We have spent five weeks at sea and our journey from the Galapagos Islands to Fatu Hiva has finally come to an end. Most ships make the journey faster and keep in touch with each other using a short-wave radio. They can talk to each other and even send emails, and soon it turns out that people were worried about us.
We go ashore on this fairy-tale island and discover that the small village consists of well-built houses and there is even a small shop. The people here are eager to trade stuff. One of the men we meet wants rope to make a hammock. Unfortunately, we don't have enough rope and at first he seems a bit disappointed, but in exchange for a few t-shirts and lighters we receive an enormous amount of fruit.
The main object of interest on this island is the waterfall and like all other sailors we climb to the top to rinse the salt off our bodies in a freshwater pool. On Sunday it's Mother's Day, we are invited to the village's common area in the morning to join in eating from the huge pies which have been baked. There are mostly women present who drink beer and dance to the music of two guitar players. Dory receives a necklace of small tomatoes and is congratulated.
After about a week we are fully rested and we hoist the sails again. After a night of sailing and a turbulent trip we arrive on Hiva Oa. Here we can use an ATM, do our shopping and.... use the internet!? We put our laptop in a waterproof bag and sail to the shore. We then spend 45 minutes walking up to a beautiful hotel. The staff are dressed in colourful sarongs, which always make us wonder how they are kept in place. We can use the internet connection for about 20 euros per hour. We drink a few beers and two hours later we descend again, after having spent 65 euros; but the website has been updated, we have read our email and all spam has been deleted.
We spend at least another four weeks sailing around the Marquesas Islands and visit Tahuata, Ua Huka, Nuku Hiva and Ua Pou. Most islands are characterised by sharp rocks, the landscape is truly fantastic and the people are extremely friendly. We walk through the hills to beautiful viewpoints and snorkel at various sites in the crystal-clear sea. Since the islands are relatively young, there is no coral, but the many species of fish form a beautiful, colourful underwater world.
One morning, in the Nuku Hiva bay, while we are having breakfast in the cockpit, we notice strange waves in the bay in the distance, and every now and then something sticks out from the water. Is it sharks? It turns out to be a large group of manta rays entering the bay. We get in our dinghy and row to them, they swim underneath us like flying carpets. They are at least three metres wide, so big that sometimes we can see the ends of the wings of one ray sticking out from the water on either side of our dinghy. When we carefully get into the water from our dinghy, they stay at a safe distance and calmly continue their plankton breakfast which they consume while swimming with wide open mouths. All day they swim around the bay and at the end of the day we get another chance to take a picture of one.
The Tuamotus and the Society Islands
It's a Sunday and, like most Sundays, we breakfast on crepes with jam and sugar. Happy Monster is anchored within the coral reef of Tahiti, which is the island with the largest number of inhabitants of the Society Islands, even of the whole of French Polynesia. We look at pictures of Kauehi, one of the atolls in the Tuamotus. An atoll is a ring of coral only a few metres of which stick out of the water, and with a diameter as big as fifty kilometres. Within the coral ring, the water tends to be very shallow, so you have to be very careful where you sail. An atoll used to be a volcano once and the whole thing still sinks at a speed of one millimetre per year. One day, Tahiti, with its beautiful mountain slopes, will be no more than an atoll, but we won't live to see that.
After a week of sailing, we arrived at Kauehi and after the rolling waves during the trip, with a tough wind at times, the perfectly quiet water inside Kauehi was a relief. During our first hike, we walked to the outside of the atoll to watch the ocean and to see where we had come from. Apparently, we couldn't get enough, the ocean keeps drawing us back.
In the whole of French Polynesia, pearls are cultured everywhere and we visit the pearl farm on Kauehi. Tiny balls are put into oysters, after which the pearl grows around the ball. We sail across the extensive area where thousands of floating balls hold up the lines containing the oysters. Many oysters were contained in cylindrical containers made of wire netting, probably to protect them from greedy fish. At the end of our tour of the farm, we bought a few beautiful pearls. After a week we left Kauehi and continued our journey to Tahiti. It turned out to be a rough journey with a lot of wind and seasickness.
We are still on French territory; we never knew the French overseas territories were this big, consisting of over one hundred islands, scattered over an area as big as Europe. Papeete on Tahiti is the capital of French Polynesia and for the first time in months we're in a big city with lots of traffic and traffic jams. We have to get used to the cars rushing past left and right. But after a few days we walk through the city as if it's all we've ever done. We buy a new monitor and hard disk for our computer and we treat ourselves to a new dinghy. We can no longer bear having to apply glue all the time, only to discover that our Maxi is still leaking, always arriving on shore with wet feet and with Hans having to bail all the time. Launching our new Mini is a low point though, since it turns out it is leaking as well. Fortunately, we soon discover that we have to install the self-draining plug and then we can finally sail without having to worry about losing the bottom of our boat.
