From Fatu Hiva to Raroia

After the disappointing weather we had at Fatu Hiva the forecast was for a few days break then some heavy weather coming up from the S. If we didn’t move to the Tuamotus, we would be stuck at Fatu Hiva until the next break, which would be over 10 days away. As it is, the weather over the next few days should be perfect for a nice, easy reach all the way to Rarioa, 400miles away and our first atoll. With the wind forecast to drop considerably as we approach the atolls, we are aiming to arrive for before the high slack water at 1239hrs 29 Jul.

Two key documents I would recommend to anyone sailing towards the Tuamotus which I have been using as planning tools are:

The Tuamotus Compendium and the

Tuamotus Current Guestimator

Both are the product of many years of cruisers input and are extremely useful sources of information. The Compendium is probably better and has at least as good information as Charlies Charts and is easier to get around as well. The current guestimator is updated yearly so ensure you have the most up to date version available – if you don’t then it is useless. It is a god send when you are trying to work out when the current at the entrance passes to the atolls will be safest for transit. 

We packed up and had a lovely last morning with Dale and Tanja from Dragonsbane, an US boat who had just arrived. Professional sailors, now in semi retirement, they are circumnavigating. We had invited them across for coffee and they turned up with a blackberry sauce, a caramel dip, a sausage version of a fatata (wow) and the hard butter biscuits that the Marquesans love so much. We had a very pleasant breakfast talking about all the best anchorages for them to visit during their short stay in the Marquesas. We swapped some cruising guides for copies of new ukulele music. On the basis that breakfast was far too good, we missed our chance to get to the post office but Dale and Tanja have kindly taken it upon themselves to post the cards for us.

Music Practise

Day 1.  Posn @ 1200 – 2m S of The Bay of Virgins   Distance run –  69 miles 

Lifted anchor at 1130hrs in sunlight!! Typical! 20+kts in funnel that is The Bay of Virgins then almost immediately no wind until we cleared the lee of the island then 15-20kts ENE with a 2.5m swell. 1 reef and full foresail. Occ squalls to 25kts. Dry and clear. Easy, comfortable and fast sailing.

Farewell to The Bay of VirginsHeading out. Faku Hiva from the SW

Day 2    12 14.950S  139 37.668W  113miles

Wind has moderated overnight to 12-15kts ENE. Swell 2m with a long interval. Course 200T. Hardly a cloud in the sky. Going along comfortably at 5-6kts. It’s boring when it is as good as this! Spent the morning marking up the Marquesas Chart with all the anchorages we used and our route around the islands. The girls are reading. Hannah has just finished “ Confessions of a Murder Suspect”. Not sure how appropriate it was but she claims to have enjoyed it! When not practising her hand steering (saved the batteries an hour of autohelm this morning), Eleanor is getting stuck into the Anne of Green Gables series.

Eleanor hand steering

The rest of the day has been uneventful. The wind has continued to drop and now sits between 8-11kts from the E. Boat speed is 4kts.

Day 3   14 02.170S  140 47.625W  107miles

An interesting night. When you reef, you let the main sheet out to take the pressure off the main. Unfortunately, someone had been practising their figure of 8 knots and hadn’t put it back in when they finished. Result? Sheet pulled through all along the boom to the mast and back out the pulley block at the end of the boom. Trying to fix that at 0230hrs in the pitch dark was trying! Eleanor woke to my swearing and helped, first by steering whilst I tried to rerig things and then as a boom weight to bring the boom down to a manageable height. She did very well. We practiced some steering by the stars after we were reorganised. She now knows the term “precession”!

By the morning the seas were back up to 2m and wind had gone E to 16kts. By the evening, 10kts from the ENE and slowly decreasing. Slow going.

We had a quiet day with both girls hand steering. We did have a strange companion for a while. It had the shape of a tuna but the tail and half the back was a purple colour, markedly different from the blue of the head. It travelled up by the bow for 20 mins and we watched it chase down small flying fish.

With 140miles to go and no chance of making the cut tomorrow, we are going along at about the right pace. At this rate we will still have 6-12hrs to wait before we can think about trying the cut at Raroia.

Day 4    15 10.688S  141 2.740W  98miles 

As the light died last night, so the wind eased to the point just after midnight there was less than 5kts. We bounced along doing a couple of knots, largely wave driven but by 0600, we had had enough of 2 miles per hour and started the stb engine. I fear this is the calm before the weather front coming up from the S  reaches us. The only point of interest through the night was the large shark (we think) holding station just under the boat. It set the depth alarm off regularly, which was off putting to say the least. We often see schools of fish showing up at a single depth then quickly disappearing. This thing held station with us and we could watch it change depth. We tried searching for it with the big torch but saw nothing. It disappeared as soon as we started up the engine.

We motor sailed with less than 8kts, the wind gradually getting more and more  of a southerly component, right through the day . At last light, the wind arrived. 25kts and from the SSE! We haven’t seen a wind from there for a long time. It gave us a bouncy but fast sail. Thankfully the sea was slight due to the lack of wind the previous days and we managed to get into the lee of Raroia before anything got violent. We reached the cut just after midnight.

Day 5 On anchor @ 16 06. 230S  142 22.711W  28miles 

With 8hrs to kill before slack water, we hove to. Catamarans aren’t great at this but we managed to hold our speed down to under 2knts and meandered back N up the island. At the top of the island where it started to get lumpy, we turned round, sailed back to the entrance and did the whole thing over again. At 0630 we moved towards the cut, dumped sails and got ready to try our entrance just before low water which was at 0806hrs. By 0745hrs, we were through, still against 2-2.5kts of current in the deeper water on the N side of the cut. But we had flat water and no standing waves. An easy entrance. 

