the journey

The marquesas

April 19, 2007

Current Location: Atuona Bay, Hiva Oa
Current Position: Approx. S 09° 48', W 139° 01'

Approaching these islands from the sea it is no wonder they became inhabited. It is a land with sharp contrast. The wild rugged peaks of black lava razorback ridges resembling the backs of dragons crawl up from the sea, while the mountains' flanks are covered in green suggesting earthly abundance and possibility. The Marquesas, also known as Te Henua Enana (The Land of Men) were thought to be among the first to be settled by the Polynesians.

It must have been the ruggedness, the accessibility to the rest of the pacific, and the fertility that first brought people to these islands. It is a land where fruit falls from the trees at my feet. Walking back from town just yesterday I enjoyed two mangos still warm from the suns kisses, limes, and a few local fruits of which I do not know the name. Other wild fruits can be gathered with a stick and fall generously when prodded. Mango, lime, pomplemousse, banana, papaya, coconut, breadfruit trees all grow in abundance in the southern islands.

Hiva Oa, one of the largest islands is as beautiful as it is abundant. The island possesses a kaleidoscope of colors from the brilliant red, orange and pink hibiscus flowers men and women adorn behind their ears to the greens of the fruit trees and vegetation, the rare white sand beaches and the stark lava rock. Traveling around the island to visit Me’ae Iiopona, a powerful ancient site, home to five ti'i (otherwise known as tiki) I was struck by my preoccupation with fresh fruits. Everywhere we drove, I was drawn to the mango trees, searching for fruit drooping from the branches, avocados hiding amidst green leaves, and the elusive pomplemousse. Perhaps it was because I had been rationing apples, limes and carrots for over twenty days or that we ran out of avocados on day 6 of our passage but everywhere I seemed to look there was an abundance of fruit seemingly waiting to be eaten.

I was not the only one. Our tour guide and my friend, Mary Jo from Atuona too was searching for fruits. Along the way we stopped the truck under an avocado tree to stand on the roof and unsuccessfully harvest the 40 avocados we saw taunting us. After valiant effort and much laughter, we left with 5. We stopped at a fruit farm where a there were what seemed like hundreds of pomplemousse, bees and a man, Mary Jo referred to as grandpa, drying bananas (my favorite) and making banana vinegar. I left with a bundle of dried bananas and a gift of pomplemousse.

Fruit is sacred in these islands, especially the breadfruit. The ancient sites are surrounded by fruit trees: breadfruits, papaya, limes, chili peppers and fruits of which I do not know the names. It seemes to me as an offering to the gods.

Being in these sacred places, I was struck by the power and beauty of them. Something stopped inside of me when I entered each site. Perhaps it was that I could feel some essence of years past or more likely, it was the mana, the power in them. Whatever it was, it was strong enough to remind me I was but a visitor and the ancestors and gods and goddesses of this land have a commanding place here.

Leaving the backside of the island to return to Atuona and visit Taaoa, an impressive ancient site where the royalty gathered for dance and festivals, we must have stopped 15 times to gather fruit, specifically mangos. Mary Jo, knows the trees by their abundance and sweetness of fruit. We arrived to their special home with over 70 mangos, 15 papayas, and several pomplemousse. For today, I like this land, was blessed with abundance.

April 20, 2007

Current Location: Atuona Bay, Hiva Oa
Current Position: Approx. S 09° 48', W 139° 01'

The motorcycle revved to life. I applied my brain-bucket and hopped onto the idling machine, searching for my left footrest that didn’t exist. Ozanne, the driver of this exciting iron beast set us in motion and away we zipped down the big hill into Atuona town. We cruised through the main road of town, all one quarter mile of it, passing the Make Make snack bar where we had some delicious Asian noodles the day before, the Gendarmerie (police station) where we had completed all our necessary official boat and passport paperwork, the Paul Gauguin cultural center, the vegetable truck parked in the shade where we have been buying the most delicious cucumbers and gigantic green beans, and finally the large Marquesan man covered with tattoos that always sits on the steps to the big market looking rather foreboding. We rounded the last corner of town, passing the elementary school, and immediately hit dirt and gravel. Ozanne shifted down, I lifted my flip-flops up a little higher from the lumpy rock-strewn ground, and we continued onward towards Taaoa, the small community of Marquesans who live a bit outside of town and where Ozanne's new house is.

