A Spot of Artwork – Child Labour and Multiple Stab Wounds

I am ashamed to admit that since the day I purchased Bob back in 2007 she has never until recently been properly anointed by having her name displayed on her hull. It was always on the cards, but there just always seemed to be something more important to work on and besides, I’m a terrible artist.

Fortunately, child labour is not just legal but parentally encouraged under some circumstances. We ellicited the willing assistance of two wonderful young girls to assist us in rectifying this gross oversight, to the effect that Bob now proudly bears her name on both quarters. Please allow me to properly introduce our master craftswomen, and their handiwork:

Cali’s creation:

And Gaya’s!:

We’re both really, really happy that they were so keen to do this for us. Better than any Picasso, Monet or DaVinci in our opinion. If only the rest of Bob looked so chique.

The second bit of artwork has been a long-time coming – 14 years to be precise.

When I visited Polynesia back in 2003 I was one of a crew of 48 aboard the Barque Picton Castle. My final port on this voyage was Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands, where I left the ship to fly to England to begin my university education. Before I left, however, I had a decision to make – whether to indelibly record this important experience in my life in the form of a traditional Polynesian tattoo. About 30 of my shipmates chose to do just this, in one form or another, but I chose not to based on the rationale that I would one day return to Polynesia on my own boat having embarked on a circumnavigation of the world on my own terms, and that this would be a more appropriate juncture at which to record such an experience. Since then I have seen at least a hundred Polynesian tatoos, I have liked and/or appreciated each one and have come to regard them as things of great beauty and significance. I have looked forward to the day when I would consider the timing and circumstances fitting to have one myself. What more appropriate place to be tattoed than where the tradition began – here in the Marquesas Islands.

Imagine those explorers of yesteryear who turned up in this part of the world to the sight of fierce warriors tattoed from head to foot, brandishing mean-looking weapons and adorned with the body parts of those they had vanquished. The Marquesians must have been sublimely daunting to say the least.

At least 3 of these early explorers understood the value of this ancient art and the necessity for it’s preservation. It has been lost to some extent but, thanks to the catalogues of these two men and one woman (at least), much of the traditional symbology and it’s associated meanings have been conserved. Based to a large extent on their records and observations the practice in it’s traditional form is currently experiencing a revival.

It works a little differently here from how it works in England, the US or any other developed country. In those countries you might come up with a design you want to tattoo on yourself, or even pick something out of a book. Here, the tradition of tattooes serving as a personal record is still very much at the essence of the process. Commonly one might be tattooed by a friend or relative who knows them well. Once I’d found an artist that I liked, and whose work I admired, I had to try to achieve the same intimacy by sitting down and talking with him. I’d done a lot of research surrounding the various styles, and the traditional meanings of patterns and symbols. I have had an idea of where I wanted to be tattooed for many years, but the actual design of the tattoo itself is the creation of the artist. Moano and I sat down together and talked for about two hours. He learned about me, my family and friends, some of the experiences in my life that have made me who I am today, the principles on which I base my ethics and morality, my strengths and weaknesses, the things that are important to me and, just as important, the things that are not.

Traditional Marquisian culture revolved in no small way around conflict – war and raiding on neighbouring tribes. Life was hard. Men were bred as warriors. Traditional male tattoos therefore were concerned mainly with protection against enemies, the garnering of strength and fortitude from ancestral gods, and generally consisted of large, bold, blocky motifs. About 90% of the Marquesian symbology is along these lines. Needless to say I didn’t really want to be covered in a large, dark checkerboard of ink so I opted for a more feminine style, with small intricate motifs and delicate, often cryptic shapes and shades. The symbolism that was chosen between myself and Moana is quintessentially Marquesian, but many of the symbols also have more personal significance – after all, a tattoo is a profoundly personal thing. Here is my story:

And some close-ups:

Every single part of the tattoo has some meaning. A full explanation would take hours to relate verbally, so I’ll give an abridged version!

The section that runs along my collar bone represents aspects of my life so far – the past and the present. The thin black line represents my lifeline. Notice that it is not straight. Life isn’t so. Above the line are several symbols relating to the artist Moana – the hands that created the tattoo, and an introduction to the primary theme of the tattoo, which is the ocean – something that I have shared a close affinity with all my life. Also in this top row are four little identical symbols that look like boxes with triangular symbols above them and a U-shape. These are a bit of a joke on my part. They symbolise masculine beauty, but also the courage to be tattoooed. I enjoy the irony of it – a tattoo that symbolises the act of being tattooed.

