Saturday, July 31, 2010
Unfortunately, we experienced more than one of those moments in preparing for our journey across the Pacific from Nuku Hiva. For starters, the delay in getting the fuel was the issue that nagged at us the most. Although the delay provided us an opportunity to further explore Nuku Hiva, we were concerned about being able to actually get the sufficient amount of fuel that we needed for the long journey. Furthermore, we had cleared out of customs already since they were not going to be open the original day we were to take on fuel, so we were already overstaying our welcome by a few days. Obstacles kept getting in the way and preventing us from being able to physically pull up to the fuel dock.
After four days of waiting we decided to take a stand and motor in to the fuel dock no matter what was in the way. Unsurprisingly, we were greeted with yet another obstacle preventing us from tying up at the fuel dock. The dredging barge was busy at work first thing in the morning, which was a rare occurrence as it hadn’t moved during our entire stay. This particular morning, it had moved to block the entire fuel dock, not even providing a little sliver of dock to attempt to squeeze into. The odds were against us once again, but we were determined to get our fuel. Enraged, Mike went ashore on the dinghy and told the people enough was enough. Eventually, the barge moved over ever so slightly providing us with a narrow window to squeeze in and get our fuel. We never felt like more of an inconvenience.
The calmness of the slow stirring morning at anchor was instantly replaced with adrenaline fueled calamity that no one enjoys experiencing any time of day, let alone first thing in the morning. It was a blur squeezing in between the barge and the concrete dock in a cloud of dust coming from the recently dredged earth. The loud machines muted the screaming men who were trying to tell us where to go and what to do; they looked like frantic mimes as they made grand gestures trying to instruct us. On board Antipodes, we were having our own comic display of charades. We didn’t feel comfortable side tying to this particular dock, but we had to follow protocol if we wanted any cooperation in getting our long overdue fuel. It must have looked like a bad circus act to any outsider who saw our sad attempt at docking. Lines flying through the air, red faces fuming, hands gesturing wildly, and faint shouts over the loud machines charged the environment as Andy and I worked fast trying to keep the 55’ steel boat from smashing into the concrete. Mike was doing an excellent job at the helm, but he was no match for the untamed seas. To make matters worse, the barge moved out of the protection zone of the swell thus exposing the boat to the rough surge that we had hoped to avoid.
As I was preparing to toss a line to one of the men on shore, the boat violently crashed into the concrete dock squeezing the life out of the fenders and launching me across the beam of the boat. Astonished, I stood up trying to gain my composure but ended up looking more like a bird with ruffled tail feathers that had just crashed into a windshield. I immediately tried to get back amongst the madness to get the boat secured but Antipodes had other plans for me.
Upon assuming my previous position I was instructed to move a fender to a better position, but was immediately halted by a large surge that made a toy out of Antipodes and jammed me into a much more precarious position. I screamed in pain as my left arm became trapped and compressed between the steel boat and the concrete dock. I wasn’t sure what had happened and my brain was numb to rational thought given the anxiety of the adrenaline pumping events. As soon as the surge from the sea backed down I was able to pry my arm free and commenced to hop around in an “owie dance” while holding my swollen, throbbing arm. I know one should never attempt to be a human fender, but I guess amidst all the excitement I forgot the first and most important rule: never put any part of your body between the boat and the dock. While in some circumstances, taking the limelight is something I quite enjoy, this was certainly not one of those moments. I was useless and in shock as I screamed and danced around the boat, completely oblivious to the external ruckus around me. I had foiled our plans and as I noticed the boat pull away from the dock, I was worried my antics had ruined our possibility of getting fuel.
Fortunately, I was wrong, and Mike and Andy were able to come up with an alternative idea to med tie the boat which was better suited to the conditions, but they were far from getting a break in the excitement just yet. Just as they were able to secure the fuel hose, they noticed a pair of pink crocs and oars floating in the water around the boat. I remembered a conversation with some of our cruiser friends about pink crocs a few days back and instantly knew who’s shoes they were. I was shouting to the boys that they shoes belonged to our friends on Comfort Zone and that their dinghy had been side tied to the dock while the owner had gone ashore. The boys went to look for the dinghy, but it had disappeared. Finally, when the swells moved out for a second, they spotted the dinghy under the concrete dock. During our little circus act, the surge had managed to pull the dinghy under while emptying it of its contents. Without further delay, Mike and Andy decided to go on a rescue mission, eager for more excitement while I called the respective owner of the pink crocs on the VHF to let her know of the current situation. The boys were successful in their rescue attempt, and managed to salvage the dinghy and its contents without any damage. When they finally got back to Antipodes, we eagerly rushed to get out of there so as to avoid any more hectic events that were thrown our way.