Going in to an atoll, you should always try for decent visibility so you can see such dangers as reefs and bromies (huge lumps of coral that stick up 100’ from the bottom). Sadly, the weather had other ideas and I was back to using a facemask, looking into the driving rain and 25+kts of wind. We just had to take it very slow (less than a knot steerage way) and wait for the weather to clear which, after an hour it did.

I think that someone has taken a look at a google snapshot and overlaid the position of the obvious large bombies. Navionics seemed to be pretty accurate for the these although we spotted at least five smaller ones that definitely weren’t marked on the charts.  Be warned! Even with the awful weather, the girls were a great help and suitably equipped with waterproofs, they stood at the front acting as extra sets of eyes.

And the sex pest to your right is......The girls ready for bromie spotting

Having seen lots of jumping fish and birds (several types of terns and a few Frigate birds) feeding on them, we threw out the line and within 5mins we picked up this beauty. Not knowing what it was and unable to verify it with a local to be ciguatera free, we chucked it back. However, it bodes well for fishing here! The place is hoatching with life.

  Unidentified big fish caught after 5 mins fishing

Being a little exposed, we decided against the Kon Tiki anchorage and went another 2 miles S to a wonderfully sheltered beach, hiding behind high palm trees, about 1/2 miles S from the pearl farm. After a slow meander through the strings of pearl farm oyster lines, the sun finally came out. We anchored in 25’ of water, carefully trying to drop between two obvious coral lumps. It is a strange sensation as the boat is motionless as the sheltered water is absolutely flat. Water visibility is not great with water coming across the reef in huge waves which we can see breaking all the way down the island on the outside of the reef. Hopefully the weather will improve in a couple of days and things will get better.

Arriving at the big motu. Beautiful!


All in all, it was an easy passage with only the last 24hrs being a bit blowy.  I’m sure we will have more interesting entrances to deal with but I am glad that for our first atoll, we got an easy in.

Time to relax! With a view like this, I think we are going to enjoy ourselves.

Lessons Learnt–The Marquesas

The text below is based on our experiences and are our views. You may take or leave our opinions as you find them!  However, we have tried to be as objective as we can. We hope it helps in your planning. All pricing was correct as at Jul 16.

Immigration and Clearing in. All immigration services are carried out at the Gendarmerie offices. We have met a few policemen and women here and all have been unfailingly courteous and helpful. Make sure everyone from the boat goes to the Police station. They need to see everyone and identify them against the passports.

We Europeans (for however much time is left us Brits can claim that status, I don’t know!) get it easy going into French Polynesia. We turn up, fill in a single page form and 15 minutes later, that is us free and easy for the next 18 months without any drama at all. No agent required.

The rest of the world have a bit more difficulty and you require a visa. The long stay one (strongly recommended – you need this if you are going to explore even a small part of French Polynesia)  is a bit of hassle to get.  The best place to get the visa is, we have been told, when you are in Panama itself. The Embassy there is used to sailors trooping through and you are not a novelty. Advice would be to sort the visa whilst you are there. Signing up for the Pacific Puddlejump gives you credibility as well.

When you arrive, you may find it easier to use an agent, either via the Pacific Puddlejump links (strongly recommended) or directly to an agent to ensure that you can hand on responsibility of getting either the bond or the proof of an airfare home. Note home means home nation, not to the next country in line. We met a S African girl who unfortunately hadn’t done her research and was looking at $5k for her ticket. The bond is the better option but it costs 10% of the bond in “admin fees” so your best bet is to use an agent to deal the hassle. I think the Puddlejump crowd via their preferred agent, get a block discount which saves a good amount of cash as well.

You can book in at Hiva Oa, Ua Poa and Nuka Hiva. However, Fatu Hiva the SE island of the group is often the first stop in for yachts as getting back down to it can be difficult against the Trades. The officials down in Fatu Hiva have yet to report a yacht stopping in with them first. One comment I have heard is the person responsible for letting the Gendarmerie know about an arrival feels that doing so would be outwith Polynesian courtesy and welcome and therefore doesn’t! As long as you don’t kick the arse out of it, you should be be able to visit Fatu Hiva as a first stop. I’ll caveat this by saying that it only takes a change in official for the rules to be more strongly enforced, so speak to people on the S Pacific Magellan Net before you reach the islands and confirm this data is still accurate.

The official courtesy flag is French. We started with that then the Marquesas Island’s own. This is preferred by the locals. The only place I was able to find a small courtesy flag type within the Marquesas was at Nuka Hiva which we bought for 1000XFP. I think it would be an easy one to make up yourself if you had the time and inclination.


Note – When arriving in to the Marquesas, you have three days grace before you need report to the Gendarmerie. 

Customs. There are Customs here but very few people ever meet them as there is only one boat covering the whole of French Polynesia. You will not meet them as a matter of course on entry. The declaration paperwork you fill in at the Gendarmerie has a box for alcohol, tobacco, drug and firearms declarations. Fill it in accurately even if you are over your limit and use the term “Ships Stores”. The Gendarmerie simply want the box filled out and unless it is firearms related, they take no further action. If you have lots of undeclared booze on board and you do meet with the Customs Boat, expect them to take the view you are trying to sell it to the locals. You will be, at best, fined heavily, lose the booze and get kicked out of the country; worst case, they can impound your boat. If the booze is declared properly then the worst they can do is hit you with an import tax. However, I have yet to meet or hear of anyone this has happened to this season. “Ships Stores” seem to work.

