Sunday, 19 January 2014

SAILING IN FRENCH POLYNESIA - BLACK PEARLS AND SHARKS. IS THAT EVERYTHING? PART 1

July 2013. 
MARQUESAS & TUAMOTU ISLANDS GROUP
Little monkeys in Ua Pou, Marquesas
Marquesas - Fatu Hiva
Fakarava, Tuamotus
Fakarava, South Pass
Fakarava, South pass
It´s common to put a tiare (Tahiti's national flower) behind one's ear
KAOHA MARQUESAS

Finally after 54 days at sea, on July 13th, we made it to Hiva Oa, the first island in Marquesas. The Marquesas is the most remote archipelago of Tahiti and it´s the first land that every boat crossing the Pacific from South or North America sees. Towering over the ocean, unprotected by any reef, the Marquesas raise their stunning peaks in the open air, in deep lush valleys. Only 6 of 12 islands of this archipelago are inhabited: Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa, Ua Pou, Ua Huka, Tahuata and Fatu Hiva. The Land of Men (Fenua Enana) as the Marquesan call it, has always left the visitors with a strong impression that they could never forget.
I don’t wanna talk about how excited everyone on Karaka was to see land and to get to land. The town itself was a bit far from the pier so it was quite a walk and being stuck on the boat for almost 2 months, we all felt it. Our leg muscles were so flabby, not being used all this time that after the first day on land, they were all stiff and sore. I was happy to finally have some fresh fruit and vegetables… We got right in time for July 14th, the French national holiday to see the celebrations and dance. 








The port at Atuona
Airport in Hiva Oa - no customs, no X-rays, simple and beautiful
Unfortunately this idyll didn’t last long. I needed to visit the hospital (long story) and for that reason had to take a flight to Nuku Hiva (another island in the Marquesas Archipelago) where the real hospital is. Steve and I flew to Nuku Hiva and hitched a ride from the airport (in the North-Western corner of the island) to Taiohae – actually got the only car leaving from the airport that wasn’t a taxi (the taxi was 35/40$ per person). The journey through the mountains is quite scenic and the views are stunning but it is also very winding.  We didn’t go faster than 50 km/h but since we were in the back of a pickup truck I didn’t mind. There was a crazy looking and not less crazy minded lesbian with us there, it was a fun ride. And I mean it, she was very nice, just like everyone else we met in Nuku Hiva.
We wanted to find a place to stay but the locals just didnt let that happen. Eating in a restaurant, the owner Mahina invited us to his friend Maeva´s house which turned into our home in Nuku Hiva. Everyone was so genuinely nice, offering help, hospitality, fruits, drinks without wanting anything in return. That was my first exposure to Marquesian hospitality. Mahina also invited us to his village Taipivai and introduced us to his huge family. We enjoyed the delicious Marquesan delicacy (mostly made from local products or seafood (including my favorite crabs in lime coconut sauce). The valley of Taipivai is one the most fertile valley of Nuku Hiva – there were fruits all around us and everyone was so generous. Sometimes I would just ask in a house if I can pick a grapefruit or a mango and they would just give a whole bag full of them.
The marina in Nuku Hiva
Niku Hiva
The cathedral of Notre Dame Des Marqueses 
Maeva´s house
Living room
Our host Mahina and a freshly baked breadfruit

BBQ at home

Mahina hunts the lobsters at night
Isn't it the best beer design?

Marquesan dancers
Pig Dance
Bird Dance
Nuku Hiva
Natural sponge (before and after)
Grapefruits in Mahina´s garden
In Mahina's house
In order to save money and not fly back to Hiva Oa, we wanted to get a ride by another sail boat (it´s like an unwritten law in sailing – if another sailor is in trouble, you gotta help them). The problem is that was against the winds and no sail boats were going that direction. But Aranui – the cargo/cruise ship that delivers all the goods from Papeete was coming in 2 days and that was our hope. It is a very expensive pleasure if you are in a cabin, the cheapest one was 400$ per night per person but it also has a dorm style room for the locals so we were hoping to get beds there. We managed but it wasn’t easy. A few people had to speak to the captain and tell him my sad story – the boat that we left behind to come to the hospital and at the end after a few “No”s from everyone else, he agreed. Wasn’t cheap though – 6400 Fr (80$) per night, per person in the dorm. 
Aranui
First day we spent in Ua Pou, another gorgeous volcanic island in Marquesas, famous with its archeological sites and pinnacles. The morning after our second night on Aranui, we woke up at Puamau, Hiva Oa. They had 2 stops planned for the day – Puamau and Hanaiapa and were going to Atuona not until the day after. We went with all the crownd of old fat people to visit the archeological site at Puamau and got off at Hanaiapa which was closer to Atuona. Lovely village but the weather wasn’t that lovely. Atuona was on the other side of the island. We walked quite a while in the rain and just when were about to look for a camping spot, got a ride all the way to the wharf. Luckily the tourist office at the pier was unlocked which was perfect for us, slept inside in sleeping bags, dry and warm, even had a bathroom. However, at 4 am, some local guys came to the front deck and till 8am didn’t stop drinking and smoking and listening to a very loud music. We tried to be as quite as possible inside since we thought we were doing something illegal being there but at 8 am had to get out. Imagine their surprise when we got out of the office that they thought it was empty J. All good though. 
First stop, Hakahau in Ua Pou
Ua Pou


