Each of the French Polynesian archipelagos has its own unique character and we shall remember the Marquesas for their scenic beauty with majestic mountains, hiking routes, exquisite waterfalls, abundance of fruit and friendly Polynesians. Of the six inhabited islands, just a spec in the Pacific Ocean halfway around the world from South Africa, we visited five: Fatu Hiva, Tahuatu, Hiva Oa, Nuka Hiva and Ua Pou.
It took us 36 days, plenty of wind and sail power and just three litres of diesel to cover the 4 044 nm (7 300km) across the Pacific Ocean from Panama to the Marquesas. On weighing Moondust’s anchor at 06:15 on Easter Saturday at the southern end of the Panama Canal, the white full moon still hung in the sky to starboard while the sun peeped through warm orange cirrus clouds to port.
We had a pleasant start to the longest passage we will encounter in our circumnavigation (across this first stretch of the Pacific Ocean) with no seasickness on my part, light winds and a beautiful Mackerel on our fishing line!
A fast sail down from Cuba brought us within sight of Colon by the late afternoon of the sixth day with just enough time to anchor before dark. The adverse current had meant sailing for an additional 200nm through the water making the passage length just under 970nm against the 766nm over the ground. Now we were at the approaches of the fabled Panama canal; a small boat about to venture amongst the leviathans of the oceans. The approaches to the canal were clearly marked on the chart and evidenced by these huge ships entering and exiting in front of us. We were sure to keep well clear!
A radio call to Cristobal Signal Station advised us to turn to starboard after the breakwater and anchor off Shelter Bay Marina, close to about six other boats. We looked forward to an unbroken night’s sleep.
We knew that the Panama interlude would prove to be hard work with boat spares to be sourced, important maintenance to be done, the larder re-provisioned and the Canal transit to be organised. All of that had to be done from the Shelter Bay area, a one hour bus or boat ride away from Colon and much further from Panama. Then there was the matter of the canal transit itself and Karin’s French Polynesian visa to be organised once we were in Panama.
We found Cuba to be absolutely fascinating and very different from any of the other Caribbean islands. It felt like we had taken a big step back in time, before the days of modern cars and a permanent connection to the virtual world.
After two weeks when we were finally ‘snorkeled out’ at Jardines de la Reina, aided by a good breeze, we sailed overnight for Cienfuegos, 160 km to the northwest and situated in an enclosed bay. We anchored off another government run Marina Marlin, where, after a lengthy but friendly check-in we were free to go ashore and enter the ‘time warp’.
We were excited to be heading for Santiago de Cuba, Cuba’s former capital on the south eastern coast and one of the few points of entry. What should have been a three day sail took us five due to the wind shadow caused by the 1900 m Hispaniola mountain chain. Having daughter Megs on board eased the night watches considerably as we could each get six hours’ sleep instead of four.
Southern Cuba sits on an underwater escarpment that rises sharply from depths of thousands of metres and it has some amazing, almost completely land locked natural harbours, Santiago de Cuba being one.
After entering via the narrow channel we tied up at the marina and were warmly greeted by its manager who told us to stay on board until the doctor had examined us. A white coated lady arrived, enquired about our health, took our forehead temperatures and cleared us to proceed on shore.
Following our departure from Antigua, we arrived at St. Martin, apparently the smallest bi-national island in the world; in this case occupied by France and the Netherlands. We dropped anchor in French Marigot Bay and once again cleared in easily online.
Jolly Harbour on the west of Antigua was an easy landfall and we anchored outside the channel, along with perhaps 14 other yachts and the next morning took the dinghy to clear in and do some shopping. Development along the coastline is first world and substantial; palatial homes, guest accommodation and hotels. We later learnt that much of the coastline is private property above the high tide level, which includes most of the beach, as the tide only rises about half a metre in the Caribbean.
Replacement of our sail being a top priority, I sent out some email enquiries and we later motored around the coast to nearby St. John’s, from where we could get transport. Here we found the anchor holding very poor, eventuating in the need to motor back out a kilometre to Side Hill Bay, where, after several more attempts, the anchor finally held.
We asked Frank and Marijke, who visited us on Moondust recently, to share their impressions as newbies of what it entails to live on a yacht. Herewith their experience….
We gladly accepted Karin and Pete’s generous invitation to join them on board Moondust and loved their company and living at sea and virtually in the sea, as we did a lot of snorkeling! Being Duchies we stem from a sea faring nation, but personally we had no experience at all of life ‘adrift’, therefore Pete had to give us an induction.
He explained a set of necessary rules of conduct on board a ship. They were quite logic for living at sea and concentrated on aspects like safety, living together in a confined space, and the use of water.
For safety reasons one never walks on deck without a firm hold whilst sailing. It is extremely challenging to retrieve somebody who fell overboard because of currents and difficulties to keep track of the exact location of the man overboard.
When sailing, you have to make sure that all hatches and portholes are firmly closed, unless you like sleeping in a soaked bed.
A fire on a ship can be life threatening, so there are special safety measures for cooking with gas.
What struck us was the ‘war against salt’. Salt is everywhere around you, but you don’t want it in your living space because it inevitably attracts moisture. Preventing this is an ongoing battle. Clothing, shoes and towels soaked with salt water are NOT permitted beyond a certain point.
You even try to keep sweet water and damp out as much as possible. You shower in the open on the back sugarscoop, which is a sheer joy.
Sweet water has to be used very sparingly and for us Duchies this required a change in mindset. In Holland we have an abundance of sweet water but on a ship you have to find ways to economise without compromising on hygiene.
When the desalinator, which turns seawater into potable water, is in operation nobody is allowed to use the toilet!
Living on board
The catamaran has four cabins, but nevertheless you live in a confined space. Moondust has an inner and outer living space but we spent most of our time in the outside cockpit area, enjoying the wind, the sea and Cuba Libre sundowners. As this space is covered, it offers shade as well as protection against rain and spray from the sea. This is the nicest spot on board with ample room for everybody.
After we picked our Dutch friends Frank and Marijke up from St George, our first stop was the underwater sculpture gallery at Dragon Bay on the west coast of Grenada. A number of sculptures, created by UK sculptor, Jason deCaires Taylor, are placed around Molinére Reef in shallow, clear water.
Sadly some of the sculptures have been damaged by stormy sea conditions but there is still plenty to see. The most impressive is Vicissitudes, a circle of figures, all joining hands. Another impressive figure is Christ of the Deep, which is a replica of the original that lies underwater off San Fruttuoso Bay in Italy. Other sculptures include a mermaid, a kneeling and praying figure and a woman sitting on a bench.