Written December 1994
Panama to American Samoa"
"LONG PASSAGES" has finally had to live up to her name; this leg of our trip has been an exciting combination of new cultures interspersed with a few truly long passages. We have traveled over 6600 miles by sea (plus 5000 by air) in a little over 6 months and have seen many aspects of the Polynesian culture, plus a couple of Latin American societies and modern life in French and American colonies. We have found it interesting and educational and I hope we can convey some of the excitement to you (and induce a few to come out and join us). PANAMA TO GALAPAGOS We left Balboa, the Pacific end of the Panama Canal, on March 31st, and made an overnight trip to Contadora. This is a resort island which belongs to Panama and has beautiful anchorages and an exciting 15 foot tide. We traveled in the company of Nat and Glynda on their Shannon 38 "GLYNDA G", friends who treated us so warmly during our stay in Panama. We stayed there a couple of days getting ready for the trip to the Galapagos. One of the days Nat and Glynda took us out to an island which is exposed only at low tide. We walked around, finding the most interesting sandstone rocks with patterns, holes, and shapes suitable for use as jewelry or decorations. On April 3rd we jumped off for the Galapagos. This was a slow and easy 9-day passage with light winds (and occasionally none, so we logged 3 days of motoring). We had a relatively easy crossing of the doldrums, they were about 50 miles wide where we crossed with flat sea, so easy motoring. While we motored, a group of dolphins joined us, and they swam so close to the bow of the boat we got great footage of them with our video recorder, and were even able to reach down and touch them and they swam on our bow wave. On April 11th we passed a couple of personal milestones by crossing the EQUATOR into the South Pacific. Neptune emerged from the vessel (looking suspiciously like Judi) and forced the skipper to undergo all manner of indignities and humiliations, but in the end he (she?) permitted us to continue South into the Pacific. On the 12th we passed the island of Santa Fe, and by midday were anchored in Academy Bay near Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz.
Our visit to these islands were really an experience! They are relatively new islands (in terms of the Earth's evolution) with some being a couple of million years old, and thus covered with a reasonable amount of soil while others are so new they are still volcanic with virtually nothing growing on them. Darwin developed his theory of evolution by seeing have animals had adapted to these isolated islands, and in fact animals from neighboring islands differ from one another because their environments are different. The town of Puerto Ayora is one of the tourist centers, and seems to be in the middle of a growth period. The streets have been recently paved, 'T' shirt shops line the main street, artists sell their goods in a number of shops, and there are numerous tour agencies selling tours of the islands. We visited the Darwin Center, a research facility on Santa Cruz where they had a few large tortoises (engaged in unspeakable acts in an attempt to propagate the species), iguanas, birds, and displays which explained the history of the islands. We had caught up (temporarily) with our friends Don and Donna on "SOLITAIRE", and had a couple of Happy Hours with them on shore. They had met Jose, a local landowner and native of the Galapagos who was married to an American. Jose had a large cattle farm in the middle of Santa Cruz, and he invited us up for a fascinating visit. He grew papayas, lemons, mangos, lumber, cattle, chickens, and perhaps a few other things we didn't see. He had an amateur radio station, which is how Don found him in the first place, and had spent a number of years in the States. It was a great day. On the cruising side, we had to pay the Port Captain (a very nice guy who had only been here a couple of weeks) $109 for entry and anchoring fees. The anchorage was on the weather side of the island, but the weather is so settled (we had fog a couple of days) we felt secure, although it was a little rolly. One scam was being run by the Immigration officer, who was charging yachts. We got suckered into paying him, but the right thing to do would have been to ignore him (which we did not know at the time). The highlight of our visit was a 4 day, 3 night, tour on a motor yacht, the "Galapagos Adventure". We negotiated this tour with Victor Hugo, a wheeler -dealer who didn't have space on his boat, thus got us room on the "Adventure" for the Ecuadorian price. This was an opportunity to cruise on someone else's boat, and have good shower facilities, a whirlpool, close-by Happy Hours, and scrumptious meals served with good company. We took a bus from Puerto Ayora to the North end of Santa Cruz island, then a short ferry ride, and another bus ride to the airport, where we waited for the plane to arrive from Ecuador with a fresh batch of tourists. Once we were all aboard, we set out to sightsee ... but first, we sat down to a great lunch. There were 14 of us on a yacht designed for 20, thus we had lots of room and good service. The passengers were an eclectic mix of backpackers and tourists from the US, Canada, Switzerland, and Ecuador. During the cruise, we stopped at 5 separate islands, all along the North and East sides of Santa Cruz. Wildlife was the name of this tour:" BIRDS - We walked thru areas teeming with sea birds, including red-footed boobies, blue-footed boobies (who really do stand on one foot, waving their other blue foot around), herons, flamingoes, frigate birds, and numerous others. On unusual behavior we watched was when pelicans dived, one or more small blacks birds would immediately land on the pelicans head to either pick up anything they dropped, or perhaps force them to drop something. To lessen the tourists' impact, our tour guide would not allow us to get close to their nesting grounds, but this seems like a sensible restriction. We did not get to see any albatross (this big ocean birds with 6' wing spans) since they nest at an island South of where we cruised." SEA LIONS - These playful swimmers were our favorites. The first afternoon we got to swim with them, and had a blast. The adult males stake out a piece of beach, spend the day swimming back and forth in front of it keeping intruders out (that includes other males and people) and then accumulate a harem of females to defend. The females wander from harem to harem, laying on the beach and bearing pups. The pups seem to have a carefree life, swimming anywhere, romping on the beach, getting into mock fights with other pups, and swimming with the tourists. While we swam with them, they would swim straight at us, and then veer away at the last minute while only a few inches away. We watched one play with his stash of toys (a feather and an M&M wrapper); he would pick up the feather, carry it a few feet, drop it so that it floated away, and then grab it an start all over again - it was fascinating. In one place, we drove along the beach in a dinghy, and a whole mob of 10-15 sea lions followed us all the way down the beach and back again, making noise and watching us the whole time." TURTLES - We didn't really get to see any in the wild, except for a couple who had just hatched. They generally come out of the water at night, dig a hole 20-30 feet up on the beach, and then head back out to the water. We saw lots of tracks, but the tour guide would not let us follow the tracks away from the beach. We did see a couple of turtles hatch in the daytime, and found out this is NOT survival behavior; the ones which did not die from the heat in the middle of the day got scooped up by frigate birds or hawks. Someone carried 2 of them to the water, and one managed to swim away, but a frigate bird got the other - we could definitely see Darwin's theories at work.