Below that is a group of symbols including a manta ray, a thing that looks like waves underneath the ray and a group of symbols above the ray. The symbols above represent a voyage, and also taking flight into independence. If you look closely at the bottom symbol you will see that it is actually waves, and a little figure in a boat. This symbol has several meanings – being human and living with the ocean, the personal symbology of standing fast in the face of seemingly-insurmountable fear, and a traditional Maori tale involving a young girl who, simplistically, overcame prejudice and various tribulations to prove that she was worthy of being a chief. The image is of her riding a whale. It is a famous legend and worth looking up for those that are interested. The legend is pervasive throughout various Polynesian cultures, and it is an ancient one.

The ray itself is symbolic of lots of nice things, including ‘an animal protector of mankind’. How this works exactly I’m not sure. It didn’t work out so well for Steve Irwin with his Sting Rays, but I think it looks pretty good and that’s the main thing. For me, the main symbolism is an aspiration to grace, in all it’s facets. Giant Manta Rays are very common here, and to see them moving through the water so effortlessly in all their splendour is always a treat; perhaps it could also symbolise a desire to remain graceful even when I’m old, fat and slow.

The dominant symbol of the turtle has many connotations including luck, an affinity for the open ocean, a return to one’s place of origin and many other things. The stuff inside relates to my family (mum, dad; you’re two of those little things that look like spiders!). The turtle’s hind left leg represents personal growth and development and the hind right leg represents the education of children.

The overall shape of the symbol that encompasses the whole lot on my arm is that of a fish hook. It is also the lifeline of my future. That’s the wavy white line on a dark background. The repeating symbols outside this represent a long voyage. The figure at the base is a Tiki (look up this concept if you’re interested) whose design is unique to Moana. There’s some stuff on the Tiki’s head that represents a search for wisdom and the desire to be a better leader, plus another bit that I don’t actually know the meaning of myself. Maybe it’s Moana saying that I’m actually not a very nice person after all!

Finally, the other bit inside the fish hook other than the turtle consists of a compass for guidance and direction, a symbol above it (the bit that looks kind of like an ear) to symbolise a desire to be a better listener and a bit below it (looks like the braid of a rope, the muscles that are visible in a fillet of fish or the bark of a native tree) to represent family and in particular ‘to care for a family’. Sarah likes that bit. It’s in my ‘future’ section 🙂

I’ve been very diligent in taking care of it, and as such have been reclusively hiding away down below on Bob periodically applying some white stuff to it for the last few days. I’m also not allowed to drink beer or wine, which has been a huge exercise in self-deprivation for me. Fortunately rum, being a non-fermented (well, post-distilled anyway) drink is OK, so the rum rations have been depleted a bit. It’s been tough, but I will endure this grueling regime for a couple more days. I have the motivation of knowing that a few days of care now may well affect the longevity of the tattoo over decades to come.

Below is an image taken from a poster at the Marquesian museum of tattooage of a Marquesian man, as well as a few examples of variations in symbolic stylism:

Here we have a couple of examples of some of the tools that were used as part of the tattooing process. These are now a part of a wall in a Christian church. The missionaries did a good job of destroying the local culture and heritage by building churches on sacred or otherwise-culturally significant structures and/or sites, or in this case simply by sequestering culturally-important stones for their own purposes. The stone with the deep gauge marks in it would have been used for sharpening the tools used for tattooing. The indentations on the lower one were used as reservoirs for the inks:

Return to Marquesas

Our time in the Tuamotus, for me, was educational. We were fortunate to be able to learn a few necessary lessons under more-or-less non-hazardous conditions.

The Tuamotus Archipelago is constituted of a hundred or so atolls – raised barrier reefs in a ring-shape with a lagoon in the middle. Some of the atolls are large (the average is about 20 miles by 9 miles) and have a pass through the reef that is wide and deep enough to allow the passage of a yacht. Wicked currents generally tear through these passes, and they are difficult to predict due to the sparsity of tide stations and the complexity of other influencing factors, such as the strength and direction of the winds, how long they have been blowing, the phase of the moon, the prevailing swell direction due to something that might have happened last week a thousand miles away and whether or not Neptune has woken up on the wrong side of the bed with a hangover. In a worst-case scenario a strong current opposes a large swell. This sets up large, steep standing waves which are hazardous enough to broach a large yacht. We read one account of a 60-something-foot yacht which had their cockpit filled twice while negotiating the pass at Hao. In our case, a slight misjudgment on my part led to a bumpy ride out of Hao but nothing dangerous. Lesson learned.

Another lesson was learned when we were caught out on the lee side of Amanu lagoon when the wind picked up to an un-forecast 25 knots. The fetch across the lagoon was 5 miles, which was sufficient to produce some sizable chop. To make matters worse, anchoring inside the lagoons of the Tuamotus usually involves anchoring amidst towering coral heads which snag and entangle your anchor chain. This was the case with us; the rocks had entangled the first 150-feet of our 300-foot scope. The only reason the other 150-feet wasn’t tangled up too is that we had by this point learned to suspend the last hundred feet or so of chain with buoys (if any sailors out there want to know more about this technique let me know and I’ll write a bit more). This helps to protect the coral as well as guaranteeing that you you will always have some scope, and the buoys help to absorb some of the shock loading, in conjunction with a good, long, stretchy snubber line. We spent about 12 hours anchored like this, unable to raise our anchor due to entanglement, unable to let out any more scope because we had it all out already (the water depth was 80′) and with Bob’s bow occasionally burying in the waves. No harm done. We’re ready to head back down there in a couple of months and begin our Tuamotus exploration much better equipped than we might have been.

