Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Third Impressions
By Michael

Windy and Eleanor enjoying the pool
at the fall we hiked to. It was about an
hour from the anchorage with no permits
required, no trash cans about, no warning
signs, no signs of anyone but us.
“Mom, Mom! Come here, quick!”

Windy sprinted on deck. Eleanor was stripping down to her bathing suit, trying to find her mask, and pointing at the giant manta ray swimming in circles and doing summersaults right next to Del Viento.

“Can I go in, can I go in, please!”

When the second ray showed up, Windy joined Eleanor and when a third joined the party, it was enough for Frances to ignore the jellyfish stings she’d gotten on her last two swims and she jumped in too. For twenty minutes, the three chased after the three.

We were told to expect relatively low visibility in the waters around the Marquesan islands, and I suppose it is in a relative sense, but we can still see 50 feet in the cobalt-colored water of this deep Fatu Hiva anchorage.

When we arrived, there were 18 other boats here and we were forced to fall back and drop in 138-feet. Despite winds blowing 20 knots on two nights, despite our having only 300-feet of rode out (all chain) for a scope of only a bit better than 2:1, we haven’t dragged. Since then, many boats have left and a few more have arrived. Two current boats are kid boats—one family from Monaco and one from Belgium, six kids between them—and another kid boat, Australians, are due today. As I write this, Windy and the girls are on a hike with the six other kids, aged 7 to early teen.

Frances looking down at the anchorage.
Rays aren’t the only interesting marine life we’ve encountered. There are eels along the shore that flit about in the rocky nooks. We all watched one quickly slither up from the water about two feet (roughly his body length) to grab a crab on the rocks and quickly carry it back underwater for a feast. There are also these fish that seem to walk on the rocks right at the water’s edge. Crawdads are everywhere, including in the fresh water streams on the island. The largest I’ve seen was about 3-inches long.

Local boats have dropped by several times to trade. The first time, two men wanted to trade for alcohol. We showed them a bottle of wine we were willing to trade for a dozen fresh eggs. “Oui, oui!” they said, racing ashore with our plastic egg carton. Thirty minutes later they returned, our egg carton empty, explaining that all the eggs had chicks in them. They did bring a handful of oranges hoping we’d be enticed enough to let go the wine, but we declined. They left the oranges anyway, despite what we hope were polite protestations. The next boat was also two men, one of whom we recognized as the Pushy Man, but he didn’t recognize us. These chaps also wanted alcohol, but offered only three pamplemousse. We offered kids’ toys and even some rope for their pamplemousse, but they passed. Finally, this morning a family with two small kids stopped by with more pamplemousse. We showed the same kids’ stuff—a bracelet making kit and a stuffed animal and puzzle and a shirt—and they were eager to trade.

Capturing the scale and majesty of scenes
like this, with the camera, is impossible
for me. Trust me, these pics just aren't
doing it. 
It’s easy to imagine spending 3 months here, settling into the low-key vibe, getting to know individuals by name, and trading away everything we own to stay fed. But we wouldn’t have to trade exclusively. We’re also finding food on the ground, among rotting fruit strewn about, freshly fallen from trees in more remote areas. Yesterday we hiked up to a waterfall and returned with our backpacks full of guava, limes, lemons, a coconut, and Thai basil. We’re reticent to pick fruit from any tree, but feel okay stockpiling the freshly fallen among their rotting comrades.

The fruit we all love the most are the common bananas. In D.C. and Mexico, we’d all eat one or so when they came home with us from the grocery store, but most of them wound up in banana bread or the freezer for smoothie fodder. Here, the bananas taste so exquisite, with such a perfect texture—even days after they appear past their prime, that Eleanor—definitely the pickiest banana eater among us—ate 7 yesterday alone. Unfortunately, we haven’t found any banana stalks on the ground. The massive stalk we traded for on our second day was exhausted this morning, so please spread the word that we’re willing to trade.

Frances and Eleanor watching a manta summersault in front of them.

Oh, the drama.

This is my favorite home in Hanavave.

Hanavave from up high, the anchorage would be
visible to the left, around that mountain.


