Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sunday Market Papeete

We are in Papeete, Tahiti's main city, actually the biggest city in French Polynesia, and the first one we've been in since leaving Cabo over two months ago. We had a beautiful sail from Apataki in the Tuamotus, leaving at night, as we had been invited to local's home for dinner, and arriving about 36 hours later. This is more or less the farthest point south we will travel --we are 4230 nautical miles from Nanaimo. 
Papeete is a very busy port and we are tied up at the quay in the middle of the action, rocking with every ferry and freighter wake. But there are advantages, for instance we are ten minutes away from the market, which is especially busy on Sundays.                    

I'm always eager to find the fish stands--it's a great chance to see what the local species are; the Sunday market gets fish in from all the islands. Not surprisingly many of them we'd seen snorkelling and diving.  This display reminded me of a poem by the American poet Mark Doty

 A Display of Mackeral

They lie in parallel rows,

on ice, head to tail,

each a foot of luminosity

barred with black bands,

which divide the scales'

radiant sections


like seams of lead

in a Tiffany window.

Iridescent, watery


prismatics: think abalone,

the wildly rainbowed

mirror of a soap-bubble sphere,


think sun on gasoline.

Splendor, and splendor,

and not a one in any way


distinguished from the other

--nothing about them

of individuality. Instead


they're all exact expressions

of the one soul,

each a perfect fulfillment


of heaven's template,

mackerel essence. As if,

after a lifetime arriving


at this enameling, the jeweler's

made uncountable examples

each as intricate


in its oily fabulation

as the one before;

a cosmos of champleve.


Suppose we could iridesce,

like these, and lose ourselves

entirely in the universe


of shimmer--would you want

to be yourself only,

unduplicatable, doomed


to be lost? They'd prefer,

plainly, to be flashing participants,

multitudinous. Even on ice


they seem to be bolting

forward, heedless of stasis.

They don't care they're dead


and nearly frozen,

just as, presumably,

they didn't care that they were living:


all, all for all,

the rainbowed school

and its acres of brilliant classrooms,


in which no verb is singular,

or every one is. How happy they seem,

even on ice, to be together, selfless,


which is the price of gleaming.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Images from the Tuamotu Islands

Great Crested Tern

Diving, Manihi Atoll


Apataki Atoll


Pearl Farm dock, Apataki


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

From s/v Circadia

If God was a slacker, or believed in working smart not hard, the world would be like the Tuamotu Archipelago.
A coral atoll is an ecology starter set: slide a tectonic plate over a tropical oceanic hot spot, throw rain at the resulting island for a few hundred million years until there's nothing left but the surrounding coral reef. Let the coral build on itself, creating a protected inland sea, where life flourishes and washes up on the shore, making land on which a few species of plants can get a toehold; watch the plants drop pieces of themselves, grow and die, making more soil. Throw in a couple of species of land crabs that scuttle around in the undergrowth, digging burrows. Wing over some birds, which evolve into few species of fruit dove, a blue lorikeet, and a Darwin's finch-like collection of drab but eloquent reed-warblers and you have the perfect world:
gentle beaches, shallows filled with brilliant fish, and a forest where you can harvest heart of palm and coconuts. If you grow tired of fish you can eat the crabs, which taste like coconut fed lobster. (We haven't had crab yet, but Tavish and Farlyn collected heart of palm and hand extracted coconut cream from fresh coconuts the other day).

We are on the island of Apataki. We shot through the northern pass three days ago and have been sailing its inland shore-kind of unnerving, as great heads of coral turn up randomly, in twenty feet of water, in fifty feet of water, a mile out
They are like reefs back home except with knife edged serrations which, sailing along slowly at 5 or 6 knots, can open a hull. Tavish climbs up onto the first set of spreaders on these passages, scanning the water ahead of us constantly.
Apataki is eight miles wide and fifteen miles long. At times the ring of land dwindles to open reef and white sand bars which barely hold back the outer ocean, a line of white surf suspended above the radiant blue of the inner shallows. At other times the far shore disappears and it seems we are sailing to the edge of an infinity pool.

