Monday, July 10, 2006

South to the Tuamotous

Time to move on again. We left Nuka Hiva yesterday morning for the Tuamotus. We're aiming for Raroia which is where Thor Heyerdahl's raft "Kon-Tiki" was stranded at the end of his voyage from Peru. We're hoping to arrive in time for Bastille day (14th July), which is the excuse for major festivities throughout French Polynesia.

We've had a slow, if relaxing start, with a gentle 10 knots of easterly wind and calm sea. If the wind shifts more to the SE, we might struggle to make Raroia, but there are plenty of other islands to choose from, the pilot guide says there are 78 atolls within the archipelago, stretched across a 1000 miles. Thankfully it isn't possible to visit them all; the French used some of the southerly atolls for their nuclear tests, and others are only navigable by shallow draft boats through small breaks in the reef. Still lots to look forward to, with clear water, fantastic diving, snorkeling and fishing opportunities.

Since the last update the roaches have vanished, we hope permanently, but suspect they will reappear once the eggs hatch.

We stayed a few extra days in Ua Pou as we'd learnt that the bamboo, palm-leafed and corrugated iron buildings taking shape around the waterfront would result in a festival area opening on 1st July. The fete opened with speeches in Marquasian and French. Embarrassingly my school French only allowed me to deduce the occasional word and the only real thing we learnt was the correct pronunciation of Ua Pou - "Wah Poe". Eventually the speeches gave way to food, booze and dancing, all of which we indulged in.

The following day we left for Nuka Hiva, taking our time to extricate ourselves from the breakwater - we hoped a friendly local would untie our shore lines, but with little Sunday morning activity we resorted to juggling, retrieving the anchor while swimming to the breakwater to free our lines, surprisingly the plan worked out and we set off for Nuka Hiva, expecting a pleasant day sail. Unfortunately a nasty cross swell and a couple of squalls meant the trip was more of an endurance test or perhaps our week in Ua Pou had softened us, whatever the reason we were glad when we made the shelter of hills surrounding the main town in Nuka Hiva - Taiohae Bay.

It was the biggest anchorage we'd visited in the Marquesas and it came as a shock to see so many boats, although great to catch up with friends, particularly Pepe and Bianca, on Argo. Our paths have been crossing since Venezuela and we'd last seen them in the Galapagos. Argo has no HF transmitter so we'd lost touch. They'd only just arrived in the Marquesas and were still relieved to be safely at anchor after suffering from a broken engine and shredded sails during the last part of their crossing.

We spent a couple of days in the main town becoming accustomed to roads that allow cars to make it out of second gear, scouring the local shops for vegetables (we found two cabbages and three carrots which between them cost an extortionate $10US) and enjoying the slightly more developed facilities - two restaurants and an internet cafe.

From the main town we headed three miles west to a secluded anchorage known as Daniel's bay, which surprisingly was completely deserted. The bay is named after the former inhabitant whose dwelling overlooks the anchorage. There's a sad story here; the American reality TV series "Survivor USA" based a series in the bay, and moved the elderly Daniel to new house in another bay. The island rumour was that he never recovered from the move and died the week before we arrived.
The bay would have made a perfect setting for a Ransome-esque story:

'"Hello" called out the explorers, trying to get a response from the deserted buildings. It was most eerie; clothes hanging on the line, a radio playing, but no-one around. "Perhaps he forgot to switch off his radio when he set off for work", said Susan sensibly, "Perhaps he's been kidnapped", said Roger, just then John called out, "native foot-prints on the beach, leading to a neat pile of bones". "Cannibals" cried Roger....'

The wild-life in Daniel's bay was spectacular with boobies startling us as they dived around the boat and a couple of impressive manta rays swimming in the bay and coming right up to Kika before diving under her.
We also caught sight of the massive eel which inhabits the pool under the local waterfall - he was impressive enough for us to skip the swim.

Unfortunately there was a downside to anchorage, in the form of no-nos which attacked us relentlessly. Ellen was particularly badly bitten, and currently requires twice daily applications of calamine lotion to ease the itching. Encouragingly other cruisers say the bites completely disappear after 4-5 days. We're on day 3 and looking forward to being itch free.

We headed back to the main anchorage to escape the no-nos. While Ellen settled down for a quiet night on the boat, nursing her bites, I headed off with other cruisers to the Saturday night entertainment - the Miss Nuka Hiva 2006 competition. Sadly my choice of Nika Hiva's finest only came 4th, although she took it well still smiling radiantly while supporting an elaborate head-dress of palm fronds.

On the technical/boat maintenance front we seem to be on-top of things. We've patched the spray hood which split when it took my weight as the boat lurched while I was securing the main. The rat-lines are slowly making their way up the shrouds, thanks to Will (from Ragtime), gifting me a serving mallet and teaching me how to use it.
I've also further diagnosed the engine problems we had on the last day of the crossing which I now think might be related to the engine stop cable intermittently sticking between closed and open and starving the engine of fuel. Long may it last....

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