This little guy is tied to a tree with a line around one
leg. Pigs, dogs, cows, and horses are all similarly
kept, in seeming random places, everywhere. Hens,
roosters, and goats are the only ones that seem to
enjoy free range.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Second Impressions
By Michael

This rainbow appeared just minutes
after Windy finished deploying the
snubber on the afternoon we arrived.
There was no sign of the mentally challenged boy or the smiling stoned woman as we approached the quay in our dinghy, our second day in Hanavave. Walking up the now-familiar road we greeted people, wary of running into Pushy Man.

“Oooh Mom, loooook.” Frances was kneeling at the gate of a house I’d just walked by. Twenty feet inside the yard was a tiny cream-colored kitten. “Come here little guy, come here.”

A woman came out of the house and motioned us into her yard. Frances and Eleanor went right to the kitten. The woman asked if we wanted fruit, for Ă©change.

“Exchange.” Windy said. “She wants to trade.”

Oui!” we both said to the woman.

She turned away and seemed to be looking for something. Then she waved us back over to the gate we’d used to enter her yard. About a dozen schoolkids were walking up the narrow concrete street. She seemed to be barking orders at them, like urging them on. Then she pulled one boy inside the yard. He looked to be about Frances’s age, but about three times Frances’s size. The boy stood mute, staring at us while the woman pointed at his feet. He was wearing $2.00 flip-flops, she wanted to trade fruit for shoes.

Over the next ten minutes, we made it clear that Windy wouldn’t trade the shoes on her feet, that we probably do not have shoes to trade that fit the boy, and she made it clear that she had a variety of fruit to trade, and that she also wanted pens and pencils and rope—she really wanted rope, corde.

“Okay, we’ll be back in two hours.” I said, gesturing at the watch I wasn’t wearing and indicating two. “How do you say hours?” I asked Eleanor.

“Um, I don’t know.”

Merci, au revoir!” we called out, leaving the yard with a plan.

We’d not checked out the south side of the village, so we crossed the river and headed that way, circling back to the dinghy.

Bonjour!” a woman called out from her house as we passed.

We waved, “Bonjour!” and she motioned us to enter her yard.

Miel?” she asked as we approached.

“That’s honey,” I said to Windy, “same as Spanish—but we don’t need any honey.”


“But it would be cool to have some if it’s from here.”

“It lasts forever.”

I managed to ask where the hive was, the abeilles. She walked me around to the boxes behind her house, they buzzed. “Bonne, tre bonne.” I said.

She motioned us into her home; we all followed her lead and removed our shoes. From a large locker against a back wall, she pulled out a wine bottle, corked and filled with honey. I imagined this nectar imbued with the fragrance of all the flowers we’d been walking past. I imagined honey like no other.

C’est combien?” I asked, looking up from the French-for-travelers book.

She replied and we all looked at Eleanor.

“Um, um, three thousand francs.”

“That’s like thirty bucks” I said to Windy. “Échange?” I asked the woman.

Oui, oui.” She said and disappeared into an adjacent home, returning with a raincoat. We shook our heads, “No, no.”

Corde?” she asked.

Eleanor and the rock wall that
goes straight up from the quay.
I paused and she pointed to a piece of rope in the yard.

Oui, oui, corde.” Then she let us know she needed pens and colored pencils.

Back aboard Del Viento we went through the giant duffle bag filled with all kinds of things we’d been saving the past year for a day just like this. There were clothes and shoes Frances had outgrown that we’d kept rather than give away. There were markers and pens we’d stockpiled. There were puzzles we’ve solved, games we had duplicates of. There were nice bags we’d never need and handy knickknacks Windy had brought back from Thailand. There was rope, lots of rope.

We returned first to the home of Leah, the woman with the $30 honey.

We exchanged pleasantries and inside her home, I laid out the things we’d earmarked for her onto a table she’d cleared. She surveyed them quietly and then picked up the two lengths of old rope I’d deposited and left without a word to the adjacent house.

“I think her husband is in there.” Windy said.