The passage back North to Marquesas was good, though we were close reaching or close-hauled for all bar the last 6 hours of it. We also encountered violent squalls, but were able to see them coming in advance and shorten sail accordingly. We pulled in to Taiohae Bay, on the South Coast of Huku Hiva, at 9pm local time on December 31st. It was a very dark night as we came in. We dropped anchor behind a catamaran that we could just make out by the glow of her decks as they shone by the light of her mast-head anchor light. I had a rum, Sarah had a glass of wine (well, maybe more than one) and we turned in for a much-needed sleep.

The following morning we discovered that the catamaran anchored next to us was none other than our very good friends aboard El Nido, whom we had last seen in the Gambier Islands. Olivia and David are cruising with their two daughters, Gaya and Kali, who are 5 and 7 years old respectively. We had shared many wonderful days with them in the Gambier Islands and were exceptionally pleased to see them again. One month later, the vein of those wonderful days has continued, and we have come to regard the whole family as very special friends.

I think many people would be surprised to learn of the number of cruisers who are travelling as a family. Home-schooling means that the children do not miss out on their education in the slightest. Quite the opposite in fact – the opportunity for them meet so many children from different cultures, backgrounds and economic situations adds hugely to their personal development, and makes for incredibly well-rounded, precocious children who, in my opinion, get a head-start in life compared to the vast majority of their peers. Very few boats have teenagers on board because their requirements are somewhat different, but children in the age range of between about 2 and 11 seem to be well-suited to a cruising lifestyle. At least, that seems to be the case based on the families that we have met thus far.

We haven’t budged in a month now, and a very productive and enjoyable month it has been. Sarah has been working diligently on a statistical data analysis for the Charles Darwin Institute in Galapagos, and I have spent the time making small improvements and doing routine maintenance to Bob. We’ve been pretty shoddy tourists to be honest and have rarely ventured far beyond the shops near to the quay, instead spending our leisure time with fellow cruisers. The one exception to this was a day spent driving all over the island in a rented car. This is an incredibly beautiful place, and Sarah has some stunning landscape pictures to prove it. I’m sure they’ll be making an appearance in her next blog installment. In the meantime I’m afraid you’ll just have to take my word for it and make do with wading through my comparatively drab text 🙂

Our anchor chain has a wealth of growth on it from being submerged in the water column for so long. Sarah has finished her statistical paper, and I have finished my project (more in the next blog post about this). We’re tentatively booked to haul Bob out for a bottom job in Hiva Oa in about two weeks and would like to make a stop in Ua Huka before then, so we’re planning on raising anchor at some time in the next few days and going for a sail. We’re looking forward to it.

A Bit More About Bob

Greetings all. First of all, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and all that stuff. I must apologise for having been so useless recently, having not posted anything for quite some time. Fortunately Sarah has picked up the slack 🙂

I’m just posting this as an FYI – although I haven’t written any actual blog posts recently I have written a rather lengthy reply to a fellow owner of a West Indies 36 who contacted us recently via the comments section. I got a bit carried away in my email to him and ended up writing something that may or may not be of interest to others. It’s a semi-technical account of some of the modifications that I’ve made to Bob, some of the work done to her in order to return her to a state of ship-shape-ness following many years of neglect, some modifications and adaptations made for this voyage specifically (including some of my views on best practices as far as preparations for extended cruising are concerned) and a bit about heavy weather tactics on Bob, since those are the topics that the gentleman asked about. For those interested it can be found at the bottom of the ‘about Bob’ page.

Frenchie On Board

I know what you’re probably thinking…… how could I possibly have agreed to spend six whole weeks with someone who comes from, of all the God-forsaken places on Earth – France?! All the British readers I’m sure will sympathise with me, having to share my home with a Frenchie. And not just any Frenchie, but one who is a fanatic about smelly cheeses, has dance moves that would put Michael Jackson to shame and who uses chocolate bread as means of instant self gratification! How could I possibly cope? I do have a good excuse, however, for allowing Charline to cross the boundary onto Bob and merge into our British crew. And my excuse is this: I was bribed… with these:

The huge and amazing pile of stuff that Charline brought for us from the UK

The huge and amazing pile of stuff that Charline brought for us from the UK

Honestly though, the idea of having Charline come to visit was a wonderful thought, not just because it would be lovely to see her and escape to some extent from the sailing world, but also because it would be nice for me to give Charline a fun, unusual and worthwhile experience. I am thrilled that she came all the way to French Polynesia to hang out with us for six weeks and indulge my cravings to talk about everything relating to England, my old work, dear friends and colleagues and topics of conversation that diverted from the usual subject of sailing.

