From bay to bay to bay in the Marquesas Islands

2016-07-06 - 2016-08-01

Remember the scene where they approach the Jurassic park island by helicopter? That’s the breathtaking scenery we have been waking up to ever morning for about four weeks now. Since making landfall at Hiva Oa at the 6th of July we have been cruising between a few of the islands of this remote archipelago in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. These islands are incredibly beautiful volcanic islands that rises steeply from the ocean beneath. They carry a very diverse vegetation, some of the islands are very overgrown and green, others are more rocky and dry. The thing they have in common is their wilderness, there are only a few villages and small towns located by the shores in the deep valleys of the islands. Marquesas is one of five group of islands that make up French Polynesia. This is a semi-autonomous region of France since the 1870s, with its own government and currency (French Polynesian Francs), and you can find a 50 cent baguette in most villages you visit. One of few industries in Marquesas is the production of Copra, dried coconut flesh that is used in different products, but to a large extent they still depend on support from mainland France who are still compensating this region for their nuclear testing conducted here in the middle of the 20th century. The society here is modern in many respects, healthcare and education system seems to be up to date and people live in nice houses and drive big pick up cars. Life seems quite easy here with an abundance of fruit in the trees and fish in the sea. One of the striking thing is the friendliness and helpfulness of the people. When arriving to a new village people welcome you, invite you to see their handcraft and always gives you fresh fruit. A sad history is that like many other societies in the Pacific the Marquesas suffered a great population decline caused by endemic decides brought by western explorers. The population of the islands decreased from about 80 000 in the 1800s to about 10 000 today.

Marquesas route.

During our time in Marquesas we have had a temporary crew member onboard Kenobi. Erik who is a good friend of Simons’ welcomed us ashore in Hiva Oa when we arrived from the crossing, amazingly his flight landed three hours before we arrived and he could see us sailing into the bay from his hotel. That’s what I call timing. Erik has brought a lot of good times and laughter to Kenobi during his stay and it has been a pleasure getting to know him. Erik especially enjoyed the fishing, Lukas now had a crew member who would gladly join him for early morning fishing trips with the dinghy. Erik flew home from Nuku Hiva on the 25th of July. He will wright a “guest post” for the blog to tell you more about his experiences of this trip.

Temporary crew member Erik and Simon.

Hiva Oa

We spent a couple of days in Hiva Oa to rest and recover from the crossing. The town of Autona is the second biggest town with its 1200 inhabitants. Here we could check in to the country (French Polynesia) at the Gendarmerie and to stock up on some fresh food, the selection and prices were surprisingly good. Renting a car and driving around the island turned out to be a cool experience. The small dirt roads along the north coast of the island were beautiful and exciting with steep cliff drops next to the road, scenery was amazing. On Simons request, Erik had brought a lot of recorded games from the ongoing European championship so we could watch a few games before it as time for the final on the 10th of July. Good thing with no internet connection is we could keep away from all the results. We saw the final between France and Portugal at a local bar/livingroom in town, a bit surprising to us that many of the locals actually cheered for a Portugal win...

Anchorage in Autuna (Hiva Oa).

"Goat safari" at the north coast of Hiva Oa.


Just one hour to the south of Hiva Oa is the islands of Tahuata. On the way you go through a narrow channel between the two islands and we were confident to encounter some good fishing in this area. Boy were we right, we first saw some birds circling over the surface a bit ahead of us, by the time we got there the sea was boiling with fish. With three rods trolling after the boat and Lukas in the front with a spinning rod, sure enough we were looking forward to a nice fresh fish dinner that evening. We had to wait all the way to the end of the channel before a decent “bigeye” tuna hit one of the trolling lures. Eric fought he fish well and we could cook him Tuna a la Kenobi, he liked it!

8kg Bigeye tuna caught in the channel between Hiva Oa and Tahuata.