GALAPAGOS TO MARQUESAS (2900 Nautical Miles)
After 11 days in the Galapagos, we set sail for the Marquesas on April 23rd. As we left, Don and Donna on SOLITAIRE who had left earlier in the day, called on the radio to tell us they had been invaded by thousands of wasps. It had gotten so bad that they were steering by autopilot from below, afraid to come out into the cockpit. While we had been in Santa Cruz, we had heard of a large fire which had been burning out of control on San Cristobal island, about 30 miles to the West. About 3 hours out of port, wasps started to appear on our boat as well, and we concluded that these were wasps which had been driven out of San Cristobal by the fires, and they were flying up-wind to get clear of the smoke. We had several hundred on board, not as bad as SOLITAIRE's invasion, but enough to make us leery of sitting, or reaching anywhere on the boat without checking it first. During the first night, most of them left us, and within 24 hours we were wasp-free and unstung. Wind was light that night, and so we motored thru cool temperatures. The wind came up briefly the next day so we started to sail, but it died after a short time, so back on with the engine. When we finished taking down the sails, we came back to the cockpit, and saw smoke issuing from the cabin - fire is the most dreaded danger at sea and Judi immediately stopped the engine since that is where it originated. The 'START' switch had stuck on, and the starter had been running, trying to work against the engine for 5 minutes or so, and so the solenoid and started were both fried to a crisp. So now we had 2700 miles to go, in light winds, with no engine. For the next 28 days we rode the trade winds on the fabled 'milk run' to the Marquesas. We discovered the trade winds are not what they are cracked up to be; often they were light (6-12 knots) with frequent squalls and inconsistent directions. So we had many days where we would put up a Genoa on a pole to one side, then switch down to a yankee as a squall went by, then change to a large light air drifter for a few hours, only to have another squall intimidate us into shortening sail again - day after day... But we settled into a routine, had a couple of days with short runs (37 miles) but averaged 100 miles per day and on May 22d the island of Oa Pao came into view on the horizon, a cheerful sight for eyes which were tired of seeing water in all directions. On the engine front, we made contact with SOLITAIRE, which was steadily pulled away from us now that our engine was inoperative, and made contact with Billy Vick, an amateur radio operator in Texas. We had him contact our mail service in Florida, who ordered a new starter (and wrench to install it). We contacted Tony and Sarah on LA CHAUMIERE, friends who had already arrived in Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas. Sarah was flying to the States to bring back her baby (Oliver spent a month at grandma's while his parents sailed the boat to the Marquesas), and she agreed to carry the starter back with her. So we had the started mailed to Sarah's mother's house, Sarah brought it among the baby's goods, and it arrived in Nuku Hiva a week or so before we got to the Marquesas. All in, the passage was non-traumatic, slightly boring, educational, and we were VERY glad when we got to the Marquesas.
Since we arrived at Ua Pou with no engine, Don from SOLITAIRE came out beyond the breakwater in his dinghy, strapped himself alongside in a 3' swell, and powered us into a tight spot in the anchorage. Tony from LA CHAUMIERE came over to take our stern anchor, and shortly we were snugly anchored fore and aft among about 20 other yachts. We decided NOT to party our first day, and slept our first night in port after 30 nights at sea. In fact, a violent squall came through in the middle of the night, and amid several boats dragging and reanchoring, one of us never even woke up. Ua Pou is a dramatic island, green and lush with dramatic volcanic peaks which jut several thousand feet to the sky. We spent 8 days there, and had a great time. We took a couple of long hikes into the mountains. On one of the hikes, we left without proper planning, and had to scrounge a coconut for lunch; a mountain stream provided drink and bathing water. The people of Ua Pou are primarily Polynesians, with a smattering of French in the administration, Gendarmerie (Police), and hospital. It has a few hundred people, and everyone was very nice to us. Fruit grows everywhere (bananas, limes, and our favorite, pampelmousse, a large, sweet type of grapefruit) and if you offer to buy some it will usually be given as a gift. The local churches were very pretty, open and airy, and full to brim on Sundays. We attended services on Mother's Day, and the singing was fabulous; a large choir, a couple of drums, and full participation from the congregation. Missionary groups spread through the South Pacific, and over the last few months we have seen Catholic, Methodist, Congregational, Mormon, and several other denominations who have integrated the Christian beliefs with Polynesian enthusiasm and love of song. After 8 days in this first island in paradise, we decided to move on to Nuku Hiva to find our engine starter and mail. On the last day of May, we got a tow out of the anchorage by the 50' schooner VOYAGER, and set sail for Nuku Hiva, a mere 20 miles to the North. Unfortunately, we did not leave until almost noon, and the wind from the Northeast became lighter and lighter and the day wore on. We had been advised that the harbor was 'wide open' and 'well marked' and that we should not worry about coming in at night, but as darkness approached, we were still 6 miles out, and we decided to sail around the entrance all night, rather than risk coming in at night with no engine. The wind gods decided to play around a little, and threw us a few squalls, so by midnight we found ourselves reefed down with 25 knots winds and moderate seas as we tried to stay close to the entrance of Taiohae Bay. By daybreak we were tired, but close to our destination as we sailed into the bay, the main harbor on Nuku Hiva. The harbor is about 1/2 mile wide and 1 1/2 miles deep, and as soon as we entered, the winds shifted and became very light, making it difficult to control the boat. So, as planned, we dropped our dinghy in the water (in 3' waves), installed the outboard (a 4-handed operation in calm water) and tied the dinghy alongside and towed LONG PASSAGES to a safe anchorage. It was a slightly harrowing experience (especially when the wind picked up and started to lift the dinghy out of the water) but we have more confidence now, and are glad that we did not try to do it at night. Nuku Hiva is quite a bit larger than Ua Pou, about 10 miles long