Leah came back shaking her head, “No miel, all gone.” She explained somehow that a sick neighbor needed the honey so she didn’t have it to sell anymore. We suspect our offerings were insuficient. Without pausing, she covered half my loot with her hands, looked up at us and said, “Le citron,” and then covered the other half and said, “La banane.”

Windy and I looked at each other. I stepped forward and removed the new packs of markers and colored pencils and held them to me with one hand while waving the other over the piles as she had, “Le citron, la banane.”

She frowned and shook her head, muttering something that involved the poor babies who would be denied the markers and colored pencils. She took the packs of markers and pencils back from me, replaced them in the le citron pile, and removed a couple of t-shirts and handed those to me.

Le citron, la banana.” She said again with the hand wave.

Oui!” I spat out in spite of myself.

She ushered us all outside, grabbed a picker, and began plucking luscious limes and oranges from 10 and 12 feet up in the trees in her yard. Then she untied a giant stock of green bananas and handed it to me. Then she put together a bag of fat red bananas that we understood were for cooking.

Merci, au revioir!”
Main St., Hanavave. That turquoise building
is the store.

Out on the street Windy shook her head, “Why did you say yes, that was a lot of stuff for some fruit—and we’re supposed to get fruit from the next house.”

“Yeah, good point.” We were weighed down with fruit on our way to trade for fruit. We had no honey.

When we got to the next house, they’d prepared a large cardboard box of coconut, papaya, pamplemousse, and orange. Frances handed over the bag we’d prepared for the couple and I pulled out a 30-foot length of ½-inch line. He took the line, glanced in the bag, and nodded, motioning for us to take the box. Then he picked up the kitten and tried to give it to Frances.

“No, no, no, merci, no.” We laughed and shook our heads. His wife insisted we take the kitten. “Oh, no, no. Merci, merci beaucoup, au revior!”

To our surprise, the little store was open when we walked by. It carried almost the same inventory as a tienda in a small Baja community, like San Evaristo or Agua Verde. The difference was that it was as clean and orderly as a hospital. Like everyone else, we took off our shoes before entering. We looked around at labels, some familiar, most not. I held up a euro note to the cashier, “Tres bien?”

She shook her head, “No.”

I said, “U.S. dollar?”

“No, no dollar, no euro—franc.”

“Oui, merci.” I said to her, smiling. “We’re out of luck.” I said to Windy.

The little store was crowded and I stepped outside next to our shoes and the giant stalk of bananas and the bags and box of fruit we’d traded lots of stuff for. Inside, the cashier motioned Windy over and handed her a pile of French Polynesian francs. Windy shook her head and tried to insist that she not take the money, the woman was better at insisting. Windy and the girls each picked out a soda and approached the cashier with the gifted francs in hand. Then the cashier rang up the sodas, put them in a bag with a bunch of other goods she’d pulled from the shelves, and tried to give Windy change.

“No, no, merci, au revoir!”

“Mike, give me a nice length of rope.” She said outside. She went back in with the rope and then returned 30 seconds later with the rope. “She won’t take it.”

“What in the world…?”

“Yeah, in the bag are things I picked up and looked at and things she must have thought I was looking at. I’ll return with some kind of gift for her tomorrow.”

Aboard Del Viento we unloaded our booty and tied our banana stock beneath the bimini like real Pacific island cruisers.

Heading in on day 2.
The girls taking in the island as we approached
about five days ago.
Windy and the girls waving from the middle of the Pacific,
a thousand miles from nowhere.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

First Impressions
By Michael

The  Bay of Virgins--Baie des Vierges--was
originally called Baie des Verges-- Bay of
Penises--but the missionaries corrected
things soon after they arrived.
The boy was the first Polynesian we laid eyes on. He was kayaking alone behind the jetty, in front of the village of Hanavave, his big brown body filling his sunset-colored craft. I waved and he waved back. Several aluminum skiffs were tied to the concrete quay where it seemed we should tie up our dinghy. There was no room for our dinghy. This was our first escape from Del Viento in 27 days.

We tied up instead to some large boulders adjacent to the quay, left a long painter, and scrambled ashore. We felt odd, foreign. The boy paddled over and began randomly pushing on our dinghy, maybe as if trying to move it. He was also speaking and shaking his head.

