Friday, January 15, 2016

The Exercise of Exercise

One of the challenges of living on a sailboat is getting exercise. Sure, the boat is continually moving so you get a fair amount of isometric exercise by just stumbling around, but the key is aerobic exercise. We’re not very good at this.

We have friends who go on marathon hikes all the time, but it seems more difficult for us. I don’t know if it’s the heat, the hassle, or our age. Usually it’s because we’ve become involved in some mammoth project on the boat and are just too wiped out. But we are making an effort.

With sketchy directions from friends we set out on a hike to Matauapuana lookout, a huge rock monolith at the head of the bay. There are two of them, one on each side of the bay, and the locals call them The Sentinels, because in the old days lookouts would be posted to warn of war parties or sailing ships coming towards the harbor.

With our trusty Pocket Earth app on our iPhone we tried to reconcile the sketchy directions with the trails on the map. We went through a yellow locked gate and began climbing the hill right behind town on a washed out road. Was an interesting trail that someone had recently cleared but as we got higher and higher it finally petered out to 10 ft. high brush where the trail should be. We met a young French girl and her Tahitian boyfriend who had been following us “because you looked like you knew where you were going.” Boy, we fooled them.

I imagine this dog saying "Dude, I've done this hike a hundred times. Just trust me."
Our goal is about one-half way up the ridge line for the Sentinels that overlook the ocean.
The views of the harbor along the right side of the trail were breath-taking.
Back down to the road, we went with Plan B which was to simply walk in the direction of the Sentinels. We eventually meandered our way there through an industrial area on the outskirts of the village. Once we got on the trail it was beautiful hiking with spectacular views on our left side of the bay and exotic jungle-like terrain with low overhanging trees. As usual we had picked up one of the village dogs as our hiking companion. They always seem to make it about half way on the trail and then turn back. Wimps.

Hiking down the ridge line towards the Sentinel.

There are two "Sentinels" guarding the bar, this is the west most Sentinel. 
Towards the end of the trail you gain a ridge line with unbelievable views looking back to Taiohae Bay. The wind was coming in off the ocean and provided a slight cooling effect to our very sweaty bodies. The area was like a wonderland and one of the more beautiful views I’d ever experienced.

On the way back we could follow other hikers and see exactly where the trail from town (which we were supposed to have been on) was located. We ended up doing this hike once again later in the week and it was much easier now that we knew the trail.

Nothing like a cold drink after an arduous hike along the waterfront road.
We also started exploring the areas around the village, many pioneered by our friends Roger and Sasha on Ednbal. The simplest walk is all the way around the harbor to the other side, walking on the main road the whole way. Since this goes right along the shoreline it’s a beautiful hike and at the end is the Pearl Lodge with its infinity pool and spectacular views of the harbor. The price of the drinks will induce arrhythmia but it is a picturesque setting.

Just walking to the grocery stores along the waterfront road is beautiful.
We’ve also tried some walks up the hills from town, winding through neighborhoods with small houses surrounded by a variety of fruit trees. People are friendly for the most part, but not speaking French makes it tough for us to communicate. There are lots of dogs but most are friendly. Meryl got a little ahead of me on one walk and tried to take a short cut through a construction company equipment storage area. Knowing this wasn’t a good idea I barely got the words out of my mouth when she came sprinting back with two guard dogs close on her tail.

If you watched Survivor: Marquesas you'll recognize this beach from the tribal council sessions.
Back row from L to R: Katie (Mezzaluna), Roger (Ednbal), Jeff (Mezzaluna), Amanda and Mark (Balvenie). Front row: Meryl (Flying Cloud) and Sasha (Ednbal). 
One day we all got up at 4:30 am for a 5:30 am departure from the Pearl Lodge to Collette Bay, the location where they filmed the tribal council meetings for Survivor:  Marquesas. We went with the crews of Ednbal, Balvenie, and Mezzaluna.  It was fun to hike with various people and chat along the walk as the hike was somewhat easy with a quick jaunt up the ridge then a long walk down to the bay.  We tried to find remnants of the filming of Survivor but nothing was evident. A nice hike with nice friends.

