Tag Archives: Honu

Whitsundays offer preview of outer reef, more to come

Published June 4, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott

CoralWHITSUNDAY ISLANDS, Australia >> Our cruising guide calls these 74 islands “a tropical paradise in the heart of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.”

It’s no exaggeration.

The Whitsunday Islands, so named by Capt. James Cook because he arrived here the seventh Sunday after Easter, or Whit Sunday, are two mountain ranges cut off from the mainland by ancient geologic events. The teeming coral reefs that now surround the islands can keep a snorkeler busy for months. But beyond the Whitsundays lie the platform reefs most people picture when you mention the Great Barrier Reef. The islands, therefore, are a leg up for sailors who want to visit the outer reef. The nearest, called Bait Reef, is about 20 miles east of the easternmost island, a three- to four-hour voyage for our 37-foot ketch, Honu.

Bait Reef hosts the famous Stepping Stones, 18 flat-topped coral pinnacles lining the southwest side of the reef. Each round tower rises 50 to 80 feet from the ocean floor and stops 3 to 6 feet below the surface.

It’s easy to swim from one backyard-size coral head to the next, and each is a snorkeler’s dream. Confetti parades of tropical fish swim at the pillar tops, and enormous fish such as giant trevally and Napoleon wrasse hang near the drop-offs.

The Great Barrier Reef hosts about 350 species of light-loving coral, making competition for space fierce. When coral-eating fish and invertebrates leave bite scars, the larvae of sponges, worms, crustaceans, clams and corals quickly claim the space.

Every imaginable shape and color of stony corals cover the flat column tops, with soft corals and giant clams elbowing their way between.

An Australian researcher recently surveyed an area of coral reef off Port Douglas, about 300 miles north of the Whitsundays, and reported that 90 percent of the corals he observed have bleached (turned white). I’ve seen no bleaching here, but the study is a stark reminder that this largest living organism on Earth is at risk from climate change.

At the outer reefs, weather is everything. Being submerged and patchy, the coral heads offer no protection from wind and waves. Skippers head out when the wind is light, and keep an escape plan in mind should the weather change.

So, fingers crossed, out we sailed. Soon after our arrival the wind stopped completely, leaving the water so flat and glassy, we were able to spend the night. As we sailed back the next day, two humpback whales, up from Antarctica for the winter, put on a show of breaching.

Our cruising guide for this area is called “100 Magic Miles of the Great Barrier Reef.” I couldn’t imagine a better title.

Putting a boat back in water can be adventurous in itself

Published October 19, 2015 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2015 Susan Scott

BUNDABERG RIVER, QUEENSLAND, Australia >> When I left my sailboat, Honu, here in July, it was in a slip in the marina. But while I was home in Hawaii, my friend found a problem that required taking the boat to dry dock. Colin repaired the boo-boos (fix one, find another), and that made my first chore here to splash the boat, meaning get it back in the water.

Splashing a 37-foot sailboat weighing 20 tons is accomplished with a contraption called a Travel Lift, a machine so huge, loud and odd-looking that it reminds me of a movie-style Transformer.

While I stood on the deck with Colin, workers drove this roaring robot over Honu to straddle her and fastened two giant belts under the hull, front and rear. When all was deemed secure, up rose the boat from its land supports, and off we drove to the launch site, Honu swaying in her slings.

During the short journey, I remembered boatyard tales of belts failing and boats dropping, but all went well and soon Honu was hanging over the water. Because boat engines pump seawater for coolant, you can’t start the motor before the hull is afloat. The driver lowered the slings and boat into the water, and it was time to try the repaired engine. The engine started right up — hooray — but when Colin and I dashed below to check for leaks, we found a geyser of that cooling seawater spurting throughout the engine room.

Quick, get the socket set!

Just as Colin finished tightening two loose hose clamps, plop, into the bilge fell the socket. The marina had assigned Honu a slip, and off I drove. I started out OK, but as I turned in, a gust of wind hit the boat on the side.

