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17, 2003-front page
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P. O. Box 1982
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event the e-mails are returned from the above addresses --
Report Seven from the Otter: The
September 8, 1999
Dear Friends and E-mail Family,
I arrived in the Marquesas at the island of Fatu Hiva on Wednesday, June
23rd and left from the island of Ua Pou for Tahiti on Monday,
July 5th. Those twelve days gave me a brief, intense introduction
to Polynesian culture.
By the time I left I was saturated with images and experiences while at
the same time feeling Iíd just begun to scratch the surface. Captain Cook
stayed in the Marquesas for four days in April of 1774, yet some of his
observations concerning the ruggedness of the islands and the beauty of its
people still hold true.
The Marquesas are a chain of islands of volcanic origin that lie about
750 miles to the northeast of Tahiti. Of the ten main islands, only six are
currently inhabited, three in a cluster to the northwest and three in a
cluster to the southeast. They are all remote from well-traveled air and sea
routes, and as yet there is very little tourism, especially in comparison
They are part of French Polynesia, which encompasses five groups of
islands: the Marquesas, the Tuamotus, the Gambiers, the Australs, and the
Society Islands. (Tahiti is one of the Society Islands.)
The trade winds are generally from the southeast, which makes Fatu Hiva,
the most southeastern island of the chain, a best first stop on a downwind
course leading through the chain to the northwest. These islands do not have
fringing reefs, which can make an anchorage very rolly in some winds.
It wasnít until later I was to realize how unique my visit to Fatu Hiva
would be. The bigger islands to the north, being the more accessible of the
two groups, see much more tourism, and any cruising yacht is just one of
many. But in Fatu Hiva, I was an additional source of supply to the tourist
trade and still a curiosity as a cruiser, as you will see from the Fatu Hiva
The following are excerpts from the Marquesas section in the log of the Otter.
Weíre all on the journey,
Wednesday, June 23 --
6:40 a.m. I wake and go on deck to look around. Words are not
enough to express the exotic, rugged beauty of this bay.
As I write, the sun is coming up over the back of the mountains at the head
of the bay. Light is starting to touch the tops of the green velvet on the
fingers and ridges of the mountains to either side. The clouds rising up at
the back of the mountain are brilliant white on a perfect pastel blue.
What I thought last night was a beach to my left I now see are black
volcanic-rock cliffs that drop right to the water and ring the edge of the
bay. Palm trees grow part way up the hills before giving way to smaller green.
The ridges have occasional trees giving scale to the heights. The knife-edged
mountain ridges are serrated and surreal.
The town behind a black, stony beach is Hanavave. I see a few dwellings
with red corrugated iron roofs and a tiny church steeple poking over the row
of palm trees behind the beach.
Dramatic rock spires shoot up to the left and right of the beach, framing
it and giving rise to the original name, "Baie de Verges," or
"Bay of Penises." The rocks to the left certainly are phallic.
When the Catholic missionaries arrived, they changed the name to "Baie
de Veirges," or "Bay of the Virgin." And as I look at the
prominent rock spire to the right, it does look like a woman with long hair
looking into a cradle.
This flood of color and close space is so dramatically different from the
endless, infinite blue Iíve just come from. My senses are overwhelmed.
There are only three other boats in the bay and Iím at the outside edge.
I raise the anchor, which is a long process since 120í of chain going
straight down is very heavy and hand-cranking it up is very slow.
As I motor in closer, Maurillio, on an Italian yacht from Genoa, hails me
and I swing by. He tells me about the town and about men there who will take
you to the next--and only otheróvillage, Omoa, in their motorized pirogues,
which are long, narrow, canoe-shaped boats with an outrigger on one side.
Maurillio tells me much more local information. He also says the water at
the spigot by the boat ramp to the left of the beach is the best fresh water
in the Marquesas. I thank him and move up closer to the beach.
I anchor between the beach and the next two boats in 21í of water. This
is more like it. I back down the engine and the anchor sets. I shut off the
engine, inflate the dinghy, change, and go ashore to call Sandy.
At the boat ramp I meet two young Spanish men from a 28í sloop named UFO,
which is anchored behind me. They are trim, athletic-looking, and very smiley.
They are from Barcelona and are on their way to climb over the ridges to the
An older man is sitting just back from the boat ramp, beside the 300í of
paved road that is the villageís only street. He is Daniel and owns the only
store of any kind in the village. I ask him in my poor French for telephone
cards. He says to follow him. He goes to his house, gets some keys, then walks
a little further up to a small, blue building on the right.
Chickens and small dogs are everywhere as he unlocks and opens a door.
Inside I see three walls with shelves partially stocked with crackers, boxed
cheese, canned goods, and cookies. To the left is the counter and an old cash
register in which he has some telephone cards. He sells me two $10 cards then
relocks the door and walks me back down toward the beach.
Off the road a ways is a small building that serves as the health clinic
and may well double as the town hall. One of the only public telephones on the
island is on a wall on its porch and after several tries, I get through to
There is a few-second time delay, so we keep stepping on each otherís
sentences. Sheís very excited and relieved; she tells me everyone is OK. I
ask her to call the family; I tell her I made great time. She tells me sheís
flying in to Tahiti on July 13th Ė a few days later than
originally planned, which gives me a few extra days here.
