Years of preparation for a five-year circumnavigation were expected. The labor and cost to update systems on an older boat were expected. The amount of time it would take and the “discoveries” of unintended repairs/upgrades/costs were unexpected. We planned to start our circumnavigation leaving within a community of 125 cruising boats, a fun way to force our departure date while meeting other like-minded families and forging new lifelong friendships. The Baja Ha-ha Rally departs San Diego for Baja California, Mexico in late October.
Appreciating that the further away from Southern California we got, the more time-consuming and expensive working on the boat would become: thus our plans changed. With the five-year picture in mind, we forewent departing with the Baja Ha-ha Rally, preferring to have a more comfortable, less stressful departure and subsequent ocean crossings. The five-month delay would also mean not stopping in Central or South America–bummer. After missing the Ha-ha departure, we delayed still further our departure into Mexico in San Diego. Sailing down the Southern California coast revealed more “discoveries.” Delaying our San Diego departure was a calculated gamble.
In exchange for more stable boat systems (diesel flow to engine, wind generation of electricity, etc.), we would cut short our stay in Mexico, sailing directly to the Galapagos from Puerto Vallarta.
Unfortunately, problems cropped up on our way to La Cruz, Mexico (autopilot, VHF radio, etc.) and we were held up longer in Mexico than intended. Repairing a boat in Mexico is more time and cost effective than in the Galapagos or the Marquesas. The additional delay caused Easter Island, one of Leslie’s bucket list destinations, to be removed from our itinerary. All of a sudden, the additional costs, combined with an unexpected substantial tax bill, threatened to reduce our trip from five years to three, perhaps only two, years. It was a depressing set of circumstances for me.
Additionally, along the way we kept missing events and weather windows, sometimes by a week, sometimes by a few days. It was more than frustrating to learn we’d missed petting the grey whales, “There were so many last week, but they all left four days ago.” We missed a very animated Mexican village’s St. Patrick’s patron saint’s celebration by two weeks. We missed the favorable weather window between Mexico and Galapagos, and when we arrived in the Galapagos, the customary sunny and calm weather of Puerto Villamil turned unusually rainy with a large sea surge. The family was growing somewhat discouraged by the prospect of our future travels, especially Leslie. I was not spending the promised time of adventure and exploration with the boys.
These weighty circumstances were not the expected outcome of so much thoughtful effort and planning. By the time we reached the Galapagos, the combination of rough passages, missed opportunities, and troubling breakdowns caused me to reflect and re-evaluate my goals. An optimist (generally), I often find opportunity within crises. I was digging deep to find the good, sifting through the weeks to recognize events worthy of the sacrifice. It is under these conditions, after 24 days of uncomfortable sailing, that we arrived in the Marquesas (cue revelation music cue, the kind you hear with sun rays bursting around a cloud).
Sailing around the rugged castle-like southeastern corner of Nuku Hiva, the island was greener than I’d ever seen it. I’ve been to the Marquesas twice before, in 1976-77 and in 1990, both times aboard a sailboat.
As a result, the Marquesas were a familiar and welcoming place. We have Marquesan friends on the main administrative island of Nuku Hiva. The Marquesas consist of six inhabited islands with a population of 9000. Nuku Hiva is the most northerly. Most sailboats, taking advantage of the southerly winds and seas, clear into the southern Marquesas and work their way north. But considering our Marquesan friends are part of our extended family and were eagerly awaiting our arrival, we headed directly to Nuku Hiva. Via satellite text, they knew exactly when we were to arrive. What a grand and warm welcome they provided. Sebastien and a French friend of his, Guy, came to help us drop anchor. At the wharf, Denis and Chantale waited the 90 minutes it took for us to pull out the inflatable dingy that was packed below deck for the long crossing. Once we motored up to the wharf, scaled ourselves up the stainless steel ladder and tied off the dinghy, we were greeted with kisses and fragrant flower leis. There were boxes and bags of fresh fruit and a grand stalk of bananas offered to take back to Kandu. At the table of an open air “snack” restaurant situated on the wharf waited a plate of poisson cru, a favorite French Polynesian dish of lime marinated raw fish served in coconut milk over rice, and glasses of fresh squeezed pamplemousse juice made from a large thick-skinned, yellow-green citrus fruit similar to grapefruit, but sweeter with a hint of lime. That night, we were driven (automobile travel is a luxury for us these days) to a lovely villa high above the beach, overlooking the bay.
