The Slog to Marquesas

Well,  the Tuamotus aren’t happening at the moment. The trade winds have shut down and we spent three weeks waiting for a weather window to leave the Gambier Islands. We’re heading directly for the Marquesas Islands now, hoping to get there by November 6th in time for Charlene’s arrival.

There are 833 miles as the turtle swims between the Gambier Islands and the Marquesas Islands. In an average 24-hour period with half-decent winds Bob covers 120 miles. On a good day that figure might go up to 135, and on a bad one it might be as low as 90. Pessimistically I estimated that this passage would take us 8 days and secretly hoped that we might get there in 7. The weather forecast when we left was perfect – 12 to 15 knot winds on the beam all the way. Today is day 10, and we still have 200 miles to go. Our average daily run has been 78 miles, and never in the right direction.

The forecast upon departure was correct for one day. Then the wind died and we bobbed aboard Bob. For three days. Then the breeze shifted to the North and increased in strength. It built to 18 knots and came from exactly the direction that we wanted to go in. And it stayed that way for 4 days. We went West, we went North-East, we fought and clawed for each and every mile against the wind, tacking back and forth and have, under the circumstances, made reasonable progress. Today was supposed to be the big break. The forecast yesterday told us to expect reduced winds overnight followed by a rapid shift to the East and building to 8 to 10 knots – perfect. Unfortunately things haven’t panned out that way. The wind did indeed die last night and we spent yet another night Bobbing, but today has been the most frustrating day of them all. South West, 12 knots. Nothing. North, 8 knots. Nothing. East (yay!) 13 knots. Nothing. Rain, big wind shifts. Currently we have 6 knots of wind……….. from the NNW, exactly the direction of the Marquesas Islands. The forecast for tomorrow is for no wind. And the next day. And the day after that.

You can probably detect a hint of frustration in my writing. That would be a gross understatement. Sarah has been amazing at putting up with my grumpiness, exasperation and despair. This morning I very unfairly snapped a snarky comment at her, and yet inexplicably she continues to put up with me! Mind you, I suppose she doesn’t have many prospects at the moment when it comes to getting away………………… maybe the ‘tolerance’ is all a façade. Or maybe I actually control the weather and have thought up this plan as a cunning ploy to trap her here for eternity! Har har har har.

I think I’ve been at sea for too long. I’m exhausted from night after night of not being able to sleep for more than an hour at a time, at the most, before something needs to be done. I’m disheartened to think of all the wear that has been sustained by the sails from banging back and forth in the light airs as the boat rolls with the swells. Most of all, I’m just tired of putting in all this effort and being thwarted at every turn, as though Neptune himself has chosen to torment us for his mild amusement.

There’s a line of squalls ahead of us and it’s moving in the same direction we are –NNW  toward the Marquesas Islands. It stretches from horizon to horizon, East to West, in one big dark band of menacing clouds, with intermittent towers of grey-black cumulo-nimbus expunging plumes of rain from beneath them. I thought that maybe if we could catch up to the squall line and punch our way through we might find our much-sought-after Easterlies on the other side, so we’re motoring with the mainsail up but it’s just getting further and further from us. Maybe it’s for the best – I’ve just seen two water spouts form and then dissipate again without quite reaching the surface. There’s a new clicking noise coming from the engine and the oil seems thinner than usual. The level in the sump isn’t going down as it usually does either. I think there’s diesel in the oil.

It’s going to be another long night.

Snippets of Taravai Life

Pests

There are the usual pests – flies, mosquitoes etc. but the biggest pest (har har) by far is the horse. It thinks it’s small and sneaky. Try to cut up vegetables for a meal outside and she’ll stick her head under your arm and try to ‘innocently’ grab a few mouthfuls. Shoo her away and she’ll retreat a few steps and pretend to be interested in something else entirely while simultaneously working her way around to your other side, as if you won’t notice a horse (of all things) attempting a flanking manoeuvre. She likes to come over when you’re sitting there having a conversation, stick her head over your shoulder and dribble a long stream of cud down your front. Or she’ll wait until you get up to go to the toilet. Either she’ll be standing directly in your way and refuse to move aside at all, or she’ll take the opportunity to wander over to your now-empty chair and drool a puddle onto it. In the dark. So that when you return from peeing and are congratulating yourself on having successfully guarded your delicate parts from mosquitoes, avoided being whacked on the head by a falling coconut and/or falling into the pig pitfall trap you then sit down in blissful ignorance having not seen the nasty smelly stagnant puddle of ooze that now occupies your seat and only notice the slight dampness in the vicinity of your hind-quarters once it has had plenty of opportunity to thoroughly soak in.

