Thursday, July 31, 2008

We Met the Mara'amu

We met the mara’amu in Huahine. Our overnight passage from Tahiti brought with it a change in the winds, which clocked south, cooled off and brisked up. Whenever a wind pattern has a name you know you’re in for trouble. Every so often a herd of cattle would trample the heavens overhead and relieve themselves in a proud stream of rain. We tolerated the drenching and prepared for landfall, only to find that the pass of our choosing on the east side of the island was roiling a bit more than we’d hoped. We changed our destination and rounded the north end of Huahine, bound for Fare, the primary village through the safer and slightly more protected Avamoa Pass. Naturally we arrived just as another squall made its appearance. Murphy has some law about that.

So, we hunkered down in Fare, as it didn’t seem the mara’amu was going anywhere in a hurry. We found Fare to be bustling on our first visit to shore, with vendors lining the main street selling local produce and typical Polynesian prepared meals. We descended on the grocery store with locals and fellow cruisers during the appointed hour of the baguette. These carbs go in a hurry, as the Polynesian waist line would suggest. The next day we took a walk and, as usual, found ourselves face to face with dogs in need of a dermatologist. These three in particular, all residents of one home, seemed the worst off. We couldn’t find anyone home so we took mental notes of their approximate weights and planned a return visit with medications in hand the following day. These dogs deserved a special effort.

The next day we trudged back through a downpour and found, again, no one home. Another visit that afternoon was finally fruitful, but we had to wake up the guy that lived there, Hérald, to get on with it already. He explained that the dogs belonged to his wife and then had to go about chasing the dogs because they wouldn’t come to him. Hmmm, that seemed a concern. But, we saw to all three (Lady, Keatau and Boo Boo), explained the various medications and he thanked us kindly. He said his wife might have questions about the treatments so we agreed to meet in town the next morning.

That morning Sylvie, Hérald’s wife, kissed us in greeting and then started to cry, so grateful she was for the care her dogs had received. It was immediately evident that she had been trying to do what she could for their skin problems facing the limited access to veterinary care and that they were very much loved. They invited us to their home to share lunch with them, and then took us on a driving tour of Huahine. Unfortunately the mara’amu was especially torrential that day so, while they showed us all the island’s sites of interest, we were confined to the car, darting out for brief drenchings. We visited a marae (the stone remains of an ancient ceremonial site) and paid a visit to Faie, the home of the “sacred” eels that writhe through the shallow waters of a stream. These eels are frequently visited and therefore amply fed. This explains their outgoing personalities and wide girths. They lift their fat heads out of the water for offerings of fish, or squirm onto shore to reach their meal if so enticed. They are so friendly, supposedly, that you can pick them up and drape them over your shoulder if you’re moved to do so. It was too rainy to give it the effort in this particular case. Sylvie and Hérald asked us to join them for dinner later in the week but we couldn’t commit, as we were finally looking to move south and explore other anchorages on Huahine.

Once the rain cleared we were on our way. We followed a buoyed channel south through the lagoon and stopped in Haapu village for the night. We grappled with the anchor and bumped our rudder on a coral shelf, our visibility obscured by the roiling murk of muddy run-off, the result of the recent rains. But, the anchorage was tucked in and protected. The next morning we explored the village there, consisting of quaint little houses and a diminutive convenience store. Ben got to talking with kids playing Foos Ball at the store and was invited to play doubles. No mercy – winner take all. Afterward we paid a visit to an Italian couple on Evasione, the only other boat in the anchorage, and then we both lifted anchor to head one bay south to Avea Bay.

Oh, and this was worth the trip – brilliant colors in the lagoon, breaking waves on its barrier reef, sandy beaches and a colorful and quiet settlement of homes, pensions and restaurants. Other cruisers had found it a destination as well, as demonstrated by the number of us at anchor (about 8 or 9). We found this the best snorkeling so far, with a vast expanse of healthy and varied coral, a great variety of fish, immaculately clear water and, finally, no sharks. We stayed a few days, and would have happily stayed more.