with the bulk of the population living along the coast. We anchored on the fringes of a fleet of 30-40 other cruisers. When the Europeans discovered the Marqueseas, they had a estimated population of 60,000, but diseases brought by the explorers decimated sp ??? the population, so that they now number approximately 5500 on 6 principal islands. This story repeats itself throughout the South Pacific, in Tahiti, Hawaii, Easter island, and presumably places we have not visited yet. Nuku Hiva is a bit more civilized than Ua Pou, it has a bank, several grocery stores, a couple of hardware stores with a few boat parts, a couple of restaurants, and couple of small hotels. One of the hotels is the Keikahanui Inn, a 5-cottage resort run by Rose Corser, an ex-cruiser who settled here with her late husband in the late '70's. She tries (with some success) to attract the cruisers with a daily Happy Hour, occasional videos, reasonable hamburgers, and an outstanding 'steak poivre', so we spent a few evenings there. We also tried on our hiking shoes and hiked 2/3 of the way up Muake, a 2500' peak which overlooks the harbor. The whole experience in Nuku Hiva was exciting. Many afternoons local people would drive up on the surrounding mountains (like Muake) and jump of and parasail to the beach. Children played on the beaches, men rowed outrigger canoes thru the harbor and others rode horses up and down the beach at the water's edge. It was a lively and carefree place where the local people were affluent enough to live comfortably and really enjoy themselves. Due to the small and relatively inaccessible airport, tourism was not a big factor, so a few yachts and few tourists did not dominate the economy as in many of the Caribbean islands. We had ordered mail (first time since Panama) and after a week "package 1 of 3" arrived. Two weeks later, with no evidence its companions, we sailed around to the North side of the island to ANAHO Bay (sailing thru several score dolphins on the way). This is a little backwater area, devoted mostly to copra production. On many of the South Pacific islands, extensive stands of palms trees are grown. The coconuts are gathered, shells are broken open, and the coconut meat is extracted and put out to dry on large drying racks. This is 'copra', and it is sold by the 50# bag to companies which use it for cosmetics, sun screen, and the like. Artificial oils have largely replaced copra, but the French subsidize it so that it is still a money crop on the French islands. The few people who worked the coconut plantations on this side of the islands were very nice to us, and offered free water whenever we needed it. We also encountered a group of archeologists from .... who were doing some digging on an adjacent bay, finding remains of old houses and ceremonial platforms. Their nemesis (and ours when we went ashore) were the "no no's", or small gnats which attacked in large numbers and without mercy, and basically made the beaches unlivable. After 5 days in this idyllic spot, we decided to move onto HATIHEU Bay about 2 miles to the West. As is our usual routine, the skipper operates the engine while Judi is up on the pointy end raised the anchor. As we start to drift downwind, and indication that the anchor is off of the bottom, Judi yells back with some alarm "there's no anchor on the chain", or words to that effect. And sure enough, the chain had come up with no anchor attached to it ... definitely not a normal occurrence! After a little scrambling, we returned to our original spot (we thought) and dropped our 2d anchor. The next exercise was to find our primary anchor. After a few false starts and having used most of the air in a SCUBA tank, Judi came up with the technique which worked: I swam on the 40' bottom in concentric arcs fastened to a line which Judi controlled, and she signaled me when to change direction and how far. That worked like a charm, and in 10 minutes we had found it, and 15 minutes later, and a little wiser, we had it back on board. The culprit was a cotter pin which had rusted through, even though is was stainless steel ... so, be careful out there. On to HATIHEU for the afternoon, and a couple of days anchored off of a very quaint Polynesian village. It was small, and sprawled along the shoreline. People were very friendly, and we had delightful and romantic dinner at a restaurant where we were the sole customers. They plied us with shrimp, lobster, and local vegetables for a very reasonable price, and then topped it off with brandy and coffee. The only downside to this anchorage was landing and launching the dinghy on the beach; it was WET!. The swell which broke on the beach did so just at the place we tried to get into the dinghy, and time after time we got wet. Our most memorable dunking resulted in swamping the dinghy completely so that we had to go back an bail it out. A camera and groceries were ruined, and our egos were trashed since there was a good collection of kids who came down to help us bail and get reorganized. They had a blast helping us, and we maintained reasonably good humor throughout. On our last day, we figured it would have been easier to row to the boat dock, lift the dinghy completely out of the water, and walk to town ... another day we got a little wiser. After returning to TAIHOE Bay, and finding no mail, we gave up; gave the post office directions to forward our stuff to Tahiti, and pulled out for the trip to the TUAMOTUS. We decided to stop overnight at Daniel's Bay on the Western end of Nuku Hiva. This is properly called TAKATEA Bay, but a Polynesian by the name of Daniel lives there, and has made himself a fixture with yachts as they pass through. A couple of weeks earlier about 15 boats had visited at once, and he put on a pig roast, and the cruisers hired his grandson to lead them all to a waterfall high in the mountains. When we visited, we were the only boat there. We when ashore to pay our respects, and had one of the nicest days so far on our trip. Daniel, and his wife Antoinette, invited us to share dinner with them, and we had a great meal of fresh fish both raw (called poisson cru) and fried, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, .... Fortunately they spoke English so we chatted about their lives, were taught a few Polynesian words, and generally had a great time. We went back the next day and gave them a few token gifts to return their hospitality, and took Polaroid pictures of all of them which they really liked. We consider ourselves lucky to have met them alone like this, we got much more insight than if we had been 2 of a group of 30+ people. So, after 2 nights in TAKATEA Bay, we motored out through very large seas at the mouth of the bay, and set sail for the Tuamotus on July 4th, flying Old Glory.
