After a horrible night i Hanatefau (Tahauta), where the powerful Katabatic winds kept us awake all night, we’re more than ready to say ”good-bye” to Tahuata.
It is October 6 and late in the afternoon we turn our bows northward for a quiet and comfortable night sail under the stars to our next volcanic island – Ua Pou, 70nm northwest. For once the weather forecasts are spot-on and we experience 1-1.5 meter waves and a light wind from aft. As we’ve noted previously in our blogs, night sailing can be a little lonesome, sitting by yourself in the cockpit. We’ve decided that since the weather is cooperating, that we’ll take these night watches together, enjoying the night and identifying the stars and planets from our star book or our Ipad. But we’re short on sleep from our night with the winds and we take turns grabbing a couple of hours sleep here in the cockpit. Our cockpit cushions have been sewn so they fit perfectly as a mattress on the deck of the cockpit. It’s a bit romantic to sleep out here in the open air under a clear and starry sky as Capri lulls you gently to sleep.
We make landfall at the main village, Hakahau, and find that there are only 3 other boats, all with stern anchors out. The stern anchors are to keep the bows oriented towards the swells coming in the harbor entrance. Despite the fairly large harbour, space is at a premium. The supply ship, Aranui 5 needs lots of space to come in and with our deep keel, we can’t get too close to the shore. Everyone is trying to get as close behind the concrete pier as possible.
No problems getting our main anchor to bite, but we need two tries to get the stern anchor down. All the time we are working with it, the couple on the boat behind us stand on deck staring at us. We were not feeling very welcome. We take a few meters of chain on our main anchor to get some space between the two boats. After an hours work getting everything right, we satisfied, but our neighbor apparently isn’t. The ma makes sign language that he wants to move further away – which we’d prefer not to because like everyone else, we also want to be in the lee of the pier. Then the wife jumps in the dinghy , motors over and tells us in an unfriendly tone of voice that there already has been one boat that has been in front of them and had their stern anchor drag, thereby ripping out their main anchor. Now that they have seen the size of our stern anchor – they won’t accept our lying there in front of them.
Our stern anchor, that they find under dimensioned, is a Fortress anchor, sized to be a main anchor for boats up to 36 feet. It should be more than adequate as a stern anchor for Capri and we are not in agreement with her. BUT in these situations, you never get in a discussion with your neighbors – that will only end in unpleasantness and you’ll have made an enemy. So we say, Sure, and up anchor and move further away. Carsten is pissed as hell and really wants to tell her she can go “jump in a lake”. Why didn’t they come over and tell us that when we were first setting the damn thing, instead of waiting until we were all done and had packed everything away. After 2 hours of work anchoring, we’re in and sit down to a well-deserved breakfast.
Our friends, Julie and Rob, who are also here in the anchorage tell us alter that it was our neighbors stern anchorline that broke which resulted in their old and ramshackle trimaran swinging around loose in the harbor, bumping into everyone else. That was a slightly different version that they had given us.
But, it was a good thing that we moved. Five days later as heavy gust rolled through our stern anchor broke loose and Capri turned 180 degrees. Fortunately, we were on board. Our experience with stern anchors is limited. We’re surprised that our stern anchor with 8 meters of heavy chain and 25 meters of heavy rope rode broke loose when we are in 10 feet of water. The bottom was also sand/mud and that is where the Fortress anchor holds the best. The day before we drag, we had to haul in some feet on our stern anchor as the neighboring boat in front of us got a little too close during a squall. Perhaps that caused it.
But the dragging stern anchor turned into a nightmarish afternoon. Since it dragged, we had to lay it again. This involves playing out the entire 100 meters of chain we have on our main anchor and backing up until that is stretched completely out. Carsten drops the stern anchor about where we had it before, but this time it turns out we have crossed anchor lines with the boat in front of us who arrived and anchored after us. Our stern anchor doesn’t bite and now we have problems as Carsten tautens up on the anchor line. The anchor drags and catches the neighbor’s stern line. We slack off immediately and our neighbor dives off his boat, swims back and untangles the lines.