As a result, Colin couldn’t throw the rear line to a helper waiting on the dock, so he threw the front (bow) line instead. When the guy pulled on the bow, Honu’s rear end swung far from the dock. Nuts. I was going in sideways.

The result was six men shouting various instructions as Honu drifted askew. Fortunately, the two-slip space was large and empty. Eventually, with the help of my well-working motor and neighbors, I got Honu straightened out and tied up. In the wrong slip, but still.

The boat was afloat, and I didn’t crash it or hurt anyone in the process. Well, I hurt myself a little. I discovered three oozing scrapes on my right shin, a small gash on my left hand and a deep scratch on my thigh. I had no idea how or when each injury occurred, but my friend Alex maintains that if you’re bleeding and don’t know why, it means you’re having a good time.

We borrowed a Shop-Vac to suck up the seawater in the engine pan, and Colin drove to town and bought a replacement socket. When I reported to the office that I ended up in the wrong slip, the worker there did the typical Australian thing. Turning to the marina map grease board, she rubbed out the name Honu from slip 9 and rewrote it in slip 8. “There,” she said. “No worries.”

Now I’m provisioned, fueled up and at anchor in the Bundaberg River, the ideal place for our 2 a.m. departure. Yes, our. My longtime friend Colin, a shipwright and crackerjack boat fixer, said he’s heard enough about Pancake Creek and Lady Musgrave over the years that he wants to see them.

Alex is right about the bleeding. I’m having a blast.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean Watch”,
for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2015 Susan Scott


Emails reveal shared love of sea creatures worldwide

Published December 29, 2014 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2014 Susan Scott

You’ll never hear me complaining about email. It used to be that writing this column was a lonely job. Now each day I get to drink my morning coffee with people who share my love of the ocean and its remarkable inhabitants.

Some readers write to tell me about their own experiences with a subject I’ve written about, and others offer kind corrections or clarifications. Countless people just want me to know how much my articles brighten their Mondays and that brightens the hours I spend at my computer.

Every message has its charm, but a few from 2014 stand out.

Cutest story: Jennifer from Kualoa wrote that she gives the ghost crabs on her beach peanuts. “The big dudes take one in each claw and shuffle another around like a soccer ball … Sometimes they share, as with an apple core that washed in.” Another day, she wrote that her crabs “hold the peanut in one claw and nip off bits to eat with the other. But what about the ones with no claws? I know they will grow back, but in the meantime, what will they do?”

I loved learning that ghost crabs share apples and play soccer with peanuts. The fact that Jennifer worries about injured crabs tells me that we are kindred spirits.

The shortest and sweetest: In this era of information overload, I loved this reader’s economy.

Subject box: “Upside-down jellyfish.”

Message: “Thanks — Really Good.”

Appreciation noted.

Most alarming question: On Feb. 12, Paul wrote, “Aloha Susan, Could the invasive algae be responsible for the missing Honu in the Ala Moana Lagoon? We have only seen one Honu in 4+ months.”

Happiest ending: On Feb. 19, Paul wrote: “Aloha Susan! Had to avoid a large Honu at Ala Moana Lagoon today so that makes 3 in 2 days. A welcome return after many months absence (for whatever reason.)”

Question with the easiest answer: While watching manta rays at night, a Big Island reader, Chris, met a woman who “claimed that there is a day, one time a year, when the world’s oceans all get super excited, and the water is effervescent and the tides change color and sea life large and small all becomes super animated … perhaps tied to a lunar event. Was this gal off her rocker?”

Um. Yes.

Best message from a distant land: Emails arrived from readers in Australia, South Korea, Pakistan and the Czech Republic. These were all fun starts to my day (Wow, Pakistan?) but the one that touched my heart came from the CR. “Hello madam,” Jan wrote. “I’d like to run away from Europe and live a spiritual life. It would be possible to settle in such a paradise? Good luck.”

I already had my good luck. I wished Jan equally good luck in finding his or her paradise.

Favorite video: My neighbor Joanne sent this link — bit.ly/1zad8WG — with the note, “In case you haven’t already seen this 46 times.” I had not seen it even once, but I’m now close to 46.