After fighting the weather to get from Gambier to the Marquesas Islands, Alex and I made it to Hiva Oa in the nick of time for Charline’s arrival. Our first day with her was very special and we spent our time doing a treasure hunt that our friend Marc had set up for us. It was this treasure hunt that gave me the inspiration for Alex’s Christmas gift which I wrote about in my last blog post. Marc had set up the treasure hunt to lead us through jungle and across rivers, concluding the hunt at a historical site with large rocks and carved ancient Petroglyphs. As with any treasure hunt, we had to find a number of stopping points, each one with some treasure and a clue to the next point.  We got rum, chocolates, pasta sauce and fishing lures, but of course the true gift was the treasure hunt itself and the fun it generated. What a wonderful thing for Marc to do for us. It was also a great opportunity for Alex and Charline to get to know each other, and for me to chat to a familiar face about aspects of my old life, which I often miss.

Just made it the petroglyphs and our final piece of treasure

Just made it the petroglyphs and our final piece of treasure

We spent a few days in Hiva Oa before heading to another island called Tahuata for a few days, where we explored the village and went for a few swims and snorkels. It was good fun, one of the best places to snorkel in Marquesas as it’s one of the few bays with clear(ish) water. We saw lots of fish and rays – including a pair of sting rays who appeared to be mating. Charline got a little sea sick at first but to be fair, the anchorages in Marquesas can be uncomfortable and she got over it very quickly. She rapidly got used to life on board Bob – sleeping on a berth the size of a coffin, washing up in a bucket of salt water on deck to save our fresh water supplies, sweating in the tropical heat on board a boat with no air conditioning, etc. Of course there was also the beauty of the majestic high rise islands and the wonderful array of tropical plants and animals that go with them. The tranquillity of life on a boat, the lack of distractions and the novelty of being able to swim as you please were also part of the experience. I think, like with any lifestyle, there are good and bad points to the cruising existence and Charline got a fair taste of both.

Charline and I ready for our first snorkel in Tahuata

Charline and I ready for our first snorkel in Tahuata

I wanted to use the time during her visit to do more fun and ‘touristy’ things, as it’s something I don’t think Alex and I do enough of during this trip. We crammed in a lot during her visit and if I go into everything in detail I would be writing forever! Over the course of her six week visit, we:

  • Visited 5 different islands
  • Visited 8 different anchorages
  • Explored 6 different towns/villages
  • Went on 5 hikes/walks
  • Went to a music festival and hung out with the lead band
  • Did 6 fish surveys (including a night time survey)
  • Swam almost every day
  • Body surfed twice
  • Went wake boarding
  • Climbed the mast
  • Sailed with dolphins at least 3 times
  • Spent a total of six full days at sea (a total of 144 hours) over 7 passages, including a long distance ocean passage
  • Made friends with sailors from 7 different boats
  • Made bread, cheese, yoghurt, mayonnaise and coconut milk from scratch
  • Read lots of books, watched a few films and played more card games than I can count
Charline body surfings

Charline body surfings

Dolphins at the bow of the boat

Dolphins at the bow of the boat

After Tahuata we headed to Nuku Hiva to meet up with Marc, who we had not seen since the Galapagos Islands in May. It was so wonderful to see an old friend (I realise that we only met him 7 months previously so in that sense he isn’t exactly ‘old’, but in regards to my cruising life, Marc is one of the oldest friends I’ve made) and thank him for our wonderful treasure hunt. We hung out with Marc a lot, going on various walks, hanging out at the local cafe or having meals together on one another’s boats. We introduced him to ‘spoons’, which is a card game much like snap, except instead of slapping your hand on the table and shouting ‘snap’ as loudly as possible, you have to grab one of the spoons provided – and of course there was always one spoon short for the number of players. The game usually ends up with one person running around the boat with all of the spoons while the other players chase and tackle that person to the floor in a desperate attempt to not be left spoonless. It was really good fun!

Another reason for our visit to Nuku Hiva was for a music festival that’s held here every other year in November. The festival was an interesting mix of local Polynesian music, jazz and death metal! It was a good atmosphere and I’m happy we made it in time to join in. We inadvertently became groupies and made friends with the headlining band, although we didn’t know who they were at the time. We drew their attention when playing a game we’d recently invented which involves making a complete fool out of yourself by bending and twisting your body in such a way as to get a coconut shell the furthest distance from you without moving your feet and without putting your hands directly on the floor! It was good fun and we ended up hanging out with the band for few hours as a result. Charline and I spent some time admiring their striking arms which were covered in beautifully detailed traditional Polynesian tattoos. Alex has planned to get a Polynesian tattoo ever since his last visit to this part of the world over 13 years ago. The tattoos here are very traditional, are all unique and tell a story about the person they belong too. They really are exquisite and are designed in such a way that their beauty doesn’t change as the body ages. After seeing some of the tattoos here, and hearing what Alex would like for his own tattoo, I’m really excited for him and can’t wait to see the final result.