Fortunately, we didn’t break his anchor loose, but now Capri is really going to give everyone a harbor show. We can’t get the stern anchor to bite on our second try either and we start to drift closer and closer to the neighboring boat. Suddenly the neighbors stern anchor line is wrapped around our keel and we drift very close their boat. Our dinghy, Little Capri, is trapped in between the boats and acts as a fender. Carsten asks the neighbor to slacken on his anchor line, but the skipper is in the water and his girlfriend, who apparently is not a sailor, can’t figure out how to release the line. Finally the skipper crawls back into the boat, releases the line and we can unwrap the line from our keel.
The nightmare continued into the next day. We’d finally managed to get the stern anchor to bite, but we were not happy with the angle Capri was taking the swells. Our neighbor was sailing so we had decided to reanchor when a heavy gust came through and Capri suddenly was swinging through 360 degrees. We had not set our stern anchor as taut as we normally would, because we were going to reanchor and because we didn’t want it to drag again.
The best laid plans of mice and men. Now our stern line has wrapped itself around both our keel and rudder. In a heroic act, Carsten jumps in the water, despite our spotting a shark fin circling 50 feet from Capri. I release the line from the clamp and Carsten gets it unwrapped from our keel and rudder. All without getting eaten by the shark.
It took two more tries before we finally got our stern anchor to set and bite correctly. As a harbor show, we’re sure it was vastly entertaining for both the other boats and the people on shore.
Live and learn.
Enough about anchoring. This island, much as Carsten has written about Fatu Hiva, is a Garden of Eden. The dramatic Volcanic cliffs tower over us and display beautiful sunlight and shadow effects. They look like a giant painting that has been set up besides the anchorage. We never tire of looking at it.
The school and the college are very visible in the town picture. The young people, boys as well as girls are truly beautiful. Their skin is almost a dark cinnamon; they are slim and have pretty facial features. They are all well-dressed in colorful clothing. The girls all have heavy thick black hair that they tie up in a knot (without rubber bands or anything else). It is impressive to watch them simply twist and wrap their hair up into the knot. They top this off with a flower behind the ear and now they are simply the essence of Polynesia. It is no wonder that Gauguin never tired of painting them.
We’ve written before about the obesity problems in the Marquesas and diabetes 2 and cardiovascular sicknesses. But the people here on Ua Pou are generally slim. Not just the youngsters, but also the adults. Many come down to the bay each evening and train outrigger rowing (the Ua Pou island team wins many of the inter-island competitions). Others jog on the beach or train on their bicycles. There seems to always be a game going on the football field and the tennis courts are also in heavy use. The obesity problem here is much less than on the other islands, but later, when we rent a car and drive around the island, we’ll discover that in the smaller more isolated villages that the obesity problem is just a prevalent there as on the other islands.
Buying provisions here in the Pacific is always a challenge as there are few stores. Ua Pou has five (5!) “supermarkets” and 2 bakers. It si almost heaven. We can buy most things here although the supermarkets don’t sell much in the way of vegetables or fruit, since everyone here simply grows it themselves. The locals are very friendly and literally give us all the fruit we desire. Coconuts, pamplemousse, mangoes, papaya, bananas, limes, avocadoes and breadfruit. We always offer to pay for it but every time, they simply shake their heads and say “no”. On some of the other islands, we have had to pay for the fruit. Everyone her is extremely friendly, smiling and saying “Bon Jour” as we pass. They seem to be happy and satisfied and not need anything. But we still wonder how they earn enough money to buy four-wheel drive trucks and IPhones etc.
They earn their money by having public jobs (paid for by France), their small stores, sale of fruits and vegetables and Copra and not the least through the public subsidy of children. The government pays a subsidy for each child and it is normal for the families to 7-8 children. Apparently, the income tax here is very low or non-existent. The taxes on imported goods, alcohol and tobacco (a pack of cigarettes costs US $15) are exorbitant. Health care is free here, even the airplane ticket to Tahiti for treatment is free.