“We can’t park here, he wants us to move.” Windy said.

“How do you know?” The boy seemed to grunt and bark words at us and his expression seemed increasingly stern.

“I think that’s his Dad’s boat and we’re too close, the boats are going to hit. He’s not happy, we need to move.”

“How do you know that, I don’t understand a word.” Windy began flipping through our French-for-travelers book and I turned to Eleanor, “How do we ask if this is ok?”

“I don’t know.” Eleanor said. I felt a collective anxiety about the amount of French we’d failed to learn, despite attempts. We all suddenly felt fluent in Spanish and it was hard to keep those words in.

“Tray bee-en?” I called out meekly and anxiously; I didn’t want to move our dinghy and I couldn’t see a better spot for it.

The boy grunted and wagged his finger and shook his head.

“See?” Windy said.

These red bananas are cooking bananas,
like plantains. Frances whipped up a batch
for breakfast for us this morning. This boy
was intent on being in my picture, but
wouldn't talk to us.
A big woman appeared smiling next to us.

“Tray bee-en?” I asked her, pointing to our dinghy.

She smiled back, never diverting her eyes from us.

“Uh, tray bee-en?” I asked again, pointing again, nodding, raising my shoulders and lifting my brows theatrically.

She said something, her smile never leaving her face, and pulled a large, green citrus from her bag and pushed it at Windy.

“Ah, pamplemousse.” Windy said.

The woman echoed, “Pamplemousse…” and thrust the fruit towards Windy again.

Windy politely declined and the woman persisted until the hefty Polynesian grapefruit was in Windy’s hands. I watched the boy fall into the water exiting his kayak and then climb up the rocks to stand beside us.

“Eleanor, how do I ask how much?” Windy said.

“Uh, um, I don’t know Mom.”

“Lemme see.” I took the French-for-travelers book from Windy and began flipping through. It was nice to have a diversion. My eyes down and on the book, I was removed from the continued awkward attempts at communicating that Windy suffered. I could hear Windy was laughing too much; she does this when she’s uncomfortable.

I found it and I looked up to ask how much the fruit cost. The boy began jabbing at Windy’s shoulder, focused on her, like trying to get her attention. He was saying something, it sounded guttural.

“It’s twenty-five hundred francs, he’s saying the price of the grapefruit is twenty-five hundred francs.” Eleanor was hopping, giddy for her translation.

The woman smiled, looking down on the boy, shaking her head in a way that seemed she was amazed at how precious he was.

“That’s like $25 dollars, at least.” I said. Then I saw something in the boy. It was all clear in an instant. The boy was mentally disabled. The smiling woman, something was amiss there too.

The girls scrambling along the shoreline
adjacent to where we're anchored.
Windy tried to offer the pamplemousse back to the woman, but she shook her head, pushing it harder into Windy’s chest. The boy continued tapping Windy’s shoulder, his insistent Polynesian or French words loud and assertive.

“Ok, au revoir! Merci! Merci beaucoup!” I called out while herding our small crew up towards the road. Windy held up the pamplemousse and offered final merci’s. The boy and the woman waved goodbye.

Then things went downhill.

The encounter that followed was with a real pushy guy who wanted to sell us the fruit in his yard. We politely begged off, he continued to hawk. We were eager to get a sense of this new place and not comfortable with him. For 10 minutes we tried to extract ourselves, but without the words, yet our lingering probably seemed like interest. It was painfully awkward. “Merci, au revoir!

Several houses up the street, we heard someone carving—with power tools—and went and stood by, hoping to capture his attention so that we could get closer and see what he was up to. Then Pushy Guy appeared next to us.

“Wood carving? You like wood carving?”

We nodded. He spoke a bit of English.

He turned and motioned us to follow. At his house, he urged us all in and we followed his lead, each of us removing our shoes before entering. His wife sat at a table inside with food all about. She swatted aimlessly at dozens of houseflies, her attention fixed on a soap opera dubbed in French. Pushy Guy steered us to a back room where several small carved tikis sat in a row.

“Iron wood, ebony, stone,” he said, pointing to each in turn. Then he did the same for a row of shallow bowls, “Iron wood, ebony, rose wood.”

