2C Update #112
Nuku Hiva is the largest island in the Marquesas, and the town of Taiohae is the administrative center of the whole territory. The harbor is huge and relatively well-protected, and there are frequent visits by cargo ships which means reprovisioning and refueling is reliable. For these reasons, many South Pacific passage-makers choose to make their landfall here instead of in the Southern Marquesas .
For those of us coming from the southern Marquesas the chief attraction of Taiohae was its vegetable market. Where fruits like pamplemousse, banana, papaya and mango grow so prolifically as to be taken for granted and so don't show up in markets for sale, vegetables grow only in private gardens - and so don't show up in markets for sale! With the exception of one bunch of broccoli (and God knows where that came from!?) we found in Hiva Oa , we had found no fresh vegetables to acquire beyond potatoes, onions and garlic. Nuku Hiva, on the other hand, has a regular, Saturday morning ( 4AM !) market right on the wharf. There were reports of tomatoes - and even lettuce!
We sailed north from Ua Pou twenty-six miles straight into Taiohae in yet another fine day of sailing! Gosh, we could get accustomed to this! With a stalk of bananas swinging from the granny bars and Polynesian music on the FM radio, we were in a fine mood as we pulled into a bay that reminded us sharply of Road Harbor , Tortola . The bay and the mountains behind it are bigger, but, look to your right, and there is the fuel quay reminiscent of the wharves of Port Purcel. Unfortunately, like Road Harbor , the perfect shape of the bay is somewhat marred by being oriented slightly toward the prevailing swell. Although the deep, protecting arms of the bay knock most of it down, most boats choose to set a stern anchor to keep the bow pointed out. If you don't, you roll.
Gee, stern anchors are a pain. They are great when they work, but when the wind switches offshore, as it did every night in Taiohae, tremendous strain is put on the stern rode, which on most boats is rope and lighter anchors than the bow rodes, with the result that people lose anchors when the rode chafes through. Plus it's always a challenge to get them set in just the right place to hold the bow where you want it. Other cruisers are usually quick to jump in their dinghies to help new arrivals, but on Tackless II we are cultivating self-sufficiency and have gotten a pretty good system down for setting the bow anchor, then dropping out a hundred or so extra feet of chain, backing up, lowering the stern anchor and then setting it by taking in the excess bow chain. The chief advantage to this system is realized when it comes time to pick it back up. Hauling up a heavy anchor that has become well-buried in glucky bottom is not easy in a dinghy. Being able to use the big boat to break out the stern anchor is big help and doesn't require external assistance. Also makes for much faster departures.
Anyway, once we had our anchors down, a neighbor passed by to present us with a fresh baguette. This was definitely the easiest baguette we ever came by. Over the next few days, while we visited with old friends and made new ones, behind everything lurked the need to get to town early enough to get fresh baguettes. Things start early in the Marquesas. Shops open at 7 am and close by 11:30 . Fresh baguettes are usually gone by 11 a.m. It's not that we sleep late, but with the daily coffee ceremony, the morning radio nets, the daily logbook, breakfast, and a couple of chores, our mornings evaporate. Now add a harbor fully of friends and a few watermakers that need help, etc. and before you know it six days evaporate!
Getting ashore involved dinghying to a big cement wharf where invariably too many dinghies were tied too tight to the one intact ladder, all exacerbated by the tidal changes. From the wharf the town is strung out along the mile-long waterfront. It is not that big a town, and actually seems smaller because of being so strung out. There are lots of cars, but people also ride through town on horses. We found four groceries, a bank, a post office, a hospital, the gendarmerie, and a hardware store. There is a beautiful open air cathedral that could make a church-goer out of me, and a small museum/boutique run by long-time cruiser-friendly Rose Corser where you can find all the crafts you missed on the other islands assembled all-too-conveniently and seductively in one place. We never found a specific boulangerie; all bread and a few pastries were sold in the grocery stores, none of which seemed better stocked than the one big store in Hiva Oa . I guess the big difference is that the Taiohae stores get restocked every week while the ones in Hiva Oa only once a month!
Although we had come specifically for the Saturday morning vegie market, it turned out you can buy fresh vegetables from one of two ladies who alternate days selling from a table set up in front of one of the stores. The veggies are beautiful, if limited. You can buy (by the bag only) green peppers, slim purple eggplants, carrots, zucchini, cucumbers. On good days you can get bags of small round tomatoes. There are also cabbage heads, huge bunches of scallions and amazingly loose "heads" of lettuce they call "salad". One day I saw leeks.
Many cruisers made do with the week-day vegetable tables and foreswore getting up in the middle of the night for the market. But we were motivated, so up we got up in the dark, grabbed our bags and poured ourselves still half asleep into the dinghy. We were the first customers to arrive, and in fact thought we'd made some mistake as we were there before the sellers. On the edge of the wharf, however, were fishermen gutting their catch by streetlight. Several had lobsters (which disappeared quickly), several others had nice-size yellowfin tuna, and several others had huge, deep-sea groupers about 4-5' long! We learned later that this Saturday market was originally a fish market and evolved into the other stuff.