We visited a total of 3 bays in Nuku Hiva. The first was the main town of Taiohae, where the music festival was held, and we had access to shops, cafes and internet. The second bay (called Hakaui Bay) was probably the best anchorage I’ve seen so far in the Marquesas Islands. Not only is it incredibly well sheltered from the sea and the wind from most directions, the surrounding landscape is very striking with lush green striated ridges, majestically carved into the sides of the mountain valley. It was in this bay where we met some friendly locals tendering their land who were also pleased to be in our company for an hour or two. We met a lovely elderly couple who, for a very reasonable price of $10 per person, cooked us up a delicious lunchtime feast of 8 different local Marquesian dishes using local fish, chicken, bananas, coconuts, papayas and much more. We also had drinks with a young man who owned land and a house which, he claimed, used to belong to his ancestors who back in the day, were Polynesian royalty. He was only 26 years old but lived in the house by himself after his family died and left him the property. One of his possessions, which led to a number of interesting conversations, were the two human skulls he had in his hallway. The Polynesians have a long history of cannibalism, and whilst this tradition is no longer supported or practiced, this particular bay has a bad reputation owing to one crazy individual about 4 years ago who murdered and cannibalised a passing sailor. Although we are perfectly safe and the murderer is now in prison, the sight of the skulls sent a worrying chill down my spine. Four years is not a long time, I thought, maybe the guy who lives here was friends with the cannibal man and also had a taste for human flesh. I’m just being paranoid, I kept saying to myself, there’s nothing to fear!

In the end, I really needn’t have worried; the man was harmless and very welcoming. He explained that the skulls came from a nearby cave where his royal ancestors were laid to rest, but that a recent storm had caused the skulls to fall from the cave and land on the forest floor. Rather than leaving them on the floor to be buried and forgotten, he took them back to his home and created a kind of alter for them. It was a very interesting place with a spooky historic atmosphere, but it didn’t put me off. If anything, it intrigued me even more and I would recommend anyone staying in Nuku Hiva to stop for a visit.

Bob in Hakaui Bay

Bob in Hakaui Bay

We also spent a good day hiking in the forest to reach a waterfall about 2 hours inland through the valley. Unfortunately, due to the risk of landslides we couldn’t make it all the way, which was disappointing to say the least. One of the main reasons I wanted to do this hike was to swim in a serene fresh water pool at the foot of a cascading waterfall. The hike was enjoyable nonetheless and we still got a good view of the waterfall itself – one of the longest on the island. The forest was a wonderful environment to hike in and given my background in ecology, forestry in particular, it felt somewhat familiar. We past numerous historical features and got a sense of how ancient Polynesian settlers might have lived here, seeing their lives through remnants of old roads, walls and buildings still discreetly situated in the forest. We had lunch next to the river where a number of juvenile fresh water eels had become habituated to human presence. The eels were huge! Probably about 4 feet long and the width of a marrow, they sat there looking at us whilst we ate our lunch waiting for some titbits – not too dissimilar from puppy dogs in that respect. We were happy to feed them a crumb or two, but as friendly as they were we still decided they looked far too menacing to swim with. Reluctantly, we decided to head further downstream before we took a dip to cool off.

Marc splashing around in the river

Marc splashing around in the river

Stunning view of the waterfall, albeit from a distance

Stunning view of the waterfall, albeit from a distance

After our time in Hakaui Bay, we attempted to visit Ua Huka, an island to the east of Nuku Hiva with a population of only 600 people. Unfortunately, the wind wasn’t in our favour and there was the added issue of mine and Charline’s sea sickness. I still can’t believe that after all this time I still get sea sick, and this particular trip was the worst yet! We got up at 6am, pulled up anchor and left by 6.05am. I was still half asleep, completely disoriented and no breakfast in my belly to stabilise its lurching. To think I managed an entire 23 days at sea on the voyage to Pitcairn without throwing up – this time I managed just 23 minutes before I was blowing chunks over the stern of the boat. Charline followed suit about half an hour later. With this unfortunate turn of events, we made our way to Baie Du Controleur, a few miles east on the southern coast of Nuku Hiva and anchored there for a few days. Here we relaxed, explored the local village, did some swimming and converted a machete into a coconut grater. I also made sure to take note that in future, I need to get up at least half an hour before setting sail, drink coffee and eat something to avoid any future sea sickness disasters!