After we got our fuel and safely departed the fuel dock, the boys decided I needed to go to the hospital. Drained from the previous events, I was reluctant to even leave the boat given my state, but I knew it was for the best. I was in quite a bit of pain and my arm was swelling really fast. Disappointed in myself for acting so poorly under heightened circumstances, I decided it was wise to listen to their orders as they helped me get to shore. Fortunately, the experience was uneventful and after x-rays, I was lucky to get away with a tiny fracture in my joint that would only require me wearing little sling until I felt better. I was very lucky given the nature of the accident and I humbly took the abuse that I rightly deserved from the other crew members.
Finally fueled up, we spent one last night in the company with our cruiser friends and made an early departure the following morning. We were heading to an island NW called Eiao to wait for a clear in the weather to begin our long passage. It was a fair motor across taking us roughly 18 hours and arriving at the unfavorable hour of midnight. Still trying to get used to the rocky motion of the un-stabilized boat, we had yet another little hiccup in our travels. While cooking dinner, a knife flew off the counter top and sliced open Mike’s leg just adjacent to his Achilles tendon. While gushing blood and trying to hold on for dear life, I got to see Mike’s rendition of the “owie dance” that evening. We patched him up and carried on with our trip preparing to anchor only with the faint light of the moon. The anchorage was tricky to maneuver in the dark, but Mike did a great job. Tuckered out, we crawled into our beds that evening and slept soundly.
We spent another day in Eiao waiting on a weather window which gave us a chance to explore a little. There was not much to offer on the desolate, uninhabited island, but at least we had a chance to check it out. On July 30th, we finally pulled up anchor and began our passage across the Pacific. Our route remained unknown at the moment, but we knew we at least were headed NE. The next few days would give us a better idea of where we were headed and roughly how long it would take. With adjustment, we all fell into our routine of 4 hour watches and hoped for an uneventful passage across.
Monday, July 26, 2010
It was a painless journey getting to M/V Antipodes in the Taihoai Bay in Nuku Hiva. There were so many opportunities for something to go wrong with the timing of the flights, the night in a motel in Tahiti, the hour long off road trek around the island to the bay from the Nuku Hiva airport, and getting to the boat via dinghy with two 60 lb inverters and all of our gear. The boat, left unattended for a month at anchor, was in surprisingly excellent condition and everything was working well, which was a huge sigh of relief for us all. We’re in paradise my friends and all our worries have melted away!
The scenery is just incredible here and we are all in awe of the beauty. On one side of the island the landscape is arid, dry, and volcanic, while the other side boasts a luscious, dramatic, green landscape with jagged mountains accented by fog in key spots as if it were man made by fog machine. The water is clear, but the visibility is not the best in the bay due to the surge of the ocean. The sea beckons us to come swimming, although reports of hammerhead sharks make us a bit apprehensive. As we settle into the boat and Mike begins his crash course of learning the systems with Jim, Andy and I forget our fears and throw ourselves off the back of the boat into the delightful green sea. Instantly, I am happy. The grime from our travels that once encompassed my body is long gone and I feel like a new woman.
As we all settle into boat life once again, the dynamic mix of personalities starts to come out. We are entertained by Andy’s (AKA The Naked Canadian) antics in particular; one of his shining moments being a little song and dance around the galley with cut star fruit slices as pasties. Giggles and jokes fill the air as the adventure starts to creep out of our bones and we delve into the world of Nuku Hiva. Mike and Jim still tinker away on board Antipodes with a promising end in sight, while Andy takes me around the bay in the dinghy where I am first exposed to his fearless sense of exploration. He seeks out a spot where he thinks the snorkeling will be alright, throws the anchor overboard, and flips off the dinghy eager to get amongst the marine life. I try to follow suit as quickly as possible starving for the excitement that awaits me.