Just before four, pickup trucks started coming in and setting up their wares; some were selling fruit, others veggies, another fried dough and coconut breads and lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a couple selling French pastries! Wow! Croissants, pan chocolate, guava tarts, Danish, chocolate éclairs, and baby quiche lorraines. You could have been in Paris . We bought more pastries than any two people should think of buying, and, confession time, we actually ate most of them the first day. I mean, how long can you keep pastries?! Turns out, I discovered two weeks later on a return pass, that the pastries actually keep pretty well in Tupperware in the fridge! Ah, well, live and learn.
There were also several restaurants in town. The prettiest was the one in the Keikhanui Inn (Pearl Lodge), ( email@example.com ) a luxurious resort of bungalows sitting high above the bay on the west side. The menu looked enticing, but we made do with a beer by the infinity pool to take in the view. (That is *A* beer. Beer is $6 apiece here!) To eat, we like most of the cruisers chose the Moana Nui, aka "the pizza place". This was the closest to affordable the restaurants came short of the lunch trucks. Here you could have wine and tasty pizzas from a wood-fired oven. Unfortunately several of the gang, (including me), got sick after eating there.
There are other things to do in Taiohae. There are island tours you can take by helicopter or jeep, and some cruisers made scuba dives at the mouth of the harbor where hammerheads are said to be seen. But quite frankly the major activity in Taiohae for cruisers was one with which we were quite familiar. Repairs. It seems the way of the cruising life is you either have your own repairs to make, or you have other cruisers to help.
Our friends Gord and Ginny on Ascension (see www.ascensionatsea.com ) lost their headstay sailing between Ua Pou and Nuku Hiva and waited -- immobile -- four weeks for a new one from New Zealand . Rick and Corby of Emerald were waiting for parts to repair their furling mainsail. Henry and Glynnis on Dreamcatcher were waiting for a new autopilot to replace their broken one, while Ben and Lisa of Waking Dream were waiting for pawl to repair a broken winch. Several boats new to us were waiting for Spectra watermaker parts. Don was able to help Ben with the pawls so they could leave and the watermaker people with parts he had on board. This left us waiting to collect their parts when FedEx finally got them there! On our return trip to Taiohae we were in time to help Gord of A scension rehoist his repaired headstay furler unit. Getting this 50-some-foot foil off the concrete wharf and hoisted to the masthead in the rolling swell was a little more excitement than any of us needed, but it went without a hitch.
Then there was the yacht Endless from Vancouver . Upon arriving in Taiohae, they lost their swim ladder overboard. The waters of the harbor are dark and murky, and neither of them were divers, so they hired a diver from shore to hunt for it. Forty dollars later, still no ladder. Next, their stern anchor chafed through, leaving their 44lb Bruce anchor somewhere on the bottom. Friends of friends, they got referred to us. Since Don now had my bug, that left me. I have a pretty good reputation for find things lost overboard, stemming chiefly from the fact that I take the trouble to hunt for them. Who'd have thought I'd make my diving debut in the South Pacific on the murky bottom of Taiohae harbor! I spent over an hour doing radial search patterns in 2-4' visibility, my control line hanging up on every rock and coral head as I half expected to get bumped by some trash-scrounging shark. Sadly I finally came up empty handed. Several days later, the same folks accidentally deployed their last spare anchor and chain overboard only to discover * oops * it wasn't attached at the other end! This time they got a marker buoy down quickly, so, with Don now feeling better, we felt we had to give the hunt another shot. Viz was a bit better, maybe as good as 2-8', and with two of us we made a much better survey. We found the last anchor within minutes, but our record remained at 50% as another hour looking for the first one netted nothing. Actually, what was amazing was how little man-made stuff was down there. In two dives, I only saw one bottle!
Finally, on our last evening in Taiohae we went ashore to investigate the source of the drumming that nightly beat from several locations on shore. Did it take us so long to investigate because these islands were once know for cannibalism - or simply because "after dinner after dark" (as Don likes to say) all systems aboard, human in particular, usually shut down. The drumming turned out to be the accompaniment for various dance troupes practicing for the upcoming Independence Day (aka Bastille Day) festivities in July. We spent an hour or so watching a troupe of eager youngsters practice their routine. Polynesian dancing, as you surely recall from movies, involves a lot of athleticism and a lot of hip action. As is often the case, only a couple of the dancers of either sex had a real gift, and they were a joy to watch (at last, the beautiful Polynesian maidens of one's fantasies), but almost equally entertaining were the clumsier youngsters in the long jams doing their best to keep up. The trappings of the territory may be very French, the church may be Christian, but the dancing reawakens the connections with a much earlier culture.