August 24, 2000 Society Islands, French Polynesia
Salut! Ici Erika. (Relax, put away your French dictionaries; I won't try to impress you by casually scattering Frenchisms throughout this update, though that is certainly what I would do if I knew any French.) This week finds us anchored in a lazy lagoon at Huahine, an island 70 or so miles northwest of Tahiti. The island is described as “sleepy” in our guide book, and its peaks don’t have quite the majestic contours of others we’ve seen, but something keeps us here. The lagoon water is unimaginably clear and the nearby reef promises excellent snorkeling. The little port town of Fare adjacent to the anchorage has a quiet appeal, with its thoughtfully designed quay and dinghy dock, where fishermen sit and little boys, French ones and locals, peer excitedly into the water, waiting for interesting things to appear. Farther inland lie the most extensive archaeologic remains (maraes) in all of French Polynesia. But these features, however alluring, are not the reason we stay on. The real reason we've let our anchor dig in deep is that someone on this island has taken our bicycles and we're not leaving without them!!
What is there to say about theft? It is inevitable in cruising. Only last month our dinghy paddles, ancient and water-damaged, were stolen from our beached (and locked) dinghy in Papeete, Tahiti. What's remarkable is that in nearly two years of travel, that was the first theft we'd had! We've been very lucky, really. About everything, I mean. I can see you're politely trying to overlook the fact that one might consider it unlucky that our hapless engine has caused us innumerable delays, not to mention significant expense. But consider that we've had no illness or injuries to speak of (at least not since John put that silicone-covered screw through his foot in Plymouth), no rig- or hull-damaging accidents, no lightning strikes or really big storms, no fires (e.g. electrical) or explosions (from leaking propane or gasoline), no encounters with pirates, and, despite the cramped quarters, we actually still like eachother. The point is, cruising is something of a risky enterprise and we are pretty well prepared for anything to go wrong at any time (and will be especially vigilant now that I've done something as unwise as to call attention in writing to our surplus of good fortune). The thefts of our oars and our bicycles were of course shocking at first, but they've led to some useful philosophical reflection: on our luck, and on our carelessness.
Philosophy is fine as far as it goes, but we would also very much like to have our bicycles back. To this end, we have filed a report with the gendarmes and plastered the town with posters offering a significant reward. We've also enlisted the help of an American who runs a bicycle rental place in town and says he "knows people." If the bikes are returned, we've let it be widely known, we will ask no questions.
Two days later, we have had only one lead. The source: an 8-year-old boy with a penchant for intrigue. This little informant (who shall remain nameless) had been invited aboard Saros for a visit today after persuading John (the softy) to take him and a friend for a ride in our dinghy. Slightly bored with the grand tour, he perked up when John mentioned our stolen bikes. Our bikes, mind you, are distinctive (and, on this island, probably unique) for being designed to fold in half; also, they are bright blue and are mountain bikes, all of which John described to our young acquaintance. In that way children have of casually making the most unlikely announcements, this one now declared, "Oh, I just remembered, I saw somebody folding a bike at the supermarket, um, yesterday." Yesterday?! John and I looked at each other. The idea that our thief might be showing our bikes around town so soon suggested such poor judgment that it was almost, but not quite, impossible to believe. "Are you sure?" we asked dubiously, and "Was the bike blue? Was it a mountain bike?" to which we received 3 enthusiastically affirmative replies. "In fact," he added, "it was somebody I know." More precise identification was not proffered, and in the end our new friend lost his hold on our attention when the following exchange put things in perspective: (Me, recapping) "You definitely saw a folding bicycle yesterday? 'Cause if it was two days ago, it could have been one of us you saw." (Him, puzzled) "Well yesterday is before two days ago." Chances are he saw me or John with one of the bikes a few days ago, at the market, or else there may be another folding bike on the island afterall. Also quite possible is that there's not an ounce of truth to what he told us. Still, it is a lead and the only one we have, so, for now, we have no choice but to stay at this mostly pleasant island, home to at least one thief and possibly one small teller of tales.
Enough about the present, which you can see has lately for us become rather idle (apart from the excitement generated by the theft) as we drift from island to island. What you really want to know about is obviously the part where we crossed 2900 miles of ocean to get here. OK. Coming up. But first, let us pick up where we left off the last time.
Puerto Ayora, Galapagos
Hello all. John here. When we last talked we were in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.