Stingrays on Moorea
After about a week we leave Papeete's bustle and sail to Moorea. On arrival we find an anchorage within the reef where the water is incredibly clear. One morning, we see a spotted ray swim underneath Happy and we can also see other tropical fish from the boat. We are in the middle of an aquarium.
On Moorea, stingrays are fed as a tourist attraction. Other sailors explain to us how to get there and after a quick service, Mickey starts without any problems and we are on our way. The trip takes more than an hour, but it's a fantastic trip in our new little boat. To the right we can see the reef with beautiful light blue-green water, with the surf behind it; to the left we can see the island with green mountain slopes and a huge hotel, which, like almost all hotels in French Polynesia, consists of small reed houses. They look traditional on the outside, but the interior is probably very luxurious.
At last we arrive at the site where the rays are fed. About a dozen people are breast-high in the water and from afar we can see a lot of flapping around them. We drop our dinghy's anchor and get into the water as well. The rays come up to us straight away and they feel like soft velvet. One of the guides provides us with some fresh fish and the rays actually touch us. Then someone draws our attention to the sharks which are swimming around us at a short distance, they are a bit timid and shy. With our snorkels, we can look at them properly under water, they are small reef sharks of about one metre and they have a black fin.
After about an hour we are back in our little boat and when we set off for our return trip we see black, threatening clouds gathering, a squall is approaching and we sail back in our little boat in the howling wind and piercing rain. Fortunately, these showers never last long and we are relieved when the sun starts shining again and Mickey continues to sputter happily.
Moorea is a lovely place, we walk across the island and snorkel a few times in the crystal-clear water, but after a week it is time to move on.
Setting up the barbie on Huahine
We sail to Huahine where we drop anchor between many friends' boats. Oliver of the Bess is celebrating his birthday. Around five o'clock all sailors gather on the small beach below the palm trees for his birthday party. Everyone brought some food and we enjoy all the dishes, which are very varied because of the many different nationalities. We stir up the fire in the barbecue and while the red-hot sun is setting we roast the steaks, sausages and chicken. A young man is cleaning fish while standing with his feet in the water and when we come nearer, we see that he has caught a lot of parrot fish. They are beautiful fish with magnificent colours and it's a sad idea that these fish will be eaten. When night falls, Hans and Steven get out their guitars and start to play. Together they make beautiful music and the birthday party is perfect. What a wonderful life we are living.
The next morning, we want to go on shore with Mini but it turns out that Mickey, despite a very recent service, refuses to start. By now, we have become experts at this and within ten minutes we have taken apart the carburettor to clean it once again. We even go a step further and replace the bobbin. As a result, Mickey is working properly again and we hope it will stay like this for quite a while.
Vanilla on Tahaa
After Huahine, we arrive at the island Tahaa which is famous for producing vanilla; tons of vanilla are exported every year. Together with Simon and Allison of the Roxi we visit a small plantation. Here we learn that the flowers are fertilised manually by people because originally, vanilla didn't grow on the island and therefore there are no animals which visit the flowers. Once the vanilla beans are big enough, they are picked and dried on huge tables. Two months later they are ready to be sold. At the end of our tour, we buy two bags of beans and a jar of vanilla powder (feel free to share your recipes).
On the way back, we see enormous bunches of bananas at the side of the road and on closer inspection it turns out some of the bunches are already rotting. Via a mud track we go looking for the owner of the trees and ask him kindly if we can have some bananas. A friendly man with a huge knife approaches us and we wonder how he is going to climb the tree, but this turns out to be very simple: he chops down the whole tree and then cuts off the banana stem. Then he chops down another tree and Simon and Allison also receive a complete stem of bananas. They usually ripen all at once, but fortunately we meet many other sailors so we can hand them out generously. Bananas cost about two euros a bunch in the shops, by the way, so this was a lucky break. Later on, we will bake more banana bread, banana cake and we'll make banana yoghurt, all of it with vanilla.
After Tahaa, we arrive at Bora Bora where we publish this story on the website and prepare ourselves for a week of sailing. We are going to leave French Polynesia and sail to Suwarrov, one of the Cook Islands.
(The picture of us feeding the stingrays was taken by Ciel of the sailing ship Toscane.)
(Translated from dutch to english by Percy Balemans)