Surviving in Nuku Hiva

The short passage from Tahuata to Nuku Hiva was only 90 miles, but the light winds that ranged from three to ten knots made the passage last 26 hours. Departing at 3:00 pm on Saturday, we were able to arrive just before sunset on Monday evening thanks to the assistance of the cruising chute in the morning and the engine in the afternoon. Approaching the large bay that serves as the main anchorage in Taoihae on Nuku Hiva, we were once again met by a stunning view of yet another mountainous island. Nuku Hiva is the most developed island in the Marquesas and serves as the administrative headquarters for the island group. The island is famous as the place that Herman Melville jumped his whaling ship and stayed for six weeks. He wrote “Typee,” which was his most popular book during his lifetime, about the cannibals on Nuku Hiva and is said to have fallen in love with a native, for whom he later returned to the island but was unable to find. A monument on the waterfront recognizes his brief time here. More recently, the island has gained fame as the site for one season of the television show “Survivor.” During the filming of the reality show, the producers bought every hotel room on the large island to prevent crowds from forming. In addition, guards were posted along the ridge to secure the area and one of the better bays on the island was blocked off with no boats being allowed to enter. The funny thing is that the entire remote setting is completely contrived. Thanks to the French, there are nice paved roads that run all over the island and there is a large village within a mile of where the contestants were supposedly “abandoned.” I guess it would detract from the show’s theme of roughing it if they showed contestants walking the short distance to enjoy a fresh baguette. The large inflow of American tourists that were expected as a result of the show never materialized. On Tuesday, we finally were able to officially clear in to the Marquesas. After two weeks cruising throughout the islands and even going so far as to get a traditional tattoo (which I was sure to have covered at the police office when I checked in), it is nice to once again be on the right side of the law. The rest of the day was spent exploring town in the sweltering heat and reuniting with some cruisers that we have met along the way. It is always nice to see familiar faces and to enjoy the stories of sailors who are better connected than I. We were updated on some of the difficulties that people had during the passage from the Galapagos to Marquesas including losing propellers, failing shrouds that made the rigging unstable, and close encounters with whales. The most disturbing story was about an American man who had been airlifted from the Galapagos to Quito for an emergency surgery while we were anchored in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos. After returning to his boat, he was told to stay in the Galapagos for three months to recover, but decided to proceed on in the company of his friends on other boats. About 1,000 miles and 8 days out from the Marquesas, he fell and hit his head, resulting in his being unable to stand and largely out of sorts. His wife was able to communicate via single sideband radio with doctors in Tahiti and a freighter bound for Tahiti was redirected to pick him up. Happily, he was fine once he got to Tahiti and was able to return to the Marquesas on Wednesday. Currently, a group of sailors is leaving the Marquesas to sail out and assist the wife in bringing the boat safely into harbor. This unfortunate event has opened the flood gates for morbid discussions related to deaths at sea. Considering the fairly elderly cruising community composed largely of retirees, it is not surprising that a few people die during passages. In one story that could easily be dismissed as sailing legend, a man that went up the mast to do some repairs while underway had a massive heart attack and died while strapped aloft. Unable to get him down, his wife had to sail three more days to Fiji and come into harbor with her dead husband hanging from the top of the mast. This somewhat dubious story does raise the difficult question of how to handle a death on the boat. Without refrigeration, where should the body be safely stowed? If you are still a couple weeks away from land, is it possible to preserve a body until you arrive or should a burial at sea be held? What if you don’t know the person that well, can you legally and morally dump their body into the ocean? These are all questions that I hope I never have to answer. On Wednesday, we set out in search of a venue that would be showing the Champions League soccer final. The tantalizing match featured a showdown between Barcelona and Arsenal. For those longtime readers, you may remember that a year ago my quest to see a Champions League match took me across the French-Dutch border to a brothel in St. Marten. Once again, I found myself marooned on a French island with little chance of catching the game. Unfortunately, although they celebrate European holidays in French Polynesia, they do not seem to share the European love for the beautiful game or for drinking at 9:00 in the