All my messages this year were positive, entertaining and inspiring. Thank you, dear readers, for making this column so much more than a job. See you in 2015.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2014 Susan Scott

The graceful green turtle inspires name for sailboat

The 37-foot French ketch. ©2014 Susan Scott

Noumea, New Caledo­nia » I’m on the road again, my road being the Pacific Ocean and my vehicle being my old friend Honu.

Craig and I bought the 37-foot French ketch in 1984 on the East Coast with the plan to sail it home to Hawaii. The first thing we did to prepare for the voyage was give the boat a Hawaiian name.

In nautical lore, changing a boat’s name is supposed to be bad luck, but that idea came from men who thought bathing made you sick and that women on ships caused storms. We ignored the superstition, registered the boat as Honu and had an artist paint a sea turtle on the transom.

We picked the word for sea turtle because the boat reminded us of those graceful grazers, their shells heavy and wide yet efficient and seaworthy. Green turtles can weigh up to 400 pounds with shells 4 feet long, yet, like Honu’s Fiberglas hull, they glide through the water like angels on wings.

It took us nearly a year, but the two of us sailed the boat to its new home in the Ala Wai Boat Harbor. As Honu’s original blue paint, cushions and sail covers wore out, we replaced them in green, even though green turtle shells aren’t green, but shades of gold and brown. The “green” in the name comes from turtles’ green fat, once prized in soup.

When we named the boat Honu, the word wasn’t widely used. But in testimony to the success of federal and state wildlife protection laws, today “honu” is common in Hawaii, both in term and turtles — but not in soup.

Honu Sailing

Honu Sailing

Honu and I have had some momentous passages together, and not just those of the sea. When I was 55 I sailed to Palmyra, Tahiti and across the South Pacific to Australia.

During my voyaging I discovered that the word “honu” also sailed throughout the Pacific. In addition to Hawaii, “honu” also means “green turtle” in the native languages of Tahiti and New Zealand. Cook Islanders call turtles “onu,” in Tonga they’re “fonu” and Fijians say “vonu.”

In all places, though, including here in New Caledonia, where Craig and I are preparing Honu for a passage to Australia, our boat’s name gets smiles of recognition. OK, it’s probably the turtle on the transom that draws the smiles, but the picture defines the boat’s name.

By 2012, in Mexico, Honu needed new hull and deck paint. I hired out the huge job, flew home and returned months later to find the painting top-notch — with one exception. The boat’s transom had a lovely new turtle painted below the name, but the O in “Honu” angled oddly to the right.

As I stared at the word, thinking, I must get this fixed, the American contractor said, “The O is a halo because turtles are angels of the sea.” He shrugged. “That’s what the artist said.”

Honu’s halo remains intact.

The previous pain on the transom. Courtesy Scott R. Davis

The previous pain on the transom. Courtesy Scott R. Davis


Honu from the side. Courtesy Scott R. Davis


Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2014 Susan Scott

Navigating through customs can be frustrating, comical

Craig raising the quarantine flag, 2014.

What happened with the customs officer in Tonga?” a reader emailed, referring to a comment I made in last week’s column about a misunderstanding Craig and I had after arriving in that country by sailboat. “Perhaps other cruisers would like to know so they don’t make the same mistake.”

If only it were that simple. Countries’ entry and exit laws regarding foreign boats can be as hard to get right as sailing there in the first place.

It’s easy to read a country’s official policies online and in cruising guides. But because sailing schedules are ruled by the weather, boats sometimes arrive, or must leave, on weekends, holidays and during off hours. Often it’s not clear what to do at those times.

In addition, not all workers are up to date on their governments’ latest regulations. And even if they are, some officials view the check-in and checkout procedures more as guidelines than laws.

In 2006, for example, after arriving in the Cook Islands on a Sunday, I followed protocol and insisted that my crew stay aboard, at anchor, until Monday. After a difficult, upwind passage, this was like a jail sentence.

By Monday, however, after my radio calls went unanswered and no one came, we inflated the dinghy and went to the harbor’s administrative center.

