Updated: Sep 20
After our eighteen day passage, with a vista of sea and sky, our arrival in the Marquesas Islands heralded a transformation of our surroundings into a pallette compose almost entirely of shades of green. These are volcanic islands, with tall mountains plunging steeply into the sea. The rain, coupled with a tropical climate, creates an island paradise where the food literally falls from the trees. Self sufficiency is the order of the day. Gardens are looked after and are full of fruit (oranges, limes, bananas, coconut and grapefruit the size of footballs). Wild pigs and goats roam the mountains providing meat and the sea is full of fish. Prior to Europeans discovering the islands, over 100,000 lived here. Unfortunately, introduced diseases decimated the population. Today, although a small fraction of what it was, the population is growing again, with almost 3000 people now living on Nuka Hiva, the biggest island. Inland, there are interesting archeological sites of once thriving settlements, now being reclaimed by nature.
For example, three hundred years ago 2000 people lived in Hatiheu. The top structure was added in 2000 but the stones are original
Our first anchorage was on Fatu Hiva, a small island furthest upwind. Baie de Vierges is a stunning, well protected anchorage and has a small breakwater protecting a quay and dinghy dock. Water was a priority after the long passage and we found a water tap on the quay. The quality of the fresh mountain spring water was excellent and a joy to drink.
However, provisioning was far from simple. There was nowhere to get cash and we had brought very little (local or otherwise). There was one tiny store which seemed to open at random times. Our book, 'The Pacific Crossing guide', talks about bartering and useful items to use such as fishing tackle, cosmetics, old ropes. That is out of date. Today the sought after commodity is alcohol. Rum is the best currency! We were slightly reluctant to be in the situation where our sole contribution to the island economy was wine but beggars cannot be choosers. One bottle bought us circa forty oranges, another 10 grapefruit, a third a huge fish which fed us for three days.
We stayed six days alternating boat jobs with exploration and simply catching up on lost sleep. There is a walk to an impressive waterfall, another to a vantage point high above the bay offering excellent views. One day, a small cruise ship stopped. The village was ready for them with a morning of music and dance whilst the locals promoted their tikis, souvenirs and other local produce.
It was hard to understand the economics on Fatu Hiva. On the one hand, providing for yourself, bartering to 'fill the holes' is a valid system. Yet horses had been largely replaced by (new) 4x4's and I saw no evidence of any output that would finance their purchase.
After a week we were ready to move on to Hiva Oa. As a student, during the summer I visited
my sister, who was living in Paris at the time. I often spent time on the Champs Elysee watching the world go by, chatting to strangers or visiting the Jeu de Paume. At the time, this museum housed the world's most extensive collection of Impressionist paintings. (The collection has since moved to Musee d'Orsay).
As I stared at my favourite paintings, it struck me how certain artists used unique, 'trademark' colours in some of their paintings. For example, the vibrant stipled blues and yellows of Van Gogh, the pink, white and grey so delicately intertwined by Degas to conjure up his graceful ballerinas, or the distinctive greens which Gauguin chose as a background to his Polynesian works. Now we were heading to the island where Gauguin lived and worked and where we could witness the landscape which surely inspired those greens.
Our first task was to clear in and become 'legal'. Nearly all the boats in Fatu Hiva, like Skyfall, had not been to Hiva Oa to complete formalities first. It appears that this is now unofficially accepted. Certainly, the friendly demeanour and simple process were a welcome change from the reams of paperwork and costly procedures of both Panama and the Galapagos.
After formalities and a trip to the bank we were ready for a visit to the cultural centre. Both Gauguin and Jacques Brel ('famous' Belgian singer) chose to live their last years on Hiva Oa and the cultural centre had sections dedicated to each.
I have never seen so many 'Gauguin' paintings in the same place. Nearly everything he ever painted. Of course, they were all reproductions (of varying quality). The exhibition tried to explain the influences throughout his career and the difficulties he faced being accepted by the 'establishment'.