The visibility might not be the best, but I don’t care. There are fish, millions of beautiful exotic fish swarming me in a tropical bliss. The marine life is exquisite and the times are thrilling. We’re in a very rough spot where the waves are crashing into a point and I am exhilarated by the experience of it all. I decide at that moment that the type of snorkeling Andy does could safely be called “extreme snorkeling”. This isn’t your gentle putter on the surface admiring all the pretty fishies kind of snorkeling (although that is mostly what I did thanks to the plugged ears from my head cold). Andy dives down deep below scouring every surface and crevice constantly searching for treasures of any sort whether it be a lobster or fish for dinner or a beautiful shell to take home to his wife. He pokes and prods anything he desires and gets up close and personal with fish whether they like it or not. Sharks, manta rays, eagle rays, eels, lion fish, parrot fish, scallops, you name it! Nothing intimidates this man! The sea is certainly his playground. I found myself fascinated more by Andy than I was by the snorkeling. Funny enough, I later found out that Mike is exactly the same, which means when the two of them were together you were certainly in for a good time.
The little bit of playtime that Andy and I shared in the beginning quickly defined the remainder of our time in Nuku Hiva. Mike finished learning everything on the boat and was feeling confident in being able to Captain her across the Pacific. Jim tied up loose ends and then quickly headed back to be with his wife as he heard her condition had worsened. Everything was ready for us to go aside from the shipment of fuel that we had ordered in from Papeete, Tahiti. With a few days to spare while waiting on the fuel, we raised the anchor and took off in search of other bays around the island.
Bay hopping was a delightful and educational process, which we were thankful for having. Initially, as we were getting a feel for the boat under rough seas everything seemed ok because we had a decent angle which the boat preferred. On one passage, however, we had very unfavorable seas which sent Antipodes into a bit of a fury as she launched her drawers, chairs, and anything else that wasn’t seriously battened down. It became a war zone as we dodged flying utensils, storage bins, and even a giant rocking chair! I was so worried about the massive TV in the settee flying across the room and taking me out. We all learned that even though it is a power boat and does not heel like the sailboats we are used to, there is still no excuse for leaving things unsecured.
Aside from the fact that the boat had looked like it had either been robbed or trashed from a serious party, the boat handled really well during our bout of coastal hopping. It gave us great confidence for the longer passage that we will soon be getting around to one of these days! It has been nice to cruise around Nuku Hiva and see all that this beautiful slice of heaven has to offer.
The bays that we explored vary greatly in what they have to offer. On the side closest to the main harbor, we visited a few bays that were very popular with other cruisers, thus providing a bit of a social scene where everyone gathered together at a bonfire. One bay in particular, led us on a long walk through the jungle to what once used to be a small village, but now was barely inhabited. We meandered through the jungle finding fruit trees (star fruit, mango, limes, bananas, coconuts, and guava) amidst the old foundations of houses and sacred maraes (or religious sanctuary). Beautiful little colts appeared out of no where, but were too skittish to come close. There was one family that we saw with two children riding a bike with the rubber on the tires completely burnt out and falling off. We wished we had a bicycle with us to give to them! It didn’t stop them from having any fun. We were told by the other cruisers that this was the place where we could trade for fruit with the family. Unfortunately, we hadn’t prepared ahead of time and didn’t have anything to offer. It would have been nice to have bundles of fruit to take back to the boat rather than buying a single piece of fruit for $1.50 at the market. Food here isn’t cheap unless you barter.
We ventured to another bay where we were the only people around, which is what we prefer. We decided to take the dinghy to shore first then dabble with snorkeling a bit later. Shore looked desolate and we were told this beach was uninhabited. Well it was certainly uninhabited by humans, however, pigs had decided to set up shop here. Thousands of pigs populated this little beach, and we later discovered that it was a pig farm/butcher. I fell in love with the tiny black piglets and tried to chase them around to catch one and pet it. Those little suckers are fast!! I never did get to pet one. Instead we meandered about picking up beautiful shells on the beach and stocking up on limes from the trees. We did run into a couple locals, but given that none of us speak French, it was hard to figure out what they were telling us. We decided to leave and see what the reefs had to offer.
