Pam was on a plane back to the US for a couple of weeks, from Nuku Hiva to Pape’ete to Seattle to attend Lindsay’s college graduation, and then on to Palo Alto to scratch Little Bear’s tummy. Much as I wanted to see Lindsay and Julian again and to attend the graduation, there was no way to leave Pamela anchored unattended in the Marquesas. I wondered what I would do for two weeks alone on the boat.
My plans were to provision in Taiohae Bay in Nuku Hiva, then make an upwind beat for Taipivai for a few days, followed by a sail around the cape to Anaho Bay. In Anaho I would find the farm that provides fresh organic vegetables to Taiohae, then hike over the mountain to get a good meal of curried goat at Chez Yvonne, picking up mangoes along the way. Most of all, I would spend my time writing. What better way to write than to cloister oneself on a boat anchored in a windswept backwater of French Polynesia?
My provisioning run to the three magasins in Taiohae Bay resulted in a baguette, four sections of camembert cheese, three litres of red wine, and a chicken with seven legs. Before leaving the wharf I picked up my tank of propane, washed out a bucket of clothes, and visited the wharf’s notoriously hideous public shower. Nobody goes into that bathroom, ever, period. One stall is constantly flowing with water, while the other stall is completely blocked up with generations of ecoli, with the dank mosquito-infested shower in between. You stand in the darkness groping for the L-shaped valve to open the water, then shiver as a torrent of cold water dumps down upon your head in a steady stream, no soothing spray, just a impenetrable gush of solid water like a cold lead pipe.
Outside the public bath the fisherman had returned with their catch, and several large tuna waited stiffly to have their heads hacked off and thrown to the thrashing sharks. The tide was high and surging three feet as I lowered my propane and laundry into the dinghy tied along the wharf with fifteen others. The day was cool and rainy, a nice respite from the sun-burning heat. A gust of cold wind announced a new squall coming down from the mountains, which was followed a minute later by a driving rain. The rain whipped against my skin as I motored the dinghy away from the wharf. On the breakwater three men were offloading a cargo of goat carcasses from a fishing piroque. They heaved up a dozen or so dead goats like limp burlap bags with hairy legs.
Back at Pamela I loaded my three empty diesel jugs into the dinghy then motored over to Mintaka to make a fuel run to the jetty where the Tahiti Nui cargo ship was loading a helicopter onto her foredeck and preparing to cast off. Four times we motored from Mintaka and Pamela to the fuel dock carrying a total of 280 litres of diesel. Each time we departed in the dinghy a new rain squall hit us, and each time at the concrete jetty the swell pushed the dinghy four feet up and down against its sides. Four times we trudged through the mud from the fuel station back to the jetty carrying the heavy jugs of diesel. At last the job was finished. I lashed down my diesel jugs and prepared Pamela to set sail in the morning, saying goodbye to Robyn and Mark on Mintaka and bidding them fair winds until we met again in New Zealand in November.
New Zealand, 4000 miles away. Is it possible that I will actually make it that far?
At daybreak I made final preparations for setting sail, stowing the provisions, lashing down everything on deck, and doing my morning Yoga exercises. Fifty-five years old, so fifty-five push-ups and fifty-five sit-ups, followed by a hot mug of sticky sweet coffee. I hoisted up the anchor and turned Pamela in a circle around Mintaka, saying our goodbyes, and then raised the mainsail with a single reef and unfurled the jib. I thought of putting two reefs in the mainsail in case there were heavy winds outside Taiohae Bay, but decided against it. After all, yesterday’s rain squalls were long forgotten and the morning wind was light.
Just outside the bay the seas got big. A swell was running and a heavy chop from yesterday’s wind was producing seas of six to eight feet. The south-easterly trade winds were getting a lift from a high pressure system south off the Tuamotus. The building seas had come a few thousand miles before crashing into Nuku Hiva’s easterly cape. They rushed toward Pamela in a rapid succession of deep troughs and steep slopes. Suddenly the wind went from 10 to 25 knots. The single-reefed mainsail heeled Pamela over 30 degrees and washed the side decks clean. The kayak paddles were lashed together and weighted down by the secured kayak, but were not lashed to the ship. As Pamela careened down each wave a wall of sea water sprayed me thoroughly from head to foot. It was a rollicky white-knuckled adventure!
Taipivai is a small bay in the larger Controlleur’s Bay about five miles upwind and to the east of Taiohae. I had planned on a short motor over to Taipivai and had put up the sails just for the sport of it. Now I was hanging on for dear life. My life jacket and tether were up forward in the V-berth under a crate of eggs. I held on tight and put all thoughts of the grossly tilted slippery decks out of my mind.
