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Monday, October 26, 2009

Taiohae, Nuku Hiva

This past Tuesday we left Anaho Bay to return to Taiohae where we could get some internet/phone time to solicit quotes for the rigging parts we need before we leave for Hawaii (HI). We sailed most of the way to test the new forestay. It held together okay, but John examined it later and feels that it moved position a bit. We'll feel better about replacing it with a new one and keeping this one as the designated spare. The New Zealand quote was outrageous, the Port Townsend one was absurdly high, and Svendsen's came through with great service and a reasonable cost, but we're waiting to hear from Papeete to see if we can save a few $$ by shipping locally. The parts will be metric which isn't perfect, but cheaper and faster will make up for it.

Our visas expire on 11/7 and we were worried about getting an extension in case we have to wait past that date for the new parts to arrive. So Wednesday morning, after stopping at the Post Office to purchase a local phone card (1000 CFP), we walked to the gendarmerie to report in and to inquire about staying a few extra days/weeks. Oops. After verifying where we've been since we left here a month ago, we got a minor reprimand for not checking out of either here or Ua Pou. We've dutifully checked into places, but haven't checked out of anywhere, and their database can't track us without that info. We apologized and then explained our predicament with the rigging. The official was sympathetic but very firm about the 90 day limit. He suggested we call Papeete, explain it to them, then fax a letter to them and they would in turn fax something to the gendarmerie. We walked back to the Post Office phone booth to use our handy dandy phone card, but no matter how we read the directions (English or French or pictorial) we couldn't get the thing to work. I started hailing people ("Parlez vous anglais?") and a very nice man tried it for us only to discover that the card had no time remaining on it. He turned out to be the Postmaster and when we explained that we had just bought the card that morning he had the clerk who sold it to us make a phone call to the provider. She hung up from that call and asked if we could come back in an hour.

So off we went to the grocery store to buy baguettes and a few things in order to kill some time before returning to the P.O. When we got back she made another phone call after which she asked us to wait five minutes for someone to call her back. The P.O.'s are air-conditioned so we were happy to sit on a bench and watch a soccer game on the flat screen TV. When it was our turn again she said she was sorry but there was nothing anyone could do - the minutes were used up. We reminded her that we had purchased the card from her that very morning and hadn't been able to use it on our first try. She gave a general, "what the hell" shrug and pulled another card out of the drawer and handed it to us with a smile. Not wanting to take any chances with this one, John asked her to scratch off the PIN number and try to use it right there at her phone. It worked and we went to the phone booth outside again to call Papeete.

John got someone who spoke English, explained our request for a short extension to wait for parts before leaving for HI, and was told that it was okay and we should just tell the gendarmes that we could stay. Interestingly, the person on the other end of the line wouldn't give John his name when asked. We returned to the police station to pass on this news, and the officer said, if it was okay with Papeete, it was okay with him. Hmmm. Doesn't seem very official, but maybe that's because we're staying here until we leave for HI and aren't trying to go anywhere else in French Polynesia. We'll see what happens when we try to check out next month.

The next morning we woke (after a not so restful night) to a big swell rolling straight into the anchorage. It was time to put out a stern anchor since the rocker stopper alone wasn't enough to do the job. We pulled up the bow anchor and moved back to the spot we had when we were here last month. After both anchors were set John took a dinghy ride over to the west anchorage in front of the Hotel Keikahanui. He came back fretting that it seemed much calmer over there, and we finally decided to pull everything up and move again. We set both anchors out in front of the He'e Tai Inn (Rose Corser's property) and conditions here are for the most part far superior. The only problem now is that we're so close to shore that we're getting no-nos on the boat for the first time and they are having a feast.

The weather has been completely unpredictable and seems to change every couple of hours. It makes shopping and drying laundry a challenge but we've kept the water tanks full of rain water, which is good because the water from the taps in this bay is the brownest we've seen since Canada. We like to put bleach in the laundry buckets to kill the critters before we wash the clothes and that seems to help clear it up a bit.