We spent two days snorkeling, fishing and fruit hunting at a great uninhabited bay called Hanamoenoa with a paradise like white sandy beach and clear waters. This turned out to be a quite rare setup at these islands where most bays have black stoney beaches and the water not always too clear. This was probably the nicest bay we visited in the Marquesan islands. We went on to a bay in the south part of the island (Vaitahu), here we only spent one night and we stayed on the boat. Not the most interesting stop to write about.

Paradise beach of Hanamoenoa.

Fruit hunting at Hanamoenoa.

Fatu Hiva

Next stop was Fatu Hiva which is the southernmost island, this meant going in the “wrong” direction against the wind, a lot more uncomfortable for both the crew and the boat. Leaving Vaitahu behind us early in the morning we approached the southernmost cape of Tahuata in strong turbulent winds caused by the interruption between the steep cliffs of the cape and the ocean. The gusts were strong enough to lift and spray mists of surface water into the air all around us, we were in for an exciting day of sailing! The wind and waves were not too violent but the ride turned out to be pretty rough. By the time we got to Fatu Hiva we had snapped the genoa halyard shackle making this sail useless for this leg, partly detached one of the trampolines in the front and got a short in the windlass control handle causing the windlass to malfunction as we were about to anchor up. Handy as we have become of course we managed to fix all these issues!

Strong wind gusts at the south cape of Tahuataa.

The whole month of July the people of French Polynesia party every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I guess they rest for the rest of the year! We made it to the village of Omoa at Fatu Hiva just in time for the celebration of Bastille day (French holiday) on the 14th of July. This was celebrated with a big party in the village and a great traditional Polynesian dance performance. The whole village came together for this event and you could really tell they are proud of their traditions. The performance was a mix of intense drumming and “war-like” dance alternated with more soft singing and dancing. In one part the group illustrated the ocean, the land and the blue sky by dressing in different colors, it was truly beautiful. This was a great place to see this performance, not at all as commercial as in other places. We were also keen on putting our legs to work again after the last couple of weeks of too much sitting around on the boat. Maybe the six-hour hike up and down a 800m or so tall mountain was pushing it a little bit too far… even though the beautiful scenery and a super nice waterfall made up for the pain in our legs the next day. In Omoa it was only us and one other boat in the anchorage. The other boat was the polish 45 foot steel ketch (two masts) Wassyl with nine people onboard. They were sailing around the world and had taken the long route here rounding south America and cape horn. A funny story is that the worst thing about their rounding of Cape horn is the lack of wind, they had to motor the whole way. They had been preparing the boat for four years and every detail was very thought through and rigid, with back up for every important parts and systems. The crew are all sailors and had met working together on a big tall ship back in Poland. A nice gang of men and woman of different ages, we have spent quite a lot of time with them here in the different islands, they are anchored close to us here in Taiohae bay (Where we are now).

6h hike, a tall mountaind and a waterfall.

After a few nights in the village of Omoa we sailed on to the next bay in Fatu Hiva called Hanavave, or the “bay of virgins” as its also known as. The bay was used to be called “the bay of Penises” because of its many impressive rock formations but the christian French colonizers felt they had to give it to a more “appropriate” name. The scenery in this bay was amazing, surrounded by high mountain ridges and the interesting rock formations (penises). Some cruisers call it the most beautiful anchorage in the world, I can´t disagree. The people of these islands are all very welcoming and helpful. We got especially well taken care of by a family in Hanavave who invited us to a traditional dinner one evening, the next day they took Simon out spear fishing for octopus and sea urchin. A great experience for Simon who has gotten hooked on free diving and spear fishing here. From this family we also got some fresh fish and a lot of fruit in return for some fishing equipment we traded with them. This bay was super windy, the surrounding mountains accelerated the wind down into the bay causing gusts of up to 40 knots. A few boats could not find the right hold for the anchor and moved on to other bays, we felt pretty safe but had to re-anchor the last night and stay on anchor watch. While on my watch at 7 a clock in the morning Rob and his Gunboat 66, that we met in Panama, entered the bay. Soon after he comes over to our boat with a cup of freshly made cappuchino from his expresso machine. How thoughtful isn´t that, especially since they just made landfall after their crossing from Galapagos. They invited us for pizza lunch (of course you need a pizza maker onboard) at “Laguz” the same day, it was nice to see Rob and his crew John and Nicki again, super friendly people.

