Thursday, 8 May 2014

The Marquesas

We had arrived at Hiva Oa on Easter Monday. 
Easter Monday dawns. Landfall.
After twenty five days at sea we can smell the land.

Our anchorage, Hiva Oa

Our friends Martin and Bea from Heera came aboard and we surveyed the damage following our long passage of over 3000miles.. Two ripped sails, a jammed Duogen water impeller , a dodgy masthead light, a loose rudder casing, a blown inverter,a failed shower pump and a hull that looked like a trawler as it was covered in barnacles, especially Toledo worms towards the stern. It could have been a lot worse after over 3,000 miles of downwind pounding. But Rivals are tough boats and stand up to punishment .
Kika, a little worse for wear.

We went ashore to a little hut where there was an outside freshwater shower  - marvellous ! There was also internet access which you paid for both at the hut and in town at the post office. Both these facilities involved money up front and rubbish access. Very frustrating for all cruising folk unable to communicate with home.
The internet hut plus locals out for a paddle

Removing barnacles after weeks at sea

The road to town is about a mile. The island and all the marquesas are like a big garden. Beautiful Hibiscus plants with different colours, bougainvillea flowers and many others grow everywhere.  They have no scent and rely totally on outrageous colouring to attract insects.The trees grow Pamplamouse a sweet sort of grapefruit, bananas, coconuts, breadfruit, mangoes, limes, oranges and other fruits. There were surprisingly few flies but very large wasps that didn't seem too troublesome and many bees feeding on the flowers . The Islands are a bee keepers paradise with sunshine,warm temperatures , light winds and flowers all the year round.

In town we found the main bar (Maki Makis )run by an amiable Frenchman) and settled down to coconut water from a straw into the top of a green coconut that had been kept in the fridge - delicious! Combined with a couple of very cold beers. We had arrived! We followed it up with an excellent steak in the other restaurant which boasted internet access but only for its overnight guests ,not for people having a meal -  grrrrr! 

On  Tuesday 22 April we walked towards town early in the morning to stretch our legs in the cool of the day. The main road is concreted , the electricity supply is up to European standards and all public buildings are of good quality. The French are very much in charge, and seem to have had a bad conscience following the international outcry created by their nuclear testing at Mururoa atoll . The last test was in 1996 and you can still see ban the bomb signs painted on lamposts which encompass the views of the locals. There is a small naval base and gendarmerie on the island with French officers with the other ranks provided by the islanders. 
One of the few benefits of being in the EEC was that as British citizens we did not require a visa and did not have to leave a deposit in the way of a bond , like our American and Australian friends. We just filled in a form, handed over our documents to a smiling gendarme and that was that - amazing after the Panamanian and Ecuadorian pantomime.
The town of Atuona has some 600 souls who are universally friendly. Last year there was an incident of cannibalism where a sailor got eaten, but as our Dutch friends explained he was German and well padded and therefore a very tempting target. Paul Gauguin the famous French painter spent the autumn days of his life here after leaving his wife and numerous children stranded in France without support. He had further Polynesian children and his pictures of both Brittany and Polynesia adorn his centre. The colours are very vivid. Sadly for Gauguin the pictures only accumulated in value after his death , so he died an impecunious wastrel. His grave is in the local cemetery.
We got on top of most of our snags, with good advice from Martin on sail repair . The Duogen impeller did not need new bearings, just freeing up with that magic stuff WD40. There was a poor connection on the masthead light that needed cleaning and stabilizing the bulb with a short length of water pipe. We postponed the rudder and cleaning the bottom until we were in a less rolly anchorage.

We went off by taxi to see the island . Marie Jo the taxi lady took us along with the crews of Alba and Baraka to some of the archaeological sites and beautiful bays at the North end of the island. The only real cash crop from the island is copra . Coconut shells are left to dry out in the sun and then bagged and sent off to make coconut oil which fetches a good price. Fruit trees especially bananas grow everywhere but are mainly for local consumption. The local horses are quite slender but strong and the Marquesans are splendid bare back horsemen , good at controlling very jittery young horses. Goats graze most places and there are one or two cattle, but it is too hot for sheep. 

Our friends from yachts Alba and Baraka

The taxi took us through the mountains and rain forest area and down precarious single track dirt roads which wound down cliff faces to the beautiful bay of of Tau Mau. . There we visited the ancient religious site containing many statues with "tikis" (heads) and a large stone carved fish. 1500 years ago if you were a big cheese and had a lot of "mana" ( big in everything) you would be likely to get a tiki made. However if you were at the other end of the social scale the only time you would get into this religious site would be to end up on the slab as a human sacrifice. Colin climbed a pamplmouse tree at this sacred site and we took a load back to the boat with us. He will need to go to confession as soon as possible. 
With pamplamouse

Down in the bay there were then stone remains of an old plantation house. In the 18th century the French bought large numbers of black people from Martinique and Chinese as indentured labour to work the land. However erratic rainfall and droughts made the plantations fail and the population of the Islands went from 18,000 to around 6,000 native Polynesians who stayed on. 
The religious site, Me'ae Lipona

Three men with big Tikis

Is it a fish?

