Whilst sailing this leg of the Pacific Ocean, I have read a novel about the life achievements of Captain James Cook. As a child I was taught about Cook (or ‘Kook’ as the islanders called him). My appreciation did not amount to much. I knew he was English, that he officially discovered Australia, New Zealand and most of the Pacific Islands. I did not know he did three journeys of discovery that took him from the top of the globe to the bottom with massive sea miles in between.
Now that I am sailing somewhat in James Cook’s wake aboard Miss Catana, my appreciation and understanding of his skill as a navigator, his courage and the sheer volume of discovery, has quite frankly left me in awe. To do what he did in a wooden sailing vessel with little navigational aids, crew that would have been reluctant about the adventure and serious rum drinkers aboard is staggering.
The First Fleet
The first fleet left England in 1787 it included 11 ships, and took eight months to arrive in Australia. There were 736 Convicts on board, in all around 160,000 Convicts were sent to Australia which was the new destination, after the rebellious Americans decided they would look after themselves. Australia became the world’s largest jail, with the worst convicts sent to Tasmania. It didn’t matter which Island you were sent to, escape was impossible. I think the upper class of Britain liked that.
Many convicts went on to make wonderful lives for themselves and future generations. Australians are proud of their Convict heritage, rightly so, and we think we live in the best country in the world, even though plenty think otherwise.
Reading his journals Cook thought the aboriginals were not friendly nor pretty like other islanders, they had no interest in trade or trinkets but seemed happy with their lives. Cook could see no benefit for them by his visit and lamented what could be the end of their culture. Unfortunately for the Aborigines, if not Cook someone else arriving to take over by force was inevitable. My view of Captain Cook has changed dramatically, he was extraordinary of this there is no doubt. I know I have directly benefited as a result of Cook discovering Australia. I am so impressed by his travels, we now plan to visit Islands we had no intention of visiting, just so we can follow more in the footsteps of this great Captain.
Arriving At The Marquesas Islands
Captain Cook discovered the Marquesas Islands on his second voyage (1772-1775) Cook sailed for eight months before arriving in Tahiti in 1769, he did not have the Panama Canal to navigate, instead had to go via Cape Horn. We left Panama arriving at Marquesas Islands 28 days later. Unlike Cook, we sailed in a purpose built boat with an array of electronics and backup systems that can only be considered luxury in comparison to what those aboard the Endeavour had.
We were a crew of two, the Endeavour had 94 men aboard, 36 would die whilst on the first voyage. On his return to England, Cook was congratulated on only losing 40% of his men and was revolutionary in changing the system to bring health aboard the Navy’s ships. Cook took a year and a half to reach Australia, our departure from Spain will take us just under a year with constant stops for pleasure, sightseeing and relaxing. At all times we knew where we were and where we were going, Cook in comparison had no idea what land, hostile natives or disasters lay ahead, his main job was to find land, chart and map as he went. These were fearful times, one seaman actually threw himself into the ocean in despair only days from Tahiti, thinking he was about to sail off the end of the Earth. Epic bad timing.
Unlike many sailors who cross the Pacific we allowed ourselves a small red wine or gin and tonic each day with lunch, if the conditions were good. In comparison, rations for crew aboard the Endeavour were one gallon of beer or one pint of diluted spirit per person per day. Sailors mixed the beer and rum together and called the concoction a ‘Flip’.
Flipping Heck – I couldn’t stand let alone sail!
Life was Cheap
Weir Masters was a 35 year old Scotsman, he was the first man overboard, Cook wrote more about losing several dozen chickens that he did of Weir Masters. Back then replacing chickens was harder than replacing sailors. Not long after Masters’ death the Endeavour sailed past an American sloop and they ‘legally’ pinched a 20 year old sailor. The American would have had no say in the matter, as at the time America was considered part of the English empire.
Beds and Bathrooms
Sleeping arrangements were basic aboard the Endeavour, each sailor was allowed just 14 inches width per hammock and these were hung in layers. The space was cramped, damp and certainly smelly. Men slept in their boots and clothes so they were at the ready. Days were long, hard and dangerous, no electric winches, safety harnesses or toilets. To use the toilet, men would have to move to the bow of the ship where extended planks were levered over the side and you got to sit over a hole in the plank, this was a dangerous activity. Flogging with cat o’nine tails was standard punishment for those days, crimes included drunkenness, profane oaths and sodomy, many on board received this punishment, even though Cook was considered one of the fairer Naval Captains.