“You should have come ashore,” the exuberant customs officer said when I told him when we arrived, “and enjoyed our beautiful island (Aitu­taki)!”

Other workers toe the official line. Last month we arrived in Vavau, Tonga, on Maundy (Holy) Thursday. Warned in Niue that everything in these devoutly Christian nations would be closed until Tuesday, we asked the locals who helped tie the boat to the entry dock what do to.

“Go there,” two men said, pointing to a nearby building.

Wrong building. A harbor official drew us a map to another building six blocks away. Wrong again. When we got back, an angry customs officer was at the boat.

“No one leaves the boat before being cleared!” he said. “Where did you go?”

The officer scolded us as we explained, apologized and groveled. Eventually the hand-drawn map convinced him that we had been misled, and he started us on our trek through Tonga’s customs, immigration, quarantine and health clearances, each division with its own inspector, forms and fees.

We were lucky. Customs officers can fine you, impound your boat or have you arrested.

Leaving a country by boat can be as tricky. In Suva it took us no less than four visits, each 2 miles round trip, walking, to the immigration office to check out. But the Fijian workers were so cheery about the time mix-ups — Oops, lunch time. Three o’clock? Sorry, we meant 6 — all we could do was laugh. Besides, after being on a 37-foot boat for most of a month, exercise felt good.

Worldwide, when arriving at a foreign port, vessels must request clearance by flying a yellow quarantine flag. It seems straightforward enough, but seasoned sailors know that hoisting a Q flag often signals the beginning of another memorable experience.

But having memorable experiences is why we go cruising.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2014 Susan Scott


Hollywood take on voyaging smoother than in real life

Published April 14, 2014 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2014 Susan Scott

Susan at the Navigation Station (desk) on Honu. In calm seas.

AT SEA IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC » We’re sailing from Tahiti to Niue, a tiny island country of about 2,000 people.

Craig and I have been at sea on our 37-foot sailboat for more than a week now, sailing in brisk 20 to 25 mph southeast tradewinds. As Honu trundles along downwind toward Niue (we skipped the Cook Islands due to wind direction), we grip handholds for our every move, struggle to cook one-handed and joke about Robert Redford’s recent sailing movie, “All Is Lost.”

In that film, we long-distance sailors agree, all is lost about offshore sailing.

Although that movie captured some of the challenges of open ocean voyaging, such as having to repair and improvise when things go wrong, the tale fell flat in its depiction of life on a sailboat at sea. Out here nothing is flat.

During our 1,200-mile passage, the southeast tradewinds have been blowing for days on end, good for covering distance but also the recipe for rough, rowdy waves. These great walls of blue water tumble over in sizzling white foam, smacking, rocking and rolling the boat with utter indifference. Riding on top of these noisy, towering hills can feel like a carnival ride from hell: It’s expensive, it make you sick and you can’t get off.

In most boating films, when people go inside the cabins, all there is calm and quiet. Craig and I laugh about that, too. You might get out of wind and rain below decks, but the motion of the ocean persists.


The view from the cockpit of Honu, on the Coconut Milk Run 2006, during some rougher seas. Courtesy Scott Davis

As I write, I hold my laptop on the desk with the heels of both hands, moving fingers only, and my outstretched legs brace my body in my seat. The teak furniture down here squeaks and groans with the flexing of the Fiberglas hull, and the lines banging on the deck sound as if we’ve hit something. We’ve hit nothing. Craig and I take turns keeping 24-hour watch, but neither of us has seen a single man-made item. No boats, no ships and nothing floating on the surface.

From the reports of marine pollution, you might imagine Honu plowing through a sea of bobbing water bottles and foam cups. Not so. The ocean out here is a clean, sparkling desert of blue dunes marching over the horizon.

Like terrestrial deserts, marine deserts host animals, sparse and hard to spot but remarkable in their adaptability to a harsh environment. Several species meet here at the border of air and water.

From below, malolo (flying fish) burst up and skip astonishingly long distances over the surface, often plowing right through waves and popping out the other side.

