Monthly Archives: June 2015

There’s something about a waterfall

(By Jack) I don’t know about you but normally I wouldn’t go looking for a waterfall. Don’t get me wrong, I like them, but let’s just say that I wouldn’t climb three miles through a jungle in ninety degree heat and humidity just to see one, and if you factor in a beach landing in surf, well normally that would put paid to it, but there I was reconnoitering a landing site for just such a trek. I have to admit that when I first putted Cat-Nip around the corner, as Marce says, “around that little stick-out” the spires and volcanic ridges of Anse Hakatea, Nuku Hiva, took my breath away. Another crazy out-of-this-world Marquesas experience. It had something to do with the light but being surrounded by these four thousand foot sheer cliffs is awe-inspiring.  

The plan was to call for our friends and neighbors, French Curve and Enki II, at first light, pile six adults plus three rolling fenders, snacks, water bottles, bug spray, line, six pairs of wet and dry shoes, a dinghy anchor, many back-packs, and I don’t know what all else into Cat-Nip, find our carefully chosen landing spot and hop out while dragging her up the beach. We only took one wave over the transom. The skipper’s only comment is that the beach looks totally different at high tide.  

After anchoring the dink high and dry we found the path which is actually said to be part of the Royal Road and parts of it still have ankle spraining round pavement rocks. Sheer craggy rock cliffs rose up thousands of feet on either side while we walked through a rich verdant garden of Eden on the valley floor, chock-a-block with flowers, fruit of all description, palms, giant versions of colorful leafy plants that you probably have in your house right now.   

Some of the plantations looked more like large carefully tended gardens and while near one of these we heard a voice call out something in French. It turns out Monette runs a kind of Marquesan restaurant out of her house and for 1000 CPF per person she will serve lunch on our way back down. Why yes, yes we’d like that. Next it was Alexandre’s turn to yell bonjour and he sold fruit from this fertile valley right off the tree. Why yes, yes we’d like fruit right off the tree. Don’t ask where we’ll put all of this stuff. 

Paepae, platforms built up with volcanic rocks a meter or so off the valley floor, gave evidence of a large ancient population and were everywhere but spaced in an orderly fashion, on either side of the royal road, but what now could only be called a muddy path. This royal valley was once home to tens of thousands, and we saw paepae all along our two and a half hour trek, ranging far up the river, some quite overgrown. Energetic builders, these Marquesans. 


  Soon the path gave way to trying to find what you might call crowd-sourced guide posts…conspicuous rock columns called cairns.  

Next it was the first of three fords. I couldn’t tell you how deep it was but at one point I got the thermometer wet. Yes it was cold. We had a line to help keep the unwary from being swept down stream and we all made it with a certain amount of decorum if not grace.    

There were times when without the cairns we would probably still be wandering around up there, and there were times when we’d just follow the obvious path. Suddenly we noticed the distant thunder of water pounding rocks and through a hole in the jungle we could see the worlds third tallest waterfall. Magnificent. 

Inspired, we headed off at an energetic clip and soon found we’d entered a narrow box canyon of craggy rock cliffs towering a thousand feet above us with a narrow valley floor covered with green leafy stuff and a swift running stream to one side against the sheer rock face.   

And then, coming around a rock wall, there it was. Well, you could kind of see the bottom of the falls through a hole in the rock wall. It was as though it was around the corner that you couldn’t get to without a swim and a climb. 

Close enough I say.

We stayed quite a while, it was crazy beautiful, but soon I found myself thinking of Monette’s lunch so as M. would say it’s shank’s mare for the wayward sailors. It’s funny how just turning around affords a completely different experience and we found the carins more difficult to spot going back but after another two-and-a-half hours we straggled into Monette’s eatery. While we ate, her husband worked on the estate.    

  Diana’s excellent French saved the day with descriptions of what we were eating and even our favorite vegetarian was happy.  

 The fruit man, Alexandre, so generous of spirit, threw in many extras as I followed him from tree to tree with his wheelbarrow. Kind of like a used car dealer that tears the price tag in half after cutting a deal.  

  I can’t recommend you use a wheel barrow for beach work but it was probably marginally better than just schlepping back and forth, but not by much.   

Marce, working hard.  

The beach had changed in the interim and we could see where we went wrong this morning but I found we could load the dink and float down a little stream which was what was left of the waterfall, two hundred feet to the bay. 

 This was executed without incident and on the way back, a look at all the tired faces told me that sundowners would have to wait till tomorrow.

So maybe chasing waterfalls is not such a bad thing.    


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Leaving easy street

Taiohae has a dinghy dock, shops, Internet, a gathering place for cruisers (but not a dockside bar) and a local yacht services agent who can facilitate essentials like parts shipping, officialdom and some repairs. It’s the easy life compared to where we’ve been but despite all that we were eager to move on. Jack spent an afternoon topping up our fuel tank, which involved schlepping jerry jugs back and forth, and we did a bit more provisioning while the getting is good.  


