Saturday, May 30, 2015

Walking in Gauguin’s Path

Life in the Marquesas is good. The islands are a “department” of France, similar to a US state. This means they receive all the benefits of a strong socialistic country.The people are friendly with none of the “attitude” you perceive in many Caribbean islands. They look you in the eye when passing on the street and pronounce a friendly “Bonjour.”

Our tour guide Jean was in the parking lot of the anchorage so we took him up on his offer of a lift into town. Since Atuona is one of two major towns in the Marquesas, we used the opportunity to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables and fill the boat with both water and diesel. One of our daily activities was walking (or taking a cab) into town to visit the bank ATM, the grocery store, and find someplace for lunch. As mentioned in an earlier blog, the grocery store is well stocked with good French foods (and the French take great pride in the quality of their food). For the first time since Cartagena and Bonaire we can get quality cheeses, meats, yogurt, vegetables, and fruits. And those oh so good French baguettes, still warm if you time it right in the morning. The prices aren’t cheap, but no shocker after shopping in the Caribbean for the last three years.
Magasin Naiki, full of delicious French foods.
Meryl picking out fresh beans, cabbage, papayas, lettuce and eggs from the vegetable truck lady.
Just down the street from the grocery story is a large shade tree where several trucks are parked, packed full of fish and vegetables. Again, the quality was first rate for locally grown veggies and Meryl bought a selection of long string beans, cabbage, papayas, tomatoes, lettuce, and eggs.
While Fati on Tahuatu is the "famous tattoo artist," the tattoo guy on Atuona also does excellent work.
Tattoos have a long tradition in Polynesian culture.
We wandered over to a combination restaurant, internet cafe, and tattoo parlor and watched an Australian guy get a large tattoo on his chest. The Marquesans have been tattooing forever and produce some of the finest tattoo designs in the world. Friends of ours got tattoos from the famous artist Fati on Tahuatu, she a beautiful wrap-around design above her ankle and he a wrap-around on his wrist. The quality of the work and the original designs make these very different from the typical tattoos you see in the States.
You can imagine our delight at seeing this menu after 18 days at sea.
Lunch at Make Make was always a delight in so many ways.
We stopped at Make Make for lunch. A statuesque Marquesan discussed all the options with us and Meryl ordered a delicious octopus curry while Tryg and I had the mahi mahi.  In true French style we had a long, languid lunch and later hailed a cab for the 3 ½ mile trek back to the boat with all our grocery bags.
Gauguin's House of Pleasure in Atuona.
A recreation of the artist in his studio.
This painting pretty much tells the whole story.

The next day we walked into town and headed for the Cultural Center Paul Gauguin (museum), located on the site of his famous studio, House of Pleasure (mentioned in an earlier blog). Despite the artist’s rather sordid history on both Tahiti and the Marquesas, he painted some of his best works while resident in the House of Pleasure in Atuona. The Center features high quality reproductions of a broad selection of his work along with interesting photos of Atuona in the early 1900s. Gauguin was known to use a fishing pole to lower a cup into the well next to his 2nd story window to retrieve a glass of cool spring water while working on paintings in his studio. His work is truly awe inspiring and certainly the impetus for many a young man to dream about the pleasures of French Polynesia.

The view from the cemetery overlooking Atuona.

The grave of poet Jacques Brel with hundreds of rocks with memorial messages on them.
It was now 2:00 pm and the heat was simmering up from the payment, we elected to walk up a rather steep road behind the Gendarmery to the town cemetery.  Rounding the curve and stopping to catch your breath, you are assailed with such a spectacular view of the harbor and surrounding hills that it to takes your breath away -- again. Just through the cemetery entrance and to the right is the grave of Jacques Brel, the famous Belgium poet. Round river rocks painted with notes from Brel fans form a mound at the base of the grave in loving remembrance.
Paul Gauguin's grave. The statue at the left rear is called The Savage, a state to which Gauguin aspired.
A turn to the right and a short path up the hill leads to the eclectic grave of Gauguin. The grave and headstone are made of dark umber volcanic rock, and mounted to the top of the grave is Gauguin’s statue, The Savage, a state to which Gauguin strived to achieve. Some say he did.

Today we elected to walk the 3 ½ miles back to boat since we desperately needed the exercise. The road winds around the harbor and the views are spectacular, forcing us to stop every 10 minutes to admire this or that vista. It was reassuring to see Flying Cloud resting peacefully at anchorage.
The beach in front of Atuona with long lines of surf rolling in over the volcanic rocks.

Flying Cloud anchored next to our friends Roger and Sasha on the Australian boat, Ednabal.