As we were walking back to the boat harbor the day before, a car pulled over and asked us if we wanted a ride. We were pretty content walking the 2 miles or so, seeing that we haven’t used our legs much for weeks, but decided to jump in and have it easy this hot afternoon. The man asked us if we were on a yacht, speaking in pretty good English. Nicole looked at me and then asked what his name was. Ozanne, he replied, and this is my wife MaryJo. Nicole and I both smiled, appreciating the fact that we no longer had to try to make a local call that afternoon to try to find them, as they had just found us. Two of our sailing friends had told us to look up these wonderful people and we had the intention of tracking them down to at least say hello and pass on some greetings from our sailing friends, Roger and John. It was obvious that we were supposed to meet.

Later that day we traded Ozanne and MaryJo a bottle of wine from our small stash for a bundle of fruit from their land: bananas, mangos, soursap, and some papayas. It was a good exchange and we were both happy.

They expressed interest in our boat and we invited them over the next day for some cookies and juice. Towards the end of their visit Ozanne and I ended up talking about his new house he just had built. He was working on the porch and was putting in long days by himself. I asked if he wanted some help and I could clearly see him perk up a bit. After I told him that I often worked as a carpenter and builder, and he realized that I was serious, new plans were set into motion. A quick discussion ensued between Ozanne and MaryJo in rapid Marquesan and before we knew it, our next day was planned!

The dirt and gravel road contoured along the steep curves of the bay, while looming above us rose a majestic volcanic peak thickly covered with coconut trees, banana trees, mango trees and all matter of vegetation until the steepness gave way to rock and mossy plant life that clung to it’s uppermost edges. We passed a smattering of small houses and orchards until we slowed down and then turned into a small driveway next to a very endearing little blue house.

Ozanne and MaryJo’s new house was put together from a kit pre-fabricated in New Zealand. He told me he always wanted a house made of wood, and not concrete like he had always lived in. It is a modest and smart design, elevated from the ground, along with good airflow in the ceiling spaces to keep the ventilation strong, and overhung roofs to keep the rain and sun off. When I walked in I immediately noticed how clean everything was, as well as all the beautiful fabric filled with bright colors and flowers that covered windows, couches and tables.

A quick cup of Nescafe and we were off to the concrete mixer. The day's jobs were to continue mixing and pouring concrete into forms to make balusters for his new porch railing. Then we were to form and pour concrete at the end of his porch. It was hot, physical work, and by the early afternoon we were both pretty exhausted and my hands were full of blisters and my body dripping sweat. But I felt good, really good. I was missing working with my hands and body in a way that I enjoyed. Plus, a big piece of what Nicole and I want to do with our sailing journey is to give back to the local people, as well as to the land and ocean, in whatever forms we can offer.

It was lunchtime and the girls had just arrived to the house, having been on a tour of the island’s archeological sites and Tiki's all morning. The joined us for some yellowfin tuna, roasted breadfruit, and fresh baguettes on the porch as we all escaped the heat of the day.

After lunch, one last mission. The girls embarked for another tiki visit while Ozanne and I lumbered off down the road and up the steep hill towards his abundant land where he grows his fruit stash on. Up, up, and up some more we huffed and puffed on the overgrown dirt road that provides access to the base of the cliffs that loomed above. We hiked through a small piece of his land where forests of banana, coconut, noni, andmango trees, along with a smattering of pineapple and other tropical delights, covered the striking earth.

