. The Polynesian diet is filled with carbohydrates (breadfruit) and sugar. Everyone here has an insatiable sweet tooth, cakes, cookies and colas are a large part of the daily food intake. The men work harder and can keep their weight down, even though they drink several beers per day. We see them every day having a cold beer with their friends.
We’ve decided not to spend too much time here on Nuku Hiva since we will be here for 5 months during the hurricane season. A weather forecast changes our plans though. In 2 days, four meter high swells will be coming from the south directly into the bay. We need to get out of here and that in a hurry. The same weather forecasts precludes our sailing south to the Tuamuto atolls. They will have to wait. Instead, we sail around to the north side of Nuku Hiva to a little bay – Anaho Bay. Many cruisers have described this bay a wonderful place to anchor and one of the best experiences in the Marquesas. As it turns out – this is a decision we will not regret.
The first 5-6 nm we are tacking against wind and waves – Christ a rough start. We finally round the corner of the island and from here on in it is a smooth broad reach and an enjoyable day. We round the northern coast of the island and sail into a picturesque and postcard perfect bay. We drop the hook and for the first time in many days, Capri lies quietly without rolling in the swells. But the trade winds gain strength and come through the ravines and valleys in the cliffs and slam us unmercifully every few hours. “In Mantus we trust”, good thing we have an excellent anchor and it has bitten deep into the sandy bottom. We trust our anchor and sleep like babies.
Every morning we sit here in the cockpit and have our coffee/tea, while we enjoy the mountainous scenery around us. We can follow the mountain goats as they make their way across the face of the cliffs. We’re concerned that some of the small kids will fall down – but they don’t. I’ve never realized that goats were mountain climbers despite their name, mountain goats. After all, they only have their cloven hooves to hang on with.
The water here is crystal clear and we snorkel along the reef with the huge manta rays. They are fascinating. We see their “wings” splash in the surface as they sweep along the reef eating plankton. Carsten and I sail over in the dinghy and I hop in the water while Carsten guides me from the dinghy. The visibility in the water is lower today due to the plankton, but suddenly I see a large dark shape coming right at me – WOW – what a mouth it has. I have to keep reminding myself that mantas are plant eaters and won’t harm me. It swims so close to me that I can touch one wing. Carsten, unfortunately, has the camera in the dinghy, so this video has been made by Silke, a South African single-hander who is swimming alongside me.
Our Australian friend, Anthony, has finally arrived at Nuku Hiva after having left Panama City 3 times and having to turn around as things kept breaking down on his almost new 55 foot Amel (cost $1.2 million). First the electric motor on his radar went kaput and he didn’t want to single-hand across the Pacific without radar. He wouldn’t have slept very well if he didn’t have radar. Second time he left, he started hearing strange noises from the front of the boat after two days. On checking, he found out that he had a hole in his genua (sail). Apparently, the electric motor used for furling the sail had literally blown up and burned a hole in his sail. He couldn’t sail without a genua, so he turned back again. Every time he returned to Panama, he needed to clear in again. This time the authorities asked if he wanted to immigrate…………..
Anthony has to clear in to the Marquesas in Taiohae (the big bay we were in), before he can sail up to us. He tells us that it was almost impossible to land at the pier due to the 4-meter high swells and that it was life threatening for him to get back aboard his boat and get his dinghy hoisted. Getting the dinghy hoisted took him 1.5 hours and nearly killed him. We can see the dings on his dinghy motor that bear silent witnesses to the beating it took at the pier. Thank God we left when we did.
Out here you need to keep an eye on the weather forecast every day – you aren’t safe just because you are anchored in a bay. There are no marinas out here.
Carsten got the idea that we want to get to know the other cruisers anchored here and we dinghy around inviting them to come to the beach to play a game of the Viking Kings game, a game of throwing a stick after the other teams “soldiers” to knock them down. This is a real team sport, we generally play women against the men so there is some real sport in it. Cheating is not only allowed but also encouraged. This is a beer game. You drink cold beer as you play and after a few beers, everyone is having a great time.
It helps to have a steady hand when throwing and the girls have the good fortune to have the “Columbian Sniper” on their team. She has an ungodly good aim and hits every single time. Despite cheating like mad and having the “Columbian Sniper” on our side, the girls eventually lose and we bow to the superior skills of the boys.
A little local girl (about 6 years old) came over to watch and we invited her to play with us. It only took her a couple of minutes to figure out he game and that cheating was allowed. She is competitive as all get out. The next day when Carsten and I dinghy in, she comes running down the beach to hear if we are going to play again.
But like all cruisers, we need some exercise. We climb up the side of the mountain and down the other side to the small bay there. It was a hard climb but worth it. There is a small restaurant in the next bay, famous for their whiskey marinated pig and their Poisson Cru (raw tuna in coconut milk). Great lunch and it filled us and gave us energy for the hike back to Anaho. We also hiked over the crest of the ridge to the other side to visit the local farmer there. This trek wasn’t as difficult. We found his farm, but he wasn’t there and we came back empty-handed.
As I noted earlier – accidents come in threes. Here came the third one. On the way back, as we are walking along the beach, Carsten suddenly feels ill and says his heart is beating much faster and he is dizzy. We are 500 meters from our dinghy in a bay with only a couple of huts, no roads and any kind of transportation from here is via horseback or boat. I feel the panic starting to rise in me. Carsten lies down in the shade while I take his pulse. It is weak and difficult to feel and I can’t count the frequency. We continue back to the dinghy and out to Capri. Sure enough, his pulse is 190 and the blood pressure is 75/70. It is a new Atrail Flutter attack.
Now what? There is no internet here and we barely can get a telephone connection. We manage to send a text message to our friends Grasyna and Mario to get the private mobile phone number of the head cardiologist at the University hospital in Copenhagen. He was the one who operated on Carsten last winter. Mario, who is also a cardiologist doesn’t have the number with him (since he is on a sailing holiday near Germany), but contacts the hospital. We couldn’t have done that ourselves since the hospital won’t give out the doctors private phone numbers to patients.
We send a text message to the cardiologist who replies that we should talk on the phone. But the phone connection out here in the “middle of nowhere” is so bad that we first have to sail back to Taiohae Bay before we can call him.
He suggests that perhaps Carsten should have another ablation (operation) and Carsten and I decide that we need to go to Copenhagen. The cardiologist told us after the first operation that 90% of the patients so treated never have another incident and of the remaining 10% most of those have only very minor incidents that are only irritating but no debilitating. Apparently, Carsten is in the 10% and one of the ones that continue to have serious attacks.
What can we do with Capri? It is 700nm to Tahiti where Capri can be put on the hard. At the last minute, Carsten hears about a small boat-yard on Hiva Oa and we manage to get a space there. We buy airplane tickets, tell the hospital we are coming and sail to Hiva Oa. We had planned on sailing to the Tuamuto Atolls, but with the trip back to Denmark and not knowing when we will be back – that will have to wait until next year after the hurricane season.
This ends the first part of our blog about Nuku Hiva. Second part will come after we get back from Denmark.