Next to the showers is a tiled surface where cruisers do their weekly laundry. Here's our friend Lynn on the Belgian boat, Boxing Kangaroo.
Once back at the anchorage parking lot we took advantage of the free showers to refresh ourselves with the cool spring fed water.  We also filled our 5-gal water cubes and stayed an chatted with the usual assortment of yachties either coming or going from their boats.  Once back on board the boat we put the groceries away, filled the water tanks, and crashed into our berths for a late afternoon nap.

An Evening with Gauguin’s Women

Driving into town on Friday, we passed a community center near the beach that was bustling with activity. Freida, our cab driver, mentioned they were preparing for a special Mother’s Day celebration. We had her swing in and make a reservation for us for the Saturday night buffet and dance ceremony.

After a full day of touring the island on Saturday, we were all a little tired and questioning our ability to party all night long, but we got a short rest, dingied into the beach, and walked about a mile down the road to the community center. A bevy of attractive Marquesan women in their beautiful Polynesian print dresses and flowered headbands greeted us, collected our $22 entrance fee, and showed us to our table. As usual, we were a little early so we sat and drank water (no alcohol served) and watched as the participants arrived. The women were mostly tall and attractive and I realized some of these could have been the subject of one of the hundreds of paintings that Paul Gauguin did while he lived in the nearby Atuona village.

Gauguin was somewhat of a rogue in those days, with a strong proclivity for very young girls. He was essentially run out of Paris and set up camp Tahiti, and after wearing out his welcome there he retired to Atuona where he continued his aberrant behavior. His house was proclaimed Maison du Jouir (House of Pleasure). He was so bad that the local priest made a mandatory attendance rule for all young girls living with in a 2 ½ mile radius of the school to simply keep them away from Gauguin. He died a pauper riddled with syphilis, alcoholism, and with no recognition of his immense talent. Despite his behavior, he was one of the greatest artists of the French Impressionist period and he immortalized the young beauties of the Marquesas forever.
Mother and daughter with beautiful couronne de tetes.
While we sat and nursed our glasses of water we watched a continuing parade of Marquesans entering the hall. The women wore beautiful crowns of gardenia, plumeria, hibiscus, and bougainvillea, called a couronne de tete (crown of the head). Many were statuesque, standing over six feet tall and wearing beautiful Polynesian print dresses. The men resembled the front line of the Green Bay Packers, walking mountains of masculinity. Given the warlike history of these islands, it’s easy to understand why physical size was of importance.
I have never seen a buffet be depleted of food as fast as this one. A real testimony to the quality of the cooking and the appetites of the participants.
A local band played both French and Marquesan music and once all the seats were taken -- over 100 people in total -- a hostesses made an announcement in French resulting in everyone jumping up and heading to the buffet line. A Belgium cruiser later told me the hostess said “It’s time to eat and I’d hurry because these guys eat like pigs.” We had to fight to get a serving spoon in some of the more popular dishes, jostling against 200 to 300 lb. men with ravenous appetites. It was a rather comical scene.

Since we didn’t know what anything was, I’d sneak a bite from my plate, and then load up on my favored foods. I have to say it was some of the best home cooked food I’ve had in a long time. The combination of French cuisine and Marquesan cooking produced very delicious food. Now I understand the rush to the buffet table. The chicken with sweet and sour sauce alone was worth a plane ticket to Atuona.
This is real Polynesian dancing, not the stuff you see at Disneyland.
The fluidity and sheer enthusiasm of the dancers made this a very special night.
Following the dinner the band broke into a Marquesan song and six beautiful young women came out dancing a traditional Polynesian dance, with rhythmically swaying hips and hands describing the storyline. Given the synchronicity of their movements you can tell they’ve been dancing since a very young age and enjoy the freedom of the Polynesian dance style.

Later they opened up the dance floor to everyone and we were surprised to see how expertly the large Marquesan men moved their wives around the dance floor. Meryl and I even danced a few numbers but I didn’t have the body weight to hold my own when we’d bump into another couple.

Thank God we had a mile long walk back to the anchorage. It gave us a chance to work off the huge meal and the richness of the food.

Tour de Hiva Oa

With Tryg flying out on Tuesday, we wanted to see a bit of the island before he left so we scheduled an island tour with Jean (phone 87 230 740). A very Gallic looking chap, he had French and Marquesan parents and spoke good English. We piled into his extended crew cab truck (we were soon to learn why everyone in the Marquesas drives trucks) and headed down the road about one mile and then took the right hand fork (left goes to town) and headed up a steep grade into the mountains. About ⅓ of the way up we saw a beautiful house situated on a point that overlooked 1,000 of miles of Pacific Ocean. Jean mentioned it was owned by the guy who owns the grocery store we visited. I guess that explains the grocery prices.