How big is their need for cash money? We suspect it is not very big. The government owns all the land in Polynesia and the Polynesians pay only a symbolic amount in rent for the land. The houses here are generally self-built and simple. The climate is such that they spend most of time outdoors anyway and they really only go inside to sleep. Fruits and vegetables grow in their gardens and many keep a pig or two. Goats are abundant in the mountains and they simply go hunting. There are plenty of tuna and other fish in the waters around the islands so even if they don’t fish themselves, they simply trade some pork or goat for a tuna. Truly a Garden of Eden.
Clothing here is simple, as befits the climate. Shorts and t-shirts are the order of the day, perhaps a simple dress (although we did go to a music festival on Nuku Hiva and the young girls there did know how to dress up for a night on the town). Everyone seems to have an IPhone and a four-wheel drive. If you can document that you use your car as a taxi or rent it out for a certain amount of miles each year, you don’t have to pay the taxes on it – so you can buy it tax-free (savings about 25%). If you do this, then you must, according to the law, change the car every 5 years. Four-wheelers are expensive and you need one to get around on these islands, but they must be expensive.
Sunday morning and I’ve chosen to be a local amongst the locals and go to church. Carsten stays at the boat trying to get our pictures and videos in order. I’m not particularly religious, but our guide books say this is an experience not to be missed and I can only agree. The experience is vastly different than going to church in Denmark.
The Marquesans are catholic. Everyone is dressed in their finery, some of the women have braided flower wreaths in their hair. The church is packed. Six priests and helpers are involved in the Mass. The atmosphere here needs to be experienced, it can’t be described. Everything is in Marquesan and I don’t understand a single word except AMEN. The music is accompanied by two guitars and a drum while the choir and churchgoers belt out the gospel songs. No Psalmbooks here. The service is delivered without notes or a manuscript.
The teenagers are sitting together, as teens do, in a corner. IPhones are supposed to be shut off but two of the girls are texting and one of the helpers immediately goes over and confiscates their phones until the service is over. Everyone is welcome at these services, even non-religious types like me. I’ve dressed in conservative long pants and a long sleeved blouse, no bare shoulders or legs here. But some of the younger girls are dressed in tight miniskirts and that is also accepted.
I don’t know if there are rules in Polynesian about when you can get tattooed (if f.eks. it is a right of adult passage), but there are no tattoos on the teens. All the adults have tattoos in blue colors. The typically have a tattoo that starts behind the ear and continues down the neck. Many of them have tattoos on their shoulders and arms – some down on their legs. The men have many tattoos on their arms, legs and chests, some even on their faces. We have also seen a couple of men that are tattooed overall – as in olden days. The Polynesians are stunning with their tattoos. The blue against the cinnamon colored skin stays good-looking even when they get older and the tattoos fade and the skin begins to sag. The tattoos age better on them than on Europeans with their asparagus colored skin.
When we were amongst the Kuna Indians in the San Blas islands, we saw a number of transvestites. This is apparently accepted in that primitive culture. The same is true here. Our friend Willy explained to us that in times past, the Polynesians were ruled by Queens (although everything I have read said they were ruled by Kings). To honor these Queens of old, everyone hopes that the first born is a girl. If it is a boy, the family frequently simply raises the boy as if he is a girl. This, apparently still happens in some families.
Another explanation is that if there aren’t enough girls in the family flock to help with the kitchen and homemaker duties, the family simply raises one of the boys as a girl and he helps the mother out. The husband here generally don’t do housework.
Transvestites are completely accepted here. They marry and have children and continue in their female role. As Carsten jokingly said, “How would you feel if you had to share your bra with me”?
After the services the families go home, each brunch and relax the rest of the day Late in the afternoon, many of them meet at the Petanque courts by the beach. Carsten and I go and are spectators. They take their Petanque seriously here. Despite their laughter and joking, this is a blood sport. Many of them have been playing for years and are superb. Especially a couple of the older women are capable of putting precision English on the ball and hitting every time. The spectators cheer on their favorites and drink cold beer.