We picked fruit on our way to the grand prize, his avocado tree. He kept warning me that the fruit might not be ripe, but as luck or fate or manifestation would have it, we scored. I climbed the tree, picked avocados from every branch I could reach, and threw them down to Ozanne. We filled our bags with at least 20 big avocados each. Mission accomplished!

We said farewell to our new friends back at the boat anchorage, hoping to be able to return for a couple more days after we visited the other southern islands. With many waves and smiles, they watched us row our little dingy filled with so much fruit back out to our little floating home that would take us onward to other amazing places and people dotted throughout the big and mighty Pacific Ocean.

April 20, 2007

Current Location: Atuona Bay, Hiva Oa
Current Position: Approx. S 09° 48', W 139° 01'

"So what did you do first?" my dad asked when discussing our landfall. After the immediate task of taking care of the boat, cleaning, putting covers on making sure the anchor was secure, we went to land. I wanted to touch the earth again and I really wanted a shower.

These islands have an ample supply of water from frequent rain showers and I was blessed to enjoy a hedonistically long shower of 5 minutes with cold water streaming out of a spigot along a pipe by the beach. The next day we got fuel, three runs to the fuel dock, loading our jerry jugs to the dock by hand, paying $6 a gallon. We hand washed sheets and clothes in buckets and hung them out to dry on our high lifelines in the sun. We ate baguettes and green beans, bananas, mangos and papaya until our stomachs hurt and slept. We slept the deep sleep that comes after we finally allow ourselves to let the boat be, knowing she is ok and that she can take care of herself. The sleep after a passage is odd yet fulfilling. We sleep at weird times, for longer periods of time and we’re lucky to sleep through the night. Waking after several days of rejuvenating sleep and fantastic adventures we know it is time to go.

It was hard to leave our new friend's Mary Jo and Ozanne in Hiva Oa, but we left for Tahuata with the hopes of reaching Fatu Hiva and Hanavave, the Bay of Virgins the following day. Small rainsqualls chased us to Tahuata and added to the drama of this landscape.

April 20, 2007

Current Location: Baie Hanatefau, Tahuata
Current Position: Approx. S 09° 57', W 139° 07'

I could hear the rocks dancing before I saw them. Arriving at the anchorage on the south side of Tahuata we were greeted with the foreboding darkness of black lava boulders rolling in the surf and the steep mountain’s face that loomed above us. Staring into the inky bay, searching for a good spot to drop the hook, I was overwhelmed by the power of this place. Once we were at 40 feet, I let the chain go, hoping to find good holding amidst what looked like a small patch of sand in a sea of rocks.

The light was flat and the water deep yet I wanted to check the anchor. With the wind howling through the rigging and rain on the horizon we jumped into the dark water to look at our hook.

Within moments, a boat named Surprise glided into the anchorage. On their transom, a beautiful 50 lb yellowfin tuna boasted their fishing success. We quickly hopped out of the water, not wanting to be shark bait with the alluring scent of tuna blood in the water and waited for the rain.

When the sheets of rain passed. Steve and Susan on Surprise, graciously fulfilled our wish for tuna. We had been talking about it all day and failed to catch our own. With the gift of two gallon Ziplocs filled with sushi grade tuna, we were blessed. We were luckier this way, no killing, cleaning, or butchering required.

April 20, 2007

Current Location: Baie Hanamoenoa, Tahuata
Current Position: Approx. S 09° 54', W 139° 06'

Battling 15-knot headwinds gusting to 22 and 6 foot frothing seas once we rounded the south the tip of Tahuata, we were greeted by a pod of playful pan-tropical spotted dolphins. While I often see them as a sign for good luck, I realized today was different and we quickly changed our plans, turning back to Tahuata, leaving Fatu Hiva for another day.

We passed the anchorage from last night and headed 8 miles north to a bay tropical dreams are made from. Hana Moe Noa is one of the only white sand beaches in the Marquesas, lined with coconut palms and fringed by a slowly growing reef. It is an idyllic anchorage, despite the five other boats bobbing around us.