But, we had accepted an invitation from Sylvie and Hérald to attend a performance (one they had helped organize) by the kids of a summer camp so we made our way back north to Fare. We assumed this would be a small event but it turns out they were pretty well organized. Kids and teens put on quite a show, a mix of traditional singing and dancing, with a little hip hop and break dancing thrown in. As always the costumes were colorful and larger than life. We said goodbye to Sylvie and Hérald the following morning as we prepared to make our departure from Huahine, and were sent on our way with fish, produce and shell necklaces in thanks.

Next stop: Tahaa.

Doing Time With Dick

Our passage to Tahiti, with Dick along for the ride, was a day and a half long (220 nautical miles) and uneventful. As the wind petered out we arrived in Papeete, the capital city of Tahiti, and French Polynesia in general, just as festivities were ramping up in celebration of Bastille Day. On the agenda were outrigger races, nightly inter-island traditional song and dance competitions and various ancient sports. The stone-lifting, fruit-carrying and javelin-throwing brings to mind our strong-man competitions back home.

We attended two song and dance competitions and were impressed by the grandiosity of the events, with upward of 80 dancers and 20 musicians, full costume and festive crowds. The dances are performed as a chieftain or Polynesian princess-type struts through the choreography, narrating the legend around which the dance centers. Family members and friends in the audience shout words of encouragement to the many performers on stage and sweep everyone up in their excitement. The rhythm section beat a nice tempo for the swaying hips and stomping feet as the dancers sweat, trussed in palms, grasses, flowers and shells. Meanwhile a panel of judges looks on.

While we amused ourselves with the festivities and the camaraderie of fellow cruisers on the quai, we also had the boat to attend to. This was our first opportunity to tie up to a dock, and thus our first access to a fresh-water washdown since Mexico. Aye, we were salty. And then there was the grungy, sweaty job of clearing out all the stores packed away in our stern that, for weeks, had been slopping sudsily about in our leaking laundry detergent. It least it was “eco-friendly.” We set out to splice a new snubber (a line that relieves the anchor chain’s load) and seek out new battens to replace the ones we’d lost or broke. The latter task remains undone and unlikely to be remedied until we get to New Zealand.

And yet, despite the festivities, despite the boat chores, the focus of our time and attention in Tahiti centered uncomfortably on our stowaway, Dick. Our feelings about Dick were mixed. We first realized there may be an issue as it dawned on us that, after our arrival, Dick seemed inclined to stick around. He has numerous family and friends in Papeete but no one welcomed him with open arms after his 4 years of, what now seems to have been, “exile” in the Tuamotus. And so he stayed. After a couple nights Ben told Dick he’d need to find somewhere else to sleep. But with that we discovered he instead spent the night sleeping in our dinghy. Well, that seemed a little absurd and, all along, he had tried to make himself useful so we welcomed him back in our fold. Certainly it was not a one-way street, as he cooked, arranged a driving tour of the island with his nephew Whitman and helped us see to the boat. All in all a fair exchange. And yet we couldn’t help but notice his self-destructive and rather adolescent behavior, the cause, no doubt, of his estrangement from his family. His first night in town he spent a third of his meager reserve of pennies on beer and drank into the night, slinking about town to avoid the wrath and disapproval of his centenarian grandfather. On the other hand he is warm, open and surprisingly honest about himself. We appreciated his help, and breathed a sigh of relief when we waved goodbye.

We spent one more night in Tahiti, south of town, to fuel up and provision ourselves with the very French amenities (and, sadly, very Polynesian prices) at Carrefour, the French equivalent of an upper-crust Walmart. Tahiti has so much more to offer than Papeete alone but we find ourselves in need of moving on, as my 3-month visa is drawing closer to its date of expiration. With Moorea inviting cruisers on the horizon, a mere hop away from Tahiti, it tends to be the next destination in line as you make your way, island by island, west. But, we’d heard through the grapevine that Moorea is steadily metamorphosing into one big mega-resort and decided that, as we’re now pressed for time, that we’d set our sights on the next island over and a half day away, Huahine.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Meet the Crusoes

