Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 


 July  1:  

      The weather has turned unusually foul lately, so we're holed up in Nuku Hiva waiting it out.  It looks like we'll be able to move again in a few more days.  That has been giving us plenty of time (between rain showers) to run to the bakery for fresh baguettes or croissants.  The French (who are stereotypically obsessed with their culture and arts) have built a nice little native arts & crafts hut and a tourist office right near shore.  So along my daily trip to the bakery, I've had plenty of time to pick up brochures and educate myself about Marquesan history and tradition. 

     The ancients here believed in something called "mana", which is sort of your life force, your mojo, your energy.  Most ceremonies on those big stone altars revolved around encouraging the gods to send down more mana.  Mana made the crops grow and the fish jump into your boat, it brought fertility and good luck, strength and victory in battle.  Any thing bad in life could probably be blamed on a loss of mana.  Tattoos were in part a way to keep the mana in your body.

     It occurred to me over a rainy afternoon how we arrived here after a long, long voyage severely depleted of mana ourselves.  We were tired and dazed from the constant motion and disrupted sleep.  Uliad was low on fuel and had a good half-dozen minor repairs waiting to be done.  Regardless of the weather, just sitting still in a quiet harbor for a while seemed like a good idea.  This whole mana concept felt palpably real--and we lacked it lately.

     Fortunately, we've come to the right place.    The Marquesas are rich in mana everywhere we look.  Fruit and flowers rain down from the trees.  The people look happy, healthy, and well fed.   So we've embarked upon a program to rebuild our mana.  We'll eat good food, get plenty of rest, get to those repair projects, clean stuff up, and so on.  Hopefully by the time we're ready to move again, the ocean will be settled down and ready to carry us (comfortably!) again, too.

 

July 4:

      When the weather finally cleared, we sailed down the island to Hakatea Bay.  This little slot of a bay is walled on all sides by steep cliffs, and headed by a nice sandy beach.  As it turns out, it is also home to one of the best hikes I've ever taken in my life. 

      The valley that runs inland from this bay is crowned by the Vaipo waterfall--at 350 meters high it is the third highest waterfall in the world.  Kathleen stayed onboard nursing a headache while her two boys set off down a jeep trail that led from the beach through the lush tropical gardens of the half-dozen homes here.  By now we've almost gotten used to the fertile, heavily laden trees of pamplemousse, pomegranate, banana, lime, breadfruit and such.  These are interlaced with colorful flowering bushes and soaring coconut trees.  Gorgeous.

     After a while, the track narrowed to a footpath and the dense jungle began to set in.  From time to time, an ancient marae would appear, half buried in underbrush.  These raised stone platforms were once altars to worship ancient gods.  The path itself occasionally followed a paved stone road.  This once was an important thoroughfare. Long forgotten, but somehow still menacing tiki statues only added to the mystery.

     The path of the ancients led up through bizarre groves of twisted trees that tangled above us like giant mangroves.  A bit further and we were surrounded by huge gnarled trunks with winding roots that looked to be straight out of a Tolkien novel.  All along, the path was littered by hibiscus flowers that occasionally tumbled from above.  It was a fairy forest, and one half expected a troll to pop out at any moment.  At one point, our path was blocked by a rushing river.  After a few minutes searching, we found a pole that someone had lashed across a narrow point and we crawled across, commando style.

Ancient marae with tikiHiking to the waterfallVaipo waterfall--3rd highest in the world

     For most of the hike, the waterfall remained hidden by the dense jungle canopy.  But one sprawling meadow at the halfway point granted a spectacular view.  There, at the top of the huge vertical cliffs, a white, wispy trail of water cascaded downward.  We pressed on. 

     As we reached the narrow canyon near the waterfall, a sign on the trail warned that rocks frequently tumbled down without warning from the cliffs above, and one was particularly advised not to be here when it was raining.  The trail wound through a green meadow, while basalt cliffs rose up 2500 feet around us on three sides.  We ate lunch at a still, milky pool at the base of the waterfall, cooling ourselves in the shady, misty air.  What a magical place.  As Emmett was watching the fresh water shrimp in the pool, a huge, ugly fish swam up.  It looked like a cross between an eel and a catfish, and it was easily 4 feet long from head to tail.  It lazily swam up to the shallows and stared at us.  I blinked, half expecting it to start talking.  When the fish remained mute, we tossed it some of our sandwich as a goodwill offering.  Perhaps the strange fish from the enchanted pool would grant us mana.