East anchorage

West anchorage

Monday, October 19, 2009

Rays and Rigging - Anaho Bay

It's incredibly frustrating to have such poor visibility in an otherwise very interesting bay. We can't help but wonder if the water clarity wasn't better earlier in the season. But we spent the week watching manta rays swooping around in our little corner of the bay. They were generally visible from the boat, either when their wing tips broke the surface of the water, or as dark shapes with glimpses of their white, wide open mouths, and underbellies. We also usually saw at least one or two while snorkeling, along with the occasional turtle sighting. On Wednesday we tried to snorkel the NE side of the reef out around the little point on the north but it was rush hour on the manta ray freeway. Half a dozen rays were feeding along that stretch of reef. No problem, thought I, I'll just squeeze up against the reef so they can pass me on the outside. No dice - those mantas really like to hug the curves and were passing us too close for comfort. I was kept busy spinning circles in my hunched up "huddle" position, looking left and right for oncoming mantas looming out of the murky darkness, while also watching my back so that my behind didn't end up skewered in a patch of sea urchins on the reef. When mantas were passing each other right along side of us we decided to take the next exit off the freeway back to the boat. Before leaving John did a no-no and touched one of the rays. We were somewhat reassured to confirm that no ray was actually going to run into us after that ray was off like a shot at John's brief contact.

After waiting endlessly for dry (or at least dryer) weather we decided Friday would be the day we braved the muddy hike to Hatiheu. Although we usually swim/snorkel every day we needed to get off the boat to stretch our legs - and we were out of garlic. So, in spite of the fact that it had lightly showered the night before and clouds were threatening that morning, we got an early start up the ridge. It's almost exactly half an hour up/down each side with 10-20 minutes to/from each end of the trail to the beach/village. I had a tough time dealing with the humidity during the first leg up, but we did fine after that. The trail is heavily traveled and we were passed in both directions by guys riding the small horses they have here, or walking barefoot and carrying their flip-flops. I guess it's easier to clean the mud off your feet than digging it out of the tread in our heavy hiking boots, but my feet stayed clean and dry which is how I like them. We were surprised to see the Clipper Odyssey (120 pax cruise ship) anchored with two French sailboats in the bay, and we gawked at the tourists being ferried to Yvonne's restaurant for brunch. After a 10 AM beer accompanied by shrimp chips we were fortified for the return trip. John only slipped once, landing on his rear-end, and I slipped forward onto one hand which I was able to wash under the large rain drops of a tree. Oh, I forgot to mention that it started raining before we headed back to Anaho. Not a downpour, just a steady light NW type of rain which stopped before we got back. The downpour came during the dinghy ride back to Nakia after we stopped to wash the mud off our boots at the beach front water spigot.

One of the jobs we always do before heading out into the big blue is to take a close look at all the wire rigging on NAKIA. It was last replaced in 1997 before our first trip to Canada and replacing it has been an item on the to-do list for some time. You're supposed to be able to get 10 years out of the kind of wire rigging we have and since it's been 12 John is extra careful to check everything so as to catch any small failure before it turns into something bigger.

Well last Friday there was only thing left to do to complete this inspection - go up the mast and look at the tops of all the wires. This is rarely a trouble area because the tops of the wires, being 20-50 feet off the surface of the water tend to get a lot less corrosion-causing salt on them. Also, they point down, letting any dirt or water drain out instead of pooling on them like the lower ends of the wires. That all sounds good, until you take a look at the wire holding up the jib and find that 12 out of the 19 strands are broken right where they enter the top fitting.

No problem, NAKIA carries a spare for just such an emergency. We spent the rest of the afternoon dismantling the roller furling and the next day John was prepared to take the new wire up and swap it with the old one. Then he cut the new wire to length and installed the lower fitting.

Here's where things went wrong. The fittings, called Sta-Lok, are mechanical devices that securely hold the individual strands of the wire. The instructions for the fitting say to assemble it, tighten the nut 'not too tight, just with one hand' and then unscrew and put a blob of silicon sealant inside to seal it up. Then screw it back together and you're done. Well try as he might, John could not get the thing to unscrew. He swears he didn't over-tighten it, which would cause it to bind up and not unscrew, but the thing just wouldn't unscrew. Worse, while he was trying to take it apart, he managed to unscrew half a turn or so. Just enough to loosen the internals of the thing so now maybe it won't hold together when we need it. We really don't know. There is no way to tell for sure, and we can't imagine sailing to Hawaii with something we can't entirely trust to hold together.