His truck slowly climbed the continuing steep grade, shifting from 1st gear to 2nd and back down. He was a member of the “shift at 300 rpm” club and sometimes Tryg and I wondered if the truck would make it.
Jean explains that thousands of Marquesans once lived in these valleys and sacred sites covered the island.
The Tiki Souriant (the Smiling Tiki).
Our first stop was the site of the Tiki Souriant (the Smiling Tiki). We walked down a long double track and then turned right onto a small trail through some of the most beautiful tropical forest I’d ever seen. It was like being in the Kew Gardens Botanical Center in London. I kept waiting for Tarzan and Jane to come swinging over on a vine.

These sacred sites were constructed by the Marquesans in the 1700 and 1800’s. The most common sites are called paepae, which are house platforms. There are also tohua,  large ceremonial plazas, and me’ae, which are temples. The tikis, large stone statues, were worshiped by the Marquesans and were often located at more remote locations (although when the islands were fully populated maybe these weren’t remote areas). The Smiling Tiki, with large round eyes and a smiling face, leans precipitously to the right with a somewhat comical look. The site, hidden in the deep forest, had a somewhat magical and reverent nature to it and I could understand the religious nature of these locations to the Marquesans.
Jean had a bag full of the sweet tasting pamplemousse that served as our mid-tour snack.
We continued into the mountains on a single track concrete road that switched to dirt in places. Jean said that during rainy periods some of these sections become very dangerous and impassable. We stopped at a beautiful overlook on the south side of the island and Jean pulled out several very ripe pamplemousse, a Marquesan version of a grapefruit. It is very sweet to the taste but less meaty than a grapefruit.

Once we topped the mountain ridge and began downhill on the windward side of the island (northern) the topography changed dramatically. It was very windswept and barren, with mostly steep brown cliffs reaching down to the ocean. I have to say at times it’s just better to keep your eyes shut to avoid thinking about what would happen if the brakes on the truck failed. They don’t do guardrails in the Marquesas and steep takes on a whole new meaning.

The road slowly wound its way down to the ocean and Jean asked it we’d like to stop at a farm to buy some banana products. Walking up to the small house I was amazed to see the family name was O’Conner. There’s got to be an interesting story there about someone who jumped ship in the 1800’s and married a local woman.

Meryl samples the dried bananas at the O'Connor farm.
The young lady there had some handicrafts for sale, along with vinaigrette de banana (banana vinegar) and preserved bananas wrapped in a banana leaf. These preserved bananas (good for several months) were used by the Polynesians when they did extended inter island trips in their large canoes.

As we traveled northeast we’d see the small Marquesan horses being ridden alongside the road. They have adapted well to the islands and are very strong; they have to be to handle to steep mountain grades. In some areas they race the horses along the beach at low tide.

We next arrived at the beautiful Puamau Bay and took a short road up to the Me’ae Iipona historical site. The large, well preserved site was the home of the Na’iki tribe. Various tribes lived on the island and were constantly at war with each other. Jean showed us the platform where they would perform human sacrifices (the Marquesans felt themselves civilized since they only ate the thigh meat of their victims, whereas the Tahitians would eat the whole person). The last act of cannibalism was in the early 1900’s. Jean said this platform would be ringed with the desecrated skulls of their victims.
The Me’ae Iipona historical site is one of the larger sacred sites in French Polynesia. It was home to the Na’iki tribe.
The site contains the largest stone tiki west of Easter Island, called Taka’i’i. In the background is Maki’i tau ‘a pepe,
  The stature of the pregnant priestess Teu’s Pepe, who died giving birth to a boy.
The Marquesans, both male and female, have very intricate body tattoos. In the olden days the priests would tattoo the warriors using this rock to steady the arm or leg, while the small circular area served as a receptacle for the ink.
 The site contains the largest stone tiki west of Easter Island, called Taka’i’i, and also Maki’i tau ‘a pepe, and statue of the priestess Teu’s Pepe, who died giving birth to a boy. One of the tiki’s heads was removed and now sits in a Berlin museum, but they did replace it with another head they found on the site. Interestingly the penises of the tikis have been hammered off by the missionaries who considered them offensive. The missionaries would also topple the tikis to show the Marquesans that their gods had no power, and only the Catholic God was all powerful.
You will never starve in the Marquesas. Jean fixed a fantastic chicken/papaya stew complemented by fresh baguettes.
After the tour Jean took us to a local church by the beach were he served an excellent chicken and papaya stew served over rice, with fresh baguettes and lemon water. It was so good we all went back for seconds.
The beauty of the Marquesas Islands is breathtaking at every turn of the road.
The trip back was long and we were all wiped out from both the full day and the stress of looking out the window at the precipitous drops just feet from our truck’s tires. Back at the anchorage we took showers in the outside community shower and filled all of our 5-gal water cubes and lugged them back to the dingy. With the little 2 hp. Yamaha on the back I wasn’t sure we’d make it back to the boat with all the weight. We then hooked up the electric pump and Tryg helped me empty all the cubes into our water tanks. Got to get a water maker one of these days.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