Looking out from Vaipo waterfallThe strange fish in the pool at Vaipo waterfall

     After a half hour, a few rain drops began to fall.  Remembering the sign, we scurried back out of the slot canyon and began the long hike home.  2 and a half hours later, we were back onboard Uliad trying to share the details without making Kathleen feel bad that she had missed it.

 

July 7:

     The island of Ua Pou is crowned with enormous rock spires that jut upward menacingly above the green hills below.  These towers climb 4000 feet above the ocean and make this island look exactly like the sort of place where an evil scientist would have his lair.  We arrived on Ua Pou yesterday after a short but grueling 3 hour sail through steep 7 foot seas.  A few miles out of Nuku Hiva, one of the support straps that holds our dinghy on its davits snapped from all the violent sea motion, leaving our dingy dragging its stern through the turbulent seas.  Fortunately we managed to rig a new lifting strap and get everything tied down again before anything was damaged.  I was really proud of how well we all worked together in an unexpected crisis.

The Mysterious Island of Ua Pou

      Despite a rough start, and the menacing appearance of the place, we like it here.  It is a smaller place and the natives couldn't be friendlier.  Our arrival coincided with the arrival of a passenger/cargo ship that takes a route through the islands every three weeks or so.  The villagers here had their crafts on display for the sudden deluge of tourists who were let off the ship for a few hours to wander around while the cargo was unloaded.  We met a nice couple from Australia who were spending their vacation island hopping through Polynesia on this unusual cruise ship.  This was only their second island stop so far but they go on to another half-dozen before sailing back to Tahiti.

     Traditional dancing is hugely popular throughout Polynesia, and we were treated to our first demonstration here.  Five young ladies swirled their hips and gracefully swayed their arms to the music of a few drums and guitars, followed by a very fierce "man dance" by four young warriors.  It was good fun and I look forward to seeing more.  We were told that every island group has a unique style, the Marquesan style being known for the fierce grunting and chest pounding that the boys showed us today.  Further along in the islands it apparently gets more sultry and graceful--apparently the Tahitians are lovers, not fighters.

Traditional Dancers on Ua Pou

     We have decided to stay one more day before facing the rough seas again to tackle a long upwind sail to Tahuata.  That gives me one more day to make sure I've got the dinghy strapped down extra tight this time. 

 

July 10:

    The sixty mile upwind passage to Tahuata was just as long and painful as I had anticipated.  Our progress was slowed by 7 foot high seas in close procession, stopping our forward progress every time the sails got lift.  We had trouble making better than 4-5 knots much of the time.  As a result, we didn't arrive in Tahuata until well after dark; and it's always nerve-racking to feel our way into a strange bay in the darkness.  I had planned our departure time estimating that we'd arrive by 4pm--which would leave a two hour safety window before night fall.  Unfortunately, I ended up being about three hours off in my estimate.

    Waiting for us in Tahuata was Independence.  They had made the Pacific crossing a few weeks behind us and got caught in the high winds and rough seas last week that we were snugly hiding from up in Nuku Hiva.  We kept in scheduled radio contact with them during the storms, but it did little to reasuure us as we heard their reports of shredded sails and damaged rigging.  We were SOOOOO looking forward to seeing them safe and sound and giving them all big hugs.

    The morning after our arrival, we soon on each other's boats--the kids making plans to play and the adults making plans to socialize.  Over a table of snacks and beverages, we had a long visit this evening to catch up on all of each other's latest adventures since we left the Galapagos.  We told them all about the incredibly beautiful islands north of here.  They told us their storm stories.  Emmett couldn't wait to show Ben how to knee-board...

     We built a bonfire on the beach which was also a convenient excuse to burn the used oil from my last oil change.  The kids entertained themselves (as kids inevitably do) with poking sticks in the fire.  Reunions like this are always joyful.  Perhaps more so after a difficult passage.