We finish off this Sunday with dinner at the local restaurant. My favorite dish out here is still Poisson Cru (raw fish with coconut milk and rice). We have lots of tuna in our freezer which we bought fresh from a fisherman for US $5 per kilo. In Denmark you can’t even buy a small tuna steak for $5. But I’ve had any coconut milk. The locals simply shred coconut and press the milk out of it, but that is doing it the hard way. I’ve now found some coconut milk in a can and soon I will try making the Poisson Cru myself.
We’ve rented a car to explore the rest of the island. There is no road that goes completely around the island, so first you drive in one direction about 40 kilometers, turn around, come back and then drive 20 kilometers in the other direction.
We start going over to the western side. The locals call this area “the desert” since it is the dry side of the island – little rain falls here. Some stretches of this road have a concrete surface, the rest is simply dirt and gravel. Not the best road in the world and driving here is uncomfortable and exhausting. We can only drive at 20 kilometer per hour due to the large potholes and generally we stay in 1st or 2nd gear. The trip is worth the time and pain though. Before long we see wild horses grazing out on the barren stretches by the cliffs. Wild pigs also make their debut and the mountain goats are everywhere.
There is little traffic here as witnessed by the following: I see a goat right at the side of the road with 2 small goat kids. The kids look unsure and rickety on their legs. Carsten takes a picture of them but as he looks through the lens, he blurts out, surprised; that is the placenta hanging out of the mother! I drive a bit closer and now we can see the navel strings hanging down from the kids who are still wet and bloody. In other words, these two have literally just been born here alongside the road as we were coming around the bend. We are very careful not to scare either the mother or the kids as we inch our way slowly by them. Fortunately, they don’t scare and run off the edge of the cliff and we manage to drive by.
We visited the villages of Hakahetau, Haakuti and Hakamaii. The road ends here and we turn around to go back. We are far out in the country or the middle of nowhere if your tastes run to that description. Between these three villages the landscape is filled with fruit plantations. The villages are very isolated and seem more primitive. Are they poorer here? More uncivilized? Than the population in Hakahau where we are anchored? We don’t know, but they seem to have everything they need here.
The Garden of Eden – is it possible to get bored in the garden? This Eden is quite simple and many will say it is primitive. Food is easily obtained and the population seems only to work when they need cash. We come from an entirely different culture with other stimulus and needs. It can be difficult to see how “self-realization”, the uppermost block in Maslows pyramid can be reached in this society, especially in the smaller, extremely isolated villages. Perhaps the locals know no other needs and therefore reach their own “self-realization” through that.
The internet and television are opening up for another world for these people and many of the young leave these isolated villages to go to Tahiti or beyond to seek their fortunes and happiness. We know that the population, despite numerous children, is declining in the Marquesas.
We returned to Hakahau, continue through the town and over the mountains to Hohoi on the eastern side. There is always heavy rainfall on this side of the island so it is lush with tropical plants. In Hohoi there is a huge pae-pae, the stone foundations of the houses and gardens the tikibuilders of old built. Returning to Hakahau we were exhausted and stopped at the pizzeria (see there is civilization here) for dinner.
We have unwelcome guests on board. Cockroaches. During our night sail to Ua Pou, I was making a cup of tea when I saw one crawling on the wall. I grabbed a paper towel and – yes I got the f…..
But if you see one, you have a hundred as the saying goes. The roach traps we have out and the spray we put under the floorboards is not wiping out this infection.
As good generals in the Great Cockroach Wars, we laid a strategy. Off to the supermarket to inspect what troops and weapons we can obtain. Carsten recognizes something called Bayagon, both as a spray and powder. We fill our shopping bags. No good running out of ammunition in the middle of the battle.
Every single space we can get into needs to be either sprayed or have powder spread. ‘
Yes friends, as you can guess, this means the entire boat has to be taken apart. Carsten takes things apart that I didn’t even know could be taken apart. Every closet, drawer etc. is emptied and sprayed and powdered. All the floorboards are unscrewed, sprayed and powdered. Carsten sprays powder in under our water and diesel tanks. This is a mega job and we are still not sure that we have managed to kill the beasts and their eggs.
