An Artist Afloat
Sailing and sketching
Anoho Bay was our last stop in French Polynesia, and was a gem. Our anchorage was calm, tucked away from the eternal rolling swell and fringed by golden beaches and coral reef. The afternoons were hot- perfect for snorkeling. Visibility was low but fish were plentiful, from enormous green parrotfish to vast schools of yellow convict tangs- ‘bazillions of them’, as Jim would say. Although some of the coral was bleached and dead, I also found large patches of healthy hard coral in shades of bright green, steel blue, lavender and orange. I searched for shells, and found a purple sea urchin cast larger than my palm.
I explored onshore as well. The three beaches in the bay were linked by a narrow track and made a pleasant walk. The bay is ringed by steep-sided mountains and is only accessible by boat, foot or horse- no wheeled vehicles here. Every property owned at least one horse, and we saw trains of ponies carrying in sacks or provisions. The main industry here is copra production, and plenty of husked coconuts were drying in the sun, to be shipped off and turned into coconut oil. I sketched the bay and the little sailing vaka anchored near the beach. The sketches brewed in my head and became part of my series of Polynesian-influenced watercolours.
As I painted, the local boats were busy, ferrying in family and friends ready to celebrate the New Year. Umus were planned for New Year’s Day, and on New Year’s Eve everyone was busy weaving pandanus leaf baskets to hold the food in the underground ovens. Pigs were butchered, their blood staining the rock pools as men dragged wheelbarrow loads of entrails down to the sea to wash and prepare. Throughout the evening, fireworks echoed round the bay and people howled at the full moon. By midnight all was silent. Jim and I toasted 2018 with rum and lime, and contemplated our upcoming voyage to the northern hemisphere.
The next day, Jim carried out some boat maintenance as I filled our water tanks. This was only possible at high to mid tide, by rowing ashore and filling the bottles from a hose I dragged near the sand. Stingrays and baby reef sharks scooted through the shallows and I watched the children swimming and kayaking round the reef. Jim spotted a manta ray when he was up the mast checking lines, and saw a second swimming past Prism. I was hoping more would come and visit whilst we were cleaning her hull. It was not to be, but I did enjoy the communities of tiny damselfish who were seeking refuge around the propeller, with a satellite cluster beneath the dinghy. Evicting crabs from Prism’s hull proved tough as they insisted on swimming back, but we did a thorough job getting rid of weed and barnacles. After a few buckets of laundry we almost ready to go- a three-week voyage across the equator was calling us and we had another half a world to visit.
The passage from French Polynesia to Hawaii was a dream. Smooth seas and strong breezes carried us north, and we only suffered in the calms of the doldrums for a day or so. I was able to cook- lentil stews, spaghetti and chili- and also to draw without feeling sick. I sketched the inside of the boat, drew the dolphins who joined me one night, glowing in the bioluminescence, and imagined what could have been beneath the water when Jim said he saw a pink eye gazing up at him one night. The giant squid monster I captured on paper became the start of something bigger- but that will be my next post!
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An Artist Afloat- Painting the world one anchorage at a time.