Agents. There are two that we know of in the Marquesas, both representatives of a Tahitian firm that if you planned well ahead, you could probably deal with directly. Sandra works in Hiva Oa, Kevin is at Nuka Hiva. A warning on Sandra. We twice failed to get a tax free fuel certificate from Sandra. We tried on our first visit to get one organised but the lead time Sandra gave us of “maybe one week” was too long. On our second visit, having tried to track her down for four days with missed appointments and no shows, we eventually managed to catch her on Bastille Day, getting the promise of the certificate two days later. Sadly when we met to collect it (she turned up 45 minutes late), she informed us that one document had been difficult to read and we needed to give it to her again. Asked when she had known this she said the morning of the day before. She simply smiled and shrugged when I asked her why she hadn’t phoned straight away to get the problem fixed. Asked when we would now get the certificate, she said maybe Wednesday, a further 5 days ahead – a total of 10 days from start to finish of process. It takes 30 minutes in Tahiti. The woman is singularly useless, difficult to track down and very unreliable. It doesn’t even seem to be an island time problem; just uncaring laziness. This is not just our experience. We have had horror stories from a number of other boats we have met. From those that we have spoken to who have contracted her, they often wait for several days after they arrived for contact to be made and often are made to wait for her to complete clearances. Five days was the longest we heard about. I think the worst we heard was from Dragonbane who used her for laundry. They got back a wet but unwashed and slightly smelly pile with a comment that she hadn’t had time to finish it. Not professional.

I’d strongly suggest if anyone does need an agent in the Marquesas, try Kevin up at Nuka Hiva. He, says people that have used him, can be relied on to communicate with you, can be used as a postal address, can talk boat parts and will help source too if you need stuff sent in from Tahiti.

Vincent, who started the new yard in Hiva Oa this year (2016) is looking into providing an agent’s service too. It may be worth checking in with him to see if he is offering the service in competition to Sandra.

Haul out Facilities. You hope you won’t run into problems on your crossing. However, some do and we were one of them. The new haul out and yard services at Atuana, Hiva Oa saved us a world of hurt and our ability to tour FP effectively. Please read our separate blog post on our experience with the yard. A link is HERE.

Pets. For those that have pets on board, French Polynesia is not an accommodating place. Unless you are willing to wait through a six month quarantine and pay the high fees for this, pets are not allowed on shore.   It doesn’t get any easier as you head out of FP West either so think long and hard to see if you are happy never being able to let your pet off the boat.

Stocking up. We have been very pleasantly surprised at what we have been able to source at a reasonable price. France still subsidizes food here and the import of good French cheese, pates and fixed price bread at 50cents a baguette has been wonderful. There is good shopping on Hiva Oa, Ua Poa and Nuka Hiva, each with at least two supermarkets with some variation of choice.

Fruit and Veg – You need to get in quickly after the boat gets in which happens every couple of weeks. The best stuff goes quickly. Fruit can be easily had just wandering the countryside and if you can’t find it in the wild, you will pay little to a local for a great deal of local variety fruits. Apples are more expensive as they are shipped in. Other than a little bread fruit (for which you need to trade with a local for they aren’t in the shops), vegetables are shipped in and the selection is basic. Cabbage, potatoes, onions, carrots and occasionally leeks seem to be the basic stock. I was amazed to find Pak choy in the market by the pier in Nuka Hiva one day.  God knows where it had come from.

Meat – All meats are frozen, are expensive but the quality is reasonable with most sourced from New Zealand. The sausages (proper French ones with a high meat content) are very good value and we have stocked up heavily on them.

Bizarrely, most sea foods are routinely imported and are expensive. Fresh fish can be difficult to find. Ask at the pier, not in the store.

Watch out for red label price tagged goods. If you see a red label, it means the product is subsidised and no import tax has been paid on it. Generally at least one red label item can be found for each product group. Red Label President butter is cheaper here than it is in the UK……

We ran out of Heinz Baked Beans a long, long time ago. However, we found the best substitute we ever have here in the shape of Libby’s Pork and Beans. And it is a red label good!!! No corn syrup present and 220XFP a big can. Eleanor and I are in heaven even if I am made to sleep “elsewhere” the night after eating them.

All Chinese goods are very cheap. Don’t bother with soy sauce, Greg! I suspect they are massively subsidised by the Chinese who are working hard on the Marquesians, trying to get them to accept the offer of fast internet for fishing rights around the islands.

Household cleaning products are expensive and there is a basic choice of most items. For those wanting to do ammonia clothes washing, strongly recommended if you want to save water, stock up in Panama. You won’t find any here.

Alcohol. Wow. So expensive. Prices here are $US for ease. A can of beer is $3-3.50.  The local gut rot rum is $25 a 70cl bottle. Famous Grouse (a basic whisky) – $70. Gin – $60-80. Wine – starts at $15 bottle and goes rapidly up. What you’d pay $10  for in the UK is $30+ here.

Mixers are very dear and are very limited in choice. Can of coke or anything fizzy – $2.  Make sure you stock up well before you reach here. 

Communications. Due to the distances involved and the huge hills of the islands blocking signals, VHF does not work well. HF is very popular and we have used the morning check in on the South Pacific Magellan Net, run from Tahiti, to keep up with friends, ask questions about the islands and to let the net know where we are. We have heard people reporting in on route to New Zealand on the other side of Niue, more than 2000miles away. We use the evening net only if we are doing overnight passages.