Food and Hygiene
Meals consisted of salted pork or beef, alternated with cheese and oatmeal instead of meat. Biscuits were tasteless and often contained insects. Cook was revolutionary at keeping scurvy at bay, using fresh citrus fruits and pickled cabbage.
Lice were endemic as were cockroaches, maggots and rats. Personal hygiene was so low that dysentery was a constant aboard the Endeavour. Standard issue of soap for Navy vessels was introduced in 1796 well after Cook’s demise. Captain Cook, the great explorer, was killed by natives in Hawaii 14th February 1779, during his third visit to the Pacific Island Group.
Nuka Hiva (Breath Taking)
Nuka Hiva is the largest island of the Marquesas Islands with a population of 2000 people. A volcanic Island of sheer cliffs covered in lush green vegetation mixed with multi colours of bare bands of coloured rock. The massive cliffs rise high into the sky and plunge directly into the dark blue water below.
As we reached the Island my senses were in overload, I saw the towering cliffs of green, it was a magnificent view. To add to the occasion a large pod of dolphins swam with us three nautical miles to the Port entrance. As our boat came toward the main harbour I saw 70 to 80 boats anchored, including two super yachts, this is usual for peak season in the Pacific.
After checking into the local Police Station (a requirement when visiting the islands), we saw a lot of Sailors under an awning tapping away, obviously connected to the internet. It made me think of a bingo hall with each person intent with what was in front of them. I went to the bar and ordered two beers and code for internet, I was informed they do not sell alcohol, I could order a freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. My first pub with no beer.
Checking Into Nuka Hiva
We have checked into multiple countries throughout Europe, The Canary Islands, Cape Verde’s and the Carribean and it’s interesting to see how procedures differ. Entering French Polynesia, non EU citizens have to provide a bond letter promising to leave within 90 days, pay $250 US bond and provide copy of current health insurance. The bond letter may take two weeks to acquire, your passport is relinquished and you have to report to the police station daily to assure them you are still in the harbour. Trust the French to make processes difficult!
The views were spectacular, the water warm and we were happy to sit and wait for our friends to join us as they too had completed the journey from Panama to Nuka Hiva.
Nuka Hiva Highlights
We welcomed our friends from Oddity, Nora J and Lionhearted of Clyde who left Panama with us to reconnect at Nuka Hiva. Flags were waving, horns blasting as we celebrated all we had accomplished thus far together.
Visiting Taiohae Bay for three days, walking through the rainforest to the waterfall, lunch on the beach and swimming with manta rays was the Pacific experience we were dreaming of. There were several other boats in the bay and conversing with the locals was a pleasant experience. Filling our water bottles from a mountain stream, eating fresh local fruit and the satisfaction of arriving in this magnificent place without going to an airport, was an amazing feeling.
One of the biggest highlights was sharing a bed with the Captain and no-one on watch. I loved the beach walks, living on a boat that was not moving, showering on the back step after swimming, BBQ’s aboard with friends and drinks on the front deck.
Visitor advice when travelling to Marquesas Islands
- Stock your boat well, everything is expensive, especially beer, a cask of wine is more than $30.00AU.
- Pre book a hire car, we missed out, would have been great to tour the Island.
- Internet is slower than the second coming, so be patient.If you want to upload photos onto a website, best times are daylight or very late evening.
When Captain Cook visited the Pacific Islands he was amazed to see men and woman covered in traditional tattoos and I must say I agree with the Captain. It was Cook and his crew who introduced tattoos to the wider wold. The queue outside the tattoo parlour in Nuku Hiva was testament to the tattoo revival on the islands and the rest of the world.
The most amazing tattoo I saw was on a Japanese woman. It was across her back and shoulder and was as beautiful as it was large. A friendly American tried to convince me to get a tattoo to mark the occasion of crossing the Pacific, I considered the idea, however, I chose not to.
To all you tattooed folk out there, I continue to watch and admire from afar, you are braver and have stronger conviction than I.
Such is Life
PS Freshly squeezed tropical grapefruit is a delightful, refreshing drink.