Thursday, June 25, 2009


On Tuesday morning, our last in Kauehi, our little gecko snuck along the edge of the wall above our kitchen windows and watched two small flies that were trying to get out through the glass. After a few minutes, he scurried to the edge of the glass and waited. Soon we saw his head dart out toward a fly. Missed! Another jab with the head. Missed again. On the third try, the fly was gone. The second fly was dispatched in the same manner. This is the first daytime hunting expedition we've ever seen. Maybe he's feeling more comfortable. We have decided to rename the gecko. Olga was too Germanic for a tropical creature. Moko is the Puomotu word for gecko, and it rhymes, beside. Moko doesn't seem to mind his new name.

We have the mountains of Tahiti filling up our horizon and should be anchored by late afternoon. It was a short (only two nights) sail from Kauehi to here and the wind and temperatures were pleasant. Once anchored, we hope to clean the boat, check into the country, buy fuel, and get water. I'll pack, take a few hours to see the city, and Brian might check out the nearby surf spot. I fly out on Sunday night and Brian's first installment of surf buddies arrives on Monday.

Our fridge is filled with husked green coconuts, gifts from our friends Marie (not Madi) and Leon on Kauehi. When we left, they put a shell lei around Brian's neck and a necklace with seashell flowers around mine. I feel honored to have been welcomed by such genuinely nice people. The night before we left, they came aboard Nomad with the dozen coconuts they'd picked and husked for us. Marie had gone out swimming that afternoon and collected clams to bring us. They were raw and cleaned in a tupperware. She squeezed lime juice over them all and soon we were snacking.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Highlights of our time in Tuomotus

1. Meeting 21-year old Tekakioteragi (aka Madi) and her husband, Leon. We greeted her on Saturday while she was driving a truck around for guys to collect their bags of copra. Her beautiful naked 9-month-old son was sitting on her lap. Her friendly smile and high school grasp of English got us into a conversation. Later we walked by to ask if she knew if our friend's fish he had caught was one of the carriers of the dreaded bacteria, ciguatera. We asked questions about Leon's nightly fishing and other questions and soon she asked us if we wanted some fish they had frozen (guaranteed to have no ciguatera). Later, she offered to get us some green coconuts for drinking and told us to meet her at the pier the next afternoon. I baked cookies the next morning and brought them when we went in to collect our 5 husked, chilled coconuts from the little family. She offered more for Monday, the day before we leave and asked if there was anything else we needed. We already got what we were hoping for, friendship and a warm welcome.

2. Seeing the ramoras (not sure of the spelling). These are about 2 foot long grey scavenger fish that look like mini sharks. The only thing different is that on the top of their heads are patches that look like the foreheads of Klingons. They use these patches to suction onto host animals (Brian saw a little on attached to a big one). This free transportation allows them to eat the crumbs that the host drops while it is eating. We seem to have a small family of ramoras under our boat. When we toss our fruit skins overboard, they dart out, sample, and return to the shadows.

3. A calm flat anchorage!

4. The friendly company of the other boats here: Balu, Mainly, and Ketchup II. Last night we all gathered on the foredeck of Ketchup II. James and Marian from Balu brought their guitar, penny whistle and concertina (a small hand accordion) and played Irish aires and folk tunes for us all.

5. The countdown to my flight home for three weeks. Daphne's having a baby boy!

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Saturday, June 20, 2009


An atoll is the result of centuries of coral reefs that began around the bases of volcano cones. Over time the hollow volcano cones have disappeared leaving nothing but a circle of reef circling a lagoon where the volcano once stood. Often the reef is covered with soil which allows coconut palms and other vegetation to grow. Rather than being one perfect encircling line, there are small islets and large islets connected by sand or reefs awash. The word "motu" means islet. So the Tuomotus are many motus. Seventy eight atolls comprise this group of islands, also a part of French Polynesia.

Approaching the Tuomotus is a different experience than approaching the Marquesas. There was no question we would see the sheer fortresses of Marquesan islands. But as we arrived in the Tuomotus we passed a few without even seeing them. As we approached our destination, we didn't see it until less than 8 miles away. In the past, the Tuomotus were known as "the Low and Dangerous Islands". Without radar, GPS, depth sounders, motors, and accurate maps, it was easy to run aground. Even so, Robert Louis Stevenson (and many other traders and naval ships) came and went successfully in the 1800s.