Plunging fearlessly into the aqua water, I was immediately at home. Kicking towards the south edge of the bay over 30-40 feet of water and a sandy bottom I searched for sharks. The Marquesas are still well populated with sharks that are known to roam off black sand beaches. No sharks, but it didn't stop me from consistently looking over my shoulder while diving to explore the beautiful beginnings of a coral reef.

Moorish Idols, swam past close enough to kiss, while rainbow wrasse, large bump headed parrot fish, small tangs and a handful of other fish only known to me by the names I'd given them, papaya box fish, electric blue beauties, and juvenile fish filled this gigantic aquarium. Riding the swell, pretending to be part fish, I giggled, flooding my mask.

Swimming back to the dingy, I was startled to see creatures from the dinosaur era. Three enormous stingrays, at least ten feet from head to tail and five feet wide sleep, barley visible, sand covering their bodies and all but their eyes and tails. My heart stops for an instant and I feel so blessed to be part of this world. Contemplating disturbing them so we can see them shake off their sandy camouflage and fly away, we stop ourselves, wanting to give them respect. Surfacing and hauling ourselves into the dingy we are both smiling. Within moments, something dark glides below us. "Ray", I scream.

We splash back into the water and watch a 6-foot manta ray, flying slowly past us. She stops, pausing to swim in endless loops, exposing the white side of her belly and the few black spots she has. We watch her, grinning, until she disappears into the shadows, wings flapping slowly into the darkness. To me, mantas are like angels of the sea. Again, we are blessed.

April 27, 2007

Current Location: Hanavave, Fatu Hiva
Current Position: Approx. S 10° 27', W 138° 40'

The very large Marquesan woman handed me a heaping plate of food and motioned for me to sit and eat, NOW. She hurriedly cleared a space for me at the serving table and I sat down next to my new friend, Jean, from the French Indies. I quickly realized I had scored, as Jean was French, not only able to speak the local language, but more importantly, he had brought a very good bottle of French wine.

We were all gathered at a local Marquesan house, all 24 of us yachties, in the small village of HanaVave at the remote southern island of Fatu Hiva. Nicole and I had been approached by Christine, the woman who's house we were at now, when we first arrived to the town a few days past, wanting to know if we wanted to partake in a local dinner, but only if we could gather a group of 10 people or more. Being the new "dinner ambassadors" of the anchorage, Nicole and I made the rounds in our dingy for a few days, and by the end, had assembled a multinational cast of salty characters from the U.K., Canada, France, Spain, Germany, Holland, Denmark, and a few of us Yankees.

Jean filled my plastic cup and I inspected the mysterious plate of morsels in front of me. I could easily identify the pork, having already observed the pit dug in the front yard lined with rocks and banana leaves, where the little pig had been roasting all day. There was also some raw fish in a coconut sauce (poisson cru), roasted breadfruit, a banana prepared like a yam, another "supposed" banana that looked too much like a fleshy phallic unit I just couldn't eat because I couldn't convince myself it really was a banana, some type of prepared chicken in a coconut sauce, and steamed rice. Without silverware or napkins, we all dug into our feast, sharing stories with our neighbors in whatever language we could piece together, and appreciating our new reality of landfall with these happy Polynesian people.

Fatu Hiva, the most remote of the Marquesan islands, is lush, wet, and dramatically beautiful. Some say the anchorage is one of the most beautiful in the world, and we concur that it is striking and majestic, but in our case, also busy. We have arrived to this island when all of the yachts that have come from the Galapagos Islands are arriving. This is often their first landfall and new boats arrive to the anchorage daily, creating a very tight parking lot, where every available anchoring spot is occupied and often crowding into the next one. It seems like this would be a perfect anchorage for about 10 boats or less, and we are dealing with 20-25. A bit crazy, but no one turns away, and everyone seems to find a little niche.