We explored Toau first along its lagoon side. After negotiating Otugi Passe we anchored about half a mile south, along with a few other boats. There was a shack on the shore, probably for collecting copra, but no inhabitants. A short walk to the ocean side of the motu was lovely, except for the refuse washed up on shore. It seems that an inordinate proportion of flotsam is comprised of shoes and plastic bottles. The beachcombing here isn’t quite the treasure trove it was in Mexico. Surely there are shells to be found, but we are outfoxed again and again by squatters euphemistically known as hermit crabs. No shell is left unoccupied. The shore immediately south is known as le lagon bleu, the blue lagoon, a destination for visitors from Fakarava. It’s blue all right.

After a couple nights there, including a bonfire dinner with the Tahitians on the neighboring boat, we left for another anchorage a few miles north, this one off Maragai Village, a seasonal pearl farming settlement that now appears abandoned. Beacons led the way through banks of coral and we settled on a sparkling corner of the lagoon alongside coral shoals for snorkeling. Not a boat nor a soul in sight, not even a footprint in the sand. These were lazy days, spent swimming, reading and watching movies on the computer.

Eventually we left Toau’s interior lagoon, braving the breaking waves in leaving the pass, bound for a cove on the outer shore of the atoll’s northwest corner known as Anse Amyot. The entrance to this cove looks like a pass into the lagoon, but dead-ends in a labyrinthine coral reef. The colors here are intensified a notch, glinting in patches like a kaleidoscope with the passing of sun and squalls; this is the blue lagoon. We had read about the family that lives in this cove and their welcoming ways and, as if to prove the point, Gaston Damiens motored out from shore upon our arrival to direct us to one of a few mooring buoys. (These aren’t common here in the Tuamotus but they’re a godsend for anchors and coral alike).

The Damiens family has perfected the Robinson Crusoe lifestyle. Twelve people live here, all family members. There is a phone booth here (though it doesn’t work) but no other services. Their livelihood comes from an array of sources. Valentine and Gaston operate a small restaurant from which they welcome and serve passing cruisers. Cruisers also provide a wealth of trading opportunities, as we came to be as well. They maintain a number of fish traps in the ancient style, but are careful which fish they collect, as they respect evolving laws of environmental protection, and earn some governmental support by introducing certain “green” measures in their cove (eg mooring buoys). Every so often they patrol the lagoon-side beaches to collect the fish net floats discarded as detritus from the seasonal industrial pearl farm further south on Toau. These they sell for ~ $8 apiece. (Ben assisted Gaston on one such buoy collecting adventure). They operate their own small pearl farm, located on a tiny motu (islet) within the lagoon. Valentine’s sister and daughters run a pension (small inn) as well. In the meantime they have built a tiny village of dwellings, including a chapel (Valentine gives sermons every Sunday and leads the others in gospel singing). Toau is too sparsely populated to be frequented by supply ships, save one that they must rendez-vous several hours away, at the atoll’s southern pass, that visits once monthly to outfit the industrial pearl farm in the south. Any other supplies requires a trip to neighboring atolls, and a doctor’s appointment necessitates a trip to Tahiti.

One of the first sights we took in came as a surprise. Swimming from a motu across the cove, weaving around coral shoals and fish traps, was a dog, his brown head bobbing and obviously focused. We came to learn this was “Bobi.” Bobi belongs to Valentine’s sister and doesn’t himself get along with Valentine’s dogs so, in order to fish in peace, he swims to the motu across the way. Every day. And, he times his swims with the currents. In the morning he heads out, just off the beach and waits, antsy and whining, until the current starts to ebb. He spends the whole day at his motu, fishing and hunting SHARKS (that’s right, sharks), and returns in the afternoon with the assistance of the flood tide. Actually, all of their dogs enjoy hunting sharks. Go figure. Our first order of business, then, was seeing to dogs. Valentine’s oldest, Balou, was intensely itchy (again, dermatologic conditions) but also recently lethargic. I palpated a mass in his abdomen – not good news. But, as that may be benign, I thought it worthwhile to treat his skin problems and see how he’d feel. And, wouldn’t you know it, he perked right up and found his energy again. We told Valentine that the steroids were likely responsible for his new surge of enthusiasm and she asked if she could have some for her arthritis. Oops, that required a serious conversation. The others, Bubba (pronounced Booba, a la francaise, but named after Bubba Gump) and Nini (the only kitten to have survived life amongst dogs) got the full round of parasite control.