Within about seven minutes the $20 worth of time is up and our call is
I take photographs of everything. Everywhere I look is beautiful.
At the boat I have lunch and put together a hiking pack.
Ashore again, Iím surrounded by children. The teenagers are sent to Nuku
Hiva for junior and senior high school, so all the children here range only to
13 years old, and there are lots of them.
They are curious Ė they all want to see in my pack, and everything they
see they ask to have: "Cadeau por moi?" ("Gift, present, for
me?"). Even my shoes!
I laugh and tell them I need my shoes. They give me big, sad eyes, but they
are playing. When I laugh at their long faces, they smile back and ask for
something else. "Bon bons, monsieur?"
They want candy, which is a scarce and expensive item. Daniel is the only
source, but he charges 10 cents a piece and no one here is wealthy, except
maybe Daniel. I tell them "demain," tomorrow, I will bring Ďbon
bons.í They look excited.
I show them my sketchbook with endless drawings of sea and sky Ė they
like my watercolors of the flying fish and squid.
Daniel, too, looks at my drawings. He takes me aside and asks if I have any
guns on board, or ammunition. At first I think he may also act as the local
customs agent. But he lets me know that if I do, he will trade for or buy
whatever I have. Heíd prefer .22 rifles or pistols since ammunition for them
is more common. I tell him I have no guns.
I learn later from a Frenchman on the third boat in the harbor that I could
own half of the village for a few guns. They use them to hunt wild pigs in the
mountains and are highly prized Ė a real status symbol. The French
authorities require permits for all guns and make getting permits for
Polynesians next to impossible, so there is a strong black market.
This same French cruiser, who has been in the Bay of the Virgin for a month
and has fallen in with the local men, tells me that the week before he was
invited on a pig hunt by a group of six or seven men.
They took two pirogues around to a bay on the far side of the island. Then
they set out with their dogs looking for wild pigs.
When the dogs find one, dogs and men both chase it, running up very steep
mountainsides through dense jungle brush. The Frenchman could barely keep up.
Once the dogs corner it, the men rush in with their knives and stab it to
death. Then they dress it, cut up the meat, and put it in burlap sacks. They
carry the sacks back to the village, where the meat is then distributed among
I ask Daniel for directions to "le cascade," the waterfall, which
is supposed to be behind the town. I head off toward where I think he has
directed me with a drawing he made in the dirt with a stick.
As I pass a house a boy offers me a green orange Ė "cadeau," he
says. For as much as they ask for things, Iím struck over and over by their
spontaneous generosity. This is the first example.
The paved road soon turns to dirt as it heads away from the beach and
toward the valley that rises into the mountains behind the town. One of the
only vehicles I see all the time Iím here passes by. Itís a 4-wheel-drive
Land Rover with a lot of use.
The road branches a few times and the small houses thin out fast. Soon Iím
walking through coconut-palm and banana-leaf jungle with black volcanic rock
walls rising up into spires and plateaus a few hundred feet high as I pass
below. Iím rising higher behind the town; the road turns into trails and I
see horses tied to trees beside a stream.
Higher and denser jungle -- I feel Iím getting lost. Deep woods and
ferns. Twenty more minutes walking and I see two young girls picking flowers.
I ask them directions and their mother stands up a ways along from the
undergrowth with a basket of flowers sheís picking. She attempts to redirect
me way back down the trail and over to the other side of the river.
I retrace my path. Crossing the stream I head up trails on the other side.
Another ways along I encounter three young boys, one is only two or three
years old, the others are about five.
Iím startled by their being alone so far into the woods. They are on
their way home from the village, their houses tucked away off the trail
another quarter-mile along.
Iím used to children having an adult within two paces at all times.
Considering the child protection laws and prevalence of
"child-proofing" homes, toys, and containers against hazards back
home, this seems an extravagant freedom. Then I remember reading that except
for a stinging centipede there are no dangerous animals or insects on these
They direct me to turn left when the trail divides not far past the houses.
As I go farther along, the sky turns gray. Then it starts to rain. I sit under
a tree with broad leaves. It starts to pour and I decide to turn and walk
back. Iím getting soaked.
Back almost to the village, Iím joined by a boy and his mother who, with
the big machetes they commonly carry here, are spearing coconuts beside the
road and putting them into a burlap sack. She asks me if I have lipstick,
cosmetics, or perfume. I tell her I have perfume and her eyes light up. Will I
She offers bananas and grapefruit and limes. She brings me to her fatherís
house and introduces me -- they will get me the fruit and I will bring the
perfume to them.
Jack Tevenino and his wife are in their fifties and are raising five
granddaughters, all about the same age of eight or nine, who are all
strikingly beautiful. Vanessa in particular attempts to talk to me; they all
want to see in my pack.
Jack asks if I have electricianís tape on board. I tell him only one
roll. He needs it to fix something on his outboard motor. I tell him Iíll
come by tomorrow; he says he should have the fruit by tomorrow evening.
