Fenua Enata: Where’d everybody go?

The valley of Hikeu, topped by one of the island's legendary stone spires.

There is nothing like laying eyes on new land after a long, tough passage at sea. The remote, uninhabited bay was an ideal place to dry out, rest, and re-organize Swell. Over the week that followed, we set foot on solid land to stretch our legs and explore the jungle-covered valley. To our great delight, we found loads of wild food to be foraged! After a trip to the town on the southern point for drinking water, the locals assured us that we were welcome to eat anything growing the valley. Wild oranges, papayas, limes, pumpkin, fei bananas, grapefruit, guavas, and even taro and sweet potato roots! We sat in the shade and gorged ourselves on mangos until it hurt.

Papayas a plenty.

But apart from the edible bliss the valley offered, there was an unmistakable aura of mystery and tragedy in the air.  Remnants of the ancient civilization that once blossomed there were all around us. The in-tact stone foundations of their homes–‘pae pae’ as they are called– nearly lined the river the entire length of the valley. The ancient Marquesans were skilled masons. They built these foundations for their homes and communal areas by artfully stacking (and often cutting) enormous stones into large flat areas on which they then built structures of coconut palm, bamboo, and other local woods. All those pae-paes, but yet wild goats and horses were the only other warm-blooded creatures to be found? Where’d everybody go?

Fenua Enata is the original name for the Marquesas Islands. It means ‘the land of people’, which suited the archipelago well before the catastrophe brought on by contact with European explorers in the 16th century. Fenua Enata supported an estimated 100,000 people on the six inhabited islands! In addition to the many native edibles already there, the Polynesians came with boars, sapling breadfruit trees, chickens, and surely some fruit varieties. Add the plentiful fish in the surrounding waters; no one went hungry.

In Herman Melville’s account of living among the locals in Fenua Enata in his book ‘Typee” in 1842, he describes a fully operational, well-structured society. He describes marvelous cooperative acts of building, tools crafted from stone and shells, and a clever way of storing breadfruit, their staple carbohydrate, so that it could be eaten throughout the off-season. And yes, cannibalism occurred–they believed that the power of a great warrior killed in battle could be passed on by ceremonially consuming a piece of his flesh. Only certain members of the tribe could participate in this ritual, it wasn’t just a random ‘all-you-can-eat’ human buffet like early explorers envisioned. And without pointing fingers, I can think of numerous barbaric acts that Europeans committed around the same time period!

A 'pae pae'–stone foundational structure of ancient Marquesan homes. Many locals' homes are still built upon them today.

Anyhow, because the islanders lacked natural immunity and experience treating the new diseases introduced by contact with European sailors, people died off in masses. The population was reduced to about 20,000 by the middle of the 19th century. Even after the French had taken claim to the islands by force, and despite the pleas from some of the French residing there in the years that followed, France refused medical aid. The population nearly died out entirely! At its lowest, the population of all six islands declined to just over 2,000 or in 1925…:(

Fortunately, the culture of Fenua Enata survived, but even today, the ‘Land of People’ is comparatively ‘people-less’, with the current population around 10,000 inhabitants. Not all the valleys are connected by roads. Horses, brought by the explorers, are still a highly used mode of transportation. But with modernity taking root, many people now choose to live in the more populated valleys–where there are schools for their children, stores, imported supplies, and more jobs available.

…Seated on my stone throne under the giant mango tree, I quietly paid respect to the ancient inhabitants of the valley, thanking them for planting the tree that bore the very piece of fruit in my hand…a legacy ongoing…

I cherished every moment in the valley where, for now, nature reigns…

Oops…so distracted by nature's beauty I stepped in the mud!

Airborne Popcorn and Free Showers at the Aquatic Rodeo: Passage Part 3

No lines for the 'free showers' at the aquatic rodeo! Yeeee haaaaaaaaa!!

The fourth night was sleepless again. I rose constantly to check the wind direction—still ENE!!?!? Swell bashed into the waves more than I’d have liked, but we really needed to make some distance. If the weather panned out as now predicted, there were howling easterlies on the way. If we didn’t make it before they set in, we’d surely be blown west of our destination.

Day 5

Finally, after dawn the wind gradually shifted down into the east and miles started to melt away on. My mate was clearly back among the living and things started looking up. I cooked some pasta, read, but couldn’t get myself to fall asleep with the boat leaping and crashing around like she was.