The other pet of sorts is an orphaned Frigate Bird that Gaston rescued. She only likes Gaston and snaps at any other passers-by. As her attitude is resented, she has been named Sarkozy-Bush. It will take 8 months for her to fledge the nest (a platform perched at the edge of their pier) and head out on her own. Gaston feeds her every other day, in hopes that she’ll grow a little slower and stick around longer.

Valentine and Gaston invited us for lunch (a home-style potluck as opposed to formal restaurant fare). Gaston grilled the assortment of fish he and Ben collected from the fish traps and we ate in style. Then conversation turned to their future and upcoming need for a larger motor boat. An American fly-fisherman once spent several weeks here with the Damiens family, delighting in the fishing. He offered to finance a new motor boat and two bungalows, if they would build them, so that he could return in November with friends to fish. So, Gaston was in need of a boat design. Well, Ben could manage that. He designed the boat in exchange for black pearls and shark teeth, and both parties were happy. Meanwhile, Valentine and I spent the day exchanging beads and shells, as we both enjoy making jewelry.

That night Ben was approached by Dick, Valentine’s older brother and the black sheep of the family. He asked if he could catch a ride with us to Tahiti, and asked if we would keep it secret from his family. Ben said he’d think about it, and then told Valentine what was up. We weren’t going to be party to a family deception. We had gotten the impression from Valentine that Dick was not a trusted family member, but he certainly had shown himself to be kind and Valentine vouchsafed for him. After much discussion between us, Valentine and Dick, we agreed.

The next day Valentine and Gaston brought us to their motu in the lagoon, to watch them cultivate black pearls. This is how it’s done: Several oysters (nacres) are collected from their baskets in the lagoon and gently pried open enough to peer inside. If the nacre (mother-of-pearl) is colorful, these are saved and cut open. The mantle of the oyster is the pigment producing organ and this is removed, trimmed of excess tissue and cut into tiny fragments (about 2 x 3 mm). Despite all this cutting and trimming, the mantle is still alive, and must remain so in order for this to work. These will be the donors. Then recipient oysters are also gently pried open. This is the delicate part. There is a small pouch in the oyster that must be isolated, and this is filled with a “nucleus” and the fragment of donor mantle. The nucleus is made from a special type of shell that comes from the Mississippi River; these are sold to the Japanese and then machined into perfectly round little balls. Anyway, they are the “seed” around which the fragment attaches itself, within the recipient oyster’s pouch, and the pearl is formed over a period of 2 years. These grafted oysters are checked one month later to see if the “seed” was rejected, and then every so often for general cleaning. It’s a pretty tedious process, especially as there are 15,000 oysters to graft. I imagine harvesting is the fun part. We ate lunch on the motu (again fish collected from a nearby fish trap) and explored the little motu while Valentine labored over the grafts. The shallows around the motu are carpeted in clusters of tiny, green sea anemones, and the long limbs of brittle stars wave from rocky crevices. Plenty of shore birds nest on this motu as well: white terns, red-footed boobies and black noddies.

Finally, time to go. My visa here is limited to 90 days, and these days are running out. We had yet to explore the Society Islands, the touristic center of French Polynesia. And Tahiti, the first of the Society Islands, would finally offer the amenities that the boat required, as various little repairs are in order. So, we got our stowaway settled and we set off on the 220 mile (day and a half) trip to Tahiti.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Moonbows and Black Pearls

I wouldn't have believed it, but I saw it -- a moonbow. A full moon is ideal for nighttime navigating around here. The atolls are so low-lying that it'd be tempting to run right into one if you couldn't see it. The moon sheds a little light on the subject. Last week it was shedding so much light that I was stopped short (I think I may have been cursing at some line, or maybe a wind change). The moonlight stole through a squally sky, splintered into its components, and formed a picture perfect rainbow, from sea to sky to sea again. Instead of Kodak colors, the prism revealed itself in shades of silver. Ben was shaken out of bed by my enthusiasm. (Couldn't photograph the moonbow, but why not the moon).

