Atoll Life

I heard a little ditty the other day that I’d never heard before. My reaction was, ooh, I quite like the sound of that, I’ll jot it down as there maybe the bones of blog post in that, sometime in the future. 

When we worked away a lot, I recall exhaling quietly going into conference centre rooms or corporate headquarters where ‘cheesy motivational posters’ or corporate values were displayed. I know the intention is to inspire staff and visitors. But they often missed the mark completely. They so often weren’t genuine. I found them shallow and insincere. (For the purposes of balance I do know at least one company who can hold their heads high….. Nando’s 😀)

I once went to a meeting in Barclays Head Office in Canary Wharf. In the foyer were three or four words spelled out in meter high individual blocks. As I entered through the door, the word ‘Integrity’ was in bang in my line of sight. It was very soon after the banking scandal, and surprise surprise,  when there was little or no integrity in how the banks went about their business. ‘You’re going to have to work a bit harder than just putting a few buzz words in your foyer’. At that particular moment in time, I didn’t believe them. Deliver or act in a way that you say you’re going to, or forget it! Credibility shot. 

The ditty that I referred to earlier is this. People are with us for ‘Season’s, Reason’s or a Lifetime’. Made me think about people we’ve met on this trip. And then what constitutes Helen’s wider world. Dave and I  often make friends that are with us for a ‘season’, a period of time. The family on a Dutch boat fit this category nicely. Four of the smiliest people you could possibly meet, they are off further west. Our paths may cross again. Do hope so. 

They called up today on the radio as they headed out of the north pass on Fakarava. We were inside the lagoon heading to the south pass. A loud tuneful version of voices blasting out Happy Birthday came through on channel 18. It’s Dave’s turn to get older today. 

We will have steak and salad for dinner tonight. That’s a treat. Just to clarify…the salad is the treat.  We bought some freshies. 12 tomatoes, 5 cucumbers, a big lettuce, 4 heads of pak choi and a water melon. This constituted at least one item of everything that was available. We are now giving up sailing to pay for our freshies. Cost ….. have a guess? $35. In sterling that’s about £27.50. 

Not much grows in the Tuamotus. Enjoy your 35p tomatoes from Lidl in the UK.  But you don’t get a Pacific Island vista thrown in! Not complaining. 😀

Coconuts

We’ve been learning stuff about the coconut tree. From Bob and Mina. This tree really is an all rounder providing materials for shelter, fire, food and comfort. Incidentally, they look good in photographs too. If you grew up close to Scotland in the UK, let me tell you, the coconut tree is pretty darned exotic.

I’d always wondered why coconut trees grow at such bizarre angles. Well apparently they have enormous root systems. The roots will hold up trunks that point out almost horizontally. If a tree ‘falls’, the root system is never dislodged. Instead, the tree will snap somewhere on its trunk.

Nothing else grows around them. They spread out their roots, claiming all the water in the earth so the bulbous bit at the bottom of the tree is ram jammed with liquid. Making them very heavy too.

The wood is hard and good for making things and the fronds can be used as roofing materials as well as being woven to produce baskets, place mats and floor coverings.

The coconut itself goes through several phases …. When young, I understand this to be when they are green, they are filled with water. Flatten the bottom so the nut will stand on a surface without rolling away, hack the top off to create a drinking hole and voila, you have your glass and drink in one. Adding rum apparently can enhance the taste. Umbrellas are optional. No plastic of course.

Having drunk the liquid, the nut can be cut in two to reveal the meat. In a young nut, the flesh is soft and moist, bright white, quite thin and comes away easily when scrapped with a spoon. The older the nut, the thicker the meat requiring a heartier spoon action and the taste is stronger. Young is better in my book. I’m assuming the liquid and the flesh are mixed together to make coconut milk which we buy in cans. And added to oils and potions to create suntan cream, shampoo and associated products.

As the nut gets older, the inside changes so there’s no liquid but a solid-ish candy floss type substance inside. This is called copra and is used to feed chickens, dogs and hermit crabs.

Dried nuts burn really well and of course dried shells provide excellent sound effects for horse clippety clopping. The Knights that say Nee being a prime example.

There endeth my coconut tree information broadcast.