They tell me that the granddaughters are from four of their children. Iím
told later that itís common for children to be raised or adopted into homes
of grandparents, relatives, or friends. Their mothers live nearby and stop by
to visit a lot.
I had read in my cruising guides that candy and perfume were good trade
items, and in Panama I found, at the Rays 99 Supermarkets, hard candies that
were very inexpensive. I bought bags of them. And I found some Chinese-made
Florida water in very pretty small bottles. I bought a dozen of them at 35
cents each Ė being on a tight budget this seemed all I could afford, along
with the other trade items I was buying. I wondered how it would be received.
Farther along the road back to the beach a man invites me in to watch TV
with him. I think, ĎWhy would he want company to watch TV?í What he means
is, would I come in and fix it!
I laugh when I understand and tell him electronics are one of lifeís
great mysteries to me. So he asks for bolts and hardware to repair his boat. I
tell him I have none to spare, but that the next time I come to Fatu Hiva I
will bring a very large boat filled with candy and hardware and guns. He
understands and laughs.
His wife is inking in an incredibly detailed design of a turtle on Tapa
cloth, a cloth made from the bark of mulberry trees. This is the only village
in all Polynesia that still produces the handmade cloth. It is usually sold to
gift shops in Tahiti who charge hundreds of dollars for the designs.
It seems I canít get more than a few feet before someone else approaches
me, this time a young man with arms fully tattooed and no front teeth who asks
for rum. I tell him I donít drink. He is disappointed but smiles.
There is a kind of volleyball court by the beach and a number of young men
are kicking a volleyball around the court. A group of them help me launch my
On Otter I change into dry clothes, have dinner, and fall asleep at
6:00 p.m. with the sound of rain--hard rain--drumming on the roof and hatches.
I feel snug, surrounded by the tall mountains and gentle sound of the surf.
Thursday, June 24 --
6:45 a.m. I wake after having slept 13 hours, almost straight Ė
obviously exhausted. Dreams, dreams, and more dreams: Rooms full of boxes
full of my history being cleared away as I watch. Iím not in charge; if I
were Iíd retain it all.
I had a weightless feeling of not having to be a caretaker of all my stuff
any longer. Iím sad at the same time for the loss, like my Grandmothersí
stories that will never be told again, all lost except to the akasic records,
the great Mind of God that records all things.
I look out the companionway and see two boats entering the bay -- Discovery
and Oystercatcher, arriving within minutes of each other after 3,000
I decide to do boat cleaning and scrub the hull. A lot of brown algae grows
on the topsides where they are underwater while heeling. It takes a lot to
scrub it off.
Rain continues off and on. Gray clouds curling down the mountains and
across the bay Ė wind slapping the halyards against the mast.
Xiomarra comes in and anchors. Jack and Jennie invite me for dinner
I go ashore for water and Jacques, a thickly-built Marquesan boy of 12,
wants to help. Together we load the jugs into the dinghy, bring them out to
the boat, and put the water into the tank. Then a second trip to fill the
jugs. I have 20 gallons in the tank and 35 gallons in jugs, enough to last me
Jacques looks at everything in the boat with enthusiasm. I give Jacques a
small ziplock bag with candies in it. Heís pretty happy. We go ashore.
I walk to Jack Tevaninoís house and I give him two perfumes and about 12
feet of black electricianís tape Iíve taken off my roll. For the five
granddaughters I bring candy, small neon-colored plastic shells on elastics
for their hair, and a box of colored pencils. They are pleased and tell me to
come back at 6:00 p.m.
Back on the street I start toward Danielís store when a few boys spot me
and come up to ask for bonbons. Iím ready: I have a bag of about 50 or 60
hard candies Ė different fruit flavors wrapped in cellophane with twists on
I open my pack and take out the bag. They call down the street to some
friends who come running while, in turn, call farther down the street where I
see, to my horror, that grade school is letting out and about 40 kids are
getting the word.
They all look up toward me and all start running. In less than a minute Iím
swarmed. Iím trying to say, "Form a line! One at a time!" to no
effect. Iím pushed back up against a wall at the side of the road, facing a
wild flock of little hands reaching, pushing, shoving, all accompanied by
I try to pass one to each. Some kids take two then put them behind their
back and ask for more Ė I catch them and tell then to show me the other
hand. They grin and willingly open a fist with two or three in it already. I
say, "No more for you!" and shake my finger. They laugh.
All order disappears and I start tossing the candy into the crowd, trying
to reach some in the back. Itís like feeding bread to seagulls in Newport
Harbor. Jammed against the wall, I see some women farther down the street
laughing Ė but no attempt to come help pry me loose.
When the candyís gone, the crowd noisily disperses and some of the
smaller children, with big sad faces and their hands still out, tell me then
got nothing. I shrug my shoulders and say, "Itís all gone -- ask your
older brothers and sisters." Then ĎMonsieur Bon-Boní continues down
Daniel is at his store. I have brought some thin line and some swimming
goggles I bought in Aruba for trading. These are items Iíd been told are
valuable. The goggles are still in their blister pack.
Daniel isnít the storekeeper for nothing. Heís sharp. He asks me how
much I paid for the goggles. I say $4.50. I canít lie, and the stickerís
still on it. He offers me 450 Pacific francs -- the going rate for $4.50 U.S.