The beach in Hakahau bay

The 12 pinnacles in Ua Pou
The barge taking the passengers to Puamau, Hiva Oa
Puamau, Hiva Oa
Puamau, Hiva Oa
Aranui from the shore in Puamau, Hiva Oa
Archeological site in Puamau, Hiva Oa
In the mean time I got a message that Karaka is in Tahuata and next day they leave to Fatu Hiva (the southernmost island in Marquesas but one of the wildest). The idea was to find a boat leaving to Fatu Hiva but there were exactly 4 boats on anchor and none of them was leaving the next few days. The weather was more than horrible, pouring down with rain and a massive swell in the bay, all boats were swinging from side to side. One of the boats wanted to leave and take us but their anchor was stuck at the bottom and it was too dangerous to dive to release it. Found some fisherman boats leaving to Tahuata but completely different side of the island, but anyway, we jumped in it. The locals helped as always giving us a ride to the bay where Karaka was supposed to come and we made it. Karaka arrived at 6 pm and the whole village came to tell us that it was there (we were being taken care of in a local house again J.
Finally back on my boat, I was relaxed but not really. We tried to sail to Fatu Hiva where a festival was happening but never made it…Half way, in the middle of the night we had to turn around because of bad weather. Again we didn't make it to the destination. Instead we got to Oa Pua where I was just came from.


I´m not gonna get into details but things weren’t going great for me, I just needed to get away from the boat. As soon as we dropped the anchor, I left direction to the pinnacles, just wanted to get as far as possible and walk, walk, walk. My idea was to find a dry place where to hang my hammock and spend the night there or if it starts raining ask the locals if I can put up my hammock under their roof. I kind of knew that I´m gonna end up sleeping in someone´s house and of course that happened. They are just so nice and hospitable that as soon as you speak to them for 5 minutes, even with my broken French, you are invited first for lunch and then they wouldn’t let you go. Joanne and her family took care of me – first they convinced me to give me a ride to their house and then I keep on walking, then they insisted to have lunch with them, after that took me to the beach, and then it started raining and I stayed in their house. Actually they went to the village to drink and dance but I wasn’t in a mood so stayed in the house and watched TV for 4 hours, it was nice. And they gave me so much fruit – a whole bundle of bananas, a rice bag full of grapefruits, mangoes and coconuts.. 


Joanne´s daughter 
The fog hid the pinnacles
The whole family
And after a night here we made it back to Nuku Hiva, Taiohae. So much hustle and money for nothing…just to be back to the same place less than a week later and not even seeing Fatu Hiva. Never made it to Anaho Bay either. Instead I was in Taiohae again and having enough trouble with one of the crew combined with all the problems we had on the boat, the only solution was to leave. 
This is what we missed - Fatu Hiva. One of the most beautiful islands in whole French Polynesia
My last time sailing on Karaka, in a pretty big swell on the way to Nuku Hiva
Second French boat for me
Time for a change…On August 1st I left Karaka after almost 4 months. Didn´t take long to find another boat. Luckily, as soon as I spoke to Tom and told him my decision, I met Igor from Bosnia who helped me find a boat since he´s been in Nuku Hiva for a while and knew a few options. And one of them was Samara II – my new boat and Gilles, my new captain. Samara II was everything that Karaka wasn´t – clean, comfortable, fast and safe. Of course you can´t compare them because Karaka is an old and heavy boat and Samara II is a new catamaran. It’s like comparing a student residency with a penthouse in a 5 star hotel. Being used to my tiny bunk on Karaka, at the beginning I was sleeping in the corner of my double bed in MY ROOM. We have a water maker which means we used fresh water for everything, even to wash the dishes and our feet before getting inside. I can even have hot showers! And a washing machine! And by the way, the toilet works. No more pooping from the deck (or in a bucket). 
Ladies and gentlemen, Samara II, my new home!