And this in a place that, in the light of day, is all about color sensory overload. I wish my vocabulary could begin to describe the array of blues this particular geospatial combination of light and water evokes. If any blue has a name, it's on full display here. Cerulean, aquamarine, turquoise, ultramarine, sapphire. These are in-your-face, masters of the obvious blues; nothing glum, depressed or remotely subtle. The kind of blues that would inspire Bob Marley as opposed to, say, Muddy Waters. And not just one blue in one place, but layers, gradations, juxtapositions....So blue I continue to be startled by the sight. And with a clarity that bespeaks jewels, gems, crystals and beckons you to strip down and jump in.

In Makemo we enjoyed getting to know Victor, his wife Marie and their daughters. We shared their father's day (and birthday) celebration and treated their dogs. All the dogs on Makemo suffer skin problems. Dermatology isn't quite my forte but it's especially challenging without a microscope. Getting used to "shotgun" medicine. Marie sent us home with a loaded doggie bag (poisson cru and birthday cake). We also made a little jewelry exchange: some of my beaded wares for a handful of black pearls. The customs officials would not be amused, but these are pearls of the imperfect sort so no one is being undercut. Still, we won't be announcing their presence.

The weather was a bit moody while we were in Makemo and the lagoon, as a result, wasn't as inviting in the way of snorkeling. After a few days there we left for Fakarava, an overnight sail. We settled in at an anchorage near Tumakohua, the southern pass, reknown for its diving. The village there, Tetamanu, was once the capital of the Tuamotus, but is now nearly abandoned save for the two families that live there permanently and a gaily decorated church made of coral and dotted with shells. They run a pension (an inn) and a dive center, pier-perched bungalows dotted along the coral shoals, right along the edge of the pass. The favorite pasttime here is drift diving (or snorkeling). You motor your dinghy to the sea-side mouth of the pass, grab hold of the dinghy line and jump in. The flood tide through the pass carries you and your dinghy right on through, no exertion required. Timing is important, of course, as an ebb tide would show you the door. The local dive center advertises, "If you don't see a shark, it's free." So we swam, we snorkeled, and we tried not to piss off any sharks. The variety of fishes and their garish displays were dazzling. Even the color-blind would be shocked to their senses.

We went to lunch with a British couple we met to a little pension north of "town." A nice water-conservation technique employed there is fish/dishwashing. The post-prandial dishes are lowered into the lagoon and the fish swarm for leftovers. Maybe it's not a good idea to be encouraging "begging," but it's a nice form of entertainment for us tourists. Oh and water is precious here, the only source being collected rain water. After lunch we took our dinghy to the southern rim of the atoll and took a stroll on the diminutive pink-sand beach of a motu (an islet) at that end. More snorkeling ensued. Not that it's all fun and games, mind you. We also scraped a verdant pasture of algae and immature barnacles off our hull. A sorely needed and much-postponed chore. It took us 4 days, and now we should really consider doing it again. Ah, the tropics.

After wresting our anchor away from its coral embrace we embarked north. We planned to stop at an anchorage along the eastern rim of the atoll, about half-way up, a trip of about 12 miles. We caravanned with the Brits (on Pegasus) and dropped anchor along a solitary and unspoiled motu (Outukaiga), with a coconutty beach, hermit crab denizens and water even, astoundingly, bluer. Aaahhh. This place deserved a stay of a few days, so we did.

