The Voyage


Andy and Melissa are sailing around the world on their 48-foot sailboat, Spectacle.

The Position

Bali, Indonesia

The Pictures

The Voyage of Spectacle

Archive for May, 2008

A Long and Fruitless Walk to Atuona

Posted by: melissa

Well, we walked, and we walked, and we walked.  After an hour of walking, we were finally back adjacent to the boat but on the town side instead of the dinghy dock side.  So we continued to walk and walk and walk.  We passed a restaurant that looked completely abandoned.  We ran into a street sign that said Atuona with a diagonal line through it, and in France, that means the end of Atuona.  So we turned right expecting the town to be up the hill at this street sign.  After slogging up a steep hill in the blazing midday heat, two guys in a truck stopped and looked at us quite puzzled.  It became clear that we were totally going the wrong direction.  With some gesticulating and broken French, we went back down to the main road, ignored the crossed out Atuona sign, and continued on.

And still, we walked, and we walked, and we walked.  Finally, we started to see the signs of civilization.  We stopped in the Snack Make Make which is the lunch café in town.  Unfortunately, we still lacked French Polynesian Francs, but at least Hiva Oa has a bank.  I grabbed a table while Andy set off to buy some local currency.  I asked for a menu when the Chinese proprietor informed me that they were already closed for the day.  Denied a proper lunch, we continued on and found the tourist office, which was closed.  Denied tourist information, we continued through town looking for an open grocery store to get a snack.

After finding a store and buying some prepared egg rolls and a couple of ice cream bars, we set off to find the Gendarmerie since we had yet to officially check in to French Polynesia.  Of course, the Gendarmerie was already closed for the entire weekend.  Having struck out yet again, we sat down to rest on the bench outside the office to consult the guide books and make a plan.  And then we got kicked off the bench by the cops locking up the office and courtyard.  Wow.  Not exactly what you’d call a productive day.  In several sources, we read that Atuona and Taiohae in Nuku Hiva have a competitive rivalry in administrative and governmental importance.  In our view, Atuona is losing the rivalry, and we haven’t even been to Taiohae yet.

By this time, it was late afternoon, so we decided to just call it a day and go back to the boat.  As we passed the Pension Moehau, we noticed some signs of life so we went in to check it out.  As it turns out, Moehau has a happening pizza restaurant and we haven’t had pizza in quite some time … one night in the Galapagos, and before that, maybe January in Los Angeles.  The restaurant didn’t start to serve dinner for ninety minutes, so we sat on the porch and enjoyed the lovely view and ordered our very first round of Hinanos … THE beer of French Polynesia.  We ate dinner, ordered two more pizzas to go, and the lovely owners insisted on giving us a ride back to the dock … a nice ending to quite the frustrating day.

Calvary Cemetary and Paul Gauguin

Posted by: melissa

Besides the lush terrain and striking mountain peaks, Hiva Oa is best known for the beautiful and historical Calvary Cemetery and two famous personalities buried there:  Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel.

Born in 1848, Paul Gauguin painted in France and Denmark in the impressionist and post-impressionist styles.  Despite friendships and working relationships with very prominent artists such as Pissarro, Cezanne, and Van Gogh, Gauguin himself personally saw very little success or acclaim as a painter.  Eventually, his wife and five children were taken in by her family as Gauguin was unable to financially support them.  Gauguin became increasingly disillusioned and disgruntled with the European art scene calling it imitative, conventional, and lacking depth.  Additionally, Gauguin suffered from severe depression and survived a suicide attempt. 

Frustrated, alone, disenfranchised, and destitute, Gauguin sailed to the South Pacific looking for a more simple life in paradise to revive his creative juices.  After producing many paintings in Tahiti, Gauguin moved to Punaauia, Hiva Oa where he painted the masterpiece, “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” in 1897.  He died in 1903 in Hiva Oa and is buried in Calvary Cemetery. 

Other parts of Gauguin’s legacy are far less rosy.  Beyond abandoning his family and his seeming ambivalence about surviving two of his own children, he is also widely considered to be a raging alcoholic, a perverted hedonist, and an unabashed seducer of teenage girls.  He referred to his home in Hiva Oa as the “House of Pleasure.”  He died of syphilis at age 54 after sharing that special gift with many young Polynesian women.  Just before he died, he was convicted on a disagreement with the church, sentenced to three months incarceration, but died before he served his penance.