Malolo are pupu for seabirds, the other creatures we see flitting between the waves in jerks like puppets on strings.

“Look,” one of us says, “a tropicbird (or booby or shearwater).” Because only one or two birds appear per day, a sighting is always worth a shout.

Weather forecasts are calling for declining winds, but even if it becomes glassy calm, the ocean will not be flat. Great smooth swells generated by distant storms will be rolling under Honu as we motor into Niue.

We’re looking forward to the change in sea state.

When it comes to sailing, it’s all about the ride.


In glassy seas motoring Honu towards Bora, Bora, 2005. Courtesy Scott Davis

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2014 Susan Scott


Captivating stony corals get a reluctant au revoir

Published April 7, 2014 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2014 Susan Scott

Coral, lionfish, urchin, in the Marina on Raiatea, 2006. Courtesy Scott Davis

Honu is once again moving west through the Society Islands. Although I’m happy to be sailing again, it was hard to say goodbye to Tahiti, with its jagged green mountains, friendly people and perfect french fries. But what I really hated to leave was Papeete’s Marina Taina, a boat basin that made me feel I was floating in a world-class aquarium.

When I was sweaty, tired and frustrated from boat preparations, all I had to do was step from the boat to the pier to get a spirit lift. The rock of the boat and my shadow on the water sent a confettilike shower of fish scurrying for cover. If I waited there motionless, out peeked those busy little color chips to see if the danger had passed. Deciding it had, the fish emerged and went back to grazing.

Boat harbors aren’t usually equated with excellent fish watching because their water is often dark and dirty. Not this one. In most places inside the breakwater, I could see the bottom of the pilings. (I could see fairly deep at night, too, due to the nearby superyachts’ underwater lights.)

But it wasn’t bare pilings that attracted all those fish. The posts and piers that secured our boats looked like candy dishes of marine goodies. With water temperatures 80-some degrees year-round, visibility to 50 feet and daily tides moving water in and out, the conditions in and around Marina Taina are ideal for growth of stony corals.

Stony corals don’t care about boats, people or even floating paper and plastic. All they want is clear warm water, lots of sunlight and a space to stick to. Leave them alone in those conditions and off they go, building the bases of the most diverse and concentrated gatherings of marine life on the planet.

Coral clumps start small. Each head, branch or plate begins as one individual produced by the union of an egg and sperm. Typically fertilization takes place in the water where the parents release their sex cells.

If it isn’t eaten, the fertilized egg develops into a larva that drifts for days or weeks as it matures. When full grown, the tiny pioneer settles down, sticking to one spot where it immediately begins secreting a protective calcium carbonate skeleton around itself.

The coral expands its new homestead by making clones of itself, budding off genetically identical roommates that remain attached to each other. The clones make more clones, and on and on it goes with individuals growing up, out and over one another. As a result, only the outermost layer of a coral head is alive.

All clones in a colony are connected by a thin layer of tissue that allows them to share food. That’s why stepping on, or grabbing, living coral damages the entire colony.

Stony corals get their colors from tiny plants that live inside the skeleton cups. The corals in and around Marina Taina included blue rice, yellow lace, pink cauliflower and brown antler, so stunning it was hard to walk without stopping.

I felt sad saying goodbye to Tahiti with its charming marina full of coral heads packed together like a farmers market display, complete with pushy fish shoppers. My consolation is that more magic lies ahead.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2014 Susan Scott


Boat provides a challenge too daunting to sail solo

Published March 31, 2014 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2014 Susan Scott

Honu in Tahiti 2006. Courtesy Scott R. Davis

PAPEETE, TAHITI » Last weekend I flew to Papeete because I left my sailboat Honu here in October to sit out the southern hurricane season. That being over now, it’s time to pack the boat with brie and baguettes, cast off the mooring lines and sail on.

When I mentioned this upcoming voyage to friends and acquain­tances back home, the first thing they asked was, “Are you sailing alone?”

No. I sail alone on short trips, but I don’t go offshore by myself for one simple reason: It’s too scary. But it’s not the open ocean that scares me (usually). It’s the boat.