South Pacific Magellan Net             8.173MHz @ 1730UTC (am net) and  0400UTC (pm net)

For those wanting some BBC or English language radio. If you can, get a copy of the Sony Wave Handbook. It lists all frequencies and times of transmission from all the national HF stations in the world. Ones I listen to:

BBC Word Service                                6.195MHz from 2300-0700hrs local – best around midnight. Best for international news.

Radio Australia                                     9.580MHz from 2200 – 0930hrs local – excellent service in the morning hours. Good discussion and topic programmes. News from ABC News, largely Aus focused.

Internet isn’t the best in the Marquesas and it is expensive but you should be able to find service on all the islands. The roaming internet is provided by Vinispot or Manospot, with a few and regularly out of service hotspots. There is a map showing antenna locations in the islands on their website. Scratch cards are available at the Post Office at 480XFP for one hour or 2000XFP for five hours. For the best service, you need to find a Post Office and sit outside it. There are internet cafes on Hiva Oa and Nuka Hiva  only and the normal price is 500XFP for the password. There is free internet at the Library on Ua Poa.  The hotspot in The Bay of Virgins, Fatu Hiva is providing us with the best internet connectivity by far but only when it is working, which is rarely.

Phone cards are available from the Post Office. Phone calls within FP are cheap and are all the same rate, no matter what atoll you call, great for organising ahead. The only issue we have is cards last only 15 days before becoming invalid so buy the smallest value cards you can at a time so you don’t waste money. We keep one as spare for that just in case moment.

Data is expensive and whilst we looked at getting a data card, decided we would stick to the internet cards instead. You need to have a long term contract to make it worthwhile.

Money and trading. The local currency is the XFP and it is pegged to the Dollar rather than the Euro. As of Jul 16, exchange is about 110XFP to $1.  You will have great difficulty getting this currency outside French Polynesia. There are ATMs on Hiva Oa, Nuka Hiva and Ua Poa. To the amazement of USA citizens, dollars are rarely welcome here. The locals do not want the bother and expense of changing currency. Credit cards are accepted in some of the supermarkets, in a couple of restaurants and that is all. Check to make sure they take cards before you sit down or start shopping.

On Fatu Hiva, the locals are most willing to trade which is good as it is very unlikely that you will have local cash if you go there directly. Items greatly valued include:

Perfume, lipstick, hand cream, pretty much any female cosmetic (the choices here in the stores are very very basic), fishing gear, rope, dresses, kids clothing and shoes, T-shirts, .22’ cartridges (Fatu Hiva especially). Items commemorating your home country are said to be popular too.  They aren’t very interested in cast offs. New products if you can for clothes.

Cosmetic tester bottles would be a good trade item (and a good size) if you can get your hands on them.

NOTE – if you are going in to the Tuamotus, there is one island only with an ATM – Rangiroa. Expect to require cash so load up in the Marquesas before you leave. 

Fuel and Gas.  Fuel is available at Hiva Oa and Nuka Hiva. In Hiva Oa, it is from the gas station and you need to use jerry cans. In Nuka Hiva, better equipped for big ships, it is possible to tie along side the main dock and pump in there. Note tax free fuel is only available with a tax free certificate which will cost $130 (2016). It is valid for six months. It is worth getting if you are going to buy more than 55 gals in that time. They are available via the agents only and take some days to organise so plan ahead. My advice is to use Kevin on Nuka Hiva. He is more trustworthy and efficient. Current fuel cost is  130XFP per litre diesel and around 110XFP a litre for petrol. The tax free rate is about half of that. You need to supply the agent with a copy of your clearance paperwork, boat papers and a copy of your passport.

Gas is only available in European fit 30lb bottles. If you use US bottles as we do, you can make you own gravity feed hose easily enough but you do need to bring a spare US adaptor to build one. You need to buy this before you reach Panama. A photo says a thousand words…  Increase the length of pipe to get a better pressure flow. We borrowed the one in the photo and it worked after a fashion. Second time around we increased the drop height between the two bottles to 10’ and this worked far more effectively. A small set of digital scales to allow you to measure the weight of the bottles is an excellent idea and will stop you overfilling the bottles, which is dangerous in this heat. Gas is very cheap and a 30lb bottle is 3000XFP deposit and 2800XFP for a refill. Pick gas bottles up at a garage in Hiva Oa or Nuka Hiva.


Laundry. You can get laundry done here but it is expensive. Cost at Hiva Oa was $4.50 per kg. $4 a kilo on Nuka Hiva. Both services were via the agents. They are no self service laundromats here! We washed our stuff ourselves on the pier using the free water . It dries quickly too.

Language. Polynesian and French are the two primary languages here. English, much as it is in France, is not common so get practising your French. The locals here are much more accommodating than in “real” France and will help you along with a smile as you try and explain yourself. Saying hello or thank you in Polynesian will get you a big grin.

Getting around. Taxis are rare. There is one for the whole of Hiva Oa and the only time we got in to that, he didn’t charge us anything in way of apologising for being away on holiday the week before with his wife when we were trying to find out her prices for laundry! Hitch hiking is accepted. If you stick out your thumb here, you are more than likely to picked up by a local, even more so if you have children or a woman in the group.

We hired a car, once, to explore Hiva Oa. Prices for a 4×4 Toyota Landcruiser will be around $100 per day and this price is common on all the islands. It is strongly recommended that you get a 4×4 (and know how to use 4×4 , hi and lo ratio)if you are going to explore. The roads out of town quickly become hard tracks and get steep. If it has been raining, you will need all the traction you can get. Mia and the Taranga crowd had an embarrassing night in the wild waiting for the road to dry up enough for them to move when on Nuka Hiva. They did say they got a good sunrise.

