Tahiti - Marquesas - Hawaii

In early 2002, I got a job as engineer on a sailing school vessel (SSV) on a trip from Tahiti thru the Marquesas to Hawaii.  The boat was the Robert Seamans, named after the great engineer.  I even got a chance to sail with him and some of his family for 5 days there.  It is owned by the Sea Education Association (SEA) from Woods Hole, MA  www.sea.edu

Click on photos to increase their size.

 We spent a month going in and out of Tahiti on 5 day trips, then got 24 students aboard for a 6 week trip to Hawaii.   I flew from RI to LA to Tahiti to catch the boat.  Here she is on the dock.

Docked in Papeete, Tahiti

Docked in Papeete, Tahiti

It took about a week for the crew change over and most of my days were in the engine room getting everything ready. It is one of most high tech research sailboats in the world.  The engine room had a big engine (500 hp Cat) that we didn’t use much.  It also had two 60 kw generators, one of which was always running to power the boat.   It also carried about 5000 gallons of diesel, we had a centrifuge to help clean up the fuel,  it also had a sewage treatment plant and two big watermakers.  The galley was all electric and there was both a walk in cooler and a walk in freezer.  There were also big 3 phase fire and bilge pumps. The boat had 7 desktop and 4 laptop computers, all a part of the network.   The boat had 19 miles of electrical wiring.  The engineer is responsible for  the engine room and  the plumbing and wiring.  There are 4 heads with showers (both fresh and salt water). The science crew does the computer and marine instrumentation.

  We had three  5 day trips around the area, with 2 days between each trip for preparation, even had a few days off before the long trip.   

I got a kick out of checking out the catch from some of the local fishermen.

Daily catch in Papeete

Daily catch in Papeete

Some were sold at the pier, and some ended up at the big market in town.  The big market sold everything - even had 4 tatoo parlors as I remember.  

Papeete central Market

Papeete central Market

 

 The evenings were free to look around Papeete.   One of the things I was interested in was the local music. Went to an outdoor restuarant one nite - kind of like an outdoor hamburg joint - and there were 4 guys playing at on of the tables.  They seemed like they were just doing it for fun  - remember a washtub base, a regular guitar and a Tahitian ukulele. They sounded great.  We heard some other groups later in the area near were the cruise ship docked , and it sounded like a commercial version of the music - and not as interesting.   I saw some of the ukuleles later at the market for sale and they are interesting.

 

Tahiti Ukulele

Tahiti Ukulele

I am not a musician, but I appreciated the woodwork and the sounds.   The body isn’t hollow, there is a conical hole  covered by a thin piece of wood in the center of the body.  It has 8 strings, 4 double sets. The strings are 30 pound test monofilimant fishing line.

There was one brew pub, owned by a French company - had a wheat, and amber and a dark beer.  I am not a huge fan of wheat beer, but theirs was good.   

One of the most interesting things was the big area where the cruise ships came in,  It was like an empty parking lot until a certain time when the venders were allowed in to sell food, They were called Roulettes.

Roulettes

Roulettes

 

 The trips always included a short stop in Moorea for the first night, as well as a stop there on the last night.    A lot more orientation was done at anchor there, then we sailed to some local islands such as Huahini and Tahaa.  We got within sight of  Bora Bora one trip, but did not get to stop there due to time constraints.

Bora-Bora

Bora-Bora

 A few friends went there before or after the trip.  One very experienced diver said that if you fell off the dock by the coffee shop there, you were in some very good snorkeling. He said he placed it third behind the Great Barrier Reef  and Fiji.

I have been to a lot of islands, and Moorea is certainly one of the most beautiful of them all.    Coming into the harbor to anchor was always great.

Moorea

Moorea

Here is anoher photo of the bay in Moorea.

Dopunohu Bay,  Moorea

Dopunohu Bay, Moorea

On Saturday morning, some of the locals went fishing.

Fishing

Fishing

From there we went to some of the local islands - Here is a chart of some.