The trip to the Tuamotus was fast, winds 20 to 25 knots so we made 140 miles per day for 2 days. We approached our destination, TAKAROA, as the weather turned nasty with 30 knot winds, driving rain and almost no visibility. Since the island is very low (highest spot is probably less than 10' above sea level) we approached very carefully, and slowly near daybreak. By ten o'clock, we had motored into a pass through the reef, and tied up alongside some acquaintances on the sailboat MARY LOU, with 20 knots of wind blowing on the bow and several knots of current flowing out through the pass. The Tuamotus are a set of about 70 low islands and atolls strung out between the Marquesas and Tahiti. They used to be called "The Dangerous Archipelago" since they are all low-lying, and difficult to see until you are very close, but now with satellite navigation, on can safely navigate thru them as long as you are careful. The atolls are circular strips of land where volcanos used to exist, and now covered with coral. They are normally only a few feet above sea level with a covering of palm trees and scrub brush, and perhaps a few fruit trees; no sources of water except for rainfall. Populations range from none to several hundred. They are all part of French Polynesia and several islands in the south Tuamotus have been set aside by the French for nuclear testing and are thus a source of money for the inhabitants as well as a source of friction for those who disagree with nuclear testing. Anyway, we picked TAKAROA as one to stop at since others had encountered nice people, and it was close to the Marquesas. TAKAROA is an atoll about 10 miles in diameter with one pass through which boats can enter or exit. The center of the atoll, or the lagoon, was generally deep (50' to 100') with isolated coral reefs which came up to within a couple of feet of the surface, and shallow water near the shoreline. The tide only rises and falls 1-2 feet, but since most of the water in the atoll must exit through the pass, the currents in the pass range from 4 knots going in to 6 knots going out. In the pass is a wharf, where supply ships tie up and visiting yachts can stay for a short time. When we got there, there were about 5 yachts tied up, and we tied alongside MARY LOU as we mentioned. The French have a weather station on TAKAROA (like many of their islands) and we made friends with John .... who was the meteorologist stationed on the island. He has diverse ancestry, grandparents from Kentucky and ... and clearly parents from Polynesia. We enjoyed chatting with him, and he said we should visit his daughter Eleanor who had a house inside on the lagoon. We stayed at the wharf for 2 days moving around as boats came and went, and on July 9th we entered the atoll, and anchored on the Southeast side near a Eleanor's house which was built out over the water. It turns out that the prime business on these atolls is pearl farming, with copra as a follow-up industry. After a day of snorkeling in the clear water of the lagoon, we went to visit Eleanor, and found her to be a most charming and sophisticated woman. She was born in the Tuamotus, but had married and moved to Martinique in the Caribbean. There she ran a couple of restaurants, and then decided life was better in French Polynesia, and had returned to engage in pearl farming. She was a grafter, which appears to be the most skilled job. This involves bringing the oysters to the surface, opening them without damage, cutting a small incision, and inserting the nucleus (small round piece of shell), and returning the oyster to cages suspended in the water. The oyster then deposits the pearl material around the nucleus, and 18-24 months later about 1/3 of the oysters have marketable pearls. The special thing about the Tuamotus and Tahiti is that the species of oyster which grow there create black pearls, which are pretty and somewhat rare. We had a nice visit with Eleanor and her daughter Naia, and she invited us back for dinner the next day. We found out that she had been invited aboard one of the other yachts (a REAL yacht, a 50' Hinckley by the name of PELIKAN worth $1M or so), and she delegated the meal to her 14 year-old daughter. Naia's English was not perfect (although much better than our French), but we got along famously. She was gracious, well-informed, very comfortable with adults, and we just used a dictionary whenever we reached a dead-end. It was a fabulous evening, and we came away very impressed with Eleanor and how she had brought up her daughter. After a couple more days in the lagoon, where we snorkeled some more, explored islands and passes by dinghy, and on July 13th we pulled up anchor and motored back out to the wharf, and tied up awaiting a weather window to sail onto another one of the Tuamotus, probably AHE. Our timing was a little off, however: July 14th is Bastille Day in France and the French celebrate it world-wide. The Polynesians could care less about it (after all, they are still being colonized by France, so France's independence celebration is kind of a sore point), but any excuse for a party, so throughout the islands the middle weeks of July are used for dancing and games. TAKAROA, like many of the islands, celebrated by having a day of kid's events such as tug-of-war, 3 legged races, regular races, etc. The adults danced in streets, had coconut splitting/peeling contests and a beauty contest. The beauty contest turned into a real kick for Judi since Sarah, the 19 year old cousin of Naia entered the contest, and asked Judi if she would apply her make-up. So Judi joined in the behind-the-scenes to prepare Sarah for the Miss TARAROA contest. The 3 contestants were closely matched, but Sarah carried the day, and became the new Miss TAKAROA (perhaps owing it all to Judi?). We now decided the parties were over, the weather seemed reasonable, so we planned to pull out on July 18th. Unfortunately, at 5 AM a strong weather front came across the island, the wind switched from Northeast to Southwest instantly at 20 to 30 knots and blew us against the wharf, scratching the hull and splintering some wood before we got enough fenders out to protect the boat. Two other boats were in the same predicament, so we fought for an hour or so to avoid further damages to the boats. The locals came out to help, and one drove around the island finding old tires which we put between the hull and the wharf to protect us. After a couple of hours we had everything under control, and then all we had to do each day was adjust the tires up and down as the tides went down and up. The wind blew for 3 days, and since the pass is so narrow and rough, we were effectively pinned to it, unable to move. By July 22d the wind eased up a little, and we were finally able to leave, along with our pinned companions on XAXERO (British) and RELATIVITY (German). Since we were running late in the season, we decided to pass the remaining Tuamotu islands, and head straight for Tahiti.