Once again I found myself extreme snorkeling with Mike and Andy. This time they were armed with their gloves, spear gun, and knifes in dire need of finding the lobsters. We hit the reef, which was beautiful, but quite washed up due to the wind that funneled through the bay. Next, we decided to trek a bit further out to the high cliffs that seemed to miraculously be illuminated by choice sunrays. Andy found a spot by the side of one cliff and did his usual back somersault into the water to check it out. He was instantly stung by a jellyfish upon touching the sea, but that didn’t stop him as he scoped out the scene in hopes to find the “bugs” or lobster. “No bugs here, let’s move on” he said as he hopped back onto the dinghy just as fast as he left. We puttered to another spot, where the waves were crashing harder and the current was stronger. I was certainly a bit timid to hop in as these extreme snorkelers did, but I didn’t want to show any fear and followed suit. My visual world had once again been impressed. While swimming along the cliff edge I was in awe of the instant serenity of the underwater scene. Waves were harshly crashing into the jagged rocks above, yet below the fish were peacefully swimming amongst the spiky sea urchin oblivious to the power of the sea. I felt ambivalent, on one hand I was greatly in fear of the waves slamming me into the rocks, yet when I dove down below I felt as calm as the sea creatures unaware of the fury above. This was one of the highlights of my trip. The snorkel adventure only got better as we encountered an eagle ray, many white and black tipped reef sharks, manta rays gliding beside us and along the cliff wall, and caves filled with sleeping sharks. Extreme snorkeling is my new favorite hobby!
It was hard to top the experiences we had in those two bays alone. While the rest of the bays were equally as beautiful and pristine and had just as much to offer, they were no match for our earlier encounters. We got to experience the great diversity on this island as we circumnavigated and hiked around it. The lush, green dramatic mountains slowly toppled off into rolling rocky, desert-like hills with parched shrubbery as we approached the opposite side of the island. The surging ocean in the bays calmed down to a gentle lull with better protected reefs. The varied landscape determined our mood; where there was dramatic, exciting views, there was great adventure, and likewise where the landscape softened, so did our moods. The last bay we visited was a nice relaxing reprieve where we were able to get a bit of sun and rest up for our long passage.
Today is our final day in Nuku Hiva as the fuel has finally arrived. We may not be able to post blogs while underway,so may be the last for awhile. It will take us anywhere from 20-30 days to get to land again, and our final is route is still yet to be determined due to the weather. Wish us luck!
*Many photos courtesy of Andy
Friday, July 23, 2010
My dad frequently tells me that Mike and I make the world seem so small, and we can’t help but feel that he is right the more we travel. It is amazing how a simple encounter with a person can alter one’s direction in life. The ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ theory seems to become more apparent as we expand our personal networks across the globe. It is no longer a surprise when we have an unexpected run-in with a friend or acquaintance in a completely foreign land. Similarly, we are often brought together with someone by a simple twist of fate which ultimately develops into a lasting friendship or serves a purpose of some kind down the road. These are not little coincidences, but rather part of the bigger plan that fate has in store. Fortunately, for us, it seems to greatly facilitate in our living a non-traditional lifestyle.
At this point in our story we’re going back to when we were in Mexico to best illustrate how fate has worked its little magic for us (and to play a little catch up as the blogs have been quite sparse lately). While stranded after a horrifying experience (check out our blog about Mexico), Mike and I were eager for a different opportunity. Fortunately, we unexpectedly heard from Mike’s friends Andy and Janet Gunson who asked us to help them out on their boat in Canada. Ironically, Mike met the Gunsons in Hawaii a few years ago solely because Andy had recognized Mike’s boat. Prior to cruising in Hawaii, Andy had cruised the Pacific side of Mexico where he bumped into Mike’s boat under a different owner (and name). Had he not bumped into the boat in Mexico many years before, Andy may have never met Mike in Hawaii which ultimately means we may have never ended up with the opportunity in Canada that got us out of a tight bind (just wait it gets even better!).
