We arrived in the lee of Hiva Oa just at sunrise as the mountainous island appeared like a purple mass out of the ocean. It looked eerie and Jurassic and was certainly unlike any island we had seen. Steep cliffs with rugged coastline, green valleys and dramatic dark peaks. They looked old, untouched, magical
The Marquesas were going to be intriguing and promised great cruising and exploration, which we were all looking forward to.
We were met by Ben the cameraman, in a chartered boat, to film our arrival. How he managed to charter a boat is nobodies business, but here he was, camera poised, filming Pegasus in the rising sun. After an hour or so he transferred on board…rather dodgy…and we made our way into a crowded Taa Huka bay. I guess there must have been 20 boats in the small bay behind the breakwater, so we anchored outside the breakwater in calm conditions relieved to be at rest after 18 days at sea. Taa Huka bay was not the most picturesque bay. The water was dark and a bit spooky, the thought of sharks filled our heads. We launched the dinghy and made our way ashore so Ben could get his bag from the pension, and we could get a few provisions, money etc.
On arriving at Bens pension, the proprietor put flower lay’s around our necks, a traditional Marquesas welcome, and we felt like we had arrived in the South Pacific.
As it was a Sunday we could not complete our duty of reporting to the Gendarme, so we decided to head off to a bay with a beach some 8 miles away on the island of Tahuata. We dropped the anchor in a beautiful bay, protected from wind and swell and put the dinghy in the water, ready for our first trip to the beach. The Boys were excited, and after negotiating the beach break we pulled the dinghy up the beach and all took our first swim in the beautiful, warm, clear water of the south Pacific. We strolled along the beach and collected some coconuts and lemons from the trees and returned to Pegasus. That night the sky was clear and at sunset we saw the dramatic peaks of the island Ua Pou some 60 miles to the northwest. Quite remarkable. It looked like “The Land that Time Forgot”.
Administration, as always, beckoned and we returned to Hiva Oa to check in with the Gendarme, fill our water tanks and re provision. There is always a work load on arrival after passage, lugging stores, water and fuel, stowing the purchases and the dreaded laundry. This was done by hand on shore under the standpipe, and as Amanda tackled the pile of laundry, with a few other boats doing the same, I took the boys off to town some 2 miles away for more supplies and a good walk.
We also had the additional issue that the drive belt linking the motor to the fridge compressor had broken again, and we needed a replacement for the replacement. This was to prove a real bore and caused us some frustration as our freezer was full, and the Marquesas (and French Polynesia generally) are really expensive.
Suffice to say that after ordering parts from Tahiti and waiting 3 days for competently the wrong thing to be air freighted to us, I had to order the parts from Australia and had them delivered by express delivery. We finally picked them up ten days or so after ordering, not without some administrative difficulty I might add. In all, our fridge freezer was out of action for nearly a month and the $30us drive belt cost some $600us after freight costs and cock ups ….quite amazing.
Our spinnaker also needed repair after exploding on day 15. I had organised with Russ, a skilled sail maker on his boat Zephyre to drop the sail off with him, to see what he could do. He arrived when we were in Hiva Oa so I took our Kite over to him so that he could mend it if it was feasible. On inspection he thought he could, but it would take a few days. I left the huge sail with him expecting an e mail in a week or two.
We had completed our check in and admin, so were clear to explore the islands. The wind had backed to the North so we decided to head to Fatu Hiva, some 70 miles south. We set off at midnight and arrived as the sun was rising over the island. We were to anchor in the Bay of Virgins, a quite dramatic tight bay with phallic rock forms rising hundreds of feet from the sides of the valley. In Marquesan the bay was originally called the bay of Penises, but the missionaries added an extra “e” and it became the bay of virgins. The missionary presence was most evident on all the islands we visited, with every small town having its own, well patronised, church.
