Monthly Archives: May 2015

Work and play

While Jack was cleaning the scum off EV’s waterline he checked the sacrificial zincs and found we need to replace them. We replaced them in Golfito, Costa Rica, last August so the fact they were nearly gone is a concern we’ll have to address. Right now, though, we must find a diver. We mentioned this to Phil of Moon Dancer when he kayaked over for coffee one day. “I’m a diver,” Phil said. “I’ll be happy to do it right now.” This is the sort of help and support other cruisers are always willing to offer and we’re touched and grateful whenever it happens. Phil paddled back to his boat for his gear and Jack picked him up in our dinghy and brought him back to EV. Replacing a zinc underwater is fiddly, requiring managing several heavy chunks of metal and small bolts without dropping them. While Phil was planning his approach Greg from Oceania dinghied over to invite us to a party on the beach at one o’clock. When he saw what Phil was doing he ran back to his boat and returned minutes later with his own mask and fins and essentially took over our project, replacing all four of our engine zincs without a tank. He stayed underwater so long we were amazed at how long he can hold his breath. Ah youth! Greg is in his 20s, the rest of us are in our 60s. His energy and enthusiasm are boundless and infectious. Well, the enthusiasm is infectious, anyway. The energy we can only dream about. 


Job done, Greg ran off to continue his beach party plans, and I set to work cobbling together some snacks to take ashore with us. All the crews of the boats in the anchorage gathered ashore. Many knew each other already, many we met for the first time. As we tried to keep the names straight Casey of Oceania organized us into teams to play bocce with coconuts. “Curling rules,” she explained, which made no sense at all to us non-Canadians. It rained off and on as we played and ate and drank and enjoyed new friends. Long after the older folks retired to our boats the young couples partied on until after dark


Early the next morning Moon Dancer sailed to Atuona on Hiva Oa to take care of some business on the Internet and they returned by early afternoon with a load of baguettes for the anchorage. Jack dinghied Nell from boat to boat delivering fresh bread to everyone, a very welcome treat for us all. In the evening the crew of Wavelength invited everyone to their boat to celebrate the fixing of their engine overheating issue, and once again we gathered for food and drink and cruiser bonding. 

The next morning three boats left but by the end of the day two more arrived, then four more the following day. We are now 14 boats in Hanamoenoa Bay and we expect at least one more tomorrow, our old friends on Flying Cloud, Meryl and Walter, whom we last saw Christmas 2013 in Martinique. It’ll be a great reunion and we can’t wait.

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Shuttle service to Atuona

We motored the nasty eight miles back to Atuona and anchored just inside the breakwater in front of the wharf. When we dinghied ashore the agent Sandra told us the cargo ship would arrive at noon and we’d have to move our boat. It was close to nine o’clock by then and we had a lot to do. Marie-Jo, who runs a taxi service was also on the dock and we hired her for an hour to take us into town and back again. With transportation at our disposal we quickly dispensed with the ATM, grocery store, vegetable vendor and hardware store and were back at EV in plenty of time to weigh anchor and move out of the way of the Aranui 3, the combination cargo and cruise ship. 

One of the things we’d hoped to buy at the hardware store is a length of chain for our stern anchor. Without it we can’t set the anchor successfully, and since up til now we’d never needed one, it didn’t occur to us to have extra chain onboard for that purpose. The hardware store only had light chain, not appropriate for our boat. That means until we acquire what we need, we can’t anchor among boats that have stern anchors set. In Atuona, with the ship coming in, that means we had to go outside the breakwater again in a violently rolly anchorage. As a catamaran we don’t roll as much as the monohulls out here, but it’s still uncomfortable. 

We only meant to stay for the day and get back to Tahuata by nightfall but when we entered Atuona we saw that Liberty Call was still there and we made plans with Tim and Andra for a pizza dinner in town that evening. We spent the rest of the day trying to get internet. The commercial service has a strong signal but won’t give me an IP address and the private service used by the cruisers was turned off. Everyone we talk to agrees the islands are missing a golden opportunity to provide wifi service to the cruisers. We would gladly pay for access to anyone who provides it. We successfully used the commercial service, Manaspot, in Fatu Hiva, but here in Hiva Oa we can’t get an IP address despite a strong signal, and it’s not available at all on Tuhuata. 

We spent the evening with Tim and Andra at the pizza restaurant, a nice social break from the quiet life in Hanamoenoa Bay. The next morning we finally got online and caught up with email, but in the middle of updating our navigation app on the iPad the wifi was turned off again, effectively disabling our ipad navigation. It was pouring rain so we decide to stay put, collect rainwater and wait for the wifi to come back on again in the morning and get the ipad functional again. It was a rolly, nasty night, and in the morning Jack loaded up our jerry cans and dinghied in to buy some diesel. 

