Sunday 16 April to Sunday 30 April - Marquesas to Tuamotu Islands
Sunday 16 April
We wake up to the sound of quite strong winds. This bay has a reputation for funneling the wind to the point where it can become quite gusty, so we need to keep an eye on the anchor. JJ, Sebastian and Philippa set off for a long walk to the village of Omoa. It is a tough hike over the hills, and beyond the capabilities of the girls. Caroline and I plan to do a shorter walk with the girls to a nearby waterfall. We postpone this plan until the afternoon when the wind starts to really howl, and it becomes clear that the anchor is in danger of dragging. I decide to stay on board and keep and eye out, and maybe go to the waterfall in the afternoon.
I spend the morning cleaning the hull, which is covered in weed and barnacles above the waterline. The anti-fouling has worked well, but the rich sea-water has deposited all sorts of stains above the boot-topping line, as you can probably tell from Glenn’s photo of our arrival.
We then have a bit of a drama, when a really strong gust whips up to 40 knots, and somehow flips our dinghy, which is tied onto the stern, upside down. The outboard is still on it, and the petrol can is attached. Luckily they were clamped on securely. I dive in and flip it back over with some help from Caroline on board. Glenn very kindly stands by to help if need be.
In fact, Glenn proves to be our saviour in the next two hours. The outboard was completely dunked in salt water, and needed to be stripped, flushed through with fresh water (casing), oil (main engine) and cleaned (carburettor, spark plugs). I have the workshop manual, and could probably feel my way through the problem. Glenn, however is a complete expert, and used to race cars, so has taken many engines to pieces and re-assembled them. He very kindly volunteers to lead the reclamation effort, and within two hours of his ministrations it is purring away merrily. Brilliant to have someone so kind and capable to help out.
In the meantime, Julie goes with Caroline and the girls to the waterfall, where they are able to swim and enjoy a little of the local scenery.
The trekkers return by sea, having pursuaded a local man to bring them round in his motor boat. They are sore and aching, but have really enjoyed their walk.
Ashore in the evening we bump into a lovely French couple. They are on their fourth circumnavigation. 25 years ago, as a young engineer, he was involved in installing the turbine equipment that provides hydro-electric power here on Fatu Hiva. They have a blissful air about them which suggests that they have seen so much in their lives.
Monday 17 April
We set off after breakfast bound for Hiva Oa, which is about 40 miles North West of us. An easy reach, and we arrive in Atuona, the main town by lunchtime. We moor stern to the dock with some help from Escapade, who are a day ahead of us. This town is one of the two major centres in the Marquesas, so has a gendarmerie so that we can check in and clear customs.
We spend the afternoon giving the Duck the full TLC treatment. We are able to get a freshwater hose onto her for the first time since Panama, so the decks really need it. After a whole afternoon of scrubbing and hosing, she is sparkling again. We are able to indulge in freshwater showers, and fill our tanks to the brim. What luxury!
Philippa, Sebastian and I go for a long run, which is a great way of exploring a place quickly. It seems a very well kept place with lots of neat houses and well trimmed gardens.
We go out to dinner at a local restaurant, Hoa Nui, which serves outstanding Poisson Cru in coconut milk sauce.
Tuesday 18 April
We get up very early indeed in order to make the 90 mile passage to Taiohae bay in Nuku Hiva in daylight. There is lovely full moon to guide us out of Atuona, and we are soon out of the channel and storming along on passage. It is another beam reach, so we are speeding along at 8 knots for most of the day. A lovely sail.
We arrive at Taiohae at tea-time. It is a deep horse-shoe shaped bay, guarded two large islands at the entrance. A spectacular sight. It is slightly marred by the presence of a large cruise ship, but to our relief, their funnel starts smoking, and they weigh anchor and head off out of the bay as we come in.
Taiohae is the biggest town in the Marquesas. Here we will rendezvous with Simon and Barbara Langford, as well as Ed Datson, who all fly in from London over the next few days.
We head off for a drink at the Keikahanui Inn which is high on the West side of the bay. It was started by Rose and Frank Corser, who arrived here in the early seventies by boat. It has a stunning deck overlooking the bay, and as the Pina Coladas arrive, the moon rises over the hill on the opposite side of the horsehoe, sending a silver reflection right across the bay towards us, lighting up the Duck and the few other yachts at anchor. A wonderful moment. Now we really feel as though we have arrived in Polynesia.