Puerto Ayora, although a decent place from the standpoint of those on land, was a terrible place for those on the water. The harbor is exposed to the southeast, which is where the prevailing wind comes from. This means that open ocean swells come directly into the harbor. The harbor is also very crowded, requiring everyone to anchor with both a bow anchor and a stern anchor. For our boat, this set up an impossible-to-stop oscillation forward and back, seriously straining the anchor lines. One day when the swell picked up, we chafed through three different lines, leaving the boat hanging on only the anchor chain. With only the chain in place, all the strain of the boat's surging fell on our windlass, for which it was not designed. It still works, but it sticks often now.
Worse things than this happen to yachties in distant locales, and even constant vigilance cannot always protect you. Within a couple months of our Galapagos visit, there were two serious mishaps there involving cruising sailboats. In one, a freighter lost its transmission while it was powering into port and plowed into an anchored French aluminium cruising sailboat. The couple's mast required rebuilding and they had to wait something like 50 days for the required parts to arrive from elsewhere. This was on top of the various legal and paperwork hassles necessary to get payment from the other vessel's insurance company. We saw them later in the Marquesas and their boat appeared to be back in good repair and they were no worse for the wear.
The same cannot be said of another pair of sailors from California. Apparently a middle-aged man and his father were finally taking the sail they'd always planned on. At night in inclement weather they went up on the rocks along an uninhabited stretch of beach on the island of San Cristobal. The father was washed into the water by a wave and drowned. The son managed to make it onto the beach. The boat was lost. The son retrieved the body of the father and buried him on the beach, since it was not clear how long it would take to get back to town. As it happened it took a couple of days for him to flag down a passing fishing boat. Last we heard from some friends of the men, the son was back in the States and having a tough time of it--not only had he lost his father in a grisly tragedy, his family apparently blame him for the accident, despite the fact that it was the father who was on watch when the boat struck.
There is really no way to segue smoothly from this grim track on to lighter topics, but among the more memorable incidents from our three weeks in the Galapagos was an amusing misunderstanding. This took place while I was visiting a couple on another boat and discussing plans for visiting other ports in the Galapagos. They told me of an ongoing debate between the fishermen from one of the islands and the Ecuadoran government. The fisherman wanted the quota for the lucrative sea cucumber harvest to be increased, and were also pushing for the relaxation of other regulations in the Galapagos. The goverment, in the interst of maintaining the Galapagos as a marine reserve, was unwilling to change the laws. Incredibly, the couple informed me, the fishermen responded by threatening to kill one tourist every day that the government refused to negotiate with them. Though I voiced doubt that they would follow through on such a threat, I was somewhat taken aback by this news, realizing that we would have to change our plans to avoid the island from which the threats had emanated..
Several days later, after passing on what I had heard to other cruisers, I learned to my chagrin that when I had heard "tourist," the word had actually been "tortoise!" Of course it was now too late to retract what I had told others, and over the next week we heard the rumor from yet other cruisers that the fisherman had threatened to kill a tourist if they weren't placated. Naturally we tried to correct this idea, but once released the rumor had a life of its own. I suspect that within a few weeks, the Ecuadoran papers might have started reporting that tourists had been threatened. The original couple, when they learned what I had thought they said, were very impressed with how implacably I had taken the news. They said that if they had heard the same thing, they would have been much more upset. I guess I just took the news as one of the unavoidable dangers of travelling in foreign countries and cultures.
Erika I'm not sure even now John fully appreciates what everyone found so funny about this incident--and they did find it funny; some even mentioned it in their websites. It was not simply the misunderstanding, but more the uncanny detachment with which John took the news that tourists were going to be picked off one by one; his pragmatic rearrangement of our sailing plans; his dismay, rather than relief, when he heard that he'd got it wrong. Granted he had told a lot of people, but surely it was still better that tourists' lives were not being threatened. He says, of course, that he never believed the threat was real; I suppose that does explain it. Sadly, the fishermen made good their promise and did kill one tortoise, but only one as far as we know; we've heard no other news about the conflict.