Fatu Hiva was extremely green and lush. The valley had a stream running down its centre and we had heard that at the head of the valley was a waterfall. We all wanted to walk up there. The small village on the beach had 30 odd houses and a small shop, but once through the village the road turned to a track, and past the track, to a path, quite overgrown. Occasionally a house was seen cut out of the “jungle” with a beautiful well-tended garden, and usually a couple of pigs and dogs.
We followed the river up the valley. Mango trees dropped their fruit into the river, huge grapefruit called Pamplemouse grew on trees beside the path, lemon and orange trees, and of course Bananas were everywhere. If you walked up a valley you could fill your bags with fresh ripe fruit, with the permission of the local home owner. All land and trees were owned and we were never refused.
So just a recap…abundant, varied fresh fruit for free, fresh water from the mountain, crayfish and fish in plenty, all free….this really is the closest we would ever get to the garden of Eden! From a physical sustenance point of view, the locals really wanted for nothing.
We continued our trek up the valley. Ben was doing a bit of camera work of course….just wait there, ok walk past the camera, JJ stop. Ok just one more time…no ..ok walk past the camera looking like a family , so together.. JJ Louis follow mummy,….Oh that’s beautiful light, just on more time….all very natural…. At least we didn’t have to carry the camera or tripod as the walking was getting tougher and we headed through the jungle to the head of the valley. Amazingly we passed remains of human habitation, cut stone and walls thousand of years old, small Tikis or carvings etc. We climbed further up…cant be far now!!! Louis, still only 2 was making a good go of it but as the path got less defined and the jungle thicker I had to resort to the carry. Finally at about 4.30pm we reached the waterfall. It had taken us a lot longer than expected, so I called a 5pm departure. We had to get clear of the jungle before sunset. I could see how impressive the waterfall could be, but today it was not in full flood although there was enough water to make it special and magical. We stripped off and swam in the cool fresh water. I piggyback swam both boys under the falls, which they loved. It reminded me of swimming in the Scottish locks as a small boy. I was constantly aware of the possibility of loosing a shoe in the water, so swimming was difficult. If a shoe was lost, it would make for a difficult and slow descent in the falling light…a recipe for disaster.
We left the falls at 5pm and descended quickly, keen to be clear of the thick jungle in good light. As we left the path for track, and track to concrete road the sun dipped and the rock of the valley walls turned orangy purple through purple to black as we found our dinghy and made our way back to Pegasus. Quite an adventure…Fresh tuna for dinner.
We spent a few days in the bay, as some friends had arrived after their passage from the Galapagos, and we all swam and played in the warm water. I did less playing and more scrubbing than expected. On our passage, Pegasus had become extremely dirty above the water line. Green algae and marine growth needed to be scrubbed off the topsides and waterline. This was quite a task and took me about 8 hours with a green scotch cloth. I was aware that scrubbing with a scotch cloth, although effective, makes a great key for more marine growth to cling on to. I would now have to scrub the water line every 2 days before we had an opportunity to beach the boat and polish the hulls.
The image of Un Pou (now 120miles north) still hung in our minds and we decided that we should leave Fatu Hiva and head North. Before we left I walked up the valley with the boys and picked a load of fresh fruit for our stores. The Northern islands were reputably drier so water and fruit would be in less abundant supply. We set sail at dusk and reached up island under full main, genoa and staysail making a good 8 kts average in 10 kts breeze. We dropped anchor in the little, empty harbour at about 10am and went ashore to explore. We met a few of the locals and bought supplies…ice mostly to try and keep the freezer reasonably cold. I bought Amanda a Pareau and at the shop enquired where we could find mangoes. Come with me she said and took us behind her shop where she had a huge mango tree. With a net on the end of a 20ft stick, I picked the largest mangoes I have ever seen They were the size of Louis head!!!, I dropped one from the net as I was picking it. It hit the ground and split. Oh dear, just have to eat it. I pulled back the skin and JJ and I took great bites out of it. I have to say that there were no stringy bits in our teeth. The fruit was smooth, sweet and juicy. Orange streaks dripped down our faces, as I tried to wrestle the fruit away from JJ. I’m sure we will never have mangos like those again.