We were reluctant to leave without a solution to the watermaker problem so we asked Alex from Enki II if he’d take a look; maybe a third pair of eyes would see something we’ve missed. His conclusion was that no, it all looked and sounded normal but maybe clean out some of the hoses. We’d replaced most of the hoses when we replumbed the system but a few of them are quite long and cumbersome. We agreed they could do with some scrubbing so we did that and changed the prefilters once again and turned on the system just to test it before our last resort, a membrane cleaning, even though there were no indications it was fouled. Lo and behold, we made potable water! We did so little — changed filters that weren’t even dirty, cleaned a few hoses that were — that we’re not sure what our problem was. Perhaps Alex’s laying on of hands was the ticket. We’d had the same experience in Golfito with Robert the mechanic and our alternator. The common factor is that Robert and Alex are both Hungarian, so from now on, we’ll stick to magical Hungarians for all our Laying On Of Hands needs. 

So we’re set to go. We said goodbye for now to Tim from Liberty Call, who’s been our frequent companion ever since we made landfall a few hours apart in Fatu Hiva. He’s stuck trying to fix an alternator problem himself and we hope he gets it sorted soon and catches up. 

 We only moved six miles west to Daniel’s Bay where we hope to clean the slime off EV’s bottom and organize ourselves for the jump to our last Marquesan island, Ua Pou.


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Stick to the script

It turns out we’re spending more time in the Marquesas than we thought we would. We really haven’t sat down with a calendar to plan the rest of our sailing season so once in a while we pull our heads up out of the water and say, “Shit! We need to get moving!” Our original plan was to wait out the cyclone season — November to May — in New Zealand, and I guess that’s still our plan. What we didn’t factor in is how much we’d enjoy these islands and how nice it is to go at a slow pace, something we failed at miserably in the Caribbean. It’s a long way from here to New Zealand, and there’re still the Tuamotus to discover, and the Society Islands, not to mention the Cooks and Tonga. Four months to cover 3000 miles and scores of inviting islands and we know now why people who’ve passed this way before us say they wished they hadn’t raced across the Pacific.   

 We thought we would circumnavigate Nuku Hiva. Our guide books describe bay after beautiful bay with great snorkeling, hiking and archaeological sites. But the tick-tock of the cyclone season countdown led us to take an island tour in a van with Jocelyne to see the sights in one day that would take many days of sailing, anchoring, hiking, sailing, anchoring, hiking. 

We’d been told that with a full van load of eight the tour would cost 5000 francs, or about $50/per person. We only managed five, so we’d pay more per person but with a dwindling number of boats in the harbor we sucked it up and climbed onboard. As we left the dock, Jocelyne opened by pointing out the jail, the oldest building in town, and told us the prisoners spend all day outside in the garden, only going back to their cells at dinner time. 

Then it started to rain. Jocelyne stopped the van and asked if we could go the next day instead. Sure, we said, no problem. It’s better, she said, when the sun is shining. We were right near the hardware store so we asked her to drop us off there and we’d walk back.   

 We were marveling at what passes for hardware these days when Tim came in to retrieve us. We’re back on, he said, and we trundled back to the van. Jocelyne had called the restaurant to cancel our lunch reservation and they said it wasn’t raining on that side of the island, so off we went again. 

Our first stop was a stunning overlook over Taiohae Bay and Jocelyne gave us some background information on the town and the island.  

 Before our next stop the rain started again and it didn’t look like it would let up anytime soon. We’ll stop, said Jocelyne again. This time she meant it and she drove us back to town. 

By the next morning we’d recruited two more victims and when Jocelyne picked us up we found she’d also collected two more so we were nine altogether in an eight passenger van. We didn’t mind, though, because we understood that now we’d be paying less per person for the tour. 

Once again Jocelyne began by pointing out the jail, then took us to the first overlook. She told us her facts and figures of the town and the island, but only after we stood quietly at attention. If side conversations started she waited until everyone was quiet before she spoke.   

 At one point Jocelyne was telling us about the history of human sacrifice among the Marquesans and I asked how they chose the unfortunate victim. 

“This is not the place,” she snapped, and I shrank back with the embarrassment of an obedient student who’s angered the teacher. I wondered if we were standing on sacred ground and if it was taboo to even mention the unlucky winner.

But no. She literally meant this was not the place. We learned that Jocelyne’s tour is rigidly rehearsed — specific information at each stop — and she does not deviate from it one little bit.   

       And so it went. We drove, we stopped, we climbed out of the van and lined up while Jocelyne recited the next chapter of her treatise. She laboriously identified roadside plants, even after it became clear that our group had no more than a passing interest in them, and few of the plants were unfamiliar to cruisers sailing the tropics. Every question was pushed aside. She brooked no interruptions or deviations from the script. By the third stop we were feeling like first-graders and acting like them too, making faces behind her back when one of us got a dirty look for talking out of turn, or for asking for more information about a site.  