Around 10pm, the predicted easterlies set in with a vengeance. I shortened sail over and over until we were left with only a 3rd reefed main and a little swatch of jib. For the third night in a row, I couldn’t get my body to sleep. With the creaking, moaning, bashing, and the howl of the wind I’d have had as much luck falling asleep on a rollercoaster.

Day 6

At 5am I gave up resting and climbed up into the cockpit. We’d deviated badly off course in the last four hours. The horizon illuminated slowly in the east, revealing the enormous mountains of water bearing down upon us one after the next. I’d taken down so much sail in that we were only going about 2-3 knots. We had 150 miles to go and were loosing ground quickly to the west.

Raiarii emerged from the cabin. “What is it?” he asked. I must have been wearing the anxiety on my face.

“I…I…I don’t know if we’re going to make it…” I replied. “We’re so close, but in these conditions it’s really going to be tough.” I was thick and slow with fatigue after days without sleep and the thought of the ensuing battle was more than I could bear.

“I’m going to hand steer,” he declared. “Let’s put some sail back up.”

His determination fueled my own. We rolled out more jib. In order to point into the wind, we needed more speed. He took the wheel and I went down and tried again to rest. Swell was launching over wave crests and exploding into the following trough with sickening air-drops. Imagine trying to sleep while your buddy crashes your car into a wall over and over…

I finally gave up and went to check on the pilot. The seas were enormous! The sky was dangerously blue from horizon to horizon. Wind drove the crests furiously off the wave tops. They tumbled toward us, often colliding just at the right angle to explode over us. Despite my offers to take over, Raiarii held the wheel for 7 hours straight. Swell was taking some blows, but we made forward progress. I slammed into walls and corners while fetching items below. Halfway through cooking popcorn, Swell made such an appalling ‘drop-roll-slam’, that the pan went flying off the stove. Kernels exploded across the cabin and the oil spilled into the flame as I leapt to cut off the gas…

Needless to say, it was crackers and cheese again…

Around midday Raiarii reluctantly handed over the wheel. His eyes were beginning to cross and he was crusted white with salt. He poured a bottle of water over his face, and collapsed in the corner of the cockpit in his wet clothes.  Some of the towering seas stole my breath as they approached. It looked like they might just swallow us whole, but despite my white-knuckles, Swell climbed up and over each wave face. Steering required constant maneuvering and anticipating the sea’s next move. But time and again, an unscrupulous wave mafia would gang up and send a rush of sea over us and on down into the cabin.

We carried on like that into the evening—switching off at the wheel–and made significant distance until a squall from the NE swallowed us. At the same time, I was trying to decide whether to carry on to our destination—89 more miles upwind, or cut north to an island a little farther away but at nearly at a beam reach to the wind. We were both hungry, exhausted, and badly wanted to make port—any port!–the following day. The squall made it easy to decide, pushing us off to the north, and we quickly agreed to shift our destination to Ua Pou, rather than Fatu Hiva. Raiarii’s seasick ‘patch’ stated being effective for ‘3 days’, meaning the following day it would start wearing off!

With our shift in direction, the wind was dead at the beam, making for a MUCH smoother ride. I managed to sleep nearly two hours after our dinner of Ramen soup and took the wheel at 10pm feeling quite refreshed. Raiarii had steered most of the day, and crumpled into a deep sleep on the floor of the cabin. I held the wheel through the night. I turned off the GPS, steering solely by the compass. With Zen focus, I was determined to keep the bow aligned within the two glowing lines that marked our course. There was only blackness all around and a burning in my arms and shoulders from fighting Swell’s starboard pull towards the wind…but with the wind at the beam, we were now cutting cleanly through the nasty waters at 6-8 knots! I ignored my aching muscles, the occasional wave in the face, my thirst and hunger, and my cold wet feet. There was only one thing on my mind…get there, just get there!!!

By the time Raiarii woke, Swell and I had put 50 miles behind us.  My eyes blurred. I was soaked, salty, and shivering. My back and arms burned with fatigue. I fetched two pairs of socks from below and put them on my chilly pruned feet and laid down in my foulies, poking my nose into the fresh air out of the hood of my NanoStorm Patagonia jacket because the cushion stunk so badly of mildew. But mildew or not, I closed my eyes knowing we would make landfall by the afternoon…We were 35 miles away!