He came back in short order and we got the heavy cans onto EV without mishap, but just as he was stepping from the dinghy, EV lurched crazily and Jack slipped off the back steps into the water. He swam for his shoes and plunked them down on the steps along with his phone, now certainly dead, and hoisted himself up on the scoop. As he turned around to sit he yelled, “Shit!” and jumped back in the water. The Ziploc bag holding his passport, the boat papers and cash was disappearing with the surge. Jack swam after it and then to the starboard scoop where the swim ladder is. Safely back onboard, Jack headed for the shower while I rinsed everything with fresh water. I hung the passport, the money and the boat papers on the clothesline then set to work on the phone. It’s most probably dead forever but we successfully revived an iPod nano after a dunk in the (clean) toilet, so I’m keen to try. After a freshwater rinse and a towel-off, out came the sushi rice and in went the phone. Time will tell.

Jack has a nasty bruise down one side but he’s otherwise ok. The wifi finally came on about eleven and I got the ipad navigation app working again. The rain petered out and we happily pulled the anchor and turned back to Tahuata. Whew! A one-day trip turned into three but we have cash now and some groceries. Life is good. Ok, except we’re down one phone now.


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The view from the back porch

The Aranui 3, part cargo, part cruise ship, sails into Atuona.

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In which we commemorate

We arrived at the little store before 7am Wednesday to find the baguettes arrayed on the cooling racks. An older man sat at the door with a notebook and when we announced ourselves he checked his list, crossed us off and handed over three baguettes, for which we paid a total of about $2. I asked about Internet and he told us eight o’clock, but we knew Miss No would be working then so we had no chance of getting online. 

Baguettes in hand like proper French, we started up the hill to find Fati the tattoo artist. The road started out relatively flat then turned upward in short, tight switchbacks with ever-changing views of the bay. We had no directions, just up there and ask but it was just after seven and even the dogs were sleeping. 

   While we were wondering how far to go a pickup truck stopped and we asked the driver. He motioned for us to get in and he drove up a few more switchbacks then down a steep driveway where we were met by a beautiful little girl. “Go get your father,” the driver said, and soon out came Fati and we were introduced. We think we understood that the two men are related. 

We offered to come back later or tomorrow but Fati parked us on a sofa with a pile of books about the Marquesas while he set up his equipment and cleared off the big table that is his work area. After about a half hour, Fati called me over and I indicated a band around my ankle. I stood on a chair while he marked the top and bottom edges of a band and checked that it was level and even. Then he pointed to his head and asked in French, “Ideas?” 

 I’d thought about this a lot. We came to Fati because we’d heard that you don’t just pick a design out of a book, that he listens to your thoughts and creates for you. I told him the things that were important in my cruising life. “La mer. Le vent. La lune.” And then I added an element that has come to symbolize for us the intrepid sea traveller. “La tortue.” He nodded, then set to work. He drew on my ankle for close to half an hour, turning me this way and that. When he was finished he told me, “C’est unique.” And it was, and beautiful.  


Then came the hard part. I lay on the long table and screwed up my face against the pain as he made the design permanent. His little daughter gave me peeled orange slices and drew a flower on her own leg with colored markers in solidarity with me. It took about an hour and when he was finished Fati marched me to the water hose at the edge of the porch and squirted some soap in my hand. I washed my ankle then he gently dried it and applied Vaseline. Then it was Jack’s turn.  

 While Fati worked I wandered around, took photos, and tried to imprint this scene in my mind, the view down the mountain, the sleeping dog, the young kittens that kept appearing here and there, the TV and satellite dish, the washer outside in a shed, the laundry hanging everywhere, Fati’s daughter flitting with the bottomless energy of a five-year-old. And always the buzz of the tattoo needle.  

   Finally he was done. Fati leaned back, took off his glasses and exhaled deeply. He’d been working for hours and looked exhausted. Jack grinned at his new art. 

We paid Fati, then I pointed at his glasses and asked if he could use another pair. While we were in the States, we’d bought several multipacks of reading glasses of different strengths for trading or as gifts. As it happened I had one in my bag and I passed it to Fati who tried them on. I checked his old ones; +2.00, just like the ones I’d brought. He looked here and there, testing the strength, then smiled at me. They’re yours, I told him. He thanked us, we thanked him, then he asked if we wanted fruit. Always, we said, and he took off through the yard with a plastic bag while we gathered our things and put our shoes on.  

