Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Marquesas Islands - Nuku Hiva (2011)

We pulled into Baie Taiohae on Nuku Hiva around 9 am, launched the dinghy, and headed to shore.  First stop was to check in with the gendarmerie, and then we took a stroll through the village.  We walked through some of the shops in town, admiring the local art and scoping out what provisions were available.  After a few weeks without them, we were happy to find more baguettes and cold drinks.  Once back aboard Saviah, naps were in order, as we were both tired from the overnight trip.
At 6 am the following morning, we awoke to the sound of drumming and chanting, which sounded like it was coming from the cockpit.  We hurried outside and saw a large double hulled sailing vessel.  It seemed to be around 50 ft long and sailed past Saviah, within about 20 feet of our stern.  Once they neared the quay, they did a quick dance and chant for the crowd of Marquesan people, who were gathered to cheer them on.  Six more boats followed, all the traditional Polynesian sailing canoes, but all flying different flags.  We later learned that they were replicas of the old Polynesian sailing canoes.  They were each built on different South Pacific islands including New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Tonga and the Marquesas (not sure about the other three).  They were sailing through Polynesia, starting in New Zealand, and they were leaving that morning for Hawaii.
After four relaxing days on the island of Tahuata, we set sail for Nuku Hiva on June 2nd.  It’s about 85 miles away, which we couldn’t make during daylight hours, so we left at 3 pm and sailed through the night.  The winds were from the ENE to E all night at 12-18 knots, and we had a nice (but quite rolly) sail in the 5-8 ft swell.  The bananas we had bartered for on Fatu Hiva were still tied to our boom gallows.  They were starting to ripen, and with every significant roll, one seemed to fall onto the cabin top.  It was raining bananas for hours until the last one fell.  We ate as many as we could, and Di made lots of banana bread with the bruised ones. 

traditional Polynesian canoes
Later that morning, we headed ashore to do some more exploring.  We heard more drumming and chanting, so we followed the sounds through the village.  A performance of traditional Polynesian dance by the children of the village was underway.  There was a huge tent that functioned as the main stage, where different groups performed, all dressed up in costume.  Around the main tent were a dozen other tents, selling everything from steak frites to slices of triple-layer chocolate cake.  We sat and watched a couple traditional dances by the local school children.
Over the next few days, we spent time relaxing, exploring the village, and catching up on a little boat maintenance.  Baie Taiohae is the largest village on the island and has the best provisioning, so we decided that we would explore some of the smaller bays and then come back here.  We also needed to fill our water tanks before leaving for the Tuamotus, and we couldn’t do it here because the water is not safe to drink. 
We headed a short distance east for Baie Hakahoa, one of the three lobes in Baie du Controleur.  Sources in Baie Taiohae claimed we could find fresh water to fill our tanks in this bay.  We arrived to find no other boats in the anchorage, a first for our stay in the Marquesas.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t anchor very close to the wharf because the shallow waters extend out quite a long way from shore.  We figured that we had about five or six trips with jerry cans to fill up our tanks, which would take all day to do, so we decided to get water at a different bay.  We ended up spending a quiet afternoon in the bay by ourselves with flat seas.
The next morning we rounded the southeast corner of the island and headed north to Baie D’Anaho.  This anchorage was reported to have the best protection of any in the Marqueasas on top of beautiful white sand beaches, so we were anxious to check it out.  Sailing conditions were good, setting us on a beam to broad reach in 10-15 knot E to ESE winds.  On the way, Andrew caught a yellowfin tuna.  We had done almost no fishing since arriving in the Marquesas, so the fresh fish was a welcome treat.  This was also our first yellowfin tuna and was definitely the best-tasting fish we have had so far.  Andrew filleted the fish before we entered the bay so as not to attract sharks in the anchorage where people were bound to be snorkeling.  It was too big for us to eat in one day, so we ended up giving quite a bit away to a French cruising couple in the anchorage.  

yellowfin tuna
In the anchorage at Baie D’Anaho, there were four other boats when we arrived.  It had great protection from the swell, although it was a bit gusty as winds funneled through a valley to the east of the anchorage.  After we settled in, we rowed to shore through the narrow pass in the reef and did a bit of hiking and exploring the small village, which had around six or seven houses by our count and a small church.  It wasn’t connected to any of the other villages by roads so there weren’t any cars, only horses.  We were told by one of the locals where we could find the trail to the neighboring village and decided we would do the hike the next day. 