3,000 Miles to Paradise

When we first contemplated a cruising lifestyle, our plan was to buy a sailboat in Seattle, sail down the West Coast to San Diego, and then join the Baha HaHa to Mexico. In reality, we bought a boat in Florida, explored the East Coast and then graduated to the Bahamas, Leeward, and Windward Caribbean Islands.

While in Grenada we had to make a major decision: Do we continue being a “yo-yo” boat going up and down the island chain between the BVIs and Grenada, or do we take the big step of crossing the Caribbean to the Panama Canal? It was very tempting to continue being a yo-yo boat:  safe, convenient, and easy access to parts and repairs. But our hearts said this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we headed 400 miles west to Bonaire.

The next big decision was to continue to Cartegena, with a reputation as one of the more dangerous passages in the world. It was scary at times but we arrived safely — more or less. Fortunately the next leg was the relatively easy two-day passage to the San Blas and then to Colon, Panama.
After leaving Panama your next stop is the Galapagos, Then it's 3,000 miles of tradewind sailing to the Marquesas.
Once at Colon, you are at a major decision point. It’s not to late to head north up to Roatan, Belize, and Mexico and then back to the BVIs. This is what many boats do, and we respect their decision. After our experience off Columbia, Meryl had some doubts about our continuing to the Pacific. We had some long, soul searching talks about the pluses and minuses of continuing west. A wonderful email from Marce on Escape Velocity (which was dismasted 400 miles off the Galapagos) said: “This is your last chance to do something truly epic in your life. Go for it!”
Soon we were anchored off Panama City provisioning for our longest passage yet, 900 miles to the Galapagos. That turned out to be one of the easiest trips yet in very light winds and calm seas. We could actually walk around the boat without feeling we’d just been mugged. We thought:  This isn’t too bad, how hard can it be to cross the Pacific?

How do you contemplate a 3,000 mile voyage (one of the longest passages in worldwide sailing) across a vast expanse of ocean with no Coast Guard, no VHF radio contact, no nothing? In our hearts we knew the boat was bluewater capable — a well built hull with strong rigging — but what about us? At ages 66 and 67 we are no spring chickens. I guess you’d call it a leap of faith, along with the fact you’re already out in the middle of nowhere so you don’t have much choice in the matter.

I spent six months on and off living with Tryg and his wife Anni while we prepared Flying Cloud for bluewater sailing. Without their help this voyage would have never happened.
Delphine's made the best pizza in all of Atuona.

It was wonderful to be back on a French island where good quality food and delicious baguettes were available. Meryl couldn't get to the fresh fruit and veggie section quick enough after the 18-day passage.
We hedged our bet by inviting long term friend Trygve Johnson to join us for the trip to the Marquesas. Tryg helped us provision, get fuel, and load up 14 5-gal water bottles. As we got ready to leave, reports of rigging and rudder failures began filtering in from boats that left a week earlier. The next day everyone in Isabelle was up their mast checking their rigging.

On May 10 we pulled up a very dirty anchor chain and departed Isla Isabelle under a bright blue sky and steady 15 to 20 knot trade winds from the south east. We had a 30 gal. water bladder tied off under the overturned dingy on our foredeck and 45 extra gallons of water tucked away down below. We pointed the boat at 235 degrees magnetic, set the autopilot, and settled in for the long haul. We had reports from previous boats of very confused seas caused by a southeast swell countered by southeast winds with a northwest swell and soon felt the boat rolling in the big seas.
Our first challenge was wrestling the 265-pound water bladder from it's precarious perch on the leeward rail and getting the precious water stored in containers in the main cabin.
Within a hour, Meryl noticed our expensive bladder under the dingy had inched it’s way leeward and was about to go swimming. Given the size of the waves and the wind it was quite an effort for Tryg and I to go forward, run a hose from a portable water pump, and pump the water into our 5-gal cubes.