87 year old man

There’s a novel you may have read called “The hundred year old man who climbed out of the window”. It’s a rip roaring tale of a man with a remarkable history who lurches from one crazy unbelievable situation to another. He finds himself meeting prominent people, being at significant historical events and even at 100 years old, the crazy madness hasn’t stopped. I think we have met the real life 100 year old man. Only difference is he’s just 87.

Our new friends, Bob and Mina, who’s a mere 75, live on Takaroa, an atoll in the Tuamotus. We’re anchored off their property in the lagoon. As a pair they are bright and sparkly with an ongoing zest for life. Both have amazing stories to tell.

The iceberg tip of Bob’s tales include being a stowaway on a ship to Australia when he was 16, surviving an explosion at sea then rowing to land which took three days, meeting Donald Trump in a restaurant back in the ‘70’s and making money and losing it again in the Pearl Farming Industry.

Mina equally has a colourful history. Accidentally having breakfast with the King of Samoa, playing golf for French Polynesia all round the world and meeting Princess Margaret while working for Air Tahiti at a time when Maggie’s drinking was not in the public eye, are just a few of her stories.

Together they are a joy to be around. A story to provide evidence. They have a crack in the bottom of their boat. It’s 3 miles across the lagoon to the village and they are the only people who live on this side of the lagoon. The boat is their lifeline.

Bob is upside down in the boat investigating. He’s struggling to get out as he’s wedged in a small space. Mina is trying to help him by pulling his tee shirt but it’s tightening around his neck. When we catch up with them they are falling around laughing. “She thinks she’s helping me, but actually she’s killing me!” reports Bob in between guffaws of mirth.

We’ve had breakfast with them once and lunch twice, not to mention the spent time just passing the time of day. Lunch in true french style lasts several hours because of all the chatting.

To get here we initially followed the marked channel from the dock. We hit the dodgy shallow dogleg bang on high water slack. Even then, the water is dancing fairly manically. Coming across the lagoon, I was on the bow spotting any ‘bommies’ which are areas of solid coral. You want to avoid these.

It was all more straightforward than I’d anticipated. But still a slightly anxious time. The reward, an anchorage in blue green clear water. Farrow and Ball, Little Green, Dulux and Crown do not have a selection of paint colours this vivid. A vista of beach and palm trees, the full on Pacific island experience. And nestling in the trees behind, Bob and Mina to entertain us.

We are the only sail boat here on this atoll which makes it even more special too.

Photos to follow. We have very limited comms here so I’m sending this via Lisa on the sat phone email. Thanks Lisa.

It’s amazing how your perspective can change. When we kept the boat in Gorgeous Goole and then its downstream neighbour, Hedonistic Hull, the start of our summer holiday trip was usually a 3 day non stop sail to the south coast, usually the Solent area. The thought of doing 3 days was a BIG DEAL. What would we eat? Did we have enough fuel? What was the back up plan? Would we get enough sleep?

We left on Sunday for our first passage of any distance since the biggie from Panama. It would take around three days from Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas to Takaroa, an atoll in the Tuamotus. We bought some veggies, put some stuff away, tied the dinghy to the deck, hauled anchor and we were off. No fuss. No big conversation. Our mindset was, it’s only three days. That’s what I mean about perspectives changing. 

The sailing itself to get here was very straightforward. Plenty of wind, probably averaging around 18 knots, wind on the port quarter, (think of over your left shoulder when facing the front) one reef in the main, one tack, point and go. We reefed the Yankee as and when the wind piped up a bit or died away but that’s as sophisticated as it got. 

We did however have to be really mindful as to the time of our arrival. This arrival would be more complicated that arriving into the Solent. Although I must remind myself of scary trips up to Goole on the river and that horrible lock in Hull. Lots of places have their individual gremlins.

The atolls here have passes into their central lagoons. The passes are often narrow, sometimes with a dog leg over a shallow patch, fringed by coral and are susceptible to fast incoming and especially speedy outgoing tides. Timing your arrival for high water slack is recommended. But working out when this is not straightforward. And can appear to be nigh on impossible.

It seems to me that there’s some science based on moon rise and moon set times and always, always, always a disclaimer that the wind, the tide, local variations, the atmospheric pressure, the weather for the last week, the price of fish etc etc can all influence when this time is. The top advice from most books and articles seems to be to ask a local. Great! 