The Route to Take. We have loved all the islands. Each has its own considerable attractions and each demands a visit. The only advice I would give is, if you are going to push through the islands with a limited time schedule, to look seriously at what route you plan to take before you reach the islands. The winds rarely drop below the normal trade of 15-20kts and the seas have always been S of E, normally ESE. Trying to beat back to the southern islands from the northern group is hard work. We lucked out with our windless passage back from Ua Poa to Tahuata – the only windless 36hrs in more than two months but we had time to wait and explore more than most people will.

Doing this trip again, I would have arrived in at Fatu Hiva, then Hiva Oa, Tahuata, Ua Poa and finished at Nuka Hiva giving me the ability to stock up and refuel on the largest island of the group and a nice angle to reach down into the Tuamotus.

But it all depends what you want out of the islands and how long you have to explore. We wanted to go slow and enjoy the people and the culture. However, our favourite place, Hanamoenoa Bay on Tahuata had neither of these. But it did have Manta Rays, white sand and peace in abundance.

Whatever you choose to do, you will love it here. 

The Bay of Virgins, Fatu Hiva

Fatu Hiva

We arrived here after a harder than expected sail from Hiva Oa due to a wave that went through bringing a lot more wind than was forecast. We hit the wave about half way down the E coast of Tahuata and the wind jumped to just shy of 40kts true. We rolled away the foresail and with engines on, just put our nose into the wind to “dodge” the weather. It worked fine and although I needed a pair of swimming goggles to see, we ticked along just holding enough speed to maintain steerage. After 30 minutes of interesting stuff, the rain abated, the wind died down to a more manageable 20-25kts true and this held all the way down to our destination. We did get as compensation a full double rainbow so close to us we couldn’t photograph it all.

A little cheeky! Skylark dodged well Goggles needed in 40+kts of driving rainA perfect Double Rainbow

Known as the most beautiful island in the Marquesan group, Fatu Hiva is home to one of the most famous anchorages in the world, The Bay of Virgins. Although small, early in the season it is often packed with boats and due to a rocky and steep shelving bottom can be difficult to anchor. We lucked out, arriving to find only two boats in, one of which was in the midst of pulling out. The last boat, Toomai, was a friend of ours with kids on board. We anchored first time in 35’ with a good pull on the southern side of the bay. Sadly, Toomai were to leave after only one day. Unable to water (ironic with the amount of rain we have been having)and with no access to fuel here, they decided to head back towards Nuka Hiva before jumping down into the Tuamotus. We may catch up with them there.

We celebrated our arrival with mashed potatoes, beans and Toad in the Hole. Lou even managed some gravy as well. Bliss!

Dinner - Toad in the hole, beans and mashed potatoesThe girls happy to see land againNote the squall line coming down the valley. Lots of these!

The guide books talks about gusty winds here sometimes causing yachts to drag. What they don’t talk about is the katabatic winds falling off the cliffs, which howl through here. Listening to the wind scream (and I mean scream – well over 40kts) was a little worrying. The other advice here is to dive your anchor to make sure you have good holding, something we normally do as a matter of course. With torrential rain and a river outflow at the head of the valley, the water is a rich brown and visibility is less than a metre, that was a no go.   Although I sat up nervously the first couple of nights to make sure we were ok, we haven’t moved an inch. Well done, Mr Rockna.

Sadly the wind and rain was not to leave us and whilst we generally had the wind generator turning, we got bumped around more in this anchorage than any other we have been in in the last two years.

Sitting by ourselves in the The Bay of VirginsP1040512

We have had an interesting discussion about this picture. Note the three flags. From the left, French Polynesia, France and then Marquesas. The only trouble is, we think it is up side down as our flag of the same is definitely red over yellow. Do they reverse the colours between the N and S Marquesas island groups? We bought ours in the N. The white segment of the flag has a tiki face on it. Alternatively, it is a pair of old fashioned underpants with a couple of eyes painted on – you be the judge. Our flag has the tiki head head up, red up. This flag is yellow up.

P1040554The flag of The Marquesas

In the short periods it has stopped raining, the view is beautiful. We caught this photo in the evening light. Not a soul in with us either. Just glorious.

Evening light in the Bay of Virgins

The village here is small and with the summer holidays in full flow, the teens are all out playing either at the volleyball court (they would thump any team coming from Grenada or the Bahamas) and the smalls playing down at the mouth of the river where a small surf gets kicked up. Eleanor and Hannah enthusiastically joined in and had a great time with a couple of the local girls. They also went exploring around the bay at low tide, climbing along the undercut trying to find small crystals they had seen on their first explore.


I have to admit, I have been disappointed at how in your face some of the locals have been. I know we are seen as “income” by them but trailing after us through the village at a distance of a couple of metres is bit disconcerting. And that’s the adults. The other thing is the difference between trade and begging. The kids are too close to the later and whilst we want fruit, the adults are hoping for too much for it to be an equable trade.  Eleanor and Hannah have been put out by the continual “can I have that?”  by some of the local kids.

I’m afraid the population is so small and the number of yachties so many during the season that there is more cynicism here than anywhere else we have visited in the Marquesas. The majority of the fishermen won’t wave or even acknowledge you as they go past.