My room (and that's only part of it)
I was invited to the event of the season – the biggest wedding so far in Nuku Hiva, 800 people were the invited ones (only 2000 in the village). Marie Rosalie gave me a dress but I refused to wear high heels. Looks like that everyone greets the couple with a special dance and even the bride had prepared a dance. Conclusion: lots of dancing and food :).
Marie Rosalie doing the hair of Presile (bridesmaid)
Next one
The bridesmaids

The couple dancing with the local dance group
The bride and her dance
Marie Rosalie
Maeva
Marie-Rosalie
Many people live off coprah production
After the wedding they took me to Taipivei and next day we went to Anaho bay with her and her husband Jean-Jacques. Anaho is considered one of Polynesia’s most beautiful bays and can be reached after more or less one hour hike from Hatiheo. You can stuff yourself with mangos on the way…and there are plenty of coconuts on the beach, just have to be careful walking under the coconut trees. I read somewhere that more people get killed by falling coconuts than by sharks (which doesn’t make me relax while swimming here). There are only 3 houses and apart from the nunus and mosquitoes really looked like paradise.
Plenty of waterfalls on the way

In Hatiheo
Different foot equipment for the hike
Anaho bay




Marie Rosalie


Jean Pierre husking a coconut on the way back
Anaho bay
I spent next 10 days on Samara II, having lunch with Marie Rosalie and her family or exploring the island with Mahina when he had time.
At Colet bay
Mahina 
The road back to Taiohae
Mahina having dinner with me and Gilles on the boat
Vaipo watrefall
It was time to leave the Marquesas. It is one of those place where you feel that the time had stopped.  The nature, the people and their generosity, the simplicity of life...everything makes you wanna stay. That´s why most sailboats stay much longer in Marquesas island than anywhere else in French Polynesia. We all agreed that there is something sad and melancholic but beautiful at the same time, that captures all the visitors to these remote islands.
Gilles invited a French family to come with us to Tuamotus. They were on a sailboat as well but the engine was completely broken and they had only 3 weeks until the Leticia starts working in the hospital. So our full boat left to Daniel's bay for a couple of days and then the atolls.We were also sailing with another boat called Larka - Igor from Bosnia, Louise from Sweden and their 1 month old baby Ingrid (Metaki Hou by Polinesian name). Daniel's bay is the bay that the TV show "survivor"was filmed inIt is spectacularly beautiful and the entrance overlaps itself so that you are completely protected from swell and most winds once inside.
We took a hike back behind Daniel's home and the village of 12 people to the source of all their water - a 350m waterfall! It is pretty impressive - the 3rd highest in South Pacific. It is about a 2-hour hike away from the anchorage and well worth the walk.
Last photo of  Nuku Hiva
Leaving Marquesas

Getting to Daniel's bay
Igor and Larka
Karaka was also here and me and Gilles went there so he sees my old home
Daniel's bay (bay of Hakatea)
Hiking to Vaipo waterfall


Gilles helping Igor

Grapefruits everywhere

Only the base of the falls is visible when close to it

Lush valley bellow the falls

The local hunters coming back without success
But he was lucky other times

The hunter, a tipycal marquesian, also invited me to his house and gave me a bag full of grapefruits
Daniel's bay 
Next stop was Ua Pou, my third time on the island. We stayed for just one night, scrubbed the hull and prepared the boat before setting sail for the Tuamotu archipelago, 500 nautical miles away.
The wharf in Ua Pou




 




Little cheeky monkeys - kept waving at me  and scream my name when I was already miles away
Sunset in Ua Pou
Polynesian pirogue 
TUAMOTUS

Tuamotus are remote atolls covered in white sand and coconut palms protected by giant coral reefs. Many atolls have clear passage at certain times to enter into the centre of the lagoon. This is not an area to sail at night nor without a good bow watch for coral heads  and shoals. These low-lying islands used to be a challenge in the past for sailors but today, everything is pretty easy with all the charts and modern toys available for navigation. The archipelago is associated with mostly with white sand beaches, clear blue waters, sharks everywhere and of course the black pearls. 98 % of the black pearl ` productions comes from Tuamotus.  Black Tahitian pearls were once the black gold of the Tuamotus.