     Near the end of their ordeal, Jenny recalled, we had spoken on the radio and I signed off saying something like, "Sail safe...and we'll leave the light on here for you."   Emotionally and physically tired as she was at the time, she admitted to us that there was something about those words that moved her to tears at the time.  The irony didn't escape me, however, that on our late arrival into the pitch black anchorage in Tahuata, it was Independence's anchor light that served as a beacon to guide us safely in. 

 

July 12:

     The clear sheltered waters of this bay have finally given us a chance to relax, run the watermaker, and catch up on laundry.  Ashore is a nice sandy beach for the kids and beyond that green jungle.  Otis and I went "hunting" around the rocks looking for lobsters but came back empty handed.  Unwilling to admit defeat, we went "hunting" on shore and came back with bags full of fresh limes, pamplemousse, and coconuts that grow wild here.

     This morning we threw together a big batch of sourdough hotcakes, peeled a pamplemousse, and mixed up a batch of fresh lime-aid to make brunch for us and Independence.  We got to talking and realized that several other cruisers had spoken of what fabulous tattoos they had gotten from a guy here on Tahuata.  So tomorrow we're off in search of the great tattooist of Tahuata.

 

July 13:

      Tattooing had its earliest beginnings in the cultures of the South Pacific.  Early European explorers returned with fantastic tales of the practice.  And while many island groups did it, the Marqeusans took both the intricate artistic design and the sheer amount of skin covered to heights unseen in the rest of the South Seas.

      Soon, curious sailors on whale ships and traders started wearing tattoos.  The tradition began centuries ago that sailors would commemorate their trip across the equator by getting tattooed in the South Pacific.  A careful look at practically any veteran of the Navy or the Marines will confirm that the tradition has continued on into modern times.  Here in the Marquesas, tattooing was surpressed by the church missionaries for a long time, but in the past few decades, there has been a cultural re-awakening here and with it a renewed interest in traditional tatooing.

     Kathleen and I had joked for years about getting our own tattoos after we sailed into the southern hemisphere.  I'm not sure that either of us was too serious about it.  But there was something about the emotional trial of the long passage at sea and the beauty of this place when we finally arrived and the long cultural history here and the absolutely stunning artistry of the tattooed flesh of the natives here that led us to agree:  If we were to ever do it, this should be the place.

     Felix is the tattoo artist on the island of Tahuata.  When I made my timid inquiry at the Post Office, I was told by the clerk to go to City Hall.  Felix's wife works there.  At city hall, a friendly woman named Solange made a quick call and told us to climb into her pick up truck.  She would take us to Felix.

    We had made other inquiries.  "Felix", another cruiser gushed, "made a tattoo more beautiful than anything I have seen anywhere in the Pacific."  "Felix", a man at the grocery store said knowingly, "won't tattoo just anybody.  If he doesn't like what he sees in you, he won't give you a tattoo for any price."  "Felix," said another, "doesn't take requests.  He doesn't have you choose a drawing out of a book.  He will look into your soul and bring forth the tattoo that is right for your spirit."  Felix was the man for us. 

    Solange's truck meandered up the hillside, stopping at a modest home surrounded by gardens and trees.  Felix wandered out onto his porch and I made our request in my most polite French.  He smiled and welcomed us to come sit on the porch.  With the briefest of introductions, he soon had Otis in a chair with his shirt off and Kathleen & Jenny pouring over a French book documenting traditional Marquesan tattoo designs.  30 minutes later he had seen into Otis' soul and drawn an amazingly intricate tiki design over his left shoulder.  Looking at it, I'm not sure exactly what is in Otis' soul...but I know it is complex.  We all loved it, but Otis still didn't have any local currency, so he offered to return in a few days to make it permanent.  I shoved Kathleen forward.  "Monsieur," I explained, "my wife has always spoken of getting a sea turtle tattoo.  She loves the creatures.  Is it possible?" 

Otis with Marquesan tattoo study--created after looking into his soul! Kathleen in Marquesan tattoo parlorKathleen's tattoo

    Felix took a long look, smiled, and said yes, he could see it, but it had Marquesan designs incorporated.  That sounded perfect to Kathleen and soon after selecting a spot between her shoulder blades, Felix had drawn free-hand another stunning, ornately decorated design.  And with that, Kathleen became the first in the group to submit to the needle and have the ink burrowed into her dermis.  Right there on the front porch, surrounded by an Eden of fruit trees and chickens and warm ocean breezes, Kath got her tattoo.  Once again, Felix had seen a pattern harmonious to the soul.  Everyone including Kathleen thought it was the nicest tattoo they'd ever seen. 