The other problem we have had is the near continual rain we have had. We asked about the waterfall, one of the best things to see here, and were told that we should not go as it is too dangerous with falling rocks and too much water coming off the hills. If you can see the photo below, most of the landscape is conglomerate rather than solid rock, which isn’t the most secure when it rains. There were big chunks of debris on the road under one of the peaks just outside the village so the risk is real. The second photo is what happens when a falling chunk hits the edge of the road. Just destroyed it. In the end, with the rain still pouring and yet more forecast, we decided to get the boat ready to go on the promise of a few days of mild weather before more wind in about six days time and to make our across to the Tuamotus.


It did mean that we played quite a lot of pooh sticks during the few dry moments of our stay.


Our last activity, suggested by an old friend, Ingrid Hall, who visited the islands a few years ago was to go to church. Getting dressed up was a novelty and it was the first time since Xmas that I had worn my chinos and a year and a half since I wore a proper shirt with a collar. I felt constrained!

 The inside of the Church of St Michel Archangel

With not a prayer book in sight, no hymn books and ever seat taken, the service in Polynesian lasted just over an hour and the singing and chanting was inspiring. No holding back in the singing here, they boomed it out. The breeze from the open windows was a lifesaver and watching the rain pour down allowed me to be thankful for somewhere dry!

On the morning we left, we visited the post office to make sure the postcards we had written in the Marquesas actually got posted. The last batch went got round to sending included one from the Bahamas (written and addressed 18mths ago– just never posted…) and a couple from Grenada too. We have decided to try a bit harder to post cards from at least the country we originally bought them in!

We left mid morning on my brother’s birthday with a trip of about 400miles to Rarioa ahead of us. We are hoping to be in the atoll and anchored in about 4 days. Courtesy of the “Tuamotus Current Guestimator”, a very useful tool, high slack water seems to be around 1230hrs on the 29th so we will aim to make our entrance to the atoll just before then.

And finally. Happy Birthday, David, from all of us here! Sorry we couldn’t Skype but the internet here has been non-existent for the last five days. Edited to add. We are only another three weeks late on this due to non existent internet. Sorry Bro!

Hiva Oa – Take Two – Pt 2

A continuation of the blog post for our second visit to Hiva Oa.

The site of Me’ae Iipona itself is small in comparison to the larger festival sites we visited in Nuka Hiva but it had a completely different role. It was the holy of holy places, where only the high priests, chieftains and heroes would be allowed to go. It was where the sacrificial alter was as well. The main tiki is the largest in the whole of French Polynesia, standing well over 2m high. It is the only place where we have seen a tiki dog, set to guard over the site.

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John then freaked the girls out when he returned from a wander with two enormous snails. There were screams!


On our route back, we spotted a huge tiki in a back yard which was obviously being made. We stopped and a man came out, smiled and asked us in to get a better view. We found ourselves in his workshop where he was in the process of making a 3’ tall wooden tiki like the one in the photo. He also had a few beautiful instruments, 8 string ukuleles, which were in the last of the polishing processes. We asked prices but at $500 a dollar a pop they were a bit out of our price range. The stone tiki is being done on commission for the island Town Hall.



Having driven right to the end of the road (incidentally finding a couple of wild pomolo trees and loading up with fruit), we turned back and made our way to the village of Hanaapa which has the best anchorage on the N side of the island. There was little there other than a few beautifully maintained houses, with gardens so colourful. Hannah was satisfied when she found a baby goat and spent most of her time feeding it through the wire fence.


We had one more stroke of luck when we found another roadside banana tree in rough land. John and Lou liberated its load and we halved them between us.


Our last couple of days at Atuana were busy. We managed to book our New Zealand flights for 12 Nov with a return on 23 Feb to Apataki. Lou, Julia and the kids made good use of the local luxury hotel with swimming pool as a special treat to do this. Not so bad a view too. Thoroughly recommended. They do two deals for cruisers.

1.  $10 entry, buy drinks and stay the day with free internet and pool.

2. $35 entry, choice of main courses for lunch, free pool and internet. Kids are $20 ahead. E and H both got adult mains (no kid’s portions here) which were priced at more than the entry fee so a good deal for them. E’s eyes were out on stalks when she saw the size of her steak.


We also met up with a great crowd of Irish on their rather large Oyster 66 called Elvis Magic, newly arrived from the Galapagos. The kids made a new friend, a wee lad called Jonny, who, being the only kid on the boat and having not seen another child for a three weeks, was as desperate as our two to play. They were a really nice bunch but sadly in a rush to get to Bora Bora in a couple of weeks time.

Having restocked, refueled and said our goodbyes to a number of people we had made friends with in the bay whilst we had been hauled out over a month before, we headed out and SE towards Faku Hiva, the last island we plan to visit in the group before we jump to the Toamotus. We look forward to catching up with Sid, our French ex copper, who helped recover some of our photos on the broken computer, on route to work in Vanuatu in a years time.

We have enjoyed Hiva Oa on both our visits. The second time around, not having to deal with fixing Skylark was less stressful and more fun. Exploring the island by land was well worth doing and we got to see the amazing diversity of the island. With good and friendly locals, some expat French and a small (nearly) permanent boating community, it is an interesting mix of cultures – all getting along. All this place is missing is a  beach on the S side of the island but then we did have Hanamoenoa Bay just 5 miles away when we needed it!

Hiva Oa – Take Two – Pt 1

On the basis that our next island group, the Tuamotus, are about as remote as you can be in the world and the shopping is near non existent, we have headed back to Hiva Oa to load up. We also need to have decent internet to do some catching up on blog posts, book flights and research vehicles for New Zealand. We timed our visit to coincide with Bastille Day celebrations. Unfortunately with the UK euro vote and its effect on the US Dollar which the French Polynesian currency to tied to, we have returned to civilisation after our lovely time at Tahuata to find everything is now 15% more expensive than it was a month ago.