The route from Marquesas islands to Tuamotu
Manihi – the first island in Tuamotus we decided to drop the anchor. It was so different from Marquesas. If I have to describe it with one sentence it would be: Crystal blue water, postcard like sea views, tons of coconuts, corals and crabs. 
Sailing to Manihi was pretty smooth apart from losing the front sail. Just before my shift the second night, at 4,30 am, Gilles decided to wait with me for a bit cause he saw lots of clouds on the radar and suddenly before even the wind hit, the gennaker ripped thoroughly right in front of our eyes. We examined it in the morning and the fabric was completely worn out, I could tear pieces with my hands without any effort. seems like sailing for 5 years in the tropics, it was its time.
The gennaker torn into pieces
Manihi atoll
With radar and GPS, we’ll have a much easier time finding the atolls than the first Europeans. However, once there, it’s back to navigational techniques of the ancients. Eyeball navigation. We expected to arrive around 9 am in the morning, and have a look at the pass into the lagoon. These atolls usually have one, and occasionally two passes that are navigable with a boat our size. But, they can be tricky. The currents inside the pass can reach 9 knots, and they can be very narrow and shallow. At times we may have only half a meter under our keels. There are no reliable published current tables. And just when you are happy to be safely through the pass, usually the lagoon itself is filled with corral heads. To make it real interesting, most of the lagoons are not charted, and the few that are, not well. It’s all eyeball navigation. The water will be very clear, and we hope to have the sun shinning through. Corral heads look brown, light blue is very shallow water, and dark blue is deeper water (ie. good). Someone usually have to direct from the bow (me). 
The village of Manihi
Fish farms
The pass behind us


Babysitting
Aren't I a true sailor? Even my outfit fits...





My little prince on board


I walked so much on the island, really wanted to walk as much as possible until I can’t any more...First day we stayed on the right side of the lagoon but they told us that we are not allowed to be there since it is a pearl farm so we moved to the left. Its full of reefs and the current is very strong especially near the pass so it’s not easy to find a spot to anchor with a normal depth (around 10m). Moved to the other side and I went exploring and again I ended up with a bag full of corals. The beaches on the ocean side are just mountains of corals...and as always I went crazy. God knows how Im gonna carry my backpack when one day Im not sailing.


My mean of transport now
Samara II





Got so many coconuts

Check out the amount of crabs
Mahini Pearl beach resort Ia Orana
Pretty cool for an abandoned hotel



Another STOP sign for my collection

Self portrait 
Yes, we love pegs
He is better than me at that game


Samara II - the third one to the right
Miles and miles of corals, urchins and shells


The only street in Manihi
What would be a day without a tiare behind your ear
Colourful catch of the day



Made a friend there who walked with me to next island


FAKARAVA. Welcome to paradise!
Second largest atoll in Polynesia, its reef crown is rectangular shaped, 60 km long and 25 km wide. Its famous for its idyllic sites and emerald waters. But the main attraction apart from the numerous pearl farms is the exceptional diving which is legendary among divers. The pass has become the hunting ground of gray sharks, lemon sharks, but also manta rays, enormous napoleons, dolphins, barracudas in benches so tight that they can hide the light. All the predators follow their preys in the current and once in the lagoon, there is no way to escape. Heavenly white and pink sand, ruffled coconut trees and an unbelievable palette of lagoon blues are the norm here. The atmosphere is supremely relaxed and quiet. 

Got there in the morning after very good sailing to the north pass, Guruoa pass, the largest pass in all of Polynesia (2km) – the speed of outgoing flood can reach six knots. Larka and Karaka (unfortunately) were there too, very calm anchorage. Walked again a lot and rode Gilles´bike around the island. There were so many sharks everywhere..
Swimming to shore was like paddling through an aquarium 

Watching for coral heads


Black pearls exposure in front of one of the pearl farms
Full of defects but still pretty in a way
A house with an impressive garden (not much water here)
Inside the house, they had those shell necklaces hanging everywhere
The Pacific side

Two French girls I met at the northern end of the island
Little kiddies in the kayak 


Fakarava, North Pass




After a few days we motored to the South pass of Fakarava – Tumakohua Pass, at the village of Tetamanu, population of six says the Lonely Planet) for 6 days. The locals consider it the most beautiful of the Tuamotus and it´s hard not to agree. You really feel you have the island for yourself. Apart from the few boats coming all the way from the North Pass and the divers coming to dive at all the sites, there is no one. I did one dive at the famous “Wall of sharks” and it was incredible. We stayed about an hour watching thousands (I´m not exaggerating!) of grey sharks passing by. As far as you can see, you see endless line of grey sharks, everywhere. Of course also lots of corals and fish and the regular black- and white-tip sharks but the amount of sharks is unbelievable. I asked a French girl who was diving with me to send me some photos and she promised but I never heard back from her (Ah, those Frenchies...) So I found this photo on the net and it was identical: 
"Wall of sharks" dive spot, Fakarava, South Pass. 30 m depth
Yeah, they are pretty much that close
Russian super yacht at the South Pass, Fakarava 
We all agreed it´s a monster. A month later I saw it in Papeete, Tahiti
Tomakohua pass
Guess what´s coming...
This beauty has been 3 times to Antarctica with her captain Mark
Here we go!
Little sailor (spent more time of his life at sea than on land)

