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Galapagos to the Marquisas

We left San Cristobal, wreck bay on the 29th April having spent two weeks enjoying the island and its exotic and friendly wildlife. We had sea lions living on the swim deck of Trifon most nights and their noisy fights would wake us several times per night. They would leave in the morning and we became the cleaning squad to clear up the mess they left. Sea lions are the marine equivalent of large dogs and whilst they are not usually aggressive you should not try and touch them. They are frightened of loud noises and clapping or banging metal objects will cause them to retreat. The wildlife in the islands is unusual because of their isolation and lack of human presence until the last few hundred years. Large turtles, marine iguanas and endemic birds populated the islands and have no fear of man. The birds will eat from your hand and the sea lions will not move away as you walk down the main street in San Cristobal. The whole atmosphere of the island is very relaxed and there is not the same frenzy of the locals to relieve you of your dollars as you find in the Caribbean. The cleanliness of the inhabitants was a welcome relief after Panama and the squalor of Colon.

The few visiting yachts are of little economic importance to the islanders who have many airplane and cruise ship eco-tourists and so we were left to explore without being “bothered” by the local population.

Trifon was fuelled, water tanks full and provisioned as well as we could from the limited supplies available from the local shops for the 3000 mile voyage to the Marquisas . We can only keep fresh food in the fridge for 4-5 days and the trip was likely to last 3 weeks so canned and preserved food was going to be the major part of our diet. We were low on gas and not being able to get the correct gas bottles in the Galapagos meant that we would have to restrict the use of the oven. The boat was in good condition when we left except for a problem with a frozen remote control lever on the engine. This meant that one person had to change the forward/reverse and neutral lever on the motor inside the boat and not from the bridge/helm. This made close quarter positioning challenging but it was not a great handicap at sea.

The weather reports for the following few days were clement so we set sail and had a nice few days of fair winds and reasonably calm seas. Less than 24 hours out of San Cristobal we were approached by a fast open fishing boat with two angry fisherman waving large knives at us. They screamed at me in Spanish to stop the motor, I explained that we were sailing and that we were not using the motor. They then wanted me to drop the sails to stop the boat and at over 1000 miles from Equador on an empty ocean this was something I refused to do as it would have allowed them to board Trifon……more shouting and knife waving and pointing underneath our boat…. I realized that we were dragging a small submerged blue buoy behind the boat attached to a thin rope. The fisherman then cut the rope and recovered their buoy and left grumbling presumably about idiot yachtsmen who cannot spot submerged blue buoys the size of coke bottles in the blue sea.

Having read many accounts of piracy this incident was not particularly worrying for several reasons. The fishing boat was numbered and presumably was part of a larger fishing operation. It was an open boat over 200 miles from the Galapagos and would need a support vessel. There were only two men on-board and they did not chase us immediately as they were busy laying their lines/buoys. I figured that by keeping Trifon moving at 6 knots it would need one of the men to control their boat and I would only have to deal with one potential boarder. In the cockpit of Trifon I also have a large fishing knife and an aluminium baseball bat which I use as a fish pacifier, we also have the shortwave radio and EPIRB if we need to call for assistance. The men seemed interested in what was under the boat and did not try to ram or intercept us but maintained a constant speed on our starboard quarter.

When the fishing boat was over the horizon we then had to deal with next issue, the fishermen had pulled very hard on the line to release it from under Trifon without success and had then cut the line. This meant that something was still attached to the underside of our boat which usually would be the drive shaft or propeller as the keel and rudder are vertical and lines/ropes would not normally get caught in them. The question was whether to go diving now or wait for a calmer sea. The seas were around 1.5 metres and having 11 tonnes of metal boat bang you on the head while you are under the hull is particularly dangerous. The second issue was the current as with a potentially blocked drive shaft and the sails down to stop the boat for the dive, the time required for the crew to rescue me if I drifted away would have been significant. Slack lines were run round the boat that dropped in the water so that I could remained attached to the boat during the dive. The final issue was shark attack and instructions were given not to use the heads(toilets ) as sharks can detect blood etc in the water for many miles. We were followed by two sharks off the Columbian coast for hours which is a strange experience and the most likely explanation was the use of the heads.

The result of all this preparation was a big non-event as within one minute of diving I saw that a large fishing hook was planted at the bottom of the front of the keel trailed by a long line. It took less than 30 seconds to pull out the hook and recover the line. However the current was strong and the line was longer than Trifon and if I had not been attached or we had switched the motor on the result would have been far different.