The passage to Tahiti was enjoyable, winds 15 to 20 knots most of the time with the wind behind us, occasional motoring and 24 knots seen once or so. In 3 days we had the fabled island in sight, and by 10 AM on July 25th we were thru the breakwater and in Papeete harbor, the capital of Tahiti. We decided to enjoy our stay in Tahiti, so we tied up to the quay downtown so we were right in the middle of the bustling city, close to SOLITAIRE and several other cruising friends we had made along the way. This was really an exciting time for both us; Tahiti is the ultimate sailing destination and we were there, 9000 sea miles from Annapolis and a beautiful tropic island and some great cruising friends, so we did what comes naturally in such a paradise; we went out to an Italian restaurant and had a great Lasagna dinner! French Polynesia as we had discovered is really expensive (a Coke is normally $1.50, sandwich is $8.00, beer is $4.00) and the Dollar had fallen with respect to the Franc, so things cost us even more because of it. Lou Pescadou ran an Italian restaurant a mere 5 minute walk from the quay, with great food at reasonable prices, and he bought you a drink if you had to wait for a table (which we always had to do). So, it became our favorite place. Papeete was to be our base of operations for the next 5 weeks. The city itself is a thriving metropolis with lots of traffic, people rushing to and fro, restaurants, clothing stores, marine supply stores, and grocery stores with a myriad of goods; all the kind of places we had not seen for several months. Since the festival month was still going on in Tahiti, we went to a couple of cultural events. One was a reenactment of a royal wedding between a Marquesan princess and an Tahitian prince, and it was spectacular. They held it on the grounds of a restored ceremonial area and tried to recreate the pageantry which must have accompanied such an event. The costumes from Tahiti were quite a bit more elaborate than those from the Marquesas, and their dances were a little more sophisticated, although we enjoyed them all. The second event was a festival and beauty pageant called the 'Mini Heiva'. It was a several day event, and we went to the last night with lively dancing, an all-you-could-eat outdoor buffet, beauty contest, and basically a great time for all. After all of the revelry, we rented a car for a weekend and went to see the countryside. Tahiti appears to be 2 islands joined together by a narrow isthmus, the larger island about 30 miles across and the smaller one about 10. They are both beautiful, with a narrow strip of lowlands along the coastline and rising abruptly to high mountains in the interior. We drove all the way around the large island and through many small villages, much more rural than Papeete. On the smaller island (Tahiti-Iti) we stopped for lunch at a small village which had a good selection of local foods and very friendly people. There is a lagoon on the West side of the islands tucked up beside the isthmus, and it looked like a very protected place for long term anchoring if you wanted to get away from Papeete. On the way back to the big city we stopped at a grotto beside the road, a pleasant break with beautiful plants, flowered and dripping caves. We finally received our mail in Tahiti (first since Panama in March) and had the nastiest surprise of our trip: our storage locker in Annapolis came due in April, and they sent us 2 'friendly reminders' and a certified letter with an announcement for the auction of our goods, which had taken place 2 months earlier. After a couple of frantic phone calls, we confirmed in fact that they had sold everything we owned (except what we have on the boat) for $625. This was definitely the saddest moment of our trip, and we still will think of things we have, and then realize they are gone. The storage company ignored that fact that we would be out of touch, and since the law allowed them to sell the stuff in 60 days, they did. The rest of our stay in Tahiti was sadder for this experience, but overall we had a good time there. We were getting ready to move on to see more of French Polynesia when a fellow cruiser came by with new info: LAN Chile (the national airline of Chile) was running a special, for $399 we could fly round-trip to Easter Island (which belongs to Chile), and for another $169 we could stay there 4 days and 3 nights including meals and tours. A little quick math said we could get there and back for $1100-1200 for both of us. We jumped at the chance, and with 11 other cruisers, we left for Easter Island 4 days later.