Little but pretty loud-voiced. Gilles can say much about  his vocals :))



Yes, they are real






Cleaning the fish and feeding the sharks
Notice the fins behind the bucket

Where the black pearls come from

Gilles as the little mermaid
White and Pink coral sands (Les sables Rosas). The turquoise water laps both sides of the sandy strip and there’s only one boat: yours. I cut my foot on the corals so it made it a bit difficult walking around.
Pink sand beach (plage de sable rose), Fakarava, South Pass







The family

Little Arthur
And even littler Antoaine
I guess after the pegs, the ropes are fun number 2
The Pacific side
Back to the North pass for provisioning
Toau atoll
Next Stop was Toau atoll, it is only 15 nautical miles from Fakarava. There are only a few families living on the island and they are all very friendly. The water is crystal clear and perfect for diving. The other boats anchored there were kind of known from other islands, even the kids were happy to see their old friends. We stayed only 2 nights before we take off to Apataki. 






APATAKI. We used a mooring in front of the Apataki Carenage - quite a new boatyard where you can haul your boat out. It is the only one in Tuamotus so if you can't wait to get to Tahiti or Raiatea to do repairs, this is your place. 
There are some moorings provided for yachts waiting to be hauled out or using the yard for on-shore repairs. Yachts passing by are also welcomed.

The yard, Apataki Carenage is a family-run business which, understandably, is gaining in popularity with cruisers every year. Pauline and Alfred provide an outstanding service to yachties, offering short and long term haul outs (storage during the cyclone season) as well as basic supplies from their small chandlery for our varied needs. they also own a pearl farm along with a copra plantation. The yard is popular with catamarans as the trailer can be adapted for multiple hulls. Igor and Louise from Larka, were planning to leave the boat here and fly back to australia for the cyclon season but in the end we all left together to Rangiroa. 
The yard in Apataki
Some of the catamarans were massive
It was so calm that it lokked more like a lake


My dilemma was: coconut, beer or water? While studying French of course... 
Leaving Apataki. Looks like only the locals manage to catch fish here :((

RANGIROA is one of the biggest atolls in the world, with a lagoon so vast that it could fit the entire island of Tahiti inside of it.

The number-one activity on Rangiroa is diving, and it’s no wonder. The Tiputa Pass and the Avatoru Pass have reached cult status in the diving community and offer some of the best drift dives in the world. Sharks and manta rays are the big attractions, but you’ll also encounter countless reef species as well as shoals of barracuda and others that I don't know how they are called in English (in any language actually).

Not my photo but at night looked just like that
We anchored just in front of Kia Ora hotel and Igor made friends with the receptionist who gave him the password of the WIFI. So we had good internet on board (Gilles has a pretty good antena), which made us stay even longer on this beautiful place. Also the French family left by to Tahiti by plane so we needed a few days just to relax and prepare the boat for the next crossing to Tahiti.
We dropped the anchor exactly where these sailboat are. The lagoon inside the atoll and the Pacific ocean outside
Kia Ora village bungalows 

They even had a Jacuzzi outside
Rode the bike on 100 % of the paved roads on the island. I husked many coconuts here, still not very good at the speed but the result was ok. I was using Gilles`grandpa's axe J. Also got a pretty good deal in an art gallery - four cool design t-shirts in exchange of my Abuelo rum from Panama. Gave one to the captain and he loved it.

Left Rangiroa just before the wind picked up, it was already quite rough tho and made it to Tahiti (178nm) in 26 hours, average speed 8 knots and wind speed 20-25 knots, pretty rough. Got seasick, even puked, first time since I'm sailing. Never got real seasick on Karaka after almost 4 months being on board but it was mono-hull. The catamarans move differently. Samara II was flying. As well as my tummy.
Shooting this wave splash was just like trying to catch a dolphin while jumping. I guess the pros know the trick..
Somewhere in Rangiroa. The colours were just unbelievable 
I stopped for a short beer break with that fun crowd
They told me there are 7 men for every girl on the island so I should stay here and get married straight away
Sails up and go!
Samara II was flying. 8,7 knots
9.0 knots. The sea is very rough. And my stomach feels it too.
Finally the green ridges of Tahiti
Yeahhhhhhhhhh, land
Here is the second part: Sailing in French Polynesia. Part 2

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