Thursday, October 27, 2011

Island Hopping

Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa – French Polynesia

Our first real passage since the boys left feels...refreshing, actually.

It feels good to be moving towards our goal.  It just feels good to be moving.  Wind in the sails, wind in your hair.  Bring on that horizon!

With no further time to waste, we hit 3 islands in a week.  In Huahine we mostly do touristy things the Lonely Planet tells us to.  We visit the pearl farm & vanilla plantation.  I went hiking up to a viewpoint to take some alone time, getting back in time for the best deal Happy Hour we've found since Panama - 750francs/pitcher (~8.50$).  Captain & I buddy up on times like these.

My big event on Huahine was the World Cup of Rugby final.  All the French Polynesians have been cheering for New Zealand all tournament, with the exceptional promise to cheer for France if they are the unlucky bastards to play the AllBlacks in the final.  And so it goes.  Just in time to watch the Hakka - perfect timing!  I am invited to drink French wine while I cheer with the only other AllBlack fan.  Final score 8-7 for the home team.  The restaurant was filled with loads of disappointed French & one grumpy South African who can't cheer for NZ out of good conscience.  This is the Olympics for the Kiwis, & with Aukland as the host city, they will surely leave it in ruins!

According to Lonely Planet, Raiatea is the yachting capital of FP.  They must be crazy.  It’s a big island with small infrastructure.  At the end of a secluded bay, we take the dinghy upriver as an ode to Apocalypse Now.  Immersed into the valley, mangroves canopying overhead & palms brimming the shores.  Very quiet with beautiful flowers drifting all around.  A man on an outrigger canoe accompanies us to help guide us through the shallow patches of the river.  It is suspicious enough company, so we keep our guard up & back out posthaste.

The next day we go in search of a trail called the 3 Waterfalls.  Hanne & Jamie turn back no longer wanting to search (plus H's hit hard by the mosquitoes, but they don't like my cold blood.  Ha!)  I trek on.  It turns out to be vigorous & wonderful!  Bamboo stalks, ropes to help climb up rock faces, many waterfalls & many refreshing pools to cool off in.  Delicious fresh water!  Some things feel better going on your own.  Infused my inspiration.  Fantastic!

I get this feeling that I'm going to get my comeuppance for doing the hike while they forewent it.  Oh well.  Just across from Raiatea sharing the lagoon is Tahaa.  We head to where we were told about a great snorkeling spot.  After we beach the boat, wriggle free, & anchor safely, we ask the French boat next to us describes exactly where to find it.  I'm unsure with the directions.  One thing I do know is that everyone says to bring water shoes to walk on the razor sharp coral.  Yeah, I don't have those so I'll have to do with what I've got.

We go to where there's a very shallow river with a ripping current.  Can you already see how this is going to go wrong?

Hanne & Jamie push on.  I tell myself 'Well I'm NOT going to be left behind!'  While I'm shuffling my feet through the sand, a wave knocks me down & my sandals come up.  Tossed.  Spun around, I grabbed one, reached for the other, scraped along the ground in the meantime.  Clutching some rock outcropping, still only in maybe 2ft of water, with the pressure of the current on my chest & watching my crew meander away.  Great.  I find my way to my feet & over to the dry razor sharp coral where at least it's dry, out of the river & I can wear my shoes.  Limping - fuck.  When H & J come over, I am assessing the damage.  An urchin definitely left its mark on one foot –about 20 spines worth - while the other's just cut up, with a rogue spine in my finger somehow.

I am escorted back to the boat to lick & pick at my wounds & get the correct directions from the French boat.  Not feeling too hot.  It was only minutes before that I was talking about my cactus incident.  My ominous instincts were correct.

Opted out of fun crew activities the next day to rest my feet.  I ended up dancing 13km across the island anyway, dancing in the rain.  It started as a dull throbbing, but it’s no worry.  I’ll be forever taking needles out of my foot & I’ve got time.

It’s funny how it happens, but some things feel more natural alone.  More like anything is possible.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bring on the Horizon

Being on passage is like

Being in space.  Imagine trying to cook without putting anything down on the counter.  Eyes & hands on the alert, trying to make something edible & possibly delicious, while not burning or scalding yourself.  Then start tilting the room.  On really bad days you need a spotter to make sure nothing hits the ground.  Oh sure, we have tricks; sticky mats, a stove on a gimble, strategic places to lean bowls & dishes - still at least once a meal you forget when you put down the, I don't know, cutting board, & everything becomes a bit more of a pain in the ass. 