I awoke after two real hours of sleep to see Raiarii’s face glowing out of the blackness by the light of the compass. His face was stoic, focused, but riddled with fatigue. We switched off again…

Day 7

In the light of dawn, a squally morning was upon us. Weaving in and out of the rain for a few hours, suddenly something could just barely be made out behind the clouds…A craggily rock spire emerged before us, revealing what we so desperately longed to see—an island!! A real-live, dirt, rock, flower, and tree-covered island!! Oh the joy!! We passed a tiny village on the southernmost point, and sailed north, finding a deserted bay and snagging a tuna on the way in…

LAND HO!!!!!!! Oh the blissful sight….

The tall surrounding cliffs, the sprawling green valley sprawling , the awe inspiring rock spire atop the mountain, the waterfall pouring into the sea at the mouth of the bay, the echoing bleats of baby goats high on the cliffs, the round black stone beach, and the river running out along the cliff…I was overwhelmed! I find it amazing how the excitement of arrival can so quickly wash away the pain of a torturous ocean passage!

We made poisson cru with the tuna, which seemed to immidiately restore the vitamins we were lacking after 6 days of eating soda crackers, plain pasta, and popcorn. I felt a surge of energy–enough to haul the soggy cushions, clothes, books, foulies, towels, etc up into the sun.

“That was one hell of a maiden voyage,” I told Raiarii. He’d exceedingly proved his worth and courage, even in the thralls of seasickness.

“I loved it!” He declared. Either he was nuts, masochistic, or both… The makings of a great sailor!

“This just might work out,” I thought.

We laughed, still hardly believing we’d really arrived. Then I curled up in a dry, shaded corner, and fell into a long, healing sleep…

We made it!!!!…I guess that's one way to test out a man: bring him to sea on a 7-day hell mission and see what happens!?!

Greenhorn meets the ‘Isles of Disappointment’: Passage Part 2

Double Rainbow!!!!!!!! What does it meeeeeeeeean?!

Day 3

An uneventful night had allowed for a bit of sleep. But not long after shutting my eyes for a nap around 10am, I heard Raiarii call me. I sat up straight to see a double rainbow arching off our stern. I rubbed my eyes, “DOUBLE RAINBOW!?!?!! What does it meaaaaan!!?!…Thanks for waking me up! It’s beautiful!”

“Oui, mais regarde devant…(Yeah, but looks what’s ahead…)” He said.

I turned to face the bow. A sinister line of dark clouds stretched completely across the horizon.

“Oooohwww, so that’s what it means…”

I shortened sail and we soon found ourselves amidst frenzied, white-out rain and gusty winds. The wind shifted to the north-northeast, so we set the sails in heave-to position, figuring it would soon pass and we’d be back on our way…

Unlike normal hit-and-run squalls, it didn’t clear for more than an hour…

“Weird,” I thought.

When it finally cleared, it left behind a ripped up sea and persistent northeasterly wind. Ugh, we were off-course by 15 degrees…Odd, there wasn’t northeast wind in the forecast? I managed to download the most recent weather report and send Swell’s position to my father. The new report showed that the low below us had deepened and shifted more south than predicted, and the new forecast called for mounting ENE winds, strengthening out of the east in a couple days.

Hmmm…we were too far out to turn around, and there were no islands nearby to seek shelter…So we plowed on–preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best.

The wind stubbornly stayed ENE longer than forecasted. I decided we should tack off to the southeast, shorten sail, and wait for the wind to turn back into the east. All the forecasts called for east winds in the next few hours, so we bobbled along making reverse progress, but at least firmly holding our easterly position. We waited, waited, waited…but the wind stayed ENE all night!? I didn’t sleep a wink…By morning we’d made a giant figure eight on the chartplotter.

Same as the day prior, we were 15 miles from the ‘Isles of Disappointment’…

Day 4

“All too fitting…the Disappointing Islands!” I whined. We should have been arriving that day, but there we were barely over halfway and going backwards!

Around midday the wind was still too northerly. Tepoto and Napuka were just a stone’s throw off the bow. We spotted a white house and a tempting white sand beach, but neither island offered any sheltered anchorage—which may have been the origin of the archipelago’s name…?! Despite the taunting tranquility of the palms, we bucked on until deciding to tack back, even if we’d be off course.