So now we're anchored in a calm lagoon inside of the atoll, Kaeuhi, 260 miles northeast of Tahiti. The water is flat and still, undisturbed by ocean swells or wind waves. The water is a light aqua green and there are coral heads between us and land. We have to be careful when we motor in that our outboard doesn't bang into the top of one. The people on this atoll don't get many visitors and seem much more open and friendly (and speak less English) as a result. Despite that barrier, our first afternoon in town, we were invited to join two men practicing their javelin throws. In the open field in front of the tidy white crosses and white fence of the town cemetery, we saw many kids playing soccer and baseball. Also, there was a 20 ft. pole with a coconut impaled at the top. 4 or 5 spears were sticking out of it. We watched as the two men aimed and fired their weapons, over and over. They saw us watching and invited us over. The spears were made out of whittled coconut wood, slim and straight with sharpened points of rebar at the tips. When the tip sank into the coconut, it made a very satisfying thunk! They're practicing for a local competition on July 14, Bastille Day.

As far as we can tell, the industry here is fishing, pearl farming, and copra production (copra is the dried coconut meat that is exported and made into coconut oil). The pearl stations are wooden platforms out in the lagoon with small houses on them. Quite picturesque.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tropical Bird

One species of large multi-colored tropical birds is incredibly common on each of the islands we've visited. They mostly walk around and are so tame as to be able to observe them easily, not so as to catch them but to get quite close. The are wild and we can hear them from the anchorages up in the thickest of jungle greenery or they strut around on soccer fields or between garden fence posts. When we take walks we invariable startle a big male down from his perch in a tree or see a little half grown fuzzy one running through the underbrush. Their meat is part of the local cuisine and their tameness lends itself to easy meals. A person can merely walk outside and with a bit of stealth, capture a bird. Their eggs are also edible but the locals don't collect them to eat because they can be purchased in packages of 12 at the local markets.

These beautiful tropical birds are none other than what we would call a common chicken. The sound of a rooster crowing is more common here than sounds of cell phones in a downtown Trader Joe's store. They were brought to the islands centuries ago and are not cultivated or penned up because they're bigger than the cats around here and seem to fend quite well on their own.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Leaving the Marquesas

Today we left Nuka Hiva and are headed South West toward Fakarava, one of the many many atolls in the Tuomotus. The last bay was full of boats we have met on our journey: Balu (from Ireland), Ketchup II (from Australia/England), Carina (Washington State), Suwarrow Blue (Holland), Mainly (Florida), Leonidas (from Santa Cruz!), Irene (Finland) and Jubilee (U.S./Columbia). It's nice to be part of a group that knows our names and invites us for nibbles and drinks in the evenings. Although we're from many different countries, different backgrounds and different ways of looking at the world we have a lot in common. We all understand what it's like to lose your autopilot or to have miserable weather. We reminisce about various anchorages we've been through and find out about each other's families. We exchange weather interpretation software and tips about how to down load grib files. We help each other out. For example, Suwarrow Blue brought us 2 dozen eggs and 2 baguettes of bread the other day on their way from a different bay. It saved us an all day trip. We hadn't even officially met them yet but they showed up at our boat with our groceries in hand.
And of course, like all communities, there's gossip. We hear about who has the unseaworthy boat, who is the ungrateful single-hander, who lost their sail overboard on the crossing from the Galapagos, and who took 92 days to sail from Panama to Hiva Oa by himself. It's more wholesome than TV but can cause alliances between groups of boats. Brian and I try to meet each person for ourselves and make our own decisions.
But now we're off and we hope to meet up again with our floating community members in a different bay in a different group of islands.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nuka Hiva

On Monday, we dropped off some pictures we'd printed for Calix and his family, picked up Vincent and his luggage, hauled anchor and had a perfect beam reach sail across the 25 mile channel to Nuka Hiva. Vincent is a tall thin French physical therapist that asked just finished a two week substitute stint at the hospital on Ua Pou. He approached us Friday on the beach and asked if we might be going to Nuka Hiva. The tiny airplanes that go between the islands are expensive and he was "hitch-hiking".

He brought FRESH VEGETABLES purchased from a local man. This has been a wonderful thing since fresh fruit abounds but in the groceries one only sees potatoes, onions and the occasional sad head of cabbage. Vincent brought bell peppers, a head of lettuce, eggplant, tomatoes and cucumbers! So we had a nice sail across and a nicer dinner. He spent the night and the next morning we went to the beach with a twofold goal of hiking to the legendary waterfall and finding him a ride to the main town five miles east of where we're anchored.

On our two hour hike we passed many many rectangular rock platforms 3 to 6 feet high, some with rock stairways still intact. These platforms are where the people used to build their houses. Based on the number of platforms we passed, and the quality of the ancient stone walkway we used for most of the trail, there used to be a LOT of people in this valley. Now, there are only 7-8 houses which aren't even used all the time. There's no school here so only one old couple and 4 single men are all we saw on our walk through town.

The waterfall was freezing cold and tucked back in a tiny green ravine carved in 900 foot high volcanic cliffs. White tropic birds swirled in circles on the drafts between the two cliff faces, their tails as long as their wingspans. Brian and I swam to the large boulder separating the outer pool from the deep narrow pool below the waterfall. Behind the boulder, it was even more beautiful. On the east wall was a tall cave painted in vertical slippery stripes of mineral colors, creams, ochres, and olives laid down over many many years. The waterfall itself was at the junction of the east and west walls, not a roaring river but a steady heavy spray like pelting rain.