Baie D'Anaho
The next morning we were up early and hiked an hour over the pass to the next village, Hatiheu.  This was an absolutely picturesque little village with amazing scenery at every turn.  There were probably a few hundred residents here, and many of them were out tidying the place up.  They were raking up palm branches from the dirt roads and tending to community gardens along the waterfront.  There was also a small store, post office and a school. 

Baie D'Hatiheu
Originally, our plan was to walk along the road from Hatiheu, over the island to another village, Taipivai, and stop to check out a couple of archeological sites along the way.  We knew it was going to be a full day of hiking, but had no idea how difficult it would be - or maybe we are just really out of shape.   The road started off at a gradual incline and shaded by the dense trees, but after about half a mile became very steep and exposed to the sun.  We continued to climb switchback after switchback until about three hours later we reached the top of the pass.  Quite a few cars passed us along the way, and not a single one went by without stopping to ask if we needed a ride.  We are continually amazed at how friendly the Polynesian people are.  We got some funny looks when we declined the offers and said we were trying to get some exercise.
After we reached the summit it was obvious that we wouldn’t be able to make the whole trip in one day if we expected to get back to the boat before dark.  So we found a spot in the shade on the side of the road and had some lunch and took in the panoramic views of the island.  On the way back, we stopped at two of the archeological sites along the road, Hikokua and Kamuihei.  These were by far the largest sites we have seen, and they were very well preserved.  You could almost imagine a large ancient village in these woods. 