We smiled and admired his work. I looked up from our book and said slowly, “Bonne, tres bonne.”

He showed us the prices of each. He proposed special prices for pairs purchased. We didn’t have the words to do anything but admire. I thumbed through our book, looking for later, looking for we’re just browsing now, looking for these things are beautiful and we don’t want to buy any just now, maybe never, but we thank you for showing them to us.

He extracted a promise that we would return tomorrow. He put a papaya into each of our girls’ hands. His wife turned away from the tube to see us off. She pulled a baguette off the table and thrust it at Windy.

“Merci,” Windy said, “Merci beaucoup.”

“Tomorrow? Tomorrow?”

Yes we all nodded, “Au revoir!”

We sat down on a riverbank where the girls swam.

“I don’t know about this place. I kind of want to flee. I mean, it’s unspeakably beautiful, but I’m not comfortable.” I said.

“We haven’t met that many people.”

“I know, but…”

The girls and I walking into the village.
The big smiling woman we met when we landed sat down next to us and again locked eyes, smiling.

“Smoke?” she asked, gesturing with two fingers at her lips.

“No, no smoke.” I pointed back and forth at Windy and me, shaking my head.

She smiled.

For 15 more minutes we sat with her, I tossed out questions I found in The Book, things like, Qu’est ce qu’on peut faire le soir? (What’s there to do in the evenings?) She rested her head on her hands to indicate sleep.

I managed to get her name, to find out where she lived, but it was like talking to someone…stoned…yes, that was it, she was stoned out of her mind. We were her entertainment, a diversion.

Something like 350 people live here, nestled under basalt spires in what is certainly among the most beautiful places on earth, the Bay of Virgins on Fatu Hiva, Marquesas, French Polynesia. In the dinghy and heading back to Del Viento, I wondered aloud whether I wanted to return to explore more tomorrow. I didn’t.

But I returned anyway.

I’m so glad I did. After Day 2, I like this place and its residents. But that story comes tomorrow.


The girls playing in a river that feeds into the ocean. Note the yellow
hibiscus flowers on the ground--they are everywhere, falling from
huge trees overhead.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Day 27: Oh, the Joy

The last few days of the passage I kept thinking about Lewis and Clark. I'm no history buff, and I have only scant knowledge of their famous expedition. Still, those guys kept coming back to me.

In particular, I kept thinking of, "Oh, the joy," the three words one of them uttered upon first sighting the Pacific Ocean. I can't tell you why I know this. I also know that, as the crow flies, Lewis and Clark's journey was about the same distance as our passage, 3000 miles. And I know their expedition was a huge success: they achieved their goal, acquired important knowledge along the way, and, significantly, did it with their crew--er team--intact. (At least I'm pretty sure that's all true. If not, feel free to leave me in my ignorance.)

So on the morning we expected to sight land, Eleanor and I sat in the cockpit, headphones on, listening to randomly shuffled episodes of "This American Life" and willing the vapor on the horizon to consolidate into land. On the chart we could see the island of Fatu Hiva directly ahead of us, and close. So close that some had begun to make oh-so-hilarious jokes regarding the abilities of this ship's navigator (you may have heard Mike say, "She MAKES maps." The implication being the making of maps does not equate to the reading of or the navigating by, which is a point well taken, though not by me).

Then, while I squinted into the haze, a spooky thing happened, one of those things that disorients pragmatic folks like me who don't believe in gods, or ghosts, or destiny. In my headphones, a "This American Life" story of a construction worker, one of more than a thousand such stories stored on our iPod, began. In this story, the construction worker's interest in collecting things led him to amass one of the world's outstanding collections of books on, you guessed it, Lewis and Clark. As a result of his relentless and often financially irrational pursuit of these rare books, this hard-working, uneducated dude eventually finds wealth and becomes one of the foremost experts on Lewis and Clark. When asked to choose one of his favorite passages, he emotionally reads aloud the journal entry for the day on which Lewis and Clark first see the Pacific Ocean. As he reads, Mr. ex construction worker now Lewis and Clark scholar is choking up, and so am I. I become convinced that while he is reading, I will catch first sight of the island before us, because how perfect would that be? And so I am frantically scanning the horizon when Eleanor looks at me wide eyed and says, "Mom, that's exactly like us!" I just nod my head and smile. I hadn't shared any of my Lewis and Clark ponderings and to share them now just seemed too clunky, too out of the moment.