Tahaa and Raiatea Chart

Tahaa and Raiatea Chart

Here is Huahini

Huahini

Huahini

After a few more crew changes and more restocking, we loaded 24 college students and started north toward the Marquesas and Hawaii.  The boat carries 10 crew, a Captain and 3 mates, a chief scientist and 3 other scientists (one for each watch) a cook and an engineer.  The students are divided into 3 watches and are on watch 1/3 of the time - around the clock.  The students were from about 15 different colleges and they all had a project to do, consisting of experiments along the way and a write-up.  After 6 weeks in “ground school” in Woods Hole, they were anxious to get underway and so was the crew. It was Feb when we left.      
Tahiti is about 20 degrees south of the equator and Hawaii is about 20 degrees north.  The trip would log close to 4000 miles - altough it isn’t that far in a straight line.  Most of it was under sail.  The sun was south of us when I got to Tahiti, and went over us while we were doing the local sailing.   We caught up with it and got north of it on the trip.  Made for some interesting celestial navigation observations. 
As engineer, I kept pretty busy with routine maintenence as well as fixing stuff as it broke.   There was always a student assigned to the engine room, so there were teaching opportunities there. I also did a few talks on the boat systems during the all hands meetings every afternoon.
The students were practicing their navigation as well as learning how to sail the boat. One was always assigned to the galley and someone was always on forward watch.  There were two radars as well as a GPS system, and celestial plots were done every day. A student was usually steering under the watchful eyes of the mates.   Some were in the lab on every watch doing experiments and keeping track of the data. There was a long boat orientation in Moorea on the first nite and there were drills every week including man overboard, fire, and other emergencies.
A few of the students were a little seasick for the first day or two, but all got their sea legs pretty fast.  They started to settle into a routine of being on watch, working on their projects and sleeping and eating.
On watch they would spend some of the time running the boat, and some of the time in the lab and doing experiments.     We dragged nets and lowered instruments quite often.

Bringing it up

Bringing it up

 We were in the open ocean as soon as we got away from Tahiti, so the waves got pretty big and there was the occassional squall.   Something like this off the New England Coast would be a good reason to really reduce sail.

Squall

Squall

We were always cautious, but these didn’t seem nearly as bad as the looked.    We did hit pretty good winds of over 40 knots a few times during the trip with 25 ft waves.

Waves

Waves

The boat was built for the open ocean and the crew was very competent, so it gave a pretty stable ride - not that it didn’t heel over.  This shot of the main salon shows the gimballed table.

Tilted table

Tilted table

The boat was built in WA by builders that built big tuna boats.    Ont thing that sailboats do that tuna boats don’t do is that they can stay on on tack for days when they are in the trade winds, instead of rocking back and forth.   After a few days, my sleep was interupted by alarms going off every few hours because of airlocks in the systems connected to the sea chest (the big sea water intake for the boat). 
The seachest fed the water for both refrigeration systems, the science lab, the freezer, the water makers, etc.  Getting the air out of all the systems every few hours wasn’t somethng I wanted to do for 6 weeks.  There is a vent at the top of the sea chest and it went off to one side before it went thru an elbow and then up and out on to the deck.   Looking over the sea chest, I found a fitting for a zinc on top of the sea chest. If I cold pull that out and put a valve in there and run that up to a vent, I would solve most of the problem  - on any tack.  
Had a talk with the captain, we saw that we were getting close to the Tuamatos, a series of low atolls.  Rangeroia was a large one with an inlet.   We decided to try to get in to the atoll so we could do this in protected water that wasn’t a mile deep. We had scuba gear and thought we could get a guy down to hold a mat over the opening so we wouldn’t take much water into the engine room. 
We had charts but not much info on the currents in the one big opening.  We got there and could easily see how some of the old ships could run into it at night.  It was about 35 miles across and 100 miles around.  Only a few hundred yards wide at the widest, and very narrow in others  - very low. 
We stood off and sent the small boat in to look things over.  They asked one “incredibly tattoed” fisherman what time the slack tide was and got one answer  - another gave another answer, so we saited and watched until it was about slack - then we shot the gap.
The chart shows the aoll and the lower left insert shows the inlets, we used the top one.

Rangiroa Chart

Rangiroa Chart

 This shot shows us approaching the entrance.

Rangiroa entrance

Rangiroa entrance

 As we got closer - we cold see it more clearly.

Tiputa Pass - Rangiroa

Tiputa Pass - Rangiroa

We shot the gap and settled into a nice anchorage.  Some of the kids went snorkeling, the place has fantastic sealife and many sharks.    I got a few crew and kids ready to help  - bilge pumps standing by.  Had the adapter and valve made up.   Chris, the first mate got on the scuba gear and went down and held the mat over the opening, and we went for it.   Worked very well, we  hardly took on any water. Here is a shot showing the old vent run and the new valve in place.