This is one of those magic destinations in the South Pacific, a place which is absolutely unique in the world, but unfortunately it has NO protected anchorages, so it normally a waste to try to sail there. 3 or 4 boats that we know of tried this year, and all of them ended circling the island, or sending only 1 person at a time on shore while the other tended to the boat. In short, it would be passable if you had 4-6 competent crew and each pair could spend a couple of days ashore while the other re-anchored as the winds switched, but for 2 people it is no good. In any event, our flight left Tahiti at 2AM, and took about 5 1/2 hours to get us there at 11AM Easter Island time. The current scientific consensus (despite Thor Heyerdahl's theories) appears to be that Easter Island was settled in about 300 AD by the eastward migration of the same Polynesian people who started in the Far East, and spread from there to Samoa, the Marquesas, and thence to Tahiti, Easter Island, Hawaii, and New Zealand. (See National Geographic, December, 1974 if interested) Easter Island is also called Rapa Nui, which is the name of the island as well as the language, and is very similar to the Polynesian spoken in Marquesas and Tahiti. After settling on the island they began carving the stone statues (called MOAIs) which have become so well-known. They appear to have represented gods, ancestors, or chiefs erected on stone platforms known as AHUs, and faced towards the villages, presumably to protect them. Population grew and statue building proceeded until around 1100 AD when the population began to increase drastically and by the 1500's the island appears to have been almost cleared of trees, and competition for resources began to strain the culture, and a new cult (the birdman cult) appeared. Internal warfare and strife apparently stopped the production of new statues, and when the Europeans arrived in the 1700's, the population had climbed to 7000-10,000, the culture was in decline and the statues were being knocked down as part of the internal strife. By the end of the 1700's, most statues had been knocked down and the destruction of the culture was taken over by the Europeans. They brought in some diseases, then captured several thousand natives as slaves to work in Peruvian mines. When they returned the slaves, they returned them with smallpox, and by the beginning of the 20th century, the Rapa Nui population was down to 111, from which it has recovered to about 2000. In the meantime, Chile had annexed the island, so they administer it, and around 1000 Chileans also live on the island. With that knowledge of the background, we set out to explore this fascinating island. After a quick check-in, they piled us into a couple of vans, and off we went with Gaston Vera, our multi-lingual guide. That afternoon we saw the first of many of the famed Easter Island statues and they were truly awe-inspiring. The statues are anywhere from 20 to 35 feet tall, and all are figures of men from just below the waist to the head with their arms along their sides, and hands together at waist level. They were all carved (using stone-age tools) of the same type of rock from a single quarry on the Northeast side of the island. Some of the later ones have 'topknots', which represent either hair or headpiece which are made of a red volcanic rock called 'scorcia', which was mined at a separate quarry. The first site we visited was on the Southeast shore, near the end of the airport runway (the US lengthened it in 1986 and maintain it as an emergency landing site for the Space Shuttle) and it had about 6-8 statues, all knocked down. When you see them up close, we could understand why there is controversy over how they were moved, since this site is perhaps 15 miles from the quarry, with reasonably hilly terrain around it, and the statues weigh several tons each. Theories abound on how they were moved (including intervention from spacemen), but given enough manpower, time, and some logs it is easy to visualize how they might have made it to their resting spots. This first site also had a couple of unique features: a stone 'ahu' where the rocks were so closely fitted that you could barely slide a credit card between them (this is the only one like it on the island, and perhaps indicative of some Peruvian influence on the island) and a 2-headed statue (the heads were gone, taken by Europeans explorers but sketched in place before they took them). We then visited a spectacular inland site called Ahu Akivi, where 7 statues have been restored to upright position, and stand silently looking out to sea over rolling hills from their ahu. The final spot of the day was the topknot quarry. That evening we had delightful dinner at the hotel, and got a good night's sleep, since none of had slept much on the overnight flight from Tahiti. The next morning we had some free time, so walked into town, and discovered that the island was not all that backward; despite what the tour books say, we found all the film we wanted, bought a special lithium battery for Judi's camera, picked up some souvenirs, and paid for it all with credit cards or greenbacks. Apparently the recent filming of "Rapa Nui" on the island helped bring the merchants up to date. We saw lots of stone statue replicas for sale, as well as 'rongo rongo' boards. These are also replicas, in this case of boards which contain hieroglyphics, usually 10 to 20 lines of it, sometimes on both sides. Apparently Easter Island was the only Polynesian island to develop a written language, and this is captured on the rongo rongo boards. A couple of dozen were found by the European explorers, and all made their way into European museums; none are left on the islands other than the replicas which are copied from pictures in museum books. The language has not yet been deciphered. The second afternoon continued our tour around the island with visits to more sites with statues standing and on their faces. One important site we visited was ORONGO, which is currently the only national park on the island. In the 16th to 18th centuries, the new cult which was believed to be replacing the ancestor-worship of the Moais became known as the Birdman cult. Not much is known about it, but one of the ceremonies was practiced into the 18th century when the Europeans arrived. In this ceremony, conducted once a year, aspiring warriors or chiefs from various villages came together at Orongo, a site on the edge of a crater which faces both the crater (which collects fresh water, and is currently the supply for the island) and the ocean where there are a couple small islands 1-2 miles away. The purpose of the ceremony was for an aspirant to collect the first egg of the season laid by the sooty terns which nested on the island, and bring it back to the overlook area. In order to do this, he would have to descend a VERY steep hill into the ocean, swim to the furthest island thru shark infested waters and strong tides, climb onto the island, await the arrival of the terns, find the first egg, presumably fight off his competitors, swim back to the mainland, climb up the steep hill, and present the egg to his chief. The reward for him (or his sponsor or chief) was to be named birdman for the next year. He would be placed in isolation, have his hair shaven off, avoid baths and grooming, and would become an oracle by making important decisions and settling disputes. The houses which the visiting group used to live during this ceremony (which could last a couple of weeks, depending on when the birds came) were like low caves, covered with rocks and grass, and were unoccupied the rest of the year. By the end of the day, we were full of new knowledge and ready for another good meal at the hotel. The next day was a full day of touring. The highlight was the visit to the quarry where the statues were carved. It is the steep side of a volcano, and there are a large number of statues still under construction. There are about 300 statues scattered around the islands on or near various ahus. The quarry has about 400 statues in various stages of production, some partially carved on the hillside, but still attached to the mountain, others lying around the base of the hill and yet others standing half buried in the hillside where they finished them off. It is theorized that others are buried out of sight. When they carved statues, they worked on several at the same time, so as they dug into the mountainside they carved sides of 2 statues simultaneously. It probably saved work on the part of the stone workers but required some planning on the part of the designers. When they finished the statue, they broke it loose from the hill, rolled or slid it down, and then finished it off, except for the eyes. The eyes were carved into the head after it had been taken to its final location, and its eyes were then "opened". The backside of the quarry was the crater of a dead volcano, and on the hillsides were numerous other statues, awaiting transportation to their final destinations ... clearly they never made it. We then drove by a site which is being restored by a Japanese crane manufacturer who donated machines and $$ in return for the advertising value of lifting thousand-year old statues; unfortunately the project is on hold since they ran out of money. Finally we ended up at Anakena beach for lunch, one of the few sandy spots on the island. It is believed that this was the spot where the most important chiefs lived at one time, and it has 6 restored moais, 4 of them with topknots on a very elaborate ahu. After a lunch, and short swim (topless by the French ladies on our tour), we headed back to the hotel with more information than we could absorb. Dinner that evening was a veritable feast with all sorts of local foods which had taken most of the day to prepare. The last day brought another new adventure, horseback riding. Our trusty guide Pancho (heart throb of the ladies) helped even the most inept of us onto horses, and we set out thru the main town (Hanga Roa) and then off to one of the statue sites we had walked to on an earlier day. We had an enjoyable morning, marred only by the fact that my horse decided to shed me, and proceeded to lay down, and roll over. Fortunately I escaped unscathed, and we reached an understanding and the rest of the ride was uneventful. The afternoon was devoted to getting ready to leave, but one more event capped off the trip. A local dance group had scheduled a benefit performance to help Rowanda, so we dug out our cameras and video recorders and joined them. The dance leader was a large, bearded man, who apparently had served as the dance consultant when Costner filmed 'Rapa Nui'. We enjoyed it very much; the dancing was very Polynesian in nature, without the real fast hip movements of the Tahitians, more like Hawaiian dancing. One of the songs required audience participation, so they dragged most of the tourists up to join in. Unfortunately our plane departed that evening so we had to leave in the middle of the performance, but it was a great way to top off a fantastic trip. We would recommend a trip to Easter Island to anyone, it has been a highlight of our trip. Three days like we did it was a little short, we would recommend at least a full week. Transportation there is normally expensive, but accomodations and meals were quite reasonable. After this, we faced a 5 hour flight back to Tahiti, where we arrived around midnight.