Another Taravai pest. These are centipedes and they have a nasty bite - they'll knock you out for about 6 hours. Our friend Piere was bitten on his hand recently. He nearly passed out and his hand was grossly swollen the next day. This one, fortunately, is dead :-)

Another Taravai pest. These are centipedes and they have a nasty bite – they’ll knock you out for about 6 hours. Our friend Piere was bitten on his hand recently; he nearly passed out and his hand was grossly swollen the next day. This one, fortunately, is dead 🙂

 

 

Pigs

I have recently discovered that I’m not a fan of pigs. In fact I find them positively terrifying. They taste nice when baked in a ground-oven, stewed over an open fire or barbequed, but when you’ve got 3 full-grown pigs running at you aggressively because you have dared to approach the coconut they are eating (which you have just opened for them), while some people’s instinct is to shout at them and wave something pointy in their direction, mine is to put something solid (like a tree) between me, and them. Especially the large male whom we have named ‘big balls’ for obvious reasons. I suppose I could take solace from the fact that his dislike of me is not personal. He doesn’t really get along with the other pigs either – especially the piglets, which I find quite surprising considering that they are his. He likes to pick them up and throw them across the garden a good 10 or 15 feet, accompanied by the most horrendous squealing noises emanating from the piglets while they are airborne. The old adage ‘when pigs fly’ is entirely inappropriate in its usual intended context when applied to life on Taravai. Here it is an event that is realised several times daily.

The least-aggressive of the pigs, to which Sarah was able to get close enough to photograph. She's known as 'two eyes', which distinguishes her from the other female, appropriately dubbed 'one eye' for reasons that i'm sure you can guess.

The least-aggressive of the pigs, to which Sarah was able to get close enough to photograph. She’s known as ‘two eyes’, which distinguishes her from the other female, appropriately dubbed ‘one eye’ for reasons that i’m sure you can guess.

 

 

Moving House

Moving house is a nasty horrible necessity that I’m sure you have experienced at least once or twice in your life, and possibly many more times than that. At best it probably involved something along the lines of futilely attempting to cram the entire contents of your house into cardboard boxes. These sit in your hallway full of stuff that you’d really rather be using for a few days. Then you take a day off work to wait for a moving van that you’ve hired, cram the contents of your house into said van (or vans), drive to the new place and then undo all of the box work that you’ve just done over the course of the next month or so. That’s assuming you’re moving just down the road, don’t need to put anything into storage and that a wizard has magically taken care of the inevitable arguments, pleading and blackmailing that are part and parcel of having to deal with television companies, water, gas, electricity suppliers, internet and phone companies and on and on and on.

We recently helped our friends Jesse and Jack to move house. There aren’t any roads on Taravai, which means no vans, or van men to drive them. Electricity is entirely solar, water is caught on the roof, there are no phone lines, no internet and everyone has the same cooking gas cylinders so they stay where they are. Stuff still had to be packed into boxes but these were then brought out to Bob by boat and we all got an opportunity to go for a lovely relaxing sail on a beautiful sunny day with glasses of rum close at hand. The only one who didn’t enjoy the whole experience was Sparrow, the puppy, who was incredibly seasick and must have come close to dribbling away half her own body weight though she never vomited. As soon as the dinghy touched the dock she ran off into the forest and we saw neither hide nor hair of her until a very bedraggled, cold and unhappy puppy swallowed it’s pride and presented itself at the door some hours later.

Of course, if Bob hadn’t been there the move would have entailed gradually traipsing their stuff in rucksacks along a goat path on the edge of a cliff, an hour hike each way over rough terrain and it would have taken the best part of a week. Win some, lose some. This was a win all-round I think.

Sarah, the Taravai version of a white-van-man.

Sarah, the Taravai version of a white-van-man.

 

A very sea-sick puppy. This was before we compounded her misery by forcing her outside on account of the fact that her drool was soaking through into our setee cushions.

A very sea-sick puppy. This was before we compounded her misery by forcing her outside on account of the fact that her drool was soaking through into our setee cushions.

