Taiohaie Bay, Nuku Hiva
Nibuk sails smartly into the bay
Listing to the sirens' song of distant islands, we were eager to get under way. The next leg of our voyage would take us through the infamous Tuamotu Archipelago, a region notorious among mariners. Low lying in the extreme, such atolls are visible from the deck of a yacht at a distance of no more than eight miles. And the encompassing waters are fraught with strong and erratic currents, necessitating the mariner to exercise the utmost navigational precision and vigilance. Unequipped with sat-nav or radar, Jenny and I planned to synchronize our passage through the archipelago with the onset of the next full moon, three weeks hence. And we could only hope that the weather would cooperate.
“The roads were washed out. The bridges were destroyed. The town's water-supply reservoir was wrecked. And much of the domestic livestock perished.”
Mid January, we were anchored in Taiohaie when torrential rain began falling many times heavier than before. The downpour half filled our dinghy in the first six hours. I emptied the ponderously sagging dink with a siphon hose before turning the boat upside down. The rain continued for another twenty-two hours, causing the rivers to flood and disgorge their murky effusion into Taiohaie's already troubled bay. Bill and Janet aboard Kalakala reported watching a small house carrying out to sea. The few roads were washed out. The bridges were destroyed. The town's water-supply reservoir was wrecked. And much of the domestic livestock perished. The local egg ranch lost forty chickens.
We watched dozens of landslides, as the permeated soil with its profuse vegetation lost its grip and slashed long swaths down the precipitous mountainsides. We learned later that none of the locals, in living memory, had ever seen rain this hard. Ironically, the American weather station WWV was broadcasting "no warnings for the South Pacific." Frank Courser, an American who with his wife Rose had spent four years on Nuku Hiva laboring to establish a resort, said that he "smelled a hurricane." The sky was dismally overcast and the weather threatening, and Jenny and I missed our planned waxing-gibbous moon departure.
Tenth Day of Foul Weather
On the morning of the tenth day of foul weather, our neighbor Bill rowed vigorously our way and relayed a disturbing message. The French meteorologists in Tahiti had sent a warning of a hurricane heading for the Marquesas. Truly, the weather system seemed to have run amok this year. French Polynesia lies well to the east of the usual hurricanes that hammer other portions of the South Pacific. Even Tahiti was supposedly safe from these monster storms, and we were far east of Tahiti.
Kalakala in the eerie light of the impending cyclone Nano.
“Nano - a Tahitian word meaning 'explosive force'”
Jenny and I scurried about the brig, preparing for the worse. After moving her to a more favorable location in the expansive bay, we set three opposing anchors, each with 300 feet of rode, and each marked with a float.
Within a few hours the front-running wind began lashing across the bay, catching us stripping Suka's exterior of any removable items. The gusts subsided by afternoon, but the night-time conditions remained extremely unsettled.
The next morning came terrific gusts, mainly from the mountains. These thrashed the bay into angry columns of hard-driven spume, and heeled our little band of sailboats far over. Our neighbors aboard Kalakala were worried about dragging onto the reef licking fairly at their stern, so Bill sat at the helm motoring ahead in situ, easing the strain of his yacht's bower. The crew of one sailboat, equipped with a masthead wind meter, reported gusts of 80 knots. Fortunately for us all, the wind was blowing off-shore. Had it blown directly into the bay, the fetch-spawned waves would have brought real trouble.
By late afternoon the storm began subsiding, and it was then that reassuring word came over the air-waves that Hurricane Nano was turning away. No further problems were expected for Nuku Hiva. And with the coming of evening, the air fell to an eerie calm. We later learned that Hurricane Nano - a Tahitian word meaning "explosive force" - intensified after leaving the Marquesas and swept through the southern Tuamotus with 140 mph winds and 30-foot seas. We had tangled with only the infant Nano, it seemed.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Nanu, the brig is still in good shape. Taiohae, Nuku Hiva.