A couple hours later I did catch first sight of land. It was a just barely visible silhouette of a steep, craggy slope descending into the ocean. I called down below and we ran to the bow. There was a minute of, "Where? I don't see it!," and finally, "Oh! There! I see it!

Then I said, "One, Two, Three," and together we shouted, "Land ho!"


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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Day 26: We Can Taste It

We're close. We'll drop the anchor tomorrow.

Sailing conditions have improved over the past 24 hours, finally. We now have an idea of what we have to look forward to, over the coming months, sailing-wise.

On the breakage front, I notice everything is rusting and corroding. We had a lot of rain a couple weeks back, but since then, with the boisterous sailing, everything has been repeatedly drenched in salt water with no rinse. The stanchion bases are the worst. There was a bit of orange weeping onto the gel coat before we left, but in the past 14 days it's come to look like our decks have been blasted by rust-colored paint from a fire hose. Down below, the little hand pump on our Hart Systems Tank Tender gauges is no longer working with the smooth action it's had since we bought the boat. Unfortunately, it's been in the line of fire of the sneaker waves that have burst through the galley portlight.

There is a kayak in front of the portlight above Windy's berth, so we rarely close it as the likelihood of water finding its way through there is slim--but not impossible, as we found out two days back when at least a couple gallons rained down on our v-berth. Now, her fan (beneath that portlight) is squealing like a 2-year-old.

We're looking forward to some rain.

Oh, it's probably unrelated to salt, but we noticed yesterday evening perhaps the worst failure of this passage; our wind instrument--the one that tells us direction and speed of the wind--is not functioning. I suspect a bird attack on the sending unit at the top of the mast, but we won't know until I haul Windy up there after we anchor. It's funny because for all the years I owned her, I didn't have a wind instrument on the last Del Viento and I never missed it. I kept pieces of magnetic tape tied to my rigging, tape pulled regularly from a worn-out Joni Mitchell cassette. How in the world did I sail? How did I know when to reef? How did I heave-to in the pitch dark to put in a reef? It's a mystery to me, like how does anyone get out of their car to open a garage door after learning to live with a garage door opener? Fortunately this disaster did not befall us before this point in the passage. We'll limp into port somehow.

A note on stores:

We're still on our same 10-gallon propane tank, and not for lack of use this past month. We've baked and cooked up a storm on this passage. But I do expect it to run out soon, which will leave us our remaining tank until we reach Tahiti, which may be a challenge.

Nearly all our perishables are exhausted. All that remains is one jicama (will be eaten today), about a dozen limes, two potatoes, three onions, one tiny cabbage, and two heads of garlic.
And water. Our family of four left Cabo with no watermaker, two 50-gallon tanks full, four 5-gallon jerry cans full, and three 2-gallon jugs full. We use fresh water (foot water pump in the galley, hand pump in the head--pressure water off for the duration) for drinking, teeth brushing, very light dish rinsing and some washing, hand washing, cooking (such as pasta), and some cleaning (floors and bodies). Here on day 26, one-half of our port tank remains, one-quarter of our starboard tank, all of the 5-gallon jerry cans, and none of the three 2-gallon jugs. We could definitely be more conservative and go for much longer than we have. That said, we've consumed about 30 liters of milk, 4 liters of apple juice, about two-dozen small cans of club soda, about three-dozen cans of beer, about 16 small cans of ginger ale, and 16 tiny cans of Coke (night watch caffeine source). We hear there is plenty of fresh water in the Marquesas and we'll need it--heaps of it--to wash all our filthy bedding and laundry and to rinse away all the salt that's found its way below.

As I sign off, 10:00 pm on May 9, 2015, we are 85 miles from Fatu Hiva. On her sunrise watch, Windy will surely be the first to see the islands.


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