Marquesas to Tahiti

Posted by John

Most definitions of the word “Adventure” specify an element of risk and uncertain outcome. To that I’d add exhaustion. An adventure then, cannot possibly be just relaxing poolside. Something else must happen. And so it is true that we have not relaxed poolside since leaving Mexico. We certainly did not get much rest in the crowded anchorage at Hiva Oa. Even if it hadn’t been so crazy with crashing waves, gusting winds and heavy showers, the work on the wharf reconstruction, with its jack hammering and pile driving, was enough to keep us on edge all day.

We did, however, meet Evan and his dad Kevin traveling together on Sweetpea, a boat that Kevin had rescued from the mud of Morro Bay and spent a period of years restoring. They helped us get our stern anchor set (so we wouldn’t swing into them), showed us a “secret” canoe launching ramp that they had found which made dinghy landings on shore less risky, loaned us their jerry jugs and helped with getting fuel out to our boat. When Kevin and Evan learned that the only place they could fill their drinking water jugs was in town two miles away, and the only taxi on the island was already booked up for the day, they came out to our boat. After we filled their jugs from our tank, we all sat in the cockpit and talked for the rest of the day. We talked about race car construction (or how to take a $100,000 Porsche, put another $100,000 into it, and then have it end up being worth $50,000), boat restoration (similar deal, maybe), the aerospace industry, Boeing, Microsoft, Elon Musk, Space X, and huge, elaborate, one-of-a-kind 3-D printers. We forgot, for a few hours, the hazards around us, went lax on the normal evening routines, never secured the dinghy properly, and because it bashed against the boat all night, by morning we had lost a dinghy oar. That was depressing, and all my fault.

From Hiva Oa we went back to Tahuata, and the flatest, quietest bay we had found in the Marquesas. Sweetpea was already there. One day they came over in the dinghy, picked up Robyn, and took her to the village in another bay a couple of miles away. I’m sure she enjoyed getting away from us for a while, and they even bought her lunch.

Despite the fact that this was where we had hauled up the rock with the anchor, we managed to spend a few days relaxing and mentally working up to crossing the 770 miles of ocean that still lay between us and Tahiti.

Adventure does not always have to mean that bad things happen. Our first day out of Tahuata was excellent sailing. The weather report had said “MER PEU AGITEE,” or that the sea was only a little bit agitated (we think). It doesn’t really matter because it was easy going, yet speedy.

That evening at dusk we were suddenly surrounded by dozens and dozens dolphins. At first they just swam along with us, diving under the boat and passing from one side to the other. Then they started doing acrobatics, including a Rockettes-type move where several leaped out of the water simultaneously, all in a row. Later, after dark, we were caught off guard and overtaken by a squall with rapidly increasing winds and torrential rain. When the wind went from ten knots to more than thirty in less than two minutes, I was a little uncertain of the outcome. After the squall passed we were treated to a moonbow—a pale rainbow created by moonlight. Certainly, this all adds up to an adventure by anyone’s definition. And it was still the first day.

Once we had threaded our way through the reefs and atolls of the Tuamotu Archipelago, we came to what we had expected to be the best sailing of the trip—a beam reach the rest of the way to Tahiti. But alas, no. A weather disturbance farther south had altered the normal flow of the trade winds into a feeble five knots from the north. We had sailed this far without using the engine, and we were determined to sail the entire way, even if it added a couple of extra days to the trip and our speed dropped to two knots, or less.

By the time that Robyn had spotted the distant lights of Papeete on the evening of our last day, we already knew that the jib sail was coming apart, the cell phone had died, and we needed to find a new set of dinghy oars, among other things. By sunrise, when we tried to furl up the jib and motor into the harbor, we learned that our jib furler was broken as well. We needed to get out on the bowsprit and drop the jib onto the deck and tie it down so it wouldn’t blow into the water. Adventures are always full of the unexpected. And by this time it was also clear that a painful hole in the back of my leg, which had not healed after more than a month, would likely need some medical attention.

Because of the narrow channel through the reef, and the commercial ship traffic, as well as low flying aircraft coming into and out of the airport, entering Papeete harbor requires contacting the Port Control and receiving permission to enter. Once that was done, we were able to get a real slip (not Med-moor) at the new “International” marina. Sadly, the marina lacks “American” 115 volt electrical shore power. Everything here is 220 volt.

Papeete is lights, traffic, sirens and people. I spent much of our first full day waiting for my name to be called at a medial clinic staffed by French doctors. I knew we had found the clinic when we noticed lots of people sitting around outside, some even with infants in bassinets. We squeezed into a tiny waiting room inside. Once my turn came, the hole—an insect bite gone bad, perhaps—was quickly cleaned out and re-bandaged. Even though a nurse did the cleaning, the doctor stayed the whole time, watching and talking to me. How often do you see that in the U.S? The doctor was concerned with the depth of the hole. I said, I was too. He then wrote me a prescription for antibiotics and special bandages, and asked me to come back in five days to make sure it was healing. The bill for the doctor visit was the equivalent of $36. So far, however, everything else here is phenomenally expensive.

Papeete is the official end of the Pacific Puddle Jump, the loosely organized sailing rally from the Americas to French Polynesia with no set starting place or schedule. There will be a party here in Papeete, then a group sail over to the island of Moorea about 15 miles away. The party will continue there, including a dinner. Once it is all over, we’ll continue out the Society Island chain until we leave French Polynesia from Bora Bora for whatever comes next. Hopefully, we’ll find some time to relax along the way.

The anchorage at Atuona on Hiva Oa.
There is a boat yard at Atuona, but no travel lift. Some kind of hydraulic lifting trailer is used to haul boats up the ramp, pulled by a tractor.
Approaching Tahiti and the city of Papeete.
Outrigger racing canoes in storage.
There is a public park all along the waterfront.
Mysticeti is starting to look beat up after 6,000 miles.