Our goal is to get out everyday for a walk somewhere, but when we get involved in boat projects it seems were are too wiped out by the heat to leave the boat. Then we just jump in the water to cool off and swim a few laps around the boat and call it a day. I figure that trying to out swim a shark back to the boat beats trying to out run two foaming-at-the-mouth pit bulls.

As I said, our hiking program is a work in progress.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Passage to the Promised Land of Nuku Hiva

On January 9th we departed Atuona on Hiva Oa for the 90-mile overnight passage to Nuku Hiva. We had hoped for strong easterly winds so we could sail downwind, but ended up with very light and fluky winds that forced us to motor sail the entire way.  You always want to sail but sometimes the winds just aren’t there as predicted, forcing you to either wait for favorable winds or to just suck it up and motor. So be it.
Waking up in the morning to see the towering green mountains of your next port of call is one of my favorites.
Taiohae Bay in Nuku Hiva is one of the cruiser's favorite "hurricane holes" for the Pacific hurricane (cyclone) season.
Every week or so a huge cruise ship anchors off Taiohae Bay and disgorges its 1000 to 2000 passengers onto the tiny community. 
In the early morning we could see the lush green peaks of Nuku Hiva peaking out from the ever present cumulus clouds. The entrance into Taiohae Bay is very straight forward and we slowly motored through about 70 anchored boats in the huge bay to a spot about 400 yards from the dock (and the Internet access point). It took us a few tries to get the anchoring spot just right after the wind piped up and pushed us a little too close to a French boat. 

Henri's Snack Vaevaki is were everyone hangs out for free WiFi. Henri always has huge stalks of free bananas available for his customers. A stalk like this would cost around $3.00.
Early in the morning local fisherman sell wahoo, yellow fin tuna, red snapper, and an occasional marlin for around $2.50/lb.
Volleyball and soccer are the two most popular sports here in the Marquesas. This waterfront volleyball court seems to always have a game going on.
Wild horses are fairly ubiquitous in the Marquesas. Once you catch them you get to keep them.
Once situated, we took the dingy into the large concrete dock where the fishermen bring their catches early in the morning. Located just across from the dock are Snack Vaevaki, also know as Henri’s, a small open air restaurant that is a cruiser’s hangout since he offers free WiFi. Next door is Nuku Hiva Yacht Services, run by an ex-pat American named Kevin who provides a variety of services to local yachties. He had a number of FedEx packages for us, including parts for my broken glasses and four credit cards with current expiration dates.

The waterfront of Taiohae Bay is a grassy parkland with beautiful views of the anchored sailboats.
The Marquesans are superb horseman and ride these sturdy, but high-spirited Marquesan horses in the steep sided mountains during hunting trips for wild pig and goat.
Magasin Larson is one of our favorite grocery stores since it has air conditioning and a great selection of French foods.
Nuku Hiva, with it’s huge protected harbor and available services, is the “go to” place for cruisers waiting out the cyclone season in the Marquesas. Surrounded by high mountain peaks, the scenery is breathtaking. The first mile or so of shorefront is an open park and it’s a scenic short walk along the park to the three grocery stores (compared to the three-mile walk into town in Atuona). And fresh baguettes (price controlled at $.59) every morning makes it a carbo paradise. 

Since we were tired from the long overnight passage we decided to have dinner at Henri’s, which was full of French cruisers sitting working on their computers, and call it a day with an early bed time for the old folks.

The next day began a routine repeated most days. We tidied up the boat a bit, did some email (now that we had Internet at the boat thanks to our high powered antenna and the password for Henri’s WiFi), and broke out the stand-up paddle board and took a tour of the bay saying hi to various cruising boats we knew. We ended up the day with a nice visit and dinner with Roger and Sasha on Ednbal.
I can't say that either of us enjoys repairing the sails, but having your own commercial sewing machine on board can save you thousands of dollars in sail repair fees.
Over the next several weeks we worked on boat projects, with Meryl sewing a new Polynesian print throw cover for the bed, repairing the batten pockets and a tear in the leach of the main sail, and various other canvas projects. I fixed a leak in the bathroom hatch, a ding in the fiberglass from the bow anchor, installed a new 12-volt outlet for a portable fan, and changed the oil/fuel filters on the engine.