 We met him on the other side of the house and he handed us the bag, now filled with limes and mangos. We noticed his beehives and he said he collected the bees himself and he pointed way up the mountain. We took a few final photos, then he followed us up the driveway, picking more mangos until we couldn’t carry any more and we said our goodbyes.

We were starving and pulled off pieces of baguette to munch as we walked to the dinghy. Back aboard EV we made plans to head back to Atuona the next morning. We were out of cash and that’s the only place with an ATM and we want Internet, too. 

We admired each other’s ink and smiled. We feel duly commemorated.

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Does it hurt?

So lets just end the suspense, effing yes it hurts! It feels a little like paying to have your skin flayed, but I guess I probably deserve it. I’ve had a life long fascination with tattoos and the people who get them. I’m old enough to remember that when I was young, if you saw a woman with a tattoo you just knew she’d had at least one night the likes of which you could only dream, which was what I always thought until a psychiatrist friend of mine told me, while draining a neat scotch at a cocktail party, that the tattoo you see just sneaking out from under her blouse is ninety-eight percent sure to not be her only tat. There would surely be a hidden tat somewhere. Well, that changes everything doesn’t it? Lets say that maybe he exaggerated the percentage a bit, he was beginning to slur his words a little, but even at say eighty percent I think we can agree that it represents a paradigm shift in social acceptance.

I still had no desire to actually get one…I mean I heard it hurts, right? What would it be? I think MOTHER is taken and it would have to really mean something.

We aboard Escape Velocity are always on the lookout for new ways to tweak our interface with the world and we finally found something meaningful to commemorate. Depending on when you start counting, let’s agree that a year-long odyssey, sailing and otherwise, to get to the Marquesas, fits the bill. While touring Viatahu everyone that I asked proudly showed us their tattoos and said that Fati did it and that they were planning another one right over here. And where is this master tattooist? Just up the hill. No, there’s no sign or address, just up the road to the right. Thinking, but not totally convinced. Later that afternoon a cruiser dinghied over for a social call and just had to show us his new tattoo which was beautiful, and you guessed it, Fati had designed it. So we just kind of fell into the decision. It’s always further and steeper than they make it sound but a guy picked us up as we gasped up the concrete switchbacks and deposited us at Fati’s tattoo porch and his beautiful little daughter ran to wake him up.

Fati said Marce would be first so I had a little extra time to doubt the wisdom of some of my choices in life. I mean there have moments where I’d thought that just one more bone-headed idea and I’d be putting on that clown suit at McDonalds for the rest of my life. But with hardly a grimace M. proudly showed me her beautiful, very modern but somehow traditional Marquesan tattoo.

While I was trying to come up with something worthy of wearing all the way to my grave Fati’s beguiling little girl, well, beguiled me. These beautiful Polynesian woman just seem to be born this way and she had it in spades. She danced for me, she showed me pictures complete with commentary, she sang, played a ceremonial drum, peeled me an orange. She just had to be the center of my attention or she would pout until she’d thought up something new to do. 

 Fati helped me clarify my design concept which is remarkable because he only speaks Marquesan and I’m still working on English. I was quite taken recently with the drawings by Captain Cook’s original illustrator and Fati incorporated a pirogue into my traditional but very modern Vaitahu tattoo.

So, does it hurt? It’s not pleasant and it definitely feels like something you shouldn’t do to the human body. I wonder if it’ll show under that clown suit?


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In Vaitahu

We got ourselves into town by eight o’clock but even so the baguettes were already sold out. We ordered three for the next day, or at least we hoped we did. I’m still struggling with the transition from bad Spanish to bad French. 

 We walked up the hill to the graveyard, always my favorite starting place, not just for the picture of island life the memorials paint, but for the pretty view over the bay nearly always accorded the dead. 

 On our way down we poked our heads in the modern church just as the sun came out to illuminate the stained glass window, a rarity in these parts.  

   Then we happened on the tiny museum as a man was unlocking the door. He was the archaeologist from the University of Hawaii who’s been overseeing various small excavations here since 1984. We looked at the artifacts in the display cases, then asked about internet. Hmmm, no. This despite the fact that I can see ten or twelve networks on our router.

Next stop, town hall. Internet? No, but ask at the shop. They’ll give you the password and you can sit on the benches outside. We walked back to the shop where we think we ordered the baguettes. Internet? No. Really? She shook her head. On to the post office. Internet? No, but ask at the shop. The shop said no, we told the clerk, and she seemed surprised. Nowhere else, we asked? She shook her head. Our incredible photos are piling up and we have no way to post them. 