Hanavave - "Bay of virgins".

Hanavave "Simon out fishing local style".

Oa Pou

An overnight sail later we made it to the island of Oa Pou which is about 100 M north west of Fatu Hiva. It was a nice experience for Erik to sail at night and the conditions were a lot nicer than the previous leg with down wind sailing and a full moon. This island was different from the three visited earlier, more volcano like with rocky and dry vegetation, quite similar to the Galapagos islands. The anchorage in the town of Hakahau was not too great. They were in the process of building a big quay and the area felt industrial, Simon compared it to Nynäshamn, a small harbor city close to Stockholm. Although I must say the surroundings were pritty beautiful. We did some errands in town but decided to move on as soon as possible. The one good thing about this place is that we met a French boat called “Tethys” with a couple of younger French sailors who were really cool. We had drinks with them on Kenobi and we checked out their boat the next morning.

Dramatic view over Hakahao.

Drinks with Tethys at Hakahao.

We spent only one night in Hakahao before heading over to the north west side of the island to a bay called Hakahetao (yes, confusingly similar names) which was a recommendation from the family in Hanavave. Coming in to this bay we were surrounded by a big school of dolphins playing around the boat. This was a great place with clear water and nice corals all around the bay. It was great to hit the water and go snorkeling again which we hadn´t done a lot since Tahuata. Early in the morning Lukas and Eric went fishing with the dinghy and Simon managed to hook up with some local fishermen who took him spear fishing. Simon came back with two octopus that we had for dinner that evening. After some experimenting we found the best way to prepare the octopus is to pre-cook it for about 15min in the pressure cooker before quickly frying it in a pan. Delish!

Nuku Hiva

A keen fisherman as he is, Erik was observing the lures trolling after the boat on our way to Nuku Hiva when he suddenly saw a big fish coming out of the water preparing for a strike. He yelled out “fiiiishhh” even before the reel clicker sounded and in an instant everyone began the “fish-on procedure” of taking in the other rods, slowing down the boat by taking down the sails, rigging the fighting belt, getting the hook ready and start recording everything with the action cam. This time the fish was properly hooked and the fight begun, of course it was Eriks fish and he got it to the boat in about 15min. It turned out to be a 13kg Wahoo, no disrespect for the Tuna but this is our new favorite kind of fish! Erik was thrilled to get this big one, it was his last chance during his time on Kenobi.

Eriks 13kg Wahooon the way to Nuku Hiva.

The French guys from “Tethys”, Mael, Thomas and Sophie, had recommended us to visit the bay of Hakatea (also called Daniels bay), besides being a beautiful bay you could hike up the valley to the third tallest waterfall in the world with its approximately 350-400m. You enter the bay through a narrow channel and it is well protected from the swell in all directions. “Tethys” was still here and we anchored up close to them. The Wahoo gave us 7kg of meat so we had plenty enough to invite the French guys for a big dinner that same evening. While preparing the fish on the stern platform a few small black tip sharks appeared in the water. Maybe not the smartest thing to do but we had some fun feeding the sharks for a while, it turned out to be a real shark frenzy with maybe 15 smaller ones and the shark mother which was about two meters long. I promise you we didn’t go swimming after this. I was happy to be unaware of the sharks when I went in to snorkel on the anchor earlier. There are supposed to be a lot of sharks in the waters of the Marquesas but they are pretty harmless unless you get in their way while feeding.

Bay of Hakatea.
Fresh Wahoo sashimi with Tethys / Bird man to the right.