We continued sailing for several days and the weather worsened during the second week at sea , at times we were down to the third reef on the mainsail and Trifon was rolling past 30° in the heavy seas, life on-board became difficult for cooking and sleeping. The seas were larger than to be expected by the local winds which around25-30 knots and we assumed that this was the result of storms further south in the southern ocean winter. We were back in wet weather gear again and several phone calls to Monaco to check the forecast with our friend Gilles indicated that the situation would calm in the next two days…. And so it did. We were in daily contact on the SSB (short wave radio) with around 15 boats in a 2000 mile radius, this is 15 boats in an area the size of Europe so it was not exactly high density shipping. We exchanged our positions and weather conditions /forecasts and tracked their progress against ours. On our crossing we saw one ship and the small fishing vessel in 17 days ,this really is a lonely part of the planet. During the period of bad weather I noticed that the genoa furler lower drum had detached itself from the rotating bearing below it and was unusable. We still had the jib and the mainsail so this was a handicap but not one that could stop our progress. Night watches were sometimes tense due to the presence of squalls but with the help of the radar we avoided most of them. One of the differences we noticed sailing in the Pacific was that the squalls were less intense(less windy , less rain and smaller cloud formations) and we only saw 30knts in the large squalls. On the less windy days we would aim at squalls to pick up more wind and increase our speed.

As for fishing , we had all the fish that we wanted and we caught two dorado, two tuna and a 1.5 metre sailfish(similar to a Marlin). This last fish put up a superb fight and when we saw the size as it approached the boat we realized it was longer than the width of the swim deck. The fish was still fighting hard as it came to the boat so I let it thrash around for many minutes before it was gaffed and brought on to the boat. George, who gaffed the fish ,and I were dancing a little jig on the swim deck as the fish which was still full of fight and was trying to impale us with his beak/sword. Half a bottle of Rhum was poured down its throat and it still struggled. I finished the fish with an aluminium bat and Magali filleted the beast. Every evening we were attacked by suicidal squid that landed on the deck  and every morning we would throw 20-30 dead squid back into the Pacific. Towards the end of the voyage the squid were replaced by fat flying fish that can fly 50 metres or more including twists and turns in the air. During the third week the weather was calmer and we flew the spinnaker in light winds, our oversized asymmetric was a handful in the Pacific waves and Magali finished with a badly blistered and burnt hand from trying to slow a spinnaker sheet without gloves. Besides the pain the immediate issue was to stop infection of the 10+ blisters on her hand. Anti burn crème and anti-septic crème and anti histamine were used and she arrived in the Marquisas without  an infection.

Food making was more adventurous than in the Atlantic, partially because to provision in the Galapagos is rather limited as opposed to the giant supermarkets of Spain and also because the crew was more prepared to try new methods. George showed us how to make the pizza base in a frying pan and then toast the topping under the grill which saved using the oven with our limited gas supply. Magali after one failed attempt perfected bread making at sea and we even had frying pan pita bread. The supply of fresh fish gave us sashimi and many cooked dishes ( fried/curried/sweet and sour ).

Sailing was relatively straight forward as we spent 17 days on the same tack with reefs taken and shaken out in the main sail. I held a more northerly course than the direct route in order to curve down to the Marquisas and avoid sailing dead downwind. We perfected a way of taking reefs whilst running downwind which consisted of taking up the slack in the topping lift and then heading up 10-15 degrees or releasing some sheet to release some pressure from the main sail and then dropping a few metres of main halyard. Then we would pull in a metre or two of the reef lines to keep the sail from hitting the shrouds. Then we would release some more main halyard and repeat the operation several  times with the reef lines until the reef was taken. This avoided getting the main plastered and stuck on the shrouds and spreaders, kept the boat under control at all times and going in the right direction with little loss in speed, could be done by one person in the cockpit and avoided having to head up in large seas with the boom banging around. The loss of our genoa was compensated by using the jib and fewer reefs in the main. The cutter rig configuration (genoa and jib on separate furling gear) of Trifon was another of the safety elements just in case a furler broke on our trip. Watches at night were three hours on and three hours off for the crew and many nights were spent gazing at the southern constellations many of which we had near seen. After a few days everybody gets into the routine and the zombie feeling of the first few days disappears. The winds were never forward of the beam and we made good progress averaging between170-180 miles per day. It took us 17 days and 5 hours to Hiva Oa which was an average of 7.5 knots for the 3100 miles sailed. The sight of land after all that time at sea was suprising and almost intrusive, the huge pointed peaks of Hiva Oa were majestic as we closed land on the final day. Boats will be boats and Trifon always has a little trick up her sleeve to catch the unwary. I fortunately asked George and Magali to check whether the electric windlass was working before we tried to drop anchor in Hiva Oa. It wasn’t, although it had been working in the Galapagos before we left. It seemed to be the windlass remote control box was not functioning. Rapid change of plans to use the windlass remote control inside the boat (yes …I have a back-up windlass remote control). So here is how we dropped anchor. Engine on with the cover of the motor off and Mireille inside the boat, George at the bow next to the windlass, Magali relaying messages from the centre of the boat and me at the helm. Mireille also has to control the anchor up and down remote plugged into the cigar lighter inside the boat but she cannot see the anchor chain.