One other significant incident occurred in the Galapagos: our alternator stopped working. Because many fascinating things having to do with the alternator began to happen after that, it might be useful for me to give a brief lesson here on alternators, and in general on sources of power in the cruising sailboat. (If you already know all this stuff, or don't find it at all pleasant to read about, I won't be offended if you skip this part.) The alternator is a device which is bolted (and belted) on to an engine and generates electricity while the engine runs, by turning mechanical energy into electrical energy. On Saros, this electricity then charges our house batteries--three 70-amp-hour deep-cycle gel cell batteries--and our engine-starting battery, a honkin' big (in French slang there is a great word, "vachement," which literally means "cow-ly" as in the adverbial form of the word "cow" and would modify "big" nicely in this sentence) 8D, or 210-amp-hour battery. To avoid having to run the engine frequently, we also charge the batteries with two 75-watt solar panels which sit above our cockpit. Many boats employ a wind-driven generator, and some--relatively few--trail behind them a small propellor attached to a rope which generates power as it spins. (We didn't want the noise of the former, and the latter can be eaten by sharks or fouled by floating debris, and also tends to slow a boat down.) When charging the batteries with any of the above, including the engine, it is also a good idea--you might say mandatory--to have a regulator, which protects the batteries against overcharging. There, now these terms will be like old friends when you read about all the delightful ways they kept us guessing in the ensuing weeks.
You can see, for example, that with a nonworking alternator, we wouldn't able to charge the batteries with the engine. While our solar panels can keep up with the indoor lights, fans, VHF radio and, at sea, our navigational instruments, even on the sunniest days they don't quite provide enough power for round-the-clock operation of the fridge, nor for heavy use of the computer, nor long-distance transmissions by single sideband radio (SSB). More important, at sea without the alternator we wouldn't be able to run the navigation lights, which at night help to prevent collisions with other vessels. We do depend on the solar panels--because of them, we need only run the engine for an average of a few hours a week--but they can't do the job alone. So on that evening back in mid-May, when we started up the engine and the battery voltmeter didn't make its customary leap, and when fiddling with the alternator wires didn't help, we were involunarily thrust into the world of alternator malfunction, alternator diagnostics and alternator repairpeople, to emerge, poorer but, yes, wiser, some time in mid-July. The quick version of what followed the initial alternator failure is that John opened it up, saw nothing obviously wrong and brought it to a guy who fiddled with it and returned it to us ($30); we reinstalled it and it worked for about 15 seconds; we brought it back to the same guy, who replaced the rotor ($70); we reinstalled it (again) and it worked for 23 days, those being coincidentally the first 23 days of our 25-day passage across the Pacific.
Passage to the Marquesas
John This passage is the longest one must make in a circumnavigation. It is 3850 nautical miles from the Galapagos to the island of Hiva Oa in the Marquesas. This is the easy, tradewinds South Seas passage that all the guides and articles talk about--balmy breezes and gentle, pacific swells for days on end. Erika and I agree that for both of us, though, at least physically-speaking it was the worst experience of our lives. The winds were indeed from astern and were adequate to keep us moving forward briskly, but the swells were intolerable. There were two wave trains, one from east-southeast and the other from south-southeast. Each was between 8 and 15 feet high the entire passage. Their interference with each other, sometimes reinforcing, sometimes canceling, resulted in a nausea-inducing figure-eight motion in the boat, along with side-to-side rolling. It took us 25 days. The hopelessness you experience after a week and a half of queasiness, knowing that you have another two weeks to go, is indescribable.
Each day we discussed the situation, trying to figure out what could explain the difference between what we had read about this passage and what we were experiencing. I developed a theory which revolved around the size, hull shape, and relatively light weight of our boat. Erika developed a theory of trauma-induced selective memory in those other cruisers who described this passage as "idyllic." Both of us agreed that we would do almost anything to avoid long passages in the future, including hiring delivery skippers or having the boat shipped by container ship to our next cruising area.
Erika It's true, we were entirely unprepared for the misery we experienced on this passage, and good thing, too, or we'd never have done it! And yes, during the worst of it, as we arrived at the conclusion that Saros must simply be the wrong boat for the job, I did think nothing could induce us to take her out to sea again for longer than a few days at most. But memories fade. More important, it seems Saros was not the only boat on the high seas that month with mutinously unhappy occupants; boats larger and fancier than ours fared no better, thanks to the unusually bad swells. Still, we will never look on ocean sailing quite the same way again. Indeed, John took on a shade of green just now while writing about the experience, and will be taking a short break.