MOOREA - RAIATEA - TAAHA - BORA BORA.
After our return from Rapa Nui, we got out the departure checklist, and got ready for our visit to the rest of French Polynesia. On August 29 we disconnected ourselves from the hurricane chain in Papeete, tied everything down, filled up with fuel and water, and sailed all the way to Moorea, 20 miles to the West of Tahiti. We anchored in about 60' of water in Cook's Bay, Moorea, a beautiful island where a lot of Tahitians live. In fact we had sailed over several weeks before on another boat, and had taken the hydrofoil ferry back, which made the trip in 30 minutes. So many people travel between the islands, two ferries run hourly all day long. Anyway, the anchorage was beautiful, with nice houses around it, and an accomodating hotel which allowed us to land and leave the dinghy when we went ashore. We reciprocated by enjoying their Happy Hour and dinner upon occasion. To digress a bit, when we were sailing from Grenada to Venezuela, a charter boat overtook us, and asked for positions since they did not have any electronic equipment such as GPS. We met them at the end of the passage on the Testigos islands of Venezuela, and they turned out to be a very charming French family. While we were tied up on the quay in Tahiti, a lady came by, hailed Judi, and after a few English-French exchanges, she announced she was the lady we had met in Testigos (Paulette) and that she and her husband (Jean Claude) had just taken teaching assignments in Moorea for 3 years. So ... here we are in Moorea, and they caught a ride out to the boat, and we had a delightful afternoon aboard. They invited us to join them for lunch in a couple of days, and so when the day came, they picked us up and gave us the grand tour of the island. They drove us around to where they are renting, a neat house on a hillside overlooking the main ferry harbor, and fed us a 5 course lunch of 'poisson cru', vegetables, cooked fish, cheese and bread, and great wine. The rest of the day was spent going around the island and seeing the beaches, resorts, villages, and mountain views. Moorea is really a charming island, with a thriving tourist trade, and we could have spent more time, but... time was getting short, so we pressed on Westward.We bypassed Huahine and sailed on to Raiatea on an comfortable overnight sail on September 5th-6th. Raiatea and Tahaa are 2 islands about 2 miles apart, enclosed in a figure-8 shaped lagoon surrounded by a reef with calm water around both islands making it easy to sail between them. We took a mooring beside the Moorings facility (a charter company), and began to explore this new island. It is was a little more commercialized than Moorea because of the charter operations, but we enjoyed it. We rented a scooter and set out to go the whole way around the island, about 100 km (60 miles for Americans). As we got to the southern part of the island, the paved road died out and we found out that there were no fuel stations anywhere on the island (except far behind us), so we pressed on. We passed through friendly villages, said Hi to many children, saw gorgeous beaches, and our fuel supply gradually crept down to the fume level. When we had about a cup left, we made it to a charter operation on the East side of the island, and they were kind enough to sell us a couple of liters so we could see more of the sights. We looked up an amateur radio operator (Bill Koans, FO5KW), an American Navy officer who settled here in the late '70s. He is also an anthropologist, and had spent time on Easter Island researching the migration patterns of the Polynesians and we had an enjoyable and enlightening afternoon chatting and sipping cool drinks on his front porch with a million dollar view of the sea. After a couple of days on Raiatea, we motored up to Tahaa and anchored near a small island on the reef. The snorkeling on the reef was really great, lots of colorful fish and coral in water only 3-5' deep. We swam through a passage almost to the open sea, and then drifted back with the current. After one night anchored close to the coral, we moved back to Raiatea and pulled into a marina for a couple of days to do laundry and wash the boat. On September 13th, we left the marina, and set sail for Bora Bora, one on the legendary destinations in the South Pacific. Bora Bora is as beautiful as we thought it would be. It is a tall, green, hunk of an island with a reef which runs all the way around, with one pass on the West side. We tied up at the Bora Bora Yacht club the first 2 nights, and then moved to the Southwest corner of the island. After passing thru a narrow and winding pass (scouted it out in the dinghy first), we anchored in flat water in a picture-perfect anchorage in front of the Bora Bora Hotel. This was our center of operations for the next 10 days while we snorkeled, rented bikes to ride around the island, enjoy the Happy Hours at several hotels, and enjoyed several shows at the hotels. One show in particular was great, 'The Mamas'. This was a group of middle-aged Polynesian ladies who sang, danced, twirled their hips with the best of the young ones, and dragged the guests out on the beach to dance. They also put on demonstrations of local handicrafts (basket weaving, flower arranging, coconut peeling, etc) and then gave the handicrafts away to the guests; a very enjoyable evening. The snorkeling was great, we took the dinghy all the way out to the outer reef and a wreck and saw moray eels, an octopus, and lots of colorful fish. The lagoon also had a group of sting rays which would congregate at a particular place every morning and wait for a tour boat to come out and feed them. We dove in the water before the boat came, and the rays came right up to our faces looking for food, a little intimidating but they were quite gentle. On September 25th we pulled anchor, and moored off of the Bora Bora Yacht club for 2 days waiting for the right weather conditions, and getting the boat ready for the 1200 mile jump to American Samoa. Because the hurricane season was approaching, we opted to bypass the Cook islands (Rarotonga, Suwarrow, Penryn, etc) and go straight for American Samoa. We needed some boat parts, and wanted to get our mail. The passage was OK, although the wind was quite light. We motored 3 1/2 days out of the 9 day passage, and arrived with only a small reserve of fuel.