morning. Anna gamely persevered the oppressive heat as we trekked all over town confusing natives with our odd request. Our best hope seemed to come from a local pizza shop that had a TV. However, after several conversations with a French Polynesian transvestite that worked there and spoke excellent English, we finally conceded defeat when we realized that their TV did not receive the necessary channel. Our last desperate chance was to return to the post office where I noticed a television and satellite dish when clearing in. Shockingly, our prayers were answered and we were able to watch the last 15 minutes of the game in the company of a few European soccer aficionados who also sat in the waiting area of the post office cheering on the television while the postal workers looked on with mix of bemusement and indignation. Since the search for the Champions League telecast last year brought me into contact with prostitution (sexual promiscuity) and this year led me to a transvestite (sexual confusion), God only knows what type of sexual deviance I will encounter next year. On Thursday morning, we got an early start to avoid the midday heat. Our first stop was the Herman Melville Memorial, one of the many small monuments dotting the Taiohae waterfront. Anna had the audacity to compare Melville with Jacques Brel, apparently some Belgian singer that also found his way to the Marquesas and who I have never heard of. For comparing arguably America’s greatest writer with some European balladeer, I fear that Anna may be condemned to an eternity in hell being tortured by vicious Ifrits. Despite Anna’s ambivalence, she made the journey to the frankly less than impressive memorial and kindly refrained from mocking the mediocre structure. Overshadowed by an attractive cemetery close by, it would be easy to miss the hidden monument. It is fairly obvious that a few years ago someone in the tourism bureau had the bright idea of building a monument to take advantage of tourists’ interest in Melville. The guide books all took the bait and suddenly something that should be unknown has become one of the more disappointing attractions on Nuku Hiva. After this letdown, we proceeded to visit the cathedral, which looks like pretty much every other church that was designed by a westerner to be plunked down on a tropical island. Unimpressed, we gave up sightseeing. Later, while purchasing some boat supplies at a hardware store, I consoled myself by buying a machete for opening coconuts. It was somewhat odd to walk down a street carrying a machete and even when I went into a few grocery stores, no one took any notice that I was carrying a two foot knife in my hands. Somehow, I doubt that anyone in the U.S. would be so relaxed if someone walked down the milk aisle carrying a saber. Returning to the boat, we proceeded to do a little work before lunch. I went up the mast to repair the radar reflector, check on the tricolor masthead light, and clean the mainsail track. Meanwhile, Anna set to work sewing some cloth that we purchased in Taiohae to make curtains and pillowcases with bright hibiscus patterns on them. Afterwards, we enjoyed some banana pancakes that Anna whipped up to use some of our many Tahuana bananas. Between her cooking, cleaning, and sewing, Anna has set a high standard for any future crew on Audentes and I fear that her significant contributions might spoil me, making returning to sailing alone difficult. On Thursday evening, we held a small Valiant party aboard Audentes. We invited Judy and Eric of Nereid and Lauren and Ron of New Dawn over for appetizers and drinks. Both Nereid and New Dawn are Valiant 40’s that hail from Anchorage, Alaska. After about an hour of interesting discussion regarding similarities in our boats, our previous lives on land, and past travels, I asked the two couples how long they had known each other. They looked at each other with bewilderment and answered that they had known each other since Ron was born. They proceeded to clue me in that they were a family with Eric and Judy being the parents of Ron. This small Valiant/family reunion was my second gathering of Valiant owners. A little over a year ago, Brian and I held a similar small gathering with Moonshadow and Topaz, two Valiants that were in Trinidad at the time. It is always nice to meet interesting and friendly people from different backgrounds and one of the attractions of cruising is that it provides many opportunities to meet these types of people. In order to prepare for our passage south to the Tuomotu islands and to see a little more of Nuku Hiva, we are planning on moving to a nearby bay on Friday to take on water and to hike around the southern part of the island. Thus far, the Marquesas have been one of the most enjoyable island groups that I have visited and I wish that we had time to explore them more thoroughly. However, the South Pacific seems to be teeming with lovely islands full of interesting cultures, abounding with outdoor activities, and offering the possibility of numerous new experiences. While we are reluctant to leave these idyllic islands, we look forward to visiting different versions of paradise.

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