Bugger.   Well done, Middle England.

It was a bit of a blast back through the acceleration zone that is between Tahuata and Hiva Oa but we timed it just about right. We had a slow passage but in flat water as we went through at the tail end of the tide. We arrived at Atuana to find some boats we recognised, most importantly Mary Ann II, who we had last seen a couple of months ago in the Galapagos. We had a quiet night with John, Julia and Murphy catching up with the gossip and to congratulate John in the completion of his circumnavigation whilst he was on route to the Marquesas. An achievement I’d love to emulate one day.

Once we went in to check up on what activities were planned, we got a bit of a surprise. We seem to have landed in the Polynesian equivalent of Scotland. French “occupation” of the Marquesas is a subject that is growing in importance to the islanders. Since the French restarted nuclear tests briefly in the 1990’s, there has been a growing dissatisfaction with the perceived offhand approach to control of the island groups. When the tests restarted without consultation, ordered by Jacque Chirac, the Polynesians rioted. The period is best remembered for the troubles on Tahiti but there was trouble on a lot of the islands and a nationalistic sentiment has been maintained here. Although the French eventually backed down, mainly due to the international condemnation of what they were doing,  the damage, locally, was done. Whilst most islands do celebrate “Bastille Day” (Fatu Hiva, 35  miles to the S, parties for three days), here on Hiva Oa, they have decided they don’t want to anymore. What they have done this year is have a nationalistic parade to celebrate Marquesian culture a week before 14 Jul, a gala day with no reference to anything historically French on the day (no National Anthem and definitely no French flags) and then another kids parade, a week or so later. There seems to be a large proportion of the population here wanting full independence.

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The dancing was great with teams from several nearby villages joining in the fun.  Once the dancing finished and the prizes were handed out, the Mayor tried to hold court with the normal politicians “I love the sound of my own voice” chat but the experienced crowd was already moving towards the food tents. I suspect a lot of locals had been attracted to the day’s activities by the promise of free food and drinks which there were in great abundance! We got stuck in too.

We attacked the supermarket here to stock up on essentials and some nice to haves to carry with us into the Tuamotus. We lucked out as well as both the Airenui (the half container ship, half cruise liner we saw in Ua Poa – see that blog entry for a photo) and the normal delivery ship, the Taporo IX,  have called in the last week, meaning for once the island is very well stocked.

The Delivery Ship

We shared the cost of a big 4×4 (10000XFP a day) with John and Julie and went exploring. We decided to visit the NE corner of the island where one of the best preserved archaeological sites is. The drive up was long. Only 30 miles but it took over 2 hrs. The roads are rough but reasonably maintained and the time taken was more in caution of their steepness! We stopped at various points to take in the glorious views as we climbed up and over the spine of hills running across the island, separating the N and S coasts. Once you get above 1500’, you have a noticeable change of vegetation with large fir trees predominant.

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Papa's hat still waiting for its owner

The various views seen here are all looking N. Note, Dad, your hat is still waiting for your return. H says she didn’t think you would mind her borrowing it for the day.  I think that the windswept headland in the panoramic is a crazy place for a hen run but there seemed to be plenty of birds around!

The hen run with the best view in FP

Tahuata – Take Two

Although we intended to spend just a day at Tahuata after travelling S from Ua Poa, the weather suggested we stay on. The water was clear as a bell, a light wind blew and there was little swell. It just looked too good to go!

After a longer discussion, we also came to the conclusion that we wanted to slow down again and spend Bastille Day in Hiva Oa where the largest population would be. Tahuata seemed to be the perfect place to hang out for a while to wait for the big event.

We had initially had three days in Hanamoenoa Bay. We got some practising with the spinning rod. We have a killer lure on it at the moment that works very well so we have been catching and releasing as the bay has ciguatera in it and we are unsure which fish are safe. Much to her surprise, Hannah caught a 10ld  Blue Fin Trevally which had her fighting hard and yelling for help. Perhaps not quite the monster of Death and Glory’s fame but still a cracker and the rod was impressively bent!


We also were lucky enough to meet some very good people. ZigZag and Aislado came in and they had kids! Irena and Georg, Mia and Noah are on ZigZag and are from Germany. The kids are small. Mia is 3 and Noah is 10mths but the grown ups have been living on a boat for the last eight years and crossed the Atlantic for the first time 12 years ago on their first boat. Vaughn, Silvia and their five year old, Zara are from New Zealand and Bulgaria respectively and are heading back to New Zealand. They also have Yana,  a student taking a year out from her Theology degree at Heidelberg on board as crew.  We cemented friendship with perhaps a touch too much rum and made some sort of agreement to look at business opportunities together (yup – a very, very, good night!). In the meantime, I was able to offer some advice on Vaughn’s HF noise issue and he was able to help plumb in my AIS multiplexer. It nearly works – just need to get a small resistor into the circuit and the damn thing should fly. The help was greatly appreciated as those who know me will realise how much I dislike electronics! I think both boats are going to be going a little faster than us to NZ and we are going to have limited time with them but I am really looking forward to meeting up with them once we get down there.

It was really nice to be in kids’ company again and Irene got everyone in the bay ashore for a BBQ and marshmallows. The kids loved it and the older adults (this is Debbie from Kalliope with Noah) spoilt themselves having fun with the v smalls. Sadly we now are marshmallow-less. Next visitor to Skylark from Europe take note. There will be a request for resupply!


