[090706, 2157 UTC, Nuku Hiva, Iles Marquises, French Polynesia; 08°56.7'S / 140°09.8'W]
Thank you to all who wrote concerning Philip's encounter with a speeding powerboat which occurred recently at Baie de Taiohae on Ile Nuka Hiva in the Marquesas Islands . We have been working nearly full time to get things back together and have had few moments to reflect on its gravity or to respond to the everyone who so thoughtfully replied. We really appreciate everyone's support - thank you. What we continue to remind ourselves is that we are very fortunate that Philip survived; we learned while talking to locals of another dinghy hit approximately six months ago at the same spot whose passenger was not so lucky.
Baie Taiohae is magnificent and its entrance is guarded by east and west sentinel rocks. The bay is over a mile deep and about half as wide and is a flooded caldera. Once past the sentinels, it is a straight shot to the north into an anchorage completely surrounded by mountains covered in jungle and topped by jagged rocky peaks. The seemingly prosperous village of Taiohae (named for a Marquesan chief) stretches around the bay and is populated by a collection of friendly laid-back, tattooed Marquesans (some of Chinese descent), French officials and ex-pats from all parts of the world. Horseback riders aboard fit bays are seen cantering up the grassy malecon, past rocky ceremonial marae and ancient tikis.
The village's quai, called the "old dock" on charts, is reverse L shaped and projects west from the bay's NE corner and has a large, old ferry tied to its lee (or north) side. Local boats med moor nearby by tying to buoys and then to iron pad-eyes in a seawall to the north of this ferry. To land a dinghy, one wiggles amongst a minefield of floating and submerged mooring lines up to an iron ladder on the seawall, were passengers disembark quickly as swell threatens to smash feet, fingers and dinghies. This small quai seems to be the center of activity with a handful of buildings housing Moetai Marine (affiliated with Polynesian Yacht Services), a boutique and internet cafe, a few small restaurants and a fisherman's refrigeration cooperative. Small sleek Marquesan-owned fishing boats often with the steering station way forward near the bow, zip to and fro, while artisans sit in the shade of plumeria and carve bone and shell, and men play ukuleles and sing. Numerous fish cleaning stations dot the quai where fishermen with flashing knives quickly process their catch: wahoo, yellow fin and skipjack tuna, and red snapper. Occasionally, a boat arrives with a catch of goat or beef and the fish cleaning stations become efficient meat cutting stations and packages quickly disappear into coolers of ice.
We hadn't planned to visit Baie de Taiohae until later in our tour of the archipelago but when we arrived we thought we would stay just long enough to pick up a shipped package of windvane steering parts from Rose Corser (a cruiser friendly ex-pat American), make the repair to our windvane and then replace an upper shroud (a piece of stainless steel cable or standing rigging that goes all the way to the top of the mast). Then, critical projects done, we would push onto and explore around the more rural bays of the island. The weather, however, had been nasty and the seas right outside of the bay were BIG (10-15 feet) and of short period, so instead of moving down the coast, we decided to stay put "one more day" so the weather could moderate, Leslie could tackle at least a bit of the pile of laundry using the public water on the quai and Philip could buy a bit of fuel and make another veggie run. This turned out to be a fateful decision.
The accident occurred under the bright, clear, mid morning sun on Saturday May 30, 2009. The story from Philip's perspective goes like this:
I left Leslie on the quai, where she was hand-washing clothes in buckets using the fish cleaning tables, and motored out into the anchorage in our dinghy, Bacio ("kiss" in Italian), an eight and a half foot nesting dinghy. I needed to repay some money I had borrowed from another cruiser when I ran out of CFPs at the filling station. After chatting awhile, I started our small outboard and motored back towards the quai to collect Leslie, our jerry cans and our clothes.
As I neared the quai, I noticed a speeding red and yellow powerboat approaching on my starboard side. After a quick calculation, I decided that I was not in danger of collision. What I didn't see was a second, white powerboat, the Belle-Marine, following closely behind the first. The first indication I had of the second vessel's approach was the tremendous noise and shock of a collision when the Belle-Marine, which was traveling at an estimated ten knots, t-boned Bacio directly amidships, pushing it and me under its bow.
There was a loud screaming in my ears which I found, with some astonishment, to be coming from me. I was pinned under the port side of the vessel by Bacio's buoyancy as the Belle-Marine continued to move forward, threatening to suck me under. I continued to yell while trying unsuccessfully to grab the boat's gunwale backwards with my right arm. The forward section of the boat's keel was sitting atop of Bacio's mating bulkheads, amidships. My yelling probably saved my life because Leslie knew immediately it was me and began to yell herself "STOP, STOP - you've hit my husband"! A crowd gathered on the quai and dozens witnessed what was unfolding.