So we eat and laugh and converse together, a true global sailing community, licking our banana covered fingers as we tell our tales of salty adventures and share our excitement for new adventures to come.
May 2, 2007

Current Location: Baie de Tai'oa (Daniel's Bay), Nuku Hiva
Current Position: Approx. S 8° 56', W 140° 09'

Once again we are escorted by a pod of dolphins as we sail into Baie de Tai'oa, also known as Daniel's Bay. This is the bay and valley that hosted the show "Survivor", and we've been looking forward to seeing this beautiful place for ourselves, without having to outwit, outlast, and outplay anyone else. In fact we just left Taiohae Bay, the main anchorage of Nuku Hiva 5 miles to the east, where there are now at least 25 sailboats in the harbor, everyone arriving from Mexico, the Galapagos Islands, or the southern Marquesan Islands. It feels busy and is also a rolly anchorage, so scooting around the corner to this bay is a pleasant relief. Only a few boats here…peaceful and calm, not to mention, strikingly beautiful.

Hiking up the Hakaui Valley the next day finds us enchanted by how gorgeous the landscape is. After navigating into the mouth of a creek and pulling the dingy into a coconut grove, the walk starts through a sparsely populated and isolated village. Small homes cobbed together with wood planks, driftwood, and volcanic rock sit surrounded by manicured grass lawns and prolific papaya, lime, pamplemousse (large sweet, Southeast Asian variety grapefruit), and mango trees. Near the beach land crabs have dug their homes and are seen scurrying underneath all the palm trees, clearly having the run of the place.

Hakaui valley was once the fiefdom of King Te Moana and Queen Vaekehu and the ancient royal road that once ran through this dramatic basin is now a mere overgrown trail that winds and weaves its way up towards the river's source, the Vaipo waterfall, the highest in French Polynesia. It is an amazing hike with vertical walls rising over 2500 feet on each side of the river.

As we trod deeper into the valley we pass ancient pae pae (floors of houses built with lava rock), tohua (Marquesan meeting houses where festivals and gatherings took place), and ti'i (Marquesan tiki's), that are often hidden beneath tangles of vegetation beside the trail. Our bodies are tight, not used to such a long hike, and we breathe deeply allowing ourselves to appreciate the movement of stepping over gigantic tree roots, scrambling through lava rock, and hip-deep river crossings.

A few hours later we find ourselves at the end of the path. Tucked into a narrow gap surrounded by 2000-foot volcanic cliffs, the water cascading through a labyrinth of worn rock corridors, pooling at the base in gray sediment-filled pools of water where crawdads have made their home. Above circle the magnificent brilliant white tropic birds, dancing in the uplifts of air and living their lives in this majestic place.

After a quick nibble and some stretching of our legs, we turn and head back downhill along this ancient path that was once the home of the early Marquesan people.

May 6-9, 2007

Current Location: Anaho Bay, Nuku Hiva
Current Position: Approx. S 8° 49', W 140° 03'

"Shark," I yelled. Gar stood, peering over the pontoons of the dingy, unwilling to wade to shore while I frantically paced the sandy shallows.

We’ve been warned not to swim in the Marquesas because of the sharks. When we do swim, we look over our shoulders and between our legs. It was not until an early morning at Anaho Bay on Nuka Hiva that we saw them.

Three sharks. Three baby Black Tip Reef sharks. They patrolled the shallows searching for food. Paying me no attention, aside from scattering when my voice pierced the water. Not more than 20 inches long they offered me hope and pulled at my heartstrings.


They remind me of angels. They appear slowly, like an apparition, through the thick green water at twilight. With a faint glow from their mouths and a their wings breaking the surface of the lagoon, we knew they were here. For three mornings and evenings manta rays have been circling our boats feeding on plankton.

At sunset, we slid into the dark green water with them, hoping not to bump into a shark. Peering through the darkening water as the light faded, we waited wide-eyed, as they appeared and disappeared with a flap of their wings. A flash of white, through the darkness signaled their return and they would circle just inches from us. Then they were gone.