I went below decks for a quick survey of the wreckage below. My chart books were thrown to the floor and the ditch bag was about to spill its contents. A puddle of seawater was forming in the galley, probably from the anchor hawse pipe which I had not completely sealed before leaving Taiohae. With the foredeck completely awash, seawater was streaming into the anchor chain locker and dripping its way back to the lowest part of the ship, the galley.
I tacked Pamela out to sea for about five miles hoping the seas would lay down a bit. Then tacking toward Controlleur’s Bay I found myself retracing my track back to Taiohae. Alas, Pamela’s port-side jib sheet was too far forward and her jib was sagging. She pointed no higher than 60 degrees and scudded along at a whopping two and half knots while the waves conspired to push her back in the direction we’d come.
I tacked back out to sea and adjusted the port-side jib sheet car. Then I noticed that the spinnaker bag that had been secured to the foredeck for the past five thousand miles was hanging over the side and filling with seawater! Forgetting about life preservers, tethers, and slippery decks, I shouted, “I’ve got to get that spinnaker out of the water!” I dashed forward amid the turmoil and grabbed the spinnaker bag. It was hanging off the starboard rail by its straps and was completely filled with seawater, heavy and producing lots of drag like a sea anchor. I passed another line through one of its grommets and quickly tied it to a stanchion, then raced back to the cockpit to turn Pamela back on starboard tack to get the spinnaker bag out of the water. With her starboard rail high out of the water I was able to wrestle the soaked spinnaker bag back up on deck and tie it to the deck cleats.
Pamela was now approaching the last point before Controlleur’s Bay. How I longed to be back in flat water within the confines of that bay. As she approached the point it was a crapshoot whether she could round the point without another tack. But another tack ran the risk of tossing the spinnaker bag back over the rail. I considered my options. Approaching within a half-mile from the point I furled up the jib and started the engine, turning the ship another 10 degrees to weather to round the point with some sea room to spare.
Inside Controlleur’s Bay the winds calmed and the seas magically turned back to a manageable two-foot swell. The inward bay of Taipivai called invitingly. As I prepared to anchor I revised my list of “must-do’s” before leaving an anchorage:
be sure to tie everything down tight, such as the kayak paddles
stick lots of play-doh around the anchor hawse pipe to prevent water from coming down below
hoist the mainsail with the #2 reef until I get past the gusty promontory that keeps an anchorage protected from the prevailing winds.
Once anchored it was time to relax a while and forget about the savage ocean churning around the cape. I turned on the stereo and turned up the country music. Pamela’s mood grew festive with the sounds of banjo and fiddle of “Good Ole Rockytop” and I popped open a beer to add to the celebration. I placed the Hinano in a beer cozy from Butch’s Fish Camp in Okeechobee, Florida to enhance the authenticity.
I cleaned up the sea water down below, put away the various items that had been pitched across the cabin, and prepared the boat for a relaxing period at anchor in Taipivai Bay.
When I’m alone on the boat, the first thing I do is to plumb through the depths of the refrigerator to see what moldy delights Pam has left for me. Before leaving Taiohae I removed four plastic bags of putrified compost. One such bag that had not completely liquified contained the remains of a cucumber that we had bought at the vegetable market at 0400 the previous Saturday. Everyone had warned us, “If you want lettuce you have to get to the market by 4:00 a.m., otherwise all the good organic produce will be gone.” Get up three hours before dawn and clamber into the dinghy to get to a vegetable market?
“This is a cruiser myth,” one cruiser had told us. “You don’t have to get there by 4:00 a.m. They will still have good stuff available at 5:30 a.m.”
“I am longing for fresh organic lettuce,” Pam replied. “I need it. I haven’t had any since Mexico. We need to get there early. I will make it so.”
And so it was that at 0350 on Saturday morning we were the very first customers at the market. We had to wait a bit for the lady to bring out all her vegetables. And there it was — the organic lettuce, tomatoes, cilantro, dill weed, and cucumbers.
And now here were its remains floating in a quart of scummy water at the bottom of the refrigerator. The genuine organic quality of this produce seem to hasten its return to the soggy earth.
When I’m alone on the boat there are rules that are strictly adhered to by captain, crew, mate, and cook. Rule #1: there are no crumbs allowed on the cabin sole. If I find a crumb or bit of lint or hairball, I stare at it unblinking until the weight of my gaze jerks my legs into action, jumping for the broom and dust pan. Rule #2: no alcohol before 0800. The few precious ice-cold beers in the refrigerator are solemnly sipped with slow and ritualistic Shamanic rigor, while the bottle of red wine is permitted to sit in the galley sink throughout the long day, evening, and night. No beer or wine is allowed during a passage of course, for all good ships are dry ships underway. But when the anchor snubber is locked in place, the coldest adult beverage on the ship becomes an article of matronly succor providing solace to a sea-ravaged crew. Rule #3: absolutely nothing in the galley sink. No dirty dishes attracting fruit flies and encouraging maggots — the foulest things ever to encounter on a ship at sea, even worse than rats — no piles of utensils and bowls preventing one from accessing the fresh water spigot, no coffee grounds splattered about and getting under your fingernails; nothing at all in the sink, with the noted exception of the bottle of red wine.