We motor slowly up to the desired spot with the anchor hanging off the bow,I reduce the motor revs to idle and shout to Mireille to put the motor into neutral and then reverse and when all the way is off the boat and we have stopped I yell to have the motor put into neutral. I then shout to Mireille to hit the down anchor button on the remote control, George shouts when the anchor has hit the bottom and I yell down to Mireille to put the motor in reverse and to continue with the anchor down button. George shouts that 40 metres of chain have been dropped, I shout to Mireille to stop with the anchor down button and I give a burst of revs to make the anchor bite. George shouts that the chain is taut and I reduce power to idle and shout to Mireille to put the engine in neutral. People think that the sailing is the hard bit but they should try anchoring a handicapped Trifon. We are now using the manual override on the windlass to drop the anchor and the internal remote to lift the anchor.

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Marquises

We anchored in Atuona bay outside the small break water in Hiva Oa and found the holding to be good and although it was a little rolly at times it was comfortable in comparison to the ocean crossing. The village of Atuona is more than 5 kilometres from the anchorage and the quai for leaving the dingy is probably the worst we have encountered. It consists of a protruding concrete platform with space and jagged metal underneath so at low tide the dingies are washed under it and ripped. The only way to leave the dingy is to leave a very long bow line and secure the stern with an anchor 10 metres from the shore. A simple concrete wall down to the sea bed would have avoided several ripped dingies  however the locals have not provided anything for visiting yachts. Inside the breakwater the yachts are anchored with bow and stern anchors at less than one boat length apart.

There is no organized transportation to the village so we set off hitch-hiking ,most of the cars said they could not pick us up as the local police got upset. After 30 minutes a battered pick-up truck stopped and we jumped on the back. The village of Atuona has a couple of small supermarkets with basic provisions some frozen food, a bank , a police station, a hospital and the famous Gauguin museum and an exhibit dedicated to Jacques Brel, the Belgian singer and actor. I visited the local police station (Gendarmerie) and was pleasantly surprised at the warm and helpful welcome. We came directly to Hiva Oa as it is one of the three entry ports for immigration/customs for foreign yachts. The police send a copy of your entry papers to Tahiti and the other copy you have to go and send via the post office to Tahiti.

I visited the Gauguin museum which has copies of all his works displayed in an attractive building , Gauguin’s house of pleasure was being reconstructed and was closed to the public. The Jacques Brel memorial was in another building close to the museum and the central exhibit was JoJo the restored airplane the Brel used to deliver the post to the other islands in the Marquisas. From speaking to several members of the local population Brel was very well respected as he brought electricity and cinema to the island of Hiva Oa, and set up a flying postal service. The views on Gauguin were more reserved possibly due to his behavior with the young women of the island.

On major difficulty with the island is the problem of obtaining the local currency. There is a cash point at the local bank but it has a low limit and the bank (Socredo) refuses to change dollars or euros into the local currency. Only locals with an account at the bank can change currency and the end result of this is that tourists can buy very little from the islanders except those that will except foreign currency. This must limit significantly the commercial development of the island but perhaps that is desired by the islanders.

We took a taxi for the day to visit the rest of the island and the ancient ruins of the Polynesian village and see the Tiki’s (stone statues of ancient warriors/gods). We ate in a local restaurant where the homemade island dishes were served and Mireille and Magali spent a long time gathering recipes from the grandmother of the restaurant. The scenery of the island is spectacular as not only are the mountains very steep, the countryside is full of colourful flowers and fruit. There used to be more than 10,000 inhabitants on the island and now there are less than 1,600 in the middle ages the inhabitants would sacrifice humans (mainly children) and we wondered whether this was a form of population control to limit drain on their natural resources. We also spent an evening with Kaiser, a retired French soldier who was married to a local lady. They prepared an evening meal and told us about their life on the island.

After five days we left for the more southerly island ,Fatu Hiva, some yachts make this there first landfall here in the Marquisas and ignore the regulations. We felt comfortable to have completed the formalties in Hiva Oa and then sailed south on the 40nm day sail. The anchorage in the Bay of Virgins is reputed to be one of the most beautiful anchorages on the planet and we were not disappointed  with the towering pointed cliffs circling the bay. After the first day there were only three yachts left at anchor in the bay and the peace and tranquility of the surroundings was overpowering. We arranged to eat at the house of a local inhabitant as there are no restaurants and only one small shop. The young couple who allowed us to eat in their house cooked local dishes, fish in coconut milk and BBQ goat, bananas in various forms. They were planning a trip to Hawaii and all contributions were welcome, the husband was a wood carver and displayed his work to us. Unfortunately we did not have any local currency (or the possibility of obtaining any) so we could not purchase anything.