We only have one spare, so we're looking into having a replacement wire sent from Tahiti or as a last resort Seattle. Replacing a broken something that you intended to replace anyway is no big deal. Hopefully it won't cost us huge $$ to recover from this hiccup.

Linda (nature) and John (rigging)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

To Hatiheu and back to Anaho

On the verge of running completely out of staples we needed to make a trip to the grocery store. We could hike for an hour up and over a ridge on a, by now, very muddy horse trail, and then hike back another hour laden with our heavy purchases. Not. Instead we decided to raise anchor for the five nm, one hour trip to Hatiheu Bay. Except that raising anchor turned out to be the hardest part because our chain had become entangled on coral covered rocks. John raised and lowered the chain and backed and filled with the engine to finally free us. With the water still murky there wasn't any possibility of his seeing anything in 35' of water, so diving to free the chain wasn't a reasonable option in this case.

We motored to Hatiheu before breakfast hoping to find fresh baguettes, but that wasn't being very realistic. We set the anchor in the pretty bay near the quay, put the rocker stopper out, lowered the dinghy off the foredeck and put the outboard on, shut all the hatches and portholes in case of rain, and set off for the quay. It was a another case of needing to set a stern anchor in deep water to keep the dinghy from bouncing off the rough concrete in the surge, and it took John two tries to get the spacing right.

Finally we were off to the two little magasins where we found frozen baguettes, and the last of some sad onions and potatoes, but plenty of eggs and basic dry staples. They were out of fresh cheese so we settled for experimenting with Velveeta style "fondu" or melting cheese. Six baguettes, 12 packets of crackers, six onions, three tins of New Zealand butter, four kilos of flour, two kilos of sugar, two dozen eggs, and two little boxes of cheese set us back 5,091 CFPs or about $64. It doesn't seem like much when I pick up the individual items, but 550 CFPs for a dozen eggs really hurts the grocery budget.

We didn't see any fresh vegetables for sale and it had started to rain so we didn't spend time asking around for them. We hurried back on the dirt road, pausing under a tree to wait for the worst of the rain to stop, and then went through the reverse procedure to get back to Anaho. As pretty as Hatiheu is, the anchorage is too rolly to stay without setting a stern anchor. With Anaho just around the corner it doesn't make sense to stay any longer than necessary, let alone overnight. It's too bad the trail is so muddy because that would be a much more enjoyable option for spending the day exploring the village.

Speaking of muddy trails, I have to admit some confusion of mine over the wet versus dry seasons here. Since the North American winter months are cyclone season in this area of the world, I assumed that equated to "wet." But I've now read in two sources that the cruiser season here (North American summer) is the wet season, and the dry months are October/November to March/April when most boats leave to avoid potential cyclones coming this way.

So we've apparently been lucky to have enjoyed so much dry weather until recently, and that has no doubt been why we've had no problem with bugs until lately. We made another hike to Haataivea last week to show Romany Star the "golf course" on the beach. After so much rain, and with no breeze to speak of, we were literally engulfed by tiny gnat-like bugs (no-nos?) as soon as we hit the beach. We immediately dug out the DEET but it was too late and we all had bites. It's true though that people are affected very differently. It took at least 24-48 hours for me to notice any bumps and only a couple of them were in areas irritated by clothing. I lucked out and had one slightly uncomfortable night, but John has been applying the Benadryl ointment and even took a couple of Benadryl pills to help him sleep at night. Paul and Erin got the worst of it, perhaps because their bug juice wasn't strong enough or they didn't apply it liberally enough.

Needless to say we didn't linger on the beach, but ran back to the trail where we managed to lose the bugs. On our way to the beach we had taken a different fork in the trail this time and were surprised to find a very rustic cabin and "farm" occupied by the elderly Rose Marie, who offered to cut a "pasteque" fresh from her garden. Her husband (and daughter?) had gone to Hatiheu with horses and she was happy to sit and chat with us while we ate our watermelon slices. Erin's French is good so we got a bit beyond our names and the weather to learn that they have regular homes in Anaho, Hatiheu, and Taiohae. She was very friendly and offered to give us some figs when we returned from the beach. But after our escape from the bugs we arrived to find that her husband had returned with the horses and there wasn't time for tourists any more. So we thanked Rose Marie again for the pasteque and quickly went on our way hoping she wasn't going to be in trouble for giving away fruit to strangers.