Being in jail.  No - more like being grounded.  You know when you got in a fight with your parents & you're not allowed to leave the house?  Sometimes you let your tongue lash out, but damnit there's nowhere to run.  Your parents are still inexhaustibly right & you've gotta cool down while still being in their face.  It's like that.

Lifeguarding.  Watches are constant vigilance.  Night watch means keeping check every 10-15 minutes for lights on the horizon at 360 degrees.  Scanning.  Taking note of windspeed, direction & dangers.  Keeping an eye out for whales, mostly out of interest, but also cause they will do you in if you come too close.  Step 1 in a man overboard is Do not take your eyes off the victim.  (Imagine how quickly they'd get lost amongst the waves, currents, glare, with the boat speeding away.)  Could be the beginning of any training situation I've ever done.

Rotations of an hour, every 5 hours all day, 2.5 hours each at night.  Evening watches started when we almost hit a freighter when everyone was chilling out on deck.  I was cooking dinner, & they weren't even going to tell me we almost died!  On the flipside, day watches started when I didn't see a gray wall of rain & wind ahead of us before it passed over us & tore a 25ft rip in our Jenny.  All day watch rotations, with an extra complication of having to steer the last few days before hitting Tahiti.

Camping in your backyard.  Sailing is cool too.  Every night eat dinner under the stars in the fresh air.  Lit by flashlights.  However extravagently, we are still eating mostly out of cans, except with the addition of fun condiments.  Cooking on a gas stove.  Thrill of the outdoors, but our house is literally right there.

Being erased.  Some days you're sure you've fallen out of the world.  Some days are grey all around.  Above and below.  Opaque sky, mercurial sea.  No horizon.  No signs of anything outside yourself.  Nothing.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

See you in the Shallows


A big black headline hung in the air.
GERMAN TOURIST MISSING IN NUKU HIVA
It's gotta be a mistake.  I hope it has nothing to do with Baju.  Please let it have nothing to do with our friends.
This can't be blood the water here is far too blue.


Stef's picture was on the front page of the paper the next day.  I've been holding my breath for a week.  Sending out unheard messages of hope & companionship in desperate times.  And condolences.

They found his remains the following weekend.  Stefan Ramin, 37 - murdered in Nuku Hiva, Marquesas.

The foreign press is screaming cannibalism.  The Tahitian people are beyond appalled at this.  It's insane, isn't it?  Both sides act exactly how you'd expect.  The local media covering their asses & rediculous sensationalism abroad, with a whirlwind in between where good information is lost in the bullshit.

It hit me very hard.  I feel like I've had the wind knocked out of me.
None of this makes sense.  It could just have easily been any of us.  It could easily have been me. 
The scenario was that of dozens I had played out in the past several weeks on these islands.  They put their trust in someone, looking for a sweet real Polynesian experience.  It has only ever been extremely rewarding for me.  It only takes one time, the wrong person, to change everything.

The very last thing I had written was
“I could do worse than to put my faith in Tahitians."

Clamouring for direction, something, anything.
Feeling destructive, foolhardy & wreckless.  Don’t look down, keep climbing.
Trying to do something to stop from spinning...
No - losing control, trying to take back control.
Disassociation.  Things are calm up above.  Take some time to clear your head.
Breathe.

Stef was a super cool guy, & brilliantly nice.  His & Heike were always very hospitable.  Stef had been sailing all his life, while this was Heike’s first experience.  They had taken 3 years getting this far from Germany.  They were set out to explore the world in it’s fullest.  They were the first to congratulate us on the Pacific crossing.  Stef was the only one outside the crew who had been at the helm of Paramour.  He had a quirky sense of humour.  On the whole passage we’d joke about something he always said that conveniently mixed 3 languages –  “oh ja oh ja for sure for sure claro.”
He was a good man.  He was living the dream.

How could this happen.

We are glad Heike was there with our friends on Aquamante.  She wasn’t alone.  I sent her a couple messages, offering to help if at all possible.  Work would ease my restless soul.

I wish for one more day to give my love & repay debts…

Life is short but sweet for certain.

This story's old but it goes on & on until we disappear
We are the risen after the storm
Rest in peace
Washed up on the beach
This is the end.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Return to Paradise

Moorea, French Polynesia

"Nothing on Tahiti is so majestic as what it faces across the bay, for there lies the island of Moorea.  To describe it is impossible.  It is a monument to the prodigal beauty of nature." - James A Michener, Return to Paradise

I spent the weekend with friends on Tahiti & sent the crew on Paramour ahead of me to Moorea with the intention of taking the ferry later & finding them.  My friends on Tahiti said if I had any trouble, I could take the last ferry back & stay with them no problem. I suddenly realized I had no idea which anchorage they might be in, & I was looking at a strange map in the shape of an irregular heart.  It was almost dark, & an hour before the last ferry back.