The following morning Jenny and I worked for three and a half hours hours retrieving our anchors. They had deeply embedded, and the three lines attaching them had tangled together, along with the lines of their marking buoys. During the later phase of the storm, the wind had changed directions many times, spinning and wheeling Suka in every direction. The lesson was clear. Had we drug anchors, no doubt they would have come together, and probably tangled and rendered one-another useless. In future we determined to use only a single large anchor.
Prudence suggested we remain in the Marquesas another three weeks, waiting for the next full moon that we hoped would illuminate our passage through the dangerous Tuamotu archipelago.
Another full moon leaves without us.
A Visit to the Dispensary
“After looking into Jenny's ear with the otoscope, the doctor reached for a slip of scratch paper, held it toward us, and thrust his finger through it, piercing a hole.”
Having been troubled with persistent earaches, and after using the antibiotic Keflex with minimal results, I switched to Septra DS, and this proved effective. Then several days later Jenny complained of a painful ear, and I took her straight to Taiohaie's dispensary. The cheerful French doctor's attire was a curious blend of modern professional and tropical casual, as befitted a doctor working in a remote, sultry jungle. He wore the usual white smock, and stethoscope draped about the neck. But from the waist down he wore shorts and walked barefoot. He spoke no English, so our conversation was mainly one of gestures. After looking into Jenny's ear with the otoscope he reached for a slip of scratch paper, held it toward us, and thrust his finger through it, piercing a hole. We gathered that Jenny had ruptured an eardrum. My ears received the same diagnosis on both counts. The damage had presumably occurred while skin diving, although we could not trace it to any particular occurrence. As an experienced skin diver I frequently dove to 50 feet and more, but Jenny never ventured deeper than a fathom.
The doctor gave us each a course of antibiotics, a sulfa nasal antihistamine spray, and a small bottle of large aspirin tablets. And he said we were to keep our heads out of the water for a month, in order to allow the eardrums to heal. The visit cost us nothing, and for that we were very thankful. Unfortunately, we were going to have to forego the snorkeling in the Tuamotus - something we had been looking forward to.
One day, a French Naval vessel anchored in the bay, and a half-dozen troopers drew alongside Suka, boarded and searched the boat stem to stern. The only item we had aboard illegally was a 38 special, which they failed to find. I had built it into the woodwork near a chainplate, and made it accessible only by a hidden quick-release. From our yacht they preceded to the others.
Another morning, Janet rowed across from nearby Kalakala with a plea to help take her husband to the hospital. Bill was suffering acute abdominal pains that he believed indicated appendicitis. After Janet, Jenny and I had loaded poor Bill into the dinghy, I rowed him along the shore to the far end of the bay, and from there we all walked to the infirmary.
This was not Bill's first round of gut trouble. For two years he had endured lesser attacks. The previous one had occurred during their passage from San Diego. They altered course and called in at Cabo San Lucas, and Bill related that after seeing the substandard facilities there he decided to grit his teeth, increase the dosage of antibiotics, and return to sea.
But this time the pain was far worse. The doctors removed his appendix, albeit under less than ideal conditions. And subsequently he was in and out of the little hospital fighting recurrent infection for the next two months.
Bill had built his ketch from a factory bare hull, intent on sailing her around the world. But Janet was more interested in her grandmothership, so after a subsequent four-month stay in the Marquesas they sailed Kalakala to Hawaii then back home to Seattle.
Waiting for the Trade Winds
The recent cyclone Nano had disturbed the usual weather patterns. The normally reliable trade winds had ceased; the air was dead calm. This climatic abnormality persisted for many weeks. Twice we missed departing with the full moon, and finally having abandoned that plan, we now waited only for the trade winds to reestablish themselves.
Departing the Marquesas
One morning the winds began blowing, lightly but with promise. So on February 2 we departed the Marquesas, bound for Tahiti.
We sailed for only two hours.