Finally we wended our way through a buoyed channel to Rotoava, the primary village of Fakarava, population 800. Our first day there we were approached by two American women, Jane and Joan (on Casteele, also from Seattle) and asked to assist in their afterschool English program for the students there. They had been there 3 weeks, teaching daily, and were preparing for the school-end celebration, which would include student dancing and a recitation from each student in English. So I spent one afternoon with the class, prompting them to tell me their name, how many brothers and sisters they have and their favorite game to play (most preferred Play Station), in English. Jane and Joan were also busy spearheading a home study program in Fakarava and, amazingly, in the 3 short weeks they were there, they managed it. In these islands the students are sent away to attend Junior-High (College), at the young age of 11! And the only high school for all of French Polynesia is in Tahiti. This is pretty hard on families and, while the schools themselves are good, the boarding situation is a little out of control, with only one adult per 100 - 150 students. Can you imagine 100 twelve year olds with no supervision? So, anyway, Joan and Jane organized a home-schooling system, with the active participation of the primary school director, mayor and parents association. Pretty cool, huh?

Here we also met Cecile, a french woman, and Enoha, her Tahitian husband, owners of the Teanuanua restaurant. We'd gone there for lunch and, as I had stooped in the corner of the restaurant to pet one of their resident cats (one of the 4 cats and 7 dogs that lived there), I noticed her breathing was labored. This was the beginning of our daily visits to Teanuanua. With Ben as my able assistant, I drained fluid from "Minette's" chest and treated "Chausettes" and "Naike's" skin problems. We demonstrated how to give a cat a medicated bath (a prickly affair), and discussed the prognosis and options in treatment of "Minette's" more serious problem. Cecile and Enoha hosted us to a delicious dinner in thanks and we spent many hours exchanging stories and learning more about the culture and lifiestyle of French Polynesia in general, and the Tuamotus in particular. Good friends made along the way.

Ehona taught us the finer and more complex meaning of the Tahitian word Iaorana -- hello. And this is nice, so I'll reproduce it for you.
I Ora Na = past
A Ora Na = present
Ora = life
O/ = gift
Ra = Light
Na = future and forever
Translation: I wish you the gift of long life in the light, in the past, present, and forever. Nice way to say hello.

Another friendly Polynesian we encountered, Theodore, was in the process of gutting tiny little blue fish on the pier, as we were headed to our dinghy. We'd seen these fish while snorkeling and Ben asked if they were good. To prove how good they indeed were, Theodore cleaned about 30 of them and skewered them on stiff coconut fibers for us. He told us to dredge them in flour, season with salt, and fry. Which we did. And he was right - scrumptious. In exchange we gave him a bag of lemons from the Marquesas, and some dewormer for his puppies. So, as if he hadn't already been nice enough, he then gave me handful of black pearls! For what do we deserve this honor I can't say. But thanks! "Modudu" in Tahitian.

We rented bikes one day and road to a white sand beach (most beaches around here consist of uninviting shards of coral) and took in the sight of more shockingly blue water (See? I remain startled). Our outing suffered mechanical difficulty when the weld attaching the pedal to the rest of Ben's bike broke off. We tried fixing it with shards of coral (too brittle), sticks (too flimsy), and finally found a metal rod to do the trick. This made for a rather difficult contortion on Ben's part, to pedal without slicing his leg. This had gone on a little while; we had turned back toward the village to find a phone, far from any sign of human presence and, who should drive by but the very guy who had rented us the bikes. Problem solved. Ben rode a new bike (with a baby seat) and we enjoyed the rest of the day. With certain of our muscles having been out of commission for awhile, pain killers were required later that night.
Now what? Time to move along. June 30th was our cue to head north (a short trip of 14 miles) to the next atoll, Toau. More on that as it happens.

Collision of the Currents

We've made landfall in the Tuamotu Archipelago, on Makemo Atoll. We'd had our sites on Tahanea, 60 miles further to the west, so this was an unplanned pitstop, necessitated primarily by the time of day. In days of old the Tuamotus were known as the "Dangerous" Archipelago, as many boats have met the reefs here unceremoniously, including Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki. GPS has helped sailors navigate these waters with a little less trepidation, but serious care is taken, regardless, to enter through an atoll's pass when the sun is up and behind you, to help spot coral heads, and the tide is slack.