It seemed like a long time before Belle-Marine began to slow down, though it probably wasn't more than few seconds. Once the Belle-Marine finally came to a stop, Bacio slipped out of the grip of the powerboat's bow and, being stove-in, quickly filled with water and though still floating because of its buoyancy tanks, began to turn turtle. As Bacio began to go down next to the high freeboard of the Belle-Marine, a pretty Marquesan teenage girl wearing earrings in the form of large pieces of bone pierced into her earlobes, peered over the side at me. I can only describe the look on her face as bemused disbelief. She quickly disappeared and was replaced by two expression-less young men who reached down with muscular brown arms decorated with Polynesian tattoos and, after a few missed attempts, finally hoisted me aboard. The men spoke to me in Marquesan, presumably asking if I was all right. I nodded. The captain, a middle-aged Marquesan sat soberly nearby but said nothing to me.
I felt myself over and found that all my parts seemed to be intact, though I was bruised on both arms, had superficial cuts on both legs and my ribs and back hurt. Other than that, I seemed to be relatively uninjured. I gazed over on the quai and saw Leslie, white-faced in shock and anger, and gave her a quick thumbs-up trying to assure her I was okay.
Belle-Marine slowly moved to and tied up at the quai and put me ashore where Leslie rushed to make sure I was all right (and to give me a crushing hug against my already sore ribs). The captain and other men began to quickly unload bags of copra from the Belle-Marine onto the quai. Meanwhile, Patrice, a Belgian man who had come to the scene in his dinghy, towed Bacio to shore. There, two of the men who had been in the Belle-Marine during the accident, pulled Bacio up away from the surf where we all surveyed the sad scene. Ashore and righted, Bacio looked pretty forlorn with everything smeared with black sand, its starboard side stove in. Seawater dripped from the outboard. One of the men said something to me in French and seeing my confusion, the man's colleague said, "he said he was sorry".
Patrice also delivered to Leslie as much flotsam as he could find including the starboard oar shattered to pieces, though we lost everything that could not float (anchor and chain, a seat bag of parts and lines, etc.).
The generous folks on the catamaran, Lucy Blue - Ina, Buc and kids Simon and Amanda - arrived at the scene just after the accident. They immediately began helping us by taking our laundry, full jerry cans and the dirty detritus of the smashed dinghy back to Carina and retrieving the key to unlock the outboard. Jocelyn and Anna, a French couple, he a osteopath, also arrived on the scene where after a quick exam, Jocelyn declared Philip remarkably healthy considering the circumstances.
Unbeknownst to us, someone at the scene had phoned Moetai of Moetai Marine. And, despite the fact the shop was closed, Moetai arrived and met with the captain while we were still just standing in shock looking at Bacio and trying to decide just what to do next. We were summoned to a brief meeting on the quai during which we were introduced to Bernard, the captain, who could only be described as subdued. Moetai, a tall, handsome, ponytailed and tattooed Marquesan, interpreted for Bernard and said that Bernard had agreed that Moetai Marine would repair our dinghy and outboard and he, Bernard, would pay the bill. This seemed fair to us, so we agreed. Our keys soon arrived and we handed our outboard over to Moetai Marine's Yenni, who immediately took it into the shop to work on it.
The rest of the day we just tried to relax and deal with shock and the ebbing adrenaline high. Friends Lynn and John of La Graciosa generously provided us with their spare "bubble boat" inflatable and 2 hp Yamaha engine which allowed us to get on with our life and to effect repairs.
Moetai has so far been good to his word to help us to get Bacio repaired, providing us with epoxy resin and filler, fiberglass mat, sandpaper, etc. Luckily, we had on board Carina, 2-part exterior paint and rubber interior paint remaining from March when we had renewed them while in Panama. Except for the outboard, we did all the dinghy work ourselves.
By the following Saturday (one full week of full-time work carried out under the scrutiny of dozens of friendly locals offering comments, opinions and tools), the dinghy floated once again. Cosmetically it's imperfect. Yenni got our outboard engine running, though it probably will never run quite as well as it once did. A replacement oar for the one shattered beyond repair ($126 plus shipping!) was ordered from Tahiti but, because of its length, it must come by boat and is not expected to arrive at Nuka Hiva until at least June 17. This delay seriously impacts the remaining time we have to explore French Polynesia and will cause us to miss a regatta and cultural event in Tahiti and Moorea.
Though frustrated about missing islands and events, we are trying to be philosophical and continue to remind ourselves that things could have turned out much worse. Philip is still with us and for that we are extraordinarily thankful.
Vos amis du bateau Carina,
Philip, Leslie et le beau chat, Jake