I think, "Wait a minute! Iíve brought these all the way here and
freight charges add up!" He wonít hear it.
I show him the line. Same question. I say $8. He makes the same offer Ė
800 Pacific francs. His is the only store, and so I accept.
A man walking by leans in the window, whistles, and indicates Iíve been
scalped. But Daniel has a Ďtake-it-or-leave-ití look.
I take the cash then buy $12.50 worth of cheese, crackers, cookies, jelly
-- not much of a trade. Daniel never cracks a smile. Mr. Poker-face.
The sun comes out in the late afternoon and the slanting sunlight in the
village plays on all the flowers along the roadway. I see a lot of women dressed
in floral prints standing by the wall near the small church.
Jack comes by with his granddaughters. They are all dressed up. He tells me
thereís a service at 5:30. I go to the boat, change into better clothes, and
come back to participate.
As Iím landing I see a huge blue mega-yacht pull into the outer edge of the
bay. Itís over 150í long with masts towering above the water -- a monster! A
large tender rushes ashore and deposits about eight or ten people looking
dressed for a walk around Newport: gold pumps and beige cashmere sweaters around
They walk up the street toward the jungle. I talk to Charles, the first mate,
who stands guard by the tender. He tells me the boat is owned by Richard Voss,
the head of Amway. Itís named Independence. They are also heading to
New Zealand for the Cup Races.
Independence is one year old. Built in Italy. I find out later that they
have three washers and three dryers on board and a South American woman crew
member whose sole job is to do the laundry and linens.
The crowd comes back. Charles introduces me to Rich Voss. We chat a bit. He
asks, "So, what is there to do in this town?" I say, "I think youíve
done it!" I tell him he can trade stuff with Daniel for crackers, or walk
to the elusive waterfall.
Well, heís seen a few waterfalls, so he guesses theyíll move on tomorrow
morning Ė not much to see. I look around at the beauty of the place and say,
"Yes, itís a small village; not much to see, I guess." They zip off
back to the mother ship.
A row of four or five Marquesan men squat at the edge of the beach and watch
the ship. Iíd spoken with them earlier, as Independence arrived. They
were speculating on how much the boat might be worth. I couldnít even imagine.
I canít help having a strange feeling at the juxtaposition of this
mega-yacht in a harbor inhabited by men for whom candy, scraps of rope, and a
few feet of electrical tape are precious.
When I get to the church the service has just started. The singing is as
hauntingly beautiful as the landscape. My first introduction to Polynesian
singing. With the women singing high, the men sing a low harmony. I hum or
"Ooh-aah" along with the base parts.
As the priest is holding up the host wafer and consecrating it--as Christ
enters the room, a flash camera goes off at the open door behind me. Almost
everyone turns with scowls. To the priestís credit he barely skips a beat. I
donít turn, afraid Iíll see one of the Newport-dressed guests slipping away.
After the service I go to Jackís house. Vanessa accompanies me and laughs
at my bad attempts at French. At their house we talk for a while. They tell me
about the rest of their family and show me photographs.
They have six very large Ďpamplemousse,í sweet grapefruit, twice the size
of mine, a stalk of about 60 green bananas, and 30 limes. They loan me a sack to
carry it all in. I take some photos and Jack asks me to send him some copies. I
take his address and promise to do so.
This is a much better trade than I made with Daniel. I feel rich.
The girls follow me most of the way back to the dinghy. Iím still amazed at
how free the children are to roam anywhere, night or day.
On the boat I stow the fruit and open a box of cheese. In five minutes the
cheese is gone. "Hi. My name is Brec, and Iím a cheeseaholic."
Xiomarra calls on VHF. I go over for dinner. Jack and Jennie are gourmet
cooks and we celebrate our successful passage with a fresh pasta sauce and ziti,
wine, salad, cookies, and hot coffee. For a man with no stove whoís been
eating out of cans for a month, this is as close to heaven as it gets.
We talk of everything and the others in the Oto group; I finally leave
at midnight, full and warm.
Friday, June 25 --
Up and fussing around the boat when Mike from Discovery and his
three kids, Liza, Megan, and Chris, row up in their dinghy. I invite them
aboard and show them my watercolors. We chat for almost an hour. Mike invites
me to dinner later. Two hot meals in a row!
Ashore, I get directions one more time and head off to find the elusive
waterfall. The hike is longer than I expected, and I am pouring sweat by the
time I find it. Along the way, the Ďno-nosí and mosquitoes are thick, but
my repellant works.
Itís not the Angel falls but it has a beautiful, small rainbow at its
base. I do a watercolor and pick up a stick that I will carve to make a new
"talking stick"ó according to an old Native American tribal
custom, in an assembled group, the holder of a talking stick is empowered to
address the rest.
I hike back through jungle -- long rays of light coming through the palm
trees, views of the mountains through openings in the foliage across valleys
At the edge of the jungle I rest and talk to Josine, the sister-in-law of
the woman who got the perfume. We speak for over an hour even though she
speaks no English. Itís amazing how far I can get with my bad French and
gestures. She offers me some green oranges and some just-cooked fish Ė still
Her son and two daughters crowd around to listen. They are stunningly
beautiful. I really am falling in love with the children of this place.