The trip started out all right. For about a day we were all smiles (John feels "guardedly optimistic" would be more accurate) at finally being on our way. We didn't hit true trade winds right away since we were still close to the equator, home of the doldrums, but we made 112 nm the first day (close to the lowest mileage of the passage but not too bad at that) and 147 the third day (the highest mileage of the passage). Once we'd entered the trades, we didn't have to worry about wind for the rest of the trip. It blew a steady 15-20 knots most days, from the south-southeast for about half the trip then moving gradually around to the east-southeast for the other half, putting us either on a broad reach or a downwind run at all times. We were able to use twin poled-out headsails most of the way and never even put up the mainsail.
The swells, as John described in excruciating detail, were what did us in. I don't think we noticed them until the second or third day, and then they toyed with us unceasingly for more than three weeks. I want to give you some idea of what this was like. (You're welcome.) Here's a typical day. John wakes me up at dawn and my watch begins; he goes to bed. I've only had five hours of sleep and I well remember most of them, as the boat was rocking & rolling all night (just as it does all day), lifting my cheek off the pillow, dropping my cheek back onto the pillow, repeat three times, then lifting my cheek and my knees, turning me almost over onto my back, then dropping my cheek and knees back to their starting positions, do-si-do. Repeat entire sequence several times to get the idea. If this doesn't sound at all restful, don't worry, after a day or so without REM sleep you can lapse into REM almost effortlessly, in fact I think I achieved REM while doing the dishes once or twice. But I never did manage to get through the night without waking up.
Typical Day, continued. As I was saying, I haven't slept at all well and now I must be on my toes lest an 800,000-ton container ship be lurking just over the horizon and heading right for us. I do a careful 360-deg.scan of the horizon, which at this time of day is a lovely shade of pink, confirm that the auto-pilot is keeping us on course, and even before regaining full consciousness I am back on my berth again, eyes closed, but now with wristwatch in hand, timer on auto-repeat. For the next hour or so I pop my head into the cockpit every 12 minutes like a deranged cuckoo, and in this way I gradually wake up. The more awake I become, the more I want to be up and around and doing things, things like eating breakfast, reading a book, checking our mileage, etc. But herein lies the trap: as soon as I start to do anything, I'm instantly reminded by the lurch of my stomach into my throat that the last time I did that thing, and this holds for nearly all activities, I became nauseated while doing it, and the association has stuck. One by one, all forms of activity have become nauseating. Which is how I came to spend three weeks lying quietly in a perfectly horizontal position trying to think of nothing.
What about medication, you ask? I tried 6 or 7 different drugs. All but one put me to sleep, which was okay, but they also left me unpleasantly groggy while awake, making watch difficult and reading impossible. They didn't completely eliminate the nausea, either, nor was it easy to keep the pills down in the first place. Then I tried scopolamine. With the new & improved scopolamine patch, I regained an interest in food, where before eating had been a loathsome experience, and soon I was actually cooking meals again, interesting ones even, and, better yet, reading. This kept up for about a day and a half, during which I almost started to enjoy myself. Then blindness struck.
As a physician, I should have been prepared for this--scopolamine is an anticholinergic agent, and among the many less desirable properties of anticholinergics, undesirable in this setting anyway, was their interference with pupillary accommodation, leaving me with dilated pupils and increasingly blurry vision. It was bad enough that I could no longer safely identify the tiny outlines of what were actually gargantuan ships in the distance. Far worse, I couldn't read! I don't suppose I can garner any sympathy over this; after all I wasn't nauseated, I could eat and drink and sleep, and the motion, though uncomfortable, was rendered almost bearable by the medication. But O Cruel Fate, to leave me wide awake, nausea-free, and surrounded by a hundred fascinating, hand-picked books--classics, contemporary fiction, mysteries, books on sailing, travel, history, anthropology, astronomy, photography, and of course medicine--yet unable to read a single word! I did the only thing I could do: I stared and stared at their pages until, in time, the fuzzy-edged smudges became words, the words revealed individual letters, and soon I was reading again. I paid for it, though. What began as only a mild ache in both eyes gradually became a full-blown headache. After a while I had no choice but to remove the patch; then I was able to read until the nausea crept up on me again, and when this happened I took a new patch and began the cycle again. In this way I went through about four patches and a small handful of books (pretty light fare, as it happened), but was terribly seasick on at least half the days of the trip. If you find yourself questioning my judgment at this point, understand that on a trip of this length, with any and all other distracting pursuits ruled out by the constant side-to-side motion, not reading was simply not an option.
