Monday, July 19 1999 - Arrival on the Marquesas

Good Morning folks,

6.00am, seeing as we are now approaching the Marquesas Islands, I think that this would be a suitable opportunity to relate a little historical anecdote about the discovery of the Marquesas, and about previous visitors to the islands. 

The Marquesas are the most northerly part of French Polynesia. They were first discovered in 1595 by the Spaniard Alvaro Mendana de Neira. He named the group the Marquesas Islands in honor of the Marchioness of Mendoza, wife of the viceroy of Peru, who sponsored the expedition. The Marquesas  became a French protectorate in 1842 after a treaty was signed between Admiral du Petit Thuras and the native chiefs.

One of the most illustrious visitors to the islands was the British Captain, James Cook, who visited the Marquesas in his ship Resolution in June of 1774. On board were two German-born naturalists, Reinhold Forster and his 20 year old son Georg. I have been reading an account of their visit in Georg Forsters book – Expedition to Tahiti and the South Sea 1772-1775 (in German, so I hope I haven’t made any mistakes in the translation).

Captain Cook had barely returned from his first successful world voyage (1768-1771) when the British Royal Society decided to send him on a second voyage of exploration to search for what was then called the phantasmal southern continent. As with the STARSHIP the journey was to take about 1000 days – from 1772 to 1775.

The Resolution was making its way from Easter Island to the Marquesas, following the route of Mendana. They were beset by scurvy and short of food, such that Reinhold Forster was forced to slaughter his dog (the last one on board) to provide Captain Cook, who was in danger of becoming ill, with a decent meal.

At that time, the exact position of the Marquesas was by no means certain, and Cook sailed up and down around the supposed latitude and longitude for 5 days before finding the island group. The Resolution found a safe anchorage in the bay ‘Madre de Dios’ on the Island of Santa Christiana (these are ancient names, so I am unable to confirm if that is the bay and island where we will be anchoring).

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Following in famous footsteps…
Captain Cook visited the Marquesas 225 years ago.

Georg Forster describes how the natives welcomed them, paddling out to the ship in their canoes, bringing goods and food to trade. He was astonished at the islander’s apparently irrepressible fascination for metal objects, for which they would do anything. They traded fresh fish and breadfruit for small nails, and even supplied Captain Cook with a pig in exchange for a knife.

Cook invited the islanders onboard the resolution – perhaps an unwise move, since they started to steal anything metal that was not hammered down! They sprang overboard with their booty and tried to swim to their canoes. Georg recorded how Cook fired several musket shots over their heads, but to no effect. One native was then shot dead by a marine officer. At this point the natives paddled back to land and Cook prudently decided to anchor further out. Shortly after, the Captain and his crew were alarmed to hear drumming and to see great numbers of natives assembling on the beach with spears and clubs. Cook decided to land with a party of marine soldiers and a number of brawny seamen. Georg and his father accompanied them. They were met by shouts and waving spears and Georg explains the few tense moments before it was made clear that the man had been shot for theft.

Thereafter Cook and his men were treated in a friendly fashion. The islanders led them to fresh water and traded food for nails and small metal objects. The women were also “very well disposed to visitors” and a metal object would buy a night of pleasure.

Georg Forster describes the natives as being thinner than the Tahitians, but fatter than the Easter Islanders, wearing decorative collars of shells and bone hung around their necks and lying on their breasts. They were tattooed from head to foot.

Cook stayed in the Marquesas until the islanders would no longer trade goods for metal and then moved on to discover the New Hebrides.

Well let us return from the past to the present. Like Cook we have finally arrived, although without any navigational difficulties. Amazing to think that today one can travel across about 3,000 miles of open ocean and hit the anchorage spot on!  We slipped quietly into Taiohae Bay this morning at 7.30am after covering a grand total of  3032 n miles. This means that Monika wins the sweep with her guess of 19 July at 5.00am. Rudi looses with his guess of 21 July at 5.00pm, which means he has to buy the first round of beers on land!

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Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva Island

The bay was very quiet, we could just hear one or two cockerels crowing on land, and there was almost a cool nip in the air. We are surrounded by mountains and towering cliffs up to 850m (2700ft) high which are cloaked in thick cloud at the moment. As a reference point for the imagination, the landscape resembles Honolulu in the Hawaiian Islands. The Marquesas Islands are all ancient volcanoes, deeply incised and eroded. Everything is very green, the mountains are forested right to the top. One can really smell the vegetation very strongly after so long at sea – perfume to the nose. It always surprises me how a certain smell can invoke more powerful feelings that that which we see with our eyes. Unlike Captain Cook we have not been met by crowds of tattooed natives in dugouts, in fact so far there does not seem to be much sign of life.

Wilfried and Rudi have just celebrated our arrival by springing into the water for an early morning swim – they said that the sea was pleasantly warm after the cold waters of Galapagos.

Taiohae Bay is a perfect cresset shape ringed with beaches and with palm trees down to the water. There are just a few houses down near the beach and I can see the roofs of other houses sticking up in the background amongst the trees, but for the most part the island is a covered in a carpet of unbroken green. Wilfried counted 24 yachts in the bay – quite a surprising number, but many sailors use the Marquesas as a stopping-off point on their way from either the Galapagos or Hawaii to Tahiti.

Before we can explore the island further however, we have to give STARSHIP a complete wash down and polish, and that includes the hull too.

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We’re not only clean inside and outside, but underneath as well!

Rudi, Angel and Monika doing the wash down have been constantly distracted by two huge Manta Rays swimming around the boat, as I have been myself – cries of “Mantas” have kept me running in and out of the galley all morning. From the top of the boat we could see them quite well. Huge beasts, black on their upper sides, about one and a half meters across, slowly pirouetting in the water, flipping the edges of their “wings” up and then rolling slowly over to show their white undersides.

As I said, I have galley duty, and so far today we are definitely able to refute the old saying that “worst things happen at sea” – they don’t, they happen when you get into the harbor. Generator 2 is on the blink again – Trevor is down in the engine room engaging it in mortal combat and I fear its days are numbered. Trevor has pampered it, given it every kind of attention and it is still refusing to cooperate – I think pretty soon he will be giving it the “big hammer treatment”. Generate 1 is however still running – thank goodness, or all our precious supplies in the freezers would be slowly defrosting by now. The air conditioning has also chosen today to breath its last gasp, drooling out cooling fluid with its dying breath. Its now hot and humid – yes, I now what else can one expect – we are in the tropics – but it makes cooking in the galley, with the stove and oven on very unpleasant. I am now dressed-down to my bikini and feel I should be wearing a couple of tassels and fluffy white bunny tail – Las Vegas style.

The afternoon has been spent  taking on oil – 50 gallons. Hopefully however there will be chance for some of the crew to go on land tonight.

More tomorrow

Janet