We feasted with two-dozen family members over a potluck of various Marquesan, French, and Chinese dishes, lovingly prepared. We were told that we had arrived in time to enjoy the month long period of “festival,” and that we were invited to participate in a rare visit to the uninhabited island of Eaio in a way most Marquesans only dream, let alone a non-Marquesan family.
Over the next couple weeks, we learned that Bryce and Trent could be admitted into their public “college” (6th-11th grade), where they could learn French, a dream of Leslie’s and mine. We could become “Certified Residents” of Taiohae, Nuku Hiva with benefits coming to the residents of the town.
There would be beautiful hikes, hunting of boar and wild sheep, horseback riding on secluded beaches, dance and song soirees, and more local food. In short, we would be immersed in the Marquesan culture in a way rare for most sailing families. And it would all be at little expense. Our friends are farmers and fishermen, so they told us to not buy these fruits and fish, that they would provide them to us. Anchoring in the bay is free. We made arrangements to purchase diesel duty-free. One of our “family members” offered the use of their house, with our own room and access to laundry machines. With much buzz about the likelihood of an El Nino weather year, I asked Guy, Sebastien’s French friend who has lived throughout much of French Polynesia over 8 years aboard his sailboat, where he would stay if he had only one year to live in French Polynesia. Without missing a beat, he said, right here in Taiohae, Nuku Hiva. As the next few weeks passed, and through the generosity of our Marquesan family members we experienced many wonderful things it became apparent that my desire to see as much of the world in five years as possible needed revision. Rather than touch down in as many countries as possible, more appealing had become the pace and benefits of staying in a wonderful place for months at a time. Rather than spend my days repairing Kandu, I would be able to take frequent breaks and enjoy the places, the people, and their cultures. After so many years of having been taxed physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially, the Marquesas is serving as a turning point, an opportunity to experience a fascinating lifestyle in a way few get a chance, especially for our sons. Bryce, seeing first-hand the strength and versatility of our Marquesan friends, expressed disappointment in that his friends would not know all that a “real man” can do.
This change in focus is probably an obvious adjustment for most to expect. “Of course, it’s about having cultural immersion and great experiences with your family and not about sailing around the world,” you think. But for forty years I’ve wanted to sail around the world. It is not easy to have to re-evaluate my reasons for wanting it so. Ultimately, the main emphasis came down to wanting to recreate the revelatory experiences of my adolescence, of having the world opened up within my kids’ minds, to alternative ways of seeing the world and our place in it. In my pre-departure calculation I figured the more cultures, the more mind openings, right? It’s like the captain’s oath from Star Trek: to seek out new places and cultures, to boldly go where few have gone before. That notion greatly attracts. What was not attracting was getting the boat ready for the next long passage while not visiting the current location. Are you kidding me??? Yet, that was where I was headed. With finances dwindling, it looked like I had to make a choice, sail around the world within three years, or maybe take three years to get to Australia before selling the boat, or something in-between. But, if I could live cheaply for two years, we could still travel for 5 years, just not around the world. I had to get creative with having experiences without spending money.
The Marquesas was showing me how. If you like fresh fruit and fish more than French fries and beef, and juice more than alcohol, you can live quite modestly in this remote island group. So what if we stayed one year in the Marquesas and a second year in Raiatea (Guy’s next best place to stay in French Polynesia), or which ever Societal Island opportunity grabs our imagination. Then maybe the third year we go through the South Pacific to Fiji before cutting down to New Zealand for 5 months during the hurricane season. NZ is expensive, but maybe something will work out to offset costs. It’s only 5 months. From there, pushing into the fourth year, we could pick up from which ever South Pacific islands we left off, but this time for hurricane season we could head north to the more rustic locations like Solomon and Marshal Islands, going really native, before dropping down to Australia just before the beginning of the fifth year. If we have to sell the boat, then so be it. We could then drive a camping car around Australia, and/or rent a house in Indonesia or Thailand, a base from which to travel to other parts of SE Asia and beyond. Who knows?
Our Marquesan friends offer wonderful examples of what men can really do if they push themselves. Perhaps in exercising flexibility, I teach my sons strength of reformation, doing my best to sail the wind I have . . .
by Eric Rigney