In all that time, there were surprisingly few events that stand out. We saw no large marine beasts, though the bodies of small squid and flying fish littered the deck each day, reappearing as fast as we could toss them overboard (unfortunately, they were never fresh enough to eat). We encountered no other sailboats, and only saw two or three far-off ships. We listened to Voice of America and the BBC, took in the news of the rebellion in Fiji (and promptly scratched it off our itinerary), and tried to send email by ham radio to everyone we know (sending it instead to nobody, thanks to an as yet unidentified problem with the rig). There were no storms, though I did manage to damage the jib when I inadvertantly let it "wrap" while furling it in unexpectedly heavy wind one night and was then forced to watch in dismay as it flogged its leach (trailing edge) to tatters before John could safely untangle it in the daylight.
John One event does stand out for me. At about the two-thirds point, during a middle-of-the night watch, I looked up in the sky and saw what at first I was convinced was a jet airplane crashing. It came out of the western sky and slowly traveled to the east off our starboard side, taking perhaps 30 seconds to cross the sky from horizon to horizon. The sparking fireball left a glowing trail behind it across the sky. I called to Erika to come and see it, and she did, but it doesn't seem to have registered much of an impression, since she had forgotten all about it until I reminded her just now.
As it passed us I saw the lead object break into a series of pieces, each of which travelled separately, then flashed and disappeared. I also noticed that everything I was seeing was behind the few clouds in the sky, and that the object thus must be very high up. By the time it was about halfway across the sky I realized I wasn't watching a plane crash, but the rare event called a "fireball"--a meteor so large, and striking at so shallow an angle, that it doesn't burn up on hitting the atmosphere. The fact that it travelled west to east wasn't coincidental: because it hit the Earth's atmosphere at a low angle going in the same direction the planet turns, its relative velocity was reduced, allowing it to survive rather than explode. It's possible that this meteor even ended up hitting the water (or ground) eventually, perhaps near the Galapagos or mainland South America.
[Addendum: I later learned that this was a Gamma Ray Observatory satellite being intentionally de-orbited.]
Erika One last thing. The alternator, as I mentioned, gave out again two days before we arrived, but even before this happened we noticed that the batteries weren't charging properly, and we wondered if we'd damaged them in Costa Rica the time they'd overheated while hooked up to a battery charger. When we discovered the new problem with the batteries, we had to make some difficult decisions about power use, cutting out everything inessential. Among other things, the navigation lights had to go. This meant our being invisible at night, except when the moon was bright, and necessitated extra care in looking out for other vessels. Theoretically, larger ships all use radar and would be likely to pick us up from a few miles away, but there are many reasons not to count on this, the prime one being: we have a lot to lose if they don't! Also, not using your lights at night violates international maritime law. But the really worrisome thing to come out of all of this was that when I shamefacedly told other cruisers later about our having to go lightless, many of them said they never use navigation lights at sea! For the record, we have since installed high-tech LED bulbs in both our navigation and anchor lights; these bulbs use between a twentieth and a tenth of an amp where the old ones used two or three amps.
Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
We arrived in the Marquesas, the northeastern-most island group in French Polynesia, in the middle of the night on June 15th. John let me sleep while he tacked back and forth outside Traitor's Bay at Hiva Oa, waiting for the sun to rise and guide us safely to an anchorage beyond this bay in another one called Tahauku. Before we'd even finished anchoring, we shouted out our hellos to the early risers among the nearby cruisers and immediately set about to determine if our experience had been unique.
John We got our answer. Several boats that had left a couple of weeks before us had fast, comfortable passages. (Some boats that left a couple weeks after us, we learned later, had a nice ride too.) But two other boats that were out at the same time we were both had a lousy time. One was a heavy-displacement 40-footer, and the other a medium-displacement 46-footer. Each suffered from severe rolling (45 degrees from vertical, in both directions) and nausea-inducing motion. Moreoever, the 40-footer had done the same passage ten years before and it had been a perfectly wonderful trip. Something about La Nina, the weather pattern that can follow an El Nino year and then persist for a while, or perhaps some chance events down in the Southern Ocean--either of these, it has been suggested, may explain why the swells were so bad during our trip. Saros, at any rate, has been exonerated.