The Marquesans are typically very helpful, although language is a problem if you don't speak French. This lady escorted us by some snarling dogs to this beautiful viewpoint overlooking Taiohae Bay.
With over 70 sailboats in the bay, Taiohae Bay is one of the safest hurricane holes in the South Pacific. The Marquesas are far north and east of the typical hurricane tracks.
Fruit of the Gods:  Barbadine. The bowling ball sized fruits are cut open and the fleshy seeds are squeezed to extract a juice tasting similar to apricot.
As things calmed down a little we began to take long walks around town and up into the surrounding foothills. One day we hiked up to a large white cross on the hill over looking the bay (90% of Marquesans are Catholic). It was a long hike populated by small houses with large gardens full of every imaginable fruit tree. You could never get hungry hiking on this island. As we approached the final dirt road up to the top we started running into some aggressive dogs (about 99% of tropical dogs are totally laid back). A Marquesas woman came out and, in very broken English, said she’d walk with us the rest of the way to the cross. Her dog, Vaca, went ahead. It was amazing as the other dogs heard us and came running out barking and then immediately backed away when they saw Vaca. He was definitely the Alpha male in this neighborhood.

The view from the top was amazing and the lady pointed out various landmarks around the bay. On the way down she went around the back of the house and got three huge, bowling-ball sized fruits we’d never seen before. They are called baradine and supposedly make a great fruit drink. Carrying those back to the boat wasn’t easy but we made it.

When the new Catholic church, The Cathedral of Taiohae (Notre Dame) was constructed in 1973, the two bell towers from the original church in 1848 were used as the entrance to the modern church
The interior of the church features numerous carvings from whole tamanu trees carved by Damien Haturau, a well known Marquesan artist.
One thing we need to better understand here in French Polynesia is the, how should I say this, “flexible working hours” of various businesses. There seems to be no standard business hours, with some opening around 7:00 am and then closing for a two-hour lunch break around 11:00 am to 12:00, then reopening around 2:00 pm and maybe closing at 4:00 or 5:00 pm. The Marquesans seem to get up around 4:00 am (that’s when the Saturday fruit/vegetable market opens) and then retire early in the evening. It certainly makes more sense in this heat to get most of your outside work done in the cool morning hours and rest during the afternoon heat. That said, you can never accuse the French/Marquesans of being workaholics, and if it works for them, why not?  I think Americans are overworking themselves with obsessively long workdays, working on weekends, and no vacations. The French have gotten the work/life balance down to a fine art and seem to be more laid back and enjoy themselves much more than other nationalities. What good is retirement if you die of a heart attack at 65?

Another issue is the climate. Having lived in the “rain capital of the world” (Pacific Northwest) for most of our lives, getting used to a tropical climate has taken time. The first issue is heat. It’s usually around 90 degrees inside the boat. We have teak decks and they tend to magnify the heat and keep it inside the boat. We have 10 fans on the boat, and most are going 24x7 when we are onboard. We’ve already worn out four fans from the constant use. Most cruisers wear abbreviated clothing, shorts and no shirt for the guys and bikini (or less) for the women. When the water is clear we can just jump in for a refreshing dip, but when it’s cloudy we are a little more cautious, given that these water are home to the top 10 man eating sharks in the world. Sometimes just a quick shower on the transom steps is the right thing for cooling down.
The normally bucolic harbor can instantly turn to the scene below when intense thunderstorms hit the island.
Heavy rains turn the local rivers into torrents of water that bring down whole trees, coconuts, and a thick brown mud into the water. We need to wait several days for the bay to clear out before using our on-board water maker.
The second issue in the tropics is rain. It can, and will rain at any given moment. Since many of the islands have high mountains, rain clouds are omnipresent so you can’t second guess when it might rain. The good news here is the rain is warm (Seattle joke: How can you tell when it’s summer, the rain is warmer.) Even if you are out hiking and get soaked, you usually dry off in 30 minutes. For cruisers with hot boats the key is to keep all the hatches open, but this leads to what’s commonly called “the hatch dance” where it goes from sprinkle to tropical downpour in 1.3 seconds. We have a routine where I go aft and Meryl goes forward to try and get all the hatches closed before everything is soaked. And when you leave the boat we usually close all the hatches, meaning when you come back the interior resembles a Swedish sauna. For all those sitting out a winter in 20 degree temperatures and know I won’t get any sympathy, and rightly so.