After hiking down to the beach, Vincent saw a small motor boat preparing to leave the bay. He hailed the man aboard, found out he was headed toward the main town, secured a ride, picked up his gear from Nomad and zoomed away, leaving us the precious veggies.

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According to our Cruising the Marquesas guidebook, "kai" is the Marquesan word for food and "kaikai" means meal. But there's a lot more to it than those simple definitions.

Brian and I were walking home from St. Etienne, the Catholic Church last Sunday. The flowers arrangements in the women's hair, the colors of clothing, the harmonious singing, the haunting crucifix carved from Rosewood, and the after- service tables of homemade pre-prepared food for purchasing fresh in our minds. I was disappointed that we'd had no money with us to buy some local food. We were headed back to the dinghy to return to Nomad to decide what our lunch plans might be.

From the road above the beach we heard a yell and saw a man we'd met two evenings before standing in the back of a truck motioning us over. His family was having a gathering and did we want to come eat with them. Despite the fact that we couldn't even remember his name, we agreed. We were dropped off at his house where he lives with his mother who wasn't home. We sat and looked at his pictures of his world travels with Catholic church groups while he made forays into the large yard collecting fruit for us. We received about 10 pounds of oranges, 5 pounds of mangoes, a stalk of green bananas, 2 fruits they call apples but which I've never seen before, and a "corazone" (spiky green thing shaped like a human heart and slightly smaller than a volleyball).
After two hours of this, Calix (not sure the spelling, that's what other people called him) said it was time to walk to some other family member's house. We gathered our fruit and walked through backyards, across mud puddles, and past multitudes of fruit trees. Pop music in French and English was playing. Under some banana trees and another large unknown fruit tree were three tables spread with table cloths. Two had chairs around them. We were seated, offered beverages and sat smiling and trying to speak to the various relative. Over the course of the day we met one brother, three sisters, and multitudes of nieces and nephews. He has a total of 16 siblings so this was a small family gathering. Calix's English was sufficient and other relatives had smatterings and we got by.

Since there weren't enough plates for everyone, it was quite informal, but after Hugo prayed for our meal we were urged to fill up our plates. Here's an inventory of the dishes we got to choose from:
Plate of raw pieces of octopus
Plate of raw chitons -those segmented shells you see on rocks in tidepools
(there were limes for squeezing on the raw stuff)
A large pot of very tiny crabs cooked in some sauce that had coconut milk in it
Another coconutty sauce full of unknown seafood (cooked), kind of like a curry
A 2-foot diameter pot of a tangy red sauce with chicken, mutton, garbanzo beans and canned tomatoes.
Huge serving bowl of couscous
Platter of cooked white rice
Pot of sliced goat meat with savory seasonings
Ma (breadfruit cooked in its skin on a fire until soft and fluffy, a little denser than mashed potatoes)

After the meal, we washed our dishes behind the house and soon another couple of people were serving up food for themselves. Brian and I kicked a soccer ball around with Joselin, a 12-year old girl, I chatted with a 16 year old girl, Haapu, who spoke better English than her identical twin sister, Tevaiotemeama. (yes, that's her real name and yes we bonded over being twins).

Seven hours after our visit began, we dropped Calix off next to the beach for his bocci ball session (it's pretty popular here and called something different which I can't remember) and told to pick him up in two hours so we could all go back and eat some more for dinner. I whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookies and Brian copied some music CDs of Jack Johnson for them, and back into shore, and to the same yard for more sitting around, talking, music, and the same table of food. So now we really know what kaikai means.

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Monday, June 8, 2009


We spent five or 6 nights split between two anchorages on the western side of Tahuata. The first one was a double bay. We anchored in the northern lobe, Hana Tefau, and dinghied across to the south end of the southern lobe to tie up at the concrete quay in front of the town.

Every village we have seen has had a beautiful cement breakwater built on the quietest side of their bay. They have navigational lights on them and are a huge benefit to the locals who interact with the ocean on a daily basis. Speed boats zip between islands frequently; fishermen leave at dusk to catch pelagic fish; a large supply and tourist boat, the Aranui 3, visits each island once or twice a month to deposit tourists who buy carvings and eat traditional feasts. The Aranui is 100 meters long and links the Marquesas to Tahiti which is the industrial, tourist, and political capital of French Polynesia. While it deposits tourists, it also deposits 40 foot containers of goods, double-cabbed diesel trucks, and building supplies on the concrete quays of villages.

On Sunday we cleaned ourselves up a bit and dinghied into town. In the middle of the bay, we were suddenly surrounded by a group of dolphins jumping around and in front of us. If I hadn't been in a dress and on my way to church, I would have jumped in with them. They were so close I could have leaned over and touched some of them except they're too wily to let me do that. They dissipated and we carried on.