We started with a slow scout of the entrance as we tried to work out exactly what the tide was doing. Dave had prepped a graph yesterday with moon phases, high water, timings and we estimated we were close to slack water. It was all very scientific, with a smattering of black magic. Our objective, a concrete dock just inside the pass where we would tie up and check out the lie of the land and the flow of the water.

Once past the first navigation mark, we were committed. The tide was still actually in the final throws of going in. A final dribble but with two strong coffees inside him, Mr Savage positioned the boat skilfully  and with nimble (ish) Parker working the lines, the duo parked neatly without any marital strife or shouty shouty pointy pointy moments.

We were met by three friendly officials in masks who asked where we’d come from as Covid is unfortunately spreading again in French Polynesia. We have our ‘out of quarantine’ documents from the Health Department in Nuka Hiva which they were keen to have copies of. A short walk to the local government building, a WiFi hotspot and pages whizzed off a printer. Sorted. 

It’s been quite a while since we’ve been tied to something solid. I’m enjoying it! No need to get in the dinghy and whizz across acres of water to get ashore. Luxury. 

Thin WiFi….so not many piccies!

Please let us in!

We have submitted paperwork to request an exemption to the border closure, for a ‘compelling reason’ to be allowed to enter New Zealand. With help from an Australian friend who is more in the know than us, we (well Dave almost exclusively) pulled together the required documentation. It proved to be rather like writing a proposal for work. I remember those days! Dave was always pretty good at that, being pithy and to the point with no extraneous words or bullshit. His mantra was often, ‘well the words look pretty and some people may think that sounds impressive but it actually doesn’t mean anything’. 

We are part of a pilot group of a handful of sailing boats ‘testing the waters’ for getting permission to go. 

It took most of the day as we had internet / connectivity problems but the twenty six page document has been lodged, we have received an acknowledgment of its arrival and now we wait 15 to 20 days before NZ process it. 

Are we confident about getting a yes, do come? The mood varies from its pretty unlikely to there has been an enormous amount of behind the scenes work to get to this point. Marine organisations, insurance companies, a particular marina in NZ, weather experts, the Ocean Cruising Club plus many committed individuals have all had a part to play talking to various government offices and the health authorities is NZ. 

We have fingers, toes, legs and eyes crossed for positive news. Means we’ll be tied up in knots while the two to three week wait drifts past. In that time, we will move further west, meaning a few days at sea again. Not sure when we’ll start to move. Need to check the weather. 

We’ve been in a bay called Anaho for a few days. Take yourself back to 1949, get into a musical theatre mind and search out South Pacific on you tube. You’ll recognise some of the tunes. I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair, There is nothing like a dame and Happy talk. You know you want to sing along.

Anaho is a small village only accessible by boat or by an hour’s hike over a hill. If you’re looking for a film location in the South Pacific, this could be your place. 

Chocolate Bomb’s

If someone in high places could have a quiet word with the NZ authorities, that’d be much appreciated. It’s mid August and there’s no word as yet on transient yachties, such as ourselves, being allowed into NZ to avoid cyclone season in the western Pacific. 

By all accounts, negotiations are taking place but there are spanners. Covid is back in NZ. The government is on the verge of being dissolved for an election. Governments world over move at very slow speeds. There is a suspension of temporary visa applications as the backlog is over 5000 applications. Hence you’ll understand my spanners comment.

Whether the borders will open (we’d be asking for exemption on humanitarian grounds….cyclone season) or not is still a complete unknown. Exemptions are being made we understand for economic reasons. If you guarantee to spend $50,000 kiwi dollars (invoices needed up front) you can come in. Money talks!

This rather large unknown has led us to hang back a bit and not head further west yet, although the next island chain, the Tuamotos, is not so far away, a 4 day ish sail depending on where we aim for. 

In the meantime, we’ve had lots of fun hanging out, walking trails and generally enjoying the unique landscape the marquesas has to offer. The people are lovely. Universally everyone is friendly and says hello. Properties and land are cared for. Litter on the whole does not exist. 

We hiked a circular trail up to a granite volcanic plug called Poumaka on the island of Ua Pou. It was quite something. Especially the ridge line through the trees and bush on the way down. Our rucksack was heavier at the end than the start due to the fruit we collected along the way and the chocolate we’d bought too. There’s a slightly bonkers elderly German called Manfred who earns his keep as a chocolatier, growing cacao amongst other things on his property. His passion fruit and dark ganache chocolate bombs were just insanely lovely. 