Cruising sailboats have most of the appliances we have at home, all the machinery of our cars, and an IT worker’s nightmare of computer-driven nautical systems. Towering above all that is an elaborate assortment of ropes, poles and wires supporting flexing masts and flapping sails.

We cram this mass of specialized gear into a small space (37 feet by just over 12 feet in this case) and sprinkle it with salt water while shaking and pounding it for weeks on end.

The sailors’ old joke that the definition of offshore cruising is repairing your boat in exotic places is only funny if you’re good at fixing things. I am not.

But no worries. I’m sailing with my husband, Craig. It will be just the two of us, but having a man who’s been sailing since he was 6, and is good at troubleshooting and repairing all manner of marine systems, is like having an engineer, navigator and sailing instructor all in one.

Oh, and he cooks, too.

The other questions people ask about concern our destina­tion, route, distance and timing.

Craig and I plan on sailing to the Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji and New Caledonia, where we will leave Honu in a marina and fly home to work. We have two months for this voyage, about 3,000 miles due west. This may seem like plenty of time, but when your vessel averages 5 mph, timing is a concern.

I want to leave Honu in New Caledonia for a while because it seems that whenever I see a photo of a fantastic new (to me) marine species, the location credit says New Caledonia. We shall see.

To answer another question, yes, I’m planning on writing my columns while sailing, sending them through my satellite phone email system — providing the satellite phone, computer and battery charging systems all keep working. I live in hope.

Satellite phones are marvelous inventions but they don’t transmit photos. I’ll try to paint pictures with words.*

The route Craig and I will be following is nicknamed the Coconut Milk Run because the prevailing winds come from behind the boat, making it an easy downwind run. In theory. I sailed this course in 2006 with two friends and had contrary wind directions and, of course, several boat system failures. Fortunately my friends were good sports and clever repairmen.

Now I get to again make the run with Craig, who on the boat is cheerful company and consistently optimistic. And, even given my deficient repair skills, he calls me captain.

Thank you, dear readers, for your caring questions and sincere best wishes. Stay tuned.

Susan aboard Honu during the Coconut Milk Run in 2006

*Susan’s web guy, Scott, was one of the crew on the 2006 voyage and will try to use pictures from that voyage to augment Susan’s painting with words.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2014 Susan Scott


Arduous voyage enriched by following variable wind

PAPEETE, Tahiti » The first leg of my South Pacific voyage is over. It took me three months to outfit the boat in Mexico, sail to the Marquesas, explore the Tua­motu Archipelago and get Honu put up in a Tahiti marina. Now I’m going home.

As in all outdoor adventures, the trip had its ups and downs. Some days I wondered what I had been thinking to take this on. This is too hard, I would grumble, wishing I was in Kailua eating takeout and reading Jack Reacher novels.

Other days, as Honu surfed up and down the Pacific Ocean’s giant blue swells, every cell in my body glowed with pleasure.

“Thank you!” I’d call to the wind.

I talked to the wind because on a sailboat, wind is everything. It’s the engine of the ocean, driving not just sailboats and occupants, but the wildlife that lives in, on and above the water.

Some sailors discuss wind and sea conditions in terms of a system that puts numbers to wind and waves. Called the Beauford Scale, it ranges from Force 0 (no wind) to Force 17 (the strongest hurricane).

I don’t use the Beauford Scale because, in recalling my voyages, there seem to be only two conditions: too little wind or too much wind. Of course, there were plenty of perfectly lovely sailing days, but like most trips, in recalling the details, the extremes stand out.

On the passage from Mexico to the Marquesas, I mostly had too little wind. That may sound relaxing but it is not. The sails slap with annoying bangs, the boat pitches and rolls to no rhythm and the skipper and crew get cranky in a hurry.

At those times I used what sailors jokingly call the iron genny (genny is the nickname for a big sail called a genoa), meaning the diesel engine. It’s loud, hot and smelly, but it moved the boat forward. While motoring, however, I had to worry about fuel.