May 10-13, 2007

Current Location: Baie D' hakahau
Current Position: Approx. S 9° 21', W 140° 02'

When a large Marquesan woman, dripping with seawater in a pink sarong with seahorses rapidly started speaking to me in French. I could only smile and explain ashamedly that my French was very bad. She handed me a melon.

It was then I knew I was going to manifest the fruit we wanted to bring with us to the unfertile lands of the Tuamotos. I explained to her I was looking for fruit for exchange or to buy. She made it clear to me she would be back replying in rough English "3 o'clock no exchange", and smiled. I had no idea what fruit I was getting or where I was going at three o'clock but I would be there.

It is almost impossible to buy fruit in the Marquesas at a market. It seems everyone has fruit trees or knows someone who grows their own. At one thirty, heading to town to pick up some more eggs and cookies I walked past her truck. Again, rapid French. Between hand motions and some words I understood as get in. I obliged.

A strikingly beautiful woman with a rope of braided wet grey hair sat beside her, smiling and looking at me with sharp eyes. Your husband, she said and bateau. Yes, I clarified; I am with my husband sailing on a boat. She seemed satisfied and began talking in Marquesan again, her seatbelt wrapped around her wrist, hiding the fact that she didn’t put it on. A girl about 7 or 8 dressed in dark purple and lavender striped underwear sat beside me smiling with bright eyes. I smiled back, not knowing what I had asked for.

Passing three of the markets I had stopped at during previous days to buy bread, cookies, eggs, onions, juice, a head of lettuce and some baguettes we turned onto a road that Gar and I had explored our first day. It was unlike the others as everything was livelier and there was so much peace here. Healthy trees drooped with celadon green pamplemousse, one rare melon hung over the concrete wall, the bright orange orbs of star fruit glowed between shiny green leaves. Big, clean, concrete houses peered through more fruit trees. This was her family's land and her father had planted the trees years ago.

Something about it pulsed with life. It was not just the land but also these women. A lineage of them. She lived here, her aunt lived there in the house next door, her sister, her other sister, her parents, her brother, her sister who lived in Papeetee, her other aunt. They all had houses or at least land with fruit trees here.

I met her daughter, large and proud, wearing a skirt and a beautiful thin lace bra lined with embroidered flowers, finery from France no doubt. She confirmed it. These women were all beautiful and strong, regal yet relaxed, giving and filled with a gentle kindness.

I left with an overflowing heart, a liter of homemade honey, 1 cucumber, 2 mangoes, 12 eggplant, 25 star fruit, and 50 pounds of pamplemousse, (island grapefruit). I gave my new friend a box of hazelnut chocolates that she gave to her little niece and a reggae cd that she gave to her daughter. She wanted nothing and gave everything.

Upon presenting her with these gifts she kissed me. It was then than my heart had broken open; her kindness and generosity poured in and my memory of her stayed. I kissed her back and goodbye on both cheeks.

May 14-18, 2007

Current Location: Passage to Kauehi Atoll, Tuamotus

We ate stars for breakfast. Watched the ocean change faces from sapphire to violet and to lavender in the early mornings. Days later the color was snuffed out and we looked into a sea of grey. I dodged raindrops in the darkness of early morning and wondered what I saw glowing past our hull. In the afternoon, I danced under a sheet of rain and last night, I shivered as it came down.

We flew for three days. On the fourth we had to clip Dreamkeeper's wings; we were heading to Kauehi way too fast. The 17-22 knot winds picked us up. Even under a double reef alone, we sailed at 5+ knots. This morning we waited, stalling in front of the pass before first light.

As the sky turned from black to grey we headed in for a closer look. The sea was frothing; there was strong ebb. I held on, willing our boat through. She bucked though it and we were in. Clouds swirled above us. The sea was dark blue.

Sun broke through the veil of clouds and it was beautiful. Water glowed in translucent blues and turquoise while shacks on stilts rose out of it. Palms swayed in the wind, waving.