Today we’re anchored at Baie d’Anaho back on Nuku Hiva. No comms here so it’ll be a few days before I post this. We had a dolphin jumping 8’ out of the sea on the sail here. Plus a couple of sharks fins….we’re guessing hammerheads. Anaho delivers a classic Pacific island vista. Sandy beach fringed by palm trees. High green hills behind. 

We’re off for a walk today then the plan is for a bonfire on the beach this evening (bug spray will be needed as the no-no’s, known as no see ‘ums, or midges as they’re called in other parts of the world will be out). There’s a New Zealand couple from North Island anchored next to us. 

Could they be our hot line to government?

10 years and counting

Ten years ago today, Dave and I got married. Some of you may recall the party in a tent on the school field in Bonsall. The official day itself was the previous week up in Northumberland. The guest list was just immediate family……parents, brothers and sisters and their kids. 24 in total. 

At that point back in history, we were already talking about the bones of this trip and how we could make it happen. There’s a sheet of wall paper In a drawer with a scribbled Mind map on it as to how we could make the plan work.

it look a while, (well years!) but we got there.

Off to Oa Pou today. A short 25 mile sail followed by a little celebration.

Shark Attack

Well that got your attention. Happy to report no people were involved but an inflatable kayak owned by our buddies Bill and Kate was munched. Boaty folk get ashore in Taiohae Bay by heading inside a small breakwater to a couple of ladders where dinghies can be tied off. Coincidentally, this  is also the place where the fishermen clean their catch after returning in their small boats. 

There’s always an instant frenzy as fish guts and detritus are thrown into the water. The sharkies seem to know exactly when the fishermen are back around, waiting just like yowling cats for food. 

The aforementioned inflatable kayak is not quite as robust as our aluminium bottomed rib. A bit of an involuntary munch and poof. Kayak not so inflated anymore. Bill has been high for three days from glue fumes trying facilitate a mend. I suggested to Kate that Bill try it first before she gets into it.

It’s been a bit Windy Miller for the past few days so we hightailed it all of 6 miles round to Daniel’s Bay for a bit more protection. The main bay in Nuku Hiva gives access to essential services such as check in and ice cream shops, but the wind and swell wrap round the headland and deliver a free unwanted rock and roll ride. Time to move when the wind picks up. 

I don’t think Daniel is alive anymore, but by gum, he lived in an extraordinary place. The entrance looks a little foreboding as the anchorage is off to the right and not visible immediately. But once round the corner, you’re sat surrounded by high hills, flat water with a sandy beach at the head of the bay. We both simultaneously went wow. 

We’re here with our little Panama / Contadora gang. 5 boats. 7 people. 2 couples. 3 single handers. Dave and I walked up to a 350m waterfall about a couple of hours from the sweetest village you’ll ever come across. Maybe 8 houses, all cared for with fruit trees and vegetables growing.  No road access, just a couple of grassy paths and a french phone box. It felt a bit Local Hero like. (Watch the film…..for the phone box).

Once close to the waterfall, you enter a three sided canyon. The cliffs tower upward and you can’t actually see the true height of the waterfall. Just the last few feet. But it is visible on the walk in so the true scale is not lost. Quite a place. It rained the day we walked up so there was a full flow experience. 

We had lunch at one of the properties yesterday. Wild marinated goat done on the BBQ with bread fruit chips, mango and papaya salad and fresh avocado. Followed by coffee and banana ice cream. Everything from the local vicinity. Washed down with a choice of either lime or pamplemousse juice. Top nosh. Lovely lunch. Although not totally idyllic as a fair number of house flies joined the party too when the food came out. 

We’ve been ticking off a few jobs left over from the crossing. We took the headsail down and today we mended the sacrificial strip thanks to sewing machine mechanics. The batteries have been rewatered. The deck has had a scrub. The fresh water hand pump has had a makeover. 

We’ve had no internet for a few days so tomorrow or the next day when the wind and sea have abated, we’ll head back towards the main bay when I’ll be able to upload this. 

Being away from COVID noise and the ongoing chat as to whether NZ will open their borders has been great. But we can’t hide forever.