The day we arrived I received an e mail saying the spinnaker was ready….in Tahuata, some 60 miles south east. It was pretty inconvenient, as we had to be in Huku Niva, 30 miles north on the weekend to collect our expected fridge part, and watch the big canoe race we had heard about. Nothing for it, we would have to cut short our time in Ua Pou and head south again. So 2 days after arriving we set sail at dusk and sailed / motor sailed SE to Tahuata arriving mid morning.
The beautiful bay had 8-10 boats in and we knew most of them. There were plenty of kids for the boys to play with and there was a jolly festive atmosphere. There was a boat Honey Mon there who happened to have an Optimist on board. Don and I had kept track of our positions across the pacific and on passage I was taking 50 miles off him a day. Now Don is a serial racer so was not too pleased with this, and so keen to right the balance he appeared in his optimist keen to spar. I launched silver and with we both sailed around the lagoon, Don with Louis and JJ with me. I’m not sure what was happening but Don could sail round us, in front of us and behind us without issue…..i just couldn’t make silver go. By way of excuse, Don was state champion for a few years in Queensland….. I’ve got to look at the rig. Don was pretty pleased in a quiet sort of way, but the gauntlet is definitely down for a point in the future.
The bay was amazing and Amanda swan with Manta rays while Ben filmed her. I scrubbed the water line again, and sailed silver as the boys jumped and swam from the back of the boat. We were having a lovely time and stayed an extra day enjoying the party atmosphere. Russ was there with the spinnaker. He had done a marvellous job and I was most pleased that we now had our light wind sail back, although I would need to take greater care with it in the future.
22/5 at dusk we left Tahuata headed for Huku Niva, the largest island in the northern group of the Marquesas some 75 miles away. We wanted to arrive in good time and made moderate speed arriving at 8 am Saturday morning. The Big canoe race (40KM) had just started and after a couple of hours the boats entered the bay for a few laps. Canoeing is the national sport of the Polynesians and is taken seriously. 6 men in an outrigger canoe with support boats. These guys are fit, and we could see the exertion and exhaustion on their faces as they came past us at anchor. We dressed overall as did the other cruising boats and cheered the canoes as they passed close to Pegasus. We went ashore for lunch on the quay and joined the party atmosphere.
As our freezer had defrosted slowly we had been eating all the tuna we had caught. We had had it for lunch and supper in a variety of forms for a week and were quite tunaed out.
Lunch ashore was…Tuna, although it was yellow fin, far superior to our tuna. I had Poisson Cru au lait coco, with rice and plantain, and the boys ate sashimi, which was all quite excellent. This was the first proper meal out since the Galapagos and it was great to eat off the boat after so long.
Our dreaded fridge part was due to arrive on Saturday in Huku Niva, and we waited for its immanent delivery. Needless to say it didn’t arrive. While waiting we took the opportunity to beach Pegasus, clean the topsides and waterline, and apply two coats of polish, which I hoped would keep the marine growth at bay. The Belts finally turned up on Wednesday afternoon and at last we were back in business….cold beer amongst other things.
The production company were getting anxious about the amount of time Ben had been on board. They had originally thought that he could film our arrival and then get to the Tuamotoes, the next island chain, to shoot turquoise water and desert islands. It was apparent that due to our fridge problem, amongst other considerations, that was unlikely to happen. I spoke with London and it was decided we would make to the Tuamotoes, weather permissible, at the earliest opportunity. We made a plan to set sail on the Monday 1st June, after a front had blown through. We headed round to the north of the island on Thursday morning to sit in the beautiful Anaho bay, wait for the weather, and try and get a few of the other shots they were after…collecting fruit, interacting with the locals, cooking fish etc.