We couldn't make Tahanea before sun down so, Makemo it is. Our passage from the Marquesas, a little over 3 days and about 500 nautical miles, was a bit of a drag; the trade winds are fickle, we've found, and weren't in the mood to further us along. So the last 24 hours we motored. On the last day the squalls marched on by, giving the boat a welcomed fresh water bath, but then the clouds hunkered down like they planned to stay awhile, just in time to obscure our coral-spotting visibility on the approach to the atoll.

Sailing in the Pacific Northwest requires pretty active navigation, with close attention to tides and currents. Anyone who has sailed through Deception Pass is well aware. Well, this is a slightly different matter. To give a lay-out, Makemo atoll is roughly rectangular in shape, about 40 miles long and 10 miles wide, at its widest point -- essentially a ring of reef around a calm and crystal clear lagoon. The northern and eastern sides are above sea level (barely) and wooded with palms, in a long row of islets (or motus) -- a long dashed line. The southern side is all reef, some visible but mostly awash. The swell breaks over the reef on the south side of the atoll, serving as a constant feed of sea water into the interior lagoon. So the lagoon is in need of a drain, and the only routes of escape for the extra water is out the passes between islets. Then, of course, there's the tide. So, when the tide is in flood, incoming waters through the pass do battle with the draining lagoon. And, when the tide ebbs, its outgoing current is amplified by the draining lagoon. There are only two navigable passes into the lagoon. The largest of the two sees current of 8 - 9 knots in ebb. That's 3 - 4 knots faster than our engine can go. This, of course, is the reason to enter on slack tide, a narrow window of opportunity.

We arrived on slack tide. As we approached Arikitamiro pass, we watched breaking waves meet a torrent. Evidently slack doesn't mean calm. We saw a fisherman hanging around near the mouth so we motored by him, looking a little worried, and asked for advice. He encouraged us on and happily led the way. As we were buffeted about by eddies and whirlpools we revved up and inched our way along in the face of a strong outgoing current (the drain) that itself was meeting the oncoming ocean swell. At one point our progress was slowed to half a knot of speed! About a third of the way our stomachs dropped in unison as the engine cut out. Air in the line. We turned around, the current spitting us straight out and Ben scrambled to switch the fuel tank. The engine started right up again, then sputtered once more. At this point I was at the helm, muttering "hurry, hurry," as if that helps, but luckily Ben did indeed hurry and, voila, the engine was in good form to finish the job. We turned around, against the current's wishes, and continued on, the fisherman waving us along. Conveniently this pass, unlike many, has markers to point out coral shoals to avoid on the way into the lagoon. Because the coral isn't just along the fringing reef; there are plenty of heads and reefs inside the lagoon to cause our keel misery as well. Anyway, our fisherman (Victor, we came to learn), lead us all the way to the anchorage next to Pouheka, the village the sits on the north side of the pass. We gave him fruit from the Marquesas (really, only coconuts grow here), and then he gave us a fish he'd just caught. As if he hadn't already done enough for us.

Once we got settled we noticed the breaking waves fringed by a halo of spray on the other side of the lagoon, about 5 miles away. Impressive. We got our dinghy inflated (with less cursing than usual) and paid a visit to Pouheka, a village of 300 (the population would double if you included the dogs). We found Victor, who had promised a small buoy to help us float our anchor chain off the coral, and then he drove us (for some reason there are cars here) to his home for a short visit. We met his wife, Marie, his neigbors/brothers and his dogs. Today we return for a father's day barbecue and I'll be bringing some veterinary gear to help treat the mange it appears most of these dogs have.

We don't know how long we'll stay in Makemo, a day or a few. Weather depending. If the wind picks up and the clouds clear, we'll be in good stead to hop to the next atoll on our way.

Hiking to Hakahetau

We’ve spent several days in Hakehau, the largest village on Ua Pou. It is a small and shallow bay, tucked into a deep valley and rimmed by lava plugs forming a series of sharp spires. This is the 3rd largest town in the Marquesas, with 1000 inhabitants. We anchored and tied up to the wharf, stern to, to cut down on the rocking swell that's become a nuisance.