You can see the original machete on the right, and the one we converted into a coconut grater on the left

You can see the original machete on the right, and the one we converted into a coconut grater on the left

 

Charline is having far too much fun with that coconut grater!

Charline is having far too much fun with that coconut grater!

After a short stay in Baie Du Controleur we set sail once again, this time for Ua Pou. Ua Pou is an island with a truly spectacular and dramatic landscape. A number of tall phallic outcrops project from the island into the clouds above, comparable with towers of a haunted castle from a fairytale – their summits fading into the misty world above. The bay itself is quite exposed, although there is a small breakwater with enough room behind it to shelter 3 or 4 yachts. We managed to just about squeeze in between two boats with the use of our stern anchor and with the help of a fellow sailor called Daniel. Daniel is a lone sailor from France who is another wonderful guy and typifies the sailing community in his welcoming, helpful and friendly attitude. We spent most of our time in Ua Pou preparing for a long sea journey to Hao in the Tuamotus. We stocked up on tinned, dried and fresh food, replenished our petrol stores, got more gas for the cooker, cleaned the hull, made meals for the journey, filled the water tanks, did the laundry, changed the headsail and so on. We managed to squeeze in a little sightseeing too; we walked over the ridge to another bay, explored the village, had an excursion along the exposed rocky shore outside, swam and had fun jumping off the high dock.

Ua Pou coming into view during our sail from Nuku Hiva

Ua Pou coming into view during our sail from Nuku Hiva

When the time came we headed out to sea, making our way to Hao in the Tuamotus feeling as prepared as we could possibly be. The hull was nice and clean allowing Bob to glide through the water as best she could, the weather was forecast to be a relatively easy beam reach and I was drugged to the eyeballs with Scopoderm and prepared to punch my sea sickness in the face! Knowing that Alex was apprehensive about the trip to Hao I was keen that he enjoyed the journey as best he could and got enough rest as to not find things too stressful. The weather gods did their best to thwart this plan for me on the first night. The entire night was filled with lulls in the wind followed by violent squalls – the likes of which Alex had always made sail adjustments for in the past. For the first time I started adjusting the sails myself, reducing the genoa in anticipation of an approaching squall or letting out the main sheet and going downwind to reduce pressure in the sails. I have no idea whatsoever if I was doing the right thing, but the boat seemed stable, not overpowered and we were heading vaguely in the right direction – so it can’t have been too bad. At least Alex could get some rest and I found that it improved my confidence a lot. In the end this was the only arduous night and the rest of the voyage was a pleasure. Charline did a great job as well, despite feeling very sea sick (even with a Scopoderm patch) she still sat each watch without complaining and helped to wash up and prepare meals as best she could. She seemed to really enjoy the night time watches, counting how many shooting stars she could see and admiring the glowing green phosphorescence in the water. I remember feeling the same way when sailing was new to me – when the beauty of the starry night sky, unspoilt by light pollution, was an uncommon sight to my amateur eyes. Nowadays, there are still moments when the stars absolutely take my breath away, but unfortunately, tiredness overcomes me pretty quickly and even the splendour of the Milky Way cannot diminish the longing for my bed.

Alex is less than happy dealing with a strong squall during the early part of our passage to Hao

Alex is less than happy dealing with a strong squall during the early part of our passage to Hao

We arrived in Hao on day 5 ready to enter the pass of the atoll and into the lagoon. Hao, like many of the atolls in the Tuamotus, is a low-lying ring-shaped coral reef with various islands and motus, some of which have been utilised for civilisation. The atolls are usually formed atop the rim of an extinct volcano or seamount which, over time, has eroded or become submerged, resulting in coral reefs with small stretches of land. Have a look at the satellite images on Google Maps to see what I mean! From what we have seen of the Tuamotus – they are serene, low-lying land masses with a lagoon in the middle and wonderfully clear waters and reef systems which are perfect for snorkelling. In Hao, it’s possible to anchor in the middle of the lagoon – but in order to do so you have to sail through a pass which most of the time has a very strong current surging through it. In order to pass safely, a boat should enter when the tides on the inside and outside of the lagoon are equal, known as ‘slack water’. The tides are influenced by so many different factors that it’s very difficult to estimate the time of slack water in advance. Luckily, it’s easy to gauge how safe the pass will be from simply looking at the movement of the water and assessing the current. In our case, thanks to the wonders of our Satelitte Phone, we were able to receive emails from people who had found the slack water times for Hao by researching it online. Despite our anticipation and anxiety of entering the pass, we did so without any problems. During our stay in the Tuamotus we went in and out of two passes, which might not sound like much but it’s all good experience for when we visit more of these atolls later in the year.

