Everyone is very welcoming here. Soon after I drop the hook in Taiohae Bay the first cruiser dinghy comes by to ask if I need anything as I am not allowed on shore yet. The yellow quarantine flag is flying until the health officials officially do the math and count my days at sea towards the required 14-day quarantine and let me lose on the local populace. People ashore are very friendly but a bit timid. Their government has just opened all of French Polynesia for international air travel without requiring a quarantine and people are nervous as many here seem to have increased vulnerability such as obesity and diabetes.
To my surprise, walking on land after such a long time requires no adjustment at all. Usually, I do a bit of a moon walk at first. I relish the scent of land and like many women I pick a fragrant Frangipani blossom and stick it behind my ear. I indulge the fruit and vegetable market close to the dock bracing myself for the price level which is like France or Germany, not quite as high as Switzerland. I reconnect with all the sailing friends from Panama and together we celebrate our successful passage.
The locals seem to get up with the roosters and - believe me - they let you know they are up in great numbers and can out-crow the neighbours! Just like the many dogs, chicken roam the streets freely. Going to the bakery is an affair for my headlamp to motor ashore in the dinghy and walk over to the shop in the dark at 5am. When I arrive at 5.30 they are sold out of all the bread and pastry, except for three pain au chocolat and pain au raisin. Incredible!
How everything is relative: After spending more than three weeks in open ocean waves, the swell that works its way into the large bay of Taiohae seems but a gentle nudge. But after a few days of rolling at anchor it is starting to wear on my patience. A week of that is enough and I set out on a circumnavigation of the island with my friends on SV Windchase. We stop in Hakatea, aka Daniel’s Bay. The entry into which feels like you are sailing straight into the underworld close to a steep volcanic rock wall. The bay itself is totally calm and the next day we hike up to the spectacular waterfall. The view from afar is stunning, something out of Jurassic Park. Up close the pool is quite murky and none of the Polynesian virgins are in sight that Paul promised me on the way up. The lunch at a local self subsistence farming family’s home is a nice reward on the way back.
In Anse Haaopu, on the NW coast of Nuku Hiva I swim off the boat and discover two stingrays under the boat and in turn a two meter black tip reef shark discovers me and checks me out for a few seconds… puh, my first shark encounter in the wild! On the N coast we are forced to tack upwind in 20kn and more than 2m waves - not fun! But every bay we stop in rewards us with flat water and a lovely farming village scene ashore. We stay in famous Anaho Bay for a few days before heading around the sheer rock wall of the E coast which rebounds all the ocean waves and makes me feel like I am riding a rodeo while standing at the wheel.
After a few more days in the Taiohae Bay’s cruiser scene I tear myself lose and sail the short distance S to Ua Pou with its magnificent volcanic pinnacles. A stomach flu pins me for a few days in Hakahau where I become a regular at the local bakery with good buttery croissants and excellent wifi. I venture into the hills but invariably end up in someone’s front yard and never find the path over the hill to the next village. Along the way there are lime, mango, coconut, breadfruit, and pamplemousse (grapefruit) trees laden with fruit.
In the next village, Haka-HE-tau, I do not just pick up a syllable from the last town but also my friends from Windchase. Paul and I hike up the steep three hour path to the cigar shaped sheer rock pinnacle of Poumaka and back down through pine, pandanus, and coconut groves with a visit at the garden of ‘Schoko-Mann’ Manfred. A German sauna owner and helicopter pilot who emigrated here some forty years ago, married a real Marquesan princess and started cultivating avocado, lime, grapefruit, starfruit, and cocoa trees, as well as coffee and pepper bushes. As a critical Swiss chocolate snob I am impressed with his ‘ladykillers’: A sumptuous dark chocolate praline filled with a passionfruit cream - all home grown, all organic. Works on men, too!
My daughter is visiting from Europe for three weeks but due to the COVID crisis her flights get all screwed up and on short notice we decide that I will pick her up in Papeete rather than her catching another flight out to the islands to meet me. This means anchor up straight away and off we go on a 800nm passage straight through the Tuamotus with no time to stop. I am able to accomplish this in 100 hours thanks to a Mara’amu (increased SE trade winds) that also brings rain squalls and keeps me on my toes pretty much the whole way.
I am able to find a berth in the choked full Marina Papeete right downtown and catch some shut eye for a few hours before I pick up Tara at the airport. Lying in my berth something is strange: For the first time in almost three months the boat is completely still and horizontal!