Wednesday 19 April
After a wander round town we set off to Hakatea bay round the corner. It is practically deserted, apart from a house inhabited by a lovely local Marquesan called Daniel, and his wife Antoinette. Daniel has lived on the beach in the bay since 1939, and has acted as guide to many of the visiting yachts since then, taking them up to the nearby waterfall, and on fruit gathering expeditions.
He is delightful man, and after telling us his story, offers us fresh fruit, which we are very short of as there is none available in the shops. We have come ashore armed with lots of flour and rice to exchange, but to our surprise and consternation he repeatedly refuses our entreaties to accept our offering. We spend a few hours with him, gathering huge grapefruit from the trees nearby, and collecting coconuts from the trees on the beach. He chops them with a machete, splits them on his spike specially concreted in near the kitchen, and in no time at all everyone has fresh coconut to drink from. He offers us fresh sweet water, which we have heard is the best in the Marquesas. We tell him we will come back for this on Monday, just before we set off on passage to the Tuamotus. He shows us his visitors’ book with cards, drawings and writings from literally hundreds of yachts that have stopped in at the bay over the years. We wave goodbye with the promise to return on Monday.
In the evening we return to Taiohae, and meet up with Simon and Barbara (henceforth known as ‘Bob’, her nickname) who have arrived safely and are checked into a local hotel to sleep off jet lag. It's great to catch up on their news and we celebrate with dinner at the Keikahanui Inn.
Thursday 20 April – Monday 24 April In Taiohae bay, Nuku Hiva, Marquesas. Lat : 8 degrees 56, Lon : 140 degrees 09
A day of chores, provisioning etc. We say goodbye to Philippa, who has been such a joy to have on board. She showed impressive spirit and determination, wrestling with the wheel of the Duck as we bucked around in the big Pacific swell with 25 – 30 knots of wind in the middle of the night. A real asset to the crew, and we shall miss her. She caught the helicopter over the mountain to the airport, which is otherwise a 2 hour drive in a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
Edwin arrived in the afternoon, so now we have a full complement of crew for the next leg.
On Friday we take a trip in land with two four wheel drive vehicles in convoy. It is quite spectacular scenery, and we stop often to soak up the view. We end up at a beautiful bay on the North side of the island, where we are fed huge lobster, plucked from the reef. Our guide Angelique takes us walking up into the coconut forest, where we visit a historic site of human sacrifice. There is a platform where the hapless victim had their heads crushed by the executioners ‘Casse Tete’. It's spooky to think of this happening in such a beautiful place.
JJ and Sebastian leave on Saturday, their last trip with us until Australia. As always it is very sad to see them go. It is wonderful having someone on board who knows the yacht so well and as ever they were great company.
The big excitement on Easter Sunday, apart from the egg hunt, is Hannah and Ed's birthday. They were both born on St. George's day, and so a big celebration with an excellent chocolate cake is planned.
On Monday or Tuesday we will set off bound for Tahiti, a 750 mile passage. We may, depending on the weather, plan a couple of days at Rangiroa, which is one of the coral atolls in the Tuamotus. Next log will probably be posted either from there or Tahiti.
Monday 24 April
This morning we set off from Taiohae bay back to Daniels bay again. We want to fill up with water there, as his water is reportedly the cleanest and purest in the Marquesas. Also the girls are keen to make their mark in the ships log he keeps. This is a record of all the yachts that have visited the bay over the years. Entries usually include a photo or drawing of the yacht, and some writing by the crew. The girls have done some drawings, and Daniel is delighted with them, gluing them in carefully on our own ‘Lazy Duck ’ page. He cuts some coconuts for everyone and we feast on the milk and the flesh.
In the evening we invite the crew from ‘Friars Goose’ on board for drink. Mike Dave and Mark, three Scottish guys have a 40 foot steel yacht, and they are planning to circumnavigate in 18 months. They have Fiona, Lorna and Mark as crew. It is a fabulous setting for a party and we have soon worked our way through a bottle of rum and all our beer.
We are delighted that outboard is still functioning effectively. We had had further problems with it in Taiohae, which, it transpired were completely unrelated to the dunking. Dirty petrol in the remote fuel tank was the culprit, but it had taken us a morning stripping it down twice before we figured out what the problem was. Just as well, as the dinghy and outboard is our lifeline out here. In a way it was fortunate that I had needed to strip it down in Fatu Hiva under Glenn’s tutelage, as it meant I could move a lot faster this time. By the third time I could practically do it blindfold!