Adventures don't happen unless you're unprepared.
So I try my luck & stick out my thumb.

When I explained my problem ("I've lost my sailboat"), they gladly took me to look for it.  No luck in the dark.  They invited me to stay over at their house for the evening, to continue the search the next day.  
"Where are you coming home from?"
"From a cockfight.  We train fighting cocks."
"Ah, okay.  And what do you do for work."
"We sell weed."
"Ah."

Johnny & Mivani offered me dinner, cake, a shower, clean clothes to sleep in, breakfast & I played with their 4 year old daughter (Heimahi) all evening.  I came home the next day well rested with orange & purple toenails & another story to tell.

My first of many beautiful nights on Moorea.

This little island had a big impact on me.  Despite what it's famous for, Moorea isn't about ritzy resorts.  It wasn't the white sand beaches, the sunsets, or the gorgeous landscapes that hooked me either.  Although Moorea’s beauty is legendary; it is on the 50, 100 & 500 pieces of FP francs.
It was the people.

Spent a few nights aboard Apetahi's fishing boat, where they taught me that fishermen are the only people who can drink more than sailors.  They granted me sanctuary aboard if I needed to get away & called themselves my Moorean family.  Roland even offered to help pay my way home if I were in trouble, which is absurd.

Watched the World Cup of Rugby quarter-finals over pizza at Denis' house with his brother Tika, Manu, Joel & Terena.  Tika is a semi-pro surfer & turns up in a cellphone commercial between plays (also absurd).  We eat 6 pizzas & all crash on the floor to be up at dawn to hit the morning surf.

Played volleyball with RaeRae's. If a Polynesian family has too many boys, often one will be raised as a girl to help the mother around the house.  They are RaeRae's.  They are quite common throughout the Pacific & have a wicked spike.

Walking by, anyone would strike up a conversation or wave you over.  I met workers in the pineapple fields, construction workers, computer programmers, rowers training for the upcoming competition, chefs, coconut tree trimmers & families sitting on the beach.

I spent some great days zipping around dodging cops on the back of Laurent's scooter.  Utua & Taane fix the internet that's always down, & they would always stop to offer me a ride & a beer.  Eric & Ataria are such cool, friendly dads who helped whistle down my boat & had me sit for a picnic.  Mike saw me wandering past alone, & simply invited me in to rest my weary legs.

Who am I?  Where am I?  What happened to the real world & was it only ever a dream?

Trying to get into trouble never works.  I met some hooligans on the beach & indulged in a beer or two with them.  They brought me back to their house for dinner.  Big house, big family.  I was at my most polite, to be sure I wasn't intruding.  After only a couple minutes of arriving, their father offered me a glass of champagne.  I’ve been adopted.  (Again.)

The Tetuaiteroi family Sunday dinner is a serve-yourself spread of fish, chicken, spaghetti, "s├ęgale", breadfruit beef casserole, fresh bread, coconut & peaches.  All the cousins are down at the beach partying & come home to serve themselves whenever like.  Sweet deal.

Bernard, the middle son, was my designated bodyguard for the night.  His parents were worried because they thought he’d tricked me into coming to their house.  They told him to make sure I get back to the boat safe & take care of me.

The beach filled with cousins has two cars serving as DJ's with wild contrasts of music.  Mid-tempo salsa on one hand, Cotton Eyed Joe remix on the other, followed by Tupac - why not.  Dancing barefoot in the sand under the full moon with my new friends & family.

Strangers become family.

Never told them it was Canadian Thanksgiving that day.  I was far from alone.  I am thankful.

I hiked through the heart of the island, but I'm not sure I walked out...

They taught me generosity.  It is rewarding simply to walk down the street.  I cannot count the number of houses I've walked into in open arms, hands waving to come join them, or cars that stop on the street simply because you're walking.  They see you & smile back.  These days, I smile because I am happy.

The world is beautiful in the eyes of it’s locals.  Watching the world from the inside out.

Moorea made me want to be a better person.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Make Better Use of My Time on Land

Punaauia, Tahiti, French Polynesia

Sometimes when sailors are sailing they think twice about where they’re anchoring
I think I could make better use of my time on land.