 On the plus side, the van was air-conditioned and it’s always nice to get to the beautiful overlooks without having to climb for hours. About an hour in, though, we thought we’d’ve been better off renting a car for the day and driving ourselves. Our tour with John on Hiva Oa covered virtually the same information on the culture of the Marquesans and we could easily have seen more of Nuku Hiva in a day on our own. 

We had lunch at Chez Yvonne, widely regarded as the best place to eat on the north side of the island. Everyone seemed to enjoy their food; I can’t comment because my vegetarian plate held yuca, breadfruit and some lettuce, filling but uninspired.

After lunch Jocelyne dumped the scraps in the stream behind the restaurant and within seconds five-foot long eels swam over the rocks to feed.  

 There were more stops and more dissertations and at the end of the tour Jocelyne told us the cost was 6000 francs per person, more than the quoted price for a full van load. When I protested she named the original price for only five passengers and told us she was giving us a discount. We were nine, overcrowded, I said. She wouldn’t budge. I didn’t want to make a scene but I felt terrible because I had arranged the tour and told our friends how much it would be. It ate at me all night and in the morning I emailed Jocelyne and asked her to refund us the difference. She wrote back unapologetic about overcharging but agreed to meet me on the dock and refund $5 per person, a meager gesture. 

“She’s not a people person,” Jack said and to that I say amen. It’s a good thing this beautiful island speaks for itself.  




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The view from the back porch

We were circled by huge manta rays just before sundown today. We estimated this fellow’s wingspan to be about seven feet.  


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Foreign relations

The Pearl Lodge offers 1/2 price cocktails for Friday happy hour.   

 This information was enough to convince most of the cruisers in Taiohae to walk the mile around the bay and climb the dirt road in the dark to the bar. We learned that it’s not such a great deal, since the regular price for cocktails is $15, so half price brought it down to a ridiculous $7.50 for a small fancy tropical drink. Still, it’s the first large cruiser gathering we’ve been to since the weekly potluck and pool party in Bahia del Sol, El Salvador, and it was great to be among our own. These are all people who’ve crossed oceans to get here, who’ve struggled with no wind, too much wind, and broken boat bits, and who are happy to be in this South Pacific paradise.

We were from Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Scotland, Norway, Cape Verde, Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, France, Northern Ireland and the U.S. We shared our passage stories, discussed upcoming weather and cruising plans, and generally enjoyed getting to know each other. 


The older ones among us settled up and started the long trek back to the dock shortly before nine o’clock but two young men in a pickup truck offered us a ride. Squeezed into the backseat of the cab and piled into the truck bed, we were grateful to be spared the walk and only had to contend with boarding our dinghies gracefully and finding our boats in the dark anchorage. 

After so long on our own, Jack and I are enjoying the social activities, but damn, they wear us out! 

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No easy fix

Our very overpriced replacement pump for the watermaker arrived but what we hoped would be a quick fix was not. We’re still making water that isn’t potable. With no watermaker repairman anywhere near here we picked the brains of anyone who professes knowledge of such systems and we have some things to check, none of which are easy and all of which Jack is grumbling about. We wouldn’t worry except there is no easily accessible potable water available on this island. We’re collecting rainwater in the meantime, thanks to our friend Ron DiCola in St. Thomas who encouraged us two years ago to devise a raincatcher system. It sure is good to have it in times like this. 


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Shank’s mare

We’re exploring our immediate area by foot, hiking to some of the notable sights. With Tim from Liberty Call we climbed the slopes above the town to Tohua Koueva. There are tiki carvings everywhere, the Marquesan version of lawn ornaments. 


The Tohua is a massive communal site that our guide book says belonged to the war chief Pakoko, killed by the French in 1845. The carvings are contemporary.  



The next day we teamed up with Macushla and hiked over to Baie Collette, base camp for Survivor Marquesas. We saw no evidence of Survivor but it was a nice walk with a stop at a resort with a bar and an infinity pool for cold refreshment on the way back.  


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A day both joyous and solemn

With a little persuasion I got Jack to wake early and go to the church service Sunday morning. We’ve been meaning to go for the singing on every island we visited but for one reason or another we missed it. So with time in the Marquesas getting shorter,and the church here one of the largest in the islands, we dinghied in and walked the half hour around the bay to the cathedral.  

The building is recent, and incorporates stone from each of the inhabited islands.    
 The services are Roman Catholic and I could recognize some of the readings even though it was mostly in Marquesan. The singing was lovely and I would post a little video but our bandwidth is way too slow. Even the photos are taking hours to upload. 