Tuesday 25 April
We spend the morning completing the stowage of the lazarette, and preparing the yacht for going to sea. We plan to set off after lunch for Ahe, which is one of the Northern atolls in the Tuamotu chain, just North of Tahiti. The Tuamotus are a chain of coral atolls that stretch over a 800 miles from one end to the other. There are 78 atolls in the group, of which 31 have at least one pass through which you can enter and escape the Pacific swell, into the calm, crystal clear water of the lagoon inside. The atolls are typically about 20 miles long and ten miles wide, so there is plenty of room to anchor and explore the abundant marine life. The ring of coral reef is punctuated intermittently by ‘Motus’ or small islets with a few palm trees on them. 45 of the atolls are inhabited, most by less than 200 people. They support themselves mainly by farming copra, which comes from coconut trees and is used in the manufacture of scent, soap and other commodities. Also, some of the atolls have a thriving black pearl business, now mainly based on cultured pearls developed on farms in the atoll.
The atolls down South, in particular Mururoa, were used until very recently by the French for testing Nuclear weapons. Thankfully this has now stopped since 1995, and a serious uprising by the indigenous people of Tahiti and the Tuamotus in Papeete.
Bob, Simon and Ed had seen the Tuamotus from the air on their flight up to the Marquesas from the Tahiti. They said that they looked, rather appropriately, just like beautiful necklaces, with perfect turquoise inside.
We set sail at 1400 and as soon as we are clear of the shadow of Nuku Hiva, we are steaming along on a beam reach towads the South West, on a course of 230 degrees. Ahe, our initial destination is 500 miles away. If we have a quick passage we will get there in about three days. The winds hold out well, and we continue to move quickly through the night. We again have three watches, with Ed and I standing watches on our own, and Bob and Simon on watch together.
Wednesday 26 April
Still moving along very well at over seven knots most of the time, and occasionally 8. We are using Max the windvane during the day, as he is most comfortable on this point of sail, ie broad reaching. Everyone is busy adjusting body clocks to the ‘2 hours on, 4 hours off’ routine. There are some minor squalls and the odd patch of rain to dodge around, but otherwise we are having a lovely sail.
Thursday 27 April
Good progress again overnight. Some bigger winds in the night took us over 9 knots, with the occasional surf at 10. This was compensated by some quiet periods around the back of the squalls, during which the wind dies right down.
We are however making good enough progress to make an early afternoon entry to the pass tomorrow a real likelihood. This is a relief, as if we were not to make it in time for this, we would need to heave to and spend another night at sea, waiting for the next daytime slack water in the late morning. The reason for this is that the passes into these atolls need to be approached and entered at slack water, ideally with sun high in the sky so that the dangerous coral heads are visible to sharp eyes, wearing polarised sunglasses, stationed on the bow.
I have acquired a really good software tide program which has the tide tables for 10,000 ports in the world through to the year 2010. It has the details for Ahe atoll, and shows that high water is at 1330 local, and so slack water will be a little after this. If we were to try to enter three hours after, we would probably find ourselves having to gun the engine against a 4/5 knot current. Three hours before and we would be sucked in much faster than is prudent. The passes are very narrow. This one is only 26 metres wide at the narrowest point. So we need to be careful.
We talk to Eric and co. on Escapade, who are also headed for Ahe and are cruising in company with us, only a few miles away. Also on the net are our friends on ‘Friars Goose’ who are about a day behind us, planning to go to Manihi, an atoll next door.
We manage to hook a small dorado on the line, but sadly it escapes off the hook as we are reeling it in. Unfortunately we must now stop fishing as we are approaching Ahe. The reason is that there is a risk of ciguatera poisoning from these fish, if they are close enough to the atoll to have eaten the smaller fish that feed on coral, creating the poison. Whilst the risk is very remote, it increases as you close on land, and the nasty symptoms of the affliction (severe nausea for weeks, numbness etc) make it well worth avoiding.
Friday 28 April
We are peering into the distance ahead, straining to see the land, which we know is ahead. Unlike the high volcanic islands of the Marquesas, which were visible up to 35 miles away on a clear day, these atolls are much more difficult to spot. They are low-lying, and have surf breaking on the reef, making them barely distinguishable from the normal white horses of the Pacific swell. We do know, however that the motus on this atoll have more coconut trees on them than most, so that is what we are looking for.