After a wonderful hot dinner on Discovery, Iím on Otter by
9:30 p.m. Iíve decided to night-sail to Hiva Oa. I raise the anchor and ease
out of the bay. The moon is bright as I leave this most beautiful place.
Saturday, June 26 --
In the early morning light I sail past Tahuata to the south and west of
Hiva Oa. Tahuata is where Captain Cook stayed for his four-day visit.
Iím tired. I only got a few hours sleep last night. Porpoises, dozens of
them, swim with the boat and play off the bow. The first time since Panama. I
sing loudly to them Ė they smile and jump.
I pull in my generator line and find a large fish, probably a shark, has
left big tooth marks on the metal shaft and bitten off one of the rotor
blades. Iím glad I didnít hook it! Whatever it was would have torn the
stern pulpit off the boat!
I enter the bay in front of Atuona on Hiva Oa. The town is backed by two
dramatic mountains, the tallest one, Mt. Temetiu, is shrouded in cloud. The
yacht harbor is a few miles to the east of town around a peninsula.
I drop anchor and see a number of familiar boats. Theresa Heyerdahl on Constanta
spots me and dinghies over. We catch up for over an hour.
She tells me that after I talked with her out at sea, she had been on watch
during the day on deck alone and, while hauling water up in a bucket, had
fainted from heat exhaustion and fallen overboard. The cold water revived her,
but by the time she came to the boat was very small in the distance.
She started yelling. Fortunately, Morton, her husband, heard something and
came up to check. He spotted her. Another five or ten minutes and they may
have been too far to see her. Almost a tragic end to their honeymoon.
Stories like that give me chills.
That evening at the Mobil station I get a cold lemon soda and a Cadburyís
chocolate bar. Small pleasures -- Daniel had no cooler.
I hitchhike into Atuona. Almost everyone will stop and give a stranger a
ride. At "Snack Make-Make" I order a steak and French fries. I am
joined by a young man, David, and his girlfriend, Nadege. He reminds me of my
son, Scott Ė tall, broad-shouldered, with hair pulled back into a ponytail.
David is a taxi driver and they have a new three-month old child. They are
Seventh-Day Adventists Ė they tell me their church day is over.
Sunday, June 27 --
Iím on my way to church by 8:15 a.m. The Marquesas are predominantly
Catholic and a Catholic church I pass looks like it has a good-sized crowd --
the singing is loud.
I find a small Protestant church off on a side street. The people look a
little sour and New England-style plain: some of the women look very severe,
their clothing is very plain, and there are no flowers.
The preacher gets up and puts everyone to sleep for over 40 minutes. I
wonder why this is so universally true. The singing is good, though, and Iím
saved again by a beautiful view out the window.
I walk to the Gauguin museum. Itís closed. It has a replica of Gauguinís
last home/studio, which was not far from the center of town. He came to Hiva
Oa after a suicide attempt in Tahiti. He called his house the "Maison du
Joie," or House of Pleasure.
I walk to the cemetery up the hill behind town and find Gauguinís grave.
It has stunning views of the harbor and frangipani blossoms drifting onto the
red volcanic rocks of his tomb. A truly beautiful setting. I do some
watercolors and absorb the atmosphere.
Iím very affected by this place -- a totally out-of-the-way pocket on
this planet. Gauguin came here to spend the last days of his life, in pain
from advanced syphilis, taking morphine. He died in poverty; the last painting
on his easel was a snow scene in Brittany.
The quiet of the cemetery penetrates me. His small sculpture, "Oviri,"
behind the tomb is enigmatic. The name means Ďwild,í or Ďsavage,í and
appears to be a primordial Eve standing on a wolf. Haunting.
Gauguin created images that are now synonymous with French Polynesia and Iím
to discover his images everywhere: on water bottles, tee shirts, travel
posters, and more. In Papeete, Tahiti, streets are named after him, along with
a chain of photo shops and a cruise ship, the Paul Gauguin -- as big as
a city itself.
In the evening, back at the wharf at the yacht harbor, I am befriended by
Roger and Sabine of Hiva Oa Tours. They are extremely knowledgeable about
Marquesan culture, art, and legends.
Roger tells me people donít believe in the power of the Ďtikis,í or
carved figures, anymore, but then goes on to tell stories of the supernatural
things that happen to people who come in contact with them. Tikis evidently
donít like to be moved Ė bad things happen to people who try to remove
them or donít show the proper respect.
Their tour out to the site of some of the original tikis in Polynesia takes
all day over very rough terrain in their Blazer. The tour costs $200 and is
usually split between four people. There are no other yachties lined up for
tomorrow, so I tell Roger I wonít be able to go. We talk till late.
Monday, June 28 --
I have to check in with the gendarme here, so I take my boat papers and
start to hitch into town. Roger comes by and offers me a lift.
The officer at the gendarmerie is friendly and speaks a little English. We
get along well and he has me out of there in five minutes flat. As he
explains, he and the one other officer on duty are closing up to get coffee
and pastry. He doesnít request a bond of me, which I was hoping he wouldnít,
and wishes me a good stay.