While in Canada, we spent the majority of our time refinishing the intricate wood work on Andy’s boat while trying to figure out our next step from there. At first we had decided to go back to Isabella (which is in Napa Valley, CA) to fix her up from the damage that she suffered from the past six months on the hard. We tried to motivate ourselves for the headache that awaited us as we came to the realization that we would be replicating the immense job done on Andy’s boat on our own, however, on a much smaller scale (we fortunately don’t have 75 doors and drawers to start with). We gathered up parts and pieces including a brand new fuel tank which we still aren’t sure how to get back to the boat given its weight and unusually large size. During free time, under the watchful eye of Janet (and Mike), Kelly dabbled in sewing to prepare for the projects of new cushions and canvas work on Isabella. In her first few hours of making pillows, she got a bit over zealous and took a stab at making a “two hour” skirt by pattern which in reality took a frustrating 11 hours and had her swearing that making cushions would be a lot easier. Although the work was tough in Canada, we had a great time relaxing and story telling with Andy and Janet about the cruising lifestyle. In fact, just as we were sharing our experiences from our few months down in the Caribbean, a friend we met in Aruba emailed us with some rather interesting news thus changing the possibility of us going back to Isabella just yet. Once again fate stepped in and offered us a solution, although this time due to unfortunate circumstances.
Back in February while we were in Aruba, we met a lovely couple name Jim and Lara on a trawler called Antipodes. They were inspiring cruisers who we greatly enjoyed swapping cruising info with while hanging out on anchor in Aruba. Although we went opposite directions away from Aruba our paths have once again converged.
While crossing the Pacific Ocean from the Galapagos to the Marquesas, Lara started to loose feeling in her left arm. It started out as what they thought to be a pinched nerve, and through the course of their journey and arrival at the hospital in Tahiti (after a long and crazy experience with customs, flights, and doctors), it turned into a brain tumor that needed to be removed immediately. She was flown back to the US for surgery and a course of treatment. We are thinking of her and her family as they are going through this trying time. Her surgery went well and she seems to be doing great via reports from Jim. Unfortunately, this change in their lives put their cruising to a halt and left their boat on anchor in Nuku Hiva, Marquesas. We were devastated to hear the news when Jim first emailed us. It’s a reality check for us all that anything can happen at any given time. We wanted to help out however we could and eventually, through many emails back and forth, Jim decided to have Mike and I deliver his boat back to the US for him. It is an opportunity of a lifetime for us and we are glad that our schedule was open so that we could assist our friends in a time of need.
As we finished up our job in Canada, we made two key decisions. First, we decided to ask Andy to come along with us on the delivery as his wealth of boating experience coupled with his zest for life and vivacious personality would bring a great dynamic into the mix. Also, we decided to head out of Canada for two weeks we had before the delivery to catch up with friends in various spots along the West Coast. We stopped off in Seattle for a few days and had a ball seeing our friends Jen and George who live on their boat in Lake Union. The weather was beautiful, and although it was a short visit, it was much needed and appreciated. I also got to see my friend Billie (which is always a delight) and catch up with my old boss at the Taekwondo school. It was a trip down memory lane for Mike and I; we felt like years have passed since we’ve been there even though it has only been 10 months!
After Seattle we made tracks to Camarillo, CA to catch up with Mike’s cousins. We were highly entertained by the jolly jump birthday party that cousin Sammy had to celebrate his 7th birthday! And we couldn’t help but to indulge in the Toy Story alien cupcakes that his mom so creatively made. We had a great time with Jonathan and the gang; I was highly entertained by Sammy’s 5-6 AM wake up calls where he would either jump in the bed between us and put on the cartoons, get close to our faces and yell “Are you awake!?”, or hold the bright screen of the Nintendo up to our faces in hopes to see our eyes peel open in confusion. It was cute, but I think it is safe to say that we are happy to not have our own human wake up clock just yet!
From Camarillo we moved on to LA for the final few days of holiday before heading out to the Marquesas. I spent time with a great friend from my childhood, while Mike got his guy time with his best friend from Hawaii who lives on his boat in Huntington beach. We got to go hiking and tour around LA a bit which was really nice especially since we will be spending the next month or two at sea. At last, we met up with Jim and Andy at the LAX airport on the 17th of July and began our journey to Nuku Hiva.
I apologize for the lack of blog posting lately. Although there never seems to be a dull moment in our lives these days, there was a period where I felt writing about what we were doing seemed rather monotonous. Fortunately, we have a great adventure ahead of us, so I will have plenty to write about. Bon Voyage!