Such is the cruising life.

Friday, January 1, 2016

A Magical Evening on a Magical Island

We’ve enjoyed many quiet New Year’s Eves and even a few raucous ones (including the Year 2000 celebration in the shadow of London’s Big Ben with over a million people), but Year 2015 will go down in the books as a very special evening.

What a way to end 2015 than a paddle around the cove in Hapatoni on our new Red Paddle Stand-Up Paddleboard.
We had been anchored at our favorite beach in Hana Moe Noa on Tahuata, but a tropical cyclone to the west was kicking up some serious swells so a group of boats decided to relocate to the small village of Hapatoni about 3 miles south. Some waves were making it around the point, but it was a world of difference. Nested at the foot of 3,000 ft. mountain cliffs covered with palm trees and lush green vegetation, it looked like the location for the movie South Pacific.

A bunch of hungry sailors eyeing a delicious New Year's Eve feast.
Two beautiful ladies:  Meryl and Anne Marie from L'Avenir.
As you can tell, Kim and Dave off Maluhia are having a great time.
Friends on Mezzaluna had gone into the village earlier and secured permission for us to use the Artisan Craft area, an open patio-sized area with a thatched roof. Three American boats, three French boats, and a Finnish boat showed up for the New Year’s Eve potluck. Given the various nationalities represented, we had an eclectic selection of food and desserts. A group of young French kids were running around, including one cute little curly-haired blond with a very loud penny whistle. And she liked to blow that whistle — very loudly.

Imagine sitting with your friends and simply enjoying each other's musical talents. I don't think the word "stress" is in the Marquesan lexicon.                 
In the corner sat five Marquesan women and a young girl who had been practicing for the church service the next day. It was a very bucolic setting, with a cool breeze wafting through the enclosure and the smell of sweet flowers scenting the air. One of the Marquesans came over with beautiful white tiare (gardenia) flowers that were placed behind the left ear of the women in our group.

Jeff from Mezzaluna treated everyone to a medley of American folk songs.
Jeff on Mezzaluna brought his guitar and treated everyone with a medley of American folk and pop songs, with some of us joining in when we knew the words. After a while Jeff took a break and lent his guitar to the group of women in the corner, who began singing in a way that only the Marquesans can sing. It’s a melodious harmony that sounds like one voice, all sung in the beautiful Marquesan language, and sometimes in equally beautiful French. We’d heard them sing in church last May and were amazed by the ethereal quality of their voices as they reverberated off the stone walls of the church.
Tahina, our hostess for the evening, played a mean rhythm guitar.
I think their talent is a result of the tradition of music in their society, the involvement of children at a very young age, and the custom of sitting around at night and singing for pure enjoyment.  That’s what happens when you don’t have TVs in your house. A fourteen-year-old girl — with a huge smile on her face — accompanied the singers on a tall Marquesan drum pounding out the hypnotic rhythm typical in all their music.

This little girl was the star of the evening playing with her maracas and singing along with everyone.
The most endearing quality of the Marquesans is their lack of inhibition — the moment a drum beat starts you can see the women’s hips start to rhythmically sway in a manner that is pure Polynesian. Family is the other constant theme. A young 18-month-old girl was in the loving arms of her mother and swaying with the beat of the music, keeping time with a pair of maracas in her hands. 

It was a magical start to a new year.