Once we were settled in at Hiva Oa, we set to work again on the alternator. I removed it and found that a bolt had come loose inside the thing and, set into motion by the spinning rotor, had damaged a part and broken a wire inside. Neither problem was something I was able to fix. A nearby cruiser happened to have a spare parts kit for our brand of alternator and he graciously sold it to me. That took care of half the problem. We asked around and learned that there was a military base on the island that would probably be willing to help us. The base was actually more of a school, where French military instructors teach the local recruits how to fix all manner of machinery and operate earth-moving equipment. So I went and found a very friendly French mechanic/instructor who gave the repair a try. I picked it up again the next day and installed it; this time it lasted a whole ten minutes. We went back to the mechanic, who thought, as I did, that the best solution was to send the alternator off to Papeete, Tahiti, to a professional shop, and who nicely took care of the arrangements with the shop for us.
Now it was just a matter of time to wait for the alternator, or a replacement, to arrive. Without it we could not run our motor (because motor and alternator share a drive belt, which fits neither without the other), and were effectively stranded in the harbor at Hiva Oa, with a deadline to meet: Erika's parents would arrive in Papeete on July 15th. So much for seeing the other islands of the Marquesas! [Don't worry, T & D, we didn't in the least regret having made plans to meet you when we did; we only wished we hadn't committed to where!] We made up for things by seeing a lot of Hiva Oa, which was very lush and beautiful indeed. We took long walks and bike trips around the area--to the cemetery where Gauguin is buried, a Jacques Brel memorial, and a secluded archaeological site--and sprang for a guided tour of the island by 4x4, which included a visit to the Iipona archaeologic site with its large, well-preserved tikis (rock sculptures representing gods and resembling humans).We also had the privilege of meeting two of Gauguin's great-grandchildren. And we had all the succulent tropical fruit (not to mention the freshly baked French bread) we could hope for. In the end, we were not sorry to have stayed in one place for a while after our passage. It was about two weeks, in fact, before we felt we'd truly recovered from the passage.
An observation I made while in Hiva Oa is that if you want to have honest, or meaningful, interactions with the locals in a foreign land, you will generally have greatest success with the children. To the adults we are often either potential paying customers, or a reminder of the imperial presence, in this case, of the French. This isn't to say we don't often have perfectly friendly person-to-person encounters which aren't distorted by these factors, but only that it is always harder to tell exactly where you stand. With children, we know exactly where we stand, for good or ill--sometimes both. While sitting down to eat a casse-croute (sandwich) on the steps of the local museum (which was never open in the three weeks we were there), we were approached by five 7- to 11-year-olds. There were two girls and three boys. One boy was a chubby, boisterous fellow with a buzz-cut, the others quiet followers. Of the girls, one was the oldest member of the group, but unusually shy, while the littler girl registered unabashed, friendly interest in us, watching us fixedly and making bold inquiries. The boisterous male was clearly the acknowledged leader of the group, if only by default because he was the biggest, the loudest, and the most assertive.
As they walked by, the loud boy was obviously talking about us disparagingly to the others, laughing heartily at our expense. Annoyed, I asked him "Avez-vous des questions?" This only set him off on a fit of giggles, and he delightedly ridiculed my pronunciation: "Questeeons, questeeeons, questeeeeeons." So I took a different tack. "Parlez-vous anglais?" At this he paused and said "Non." I replied, "Peut-être je ne parle pas français trés bien, mais vous ne parlez pas anglais de tout!" (Maybe I don't speak French very well, but you don't speak English at all!) This he didn't have an answer for. And you could see the expression on his friends' faces change, as if to say "You know, he's right about that. It isn't really fair to make fun of his French when you don't speak his language at all." Beyond that, I could swear it looked like they were doubting for the first time the idea that this boy should be in charge because he was bigger, as if they had never seen brawn trumped by brains. In any case, they seemed to like seeing him at a disadvantage, and they came over to chat with us. This led to a nice half-hour lunch making small talk with the kids. They had lots of questions about how we'd gotten there, where we came from, why we didn't have kids yet. (Erika The sequence of questions regarding our marital and parental status was very funny! The bolder of the girls asked if we were married, and when we said yes she naturally asked if we had children. Her response when we said no was to ask, now very curious, "Ne dormez-vous pas dans le même lit?") We liked them so much we shared our Coca-Cola with them, and we made sure the loud boy didn't get more than his fair share.
