Saturday, 4 July 2015

Marquessa Islands

French Polynesia 26 March to 9 May

We visited three of the 5 groups of islands – Marquessa, Tuamoto and Society islands (which includes Tahiti).

Hiva Oa
The first day at anchor was a relief and after completing all the formalities, including a visit to the Police Station to show our passports, we headed for the nearest bar. In fact the only bar where we had lunch and a few drinks before they shut at 2 o’clock. They only open for 3 hours a day during the week at lunchtime, and Friday and Saturday evening. A quick walk around the Gaugin exhibition (he lived in the region for 6 years) and then off to the shops to get some basic supplies.

Dinner was at Alex’s place, a house in the hills overlooking the bay. He came to the dock to pick us up where we met up with the usual crowd – Pentagram and Wayward Wind. The journey up there was interesting to say the least, up a very steep gradient on a gravel road with tight bends requiring Alex to back up a few times to negotiate the corners. Not somewhere to walk up to and certainly not down after a few drinks!

Alex’s place is not the normal type of restaurant. He has a pool, table football and full size pool table for his invited guests to use and his wife does the cooking. You get what she has cooked that day and that is it. You help yourselves to drinks and just tell him at the end of the evening what you have taken. It was a great night and beautiful setting, looking out high above the bay. Thankfully he took us all back in his car back to our boats.

Pifa explaining tribal rituals
Martin is the one on the right
We had organised a tour of the island the next day with a local guide, Pifa, who was also the local fireman and sea rescue. After 15Km, the road stopped, just after the only roundabout on the island, and we were on dirt tracks for the next 6 hours. Dirt tracks that were very uneven, full of potholes making for not the most comfortable car journeys. However, Pifa was an excellent guide, taking us to the ancient sites where the original tribes lived, explaining the meaning of the Tikis (stone statues) and the local rituals. This included how they eat people, some captured during wars with other tribes and others that were voluntary – it was an honour to be eaten by the chief and so people volunteered.

Pifa's familly home
Open air bedroom
We also went to visit his family, to see where he grew up and where he went to school. It took him 1.5 hours each day to get to school on a horse, trekking over hills and down valleys since there were (and still not) any roads. His grandfather owns a vast farm and he overloaded us with bananas and grapefruit cut straight from the tree. We must have had over 300 bananas to take back with us in four bunches from banana trees which he hacked down (the whole tree) since they only produce fruit once. But there again, it takes only four months for the tree to grow back and produce a new crop of bananas.
The people live very simply and part of their culture is that they all plant fruit trees in their gardens, so fruit is in abundance. Hospitality is also part of their culture so despite the fact they are relatively poor (no electricity, very few cars, living in simple houses with little furniture) we were overwhelmed with their hospitality and generosity.

The next day the fridge failed again and I traced the problem to the water pump which had stopped working altogether so the compressor could not cool down. So no freezer again, fridge warm and we ended up using the freezer to store fridge items. Fortunately most of the food had gone by then.
Then it was off to the nearby island for a rally rendezvous with the people from the local village providing food and entertainment for the afternoon. All we had to do was pull up the anchor and motor the 5 miles across to the island. Two hours later we just managed to free the anchor from a discarded fish cage on the bottom of the harbour with Martin, Chris and I using all out strength to get it to the surface. The angle grinder managed to cut it away and we got to the rendezvous three hours late, missing the traditional dancing and arriving at the tail end of lunch. 

Martin after winning one final
Catherine beating Chris in the other Final
However we did manage to join in the Boule competition with the locals in the afternoon before arranging a compeition among the rally boats. Catherine won one of the competitions and Martin won the other so 100% success rate for Afar VI. Chris managed to get to one final and my contribution was modest - more of a coach than actually winning any games!

Our problems with the fridge and anchor windlass palled into insignificance compared to Hugar whose generator first of all caught fire and then their engine mounting bolts sheered allowing water to pour in through the stern gland. It took two other boats with pumps to get the water under control and seal the leak. Amazingly someone in the village managed to weld the bolts so that they could use the motor again. If that had happened on the 3000 mile journey across to the Marquessa islands they would have sunk.  I checked my engine bolts the next day.

Martin was due to leave from the Marquessa islands and he managed to book a flight to Tahiti from Nuku Hiva, an island 70 miles to the North.  So we set off to Nuku Hiva where there was someone who repaired boat fridges and freezers. Catherine and I spent three frustrating days trying to get the problem fixed along with windlass only to have neither fixed. At least they identified the problem – with the windlass it was gear that had stripped and we confirmed that the cooling water pump on the freezer had given up. However, the engineer (a loose term) did suggest a resolution for the fridge/freezer which eventually worked but not until we got to Tahiti and could buy an alternative pump.

It was sad to see Martin leave. We had some very good evenings in Niku Hiva, visiting the local hotel for dinner with Andy and Emma and various other restaurants (there were only three on the island). I was pleased that Martin had come back and sailed the Pacific after not competing the Atlantic, fulfilling his dream and providing such good company along the way.

Before we left we filled up with fuel which started well. Pulling up the anchor was not too difficult and we dropped anchor by the fuel pumps and motored backwards to tie up to the dock. Not an easy manoeuvre and particularly with the cross wind made it even more tricky but we managed it on the first try. Re-anchoring back in the bay was more challenging and the anchor did not bite until the third try meaning that we had pulled the anchor up by hand five times in one morning! I decided the anchor windlass was our top priority!

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