Ziggy has been very good about keeping his distance from the wasps and small bees that persist in visiting the boat. He's definitely interested in the ones that come below but so far he hasn't gone after them. I made the mistake of playing a new game with him when I was eating pamplemousse out in the cockpit and now I can't eat one without his avid attention. I cut them into quarters, take off the peel, and eat the individual sections by using a knife and my fingers to cut and tear away the segmenting "skins." I then throw those overboard, setting aside the thicker peel to dispose of offshore or on land. (It's a silly, complicated, messy affair, but it makes it last longer and I enjoy the process!) Ziggy is fascinated by anything we throw overboard, so I started dangling the transparent pieces of skin in front of him before tossing them, or putting them in a hawse pipe for him to paw back on deck, and he thought this was very exciting. Go figure. Now I can't even eat a pamplemousse when he's taking his afternoon siesta without him groggily coming out into the cockpit to play the pamplemousse game!


NOTE: The GPS coordinates which follow are for geographical reference only and should not be used as cruising waypoints.

Hatiheu, Nuku Hiva

Anaho Bay, Nuku Hiva

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Big snorkeling day

We've been looking at the incredible cowrie shells our friends have collected and our desire to have one too has peaked. The thing is, most of the shells that our friends have taken were alive and they removed the animal. Rarely people say that they found the shell empty. Killing animals just to have their shells may sound like a vain activity, but the fact that the Marquesans take these shellfish by the dozens makes the one or two shells per boat seem pretty insignificant. It's interesting to note that the Marquesans don't collect the shells because they can sell them or because they find them pretty, they collect them to eat. Every beach has a pile of broken cowrie shells where the locals have smashed them to extract the meat.

So my snorkeling focus lately has been trying to find the 'perfect' cowrie. If we're going to kill one, I want it to be a good one. Once I figured out where to look for these beautiful shellfish the search got a little easier, if not more risky. These animals live right in the inter tidal zone; between the high and low tide mark. This is also where most of the surge is and since the cowries don't really like living where it's calm, you have to get close to the rocks in areas where the waves threaten to slam you if you're not careful. I'm getting pretty good at it though.

I swim along the shore, clinging to the rocks with my gloved hands, being careful not to get above a sea urchin lest a wave take the water out and drop me onto its spines while I poke my head into cracks and holes looking for shellfish. Every once in a while, when the waves get too big, I'll swim out away from the rocks and look around. Yesterday this looking was very interesting. During my search I saw two sharks, a school of big Jacks and a lion fish. The biggest and most impressive things I saw were five manta rays. These, in addition to the three I saw from the dinghy on the way to my snorkeling area, make a personal record of eight mantas in one day.

I even found what I thought was just about the perfect cowrie. The colors on its back looked like a tropical sunset. I carefully pried it from the rock and carried it with me for a while admiring it. Then I realized I couldn't go through with it, I couldn't bring myself to kill this animal just so I could have its shell. So I put it back where I found it and decided I'd just have to wait until I found one that was uninhabited.

One of the things I've noticed in my search for cowries is a yellow coral that seems to trap things in its network of vertical bars. I've seen many old, growth encrusted shells in the clutches of these fan-like formations so I decided that I would focus on these coral heads to see if I could find a newly trapped, recently deceased, empty cowrie. And that is exactly what I found after about 10 minutes of looking. It's not quite the colors I would have chosen, but we now have a very nice example of a Marquesan cowrie and I didn't have to kill the animal to get it.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Some anchorages

It seems some of the map links we've been giving lately have been incorrect, so I thought I'd give one post with all the anchorages we've been in lately.

It's still raining. John is baking bread this morning using a sponge method for the dough which seems to be giving a better rising loaf. The bread is baking now, we'll see how it turns out.

Hanatefau, on the island of Tahuata (our favorite)

Hana Moe Noa, Tahuata

Taiohae, on Nuku Hiva

Hakahau, on Ua Pou where we watched the canoe races

Hakahetau, Ua Pou

Vaiehu, Ua Pou

Anaho, Nuku Hiva

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Anaho Bay, Nuku Hiva

So far it's either very windy or very rainy here in this beautiful bay. We've been doing a lot of reading and watching movies to pass the time, but we've also managed to take a few walks and do some snorkeling in between. The best thing about being here is that we are tucked back into a large bay with a long entrance to block the swells. So other than some wind chop (we're on the lee shore) it's very comfortable on the boat for a change. No stern anchor and no rocker stopper required!