Finally, with much confusion, and the gracious assistance of the French marines, our alternator made it back to Hiva Oa from Tahiti, exactly one day before we absolutely had to leave to get to Papeete in time. We grumbled to ourselves about having to bypass the beautiful Tuomotus, an island chain situated between the Marquesas and the Society Islands (which include Tahiti), but that was before our latest problem, which was about to announce itself, made getting to Papeete all the more urgent.
I quickly installed the four-times-repaired alternator and we departed. Three hours out from Hiva Oa, Erika smelled something odd in the cabin. When Erika smells something, I pay attention. A little investigation revealed that the batteries were so hot they were melting the electrical tape on the terminals! I did some checking and realized that the alternator was also very hot and was running at full output, something it shouldn't still be doing after three hours of charging. Something was still wrong with our alternator, or regulator, or batteries, and I was beginning to get cranky. (Erika It actually takes quite a lot to make John cranky.) I disconnected the alternator but left it in place so the engine could run, and, having no choice, we continued on to Papeete, now with a useless alternator and a set of overcooked and, we assumed, failing batteries. To conserve electricity we had to leave off the navigation lights again and run the fridge only while the solar panels were charging the batteries (which, miraculously, seemed to hold up okay). On the bright side, the four-day passage was otherwise uneventful, and even somewhat pleasant.
Society Islands, French Polynesia
Erika We arrived in Papeete, Tahiti, on July 14, Bastille Day. Centered around this particular day is a month-long celebration in Papeete, with pirogue (rowing shells with outriggers) races, fireworks, music and general carousing. While we were trying to drop anchor and make a space for ourselves in the anchorage downtown, we found ourselves in the path of a large convoy of pirogues heading for the starting point of the races, but we didn't notice any angry glares, and soon figured out how to stay out of the way.
We met my parents at the Papeete airport the following night at 6:30 pm, which made it now 12:30 am where they'd started from, 18 hours and three plane flights earlier. My mother had managed to sleep on each flight, but my father had read or worked the whole time. They appeared to be perfectly awake, acted their usual selves, and spent the next several hours chatting happily through a large meal, without once complaining that they were tired or showing any of the expected signs of jet lag. What possible explanation was there for this unequalled feat of endurance? In a word, melatonin. At least, that is their story.
Somehow we'd talked them into bringing us dozens of things we needed (or wanted), among them more summer clothes, more books, Zip-Lock bags, olives, a butane soldering iron, spare slide film and camera batteries, several months' worth of medical journals, shopping bags full of mail, and a new alternator, which we'd originally ordered as a spare. John installed it right away and even before we started the engine the brand new alternator had begun to heat up. There was no mistaking the problem this time: we had a short in our regulator. John spent the next two days searching high and low for a three-stage, 12-volt, gel-cell-capable external regulator, but had no success and had to order one from the U.S.. (John Papeete is actually fairly well set up with regard to marine services and parts, but this item was simply too specialized to be there. We were forced yet again to order a crucial part from our old standby, Defender. Actually we ordered two--we are learning something out here.)
While John was on his mission, my father in tow, my mother and I wandered around Papeete a bit. Papeete is large for Polynesia (pop. at least 100, 000) and full of wonderful things I hadn't seen in ages like movie theaters, outdoor cafes and the Herald Tribune. (The movies, though American, were all dubbed, as it turned out. I sat through "Double Jeopardy" not understanding a word yet able to follow the plot quite easily. In fact I rather liked it, but with dialogue so superfluous that it isn't missed when absent, perhaps the movie was actually better without it.) Aside from casse-croutes, food prices were exhorbitant (except for the usual subsidized stuff--baguettes and various staple items). Later, when my parents had gone and John's and my restaurant meals were no longer being subsidized, I would buy fresh vegetables and meat from the central market and supplement them with canned items we had on the boat.
When the alternator/regulator issue had again been wrested from our control (it would be another two weeks before the new regulator would be successfully ordered, shipped, and--this is often the stumbling block--located after arriving), the four of us and Saros made our way over to the nearby island of Moorea and John and I were treated to five luxurious days and nights at the Hotel Bali Hai. We stayed in very comfortable bungalows near a pool, which we never used, and spent the days catching up on each other's news, sampling a sizable number of the local French restaurants (all of which I thought were quite good), and shopping for pareo (the singular, pareu, is pronounced "pah-ray-uh;" our guide book neglected to mention this, and we went around for a few days saying it through pursed lips, vaguely thinking it was French and rhymed with bleu) which are rectangular pieces of fabric dyed in a wide array of colors and worn by Polynesian women and men (and, of course, by tourists) in countless different ways depending on how it is folded, wrapped and knotted.