 After church we parked ourselves at Henri’s on the quai and Jack ran back to the boat for our iPads so we could do some internet. While he was gone someone at the table said, “Look! There’s a procession!” And a couple of us grabbed our cameras and ran up to the street to see.  


With a combination of asking around and later googling we learned that back in the 1880s Swedish archaeologist Hjalmar Stolpe took skulls from burial sites in these islands and others back to Sweden where they were studied for racial characteristics at universities in Stockholm and Uppsala. The Polynesian association Te Tupuna Te Tura petitioned for their return and finally last week a delegation flew to Stockholm to receive them. On this day the skulls were buried in a newly built sarcophagus in a ceremony with much dignity and pride.  It was very moving  with a lot of speechifying, prayers and singing. We felt privileged to have been there. 




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In Taiohae

Someone organized pizza night at a local restaurant and despite the rain showers about 20 hardy cruisers went out Friday night for Marquesan pizza and Tahitian beer. Unlike most places boaters gather there’s no bar in town, and even if there were, you can’t drink $7 beers without breaking the budget. Still, it was fun to catch up and I’m pretty sure everyone made it home in the dark in one piece.   



  Tim from Liberty Call showed us the town and we walked all the way around the giant bay to the other side to see the small museum. The collection was gathered by Rose, who came here 40 years ago to do research for a master’s degree and stayed. She and her husband, now deceased, ran a hotel and restaurant that was for many years a cruisers hangout until the town built the dinghy dock on the opposite side of the bay. Now everyone gathers at Henri’s on the waterfront for free internet and what passes for cheap food.    

    Saturday was a series of outrigger races. The course was out in the open ocean but we did see some of the entries zip past us on the way to the starting line. Hours later when they finished they were greeted by a line of girls in red dresses. We thought maybe they would do some traditional dancing to greet the competitors but their cheers looked like the Marquesan version of “Good job!” and “Awesome!” accompanied by enthusiastic drumming.    


There seems so be a lot happening around town and we keep our eyes and ears open. We also ordered a new feed pump head from Tahiti to get our watermaker up and running. We need two, but at 2-1/2 times the US price we’re going with one for the moment and we’ll just hope that in the next few months someone will visit us and bring boat parts. For now, we’ll stay put and wait for the pump to arrive.  


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To the city!

After a month in beautiful remote anchorages it’s time to move on to the largest island of the Marquesas, Nuku Hiva, and the capital city, Taiohae. Life has definitely been in the slow lane and we’re ready for some action.  We discussed the weather with French Curve and we all agreed that while the conditions weren’t ideal, it wouldn’t be too bad and besides, it’s only 36 miles and downwind. What gave us pause was the high seastate and predicted winds in the 20s. 

French Curve left first and raised their foresail, then reported back to us that the winds were only 15 kts, not 20. That sounded fine and we headed out and raised the jib. 


We’re so glad we made the effort to visit Ua Huka. It’s a beautiful and friendly island and we hope other cruisers come, too. We found the anchorage no worse than other rolly places we’ve been and despite the challenging dinghy landing the island will hold a special place for us.  

Almost as soon as we cleared the island we were met by about eight dolphins who stayed with us the whole passage, playing in our bow wave. 


The predicted wind in the 20s, which would have made a fine downwind passage, never materialized, and in fact dropped to 6-8 kts. If we’d had all the time in the world we would have enjoyed the slow and gentle sail but at this speed our calculations put us into port after dark, an exercise we aren’t eager to repeat if we can help it. Reluctantly we fired up one of the engines and motorsailed the 36 miles.  

    As we approached the bay I started scanning the anchorage for Macushla, friends we met early on in our journey and haven’t seen since the eastern Caribbean in 2013. That’s one of the joys of long distance cruising, weaving together friendships as you hopscotch in and out of each other’s lives in exotic places, adding more and more people to the circle as you go. 

“I see them!” I yelled back to Jack, and we motored over to Macushla to announce our presence. No sooner did we have the anchor down than Mark and Sue dinghied over with very welcome cold beer and hugs. They were signed up for an island tour the next day so it was a quick visit and catch-up and a promise for more time together tomorrow. 

In the morning we dinghied in to an actual dinghy dock — woo-hoo! —  checked in with the gendarmes and explored the town a little. It’s the first time in quite a while we’ve been anywhere needing street signs. 


The person selling me the vegetables at the market is a mahu, a man raised as a woman, very common in these parts.  

There are about 40 boats in the harbor and we’re experiencing culture shock with so many other cruisers. This is a way station for boats arriving in the Pacific and departing for the Tuamotus and Tahiti. Most people are waiting for parts or making repairs, resting up and provisioning for the next step in their Pacific journey. That’s us, too, because our watermaker has become a salinator instead of a DEsalinator and we need new feed pump heads. While we sort that out we’re enjoying old friends and new friends and the group energy we missed in remote anchorages. 

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