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Landfall in the Marquesas

As the sun rose on our final night at sea, it started to reveal the craggy, green, mountainous island of Fatu Hiva, the most remote island in the Marquesan archipelago. Any land would have been a welcome sight after 33 days, 4200 miles non-stop, but this was the most beautiful and dramatic island we have seen. Our excitement rose as we entered Hanavave Bay (The Bay of Virgins), one of the most iconic anchorages in the cruising world. We were in awe at the pinnacles and cliffs, the lower levels of which were covered in palm trees and the upper levels dotted with mountain goats.

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First sight of Fatu Hiva

Everything around us was just so green, unfortunately that included Florence. We had a record amount of weed, growing half way up the hull above the waterline, teamed with 2 inch long barnacles covering her below the waterline. With the water a murky brown from the surface run off and sharks in the bay we whimped out of the usual swim and scrub and did the best we could from the dinghy.

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Hanavave Bay (The Bay of Virgins)

We missed the traditional polenisian welcome on our first day as the local dance practice was cancelled due to the torrential rain. We didn’t feel too hard done by through as a family from a beautiful 56ft British yacht who had arrived the previous day put on an excellent impromptu welcome party for us, with drinks and a delicious dinner. Back onboard Florence, well fed and watered, with a still bed, and no night watches to wake up for, we slept like logs.

The next day, we were very excited for the arrival of our friends on Sandy Cheeks, who we originally met in the Caribbean and had been in touch with across the Pacific. For us, the only thing better than having a bay to yourself is sharing one with friends.

Keen to stretch out our sea legs, we set off in search of a waterfall up the valley, with the crew from Sandy Cheeks and the 3 other boats in the bay. Due to the recent torrential downpours, the hike involved crossing a river and several muddy swamps, but we were rewarded with fantastic views and a refreshing FRESH water swim at the base of the fall.

We continued the hike further up to get a view of the boats in the bay.

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Maybe it was because the other cruisers had also been starved of other company for so long but Hanavave Bay was the most sociable bay we have stayed in. With only an average of 5 boats in the anchorage, in 7 days, there was only 1 day where we did not share a meal with other cruisers.

The welcome ashore was just as warm, where it was rare not to be greeted by a “Bonjour” and a big beaming smile. The village, although still basic and seemingly traditional was surprisingly modern. Thatch roofs had been replaced with tin, wooden outriggers with aluminium boats, and horses with a couple of very modern 4x4s. The sale of fruit and wood/bone carvings to Tahiti via the cargo ship which visits the island once every 3 weeks seemed to be the main source of income on the island. It felt like we were in the garden of Eden, huge sweet grapefruit, mangos, bananas, papaya, limes coconut and oranges grew in abundance everywhere in the village. The locals prefer to trade rather than accept cash, a positive for us as with no bank/ATM we had no local currency. We loved the experience of trading as it allowed us to see more of the locals homes and way of life. The language barrier made it even more fun as we communicated with their limited English, our limited French and some very elaborate acting. Our friends of Sandy Cheeks had some goat given to them when trading for a wood carving and we enjoyed feasts of slow roast goat from our thermal cooker and BBQ’d goat from their onboard BBQ.

We left Fatu Hiva feeling incredibly happy to have found such a beautiful place, having enjoyed the company of wonderful people.

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With the next island of Tahuata only a day sail away, we upped anchor at dawn, sailing under spinnaker and in the company of dolphins, before being hit by huge gusts blowing down the mountains of Tahuata. In the shelter of Hana Moe Noa bay, we dropped the hook in beautifully clear turquoise water over white sand, before joining Sandy Cheeks for BBQ’d fish, their son George had caught that afternoon.

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We spent a couple of days cleaning up Florence and enjoying snorkelling the bay. Although there was a lack of coral, we spotted our first reef shark, a huge bright blue octopus, a turtle, eagle rays and lots of new bright and interesting reef fish.

We had heard that the village of Bai Vaitahu, 2 miles south of our anchorage had a small shop which would accept euros or credit cards and may have some eggs and fresh vegetables. Despite the abundance of fresh fruit, the locals say the ground is too wet for vegetables and although hundreds of wild chickens roam the islands, few people seem to keep them for eggs.

The shop did not have a single egg or vegetable but the village itself was well worth a visit. Set in a dramatic valley, it held one of the most beautiful churches we have ever seen; open air and full of local woodcarvings.

As there are no jetties that we can go alongside in the Marquesas, getting water is very labour intensive and time consuming. We spent half a day ferrying back and forth between the concrete dock where one of us had to hold the dinghy off the dock in the large swells, whilst the other ran up the road to a tap and filled our water cans. It takes many trips to fill up our 480 litre water tanks so Amy got chatting with a local family whilst holding the dinghy and before long their 7 year old son was trying to help Matt carry the water. Matt managed to persuade him to carry some of the smaller bottles and about 5 trips later we thanked him with some sweets, which put a big smile on his face.

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On sight of the concrete road through the village, we brought the bikes ashore with the aim of cycling to the bays further down the island. A couple of miles out of the village we started to realise why we had not seen any bikes in the village; the steep road turned into a very rough rocky track that would have been challenging even on proper mountain bikes. We tried the other side of the valley and although the situation was the same, it gave us a great view of the bay.

The villagers were very friendly and keen to practice their English so we soon found ourselves relaxing to the pace of the island. We also got chatting with the only other boat in the bay, a French couple the same age as us. Julie, had just had a tattoo via the artist in the village who had become famous in the Marquesas. He had given them some wild boar and they invited us on board to share it with them. We enjoyed the evening so much, we decided to stay an extra day so that we could return the favour. We finally left the island of Tahuata with Amy feeling accomplished, having cooked for a couple of French foodies who helped themselves to thirds!

Next stop Nuku Hiva, an overnight sail further northwest…

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4 thoughts on “Landfall in the Marquesas”

  1. We visited the same places 4 years ago. Good to hear it is still unaffected by the rest of the world.

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    1. We had some sweets for the kids and some cigarettes and perfume for the adults. They want alcohol, cigarettes, perfume the most but also big t-shirts seem popular. These are very expensive to buy in the marquesas but cheap in Panama…

      Liked by 1 person

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