Blog 3 - A day in French Polynesia.
I’ve set the alarm for 8 am, but a noise in the anchor fairleads wakes me up. I have a look at my clock: 7:14, I get up and put the kettle on. Remco is turning in his sleep and will probably soon wake up, from Jennifer’s cabin I can still hear a soft snore. I have a look outside, the first rays of the sun stumble into the bay and delicately land on the coconut plantation that edges baie Anaho in Nuku Hiva.
The anchor chain seems to be stuck on some coral, no worries, the morning breeze will soon come in and sort that out for us. The kettle yells at me that it’s time to start the day and I ritually sit down on my porcelain throne with a steaming cup of coffee to make a plan for the day. We don’t wear clothes on the Foxy Lady often but the pile of laundry is slowly invading my cabin, so we are definitely going to do something about that. And I heard from other cruisers and the local’s in the nearby village that it is teaming with manta ray and sharks just outside the bay. So I’m thinking we should go freediving there.
After I’ve pumped my morning creation into the big wide world I head out to the cockpit, wipe down the solar panels and inspect our stock of fruits. I count 2 coconuts, 1 bunch of plantains has to ripe for another 2 days, 1 new huge bunch of bananas needs another day or 4, and our oldest has about 12 left and is starting to show brown spots. Perfect, I’m going to bake a banana bread for breakfast. Yesterday’s afternoon expedition in search of internet and eggs lead us thru the mountain pass to Hatieu, the village in the next bay west of our anchorage. For 500 francs (about 4 dollars US) we buy 1 hour of very slow WiFi internet, we managed to squeeze 1 picture onto instagram and luckily learn that all of our friends in St Martin have survived hurricane Irma and have started to rebuild. However the 3 hour hike has not provided us with any eggs.
Remco has woken up by now and we start talking our usual morning nonsense. After 5 minutes I decide it’s too early for this and make a start on my bread, regretfully without the egg. At 9 Jen royally gets in my way in our small cuisine for a half hour as she makes her oatmeal, but after a while I slide my second brown creation of the day out of the oven. This one smells a lot better, like vanilla, banana, cinnamon and nuts. It tastes great so we share it with the French boat that is anchored next to us. Gratitude all around. De rien mes amis! The French are going freediving for lobster with the local fishermen tonight and will ask if we can come along. It is a full moon today so I’m not expecting a legendary catch.
Jennifer helps me load the laundry, buckets, brushes and soap into the dinghy and we make our way to the beach. Rem is staying on board to work on an episode of Sailing the Foxy Lady. The tide is out so we tie the Foxy Baby to a local skiff and wade the remaining 50 meters in knee deep water. We shuffle our feet thru the sand to drive up the stingray and baby blacktip sharks that call this bay their home. The locals have arranged a fresh water hose and a small concrete platform for cruising boats to use, palm trees provide some shade. Perfect place to do laundry. The locals tell us that the water is potable so we fill up our jerry cans as well. At about 1 in the afternoon our clothes swirl happily in the wind off the railing on the boat. We’ve given up removing stains months ago but we get to sleep in fresh sheets tonight. A rare delight!
For lunch I thin down my genius (if I do say so myself) stingray/coconut soup with some stock and add extra noodles. You bet! We usually eat well and healthy on the Lady. It can take a few hours to gather all ingredients but with freshly caught fish and an abundance of fruits and spices from the forest it is often a culinary feast in Polynesia.
It’s almost 3 PM when I check my body for cuts and wounds and conclude these have healed sufficiently for a dive. I set my lead belt up for comfortable freediving to depths around 10 meters on the reef under the lady. When the rest of the crew is ready we get in the dinghy and make our way to the end of the bay in about 20 minutes. Here the cliffs disappear vertically into the deep blue.
This is where we are going to look for manta’s and sharks. The fish you work so hard for almost immediately get stolen off your harpoon in these parts so the speargun stays at home. When I kick myself down into the dark blue on the first dive an unnerving feeling takes hold of me, it’s not fear, but I feel that I am very aware of my surroundings. I’m not afraid of sharks, but I just haven’t spent enough time with them to properly read their behavior. I’m not even sure if I want to come across the bigger specimens just yet, maybe tomorrow….
On the western side the water is too murky and we therefore conclude it is too confusing for the big hammerhead or grey shark which may mistake us for a tasty snack. So we move to the windward side. And there you go… we haven’t been in the water for 5 minutes and a huge white and black shape glides graciously up from the darkness along the cliff face. Unsuspecting jellyfish disappear into its wide open mouth. I pop my head up out of the water and yell MANTAAA, and the 3 sailors take a deep breath and swim down to meet this amazing animal. What an experience, she is so beautiful and in diameter at least my own length. How lucky are we. After another hour of freediving we climb back into the dinghy, satisfied and with a big smile on my face I wipe my standard diving booger off my nose.
When we’ve arrived back on the boat Morgan comes paddling towards us. He is the 27 year old owner of the French boat next to us and proudly shows us the crossbow he has built. He promises us it will bring us meat. We also learn that he has been sailing for exactly 1 year now. Reason enough for celebrations later tonight.
We haven’t been hiking today and the locals tell us the fish in the bay have ciguatera. This is a cumulative toxin that builds up in the food chain of coral fish, which means it has high concentrations in the size of fish we like to eat. It causes itching, disorientation, joint pains and if you’re unlucky it will certainly lead to death. Very dangerous… so we always make sure to talk to the local fishermen before we take any fish off the reefs. Remco sticks his head in the bilges and comes back up with canned meat, jalapeños, diced tomatoes and mushrooms and prepares a tasty macaroni. We have plenty of fresh water now so I treat myself to a “real shower” before we pack up some beers and a box of wine to head over to the neighbors.
Always a good time, especially with other young adventurers. We drink wine, get the tour of the boat and share our stories, information and a couple of movies. Morgan has some amazing documentaries about famous sailors, freediving and spearfishing. Obviously all in French but the images are awesome, great way to pass a rainy day. At midnight Jan, one of his crew, is dropped off by the local fishermen. They managed to pull about 15 kilos of lobster from their caves.
Tomorrow is another day, it is 1 AM when I crawl into my bunk, close my eyes and wonder what tomorrow will bring.
Written by Rick van Engelshoven.