The bond is the bane of all non-French cruisers who arrive in French
Polynesia. In the past, paradise-seekers would arrive with no money in leaky
boats that barely made it to Tahiti and then couldnít sail any farther.
These people became beachcombers, Ďtropical tramps.í
To ensure the repatriation of anyone arriving in Polynesia, cruisers are
obliged to give an amount of cash to a bank equal to a one-way air ticket
home, in my case to Hawaii --about $800. The bank holds this money until a
boat checks out, when it is returned.
The games that people play to avoid posting the bond are ingenious. One
couple, when asked by immigration in Tahiti to post their bond, went to a
travel agent and got two tickets to Hawaii. They showed them to the
immigration officer who then stamped all their papers. The couple then
returned to the travel agent and cashed their tickets back in.
Another couple had a fax sent from a friend in a travel agency saying they
had tickets with the agency (they didnít). And yet another presented his
papers, was told to go get his bond, and left without returning until the day
he wanted to check out. The immigration officer fumed over this, but finished
stamping him both in and out in the same visit. That was a risky ploy.
I faxed Sandy a three-page list of items I needed her to bring to Tahiti
for the boat -- spare parts and hard-to-get items. Three pages cost $30 to
Roger came by again with Sabine while I was at ĎSnack Atuonaí getting
breakfast. There must have been a misunderstanding because they were ready to
take me on a tour. But being very indirect they never asked me directly, and
it wasnít until later I put all the signals together.
I find that Sabine, who is much more sophisticated than the women on Fatu
Hiva, is planning to send her daughter to a private school in New Canaan,
Connecticut. And she apparently knows the difference between French perfume
and Chinese scented-water: when I offered her a bottle of my Chinese ĎFlorida
water,í she graciously declined.
Later, David sees me and pulls over on his scooter. He offers me a dozen
ripe bananas and a large papaya that he says are from his yard. He tells me
the chickens will eat them if I donít take them. Iím moved by the gesture.
In the evening, on Otter, Kevin Ferguson from Cool Change, a
double-ended ketch from Vancouver, comes by and we swap single-hander stories.
Heís in his late 30ís, single, very resourceful, and enjoys his solitude
and freedom from the materialistic society that makes us all into "wage
Heís sailed down here and has to be back to work in about six months, so
after spending a few more months here, heíll sail to Hawaii, then home.
I trade him a few Sun magazines for Somerset Maughamís The Moon
and Sixpence, a novel suggested by the life of Gauguin.
Itís time to go. I prepare for the sail to Ua Pou and get to sleep early.
Tuesday, June 29 --
7:45 a.m. Iím motoring out of Traitors Bay. Atuona recedes with
Mount Temetiu in white cloud behind the town. The welcoming folds of the
valley draw together around Gauguin as I say goodbye. An odd feeling of
longing. Gauguin chose well a most beautiful place to rest, among people who
Out of the bay I raise sails and head west through the Bordelais Channel,
which separates Hiva Oa and Tahuata. Around the west side of Hiva Oa I come
into the wind shadow and have to power for a while.
Again Iím stuck by the rugged beauty of these islands.
I read most of The Moon and Sixpence as we sail north towards Ua Pou.
In the late afternoon Iím visited for about an hour by a great number of
dolphins jumping across the bow. Their presence makes me feel happy.
Otter is making good time. At dusk I decide to sail past Ua Pou and on
to Nuku Hiva, then come back to Ua Pou just before I head down to Tahiti. I
reshape my course.
The moon is bright and I can see all three of the northern islands Ė Ua
Pou, Nuku Hiva, and Ua Huka -- as dark shapes; they are 100 miles to the
northwest of Hiva Oa and the others in the southern group.
Wednesday, June 30 --
3:00 a.m. The current and wind move us faster again than Iíd
anticipated: the point of Comptroller Bay in Nuku Hiva is off my starboard
At the head of Comptroller Bay is the Taipivai Valley. This is where Herman
Melville hid out with the local Marquesans for a month after deserting the
hellish conditions aboard the Acushnet, a New Bedford whaler, while
anchored in the main bay at Taiohae during the summer of 1842. He wrote his
first novel, Typee, based on the experience.
(A belated pronunciation note: In Tahitian, like Hawaiian, all vowels are
pronounced. So, the Taiohae Bay is pronounced "Ta-ee-o-ha-ay,"
Papeete, the main city in Tahiti, is "Pa-pay-ay-tay," and the
airport in Tahiti is in Faaa, or "Fa-ah-ah.")
I napped earlier in the evening but not enough. I feel tired as I approach
Taiohae Bay is a mile wide at the mouth and about two miles deep with no
dangers. I ease in slowly with radar on under a bright moon -- my second night
entrance. No fighting with Otter this time.
In a large open area between anchored yachts I set the anchor, square
everything away, and am asleep by 4:45 a.m.
I only sleep three hours before I get up and look around the bay. Itís
not nearly as dramatic as the previous two anchorages: the mountains are lower
and less serrated, the bay larger, pushing everything down on the sky.