We had been told that the cemetery was worth a visit too. So we traipsed up a steep hill to find it. The graves of the two famous artists were easy to find with fans leaving souvenirs of their visit.
Our final act on Hiva Oa was to treat Annick to a drink on a terrace with a great view. (You do not know how hard it is for this Belgian to survive a month not being able to enjoy a 'terras'). We discovered that French Polynesia is not the place for a stag night: beer is available but is sold at 'airport prices'.
We only stayed a day and a half on Hiva Oa. The anchorage behind the breakwater is very small and half the boats already there were anchored 'illegally' ( blocking ship traffic to the dock). It was possible to anchor outside but the bay faces the prevailing wind, there is no protection from the swell and was also relatively crowded. We took this option for one night as there was little wind. The boat rolled terribly through the night and stronger winds were expected. So rather than endure a second night, we set off on an overnight passage to Nuka Hiva.
Our mainsail is now 10 years old and has done 25,000nm. We intended to replace it this winter in New Zealand. However, on the trip to Hiva Oa I noticed two tears with the leech (the trailing edge of the sail) coming away from the sail over a metre. This in addition to around ten small holes and tears which appeared on the way to the Marquesas and which I had patched with sail tape.
Having seen the tears in the leech, the sail had to come down and was unusable. So the 90nm downwind leg was sailed under genoa alone. We had up to 20 knots of wind so the boat went fast enough. In fact, we ended up reefing the genoa to slow down to ensure we arrived in daylight.
There are several wonderful anchorages on Nuka Hiva. The main settlement, Taiohae, sprawls around the head of a huge, relatively well protected bay and serves as the main meeting place for cruisers in the Marquesas. On a small hill overlooking the anchorage, this sculpture of Mother Tiki and warrior looks out over the visiting yachts
The village is pleasant enough and is home to the largest church (or cathedral?) in the Marquesas. The best wood carvers from each island contributed to different parts of the build, including the entrance doors
Provisioning here is straightforward with three stores (quite expensive) and multiple vendors of fresh fruit and vegetables (very cheap). The chandlery was amazingly well stocked for an island of this size and Kevin, who runs a Yacht services business, can arrange most things (given time). He repaired and strengthened our mainsail and helped arrange shipment of much needed spares from the UK for collection in Tahiti.
There are several trails from the village, including one to a high vantage point overlooking the bay. On the way back we detoured to rest on this small pebble beach.
Together with friends from Linton bay (Jeb and Greg from sv Zoria), we rented a car for the day to see more of the island. We met this wood carver and his team preparing poles which would be used to construct houses in preparation for a big festival in December. There must have been 20 or 30 teak trees set aside for the job. Think how many decks they could have replaced!
On the north side of the island is the Baie de Hetiheu. It has the freshest drinking water and we later sailed around to it to fill our tanks. There is a tiny fishing community using a large, perfect anchorage. We were the only yacht there. The next bay along is Bai d'Anaho and there is a very pleasant one and a half hour walk between the two bays. The path is lined with so many mango trees and you could fill bags with the mangos lying on the ground.
We circled the island on the one road, which was of mixed quality. For around half the distance it was a dirt track and we even had to plough through a small river. It was a good job we rented a 4x4!
There were many non-native species of trees to be found including many eucalyptus trees, which surprised the Aussies (Jeb and Greg). Eventually we picked up a proper road in the north west, by the airport. From here we traversed the centre of the island, what used to be the caldera (crater) of the volcano from which Nuka Hiva was created. This was flat, fertile farmland, quite different to the sulphur covered rocks in the calderas of Galapagos volcanos.
We really enjoyed the Marquesas and Nuka Hiva in particular. But now it is almost time to move on. We have one more bay and a hike to a 350m waterfall planned but in a couple of days we will head for the Tuamotus, a group of atolls with very challenging navigation, dangerous reefs, bommies (heads of coral growing up from the seabed) and exciting 'passes'.
note: many more photos on the webpage https://www.skyfallrtw.com/2023-marquesas