When I’m alone on the boat, preparing food for myself becomes an exercise in Newtonian scientific analysis. Each day I survey the contents of the refrigerator, the fruits and vegetables ripening and hanging in nets, the alfalfa and clover sprouting, and the hand-made yogurt curdling. I take out that which is furthest down its natural path toward composting and set it aside on the cutting board beside the galley sink. Today it might be two tomatoes sautéed with a sprouting red onion crowning a crusty end of baguette with a fried egg on top, and tomorrow it could be three bananas and a mango stir-fried with wrinkled green beans.
I cooked up the seven-legged chicken and covered it with onions, garlic, and salt. The chicken should last me three days before I have to open up the cans of corned beef. My salvation, a large can of ravioli stared at me from across the cabin saloon. After the chicken and the corned beef, the ravioli would be my final meal before taking on more provisions at Hatiheu, an hour and half hike over the mountain from Anaho Bay.
There was just one other sailboat in the anchorage of Taipivai, and after a day it departed, leaving me alone in this wild place. At night I could see a few lights from houses on the hillside, but by day the Taipivai valley looked green, deserted, and melancholy under the rain clouds formed by Nuku Hiva’s sharp ridge of steep volcanic mountains.
A young Herman Melville ventured to Nuku Hiva ‘round Cape Horn from Nantucket in 1842. Long before the writing of Moby Dick, Melville spent several months on Nuku Hiva and sketched out the plot of his first novel called Typee after the fierce native Marquesans in the Taipi valley. In the story, a young man deserts a whaling ship in Taiohae Bay, then climbs up the mountainside to avoid pursuit. With his companion Toby he manages to make his way along the knife-edge ridge tops. Looking down from the top into Nuku Hiva’s many valleys, he says to Toby, “This is the way we want to go. This is the valley of the friendly natives. That over there is the Typee valley, which we must avoid at all costs. They are cannibals there in Typee.” Then down from the ridge they venture into the verdant valley, only to find the Typees waiting below. They are captured but are free to wander about the village of the Typees unmolested. Happily, they are not eaten.
The young Melville dreams of a beautiful and exotic Marquesan princess, who in the story is the lovely Fayaway. The young man falls in love with her of course. And ever since, young men have come to Polynesia looking for a Fayaway to excite their passions.
After two days sitting on the boat in the anchorage I was anxious to go ashore and see the valley that Melville wrote about nearly 175 years ago. I was getting tired of picking up lint and crumbs off the cabin floor. Who keeps putting them there? I couldn’t blame Pam, for she was thousands of miles away in Seattle visiting friends with the boys, preparing for Lindsay’s college graduation. I should be there, I kept thinking. But how would the boat be safe in these anchorages with such gusty winds? What if the anchor dragged in a cloudburst, who would keep Pamela from hitting the rocky shoreline? In the well-protected anchorage of Anaho last week Mintaka dragged her anchor 70 feet.
But the day turned into a series of rainstorms. I could just make out Melville’s valley through the driving slats of rain, looking more somber and eerie than ever. The rolly anchorage was now a choppy sea, with stout waves passing Pamela like columns of white horses. With a machete in my knapsack and a bottle of mosquito repellent I launched the kayak into the chop. Away I bobbed in the waves toward the beach of Taipi.
How long have I imagined this wild valley? Like Jack London before me I had read Melville and dreamed about Nuku Hiva’s earthy cannibals. London had come here in 1906 aboard his boat, the Snark. Like me, he was at the beginning of a two-year odyssey across the South Pacific.
When I was a little boy, I read a book, Herman Melville’s Typee;
and many long hours I dreamed over its pages. Nor was it all dreaming. I resolved then and there, mightily, come what would, that when I had gained strength and years, I, too, would voyage to Typee. For the wonder of the world was penetrating to my tiny consciousness — the wonder that has lead me to many lands, and that leads and never palls. The years passed, but Typee was not forgotten.
(Jack London, The Cruise of The Snark)
A rain squall hit me as my kayak careened toward the shore with the gusts of the reinforced trade winds.
Typee was not forgotten, and here I was now, gazing at its misty outlines till the squall swooped down and the Snark dashed on into the driving smother.
