Journal 27, Galapagos to Marquesas and Tuamotu
April 9 - May 25, 2010
We were both apprehensive and excited about making the long journey from Galapagos to Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands (French Polynesia). We estimated the trip from 20-25 days, but with the help of strong winds, a favorable current and a fast boat we arrived in 17 days. The trip was 408 hours and we motored less than 10 hours getting out and into the islands.
The first days we were flying across the water with steady 15-20 knot broad reach winds. We had never made 200 nautical miles in one day, but we had 3 consecutive 200nm days! Great timing for our longest voyage!
We passed the days sleeping, snoozing, lounging and fixing a few things now & then. Together we solved lots of crossword puzzles. The days were somewhat monotonous but not too bad. Pods of dolphins came by several times to entertain us. Our fishing luck was not good; a small mahi and a small marlin, both which we threw back. Then one tuna we kept. We lost a lot of lures, there’s big fish out there!
One disadvantage of 8.5 knots of speed and 10 foot seas is meal preparation on a mono hull sailboat. El Regalo is a relatively large and heavy boat but we still pitch and turn quite a bit when sailing fast. If you’re not careful the galley can become a scene right out of ‘I Love Lucy’ with pans flying-sliding and the cook stumbling around trying to maintain their balance. As in everything in life, it’s just a matter of adjusting and planning ahead to maintain your sanity and eat. I do not know who invented the gimbaled stove (stove on a swivel to counter the boat’s roll), but hats off to them!
As the days passed the winds and seas became calmer and our boat speed dropped. But a relaxing sail is not all bad. On the 17th day we spotted the tall mountains of Hiva Oa and we were so excited to be making landfall!
The Marquesas Islands are controlled (and financially supported) by France and are a part of French Polynesia. Most Americans call this archipelago Tahiti, but actually Tahiti is only one of many islands, albeit the largest, most populated and least traditional. Along with the Society-Tahiti group, Tuamotu, Gambier and Austral Islands form French Polynesia. From these islands early Spanish, Dutch and French navigators discovered them for Europe. Early explorers found vicious warfare between native groups, cannibalism of captured warriors, the art of tattooing, surfing and a culture of high priests where their courtyards were tapu (taboo) that were forbidden to commoners. The islander populations and cultures were decimated by European diseases and alcohol. French priests treated the locals as slaves and thousands were killed in the process of building elaborate cathedrals and church buildings that were mostly later abandoned. The 18th and 19th centuries were a series of tragedies for the native culture and populations and their societies collapsed.
We shared a car with s/v Endless to visit a marae and tiki while at Hiva Oa. Marae were places of worship, cloaked in tapu, built in open air for the purpose of celebrating the religious and social life of the clans (huaka). Within their confines, the gods were honored and invoked, the chiefs formally installed (male or female), wars prepared, rituals performed, offerings and human sacrifices made. Usually the trees surrounding them, especially the banyan, were considered holy.
At the meeting point between art and religion, tiki are human-like statues, of enigmatic appearance, carved in basalt or keetu (volcanic stuff), or in wood, though the wooden ones have not withstood the ravages of time.
After a week in Hiva Oa we made a short sail to the nearby island of Tahuata. While rounding the south side we caught this bull mahi. We cooked the head for some delicious soup meals, had filets for 12 meals and we also enjoyed some great ceviche. In February we filled our freezer with meat while in mainland Ecuador and thanks to the fish we caught in April/May our freezer is still ½ full.
We enjoyed the snorkeling at Tahuata with its colorful and unusual fish. The most unusual was this fish with its crew cut top and spectacular orange tail. Snorkeling was great until one day JoDon decided to snorkel alone. While out on a point, she spotted a black tip shark and immediately turned on the camera for some photos. Within a few minutes she found herself surrounded by 30 black tips who were circling her. They were not agitated but it was enough for JoDon and she swam back to the boat in high gear.
Our next day trip took us to the remote island of Fatu Hiva. There is no boat service or airport so its one of the hardest to get to islands in the Marquessas. For this same reason, it is one of the most interesting islands since it’s very traditional and the locals have little interaction with the rest of the world. Most of the crafts sold in Tahiti are actually made in Fatu Hiva.