 

Pets

Jesse and Jack have yet another animal to keep them company. Jack went for a walk along the beach the other day and found two newborn goat kids bleating away in the sand. The mother was nowhere to be seen (or heard) and they were on the verge of death so he took pity and decided to try to rear them. Sarah suggested naming the female after her and the male after me, but I’m glad that didn’t catch on because the male died the following morning and is by now shark-poop. The female is doing very well however, and has been rather unimaginatively named ‘Goatee’. Sarah, Jack and Jesse take turns to bottle-feed it powdered milk via a fuel syringe. For a 4-day-old creature it really is remarkable, and is already quite comfortable bounding up and down steps, running around the garden and trying to eat everything, including Sarah’s hair. I’m pretty sure that when I was 4 days old I couldn’t do much more than cry, poop, pee and eat. I doubt I’d figured out how to see, let alone bound. The goat does the pooing, peeing, crying and eating too, in copious quantities. Hopes are high for a healthy and happy Goatee for ever after……….. that is, until Jesse leaves Gambier and a new tenant takes over the smallholding, at which point Goatee will, without a doubt, be eaten. Such is life.

 

Sarah with her very needy newfound friend, Goatee.

Sarah with her very needy newfound friend, Goatee.

 

And finally:

 

A pretty standard evening at sunset. The view from Jesse and Jack's new home.

A pretty standard evening at sunset. The view from Jesse and Jack’s new home.

low_beautiful-bob

Goodbye Gambier

It’s been almost 3 months since we arrived in the Gambier Islands and now we’re saying our goodbyes and getting ready to leave. I’ve enjoyed visiting all the places on this trip so far, each place seems to be even better than the last. I’m absolutely in love with Taravai – the people are so wonderful and welcoming, they have really made our lives so much easier and very enjoyable. Jesse and Jack (and also John before he left) have been our friendly neighbours and made us feel right at home. Herve and Valarie and been a wealth of information about the Gambier Islands and the way of life here and the other sailors have also been wonderfully accommodating. I love the lifestyle here – it’s focused on building friendships, eating well, making the most of natural resources and being active. I love the scenery here, after nearly 3 months it still completely takes my breath away. We wake up on the boat every morning, usually there’s glorious sunshine which highlights the different colours of the reefs. We take a short dinghy ride to shore where we hang out on a farm with its own animals, fruit trees, vegetable patch, private beach and surrounded by woodland. At night, the stars fill the sky and the Milky Way is as clear as I’ve ever seen it.

We’ve made some really great friends and I’m very sad to be leaving them. The sailing community I think is one of the friendliest communities you could ever come across. Cruising around on a yacht and being constantly on the move means that you have to form friendships very quickly, otherwise you would have no friends at all!  Alex is very used to saying goodbye to his friends knowing that their friendship will remain way into the future and maybe at some point he’ll run into them once again. I, on the other hand, am very bad at saying goodbye. I’ve done this a lot over the past year and every time I do I find it exceptionally difficult and hope that I won’t have to do it again for a long time. I wasn’t expecting to make such great friends here and I’m now finding myself saying goodbye to people on a very regular basis. I suppose I’d better get used to it. On the plus side, many cruisers have the same rough plan as us so there’s a good chance we’ll see them again in the Tuamotus, Marquesas and beyond.

We leave for the Tuamotus in a few days time, to an island called Hao. From there, we’ll head to Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands, possible making a few stops at some small islands on the way.

The beach on Taravai at the farm and Fatty listening to Jesse playing the guitar. Photo courtesy of Jack

The beach on Taravai at the farm and Fatty listening to Jesse playing the guitar. Photo courtesy of Jack

Alex's lunch date with Doir the horse. Another photo from Jack - thank you!

Alex’s lunch date with Doir the horse. Another photo from Jack – thank you!

Another one of Jack's photos of the woodland surrounding Taravai

Another one of Jack’s photos of the woodland surrounding Taravai

Setting the dinghy up for a sail

Setting the dinghy up for a sail

The west side of Taravai. We were the only boat there at this point and Alex was rowing to shore to collect some coconuts to feed the pigs back at the farm.

The west side of Taravai. We were the only boat there at this point and Alex was rowing to shore to collect some coconuts to feed the pigs back at the farm.