Meryl had pre-prepared a lot of meals, but having fresh baked bread underway was a real treat.
With that little drama over, Meryl went down below to make dinner. You develop very healthy appetites while at sea. She had pre-prepared about 10 days of meals, since cooking down below in raucous seas is a exercise in masochism. Meryl oversaw the galley but was pleased with all the assistance in preparing meals as well as clean-up by Tryg and Walter. It made such a difference when you consider (18x3=54) that is a lot of meals!  After a great BBQ chicken dinner, we settled into our 3-hour watch schedule, with me taking the first watch until 10:00 pm and Meryl and Tryg sleeping down below. We’re not set up for two people off watch so we had to experiment a little. It was too bumpy for Tryg to sleep in the guest berth so we took the cushion off and laid it on the leeward floor next to the settee seat that serves as our sea berth. With Meryl on the upper and Tryg on the lower it was a little like summer camp with the two of them with a “chatty good night”. At 10:00 pm Meryl relieved me and I crawled into the hot bunk she had just vacated; we just changed pillows. At 1:00 am Tryg came on watch, followed by me again at 4:00 am for the dog watch.

We quickly learned that Tryg's normal berth in the mid cabin wasn't going to work in the heavy seas so we moved his mattress to the lowest point on the boat. At time it was like summer camp with Meryl and Tryg chatting away into the late night hours.
We’ve written a lot about night watches. You basically have to watch the horizon for lights on ships, check our AIS system for any large ships, and hope the fishing boats (who don’t use AIS) have their lights on. You really can’t see any debris in the water at night so you try to not think about Robert Redford and half sunken containers, etc. Other than that you listen to audiobooks or podcasts and scan the horizon every 20 minutes when the timer on your iPhone goes off.  We had plenty of wind, usually around 12 to 18 knots, and you become used to the syncopated sounds of the boat and the roaring of the 5- to 10-foot waves as they rushed by the boat. Every once in a while a wave would hit the boat at a wrong angle and splash some water into the cockpit. Down below the noise was muted, but you could still feel the motion of the boat and become hyper aware if that motion suddenly changed.

In the morning we’d usually have breakfast together, usually Cheerios or corn flakes but sometimes scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast. I would do the early morning radio net, charting the positions of the four boats ahead of us and noting their wind speeds, directions and swell heights. You’d sometimes get a snippet gossip about a fish caught, a problem with the boat, or news of other boats further west.  We found it a nice way to keep in touch for safety reasons as well as companionship. When you see only three ships in 18 days it’s great to know others are out there with you just ahead or just behind if a problem should arise.

Every day at 10 am ( 24 hour period) Meryl would record our lat and long positions, boat speed, course over ground, and chart our position on our paper chart.  It was nice to see our progress each day and see the miles add up as we inched our way closer and closer to our destination. This helped us stay focused and delineate the seemingly endless repetitive days at sea.  We recorded over 170 miles a number of days and averaged around 155 miles a day over all.  Each evening during dinner in the cockpit we would toast to “Team Conner” and another  successful Day of good sailing and teamwork.  It always brought big smiles to our faces before we started another night of watches.

Having a third person aboard for this long passage made life much easier for Meryl and I. We could finally get enough sleep that we weren't wiped out all the time.
During the day we would try to read, but it was usually too windy, so we’d just talk. We talked about everything under the sun, some mundane, some repetitive, some personal, and some sensitive subjects. Two weeks 24 x 7 is a long time to spend with people, even if they are your spouse or a close friend. We learned a lot more about each other.