The gorgeous bay where we anchored was originally named by the French, Baie des Verges (Bay of Penises). When the missionaries arrived they were outraged by the name and they renamed it Baie des Vierges (Bay of the Virgins). We never knew an “I” could change a penis to a virgin.
The remote islands prefer to trade cruisers for items rather than exchange money. This is our story regarding trading with the locals:
We had the privilege to attend the Sunday Catholic church service in Hanavave, the local village. We arrived early and we were sitting on a stone wall waiting for services to begin when a local, Marcus, introduced himself and his wife. We chatted and I asked him how he learned such good English. He explained that he and all his brothers had moved to Papeete, Tahiti and he lived there for 10 years. He never could master French he learned in school but he picked up English easily. He hated Tahiti and he moved back to Fatu Hiva although all his brothers remain at Tahiti. He is now a wood carver and he invited us to his house to look at his work. He also befriended us and led us into the church and introduced us to many of his friends. Although the service was conducted in Polynesian, the service was basic Catholic and the singing was inspirational. The congregation of 60 boomed out song after song that was accompanied by guitars and ukuleles. It was awesome! We found it intriguing that the youngest churchgoers did not attend the first part of the mass. Instead, they were in close by building having choir practice and learning to sing. So, during the entire first part of the service singing was constant from within the church or from the building next to the church.
After the church ceremonies we went to Marcus’ house, not to trade since it was Sunday, but just to find out where he lived so we could come back the following day. While there Marcus’ wife gave us some bananas, papayas and pamplemousse (very sweet grapefruit with a thick rind). In chatting, Marcus mentioned that he was in need of a calculator. His calculator had broken and there was a small cruise ship bringing tourist this week and he needed a calculator to do business. The next day we returned with a gift of a loaf of papaya and banana nut bread that JoDon had baked that morning and my old calculator from work. Marcus’ wife accepted our nut bread and quickly disappeared. She later returned with two cans of peas so we assumed she traded all or part of our bread for the peas, which was OK. Marcus accepted the calculator and some money was exchanged for these two traditional rosewood tikis that he had carved in his backyard. He admired our camera and mentioned he needed a digital camera. So, the next day we returned and traded our old camera for some more of his artwork.
I asked Marcus about his tattoos. In olden times men added tattoos to the arms, chest and legs (but never to their face) as they became more accomplished warriors (like stars on helmets are awarded for good football players). Marcus designed his own tattoos using a book that had pictures of traditional Marquesan symbols. He was very proud of his tattoos and most men in the Marquesas have these elaborate traditional tattoos.
While on Fatu Hiva we did some hiking up the mountains and to a remote waterfall where we had a refreshing swim in fresh water. There isn't a camera that can capture the beauty of Fatu Hiva. We were there almost a week and never got accustomed to the magnificent views.
After five days we were restless and ready to move on to the Tuamotu Islands. During this time we had been unable to connect with our weather service using the SSB marine radio to check out the 500 nm trip. We were frustrated and finally just left in mild conditions. As it turned out we had light winds and a gentle following sea that made the trip one of the slowest, but most comfortable we’ve experienced. You can see in this photo the water in front of the boat is like glass. We used the spinnaker the entire trip and El Regalo plodded along at 4.5 knots. Normally I cannot read a book while sailing (or while riding in a moving car or small plane) but on this trip the ride was like being at anchor. The journey took us twice the time we thought it would but we read a book/day and had a glass of wine in the evenings so getting there in a hurry was not a priority. We learned later that boats traveling this pass 4 to 5 days after us had 40 knot winds and big confused seas. We were thankful we had a slow trip!
Brian and JoDon
Many friends have asked us if we meet other sailors while cruising. The answer is, YES! Some people we meet we never see again while others we run across “down island.” For example, we became good friends with a German boat, Endless, while in the San Blas islands. We later ran into them in Colón, Panama, again in Galapagos and then in Marquesas, none of these encounters were planned. We probably will also see them in Tahiti and New Zealand. Here we are playing Sequence. There are many other boats that we have similar stories with and it’s fun to cruise thru a new anchorage looking for people we know. The best part is that cruisers help one another and are great in sharing information about where to anchor, shopping, finding spare parts, etc. Small world!