We do have good electronic as well as paper charts, and of course the GPS. As I have mentioned in previous logs however, we still need to keep alert. The reason for this is that, whilst the GPS is very accurate, the charts of this area of the South Pacific are definitely not. In many cases, the last survey of the area was completed by Captain Cook! Now I have the greatest admiration for the hydrographic skills of the sailors of that era. Certainly, significantly better than mine. However, with dodgy chronometers and no satellites to help them, some of the charts often show hazards up to 3 miles out of position. These quaint old charts often have the depths marked in tell-tale straight lines fanning out from a single point, and have depths marked in fathoms. One can just imagine the surveying team, either in ship or longboat, painstakingly plumbing the depths with a lead line, and calling them out to a faithful scribe, to be repeated back for assurance of accuracy.
‘Escapade’, who is to windward and slightly ahead of us, finally calls us on the VHF with the hail of ‘Land Ho’. They have seen the coconut palms swaying in the breeze ahead, at a distance of about 18 miles. Soon we can also see it clearly. We have arrived in the Tuamotus. We approach the Passe Reianui, and line up at 115 degrees to go through. ‘Escapade’ goes first, as she has a magic forward looking radar system. Soon she is through, and it is our turn. We gun the engine and slowly motor forward at about 5 knots. It is an eerie feeling approaching the narrow part of the pass, with waves from the swell crashing around us. We are soon, however, safely through the passage and into the lagoon inside. The good news is that with the sun high in the sky, the undersea coral is very clearly visible. Indeed the water is so clear that it has the alarming effect of making the dangerous reefs appear a lot closer to the surface then they actually are. Ed is stationed at the bow, and Simon and Bob on either flank to keep a sharp look-out. Caroline takes the wheel and I call out the bearings and distances from beacon to beacon. We have a good paper French chart of the area, so ‘Escapade’ gets some clarification from us about the route down the village in the atolls, which is about 4 miles away. The lagoon inside is dotted with coral heads, so we have to thread our way down there very carefully.
Soon we are in the small lagoon within a lagoon that forms the Ahe town quay. Both ourselves and Escapade are able to tie up alongside for a short while and stretch legs. The quay is full of laughing, chattering children. They are tumbling in and out of the water, splashing about on an old windsurfer, and are fascinated by our boat. They soon ask Sarah and Hannah's name, and spend their time calling out to them, delighted when they get a reaction. They remind me very much of some scene in an 8 mm cine we saw of our friend, Catherine Holmes a‘Courts’ uncle. He travelled through these waters over thirty years ago, and shot film of some children playing in exactly the same way. It seems to us that very little has changed.
The anchorage is spectacular. The turquoise and green waters are brilliantly lit by the sun, and the water is still. This feels all the better for the fact that we can clearly hear the big Pacific swell crashing hard onto the coral reef on the windward side of the Motu, about 500 yards away. Its a bit like being snugly installed in front of a warm fire in Scotland with the wind and rain howling outside like a banshee.
Saturday 29 April
We spend the morning doing some odd jobs, and swimming around the boat, which we have now anchored slightly off the quay. We take a short walk around the Motu and village, which has 200 inhabitants. The locals are very friendly and French speaking, and keen to offer us black pearls to buy. We don’t see any we like yet, but there is plenty of time, and we plan to go on to Rangiroa next, where there will be more on offer.
In the afternoon we set up the spinnaker halyard at the bow to do some halyard flying. This involves launching yourself outward from the bow at high speed, then swinging like Tarzan at high speed along the length of the boat, before letting go at the last minute before splashdown. Sarah demonstrates in the attached pictures.
In the evening we have drinks on ‘Escapade’ to swap sea stories. The girls are particularly delighted as they are able to finish watching the video of ‘The Dove’, the story of Robin Lee Williams circumnavigation, which they really enjoy.
Sunday 30 April - Inside the lagoon in Ahe atoll, Tuamotus, French Polynesia Lat: 14 degrees, 32 South: Lon 146 degrees, 21 West
After a relaxing morning snorkelling and testing out my birthday hammock, we set sail after lunch. We are bound for Rangirioa, another atoll about 80 miles to the West. We are only able to leave Ahe at 1500 hours local, and we need light and slack water to get into Rangiroa, So we must sail overnight, and plan to arrive in Rangiroa early on Monday.
We will spend a couple of days there, then head on down to Tahiti, which is only 200 miles away. We will send the next log from there in a week's time.