You also can get rather feral on a long passage, so every other day we would shower in the cockpit. Tryg would go first, then Meryl and I. The method was to get a half gallon of salt water and pour it over your head, soap up with a special salt water soap, shampoo your hair, then a rinse with salt water (which wasn’t that warm and sent a little yelp from your voice as it rushed down your body.) Then Meryl would take a little half gallon pressurized garden mister and spray fresh water on me and I’d return the favor. That way we would get get three showers using as little at one half gallon of our precious fresh water supply. It worked amazingly well and we all felt so good after our “showers.”
We didn't get a picture of our first fish, a mahi mahi, but we did capture this black fin tuna we caught several days later. This little guy feed three of us for about three days.
After about four days Tryg and I took a try at fishing. I had bought an ocean grade fishing pole loaded with 80 pound line and stainless steel leader. We’d let out about 100 yards of line and watch the lure, usually resembling a squid, dancing on the surface. We were going six to seven knots, which isn’t exactly trolling speed, but we’d heard fish would strike at those speeds. Our first few days were a bust, but on day three we suddenly heard the line zinging out with a loud whistling sound. I had to jump up, find my sandals, put on a safety tether, and work my way back along the pitching deck to the pole. Just getting it out of it’s holder was a challenge. Then I had to figure out how to set the drag and start reeling in the fish. At seven knots it’s a battle just getting the lure back in, but this first fish didn’t seem to be putting up a huge fight. As we got closer I could see it was a small mahi mahi. I was a little disappointed but once we got him on board we realized their was enough meat for several meals. Since neither Tryg or I was a fisherman, figuring out how to clean the fish on the pitching deck of the boat was a challenge. We eventually got several fillets cut and Meryl got them in plastic bags and into the freezer. We high-fived each other, knowing that real fisherman would laugh at our meager catch.
Every morning I would put on a safety harness and walk the decks checking the rigging and lines for chafe and other issues. Typically there would be five or six flying fish laying on the deck along with one or two squid.
Each morning I would put on a safety line and walk forward along the deck, throwing dead flying fish and squid overboard and carefully checking all our standing and running rigging. One morning I discovered that our roller fuller line was chafing (which had happened twice before), but now I could see exactly where it was chafing on the stanchion block just after the line exited the roller drum. The block was simply too small for the line and its metal edges chafed the line over time. I replaced it with a larger block, but had no way to anchor it in the exact position, so we improvised (we do that a lot) and got a somewhat fair lead. 

My feeling was that most of the rigging failures on the other boats were due to the very confused seas we were sailing in, causing the boat to pitch every which way and putting shock load on the rigging. Every morning I held my breath as I checked everything I was capable of checking. Meryl expressed a concern about our solar array, perched over the davits on the stern of the boat where you could see some movement so we went back and tensioned some line in an X pattern to add a little structural strength. We also had a problem with our solar panels not charging. I fixed it by replugging in the network cable, but it was an intermittent problem for about a week and forcing us to run the motor to charge the batteries.  With this kind of continuous preventive attention we hoped to avert small problems from becoming bigger problems

I had ordered a docking station for our sat phone so we could hook up an external antenna and not have to sit on the edge of the boat to use the phone. Unfortunately, they forgot to ship the power cable and the mounting bracket so we couldn’t take advantage of our new antenna (it won’t plug directly into the phone). I did manage to use the sat phone to upload/download emails which was much more convenient (and much more expensive) then using our SSB radio.  The problem with the SSB radio is you had to try and make a connection with a shore station, usually in Panama, Trinidad, or Corpus Christy (during the first part of the voyage). You’d have to call each one separately, and try over four different frequencies to see if it would connect. That was great when the first station connected but a pain when you had to try four or five different stations on various frequencies. With the sat phone you just dialed using the computer and it would connect with the satellite (most times). It only took a minute to download most stuff whereas the SSB/SailMail connection could take up to 20 minutes. But again, the SailMail connection time was free and the sat phone was not.
After 18 days at sea the mountains of Hiva Oa were a very welcome sight.
Early in morning of May 28 I could make out a mass of clouds ahead. I’d been somewhat cautious of landfalls every since the Galapagos when our electronic charting system showed us anchored on land. My fear approaching Hiva Oa was we’d hit it in the dark before actually seeing it, but luckily as the sunrise slowly illuminated the sky I could make out the outlines of the mountains peaks of Hiva Oa, located exactly where the chart said it would be. Tryg had gotten up early just to see the landfall; it was a amazing sight to know you’d made it after crossing 3,000 miles of desolate open ocean. 
Taahuku Bay is relatively small and typically packed with boats. A stern anchor is mandatory when you are anchored this close together.
Sailing into Taahuku Bay, located about one-half way down the south side of Hiva Oa, was a little like sailing into a short Norwegian fiord. The emerald green mountain peaks towered on all sides dwarfing the harbor in comparison. A large breakwater comes out from the right side and once you round the corner you realize what a small harbor it really is. A fellow cruiser described it as the “harbor from hell” given the fact you have to anchor very close to other boats, and therefore deploy a stern anchor to keep you from swinging in the confined space. Luckily our friends French Curve were just pulling up their anchor and we swung in behind them into the perfect anchoring location, far enough back in the bay to be out of the worst of the swell but far enough forward to not share the waves with the surfers.

Boxing Kangaroo, a Belgium boat with a young couple on board, was nice enough to come over and assist with our very heavy stern anchor, which we had never deployed. We handed him the huge Fortress anchor and began feeding out over 100 ft. of ⅜” chain as he tried to motor his small dingy backwards, but eventually the weight of the chain was stronger than his dingy could pull, so down went the anchor.