 On our way back to the dinghy we met a local man trailing two beautiful children. He asked if we wanted some fruit. Yes! we said, and vegetables too. No vegetables, he said, but when he saw my disappointed face he said he might be able to find some beans. We agreed to whatever else he could get and he promised to deliver to our boat. True to his word, Jim and family pulled up alongside Escape Velocity and handed over a hand of bananas, tons of mangos, pamplemousse, limes, tomatoes and long beans. We paid them 2000 francs, about $20, which we thought fair for the amount of produce and the delivery service. Jim’s wife also promised to confirm our baguette reservation after we told her we weren’t sure we’d communicated our order at the store. 

 By late afternoon, the anchorage emptied out again and once more we were alone. We planned to go ashore very early to get our baguettes, then seek out Fati, the famous tattoo artist who lives up the hill. The williwaws settled down finally and we had a lovely quiet evening watching the few lights on shore and the stars above.


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Comfort levels

House on the corner, deep green lawn completely shaded with what looks like an old elm, circled by some colorful annuals, pale verdigris folded tin roof. Maybe a few shrubs in the corner. In my mind I’m hearing Sly croon “Hot Fun in the Summertime”, kids squealing and laughing, Mayberry USA. Hard to say why my Fujinons keep lingering each time I sweep the waterfront from Escape Velocity, but they do. Ok the kids are speaking French, they’re naked in that French way, and there is a palm tree plantation on an improbably steep mountainside that soars above the village to shred the clouds. The halfmoon shaped cliffs seem to cradle the little town in brilliant sunshine while tiny white dots we know are goats make their way over the peaks high above us. What is it with goats? It seems just minutes ago they were busy trimming the grass on the soccer field at sea level. Yes, I said soccer field. How they found enough flat space for that is beyond me but then again, I know that in the Southside of Pittsburgh they shoehorned a football field into a ninety yard long space by only allowing offensive plays toward the only end zone available.

So, as I was saying, Vaitahu, Tahuata, has a church with a nice steeple, a post office and nice tidy houses but where this feeling of nostalgia comes from I’m sure I don’t know. Now if only the williwaws would stop funneling down off the mountains scaring me half to death with their 25 kt gusts I could find myself quite comfortable here. Oh, and how about a little wifi, s’il vous plait?

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Virgin territory

It took three more days for us to raise the anchor and motor two miles south to the village of Vaitahu. We’d hoped to find wifi here but haven’t. Nonetheless we’re glad we moved. As nice as Hanamoenoa Bay is there isn’t much to look at except the sandy beach and palm trees. Here there are steep rocky mountains dotted with white goats and village life going on right in front of us just a few hundred yards from the boat. Because of the steep slopes we’re subjected to near constant williwaws, sudden gusts of high winds that race down the mountains and push the boat back and stretch our chain out. We share the anchorage with three other boats and we all seem to be well stuck to the bottom. 

    In the morning we’ll drop the dinghy and go ashore. We hope to find baguettes and some fresh food and maybe some internet. My feet haven’t touched solid ground in quite a while, although Jack swam to the beach in Hanamoenoa once last week. Tomorrow will require both pants and shoes.

This little bay is surprisingly significant in the history of the Marquesas. In 1595 the Spanish explorer Álvaro de Mendaña landed here, apparently the first European to do so. Captain James Cook visited almost 80 years later. And in 1842 in this village Admiral Dupetit-Thouars signed the treaty that annexed the Marquesas to France. The tour guide we hired in Hiva Oa had nothing good to say about the French but his beef is with the nuclear testing they carried out in the Tuamotus. John lost several family members from cancer which he attributes to the fallout from those tests. He makes a good point but I don’t think anyone complains about the availability of fresh baguettes and good cheeses.

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Quiet time

For one whole day we were the only boat in this bay. We haven’t been alone in an anchorage too often; a few times in remote South Carolina on the Intercoastal Waterway, in Chacachacare Island in Trinidad, behind Cabo Santa Elena, Costa Rica. Usually boats accumulate in the places most amenable, either because of convenient services and shops or good snorkling or other activities. When we first arrived in Hanamoenoa Bay and saw all the boats we assumed that was the natural order of things and that the number of yachts at anchor would remain more or less the same throughout our stay. But within a few days all the boats left. We spent one day alone, then two new boats came in but there’s been no big influx as I expected. People stay for one or two nights then move on.