The friendliness of the local people was exceptional and whilst they had limited possessions and resources they showed a genuine interest in the visiting yachts and the cultural differences /similarities our ways of life. Money plays a lesser part of these people’s lives than in Europe as they grow or catch most of their food. There is almost nothing for sale as nobody is there to buy the produce. They live in houses with gardens and a vegetable patch, pick fruit from the trees (grapefruit/banana) and shoot wild pigs and goats. The male population is mainly composed of fisherman and each house has a 25 foot aluminum day boat with a large outboard for fishing round the island. Most transactions are barter with the yachtsmen for pieces of rope or bottles of wines, T-shirts in exchange for fruit or vegetables.

We went to the other village in one of the fishing boats and managed to pay in euros for the provisions of gas and drinking water. The weather turned and strong offshore winds whistled through the anchorage. As the stronger winds were predicted many other yachts came to the only protected anchorage on the island and we counted 17 yachts packed into the bay. The winds increased and we dragged our anchor twice in one day. The holding at the head of the bay was very poor as it was boulders over sand. The second time we dragged  was close to sunset and I decided it was unsafe to try and reset the anchor in the crowded bay with night falling. I took the boat out of the bay and ran offshore for the whole night under the lee of the island. Apart from having to sail up and down in 35 knots of wind conditions were comfortable and we had rotating watches throughout the night. The following morning we tried anchoring at the head of the bay and remained in place until the middle of the night when we slipped again in the howling wind. Fortunately luck was with us and we slipped back into spot between two other yachts and the anchor caught in the sand just beyond the boulders. During the morning I went diving and installed 20kgs of centenary weights on the anchor chain just where the chain hit the sea bed. This technique gives the anchor a better horizontal pull and can be used when you have no more chain to let out or you cannot move backwards due to other vessels.  We had no more chain and a boat close behind us that would periodically sail up its anchor to within a metre of our transom. The skipper of this American Hunter would put his motor in reverse to avoid contact with Trifon. Next to us was an Italian flagged aluminum Cigale(Argentaria) who was less than a boat length from our port side. I knew the skipper well and we kept a cautious anchor watch. The wind continued to roar for three days with cabatic gusts over 40 knots in the venturi tunnel created by the valley and high mountains at the head of the bay. Trifon was hand-cuffed, we could not lift anchor as a brazilan catamaran was sitting over our anchor or move backwards or sideways. One reason that many of the boats stayed was that  Mireille and Magali had organized a party onshore for all the yachts and the locals prepared a Marquisen Oven. The oven is a large hole in the ground filled with stone then wood. The wood is ignited and heats the stones. Food(meat/fish/vegetables) is wrapped in banana leaves and put on the stones and the whole oven is covered over with earth having interposed sacs and a plastic sheet to keep out the earth and rain. The food is left to cook for many hours and the whole process takes a day to prepare.

The meal was served in the village hall and most of the yachtsmen made it ashore to enjoy the feast. Two crews remained on board to watch the yachts at anchor including Gordon and his wife on Promise and we took hand held vhf radios to keep in contact. The party was like one of those end-of the-world fiestas where everyone was determined to enjoy themselves after the stressful nights at anchor watch. They brought in the local band and some of the more musical yachtsmen joined the group. The money raised from the party was to be used to send a group of the local children on a cultural exchange holiday in Hawaii in December 2011 and the women of the village have formed five co-operatives to finance these trips.

Whilst in the Bay of Virgins it was a pleasure to see the yachts assisting each other when a problem arose. One yacht tried for almost two days to anchor securely and was helped by several of the boat crews. We lost our dingy during the high winds as it was poorly attached to the boat, within two hours we were offered three dingies across the Marquisas and accepted the kind offer from our Brazilian friends on Casulo, we will return the dingy in Tahiti in July. The yacht Cay One found us a dingy and FarrFly also offered a dingy in the Tuamotus.   Additional chain, rope or anchors were offered to any boat lacking anchor tackle and it was a far cry from the petty squabbles of the permanent residents that live on boats in marinas on the Atlantic side of the US. We have met many boats that have got stuck in marinas and they have lost their will to travel, their highlight of the week is the Friday night BBQ and finding a new piece for their boat. We have seen them in Gibraltar, Gran Canary, Curacao and Panama and the problem seems to be that the next step west is a huge leap of blue ocean. The boats that made it to Fatu Hiva have already crossed half of the Pacific and many the Atlantic ocean, they have not seen a marina for at least 4000 miles and are still in the trans-oceanic sailing mentality of helping your fellow sailor.

It was with regret that we sailed from the anchorage at Fatu Hiva but we had a good weather window to sail the next 600 miles south west to the Tuamotus atolls.


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