Anaho was really beautiful and sheltered, with sandy beaches and a dramatic mountain backdrop. We collected fruit in the valley and met a local who climbed a coconut tree and prepared fresh drinking coconuts for us. I caught lobster…it was all going extremely well. Friday afternoon and we were fishing off Pegasus. I hooked a great meaty looking fish and after an hour had 3 more. Supper. I looked through our books but couldn’t identify 3 of the fish, the fourth being a red snapper. They all looked similar and Amanda prepared a beautiful meal. Ben filmed and all was well. Louis was asleep by the time we ate, JJ only picked at the fish and Amanda, Ben and I ate well. The evening drew to a close and we all went to bed.
At about 2.30 am Amanda woke me. We had both had fitful sleep and my legs and teeth were hurting. We both felt really unwell, having raging diarrhoea and Amanda had been sick. “Jason, come and have a look at this” she said……In an electronic book on the computer she had identified the fish we had eaten….under the venomous and poisonous fish section.!!! Paddeltail…DO NOT EAT THIS FISH ….known carrier of ciguatera (neuro toxin). Big Problem.
I immediately woke Ben and he read the text. Basically induce vomiting, seek medical help immediately. The book said that symptoms could vary, but we all had clear symptoms and it appeared that Amanda, myself then Ben were affected in decreasing proportions. Luckily JJ was still asleep so we surmised that he was little affected. We waited for the symptoms to worsen. The valley we were in was accessible only on horseback so any medical help was out of the question. We did, however, have a mobile signal, so we telephoned the doctor who advised plenty of paracetamol, antihistermien, water and sleep.
The book had lead us to believe convulsions leading to coma and death was immanent. Luckily we had only a bad, not severe, dose so we would live. The symptoms stabilised by the morning and the other boat in the bay (who had children on board) took the boys off for the afternoon while we slept. We all felt terrible. Massive muscle fatigue, tingling skin, hot felt like cold and visa versa, my teeth felt like they had been pulled and my mouth was full off pepper. These symptoms decreased slowly over the next 3 days but were still apparent 3 weeks later. NO alcohol, mangoes, coconuts, coffee, or fish could be eaten. I tried a beer after a week and the palms of my hands and soles of my feet became intolerably itchy. It was 3 weeks before I could comfortably drink a beer!! (even though we now had a fridge full of cold ones!). We both thanked our stars that little Louis had not eaten the fish. I’m sure he would have been in serious trouble.
There was no way we were fit enough to sail, so the Tuamotoes were out of the question. We contacted the production company and they organised a flight for Ben the following Friday 5th June. Even though he was suffering himself, he managed to film the “fish poisoning” sequence for the company…stoic stuff. Ciguatera is not like fish poisoning at home…you know, throw up, feel bad, stomach ache etc. Ciguatera attacks the nervous system, and although your body tries to expel the poison, it can stay in your system for years. It’s a most strange and unpleasant sensation, and we must all be careful now, of any fish we eat.
After five days recouping we motored round to the next bay as Ben had arranged a taxi for the Thursday morning. The Car arrived and we said our goodbye’s. As he headed off up the valley we returned to Pegasus and motored to another bay on the West of the island. We didn’t envy Ben’s 40 hour journey back to London.
We are lucky that Ben fits in so well and we all like having him on board, but its always easier with just the family. Ben had been on board for all our time in the Marquesas, some 26 days, so it was good to be back with just the family again after so long.
We would wait for a weather window and head slowly and carefully for the Tuamotoes when it looked suitable.
We really liked the Marquesas and although we had spent nearly a month there, we don’t feel that we had scratched the surface. We could easily spend months exploring the islands and jungle with its lost archaeological sites, waterfalls, secret caves, bountiful food and pleasant climate. The landscape is so prehistoric you half expect a teridactal, king kong or Harrison ford to appear round a bend in the river or over a craggy mountain ridge. Its clean, exciting and steeped in undiscovered history and as such fires the imagination. I really hope the islands remain unspoilt as the land that time forgot until we can get back to them.
See our photographs of the Marquesas at http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/103419419518034555314/TheMarquesas?authkey=Gv1sRgCKee28_Us7mnxwE&feat=directlink