Most of the island is uninhabited. But last night we went out to dinner. We anchored in a bay where boaters can go to shore and have dinner (not coconut crabs or heart of palm, but steak frites) prepared by a local family. The main livelihood of the family is cultivating pearls, an industry which sustains much of the Tuomotus though it is has its ups and downs. A handful of black pearls is irresistible-they are cool and dense and have the dark iridescence of gasoline: purple, green, blue, copper. Most get shipped to Tahiti then on to the international pearl market in China. Two tiny ones will be coming home with me.
Tomorrow we will stop to provision in the local village before leaving the atoll for the open passage to Tahiti. Should be a couple of days sail to Papeete. Talk to you then

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Inner LIfe

Town on Nuku Hiva

Patuatu, Anaho Bay, Nuku Hiva

Once, years ago at a dinner party I asked a friend of ours, an international racing sail navigator, what he thought about during all those hours at sea. I don’t know what I expected, maybe not ;the meaning of life” exactly, but at least something slightly lyrical.
“How to make the boat go faster,” he answered without hesitation or elaboration.

If you read this blog, you already know some of the things I think about. I spend very little time thinking about how to make the boat go faster; I spend some time thinking shockingly shallow thoughts. For instance—after almost a year of no shopping—what I’ll buy when I get home. If you only have a few clothes you wear day in and day out, they wear out fast. I know for sure that I’ll throw away all my underwear and buy a whole new set. And I’ll treat myself to a new pair of running shoes to coax me to begin running again.

I thought it would be interesting to canvas the crew to find out what they find themselves thinking about on watch.
How to make the boat go faster; boat systems (this week, the electrical system preoccupies), our byzantine financial affairs, our next boat (this week it’s a large fast trimaran—NB. this last theme is more like a lottery fantasy, because of the sobering previous topic).
Farlyn: thinks often of summer back home, the weather here lulls you into the sense that it is summer everywhere. She thinks about the vegetable garden in full production, what’s been planted, what’s being harvested. The bonus is that it will all just be starting when she gets home in June.
Tavish: often thinks of the boat, as if in a movie shot, an aerial—kind of the visual expression of the Sailing Ideal—the sails filled, the hull racing along through an exotic sea, life reduced to the simplicity of wind and ingenuity. Oh, and he thinks of food—what there is to eat or how he can use our odd and spare supplies to prepare something novel (ie. fried bananas with lime, on fish).

We all spend a lot of time reading. Here’s our recent book lists:

Alison: Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
The Turning, Tim Winton
The Bounty, Caroline Alexander
At Night in Chile, Roberto BalaƱo
Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
Still Life With a Bridle, Essays and Apocryphas, Zbigniew Herbert
Late Nights on Air, Elizabeth Hay
All Our Wonder Unavenged—poems, Don Domanski

Kim: Mind in the Cave, David Lewis Williams
Ulysses (or so he claims…), James Joyce
The Happy Isles of Oceania, Paul Theroux
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
King, Queen, Knave, Vladimir Nabakov,
Mariner’s Weather
The Adapted Mind – Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture, J. Barkow

Tavish: The Alchemist, Paul Coelho
A Soldier of the Great War, Mark Helprin
No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy
The Turning
Oryx and Crake
Probably More Than Everything you Wanted to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast, Milton Love.

Farlyn: While I Was Gone, Sue Miller
Walden, H D Thoreau
The First and Last Freedom, J. Krishnamurti
Late Nights on Air
Persuasion, Jane Austen

We have just finished a four day passage from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus, the islands that lie between the Marquesas and Tahiti (the Society Islands). Had a nice couple of days of down wind sailing with the spinnaker up, then the winds shifted dramatically and we ended up sailing upwind for two days.
I confess, I hate sailing upwind in high winds—the boat is constantly heeled so that you fight gravity every minute of the day, plus the seas were rough, so going below is as if you’ve just stepped into a boxing ring, constantly being flung against some hard thing. Eating, taking a pee, bathing, even sleeping is exhausting.