Though I haven't asked them, I think the high point of the trip for my parents, my father anyway, was snorkeling. This was my father's first snorkeling experience (my mother's second, I believe) and he took to it like a hippo to water: avidly, if without grace. He enjoyed himself so much--or so it appeared--that after a while I gave up trying to get him to keep his feet off the bottom, and his bottom off the coral heads. Toward the end he did seem to be spending more time approximately horizontal, but not before I snapped some classic photos with a disposable underwater camera. Had I known at the time about the hazards lurking all around us--the deadly spines of stone fish and some kind of poisonous little cone-shaped creature--I'm sure we wouldn't have had nearly as much fun.
The low point of the trip--I don't have to confirm this one--was our boat ride back to Papeete, during which John piloted, I read, and my parents took turns being sick. It was a very bumpy ride on choppy seas, with the noisy engine running the whole time (the wind being straight on the nose); also, it rained heavily. But I assure you it had nothing on our trans-Pacific crossing!
After my parents left we kept ourselves busy in Papeete--we've long since learned not to just wait for parts we've ordered--but didn't dare stray any distance from the city lest the parts should arrive, bounce, and head back whence they came. When the regulators arrived we did a little dance of joy and then John installed one (and put the other in a very safe place), hooked the new alternator back up, started the ignition, and--we did some more dancing--the batteries charged. And not too much or too little; just the right amount.
We were free to leave, but now we didn't want to! We rented a car and finally got to see something of Tahiti. Much of the coast road was extremely scenic, with lagoon or crashing surf on one side and views of steep, angular mountains on the other, and we took two interesting detours into the interior. We spent one night at a picturesque little pension at the isthmus of Tahiti Nui, the main land mass, and Tahiti Iti, a large appendage (quaintly called "Presqu'Ile" in French, almost an island) to the southeast. The pension consisted of three or four simple French dwellings, the grounds overrun with wild flowers and herbs, and sat perched on a hillside with views out over farmland, the isthmus below, and the ocean on either side of that. Beyond lay the craggy mountains of Tahiti Nui. It was too lovely for words! I felt certain Provence must look like this, though without the ocean views on both sides, of course. Just up the hill the road curved away to the left and disappeared between two rows of ancient trees. In the morning, we checked out and, at my insistence, followed the road uphill until we were deep in the heart of magical Tahiti Iti. Rather than push the limits of my descriptive powers any further, I think I will just post the photos, if we can manage to find a scanner out here.
We left Papeete for the second and last time three weeks ago. And of all the thousands of islands in the South Pacific, John decided to head back to Moorea. I wasn't too keen on the idea at first, but I couldn't exactly argue that we were in a hurry--we won't be heading for New Zealand until November, for weather reasons, and the rest of our "schedule" is flexible. When we arrived in Cook's Bay, Moorea, once again and looked up at the towering green monoliths all around it, like the ruins of a massive cathedral, I was very glad we had returned. And the adjacent bay, Oponohu, was if anything more spectacular. In all, we sampled four anchorages, including two within the lagoon but outside of the bays and closer to the good snorkeling along the reef. We hiked one afternoon from the island's main port, on the east coast, over a ridge with fabulous views, and down again to Cook's Bay in the north. And we visited Marimari Kellum, a longtime resident of Moorea whose grandfather's schooner had made possible the pioneering archaeologic investigations of Polynesian marae in the 1920's. (John just happened to have read the biography of Kenneth Emory, the archaeologist who had conducted these early studies, and was hoping for a few tidbits about him and his work, but in this endeavor was disappointed, possibly owing to the fact that Marimari herself had not come into existence until long after the 1920's.)
And now here we are in Huahine, and it's taken me so darn long to write this all down that I can now update the update and tell you that it's been almost a week since the bicycles were stolen and we're going to give up in another two days and move on to Raiatea, our next port of call. We expect to leave French Polynesia for the Cook Islands in another week and a half, then Tonga, then New Zealand. Lately there has been talk aboard Saros of sailing her ourselves to New Zealand afterall, now that the unmentionable passage of three months ago is but a dreamlike memory. We'll let you know what happens.