Mary Jo is our tour guide
and this is the area for human sacrifice 

We had a splendid lunch of local food . Particularly delicious was the poison cru . Marinaded fresh fish in coconut milk with onion , cucumber and tomato blended in and eaten cold. It was great to talk to experienced cruising folk like David and Jan from Baraka who had already been around once and strongly recommended Vanuatu as a place to visit. 

No shortage of wind!

The northern coast of Hiva Oa

Peter showing off his beard

We said goodbye to Ceri , who sadly has to return to work on the 28th April. We couldn't have wished for a better shipmate for the long 3,000 mile haul than Ceri known to his close mates as the enteropath ! (Look it up in a medical dictionary)

We hauled anchor on 26 April and went around the corner to Tahuata Island where we anchored in a beautiful sheltered bay with a sandy shore lined by Palm trees. Idyllic! We got the dinghy out. Pete scrubbed the top sides while Colin and I dived under the boat to do the bottom. Everything looked good. The anodes were all in position , the rudders attachment to the skeg was solid and we managed to get nearly all the barnacles off. At the end of it Kika looked respectable again .

The bay where cleaned Kika and swam ashore to hunt coconuts

Kika at sunset, Tahuata Island
and the anchorage by day.

We went snorkelling with Neville from Alba who told us how to improve our free diving technique. You relax totally on the surface taking long slow breaths to hyper oxygenate . Then dive down with the aid of a 3lb weight belt and fins performing the valsalva manoeuvre and equalizing ear pressure all the way down . Colin swam under the keel and I got down to the anchor. Snorkelling on the reef there were large Manta Rays cruising about and some white tipped sharks in the distance. The reef fish are a fantastic variety of colours.
On 27 April we went a further 3 miles South to the main bay of the island where there was a small village Vaitahu the capital. In the morning we dinghies ashore to go shopping and discovered there was no beer or much else as the supply ship from Tahiti had not arrived! We met Marie Christine and her husband Jean who showed us round and took us for lunch 

on their small holding. The Catholic Church was entirely built by the islanders. It is beautiful. The stonework is of excellent quality as is the stained glass window. The wood carvings on the lectern and were superb and incorporated ancient local tradition. There is also a small archaeology museum from an American dig which descended in layers through different epochs. The migration of the Polynesian people from China to  Fiji, Tonga, Tahiti and finally the Marquesas was routed. Looking around the island faces there are some Chinese features.
Catholic church.. a peaceful setting.

Marie Christine was a very youthful grandmother capable of climbing orange trees for us at her own grandmothers house . Her  grandchildren therefore had a great great grandmother still alive! We walked up to their small holding, met the pigs goats,poultry, dogs and cats all of whom got on very peaceably and after shaking down a few coconuts from the tree had coconut juice cooled down with ice and a splendid lunch of poison cru and red snapper. Marie Christine's dad is the village fisherman.
After lunch we walked up with Jean and Marie Christine to a cross overlooking the bay . There were some good quality Hereford cross cattle grazing on the top, but when it's dry their owner has to carry water to them every day in his jeep. At the top we gazed at the magnificent view with Kika in the middle of the sparkling bay. We had a good chat. Island life is hard because there are not many sources of income generation. They would like a motor vehicle but couldn't afford it. Their children start at primary school on the island and then go to board at secondary school in Hiva Oa, coming back for long holiday weekends and the school holidays. Apparently they don't get homesick but have a whale of a time away from parental discipline. University is an option for some and can be in Tahiti, France or America but is pretty expensive and beyond most families budgets. Not many graduates return. 
At home they speak a melange of French and Marquesan. Their generation were forced to speak French in school and punished for speaking Polynesian which they resented. However encouraged by some American scholars who compiled a proper dictionary there has been a language revival and all their children speak Marquesan at school. Just like Wales! The language has only 12 or so letters and sounds quite guttural. 
They were both very curious about Kika and all it's gadgets when they came aboard for a look round and it was great fun spending the day with them.
Marie Christine and Jean aboard Kika

On the anchorage we met Dave and Catriona from Crosshaven in Cork who play the  squeeze box and flute respectively . I bought the fiddle over and we had a great evening playing Irish music, it was also good to look at their fishing tackle which has 200 lb line , steel traces and a bungee cord in the middle to take the strain of the fish when it first bites. We need to revise our tackle as we are losing too many lures on the first take. During the day we had a serious go at the rudder stock casing. Colin managed to squeeze himself into an almost upside down position in the stern locker and was able to get a socket spanner underneath the flange holding nuts which we took out and re greased. Three out of four tightened up brilliantly and we're pretty sure the rudder is secure now so the snag list has fallen dramatically! 
Not for eating..this one went back!

On the evening of the 30th April after a brief stop at our favourite snorkelling bay we set off on an overnight passage for Ua Poa some 62 miles away. The wind was a steady 10-15 knots with a lovely beam reach under a star studded sky creaming along at 5-6 knots . We arrived in the morning in the main town Hakahau in the North with a spectacular background to the anchorage of a ring of mountains and huge gherkin like rock structures poking up into the clouds. The town was largely shut down because it was the Mayday holiday, however we found a bar for lunch and Pete sniffed out a shop that was open even selling beers. 

At 6 am on the 2 may the wind came round to the east and we set off on an easy 25mile day sail to Nuku Hiva which may even have good internet! We arrived in the huge bay of Taiohae which could anchor a fleet of warships and went ashore to the land of plenty.