Wet and tired of moving away from our destination, we came about, managing to move ahead not too far off course. Finally, the ‘miles-to-go’ started shrinking rather than growing! But by late afternoon, I had another worry–Raiarii was sicker than ever. I started to fear dehydration, as he hadn’t been able to keep a sip of water in his stomach since the day prior. He was prone in the cockpit, weak, and wet from the water that was spraying over the deck. He couldn’t go below to get dry for fear of being sicker. He hadn’t eaten much since our first day’s meal, and nothing I mentioned appealed to him. And I could relate, I wasn’t feeling all that hot myself…

Desperate not to kill my new mate on his first ocean passage, I dug through the medical bag…

“Skin Infection…No……… ‘Diarrhea…No’……….‘Cold/Flu’…No………..‘Stings/Itch’…No… ‘Sea Sickness’….There it is!” I pulled out the Ziploc and began shuffling through its contents…

I thought I’d tried them all. Nothing ever seemed to help me, but amongst the Ginger pills, Dramamine, Bonine and pressure point wrist bands was a little white envelope that read, “Transderm Scop: Contains 1 Patch”. It was one of those scolpolamine patches that you stick behind your ear. Katie had left one aboard Swell in 2008 and I figured he might as well give it a try? He stuck it behind his ear and returned to his wad in the corner.

Three hours later, the greenhorn Tahitian was behind the helm again, steering Swell amongst the rowdy seas!?!  The patch worked a miracle!!

“What should we eat for dinner?” He grinned.

Relieved Cappy and the Greenhorn just after the seasickness patch started taking effect.

‘Lowered’ to the Occaison: Passage Part 1

Dreamy 'Day 1': Swell wearing all her canvas! Photo: Courtesy of Francois on 'Apaiti'

Day 1

After hopping upwind through the atolls little by little, the Marquesas Islands finally sat at a reasonable cross-angle to the prevailing easterlies. With typical trades, Swell would be close-reaching. With anything but northeast wind, and it was likely to take about 4 days to make the 550-mile trip. And with new, able-bodied Tahitian crew aboard, I was less intimidated by the stretch of water ahead. All weather forecasts showed the wind turning east/southeast for the next week, blowing between 10-15 knots…just right! It looked like the moment to head out.

I was getting itchy to see green, fruit-laden mountains rise from the sea after all that time in the atolls! We hauled the dinghy aboard and Swell rode the outgoing tide out of the lagoon’s pass…

The open sea welcomed us with blue skies and 8-9 knots of steady wind. Swell sliced gracefully through the gentle lumps of sea, flaunting all her canvas, and trailing a foamy white swirl among the endless spread of glittering neon blue. Raiarii delighted in hand steering, looking all too comfortable at the helm nearing sundown. A sailor’s dream day!

I finally put the wind vane to work as the air grew cool and crimsons swirled in the west. We ate polenta cakes with lentils and chopped cabbage, munching away as Taurus and Orion greeted us in the east…

Day 2

A wet, windless squall enveloped Swell around 2 am.  I motored through it until the wind returned, but by morning, high horse tail clouds and confused seas revealed change in the weather. The wind increased gradually by early afternoon. We’d shortened sail, but held our course and speed. By afternoon we’d made good progress, but Raiarii wasn’t feeling great. He’d lost his lunch earlier in the day, and wasn’t looking all that excited for our next meal.

Suddenly, Swell rounded up into the wind, sails luffing wildly…I looked around for what had gone wrong??

…Aft of Swell, I noticed something flashing in the water…

The wind vane rudder had sheared off at the post and was dangling behind!! Luckily, it was tied to Swell with a security line. I hauled it up and examined the break. While I searched for the spare parts for the wind vane, Raiarii managed to remove the broken stainless tubing from inside rudder’s shaft. Amazingly, I found the part we needed. We secured it to the rudder, but how were we going to get the rudder back onto the wind vane?

The sun had just set, and the seas were big enough that getting in the water seemed out of the question. Raiarii hadn’t eaten since our first evening meal, and Swell’s movement had turned into drunken lurching with the sails down…

I shimmied over the stern, dangling down toward where we needed to insert the rudder arm, but my arms stopped a full foot short…

“Hold my feet, I’m going down.” He said.

“But…!?” Before I could finish he was dangling headfirst over the stern with the repaired rudder in hand. In less than a minute, the piece was back in place and I passed him the stainless pin. He aligned the holes, pushed the pin through, and secured it with a ring on the exposed end…He came up, red from the blood rush to his head, but soon pale again from Swell’s wretched rolling. But it was fixed! So I put the tools away, and got Swell underway again…

Making Yogurt is a …Breeze…

A batch of yogurt ready to go in the fridge…

It’s so easy!