Next best thing after marshmallows is making bread on sticks over the embers. Perhaps not quite the sugar rush the kids’ hope for but still very satisfying. Our thanks to ZigZag for showing us the trick.P1040065

We moved down the coast to Hanatefau Bay and the village in the bay 800m S, Hapatoni. The anchorage is small but has good holding on sand. Watch for coral heads, the mantas and white tips here. The snorkelling has an excellent reputation but it is deep.

The village has a good dock but it can be subject to swell. We put a stern anchor out to keep us off the wall. The locals are very friendly. It started with the kids playing by the dock, happy to chat, allowing the baby to kick the football and then offering us shelter as the torrential rain started. Just decent, happy, down to earth kids.

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We walked through the village and followed the very old walkway, built with huge stones with traditional raised housing platforms lining it, these days boasting modern housing. Every villager we went past had a smile and a welcome for us.  I wasn’t able to find out how old the village is but it must be considerable. Whilst we explored, it was strange to watch Eleanor and Hannah carrying out the duties of big kids for Mia and Zara. They both did well.

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We also found a selection of animals. Two pig pens allowed the smalls to coo and throw greenery at the animals.

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The Noah related baby carrying was becoming mercilessly competitive between H and E to the point that Dad stepped in and had some fun himself. You forget how small they were!


When we came back down to the harbour to head back out to the boats, we met the small delivery boat bringing some supplies and shopping in to the village from Hiva Oa. There were a couple of sacks of baguettes and we asked if it was possible to buy a loaf per boat. The lady in charge with a big smile on her face, decided that with kids we needed at least two loafs each and no, the villagers wouldn’t accept payment. Thankfully she bent enough to take a small gift bag that Irene on ZigZag offered her to make us feel we were not freeloading. Just plain goodhearted, friendly and kind. For future visitors wanting to trade for fruit and veg with the bloke that lives on the edge of the anchorage, old ropes for the horses, kids’ shoes and batteries were what he was asking for. I believe the village also has a small craft stall which can be opened up for visitors but we didn’t find it.


After a night’s discussion, we were invited to join ZigZag and Ailsado who were heading down to Fatu Hiva. Although it was a complete change of our plans, the breaking strain of a KitKat was applied and we accepted the kind offer. We headed out with less than perfect weather but with hopes that the wind would both ease and move a little into the N as forecast. Unfortunately neither happened. The W side of the island is in the lee of the spine of hills running down the island. The occasional break in these means small acceleration zones where from 0 to 30+kts is a matter of yards. Stay a mile offshore!

We cleared the S end of the island with 30+kts showing and a 40 mile beat into 2.5m waves in front of us. We quickly decided that we would turn back to Tahuata. The French Lagoon that went past us heading on a far nicer course to the Toamotus was bouncing. Vaughn on Aislado, his stately HR 46, three times our weight, long keeled and with a far better upwind capability decided to continue but still got a bit airborne as they passed us heading back in.

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They had an interesting sail and anchored in the dark at the Bay of Virgins. It took them four attempts so as much as I’d love to have had their company for more time, I don’t have any trouble in saying we made the right choice in chickening out. Rather than staying at the S end of the island, we headed back up to the sand of Hanamoenoa Bay to meet up with ZigZag who had also decided discretion was the better part of valour. It chucked it down and squalled for the rest of the day.

We made up with it with a visit to ZigZag for “kaffee unt kuchen” to celebrate Noah’s fourth tooth and then a return visit to us in the evening. Noah is the youngest visitor we have had and is on the verge of walking. We hoped he might achieve this milestone on the flat of Skylark but it wasn’t to be. He made up for it by being cute.


Having decided to go back to our original plan of hanging around Tahuato until closer to Bastille Day and then going up to Hiva Oa, we said our goodbyes to ZigZag the next morning as they headed out for another go at reaching Fatu Hiva.

We made up with the disappointment of not going with them with the visit of three manta rays about 8-10’ across, feeding just behind us. Their slow grace was wonderful to watch as they summersaulted, corralling the plankton they were feeding on. We swam with them for half an hour and got some great video and photos.

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We lucked out with the arrival of another French boat, Toomai,  with two boys of 15 and 9, and spent another three days enjoying their company. We also had Sequoia, an Open 40 lookalike,  with Jean and Tiph on board. I asked Jean how quick Sequoia was and gulped when he said he had hit 25kts in her! The French boats spearfished and after clearing the fish with one of the local boats that went past the bay, ate the product. They did throw away at least two fish that the locals thought would be infected with ciguatera. I’d suggest that you make damn sure you do check with locals on anything you catch as it seems that the advice on what are safe fish varies bay to bay.

After school, the kids played, paddling their way around the bay from boat to boat, the adults circulating, enjoying each others company and  just watching the world revolve. Our thanks to Antoine for showing the girls how to make caramel popcorn with just brown sugar. Not sure if our pots will survive it but it tastes very good!


We had one last night of brownies and coffee watching the sun go down before we all headed our separate ways before the weather broke. Toomai left for Fatu Hiva. Sequoia with Jean and Tiphaine headed N for Nuka Hiva and we headed for Hiva Oa. It was a good way to sign off on Tahuata. We left the bay empty, awaiting the next yachts looking for their own little bit of paradise.

I was unsure to the point of rudeness about Hanamoenoa Bay on our first time visiting the island. I was prejudiced due to the big swell we had which made it both a rolly anchorage and difficult to get on to the beach. I should like to make up for it now and say I can see why, all those years ago, the Hitchcocks enjoyed it so much. We saw its best on this visit and it was spectacular.

A great island for kicking back and enjoying the simple life.