It felt ever so good to be finally in a safe harbor after 18 days at sea, it’s a feeling we only now can fully understand as long distance sailors.  Firstly, and most importantly, to have made it safe and sound, secondly, with no major equipment failures (kudos to our Auto Pilot that steered all 18 days without a hitch!), and thirdly, we were all still talking to each other!   

We tried contacting our agent, but found the Marquesas were on a weird +9 ½ hour time difference so our appointment with her was late. We dinghied Tryg ashore so he could try to reserve a flight from Hiva Oa to Tahiti, and we set out on the Herculean task of trying to get the boat back to rights after such a long passage. Just airing it out was the first priority.

On Friday we finally connected with Sandra, our agent, who collected our papers and drove us the 3 ½ miles into Atuona to the Gendarme. Check in was as simple as filling out a one page form and handing over our passports for the entry stamp. Following that Tryg went across the street to the Air Tahiti Nui office to try again and get a ticket, apparently the computer system had been down the day before.

Shopping for presents and essentials.
Atuona is a relatively small village with one main road that curves around and heads up into the mountains. There are a couple of small magasins (grocery stores) on the main road, but their hours seem variable at best. Meryl and I walked around the corner on the main road and about one block up on the left was the main grocery store which had an very good supply of French-based foods, and more important, fresh baguettes and and soft serve ice cream machine. We stocked up on French cheeses, yogurt, baguettes, fruits, and vegetables and began the long walk back to the boat at Taahuku Bay.

Meryl fixed a great dinner and we all had our first full night’s sleep (in 18 days) in our own berths. Wonderful!

Saturday, May 9, 2015


We lost two good friends this week due to a misplaced comment on our website. What seemed somewhat innocuous to me was taken very personally by them and the damage is done. They were good people — experienced cruisers, world travelers, highly competent, and willing to help other cruisers at any time. It is sad and we will miss their company, advice, laughter, and friendship.

When you make the decision to go cruising for an extended period, one of the most difficult things is saying goodbye to family and friends. Some family will see your decision as selfish at best; some friends may see it as risk taking and irresponsible. Others will applaud your sense of adventure and become vicarious armchair travelers through your blog. 

In the end you need to make your own decision and live by it. For me, cruising was a life long dream. That dream got me through lots of boring business meetings, hours and hours staring at a computer screen, and many sleepless nights. It wasn’t Meryl’s dream (it seems it’s rarely the wife’s desire) but she has an adventurous spirit and let me put the pieces in place.

Leaving our house and friends for the last time.
I remember our last night at our house (after we sold it in a terrible real estate market). We had to be out by 9:00 pm and we hustled to get last minute items into the car. Our faithful Acura was loaded to the brim, with Meryl buried underneath some houseplants. We just sat in the driveway looking at the empty garage and wondering what the hell we’d just done. Then I clicked the garage door and we drove away in the dark, both of us in quiet contemplation of the big leap we were taking.

Jim and Chris visit us on Flying Cloud at Newport, RI.
We had left bits and pieces of our lives at various friend’s houses content in the feeling that they would derive some use out of our stuff. Our good friends Jim and Chris Berry, let us stay with them and we “visit” Meryl’s comfortable leather chair and our bedroom set in the guest room (our home away from home). But more than anything we value having the opportunity to sit and talk with Jim and Chris at night, and share breakfast in the morning. Jim is our mail drop, our protector, our emergency contact for Search & Rescue; Chris is the person we talk to when we need to be centered.

Annie and Tryg helped us transit the Panama Canal.
We feel so inadequate when we try to say thanks to Anni and Trygve Johnson. I stayed at their house for almost six months on and off while working on my boat, which was stored at Tryg’s factory. Tryg and I would go to “work” together in the morning, he to his office, me to my boat. When we got home at night Anni would have hor ‘de ouvers out and a great dinner simmering on the stove. After dinner we’d curl up on the couch and watch one of the thousands of videos in Anni’s collection. How they put up with me I’ll never know, but that’s true friendship.

Paul and Irene, one of our longest term friendships.
Meryl and Mary Ann lounging at Beaver Lake. I didn't have a wide angle lens to get Jim, my longtime sailing buddy.
I could continue down the list: Paul and Irene Ballew’s welcoming smiles and great hospitality. We love just sitting up late at night and laughing with them. Jim and Mary Ann Sanders (whose last name I’ve misspelled my whole life) always have the door open at their beautiful lakefront house and amaze us with the stuff they do to make it a real home.  There are lots others (you know who you are) and we wish we could see you more.