The next day we hired a guide, Jérôme, a former French Marine, to take us on a hike to Hakahetau, a small bay across the northern ridge to other side of the island. Along the way he spun local lore and stopped to explain the plants we saw and their traditional uses: for weaving, construction, food, perfumes and medicinal purposes. After some cardiovascular uphill climbing, we found relief on the way down the other side of the ridge at the base of a waterfall. We were not alone, accompanied by mosquitoes and chevreuils, freshwater shrimp. We hear they’re partial to coconut. No eels made their presence known, but we did learn about a recent run-in with one. There are two waterfalls near the village of Hakahetau, one used by men, and the other by women. The elders of the village have passed down the belief that men cannot swim in the women’s pool or they will be attacked by the white eel that lives there. The current mayor of the village decided to disprove this old-wives tale and went swimming in the forbidden pool, only to be bitten, naturally, by an eel.

We strolled through a replica traditional Marquesan village and then stopped for lunch with Pierrot and Rose, a Franco-Marquisan couple that have settled in Ua Pou and started a small restaurant there. Jerome’s wife, Elisa, drove their truck around to pick us up for the return to Hakehau. The return drive took us along the coast, past Shark Bay, where sharks congregate to feed on the poor unsuspecting baby octopuses born there. We didn’t go swimming.

The next day we lazed about, and ended up entertaining a gang of boys spending their Sunday afternoon at the beach. A couple boys paddled over; these were joined by their friends, and they used the boat as their diving platform. We struck a deal with the boys: whoever brings us the most fruit would earn a movie DVD (Ben had brought a few rip-offs from China).

Then we prepared to say our goodbyes to the Marquesas, bound for the Tuamotu Archipelago, a passage of a few days and ~ 500 miles. There we will be negotiating narrow passes, referencing current and tide tables, navigating around heads of coral and anchoring in tranquil lagoons. More to come…

Hula Hips

Ben’s absence left me with a lot of time on my hands, in a town we had already explored. Out of pity for the lonely girl sailor, Chantal and Didier (from Sea Lance) took me under their wing, checking on me often, and seeking out things for me to do. So, this is how I came to attend morning water aerobics (aqua gym) with a group of French ladies in the tepid waters of Taiohae Bay. Instructions in French were accompanied by hand signals for my benefit to demonstrate what my body should be attempting to do under water. Despite all the étende et serré maneuvers, conversation was never interrupted so local gossip was forthcoming. And let’s not forget the Marquesan dance lesson Chantal roped me into. The few of us neophytes who attended tried to emulate the other dancers in a complicated pattern of missteps. I figured as long as I hula’d my hips, it didn’t really matter that I was turning left instead of right, backing up instead of advancing or bumping into my neighbor. It was a wee bit embarrassing when my pareo (kind of a sarong) fell off, but I tried to make it look graceful.

Just as I was getting a bit bored of reading and cracking coconuts, the village erupted in a flurry of activity centered around la foire agricole (agricultural fair) held in Nuku Hiva every 4 years. Booths selling the handicrafts of local artisans (carvings, tapa cloth, jewelry, quilts) vied with vendors of produce, tropical fruits and plants, one tattoo artist and a variety of livestock on display (pigs, goats, horses and cattle). All week, along the beach, big logs were cleaved and carved into pirogues, the traditional Polynesian canoes, in a contest spanning 5 days. I took a daily tour of the canoes to see how they progressed and then watched as the canoes were paddled around the bay on the last day of the fair to prove they actually float. There were other contests as well: coconut cracking (several lacerations were sustained as the nut meat was removed with big knives in a hurry), a fruit-carrying race (30 kg for the men, 15 kg for the women), flower crown weaving and poe’e poe’e pounding (this is a traditional dish made of breadfruit and served in coconut milk). Everyone and their uncle was there, strolling to an accompaniment of ukuleles.

Anyway, there was plenty of entertainment to keep me occupied while Ben was away. We spent a couple more days in town after Ben returned for follow-up email access, and finally we shoved off on June 5th for the island next door, Ua Pou.