You need…

-1 cup/serving of your favorite store-bought yogurt

-½ gallon (2L) milk

-Glass jars or preferred storage container(s)

Here’s what you do…

Since powdered milk is all that’s usually available where I am, I make ½ gallon of milk using hot water and then wait until it cools to just warmer than tepid. If you are using real milk, let the milk warm to room temperature or a little warmer (put it in a sunny corner of the room).

Next, stir in the serving of your favorite yogurt. Stir well until it’s all one consistency.

Pour into jars/container.

Set them in a warm, sunny area for 4-5 hours or until liquid takes on a yogurt consistency. I cover my jars in a black t-shirt to attract and trap heat. If it’s not sunny or otherwise, I light the pilot in my gas oven and put the jars inside. It just needs to be warm enough for the yogurt bacterium to do their thing…Maybe on top of the refrigerator where it’s slightly warm, near the heater vent, etc.

Come back in a few hours and you have yogurt! Now you can put it in the fridge like usual. Add fresh fruit or jam. Eat with granola or honey…so good, nutritious, and uses less plastic!

Learning to Live With a Little

No Costco or Vons nearby, but visual feasts of natural beauty!

After more than 5 months in the atolls, I came to understand a bit more what it’s like to live without all the choices and abundance to which we in the US are accustomed. Life on a circular strip of coral in the middle of the Pacific is not all swaying palms and rosy sunsets. The Puamotu people couldn’t get by without a wealth of courage, creativity, maybe most importantly, a sense of humor! One of my intentions for visiting this region was to experience living with less for an extended period of time….

While provisions ran low, spirits remained high! I found it refreshing not to have the option to buy a bunch of stuff I really don’t need. It’s fun to be resourceful with what’s available. I don’t deny missing certain foods–especially fresh fruit and veggies (more specifically arugula and blueberries!)—but in another sense, it was centering to have limited options at hand. I enjoyed the challenge of making tasty culinary concoctions mostly straight from the local environment. Hearts of palm salad with a homemade vinaigrette was a favorite, along with the local staple–‘poisson cru’– raw fish with lime and coconut milk. From time to time I found someone selling veggies out of their garden–always a welcome surprise. I became an efficient bread-maker, and I came to think of making bread as a noble activity that connects me to all of bread-making and bread-breaking history… I even learned how to make yogurt–it’s SO EASY!? My first batch left me feeling a mix between astonished and ashamed to have been buying those individual plastic yogurt servings all these years! I’ll post a yogurt ‘how-to’ soon…

All in all, I learned that ‘living with a little’ made me appreciate even little things a whole LOT. My life feels richer when I can appreciate the simple joys!

Simple joy: hot bread with butter! I had to cook my bread in a pan, while my oven was broken…first ingredient: love.

It became clear that atolls are prime candidates for using wind and solar energy. In 5 months, I used less than 1/2 gallon of gasoline in the generator for Swell’s daily energy requirements–including refrigeration, lights, computer, music, water pump, etc. The solar panels and wind generator were constantly pumping amps into the batteries. There is so much wind and sun! As for transportation, approximately 12 gallons of gasoline and 8 gallons of diesel were burned between my outboard and inboard motors, probably less than I’d burn in a week in California! Clothes washed by hand. No vacuums or electric kitchen appliances…just good ol fashion broom and whisk.

Without mountains to block the wind, nor attract clouds, the solar panels and wind generator provided more than enough power for my electrical needs!

My lettuce varieties, radishes, spinach, and bok choy grew surprisingly well…until the stormy 6 day passage to Marquesas.

The native noni fruit was highly utilized in traditional local medicine. A woman showed me how to ferment it, extract the juice, boil it lightly, and then drink a few ounces every few days to help detoxify the body.

And of course, plenty of fresh fish…you just have to know which NOT to eat! This tuna made for a week's worth of meals, even after giving half away.

Living simply can be a true pleasure and a daily adventure wherever you are!

And She’s Off…

Swell and I underway in Marquesas…Photo thanks to Margo aboard 'Silver Lining'!

I’m off to chase down some waves!! …More updates coming as soon…until then, stay inspired!