I’m not including family in this blog. It’s so painful to leave your children and grandchildren it’s the reason many people never go on an extended cruise. Our children have been so generous and supportive that we’d never have been able to leave in the first place. Everyday we think about what our grandkids are doing, what new words they are learning, what new experiences they are having, and we’re sad that we’re not there to share it all with them. Thank you so much Christa and Brad for supporting us in this crazy adventure.

Fortunately we’re able to visit Christa in Hong Kong a couple of times a year and spend two months in Seattle visiting Brad and Christa when she comes over for the summer. 

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my life is not truly understanding the value, and responsibilities, of friendships. There was lots time to nurture friendships when we were in our early twenties, but once the kids came it seemed that just managing our growing family was all we could handle. Once the kids got to a certain age we began yearly camping trips with the Berry’s, Johnson’s, McRae’s, and Larson’s. We all had an incredible time (including when the kids told us they had been feeding the Mormons (marmots). Lake Wenatchee, Peregrine Lake, Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens:  we all miss those fantastic trips, even when it poured down rain.

Now that we’re cruising we’ve had to put our lifelong friends in a holding pattern, except for short yearly trips home or friends visiting us aboard Flying Cloud in far off exotic locales. For the past 4 years we have enjoyed developing many new friendships in the highly transient world of cruisers.

Cruising friendships are different in many respects. First, nearly everyone is retired (and with no kids to take care of) so we all have time to nurture friendships. We’re in exotic places doing exciting things so there’s always lots to talk about. We are all fixing this or that, fostering conversations at the docks or marine store. 
Some of our newest friends, Steve and Sandra, showing us the fort at Portobello.
While cruising, making a new friend is as simple as going up to the boat that just anchored and saying “hi”. Fairly quickly you’ll know if there’s a mix. That happened to us in Portobello when we saw our neighbors getting in their dingy and wave at us. They swung by to say hello and mentioned they were going on a hike and we sort of invited ourselves along. The fit was good and soon we became friends with Steven and Sandra on Yonder. 

Months later I was in the water cleaning the boat when I heard someone yelling our names and saw a Galapagos tour boat speeding towards us. It was Steven and Sandra who were just finishing their South America tour. We hugged like long lost friends, which we were. What a wonderful feeling.

Outside of just the interesting conversation and having sundowners together, the other thing that distinguishes cruising friendships is co-dependancy. You quickly realize (especially on long passages) that there’s no Coast Guard to come to your rescue, only other cruisers. When we did our seven-day passage from Las Perlas to the Galapagos it was nice to know there were some other boats in the vicinity in case something went wrong. 

One of the most poignant sailing stories is that of Pete Goss, a British sailor racing around the world who risked his life and did the impossible by turning around in 40 to 50 knot winds and sailing back in the dark to rescue a French competitor. I’d like to think someone would do that for me or I for them.

We’re participants in a radio net with roughly twenty other boats who talk with each other twice a day via high frequency SSB radio. Right now, on a 3,000 mile passage from the Galapagos to the Marquesas, three to four boats are having rigging problems and in various states of need. The Net talks with each boat, offers technical help, and in one case helped divert a boat to provide extra fuel to a boat slowed by rigging problems. Another boat had to be abandoned and a Net boat arrived to take the crew on to the Marquesas. Again, we hope to never have to call for help on the Net, but we’re so glad to know they are out there if the need should arise.

We have a stack of over 150 boat cards of cruisers whom we’ve met in the last four years. Some we’ve buddy boated with, many we’ve had drinks with, and a few will be lifelong friends long after we’ve hung up our safety harnesses.

Our first buddy boat was Derek and Heather on Parallax. What a fun time we had with them. After a long discussion  about stars one night I made the comment “What are you guys, rocket scientists?” Yes they were.

Our second buddy boat was Sharon and Kevin on Timaru. They had a lot more experience than us and Sharon was the consummate planner. Really enjoyed their company. Next was Field Trip, a gorgeous Antares 44 ft cat. After sailing hundreds of miles with Mark and Sara and their two kids  down the Windward/Leeward Chain, we had to say goodbye. It was nice having two such neat kids around to fill the void of our grandchildren. We hope to run into them again in the Pacific.

The point is, with a buddy boat you are together almost 24/7 (when have you ever been together that much back home?). You tend to develop fairly close friendships under those circumstances. You are also sharing fun and sometimes challenging experiences which tend to bond the friendship. And then one day they are gone, maybe forever, in your life. It’s tough.

This recent incident of losing a friendship has taught us about the fragility of relationships, the importance of nurturing friendships, and value of those relationships that turn into lifelong friends.

Long after the cruising is over we’ll have memories, not of white sand beaches or sundowners under the palm trees, but of the friendships we’ve made and the experiences we have shared with others.