      

July 15:

    My own appointment with the tattoo master would be delayed by Bastille Day.  Everyone on the island of Tahuata (maybe a couple hundred people) converged on this little village for the French Republic's version of Independence Day.  We arrived in town to see the mayor give a speech at the flagpole, followed by singing the French National Anthem and what I can only assume to be the Polynesian Anthem.  Then the village children did some nice traditional dances dressed in their finest palm frond and banana leaf outfits.  A few older folks soon felt inspired to get up and do a few steps as well.  Compared to the dance show put on for the tourists back in Ua Pou, one definitely got a sense that this was only for the islander's own pleasure to do the traditional dances here.

    In true French Socialist fashion, the next item on the day's agenda was...free beer, soda and cake for everyone.  A friendly guy then gave us a ride in his pickup to the island athletic field where the rest of the afternoon was spent in various sporty competitions.  There was, for example, the coconut shucking contest.  Now this may seem quaint, but in fact it turned out to be rowdy blood sport!  Beefy teams of two each selected a stack of 50 coconuts.  When the starting whistle blew, one person (usually the skinnier or younger on the team) started madly swinging an axe.  With each mighty stroke, another nut was cleft in half as coconut water went flying.  Then the second team member sat on the ground with a large knife, prying out the coconut meat into a burlap sack before tossing the shells aside.  It didn't take long before one guy gashed his hand badly.  He really didn't want to concede though, and only after a pile of blood spattered coconut meat sat around him did he allow his friends to wrap his hand in a towel and pull him away to go see the village nurse.

    This was followed by a few much gentler games of soccer (men's and women's divisions).  The kids grew tired by mid afternoon and we headed back to the boat; but I understand that the festivities went on long into the night.   The following morning, our friend Josie at the grocery store had to inform us that there would be no fresh bread today...his baker was up too late last night dancing and partying.

 

July 17:

      Felix the tattoo artist has a little tin roofed hut in the village where he usually does his work.  I arrived yesterday morning just as Otis' giant arm tat was being finished.  I was up next.  Gulp.  Felix's method of tattooing was probably the right way to go for me as I had little in the way of ideas as to what sort of tattoo I wanted.  Something bold, but well hidden under typical business casual attire.  Something of the ocean...sea turtles are nice, but matching his and hers tattoos are too much.  Dolphins to effeminate.  In a way, it was nice to just say, "Go ahead Felix.  Look into my soul and draw what you see."  He seemed intrigued that I was a doctor the other day--his best friend is the island's nurse practitioner.  I imagined some sort of Marquesan cadeusis would appear.  Felix just smiled and pointed to his forehead. 

     "Your tattoo came to me", he said reassuringly.   And then I sat down on his table with that heart pounding feeling one gets when they are about to do something deliciously naughty--like squeezing your girlfriend's breast for the first time...or quitting your job and setting out to sail across the sea.  Felix went to work with his magic marker, drawing freehanded for about 45 minutes on my left shoulder.  I waited until he had finished before looking down.

      He had drawn an abstract design following the outline of the deltoid muscle.  The same shape as a sea turtle shell Kathleen pointed out.  Felix then pointed out the meaning of each little design within the whole, which proved to be quite complex by the end of it all.  My complex inner spirit.  Otis and I have decided that if anyone asks casually in a bar what these strange Marquesan symbols mean, we'll simply say that it means: for a guy as old as me, my sexual performance is above average. 

      Kathleen seemed to approve.  "Go ahead," I told Felix, "make it last."  He set to work assembling his modern American tattoo gun (yes, with a new sterile needle) while I reclined on his wooden bench on his bare concrete floor in his tin roof shack listening to the waves of tropical rain patter away.  Several hours later, here it is.  Forever a part of me.