After about 36 hours of this we arrived near Manihi Island just after midnight. We shortened sail to slow our approach as we couldn’t get in until the pass was at slack, and finally motored through at around 8:30 in the morning.

The Tuamotus are dramatically different from the steep lush mountain landscape of the Marquesas. Thin membranes of land seem to float on the ocean—you don’t see a Tuomotu until you are a few miles away. These islands are coral atolls, the endpoint of a volcanic tropical island, what’s left after it erodes away—a necklace of coral reef, sand and coconut forest, enclosing a lagoon. Water percolates in through the porous walls of the atoll and rushes in and out the odd pass.


As soon as we dropped an anchor, a local, Fernando, came by in a speedboat with a bag of fresh baguettes. (I’m so glad the French got this place). Fernando owns the bakery and is the head of the Mormon church here. Turns out he can show you how to cook a fish in a pit, open a coconut, harvest heart of palm, take you to see a pearl farm (sell you pearls), guide you into the anchorage, and dive on your anchor to free it from coral heads. He will also drop you outside the pass and escort you by boat, as you drift on the current, watching the great show “go by” as you zip along at 2-3 knots: thousands of brilliant reef fish: angel and butterflyfish, unicorn fish, surgeonfish, damselfish, trumpetfish, scorpionfish…. My favourite things today were the giant clams, each with bright mantles, like lips, in different shades of brilliant blue and green.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

from s/v Circadia

We have been "idylling" on the island of Nuku Hiva, waiting to leave for the Tuamotus,the winds at sea having dropped off to almost nothing for days. We remember the doldrums, the sails flapping and the boom banging, and content ourselves with the Marquesas. Which isn't so bad.  At the moment we are in Anaho Bay, a sweet anchorage, protected from the swell and rimmed with a few homes, communal gardens, and a path which takes you to a long sand beach in one direction, and in the other, over a steep trail to the village in the next bay, Hatiheu, a town of exuberant gardens, nestled in a perfect semi-circle of blue bay at the foot of long fingered mountains.

But lest you think life is perfect in paradise I have prepared a list, a REALITY CHECKLIST I guess you could say:

1. bug bites
For the last five days or so Farlyn and I have become covered with dozens of bites. You see, every beach is home to legions of tiny black flies, called no-no's. You can't feel them bite. In the next few days the little red spots become unbearably itchy. This lasts for about three days or until you are unwise enough to be seduced by another perfect white sand beach. We smear calamine lotion, we sit on our hands, we give in and scratch fiercely

2. miscellaneous injuries

foot and hand mostly, from the various ways you can injure yourself here: scrapes with the rigging, shoe blisters, stubbing toes on the deck hardware; and mystery lesions like the little red spots all over Kim's chest, or the jellyfish sting on Tavish's leg, which he didn't notice for a couple of days, or the sore on one of my ears which turned into a hive of angry blisters.

3. sharks
So far, snorkeling, we have only encountered harmless reef sharks. The other day, hanging out at one of the towns here, Tavish spotted a very big shark gliding past the pier. Turns out it was a bull shark, about 10 feet long. Our book says "considered dangerous." At the next anchorage we chatted with a local boy who told us that a bull shark had killed his cousin in January on nearby Ua Pou island. (We're sure he was killed, despite the fact that our French is so bad, by the way the boy drew his finger across his neck and rolled his eyes back in his head).

4. heat
see previous posts.

5. lack of privacy
Not to complain about my shipmates, but how much time can you expect the average person to enjoy living with three other people in 200 square feet, twenty-four hours a day?

Understand, this is not whining. I just thought, before you sold everything, quit your job, and bought a sailboat, you should know