I really enjoyed visiting Hao. The locals are incredibly friendly, and I know I say this about most of the places we’ve visited so far, but this is probably the friendliest place we’ve been to so far in French Polynesia. The landscape is very tranquil and unique. You can walk from the protected inside-edge of the lagoon to the exposed outside-edge in just a few minutes. Even though the two coastlines are so close to each other, it feels like passing though a wormhole into a completely different location as the shoreline habitats are so vastly different from one another. The protected coral reefs inside the lagoon are wonderful places to snorkel and Charline and I had a lot of fun using my new GoPro and doing fish and coral surveys.

Charline and I having fun with my new GoPro

Charline and I having fun with my new GoPro

This is an unusual time of year to be in the Tuamotus as most people have retreated to safer areas, so we expected to be anchored alone here. Amazingly, there were another three boats already in Hao when we arrived – all three of them were on their way to the Gambier Islands to spend the rest of the cyclone season there. Better yet, all three of them spoke English as either their mother tongue, or at least their preferred language over French). It had been almost two months since we met such people and it was lovely to hear English being spoken so naturally and in such a multitude of different accents (Scottish, American, Australian, Croatian and Swiss). Charline and I spent lots of time chatting whilst shell hunting on the beaches and exploring miles of atoll. We had sunset drinks with the other sailors and even got the opportunity to go wake boarding thanks to the generosity of the owners of a boat called Ednbal. They own a wakeboard and had the patience to show us how to use it. We even sent Charline up the mast, just for fun of course, no mast work required on that particular occasion.

Hao

Hao

The anchorage outside Hao village on a nice sunny day

The anchorage outside Hao village on a nice sunny day

Charline on her way up the mast

Charline on her way up the mast

Charline wake boarding with the help of Roger and Sasha, the kind owners of Ednbal

Charline wake boarding with the help of Roger and Sasha, the kind owners of Ednbal

Alex wake boarding. Unfortunately I had done my back in that day and couldn't have a go :-(

Alex wake boarding. Unfortunately I had done my back in that day and couldn’t have a go 🙁

On the dock having sunset drinks and nibbles with the other sailors

On the dock having sunset drinks and nibbles with the other sailors

It was here where Charline left us to fly back to the UK on the 14th December. She was to continue her action packed adventure by camping in the Lake District (in the middle of December I might add and after 6 weeks in the tropics), followed by Christmas with her folks in Normandy then New Years Eve in Ireland. We helped her carry her bags the 4 mile journey to the airport, but after a short walk she managed to hitch a ride, so we quickly said our goodbyes. Looking back on that moment, her departure seemed far too sudden and hasty. One minute she was there, the next she was gone, leaving us in a cloud of dust on the side of the road. Back at the boat everything seemed eerily quiet, her presence definitely stayed with us for a while after she left. Of course there are challenges involved when 3 people live within such close quarters, but it was so nice to have her on board and I missed her almost immediately. I’m so glad I could enjoy Charline’s company for those 6 weeks, to chat with a familiar face about all the memories of my old life, to discuss jobs, dreams, boys and life in general. Our experience definitely brought us closer as friends and I hope that Charline had a wonderful experience and treasured memories to take back with her.

Me, Charline and the stunning waters of the Hao lagoon

Me, Charline and the stunning waters of the Hao lagoon

Merry Belated Christmas

I’d like to start by wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I hope everyone had a wonderful time over the festive season and celebrated well with lots of tasty food, booze and presents.

Our last blog post was quite some time ago now – it was the beginning of November and we had just made it to Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands to pick up Charline, my French friend who is currently living in the UK. We had a fun-filled and action packed six weeks with her, visiting various islands in the Marquesas group before heading out to sea again to visit the Tuamotus. We made it to the island of Hao, where Charline flew back home on the 14th December. Since then we’ve been waiting for a weather window to head back to the Marquesas Islands. We were hoping to make it back for Christmas, but alas, the weather gods did not work in our favour. The best we could do was to head 20 miles further north to another atoll called Amanu, at least it was 20 miles closer to our final destination. It was here where Alex and I spent a wonderful Christmas Day together, and much to our delight, Santa even gifted us with a superb weather window to leave on Boxing Day. So now we’re once again at sea, about 300 miles from Marquesas and going as fast as we can in the hope of making it there for New Years Eve.

The busyness of Charline’s visit, coupled with the fact that we had absolutely no internet access in the two islands we’ve visited in the Tuamotus, has meant our blog efforts have been a bit lacking. I promise we’ll make it up to you soon and once we are in the Marquesas again with internet, I’ll write another blog with photos and the whole story of Charline’s visit.