Unfortunately the water is green and murky which is a shame because we are anchored right in front of a coral reef off of a narrow, but extensive sandy beach. There's a pass through the coral to take small boats through for landing on the shallow beach. There are less than a dozen homes and guest houses, no road, no cars, several horses, a few dogs, pigs, a cow and her calf, with wild goats and chickens roaming the hills. It's rare to see a light on shore at night, though we saw at least one generator. We're sharing the anchorage with Romany Star and two French boats.

We first took a hike along the perimeter of the bay over a low ridge to the wild and rugged Haataivea Bay which is totally exposed to the incoming swell and had waves crashing on the wide sandy beach. As we came out of the forest to approach the beach John remarked that he wished he'd thought to bring his 9-iron because the grass over gently sloping dunes was cropped to the quality of a golf course. We watched slender foot-long eels hunting in a tide pool, and our patience was rewarded by seeing one catch and eat a little tadpole of a fish. We eyed the huge stalks of bananas which were part of what looked like a primitive copra camp, but they were carefully propped up with heavy sticks and are obviously tended by an absentee landlord.

We are at the low tides of the full moon which expose the reef between Nakia and the beach. One or more of the local men hunt for octopus most days and we wonder what they will do when all the octopus are gone. We took a walk on the reef on Saturday and Leopold had taken three of them because he had guests arriving yesterday. We saw some tiny bluish purple brittle stars and finger length eels, but I wasn't comfortable walking on a living reef with anemones and spongy stuff (that I won't even touch when we see them snorkeling) so we soon returned to the beach.

On Sunday we thought it might have been dry enough to hike to the ridge top on the trail to Hatiheu Bay to the south of us. It was mostly a good trail but our shoes became muddy clogs and we decided not to go all the way into the village since we hadn't brought any money with us and everything would probably be closed anyway. That afternoon we were getting ready to take the dinghy over to the windward shore for a snorkel when John was stung by a bee. He immediately got the Sawyer venom extractor out of its case, but we left the stinger in too long, and his hand swelled up like a little balloon. He took a Benadryl right away and is applying the ointment form as well to help ease the incredible itching. He was still game for a snorkel (only the finger had swollen by then) and we had a great Easter egg hunt for cowries. We easily saw over a dozen large shells but still aren't up to taking any with the animal living in them. They're so beautiful when they sparkle in the sun against the dull rock, and we have a lot of fun searching for them. We hadn't been in the water for long when I heard John shout and I hurriedly swam back to see what he'd found. I was so intent on swimming to him that I didn't look up until I was about to do a head on with a manta ray with another one right behind it. They swam past us into the murk, but what a thrill.

Yesterday I swam into shore for a beach walk and saw a foot-long baby black-tip shark as I was shuffling my feet along to avoid the sting rays in the ankle deep water. John went for a late snorkel around the point from Nakia and saw another manta ray and more cowries. We've also both had quick glimpses of turtles taking a breath in the anchorage. Today we were supposed to walk all the way to the village at Hatiheu with Romany Star for provisions but it rained all night and is still raining off and on so we decided against the muddy trek, and it's back to more reading and DVDs.

This a perfect place to be but it's looking a lot like the "dry" season is over.



Saturday, October 03, 2009

Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou, and back to Nuku Hiva

This morning we woke to a waterfall where yesterday there was only a sheer, bare, rock cleft in the mountain above us. Too bad we didn't have any of our rain catching gear out last night, but then water isn't a scarce commodity around here.

The last time I wrote about our whereabouts we were in Tahuata. In the late afternoon of September 14 we departed for an overnight sail to Taiohae, Nuku Hiva with only a few hours of motoring to arrive just after sunrise. This is a very rolly anchorage and we ultimately ended up moving as close to the quay as we could get. But even after deploying a stern anchor and the rocker stopper, it still was not a comfortable place to be. There were about 20 boats when we arrived and 12 remaining when we departed a week later. All of the active cruising boats are anchored near the old quay, with only three unoccupied boats over on the more remote Keikahanui Pearl Lodge side of the bay. Our week was spent taking delivery of our new main sail from Rose Corser and visiting her lovely little museum and gift shop; browsing at the well stocked magasins; making 6 AM visits to the boulangerie and the veggie marche (only one time each and hopefully never again; baguettes and most veggies - except lettuce - are available elsewhere at more reasonable hours!); and doing laundry with plentiful, though tan colored, water at the quay.