AMERICAN SAMOA & WESTERN SAMOA
Rain, rain, rain!!! That has been the operative word here in American Samoa. We have been here 3 1/2 weeks, and it has probably rained every day except for 4 or 5. Some days would have given Noah the warning that the next flood was on the way (similar to what we hear is happening in Texas at the moment). But aside from that, American Samoa has been a delightful surprise. Many of the books describe it as an ugly American colony, with a welfare mentality and generally filthy. We have found the people to be perhaps the warmest and friendliest we have met on our trip so far. Generally they are well off, and the fact that it is an American territory is obvious in that American cars and goods are available everywhere, the dollar is the currency of the day, and we could put our French dictionary away for a long while. We have rented a car and explored the island, taken buses around to buy supplies, ordered things from the States by fax (the best and cheapest way to communicate long distance and thru many time zones), and enjoyed the moderate-priced restaurants. Tex-Mex food is a common item here, so we have enjoyed Mexican food for the first time since leaving the States. The major industry on the island is tuna canning, which occupies about 30% of the work force. It provides a unique aroma to the anchorage, but is not nearly as bad as described in some of the tour books, so they have cleaned up their act in recent years. We went on a tour of one of the plants (for Chicken-of-the-Sea) and are still eating tuna, so it wasn't too bad. The week before last they had a Festival to promote Drug-free behavior and tourism, and the dancing shows they put on were spectacular. The Samoas were the source for the Polynesians who spread out through the Pacific, and were among the last islands colonized by the Europeans, so their heritage is well established and very visible. In their dancing shows they perform a slap-dance, where they synchronize hand and body-slapping and singing, and create a marvelous effect. The Christian religion plays a large part in their life, and many of the performing groups were church groups. Since we had ordered a few things from the States, which were held up by a credit card problem, we took advantage of that opportunity to fly to Western Samoa and see that island. When the Europeans split up the Pacific islands in the 19th century, the US took American Samoa and Germany took Western Samoa. At the onset of World War I, New Zealand basically took Western Samoa away from Germany, and kept it as her territory until UN-sponsored elections lead to their independence in 1963. It is larger, more populous, and tourist-oriented. People were friendly, although not as outgoing as the American Samoans, the island was just as pretty, and we had a good time. We went for 3 days, and took a couple of tours which showed us the mountains, shoreline, villages, and beaches. Unique among the islands we have visited so far, the Samoans have traditionally lived in 'fales'. The fale is an oval-shaped house with a platform (formerly stones, now concrete) with poles around the periphery and a dome-shaped roof (formerly thatched, now often tin) with no walls or windows. They have shades which they can roll down to keep out the wind and rain, and a minimum amount of furniture. When you drive by, you will often see them laying on mats on the floor, although a few do have beds in them. Nowadays, many of the families have conventional houses with a fale attached as a guest house, or for the family to use during the day or for parties or recreation. On our tour around the island, we stopped at a beautiful beach with beach fales, so we took our towels and settled into one of these mini-fales for a couple of hours. The Samoan culture appears to be quite strong on both islands, despite considerable Western influence. The Samoan family group, or 'agia', is very strong, and allegiance to the a family as well as support by the family is extremely important. Most men in Western Samoa (and perhaps half in American Samoa) wear the 'lava lava', which is a wrap-around skirt rather than trousers, very practical in this climate. There is a concept, known as "Fa'a Samoa" ("the Samoan way") which directs behavior and allegiances, and it forms the basis for the way Samoans act towards themselves and others. As one example, they have a prayer period around 6PM when people on the street are expected to stop and pray, and the villages enforce curfews at 9PM for kids and 10PM for adults. On our first night at the hotel, they held a 'fia fia', which is a buffet dinner and a floor show of Samoan dancing. The leader was dynamic and charismatic, and he drew the audience into the dances and generally made everyone have a good time. We were kind of sorry to leave Western Samoa after only 3 days, but hurricane season is approaching, and we need to get on with it. As you can tell, we have covered a lot of territory over the last 7 months. This newsletter is a little long since there was so much to tell, and yet we left out a lot; like all of the wonderful people from many countries which we have met, the difficulties we and other cruisers have had, and how people pitch in to help each other out, the generally friendly officials we have been fortunate enough to meet so far, the many gorgeous sunrises (I don't see many of those, that's Judi's job) and sunsets with our sundowners in the cockpit, and on and on... Hope you've had some pleasure reading this, as we have had lots of pleasure living it and reliving it as we write it down. Attached are some of the more memorable pictures we have; miles of video are on-board awaiting an unwary visitor who is careless enough to ask to see some. Our next passages will be a 4-6 day trip to Tonga, and then a 10-12 day trip to New Zealand. Hurricane season starts in the South Pacific in December, so we don't have much time to get out, so ... got to go!"