Our arrival on Tahiti is anticipated.  Raced past beautiful Marquesas at the beginning of the world & hundreds of unexplored underwater volcanoes in the Tuamotus to get here.

Despite it's exotic connoctations, Tahiti is the industrial hub of this part of the world.  If we had any doubts about finding civilization..  Internet, hotels, highways (well, one highway), bars, nightlife, & all the workings of a proper city.  Lucky for us, since we have to fix some sails (at least 1 but up to 5), order generator parts, buy new batteries, fix the autopilot, collect my credit card, & buy 2 new cameras.

Spent the night drifting.  I spent the night falling asleep during watch in the cockpit.  It is very dangerous to enter a harbour at night without being able to see what you're actually getting yourself into.  The dark is incredibly decieving.  The lights on the coast stretch out over water & feel nearby all the time.  Tahiti is completely surrounded by reef, so even after a long dull night, I will definately agree with this call.

Parked right on the main drag in downtown Pape'ete, the capital of Tahiti & French Polynesia.  We look like gypsies with our house parked on the side of the road.  The convenience of being within stumbling distance of anywhere that sells liquor is positively brilliant.  Welcome to civilization - let the Neanderthals out.

Always looking for excitement.  The Polynesians have taught me alot about trust & I've started a habit (for better or worse) of never refusing anything.  In the most seemingly shady situation I found myself in, these guys lent me a surfboard, & we spent the afternoon chasing waves with a picnic on the beach.
*This is a great example of the generosity & hospitality of Tahitians.  It is inexhaustible.  More on that to come.*

World famous breaks!  Barrels!  Hang Ten!  Gnarly!  The day we went out there was almost nothing.  We circled the island & found some little ones in Papara.  A beach break against black sand.  I didn't do very well, but managed to break a fin on a rock!  It was the shallowest I'd ever been.  I was basking in the moment - admiring the handsome mountains & the beautiful beaches surrounding me.  And out on the waves, there are 3 of us.  That is crazy for The Birthplace of Surfing.  Then 2 of the only 4 people I know in the world are waving from the shore.  It took me a whole minute to even recognize them.  I had even gotten a new suit to disguise myself.  Drat.  I could have gotten some sweet surfing shots from Hanne!  But they would be hilarious cause I am awful.

Teahupoo is the wave on Tahiti Iti with mythological reputation.  A monster reef break that hosts major surf competitions constantly.  Love the culture.  Surfers everywhere, even on the shoulders of channels into the lagoon when the sailboat itself is surfing.  Some days we live on a 46ft surfboard.

After being ratted out, we were going to be charged docking fees for being a disturbance downtown.  What do you mean?  We did not unfold two enormous sails on the sidewalk!  Preposterous!  That was someone else!  Plus the dock kicked us & took a big chunk out of our outer rim.  Okay we get it.  We hung our heads, left to the other marina & stole a private mooring ball for the remainder of the week.  ...and every following weekend.

We spent alot of time in Marina Taina, Punaauia - our first real marina.  It is here we get our heads put back on straight, get some chores done & get the boat in shipshape.  We get to know the bartenders, the security guards, the happy hours, where there's good water & free wifi.  We go whale watching with friends of Jamie's from the Caribbean & Hanne gets a dayjob polishing stainless steel on our friend Neil's yacht.  Friends & friends of friends; we make plans to meet up later with all of them.

One of the superyachts at the marina were hosting a Rugby World Cup dock party for NZ vs France - since all the crew are one or the other.  It was a blast with a full on BBQ & super cool to meet other crew from other boats.  Made a bet with the boys to see who could do the best coaxing to get on board.  They won.  Jimmy & Chris were allowed on board Tiara, the sleek host of the night with the >100ft mast.  Hanne was brought back to a boat in such disrepair she said she would swim home if he didn't take her back immediately.  Meanwhile I was partying with the crew from SuRi, a huge garage yacht filled with toys.  We spent sunrise in the jacuzzi on the roof next to the helicopter.  I think I was the real winner.

(I left my camera at the bar that night & picked it up the following weekend.  The beer & Jamesons that were also in my bag had mysteriously disappeared.  I lost it again at the marina & picked it up the next day.  Possibly also while watching rugby.  :P)

With waterfalls, stunningly beautiful flowers, good surf on black beaches & the friendliest people - I still think the heart of Tahiti lies behind the sunset from Punaauia.  Every night the sun sinks tangerine silhouetting the island just across the bay.  Tahiti's little sister Moorea...