My tattoo with Felix the Tahuata tattoo artist

      I'm not sure if it's really a vision of my soul or it has endowed me with mana, but I like it.  I was never one for tattoos--who knows if you'll come to regret it after twenty years?  Too permanent.  But now that I have one, I feel differently.  I like the fact that in this impermanent world, this memento of our voyage will last.  I like the fact that I came here to get it--the place where tattooing began and is still an important part of the culture.  Someday I may be old and withered, and some nurses aide will be sponging off my incontinence.  And maybe she'll ask where ever did I get that strange tattoo?  "Once I was a sea captain", I'll tell her.  "I sailed my little boat across a great ocean, to the earthly paradise of Tahuata.  And I was befriended by the villagers, who brought me to the master tattoo artist of the island.  The tattooist looked into my soul and saw a design.  Then he tattooed the design of my spirit onto my shoulder, under a breadfruit tree while it rained."

     She may laugh to her friends at the nurses station about old Mr. Erickson's latest confabulation.  But I, tucked into bed in a fresh pair of Depends, will look down at my left shoulder and know that it really did happen. 

 

July 20:

 

    We sailed southeast to Fatu Hiva today...hopefully this will be our last upwind slog for a long time.  About half way there, we got a strike on the starboard fishing pole.  I looked back to see a billfish continuing to attack the lure, perhaps not yet realizing he was hooked!  After a 15 or 20 minute fight complete with jumps, dives, and a "tailwalk", we had a beautiful striped marlin along side the boat.  Emmett proved an able assistant by turning the boat, fetching the gaff, and helping out while I fought the beast.  Once we got it on deck it was 5 feet long and about 30 pounds.  Small by marlin standards, but I wouldn't have wanted to try to bring anything much bigger onboard Uliad.

Our 5 foot long striped marlin

 

July 23:

     On the island of Fatu Hiva rests a place called The Bay of Virgins.  People say it's the most beautiful anchorage in the Marquesas.  Considering just how beautiful all the other anchorages have been, we just had to see for ourselves.  The legend is that the original name the natives gave to this place was The Bay of Penises.  Looking up at all the phallic rock spires that rim the cliffs here, I can see why.  Anyway, the early missionaries blushed at the name and added a letter to the French word for the male organ (verges) to make it the word for virgin (vierges).  How ironic is that?  The bay of Virgins lies surrounded by giant erect phalli? 

     As long as you don't get creeped out by giant stone penises surrounding you, the bay really is as beautiful as they say.  The village on shore is lush and charming.  There's a trail up the valley to another pretty waterfall.  Despite it all, our hearts really weren't in it, though.  We are all thinking ahead to the very different island group of the Tuamotus that lay ahead.  So after two days here, we were ready to make the three day crossing there.

     At least we thought we were.  Not 20 minutes out of the bay, we were struck by one of the huge wind gusts that race down the mountainside here.  This one was powerful enough to tear our tired, old mainsail completely in half!  Kathleen heard the bang and came up to steer as Emmett and I worked to bring down the sail.  After a few tense minutes, we had everything under control again and decided sail downwind to the Tuamotus under headsail only.  But after an hour or two, we realized this wasn't going to work.  Without the steadying force of the mainsail, we rolled mercilessly in the rough seas.  I thought a three day passage would leave me plenty of time to repair the sail, but I realized that I was getting too seasick to do much of anything. 

    So we ended up turning around and motoring two hours back to the Bay of Penises.  I sat up until midnight in the cockpit carefully sewing the sail back together.   First thing this morning, we raised the sail to try again.  I was really nervous that my repair wouldn't hold.  The sail is pretty old, and the sun has made the cloth weak.  My original plan was to replace it in New Zeeland, but now I'll be grateful if it will last to Tahiti.  So we're off again and so far the stitches seem to be holding.  Wish us luck!

 

July 26:

 

     The Tuamotu Islands are a group of low atolls widely scattered across a thousand miles of remote ocean.  So remote, in fact, that until 1996, the French government thought nothing of conducting nuclear tests here to the condemnation of the rest of the world.  There are still two atolls here that people are forbidden to visit because of the testing. 

     Soon after their discovery, (and long before the nukes) sailors began calling these islands "the dangerous archipelago".  It is easy to see why.  Unlike the high Marquesas Islands that can be seen 20 or 30 miles away, these circular reefs are low--sometimes awash, and the ocean rises up from thousands of feet deep to dangerously shallow within a few hundred yards.  In addition, the underwater topography causes strong and unpredictable currents to push boats in unexpected directions.  As a result, many a ship and yacht has been sailing along in this area in what they thought was a deep channel only to hear the roar of a breaker in the darkness, followed by a sudden lurch and a sickening crunch as the vessel slammed into the jagged rock of an atoll.