I count 38 other boats. A few large wooden character boats, a few
mega-yachts, but mostly 35-45í cruisers. I am the smallest boat in the
A few hundred yards in front of me is Violet, sailed by Gary and
Kristee from Marthaís Vineyard. We'd had a big dinner on board her in the
Flats in Colon, Panama. As soon as my cleaning chores are done I get in the
dinghy to go say 'hello.'
They invite me aboard and we catch up. Theyíve been in the Marquesas for
two weeks and are loving it. They canít afford the bond theyíd have to pay
in Tahiti, so their plan is to go to Penrhyn, then to American Samoa to haul
out and reprovision, then to Tonga, then to New Zealand.
I invite them to lunch at the small hotel in the center of town and we
troop ashore. Big juicy cheeseburgers and fries all around! We enjoy catching
up Ė Kristee has had a bad cough for over 11 days and I convince her to go
to the clinic the next day.
After lunch I walk along the waterfront road to the west side of the bay
where Rose Corser runs the Keikahanui Inn. Iíd given the Inn as my address
in the Marquesas, and I find a letter from Dad -- a really welcome event after
being out of touch for months!
Rose Corser and her husband, now deceased, came to Nuku Hiva 20 years ago
on their yacht. At that time there were no airports, and water was about the
only way to arrive. She was doing graduate work at UCLA on Marquesan art; they
fell in love with the islands and stayed.
Her hotel is temporarily closed while she oversees a six-million dollar
construction project of creating a series of Bali Hai/Club Med-style bungalows
set into the hillside overlooking the bay. Her financial backer is Air Tahiti,
the small local airline that has the only scheduled flights into the island.
She is a wealth of information and has an art collection and library on
Marquesan art. I catch her in the middle of dealing with her bank on the phone
and needing to go see some contractors on site. So, no -- I donít get to
look at the collection.
While Iím there, two men from Hawaii come by to talk to her. They are
from an evangelical church and are looking to set up a new mission branch in
Nuku Hiva. They may send some of their people to live at Rose's Inn
temporarily until their church and housing are built. Theyíre checking it
Harvesting souls in remote islands is still alive.
Thursday, July 1 --
I'm up early and go ashore to buy long, thin, fresh-baked French
bread--crisp and delicious! And croissants--buttery, chewy, flaky, and still
I go back out into the harbor and trade for hot coffee aboard Violet.
Then I trade The Moon and Sixpence for Annie Proulxís Postcards.
Good books are cruisersí gold.
I'm ashore again by 9:00 a.m. Thereís a big festival today and all the
local dignitaries are in a reviewing stand with a roof and upholstered seats
like the movies. They review a parade that must include the entire population
of Nuku Hiva: children dressed in Polynesian costumes, horses and riders, and
a demonstration by the fire department of their one truck -- a 1950ís pumper
whose hoses barely throw the water 30 feet.
Gaston Flosse, the president of French Polynesia, arrived before the parade
in a red helicopter. After the parade, there are speeches. The president, in a
gesture of noblesse oblige, gives all government workers the next day off!
Terry and Florence, two young French cruisers Iíve met who are from
Bordeaux, are angry. They say itís the same everywhere Ė politicians
giving gifts to win popularity with the taxpayersí money. But the Marquesans
There is then a big feed. Cold coconuts, juice, cake, chips Ė many
Marquesans spread out blankets and set up picnics and cards. I hike around the
hills behind the town and sketch.
Terry and Florence invited me to dinner on their boat, Muriel, and
weíre joined by Randall and Christine from Pacific Eagle, one of the
British OTO-net crowd. I drink a bit too much and have a great time.
The knots are loosening.
Friday, July 2 --
Nuku Hiva is the most populated and prosperous of the Marquesas. There is
very little trading of the simple type. If I had rum, as some cruisers do --
cases of $3-a-bottle Panamanian rum Ė I could do better. But I donít.
I write postcards and a few letters. After dinner ashore I call Sandy,
totally forgetting the 6 Ĺ hour time difference. Sheís understandably a
little cranky and never fully wakes up. Itís 3:00 a.m. there. Sheís going
to spend the Fourth of July with friends in Baltimore.
Saturday, July 3 --
I'm up early to prep the boat to sail to Ua Pou and am out of the harbor by
10:00 a.m. The wind is really whipping and Iím beating dead into it. I reef
Rain squalls blow over and the wind gusts to 30 knots. Iím towing the
dinghy Ė not a great idea, since it starts to take in water. I struggle to
get it up on deck and lash it down.
Another Pacific Seacraft sailboat passes me heading into Nuku Hiva and I
call it on VHF. Itís Jim and Lynn on Windchime -- I had dinner with
them in the Galapagos. We chat and promise to catch up in Tahiti.
4:30 p.m. After pounding into the wind all afternoon, I realize Iím
not going to reach the main harbor by dark. Plus, itís more directly upwind,
so Iíll need to tack.
Ua Pou looks forbidding in the lowering sunlight and I decide to head off
to starboard, a bit downwind, to the northwest side of the island. I see some
masts in a cove and head for them.
I enter the small bay of Hakahetau and anchor just next to Tao, a
German-flagged catamaran, sailed by Donald and his Russian wife, Olga. They
invite me for drinks, which turns into dinner, which turns into more drinks,
which turns into world politics and philosophy.