Hikokua & Kamuihei
After spending some time walking around the sites, we headed back to Hatiheu and bought some ice cream sandwiches and a liter of Coca Cola at the village store.  It cost the equivalent of about $10 US, but we were hot and tired and it was worth it. 
We then took a walk around the village to see if there was a place where we could get some water to fill up our tanks.  We found a water spigot by the quay and asked around to see if it was ok to drink.  We first asked the storekeeper.  She said “Marquesans strong” and then pointed to her stomach.  She pointed to us and said “no strong”.  We thought we should get a second opinion and went into the post office.  The woman at the counter assured us it was fine to drink.  Our tanks were starting to get low (and we have water filter system), so we decided we liked that answer better.  We then headed back to the trail to finish the last hour of our hike back to Baie D’Anaho before it got dark.    
The next morning we pulled up our anchor and motored around the peninsula and back to Baie Hatiheu to fill up our water tanks.  We were able to anchor right by the quay, and it only took about an hour to take on 60 gallons of water, Andrew rowing back and forth with our two five gallon jugs.   There were about ten people on the rocks by the quay cleaning shellfish at the time.  They were very friendly and speaking either Marquesan or Tahitian, but not French.  All the men came up to Andrew, shook his hand, and introduced themselves. 
After the water tanks were full, we pulled up the anchor and set sail around the northwest side of the island, heading back to Baie Taiohae to prepare for our passage to the Tuamotus.  The first three hours were lovely, sailing along downwind at 4-5 knots under working jib alone.  As we rounded the northwest corner of the island, we started to feel the effects of the lee of the island, and the winds became shifty, and then died altogether.  We motor-sailed for an hour, and then we found more wind than we wanted.
About halfway down the west coast of the island, we began to get some SE winds, initially at 10-15 knots, but quickly building to 15-20.  Seas were SE 4-8 feet, and we were sailing under reefed main and working jib on a close reach.  That only lasted for about 15 minutes before we had SE 20-25 winds and SE 10-15 foot seas.  It was time to douse the jib and tuck in the 2nd reef.  It was quite a bash, and the whole boat and its crew were soaked from the waves and spray.  We saw a few large breaking waves, and were quite relieved to pull into the protection of Baie Taiohae around 5 pm, just in time to anchor before the sun set. 
Services in the Tuamotus are rather sparse, so we spent the last few days getting all the provisions we would need before reaching Tahiti.  The next morning we got ten more gallons of fuel to top up the tanks.  This involved rowing half a mile to the fuel dock in an uncomfortable swell and then filling up the two five gallon jugs with diesel.  Andrew rowed the dinghy near the edge of the rocks, and Di basically threw them in before the next big swell came.  We then did a bit more provisioning and gave notice to the Gendarmerie that we were checking out of the Marquesas.  We did it a few days in advance because they were closed for the weekend and a local holiday on Monday. 
On our way back to the dingy, we met Kimi, the local fire chief and 2nd in command in the village.  He told us that outrigger canoe races were going to be held on Saturday, and we were anchored in the middle of the course.  So, he was hoping we could move our boat sometime before Saturday morning.  We said no problem, and headed back to Saviah to weigh anchor.
We dropped our anchor in 40 feet of water a few hundred feet east of our original spot.  The winds in Baie Taiohae are shifty and inconsistent, so we were swinging in a full circle at times around our anchor.  Right after sunset (of course), we began to hear the sounds of our chain pulling tight, and then one of our snubber lines snapped.  The chain was clearly wrapped around something, and we quickly let out more scope to lessen the strain.  We also managed to bend the bow roller to the point that it would no longer roll, which was going to make pulling it up exhausting even in good conditions.  We tied off a new snubber and let out all 250ft of our chain.  Things looked ok for the rest of the night, so we decided to get some sleep and deal with the anchor the following day.
The next morning (Saturday) is when the weekly market takes place, starting at 4 am and ending around 8 am.  We managed to make it to shore by 5:15 am.  There were local fisherman along the wharf, cleaning and selling freshly caught fish from the night before.  We found our first veggie market, and bought some potatoes and cucumbers.  Fresh baked goods were everywhere and at good prices, so we treated ourselves to chocolate croissants and quiche for breakfast.  Later that morning we watched the finish of the outrigger canoe races.  These guys paddled from the neighboring bay, out into the ocean and into Baie Taiohae.  That was quite a distance and only the day before we were out in this same area in 15 to 20 foot waves.  It is hard to imagine being out there in a racing canoe, but we were told they like the larger waves because they can surf down them. 
Now that the race was over, it was time to deal with the anchor.  We tried to pull it up, but it was still caught.  Andrew tried backing up in all directions, but it wasn’t budging.  We needed to see what the anchor was caught on and if it was wrapped multiple times, and the only way to do so was to get in the water. 
Unfortunately, this is one of the last places in the Marquesas that you want to get in the water.  The run- off from rain makes the water very cloudy and the local fisherman cleaning their catch on the nearby quay draws a lot of sharks in the area.  We have seen quite a few of them swimming around the boat and you wouldn’t be able to see them until them were a few feet from you.  We had also heard of people getting bitten in the bay. 
Not only that, but neither one of us has any experience free diving past about 8 feet in the water.  Andrew decided to put on the snorkel gear and take a look, but it was too murky and this wasn’t a good spot to do our first 40 ft. free dive.  We decided we would wait until after the holiday and go into town and see if there was a local diver who would be willing to go down. 
The next day, Frank on s/v Ri Ri from Philadelphia came by and introduced himself.  We talked to him about our anchor situation.  He said he was willing to help if he could.  Although he was probably able to free dive to that depth and also had scuba gear on board, he was not sure he wanted to get in the water here.  We started to worry that we would have to cut our chain.  We really hated the thought of losing all that chain and our best anchor. 
A couple hours later, Frank came back with his snorkel gear and said he had worked up the courage to dive down and check it out.  He dove down and quickly was out of sight.  He surfaced a short while later and told us that we had our chain wrapped around something.  The visibility was so bad that he couldn’t tell what it was even when it was right in front of his face, but he thought it was probably an old anchor from a large ship, or another part of a sunken ship.  It was wrapped around about five times.  He wasn’t able to hold his breath long enough to dive down to 40ft and then spend time unwrapping the chain before coming back up again. 
So he went back to his boat and got his SCUBA gear.  With the SCUBA gear on, he was able to spend some time on the bottom and get all the wraps off, and we finally got the anchor up.  It was such a huge relief.  We thanked him profusely and dropped our anchor in a different part of the bay.  Realizing we could leave the next day, we quickly got the boat ready for the four or five day passage to the Tuamotus. 
After having no issues anchoring for five months in Mexico, this was the second time we had a problem in the last month in the Marquesas.  We thought we were going to lose a lot of our expensive gear that would be nearly impossible to replace in this part of the world.  Not only that, but we were about to head off to the Tuamotus, which are coral atolls famous for fouling anchor rodes.  We decided we better start learning to free dive so we can handle these things on our own, and the crystal clear waters of the Tuamotus would be a good place to practice that.

Baie Taiohae