I must admit that I’ve found it difficult to get into the Christmas spirit here in the tropics. The weather is hot and humid, with clear blue skies and a raging sun. Not at all like the cold crisp air of England at this time of year. Even though most English Christmas’s are cold, wet and gray – at least we can hope for a spattering of snow to get us in the Christmas spirit. There’s certainly no possibility of that here! The people in French Polynesia are not at all materialistic, so there are no Christmas lights, tinsel or decorated trees anywhere to be found. The combined number of shops in Hao and Amanu total only 4, in them were a few children’s toys for sale and some Christmas chocolates, but that was the only visible evidence that it was Christmastime.

This is in fact the second time Alex and I have spent Christmas together. The first time was in 2008; we had set sail from Bermuda to Grenada to spend the winter island hopping around the Caribbean. We left Bermuda on the 20th December and hit really heavy weather a few days into our voyage. There were four of us onboard at the time, myself and Shannon (who were complete sailing newbie’s), Shannon’s boyfriend Scott, and Alex. The helm had to be manned at all times – this was a time before Bob was kitted out with a wind vane and autopilot. After two full days of terrible weather and getting no more than an hour of sleep at a time, we decided to deploy a drogue in an attempt to leave the boat unmanned for the night so we could all get some rest. This was on Christmas Eve and it was my job to get up every 30 minutes during the night to check that everything was okay with the drogue. I woke up on Christmas day with the usual seasickness and absolutely shattered, and the morning was spent arguing between the crew mates about whether or not we should divert course to Mexico to avoid more bad weather.  Shannon and I had managed to sneak stockings onboard with some small gifts for everyone, but despite this, I generally think of that year as the ‘year I skipped Christmas’. So, really, this year is the first ‘proper’ Christmas Alex and I have spent together, and I wanted to make it a good one!

Looking back and remembering my last Christmas at sea, I was secretly (or perhaps not so secretly, I’m sure Alex would say I was an open book in this respect) incredibly relieved that we didn’t get a weather window back to Marquesas until after the 25th. I really really really did not want to be at sea for another Christmas! Even if that meant spending a bit longer in an area closer to the cyclone belt and more prone to bad weather conditions. A few days before Christmas we spent a sleepless night anchored in a strong breeze, and even though the lagoon is well protected by reefs, the seas were very choppy and uncomfortable and there was no protection at all from the wind. Although this was less than ideal, no damage was done and I got my wish of a fun and non-seafaring Christmas on Amanu.

We went to the church service on Christmas Eve and were treated to a wonderful array of songs that the Polynesians sing absolutely perfectly. I’m not religious, in fact I often feel like a fraud when I go to church services (which admittedly is very rarely). Celebrating Christmas is probably not something I should be concerned with, but there are so many aspects of it that I really enjoy, so I do anyway. The locals in Amanu were very friendly and did their best to make us feel welcome, despite the language barrier and despite me feeling like I really didn’t belong in that church! It was a lovely evening and nice to see how the locals celebrate this time of year.

We started Christmas morning with a breakfast of smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and Prosecco. This was a massive treat for us given that the prices of things like these here are astronomical. I had also put together a little Christmas treasure hunt for Alex and hidden some small presents in different parts of the boat and set up a number of games and puzzles he needed to solve before he could find the next one. It was a lot of fun watching him and I hope he enjoyed it as much as I did. It took quite a while to set up and I had to do it in stages the few times Alex went to shore without me. One time in particular, Alex came back to the boat much sooner than anticipated as the shop on shore was closed. I had wrapping paper and presents all over the berth, little pieces of pre-cut Sellotape ready for wrapping and Christmas songs loading onto a USB stick from the laptop. I had about 30 seconds whilst Alex tied up the dinghy to shove everything into my already overflowing bedside cupboard and hide the song transfers on my laptop. Somehow I got away with it and the treasure hunt remained a surprise until Christmas Day.

Anytime I’ve spoken to Alex about Christmas he always seems to want to boycott it. This year we put on some festive tunes and I even got him to wear a Santa hat to make it a truly festive treasure hunt. Amazingly, he seemed to get into the spirit of things!

Alex gave me a beautiful new swim suit which I’d been looking for for a while as most of my others have been degraded by the sun. It was a lovely surprise; I really didn’t think he’d get me anything given the lack of choice in the 4 shops we’d recently had access to. We also went for a Christmas snorkel and Alex successfully used our new spear gun to catch us a fish.

We also had our very own Christmas tree on Bob – a Casuarina decorated with different coloured ropes and balls of aluminium foil. Casuarina is a group of conifer species that are very lanky in structure and some species are highly invasive. We therefore gave him the name ‘Skeletor’ – being very skeletal in structure and trying to take over the world. We wanted to make sure he didn’t succeed in invading other places, so unfortunately he didn’t stay onboard with us for very long.

Finally, we sat down to a meal of roast duck, roast potatoes and carrots, homemade stuffing and some other vegetables. The day turned out way more Christmassy and familiar than I had expected and although I miss my family and friends enormously, it was a fantastic day nonetheless.