With only the knapsack on my back — shirt tucked away inside the pack and shoes mindlessly forgotten back aboard Pamela — I struck upon the small dirt road that lead into the valley and its village of a handful of houses, a church, and a post office. Melville had described Typee as a wondrous garden — Had a glimpse of the gardens of paradise been revealed to me I could scarcely have been more ravaged with the sight — whereas London found a wilderness of abandoned paepaes, the black lava-rock foundations of ancient Marquesan homes.
He saw a garden. We saw a wilderness. Where were the hundred groves of the breadfruit tree he saw? We saw jungle, nothing but jungle, with the exception of two grass huts and several clumps of cocoanuts breaking the primordial green mantle.
Instead of the beautifully elusive Fayaway, London saw two leper women. In only two generations, from Melville’s to London’s time, the strong-limbed warriors of Taipi had dwindled to a small pack of coughing islanders dying from tuberculoses.
Not so with my visit three generations later. The people of the village were thriving. Children played outside the doorways of their simple homes. A group of young men play barefoot soccer in a field outside the church. One young man in a ski cap — stylish, perhaps, but not so practical in the tropics — was jogging barefoot along the road.
“Combien de kilometres — how far is it — to Hatiehu?” I asked a shop keeper. She arched her eyebrows in amazement. “À pied?” she asked. Surely not on foot. Hatiehu was on the other side of the island, with a sharp spine of volcanic mountain separating it from the Taipi valley. People drive there, but no one walks there. I set out to do so without my shoes.
How liberating it is to walk in a rain shower wearing only your swim trunks. You don’t have to worry about getting wet. In some places the road was concrete, but mostly it was red dirt with occasional gravel. The mud oozed between my toes while the gravel toughened my heels.
Along the way I passed groves of coconut and trees full of pamplemousse, banana, guava, mangoes, and lemons. Groups of horses, some staked, some roaming free, grazed along the road. Red roosters and hens roamed everywhere. Twice I chanced upon groups of wild pigs. Standing motionless I waited for them to recognize me with their squinty pig eyes that see motion but only vague forms at a distance. When they noticed me they froze in their tracks and lifted their ears, then turned and ran. In one group a huge old boar with a shaggy razor back and long tusks stood his ground while his brood took cover. Galloping behind the sows were a line of baby piggies, the last one small and fuzzy-brown and running comically with fore- and hind-legs stretching to catch up.
The word taipi originally signified a man-eater. The warriors of the Taipi valley were dreaded throughout the Marquesas. They were a race of fighters who could not be beaten. In battle it was more likely that you would be killed outright or captured and eaten. The survivors of the Essex, from which Melville’s Moby Dick is based, knew that they could sail their whaleboat downwind to the Marquesas. But in those days the islands were supposedly infested with cannibalism and rambant homosexuality. The Essex crew wanted desperately to avoid the Marquesas, and instead of taking the natural trade wind route they struggled against the trades for a thousand miles, leaving half the crew on a barren rocky island, where they all perished, and the other half finally making it to Valparaiso several months later.
Rather than a horde of bloodthirsty cannibals, I was met repeatedly by friendly people in pickup trucks who wanted to know where I was going, and did I want a lift? Three times from the back of these pickup trucks I spied the sultry Fayaway who returned my smile in her knowing way. One young man introduced himself as Will Smith, the black movie star, and wanted to trade his pony for a ride on my sailboat.
Halfway up the mountain valley I caught my breath at the site of three magnificent water falls. They plunged vertically down the rough volcanic cliffs in a splendid array of cascades. I wondered how Melville or anyone could scale those cliff walls, for there was not even a path big enough for a goat.
Four miles up the valley my soft feet began to complain. They reminded me that it was four miles back to Pamela, and eight miles trudging up and down the mountainside barefoot was something I would likely pay for tomorrow. But up ahead was the mountain pass, and I simply had to climb to the summit to see what was on the other side. I was not disappointed — the valley of Hatiehu, a favorite spot of Robert Louis Stevenson’s, lay beneath me in verdant green splendor. The sun shown soothingly on the little town below, and in the distance I could make out the white caps on the blue Pacific. In contrast lay the valley of Taipi behind me, brooding under thick clouds that formed at the mountain pass, rubbing out the sun, turning rain into the three great cascades.
I will soon sail singlehanded across that water yonder, I whispered, and round once again that cape that forms Hatiehu and the placid bay of Anaho. I will soon be in that village below, golden in the sun, looking up at where I now stand, at the black knife-edged ridge that separates the dark Taipi valley from Anaho, the best of all anchorages in the Marquesas. And there I will wait for Pam to return, while I write my story of Typee.