Nonetheless, we tromped through Calvary Cemetery until we found his well maintained but otherwise modest gravesite.  Many people leave little notes or baubles in his honor.  I just know that he is rolling over in there due to the god awful painting someone left there.      

We also hit the Gauguin museum in Atuona which was recently remodeled and quite nice.  The museum houses reprints of most of Gauguin’s great works along with information regarding the originals and a detailed timeline of his life.  The museum also has reprints of the frequent letters exchanged between Gauguin and his wife, Mette.  Reading those letters, I got the sense that he was kind of the melodramatic tortured artist type with an extremely healthy ego regarding his contributions to the craft of painting.

Even though I personally think that Gauguin was kind of a weirdo scumbag, I must admit that while standing at his grave, I felt a distinct connection to greatness … as much as when I stood arms length from originals by Gauguin, Pissarro, Cezanne, Monet, Degas, and the great Van Gogh in the Museum D’ Orsay in Paris.  Impressionism is an extremely impactful period in art, and in history.

Check out the Tahitian works by Gauguin in three second intervals set to the music of the Tahitian choir singing “Oparo E Oparo E.”

Calvary Cemetery and Jacques Brel

Posted by: melissa

Born in Belgium in 1929, Jacques Brel may be an obscure reference for Americans, but a great many Europeans have a formative memory of him and his gift for lyricism.  Brel’s music has been translated into fifteen different languages by other world class artists such as David Bowie, the Kingston Trio, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, and Sting. 

Still in Belgium in the early 1950′s, Brel achieved minor success in music while working at his father’s cardboard factory.  Brel’s career bloomed after moving to Paris with his wife, Miche, in 1954.  He was a regular in the local clubs, and by 1956, Brel was touring through Europe with marquee names with his first real hit, “Quand on n’a que l’amour,” which means, when we only have love, and was later covered by Celine Dion.  By the late 1950′s, Brel was a bona fide success, and he started to explore different styles and themes to include rhythmic and lively pop as well as more complex melodies, ballads, and deeper themes of love, life, and despair.

In 1973, Brel sailed away to begin a circumnavigation, but by the time he reached the Canary Islands, he was diagnosed with lung cancer.  A heavy smoker, Brel returned to Paris for treatment, and continued his voyage arriving in Hiva Oa, Marquesas in 1975.  In 1977, he again returned to Paris and recorded one final, and critically acclaimed, album.  At age 49, Jacques Brel died in 1978 in the Marquesas of lung cancer.

Jacques Brel’s gravesite, just a few yards from Gauguin, is more of a modern tribute.  Like Gauguin’s grave, many pilgrims leave small notes and tributes.  Our good friend, Dominique, described to us the personal impact that Jacques Brel had on his own life growing up.  As such, Dominique carried his own guitar up to Calvary Cemetery and serenaded the grave with his favorite melodies.    

We also hit the Jacques Brel Museum which was nice but all the exhibits are in French.  It was still neat to see pictures and concert posters though.  The highlight is Brel’s private plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza named JoJo, hanging from the ceiling.  Earlier in the day, a stray dog had taken a liking to Andy and followed us around all day long, so we named him JoJo.  I am also one of two Americans to ever sign the very thick guestbook, but the other American just said, “I’m confused.  Everything’s in French.  Nice plane though.”  So, I guess I might be the only American with a serious entry in the tribute book.

Jacques Brel sings “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” which means don’t leave me, and was later covered by Nina Simone.

Tour of Hiva Oa and Its Amazing Archaeology

Posted by: melissa

With about 2,300 people on its 125 square miles, Hiva Oa feels very sleepy as all of its inhabitants reside in the villages of Atuona, Puamau, Hanaiapa and Taaoa … each of which is located in its own isolated valley.  Originally called La Domenica by European explorers, ‘Hiva Oa’ means ‘long ridgepole’ in Marquesan.  The name may be derived from the island’s one long central ridge with the highest peak, Mount Temetiu, soaring to 1,213 meters.