Sea Chest

Sea Chest

The new valve is at the lower left and the old piping run goes from the chest towards the upper right of the photo.   The boat was pretty new and on the way to Tahiti, it was on the other tack so it wasn;t much of a problem and before that, they must have tacked enough so that the problem wasn’t apparent.   I had to make a piping run and ran it into the old fitting that went up thru the deck and up a couple of feet before there was  a short U turn (so stuff wouldn’t get into it).   I was pretty warm - between the air temp in the engine room with the generator running and water temp in the atoll of around 85.  When I got it done, I decided to take a quick swim.  An inflatable from the resort came buy and the guy said “hammerhead”.  I was wondering how he knew I was the engineer -  but I dove in and cooled off a little.  I watched a special on the Discovery channel and was amazed and the number of sharks that hang out near that channel.
The kids got back and reported on great diving - we got ready to get underway again. 
There was a beautiful resort in the atoll, I think it was Japanese owned.

Rangaro Resort

Rangaro Resort

There are people living on the atoll and fishing is the main occupation.    In several of the Tuamatoes they raise the black pearls that the area is famous for.  I managed to get some pearls in Tahiti from one of the couples that bring them in from there.  Luckily the ships agent knew them and I was ale to get them for a better price than from the stores that cater to the tourists.
We went out against a little incoming current and took a little water over the bow, then we were on our way to the Marquesas.  The Marqeusas are about 900 miles north of Tahiti, about 9 degrees south of the Equator. Our destination was Nuku Hiva  - the biggest island, and Taiohae, the big town  (1,700 people). Captain Cook and Herman Melville made the Marquesas more well known.  It is still a part of French Polynesia.  French and Tahitian are the languages  - I think the version of Tahitian there varies a little from the one in Tahiti.  
We trolled some lures every day  and caught a few fish - like this bonito.

Bonito

Bonito

 We were about 2 days from the Marquesas when we saw a huge school of yellofin tuna on a feeding frenzy.  I have seen bluefish on feeding frenzies off New England, they are almost scary and the fish are arond 15#.   This was amazing and the tuna probably ran from 50 to 150#.  We altered course and sailed thru the school. We had a few hits that broke off the handlines (over 100# test).  Finally we hooked one that didn’t break off.    We finally got it up to the boat and then the gaff straightened out. He was very tired but we did’t have a good way to get him up on deck.  A crew member (who should remain nameless to protect the guilty) was lowered  down the side and got a lasso on him.

Tuna Wrestling

Tuna Wrestling

We got him on board and killed him by pouring cheap rum into his gills - this is the quickest and most humane way to do that. 

Yellowfin Tuna

Yellowfin Tuna

Chris took charge and fillet him and made sushi for all of us.  I am not a huge raw fish fan, but this converted me.   I knew where the fish came from and how fresh is was so I had a lot. 
There was even some left for lunch the next day.  He seared it for lunch, a few seconds on each side. It was about 65#.  I asked him what he put on it but he wouldn;t tell me  - he said since he never asked how the engine room worked, I shouldn’t ask him his secrets.  He said his mother taught him.

The approach to the Marquesas looked like this.

Marquesas

Marquesas As we got closer, we could see that it was pretty rugged.Nuka Hiva = Marquesas

 We finally dropped anchor  - this was our first and only scheduled stop  - there for 3 days. The chart shows our anchorage and gives you some idea of the terrain.

Nuka Hiva Chart

Nuka Hiva Chart

The chart shows the harbor where we spent a few days. It is a very rugged area. 
We found two bars in town - here is my buddy Binh at the one across from the beach.  He was the second mate on theis trip and has been first mate as well as captain with SEA.

Binh

Binh

We had been together since we left the Providence RI airport.    Beer there was about $4.25.  Later we went to a resort that was up the hill from the harbor.   It was a really nice place, beer there was $4.50.  But they served it by the pool, overlooking the harbor, with some olives and nuts in coconut shells.

Nuka Hiva resort with a view

Nuka Hiva resort with a view

You can see the local (Tahiti) beer Hinano. The Robert Seamans is in background.
Here is another shot of the resort - it was pouring.  One of those quick tropical showers.

Resort

Resort

The next day, I stopped to watch some locals preparing a big pig roast. 

Bake Preparations

Bake Preparations Bake Pit

It was pretty interesting talking to them. One guy got pretty friendly and then asked me if he could buy a gun for hunting.  I told him that there were none on the boat.  He said he wanted one for hunting,  apparently the French don’t let them have guns there, to they hunt with spears, etc.    He said the pigs were dangerous. They hunted wild cattle and goats too.  We talked for a while more and he asked me again.  I told him we didn’t carry guns on the boat, not sure if he ever believed me.