     I approached the dangerous archipelago with a determination to pay close attention.  At around midnight on our second night out I faced our first navigational challenge:  Our path took us right past a tiny atoll named Napuka.  I stayed on watch past our usual change time to make sure we passed it safely.  When we came within about 5 miles I turned on the radar to see a good clear image of the island...its range and distance confirming our position on the chart plotter.  I would have been ready to relax and let Kathleen take over for the next 4 or 5 hours were it not for the red light coming on.

    The red light sits right next to the radar screen and comes on whenever our main bilge pump is running.  Little drips and splashes can enter the boat for a variety of reasons and with a quick flash of the red light, a squirt of water gets pumped back overboard and all is well.  But when the red light stays on, it means one thing.  It means you're taking on a LOT of water.  It means you're sinking.  It means you definitely won't be climbing into bed any time soon.

    Now sometimes the float switch gets stuck when we heel over hard so I wasn't too worried when I climbed down into the engine room to check the bilge.  But when I saw a good amount of water sloshing around beneath the engine, I started to mutter a few epithets of concern.  The pump was running, but no water was getting pumped out.  So now I have two problems.  Water is coming in, and my pump isn't working.  A quick check of all the through hulls and fittings revealed no clear source for the leak.

    This is the point where I first pondered whether it was time to wake up Kathleen.  "Wake up honey.  Guess what, we're sinking."  I wasn't looking forward to hearing her reply.  On the other hand, my course of action was clear.  Get out the spare pump and hook it up.  Now.  It was a one person job that would probably only go slower having anxious eyes watching me.  I quickly went through the process:  cut the wires, disconnect the hoses, unbolt the pump.  (I think the water level is a bit higher)  Crimp on the new wires.  Clamp the hoses onto the spare pump.  Throw the switch and pray.  The pump roared to life and the water soon began to drop.

     I ran back to the cockpit to reconfirm our position, then settled in to watch that red light.  It was coming on about every minute...5 seconds at a time.  "So let's see," I calculated, "The pump is rated for 8 gallons per minute...running 5 seconds per minute...that means we're taking on a gallon of water every 12 minutes."  Too much to go to bed.  With the water pumped out of the bilge, though, I could now see a trickle coming from the back of the boat.  I followed it back to where the engine exhaust pipe ran through a bulwark and under our bed.  Water was slowly trickling around the hose.  Then it struck me--it's the stern shower nozzle!

    On the back of our boat there is a little shower hose that you can pull out to rinse yourself off at the end of a swim.  When not being used, the nozzle slides into a little holder and is relatively water tight.  But a look over the stern with my flashlight confirmed that the nozzle was out about 6 inches.  And that left a little gap around the hose for water to come in.  And with these seas, leaning over like we were, I could see how that little gap was under water much of the time.  I hooked on my safety harness and climbed onto the stern platform, and tried to stuff the nozzle back in place.  It wouldn't go.  I had to open the stern compartment and get at the hose from the other side to see that it was being pushed forward by some other stuff that had shifted.  With everything rearranged, the nozzle easily dropped into place, and the leak was sealed.

    By now I realized that I was drenched in sweat.  I sat up in the cockpit drinking a beer and watching the red light come on in 2 minutes...3 minutes...4 1/2 minutes...and so on until it was finally time to crawl into our room and say, "Kath...time for your watch.  We're safely past Napuka and on course.  All's well...but keep an eye on the bilge pump light OK?"

 

July 27:

    We would arrive at the atoll called Makemo in the middle of the night at the rate we were going.  So as soon as we got into the calm lee of another atoll along our path called Taenga, I hove to for a few hours.  The mainsail lasted until we got underway again.  Less than an hour from our goal, a new tear appeared about a foot or two above the last one.  The fabric is definitely well past it's useful life.  We were a pretty sorry sight coming into Makemo.  Not only was our mainsail torn in half, but the sacrificial UV-protection strip on the trailing edge of our jib has done its sacrificial job, and was now fluttering like Tibetan prayer flags along our headsail. 