We finally finished the last of the stitching on the cockpit enclosure where the wind blew out a window early in our passage. The last little bit couldn’t be done underway because we both had to stand up to pass the needle back and forth and we needed a calm anchorage to do it safely. Jack inspected the rest of the stitching and found a few more places needing reinforcement. So that’s all tidied up and crossed off the list.

Rain moved in last night but it was on and off, not a drenching downpour that would fill our water tank but enough that we had to keep the hatches closed. This morning brought more rain until about nine o’clock when the sun finally showed its face. The watermaker’s on now and I’ll probably do a load of wash in a while. As a boat that runs almost exclusively on solar power, we do what we can when the sun shines.

Yesterday we swam over to the reef on the south wall of the anchorage. It’s not an underwater paradise with mostly dead coral and not many fish but the swim was good exercise even if the snorkeling was disappointing. This morning we watched a pod of dolphins swim north toward Hiva Oa, and a school of rays put on a feeding display behind a boat about 200 feet away. I think it may be time to move on. Maybe tomorrow.


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They come, they go

The sea was rough leaving Hiva Oa for Tahuata, and as we motored the few miles between the islands we rode a strong current that pushed us fast along the channel.  

 When we reached the northwest corner of the Tahuata we turned south and soon saw the rock promontory that marked the entrance to Hanamoenoa Bay, said to be one of the best anchorages in the Marquesas. 

We watched the mast of a boat that left Atuona shortly before us as it entered the bay, and the closer we got the more masts we saw. “Holy cow,” I said, “I hope there’s room for us!” After the rolly crowded harbor at Atuona we were looking forward to a clean, safe and comfortable place to spend a week or so and get the boat sorted out and back to normal. 

There was plenty of room as it turned out. We dropped the anchor, then thought better of the spot, raised it again, dropped it again. We were in the back of the pack, far out toward the ocean with a lot of chain out in the 50′ depth. We consulted the chart and decided to motor all the way in toward the beach. As a catamaran with a shallow draft we can usually go into shallower water than deep monohulls. We raised the anchor again and motored in, watching the depth sounder and monitoring the gusts that came whooshing down off the surrounding hills. We crept closer and closer to the beach and dropped the anchor in 18′, much preferred to the outer anchorage not only because we have to put out and retrieve less chain, but also because we have an unencumbered view of the white sandy beach and the coconut palms.  

 As we tidied up after anchoring, two other boats from the back up-anchored and moved up to the beach as well, then a single-hander who’d been anchored near us in Atuona arrived and dropped his hook beside us. By the end of the day there were 19 boats in the anchorage, about the same average number as there’d been in Hiva Oa but in a much larger space, with excellent sand holding and plenty of swinging room. The water is clear blue, perfect for running our watermaker, and while it’s certainly gusty, we’re protected on three sides from the ocean swell. Escape Velocity bobs gently at anchor and I think she’s grateful for the peace and quiet, just like we are.  

 For the first few days there were many comings and goings. A couple of kid boats shuttled their broods back and forth to the beach in their dinghies. Boats arrived, boats left. Some left in the late afternoon for the overnight passage to Nuku Hiva; others went back to Hiva Oa to get fuel or other supplies. By Tuesday afternoon there were only two of us left in the anchorage. 

It’s a lovely bay, but not distinctive like the Bay of Virgins in Fatu Hiva. We’ve been in more remote and exotic places in our travels and we both agree we have to remind ourselves where we are. It serves our purpose, though. We spend our days doing minor boat chores, cleaning, inventorying and reorganizing our provisions. Some days we don’t do anything but read and listen to the surf crashing against the lava cliffs a hundred yards away. 

We spent a long time preparing for the Pacific passage and now that we’re here it’s taking some time to switch gears. We were 42 days at sea, but many months before that planning, getting the boat ready, provisioning, researching weather and currents and routes — not that much of that helped us, as it turned out — and all the mental preparation an ocean sailor does to gear up for a long passage. It was easily nearly half a year, and half the year before that was concerned with rerigging, so that for almost the whole year we weren’t actually cruising. Now finally we are again, and we want to relax and enjoy the life. I have time to cook more elaborate meals, time for spring cleaning, for beading, for snorkling, for exploring the world around us.  

 We’re not in a hurry to leave here. We may move to the bay just below us because there’s a store there and maybe we can get some fresh vegetables and Internet. Other than that, we’re content to stay and enjoy this nearly deserted anchorage for a while. The supply ship is in Atuona today so I expect there will be a new influx of boats as they take on supplies and move on. 

That’s ok. We’ll watch them come and go.

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