Bananas

Bananas

Tuna for bake

Tuna for bake

 

Opening Coconuts

Opening Coconuts

This is the quick way to open a lot of coconuts fast  - can’t get the hands in the way.  A sharp steel rod held with a tripod arrangment.
I had watch that nite and didn’t get to the food, but it was fun watching the preperations and talking to the people.
The next day, there was a big outrigger race, people from different islands were there - 1. 3. 5 man (or woman) outriggers.

Outrigger Race Prep.

Outrigger Race Prep.

One man start

One man Start

One man Start

Three Man Outrigger Start

Three Man Outrigger Start

Race

Race

Notice the Seamans in the background.
One of the guys had an odd necklace - he was a very good racer. I asked one of the locals what his necklace was.  He said it was dried tongues of animals he has speared  - wild pigs, etc.

Tongue Necklace

Tongue Necklace

Here is another shot of an outrigger coming in.

Outrigger Coming In

Outrigger Coming In

On a walk, I got a chance to stretch my legs and go up the hill. 

Nuka Hiva

Nuka Hiva

One of the things the Marquesas is famout for is the carvings, both wood and stone.  Some were easily visible from walking around.

Wood Carving

Wood Carving

Here is another.

Carving

Carving

Since there are not too many gift shops  - actually I only saw one, I found out that the way to buy a carving is to go to the woodcarvers house and see if he has any for sale.  Hear that one was behind the soccer field, so I went to find him.   It was a small house with an open shed outside where he did hs carving  - a combination of heavey duty tools for roughing things out and fine chisels and knives for the intracate patterns he put on stuff.   I knocked on the door and this huge guy answered, looked like a sumo wrestler.  He didn’t speak English but his wife did.     They had 3 things for sale, a fancy decorated canoe paddle, a ceremonial drum (he tanned his own hides) and a nice bowl. Got the bowl for $40 and really like it.
We stopped at the farmers market and got some fresh food for the boat.  I found a house on the water that rented internet access for $4/half hour.  First time I did internet under a thatched room, so I got out a few emails. The French keyboard was hard to get used to. 
Soon we had to leave and we got back into the routine.  The next big thing would be the equator and King Neptune.  
The food on the boat was great  - Chris was very good and he ran the food operation, always with a student helper.  He had a totally electric galley.   

Chris Catches Rainbow

Chris Catches Rainbow

 

Galley

Galley

We had some visitors along the way. 

 We were hundreds of miles from shore and a bird came by a buzzed us. He  figured out he could get a lift from our sails and he kept flying in near the back of our sails and going up  and then coming back,

Playing in the wind of out sails

Playing in the wind of out sails

 

Dolphins

Dolphins

Boobie

Boobie

Some flying fish came aboard.

Flying Fish

Flying Fish

Most of us watched the sunrises and sunsets.   We had  green flashes on two nights in a row.  For some reason, I missed the sunrise in between and there was even a rarer green flash then. 

Finally we crossed the Equator.   The GPS confirmed the celestial sightings.

Equator

Equator

King Neptune and his wife paid us a visit - he wasn;t really happy about us in his territory.

King Neptune

King Neptune

There was a long initiation process that you have to experience yourselves.    We became shellbacks.
The experiments went on - classes every day  - watches around the clock - projects came together..

Arm

Arm

Always sailing -

Steering

Steering

Finally we started thinking about Hawaii and one day I looked at the radar - long range  - and spotted something 72 miles away  - the big mountain.  

We set our sights on the island of Hawaii  -  Actually sailed close to Mauna Loa before sunrise to see the lava.   Then we went near some pineapple plantations and launched the small boat so we could take some photos.

Robert C. Seamans

Robert C. Seamans

This give a nice idea of the size of the boat.

Bowsprit

Bowsprit

Stopped for the last anchorage and went swimming  - a line on the yard made a nice swing into the water.

Swing

Swing

Did a big wrapup and the next morning we sailed by Diamond Head.

Diamond Head Sunrise

Diamond Head Sunrise

 We docked next to a brew pub   - nice after a long dry spell.

Brew Pub

Brew Pub

Lots of good byes -  then the crew started prep for the next trip   - a lot of new crew and a week to transfer the info  - stock up and fix the things that we didn’t get done on the trip.   Back to shorter hours.

Then take the long flight home..