The sad state of Uliad's canvas

    I took down the mainsail while Kathleen motored into the wind outside the pass.  We had to time our entry into the pass to the period of slack water as the tide stopped rising and before it began falling.  Atolls are circular reefs left over by ancient volcanoes.  Inside the reef the water is shallow and calm, protected from the ocean swells outside.  But in those few places where there is a gap in the reef, water races in and out with the tides at sometimes remarkable speed.  These currents not only can make it hard to maneuver in the narrow, rocky channel, but also create big, rough waves when they encounter ocean winds and swells.  The reason we chose Makemo for our first landfall was in part because it has a relatively wide and well marked pass.  Nonetheless, I was determined not to make any mistakes in the dangerous archipelago.

     We entered the pass at about 07:30.  The sun was high enough by then to see the water depths ok and it was close to slack water.  I would have entered 15 minutes sooner, but a pod of dolphins came by to show us how high they could jump and we had to stay and watch.  Despite slack water, there were three knots of current against us.  The thought went through my head that if our engine quits in the middle of one of these passes, we'll probably wreck the boat.  Note to self:  give the engine a thorough preventive check up before we leave here.

     We ploughed into the current, the chop went away, and slowly a vast lake of perfectly clear blue water was revealed to us inside.  Suddenly we were staring at the amazing blue water colors we hadn't seen since Bonaire.  The occasional shallow coral head was easily seen against the bright turquoise waters and we maneuvered around them to drop our anchor off a little village.  A dusty, sun baked village in the middle of nowhere that, remarkably, even has a wi-fi signal which will allow me to post this update to all of you.

 

July 30:

The village on Makemo is a disorderly jumble of concrete houses divided by a few concrete roads. There appear to be as many stray dogs as people here. Judging by how skittish the dogs are around people, I don't think they are regarded as pets. If you're not going to take care of them, wouldn't it be more productive to keep chickens or goats around instead? If anyone has tried, the wild dogs probably devoured them.
There are a surprisingly large number of stores here, each with a few shelves of canned goods and a freezer full of ice cream. A bakery does a brisk business in baguettes each morning and if you can get there by 6am, they even have a few doughnuts and cream puffs.
It's a surprisingly large community of several hundred people, considering that harvesting coconuts and pearl farming is the only significant economic activity here. Kathleen and I wandered the town looking to find a pearl farmer. The famed "black pearls" of the Tuamotus grow here and Kathleen is determined to go straight to the source for rock bottom prices. Our search led us to the back door of the biggest house in town where, alas, we were told that they have no pearls for sale at this time.
Emmett has been improving his kneeboarding skills daily on the flat waters of the atoll. After a few laps behind the dinghy, he goes ashore to play with the local kids who all seem to gather on the pier each afternoon to swim and fish. And that's about it for Makemo: swim, fish, eat, hunt for pearls.

July 31:

You'd think we'd get bored, but I've had plenty to keep me busy. Once again I sewed our mainsail back together and said another little prayer that it will hold until Tahiti. Then I repaired the bilge pump so now I have a working spare again. (There was a sliver of wood stuck in one of the pump valves...good lesson about keeping the bilges clean!)  Oh, and I found a job.
We're looking ahead to hurricane season, which in the southern hemisphere runs November through March. Rather than rush to New Zeeland or Hawaii, we've decided to haul out Uliad on an island near Tahiti and store it while we fly home for a few months. After a few inquiries, I ended up taking a position with a Family Medicine Residency program in Colorado starting in October. I had a telephone interview at a phone booth in Tahuata dressed in a T-shirt and swimsuit.
As soon as I open my mouth about work, the deadlines start pouring in. Now I need to get my Colorado medical license right away. The process can take several months so if there is any hope of starting in October, I need to get the paperwork done immediately. So the last few days have been a flurry of emails, filling out forms, and now trying to figure out how to get the paperwork back to the USA right away. There is a French post office here, and a plane lands once a week. Not reassuring.
The nearest DHL office is in Tahiti, so it looks like we'll need to sail to another larger atoll called Fakarava which is about 85 miles away. They have daily flights to Tahiti, so I'll probably fly to Tahiti, mail my package from there, then fly back to Fakarava the next day. I shudder to think what the total cost will be to get my license application in. There's good reason why people only concern themselves with swimming, fishing, harvesting coconuts, and hunting for pearls out here.

 

                   

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