We also had a lovely night out with Rose and the crew of Quixotic for dinner at the Keikahanui restaurant. The restaurant and bar are all that remain of the original hotel built by former cruisers, Rose and her husband, Frank Corser, back in the 70's (S/V Courser). Frank passed away in 1992, but Rose is carrying on with plans for a smaller business, and she's always happy to have cruisers stop by for a visit. The tropical drinks were colorful and the French cuisine was beautifully presented and so delicious that we all cleaned our plates of curried goat, rack of lamb, duck, and a steak/shrimp combo. There was a group of young men and one woman from NASA staying at the Lodge to cover a hole in tracking coverage for a satellite launch (we passed their equipment high on a mountain during our subsequent car rental). They normally do a two month tour of duty, but it had stretched to three months this time. Tough job, but someone's got to do it!

We shared a car rental with Quixotic and Steve of Weatherly to explore the island. This time we had a four door truck so there was plenty of room for all of us with our gear in the truck bed. We started towards the airport in the Terre Deserte in a clockwise circumnavigation of the island, taking a right hand turn on a dirt road after passing a pineapple farm (the pineapple plants are obvious; don't take the turn before you see this). We scoped out several bays for potential anchoring spots, but the highlights of the trip were our picnic lunch stop at Hatiheu Bay and a visit to the archeological sites of Hikokua and Kamuihei & Tahakia, the latter two of which of just across the road from one another and comprise the largest excavated archaeological area of Nuku Hiva. Although there were no large tikis like on Hiva Oa, the size of the areas made one wonder at the lives of the people who built and lived in them long ago. We made a pamplemousse snack stop along the river in Taipivai at the head of Controleur Bay and then, since we still had some time remaining on the truck, we made an even more arduous trek over the rough road from the Keikahanui Lodge to Colette Bay, the site of "Survivor Marquesas" (2002). They must not have put the Survivor camps at the head of the bay where there was plenty of pamplemousse, citron, and bananas on private property. Fortunately one of the pamplemousse tree limbs hung over the fence to the ground and we restocked our fruit hammock.

The forecast looked good on Tuesday, September 22 for the sail to Ua Pou, 25 miles away, and after motoring to clear Nuku Hiva we were able to sail the rest of the way to Hakahau Bay, arriving in time for an afternoon swim to the sandy little beach and a walk on the quay. After the rough ocean waters between the islands, and the horrible wind chop in Taiohae, we were thrilled with the quiet, protected, little harbor. We set a stern anchor to keep us in position just off the south end of the quay in about 10' of water. Two sailboats were stern-tied to the quay when we arrived which also looked inviting (the Aranui wasn't due to arrive for another week) and, as it turned out, we had to move there for our last two nights because of the outrigger-canoe races on Saturday. Other than one visit to the village, we kicked back on the boat and read a lot during our stay. We would have left earlier but then we saw preparations for what we thought looked to be a big event, and decided to stay when we learned that island teams would be competing to see who would represent the Marquesas in the big Hawaiki Nui outrigger-canoe race in November. It was fun to be stern-tied to the quay to watch the starts and finishes of the two races (morning and afternoon) out to neighboring bays, but we never did figure out why the locals bothered setting up three tents which went unused the entire weekend. And the crowd reaction was very low key with no honking of horns even though the quay and breakwater were both lined with trucks. Maybe it was a given that Ua Pou would be the hands down winner, so people didn't bother getting too excited.

We spent one truly awful night in Hakahetau which even the rocker stopper wasn't up to (and with no possibility of a shore landing due to the swell), before we moved to Vaiehu for our last few nights at Ua Pou. Our first night there was perfect but then a larger than normal swell rolled in from somewhere out in the ocean and we lost both water clarity and peace. Without being able to swim or go ashore there wasn't much to do but read, cook, and make a weather cloth. We met Paul and Erin on Romany Star out of San Francisco, and both boats decided to leave for the north shore of Nuku Hiva on October 1.