We spend 4 days splitting Capri down into atoms and putting her back together again. I’ve feared for this day for 2 ½ years and we’ve been so very careful. Everything coming on board has been washed in chlorine water, we dip our shoes in salt water before bringing them on board. We don’t allow cardboard within a mile of the boat. Here we are with cockroaches and only because we had to leave Capri on the hard next to the toilet on Hiva Oa.
This is so time-consuming that we take one room at a time. 1st day it is the front room, 2nd day the salon (we caught 3 roaches here). 3rd day the aft cabin/toilet/storage space and the 4th day the lazarette and the cockpit storage spaces. We haven’t seen any cockroaches since this. All together we caught/killed five live roaches and found 1 dead one. Carsten, who is used to cockroaches from his time in West Virginia say he has never seen roaches as big as these. So now we can wait 4-6 weeks to see if any show their ugly faces. Roach eggs take 3 weeks to hatch so that is when we will know for sure.
After having fought in the trenches continuously for 4 days, the generals are exhausted and the supreme commander orders G&Ts for the troops. In a fit of generosity, she allows two per (wo)man.
In a further fit of generosity, she decides we deserve a nice lunch at Dannys Pension – only a 7 kilometer hike over the mountains (and 7 kilometers back again). In the heat of the middle of the day (only Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun!) we drag ourselves over top of the mountain and down again to Dannys. We’re exhausted by the time we arrive.
Danny and his partner/wife are both transvestites. They welcome us and immediately serve an ice cold bottle of water, followed by an ice cold beer. Danny tells us that we will be 7 for lunch and we need to wait for the other 5 to arrive. It turns out that 3 of them are scientists from a seismology station on Nuku Hiva. Fortunately, they speak excellent English so we can converse over lunch. When we ask them how many earthquakes there are in the Marquesas, they laughed and explained that they really weren’t measuring earthquakes, although they also did that, but in reality they were looking for and measuring nuclear explosions. Particularly the Chinese and the North Koreans.
It was an entertaining lunch and a 4 course meal with wine. When it came time to pay, we thought that Danny must have forgotten something because he only wanted $40 for both of us. We asked, but he insisted that the bill was right. His partner, by the way, is the most beautiful transvestite we’ve seen our here. We both thought he/she was a woman until the middle of the meal when we could see some male features. Carsten was a bit hesitant to believe me – but later we had it confirmed by some of our friends.
Sated as we were from the good lunch, wine and beer, we weren’t much for the steep climb up the mountain – oh taxi – where are you? Lady luck was just smiling on us that day. After a few minutes we hear a four-wheeler coming and it is our lunch companions in their truck. They stopped and took us to the top of the mountain, they were turning left, us right – but from here on it was all downhill for us back to the anchorage. Halfway back, a woman stops and give us a lift the rest of the way – she was going in to shop.
The next day we were having a sundowner with Rolf and Danielle and talking about single-handers. We’re fans of Shirley and we tell them about her little 25 foot yellow boat, when Rolf suddenly looks very serious an asks if she is hard of hearing. When we say yes, he tells us that she has gone missing. The last anyone has heard from her was when she was seen in the Pearl islands, waiting for a weather window. She didn’t make it to the Gambier islands when she was supposed and no has heard from her for 2 months. A search has been started and they are afraid she has run out of water. We are shocked and I can barely sleep that night thinking about her.
The next morning Carsten goes early to the library to get internet and he checks her website. Fortunately, she is safe, after a 2.5 month sail to the Gambier (which should only have taken 3-4 weeks). She ran into 2 major gales/storms that blew her off course and broke some of her sail battens. On her website she writes that at one point in the storm she considered taking her lifeline off. She didn’t think she would have the strength to haul herself back on board if she went over the side in the terrible weather. Better to have it end quickly that be hanging over the side slowly drowning. This description moves me to no end and I’m completely choked up. It reminds me that what we are doing is not without danger and I hope that Capri brings us back to Denmark in one piece in a few years.
Shirley is safe and continuing on towards New Zealand and we’re happy here on board Capri.