Churches are all Catholic in the Marquesas. The service was conducted in the Marquesan language except for the homily which was in French. Although, we understood neither, the talking was interspersed liberally with singing accompanied by a guitar, ukulele, and a drum.

Immediately after church, the town started bustling. I thought maybe there was an after church function but it turned out that the Aranui 3 was due to arrive in a couple of hours. The "town hall", mairie, is separated from the church grounds by the cemetery. Each town has one and they are all about the same with carved wooden posts roofed with wooden frames and palm branches, no walls, on a cement slab. Behind the mairie we could smell smoke from a grill. Locals were setting up tables and chairs along the main road and lugging boxes to them, pulling out carvings for display.

We decided to go back to the boat and then return to land when the Aranui arrived, thinking there might be some type of dancing or musical performance on the 4 foot high native drums on the side of the mairie. This turned out not to be the case and we only saw tourists eating food and view the carvings. We did get to hear some ukulele music because two crew of the Aranui were relaxing and strumming songs on the back of the boat as we went past.

While in Tefau, we met a local named Giovanni. He's 19 years old and enjoyed trading fruit for CDs we copied for him. One of my favorite images of that bay was watching Giovanni and one friend paddling across the bay in a small outrigger canoe with a surf board sticking up from the back. Brian hopped in the dinghy and followed them so he could find out where to surf. A bit later, he went around the point to surf with them and came back towing them behind the dinghy. Our 15 hp outboard pulls faster than two rowers, but not by much. The next day, Giovanni and Brian climbed the hill behind the village to a bamboo stand. They cut down and cleaned branches off of a very long bamboo pole. Brian is hoping to use it as a new whisker pole. We'll see.

After Hana Tefau we sailed 5 miles north to Hana Moe Noa (Bay of the Long Sleep) which is uninhabited. We didn't get long sleeps there, we were too busy working. Brian fine tuned our CPT Autopilot so there wouldn't be wires running all over the cockpit, I polished the stove, we spent a whole day sewing and repairing sails. In all that we had time to go snorkeling twice. The fish were again multitudinous and brilliantly colored. There are a few types of hard corals and lots of large dark maroon sea urchins. On the second snorkeling trip, I turned and saw heading toward us a large grey fish, nope, a 4 ½ foot to 5-foot long grey reef shark. This caused me to scramble and look for Brian to grab onto. In my scrambling, I saw the shark startle and dart away from us. This was reassuring. Even so, we got out of the water right away. In all of my research and questioning divers about sharks, I've learned that the reef sharks are not going to attack unless gravely provoked. Even if they do, it's highly improbable they will do a lot of damage. We know some well-traveled cruisers that allow their 4-year old son to snorkel when there are reef sharks around. All the same, if it LOOKS like a shark, I don't feel 100% at ease.

Oa Pou
Our next destination was Oa Pou (pronounce wah pow, it means "two posts" probably for the large spires high in the middle of the island we have a great view from our anchorage). We left Hana Moe Noa at 5:35 pm as the sun was setting and the almost full moon was coming up. With 65 miles to Hakahau, Oa Pou and trade winds blowing on a broad reach, we arrived just at sunrise. There were only 3 other sailboats behind the ample breakwater, and that allowed us to find a decent place to anchor.
Once ashore, we were greeted almost immediately by an Australian man. His ample conversational style was an entertaining monologue about his life and the goings on in Hakahau. We learned where the best bakery is, the cheapest snack shop, who the irritating French man is, etc. He's married to a local woman and has lived here a couple of years.

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Fatu Hiva Hug

The young woman emerged dripping wet and walked up the boat ramp. Brian and I were coming down the main street toward our dinghy and saw her. She wore nothing on the top, a pair of shorts, and the biggest smile I'd seen on her yet. Every time we tied up our dinghy at the cement landing we'd see her sitting under the closest street light or walking around looking at people and waving. She reminded me of my Aunt Ruthie, happy to interact with people but not socially skilled enough to maintain the interaction for very long. I had asked her her name in my pathetic French a couple of times but never understood her answer. She was tall and lurched around ungracefully with her torso leaning forward as if she was always about to break into a run, which she occasionally did when she got excited.

Today, she had been dog paddling around the protected water behind the break water with her mom standing on the cement landing in wrapped in a parau looking on with a smile. The daughter walked toward us and as I greeted her, she extended her dripping arms and came in for a hug. I impulsively gave her a kiss on her wet cheek and received one in return. Brian was behind me and she went to him next and gave him an equally cheerful hug. Mom was standing behind smiling at us. The dripping hugger waved and walked away with her up the hill.
The innocence and beauty of those two soggy gifts makes me smile whenever I think about them.

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