Olga bows out at 10:00 p.m. and Donald and I keep at it till 1:30 a.m. I
row back to Otter with the deep stars shining over this small peaceful
part of our planet.
Sunday, July 4 --
I row ashore past the eight other boats in the harbor. The mountains and
dramatic spires at the back of the bay make this a gorgeous last stop before I
leave for Tahiti. I also realize Iíve arrived by chance at the same small
town where Jean-Marc van Chinh lives.
I met Jean-Marc in Panama drumming in Indyís shop, and he invited me to
drum with him again when I got to Ua Pou. It seemed like a faraway exotic
dream then, but now Iím here.
I attend a service at a small church and again the singing is movingly
beautiful. After the service, the church lets out and an older man, Tefare,
comes out of the church, shakes my hand, and starts walking toward a small
snack shop Ė the only snack shop by the beach.
Heís barefoot and falls in beside me. I ask him where Jean-Marc lives. He
indicates for me to follow him Ė heíll show me, he says, after he has his
'after-service' Hinano beer at the picnic table by the snack shop.
The snack shop is owned by Etienne Hokaupoko and his wife; they are helped
by their three daughters. Etienne speaks very good English and is making up
large sheets of paper to tack onto plywood scoreboards for the boulle Petanque
and volleyball games that will take place by the beach in the afternoon.
Boulle is very similar to bocce and is popular on all the islands -- pretty
much the entire town turns out.
Etienneís wife and I swap family information. Her three sons have gone to
Tahiti to work but her three daughters ("Daughters are better," she
says) will stay on the island and help with the snack shop and store and keep
her company, "as children should."
Etienne has been written up in a number of books. He is a school teacher
and the founder, in 1980, of Motu Haka, a Marquesan society movement dedicated
to the preservation of traditional Marquesan language and culture. It has been
responsible for holding Marquesan cultural festivals on different islands
every year or so. These events are not designed for tourists, since there are
so few, but for the Marquesan people.
Tefare finishes his beer and we walk back up the street, past the church,
and finally behind a house that, he tells me, is the local post office.
Jean-Marc's home is traditional Marquesan with posts holding up a woven
palm-leaf roof. The center is open with wooden low benches for sitting and
talking. He has a sleeping loft up a ladder into the rafters.
There's also a separate, less traditional building -- a simple plywood and
2x4 structure on a concrete slab, roofed with corrugated metal. This serves as
his kitchen and workshop. He has another separate building with a toilet and
shower, all surrounded with palm and banana leaves -- it seems to have been
Jean-Marc is not home, so Tefare indicates I should follow him. We walk
about a half-mile past a lot of other small houses and up into a hillside
where Tefare's house is tucked away. He hoses off his feet before he goes onto
his porch. I remove my sandals. In almost all Polynesian homes the shoes are
left outside and the feet are wiped on a mat before entering a home.
I find that most of the activity is on or close to the floor -- TVís are
on low boxes and people sit on mats on the floor Ė no couches or chairs.
There are mats for beds. All furniture is minimal and picnic-type benches seem
to be the standard kitchen table.
Tefare introduces me to his wife and then, from trees in his yard, picks me
five large pamplemousse and two papayas. He tells me with disdain,
"Etienne would charge $1 apiece for these at his store." We talk of
his work on ships, his family. His house is immaculate, well-ordered, and very
beautiful with flowers and fruit trees everywhere.
I walk back to Jean-Marcís house and Iím writing him a note when he
shows up. I expected to have to reintroduce myself and explain where we met
and remind him of his invitation to drum with him. Instead he says, "What
took you so long? I expected you a month ago! How long can you stay?"
He says, "Tomorrow we will go up to my cabin in the hills where I have
my horse and weíll go riding and Iíll show you the island. Weíll gather
some people for a drumming party." Iím overwhelmed by his welcome and
with regret tell him I have to leave tomorrow or Monday to get to Tahiti in
time to meet my wife, Sandy, who is flying in soon. Heís disappointed.
I hang out and have some barbeque with his landlord and some of his friends
who drop by. The conversation shifts to French and I find it difficult to
follow, so I draw his kitchen. I tell him Iíll bring my drum back later and
we set a time.
At the boat I do a lot of last preparations to go to sea. After a few hours
I feel Iím ready to leave early the next morning, so I head back to
Jean-Marcís house, where he and I and a Marquesan boy get into a long jam
that immediately clicks. He then puts different music on his stereo and we
drum along. The evening is growing long and he repeats his regret I canít
stay. He gives me a beautiful, hand-inked design that he drew as a gift.
We go down to the beach and I buy us both a steak dinner. It seems that the
snack bar stays open as long as someone is there, and a lot of the village
men, joined by the few yachties, will drink till one or two in the morning.
Etienneís daughters make our dinner and Jean-Marc and I eat, then have a
I get into the dinghy and row through the pitch dark to Otter,
leaving the small circle of light under the trees around the snack shop. I
watch it all get smaller and smaller as I row in the warm darkness.
Tomorrow I will set sail for Tahiti.
End of Report Seven