The Pacific Diaries

The Big Blue

22 May 2005

It is time to leave Isabella for the Marquesas Islands, a trip that takes most yachts 15 to 20 days at sea. Only 2920 miles to go……..not much further than from the Canaries to the Caribbean, but it feels further as you set off. On the Atlantic crossing, you can always change your mind after 800 miles in an emergency and drop down to the Cape Verde Islands . Even after that, it’s a busy ocean. There are so many vessels making the voyage through the peak season. We almost ran down a single handed oarsman on the Atlantic crossing!

As you leave Isabella, there is but empty ocean ahead of you until the Marquesas, far away from commercial shipping routes, with only a handful of yachts in it. We were to see just 3 other boats in 3000 miles.

The weather for our departure could hardly have been more auspicious. 18 knot SE trades on our quarter, which our boat speed brought forward onto the beam. La Novia settled down at 10 knots over the ground with no sense of being pressed, wonderfully steady in the 6 - 8 foot seas on our quarter that lay over a 12 foot swell from the south. In the first 24 hours we had covered 238 nautical miles. Perfect we thought - only 11 days to go!

48 hours later we felt quite euphoric with 705 NM under the keel in the first 3 days. Then the wind began to back behind us and ease off, not in a great rush but a few degrees and half a knot lighter each day. Our first week was still amazing. Despite one very slow day, we averaged 9.1 knots or 218 nm a day for 1458 miles from anchor up to the mid way mark. Easily our best ever sustained performance. From then on, the winds became harder and harder to find, We changed course to the south in response to our weather forecast and kept running under sail for another 4 days until the wind died completely, still 603 NM out of Hiva Oa. So on went the engine and we motored in, sometimes in no wind sometimes with enough to fill a sail as well.

We arrived safely at Atuona on Hiva Oa at 1730 local time just as the sun was setting, having completed the 2920 miles in 14 days 6 hours anchor up to anchor down with no gear or equipment failures except for our electronic barometer which expired on the trip and didn’t respond to the usual 2 repairs ( change batteries and bang barometer on the table several times, for those of you interested in the technical details!)

Hiva Oa is a spectacular place to arrive at the end of such a journey, a truly operatic landscape. The island from the sea resembles a huge sleeping dragon with a ridged back. The boys had a happy hour picking out the different bits of the beast as we moved down the coast. We took an early night and slept undisturbed for 10 hours. Bliss.

Beyond The Big Blue

24 May 2005

Even in the euphoric afterglow of completing the longest passage that most cruisers ever undertake, the mundane imperatives of life still command. First order of the day here was haircuts all round. Boys have been moaning about their hair all trip but the motion of the boat and their incurable fidgets made a trim at sea too dangerous.

Everyone studies the same weather forecasts so we had left at about the same time as many other yachts that we knew. In theory, it would be reassuring to stay within a few hours of each other in such a huge expanse of ocean, but in practice it rarely happens. We did keep in touch by email on a daily basis throughout the voyage although we soon found ourselves hundreds of miles apart.

The arrival of 3T & Sea Fever at Hiva Oa after us was hilarious with the kids in a lather of excitement and pent up energy, I started collecting children in our tender before their anchors were even set and before we knew it there were 9 kids running riot on La Novia’s deck.

We spent the next three weeks cruising in the Marquesas, which looking back, have probably been more successful in holding on to their Polynesian roots than the rest of French Polynesia. The scenery is utterly spectacular, the anchorages are lousy and the people of Hiva Oa are particularly friendly. In the absence of taxis or buses, everyone in a car stops to pick up hitch hikers as a matter of course. The days are brutally hot but nights remain cool.

The dreaded ‘NoNo’ flies are not as omnipresent as rumour suggests, but one encounter is enough to force anyone to modify their behaviour to avoid a second. These things excise a chunk of flesh when they come to dinner and the bites itch unbearably for days afterwards.

Fatu Hiva

31 May 2005

Fatu Hiva, the southernmost island is the least developed of the population centres, home to about 600 people, and unique in being free of NoNos, which pretty much qualified it as our favourite island in the group! After a tough sail down there, hard on the wind, ( how very French to prohibit formal entry at the windward end of the island group ), we had a nightmare arrival in the dark and torrential rain, feeling our way up the narrow, cliff lined gorge on radar.

Some clown was anchored in mid channel on the outside of the anchorage with neither light nor radar reflector and Catherine, up on the bow, didn’t see him until about 30 metres dead ahead. 

Her Shriek of “Boat! Boat!” may not have been a textbook example of precise instruction, but it made up for any shortcomings in positional information with the urgency of its tone.  As she pointed out later, with unassailable feminine logic, the thing was right in front us, so it really didn’t matter which way  I turned! We missed them by 15′ so she was probably right at that.

As if one fright wasn’t enough, we then had our anchor chain jam with 10 metres out in the tight and crowded ( with 6 or 7 boats! ) anchorage with winds gusting to 35 knots from random directions, bouncing off the cliffs. This was not a problem that we wanted to sort out short handed in such a confined space, but just as we were about to put back out to sea to sort out the mess, a friendly soul aboard another boat in the anchorage dinghied over to help after seeing us struggle and five minutes later we were grateful to have our anchor firmly set, La Novia swinging wildly in the gusts, sleep unthinkable, anchor watch crawling through the darkness until dawn.

But what a dawn. A place to free the imagination and let one’s spirit soar. The cliffscape is like no other. A lush panorama of towering faces reaching to the clouds with an inner ring eroded to fantastical shapes. Like the creatures of a child’s nightmare, the shapes assume new identities with each passing glance. One moment, the phalluses that so offended the first missionaries. Then pagan faces, scowling deities to ward off unwelcome visitors. One towering slope is dominated by a great chieftain’s head, a shattered visage lying like some Ozimandian warning, to remind us of the teeming civilization that flowered here just two hundred years ago.

A passing cloud, a change of light and they are gone. The rocks return again, sober, dour, bereft of life until the shafts of sunlight pierce the clouds anew, and beneath a sky lit like the canopy above a pagan Jerusalem, a fresh cast of characters emerges from the geological wonderland around us.

’Survivor’ - The Reality Behind the Show

12 June 2005

We have visited Daniel, the yachtsman’s friend for 40 years on Nuku Hiva and signed his wonderful visitors book - nothing less than an history of Pacific voyaging in small craft.

This is an unforgettable experience for any Pacific sailor. His book now stretches to seven volumes. Names, signatures, drawings, photographs, messages of goodwill.

Such names they are too! Bernard Moitessier, Robin Knox-Johnston, Chay Blythe, are just a few that leap out at you from the pages. As you turn the pages, you are completely overwhelmed by a sense of standing in the history of your present endeavour.

Daniel himself is now ancient, but as charming as ever.

Ironically, he no longer lives in splendid isolation in Daniel’s Bay. His enforced departure from his home must rank as one of the creepiest cameos of modern life as distorted by the media.

Who I wonder, was the warped mind that coined the phrase “Reality TV”? Why do I wonder? Well…………….

The ‘Reality’ TV show Survivor took a shine to his bay and decided that it was not ‘Real’ enough with him living there. So they paid the government to move him against his will to the bay next door, and demolished his house in Daniel’s Bay, so that they could film a ‘Reality’ TV show about surviving on a deserted island in a perfect bay just 4 miles down the road from the capital of the Marquesas Islands, where beer & burgers were readily available for all involved.

But that’s probably more
‘Reality’ than the moronic audience of Survivor either need, or for that matter, want, to know.