We took the advice of many and booked a guided tour of the island to the village of Paumau to see the most significant archaeology in all of Polynesia outside of Easter Island.  The tour originated with the island’s one very fancy hotel, the Hanakee Pearl Lodge.  The thirty-mile drive across the island through the interior on winding mountain roads took about two and a half hours.  It was breathtaking and beautiful.  We must have passed through ten different microclimates from high elevation evergreen trees with pine needles to scrubby brush desert hillsides to lush tropical rainforest to talcum powder white sand beaches.

The village of Paumau is very cute, and filled with Gauguin descendants.  We explored the beautiful black sand beach, inspected the many traditionally styled Polynesian canoes, and peeked in on the little church.  Right up the road, we arrived at the Me’ae Iiopona which is absolutely spectacular.  Beyond the perfectly appointed stone platforms and alters, the highlight is an eight foot tall tiki called Takai who is flanked by Tauatepepe behind to the right, and Pepetamuimui in front to the left.  Other highlights include an anthropomorphic fish, a creature that is half man and half goat, and a woman lying on her stomach with arms raised to the sky behind her.  Truly incredible.

After the archaeological tour, we headed for lunch at a small pension maybe called Chez Marie Antoinette (formerly or currently, we never quite confirmed).  There, we tried our first taste of Poisson cru (raw white fish in coconut milk), as well as other Marquesan specialties including stewed goat and pork on white rice.  As per usual, the French speakers on the tour tried to be polite to us personally as they skewered the abysmal policies of the Bush administration.  Our Marquesan hosts indicated that the weakened global economy, in conjunction with the weak American economy, has negatively impacted the island.  One exact quote was:  “America sneezes and the rest of the world gets the flu.”

All in all, we had a very fun and informative day, and with that, we feel like we’ve seen all there is to see in Hiva Oa.

More Anchor Drama While Saying Goodbye to Hiva Oa

Posted by: melissa

Yesterday evening, we pulled up anchor and left Hiva Oa for the quick overnight sail northwest to Nuku Hiva.  Unfortunately, the stern anchor proved extremely ornery to pick up.  As I mentioned before, Tahauku Bay is famous for bad holding, eating anchors, and a population of small, but occasionally aggressive, sharks.  We had already heard two separate stories of lost anchors in the bay’s murky waters and cluttered muddy bottom.  The people on one boat suited up with scuba gear to find their lost anchor, and it was so murky and cluttered on the bottom, they couldn’t even locate it much less retrieve it.

Anyway, we tried everything to dislodge the anchor including asking another boat, who anchored too closely behind us, to move in case their anchor line was fouling ours (but it wasn’t).  Finally, against our better judgment, we decided to use the boat’s engine to strong-arm it.  This strategy can be ill advised as the opportunity to rip a cleat clean out of the deck of the boat is quite high, and that’s an extremely inconvenient boat injury … far worse than merely losing an anchor.  Nonetheless, we were out of options and losing the daylight necessary to exit the channel.  And it worked like a charm!  On closer inspection, a rock was deeply wedged in the swivel, so it dug in harder when we pulled on it instead of swiveling flat and releasing the ocean bed.

At that point, I took my position on the bow and began to take in the primary anchor.  The anchor was about twenty feet from the surface when the windlass started to malfunction.  It suddenly couldn’t handle the weight, reversed direction, and let the anchor freefall to the bottom while letting out chain lightening fast.  Now, this may not seem that scary, but the windlass system can be quite dangerous … the weight of the anchor, plus the weight of the some eighty feet of chain, plus the resistance of the twenty ton boat, plus the strength of the ocean current all combines to a very robust system that could easily chew up a finger or a foot.  Knowing this fact and quite startled, I let out a fairly blood curdling scream as I stepped safe distance from the malfunction.  The entire anchorage heard the scream, as well as the recognizable rumble of chain rapidly paying out, and immediately thought the worst.  Luckily, the chain stopped, and with a quick tightening turn of the windlass, it was back to its old self.  I, however, was not back to my old self for several hours.    

As we left the bay and turned west, an incredible full moon was rising behind us over Fatu Hiva in the distance, and a truly amazing sunset was finishing over the western cliffs of Hiva Oa.  It was so beautiful, we couldn’t make up our minds which way to look.