During most of my time in the Marquesas and the Tua­mo­tos, I had the opposite problem: too much wind. The southeast tradewinds were so strong for such prolonged periods that in one month I visited only two islands and two atolls.

But staying at anchor for longer than I planned turned out to be a bonus. In Nuku Hiva while waiting for a wind break, I hiked to one of that island’s (and the world’s) most stunning waterfalls. In a memorable wade in the pool below, freshwater shrimp climbed onto my feet and up my legs.

Spending a week each in the Tua­moto lagoons of Kau­ehi and Faka­rava atolls, I enjoyed snorkeling in crystal water washed in by wind-driven waves that crashed over the fringing reefs.

The lagoon water was so clear and the marine life so stunning that I snorkeled until my fingers wrinkled and my toes got cold.

I also got to see the seabirds swooping and diving in all their glory.

My 37-foot ketch will stay in Tahiti for a couple of months while Craig and I go home to Oahu the easy way, on a plane. We won’t have to worry about how hard or from what direction the wind blows. As sailors like to say, nothing goes to weather (upwind) like a 747.

Once home, I’ll read a Reacher, eat some salad and start planning the next leg of my South Pacific voyage.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2013 Susan Scott

Long, arduous voyage dims against Marquesas’ dazzle

Published May 6, 2013 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2013 Susan Scott

TAIOHAE BAY, NUKU HIVA, Marquesas Islands » Twenty-six days after leaving Mexico on my 37-foot sailboat, Honu, I dropped anchor in a bay so stunningly beautiful I felt I had landed in the middle of a movie set. Jagged mountains separated by jungled valleys surround a former volcanic crater filled with warm blue water, bright tropical fish and about 40 resting sailboats. A tiny storybook town (population about 1,200) filled with friendly people lines the bay.

But this is no make-believe place. It’s the administrative center of the islands we call the Marquesas, the most northerly group of French Polynesia.

The Marquesas consist of six large and six small islands. Compared with Hawaii, though, the Marquesas are all small, the 12 island totaling only 492 square miles. The land area of Hawaii is 6,425 square miles.

All the Marquesas Islands are ancient volcanic mountains rising steeply from the sea to about 4,000 feet. As I sailed in, the jutting basalt columns of Nuku Hiva’s windward side reminded me of Easter Island statues. Here the wind, rain and sun have carved their own colossal moai.

With their Spanish-sounding name, I always wondered whether the Marquesas had a Spanish flavor to them. But no. The Spanish link is in name only, bestowed by a 1595 Spanish explorer. He named the group after his sponsor, a marquess married to the viceroy of Peru.

Two centuries later other European explorers came upon the islands, and in 1842 France declared them a French protectorate.

Today the Marquesas are a charming mix of French and Polynesian culture. Both baguettes and breadfruit accompany lunch plates. You buy tapa cloth and pandanus hats with Polynesian francs.

French is the official language, but many locals also speak Marquesan, a language that sounds similar to Hawaiian but with significant differences. For instance, there is no “L” sound in Marquesan. Even so, the sights and sounds of the ancient Polynesian culture here feel so familiar to this 30-year Hawaii resident that even though I can’t understand a thing people are saying, I feel oddly at home.

The fish and seabirds make me feel welcome, too.

Soon after I checked in with immigration, I went snorkeling. From my little dinghy, I watched fairy terns hover over the water fishing, while above them soared my favorite pirates, magnificent frigate birds.

Back-flipping from the dinghy into the deliciously cool water near some shoreline coral heads, I found myself in the middle of a school of flagtails, called ahole­ahole in Hawaiian.

During the day these silver 12-inch-long fish rest in dense schools near reefs. I kept my movements slow and easy, and they allowed me to swim among them.

A moment later I got a thrilling reminder that I am not at home. A dozen or so neon damselfish passed below. The blue of these South Pacific fish is so bright, they look plugged in.

Being one with the fish hours after arriving proved to me that this adventure is going to be well worth the tremendous effort it took to get here. I will never star in a movie, but by sailing here I’ve done better. I’m the star of my own dream.