It was raining the whole day and evening at Hakatea and the wind picked up a lot during the night. We woke up in the middle of the night from the sound of two big bangs, our anchor dragged and we had moved closer to the beach causing us to hit an underwater rock twice! Everyone was up in the blink of an eye and we re-anchored in the middle of the bay on safe depth and went on anchor watch for the rest of the night. So much for the waterfall hike, early the next morning we sailed to Taiohae bay to inspect the damage in more clear waters. The damage was not too bad at all, only some scratches in the bottom paint on the starboard keel!

Now we are in Taiohae bay on Nuku Hiva, the main town of the Marquesas, preparing to leave for the Touamotus atolls. We have been here for a week now fixing some things on the boat, planning the route for Tuamotus in detail, stocking up on food and taking care of some online business. It always takes more time than anticipated… Since this is the main bay there are a lot of boats in this anchorage. We have had a lot of fun meeting both old and new acquaintances. The Polish boat, the Aussies, the French guys on Tethys, Rob on the Gunboat 66 and the German solo sailor Andy have all been here. Hanging out at a place like this you get to know all the other boats, it’s very helpful to discuss routes, weather and boat issues together, as well as meeting up for drinks and a laugh during the evenings.

Taihoe anchorage with Laguz in the middle right

Andy the solo sailor is definitely our new idol. This is a determined solo sailor who really has to work hard to live his dream, to sail the Pacific Ocean. Knowing how much work it takes to sail and maintain a sailboat this guy really impressed us. He is also a really humble and nice guy who wants the best for everyone. We invited him to dinner at Kenobi one evening for Wahoo curry, and the next day we were both to dinner at Laguz (Gunboat 66) with Rob, his wife and crew. Once again, It’s really an experience to meet all this different kinds of people brought together by a common interest in sailing and a desire to explore what the world has to offer.

Marlin spear decorated by local artist

Nuku Hiva has a diverse geography. The central part of the island is a high plateau covered primarily by a tall-grass prairie with a lot of cattle raising. Pine forest plantations covering large part of this areas giving it an overall impression similar to European alps or even Sweden. We rented a car and drove around the island, strange feeling to stop and feel the cold air and the vegetation similar to back home… During this car trip we went to a restored religious area in the middle of the forest. It would have been good to go here with a guide to get a better insight of the history of these areas, the information sign put up were all in French. Still, you are impressed by the stone formations and it is easy to imagine the scenes played out here. There were a few large Tikis remaining at this site. “A tiki is a large or small wooden or stone carving in humanoid form. Carvings similar to tikis and coming to represent deified ancestors are found in most Polynesian cultures. They often serve to mark the boundaries of sacred or significant sites.” (Wikipedia/Tiki)

Like mentioned earlier the festivities here continue during all of July and here in Taiohae we timed the last weekend of dance competition with shows both Friday and saturday. There were three groups competing for the victory and they all put on a good show. This time the performance was more diverse with different kinds of dance styles and more costumes and props. It was truly a great show and the winning team will probably celebrate the whole year.

Wrap up:
We have seen a lot of places and a lot of people here in the Marquesas. It has been a great time and hopefully we have been able to communicate most of it through this text. Even though all places we have visited so far have been great, this is what you have been dreaming about ever since we started planning this trip about a year ago. From here it will probably just keep getting better and better. Next stop is the Tuamotu archipelago some three-four days to the south west from here, a total of 76 atolls covering an area as big as western Europe. It doesn’t get more tropical than this, I suggest you google it to get a better picture of what we are in for. We are looking forward to a lot of snorkeling in crystal clear waters and hopefully get to surf and kite board a bit.

Looking forward to this in the Tuamotus.

Internet here is crap so we have not been able to communicate too much with the outside world. We will most likely have limited internet until we reach Tahiti in the end of august, hopefully it gets better from there. The best way to get in touch with us during this time is through our satellite e-mail address, see the “contact” page of this site.


Photo Albums

Hiva Oa


Fatu Hiva

Ua Pou

Nuku Hiva

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