Marquesas, ticked!

by Glen

Iles Marquises, French Polynesia, days 2-13, 15-26 April:
The recent gap in our blogs is reflective of the mood onboard Cloudy Bay for our first couple of weeks in French Polynesia. After 2 weeks in a rolly Panamanian anchorage, followed by 3 weeks rolly ocean sailing only to arrive to barely inhabited islands with yet more rolly anchorages, gave Oana, and even the captain, anti-boat syndrome. And the general on-board mojo became collateral damage!
But things have somewhat improved since then, so it’s time to catch up on our adventure.

Last blog we had arrived to Ua Huka in the French Polynesian Marquesas island group, after 23 days at sea from Panama. Our next island was Nuku Hiva, where we arrived just 2 days later, when the wind returned to get us there without motoring.
Nuku Hiva is the administrative center for the Marquesas and here we formally checked into French Polynesia. Because we are both EU residents it was a very easy affair, done at the Gendarmerie in a matter of minutes. A far cry from the bureaucracy and cost of Latin American countries.

The bay in front of Nuku Hiva town is deep and wide with plenty of space to anchor. But tranquil and comfortable it certainly was not! The ocean swell was coming in while the light wind swirled in various directions putting us at every possible angle to the swell. Only with bow pointing directly towards the ocean (into the swell) was it vaguely comfortable. Stern-to we had loud transom-slap (right under our bed) and side-on sent Cloudy Bay into a rolling frenzy, making it feel like we were still out in the ocean! In a nutshell, every Marquesas island anchorage we went into was like this, leaving us both with a disparate desire for a peaceful night’s sleep! Something we felt we deserved following the previous several weeks of boat movement.

While summarizing the Marquesas anchorages it would be amiss not to mention the grandeur of the setting. Each island rises steeply out of the sea with high lush green peeks and cliffs towering down over the anchorage bays. Truly majestic scenery in all the places we anchored.
The “village” of Nuku Hiva was very basic, even more so than we had expected. Just 3 shops, a small fruit market, a bank, a post office, one lodge, and a few pensions (hostels). The lodge did have a splendid view over the bay and we spent a pleasant morning there sipping coffee next to the pool, admiring the view.
Few days after arriving we rented a small car to explore the island. And, truth be told, to get off the damned boat and enjoy the car’s air conditioning! Another feature of the Marquesas (in addition to rolly anchorages) is the oppressive heat. Maybe only 30-32degC but so very humid. Even after a shower we would instantly feel sticky again. The 27-28degC temperatures in the Caribbean and its cooling trade wind breeze now seems a luxury that we never really fully appreciated, until now.

Our little Renault car struggled up the steep winding roads leading forever upward from the town. First we ascended through lush rain-forest, then once above 1000m the vegetation and scenery could have been anywhere in a mountainous part of Europe. Pine trees, meadows, cattle, wild goats and horses, and even wild pigs! The winding mountain road took us to the NW corner where the airport has been constructed on probably the only semi-flat piece of land on the whole island. It probably cost France more to make the road to the airport than building the airport itself!
The greatest scenery though was in the NE corner of the island. As we came over the high peaks an amazing scene opened before us. Mountain cliffs with high waterfalls, multiple bays and inlets, steep pinnacle rock formations, rain forest down to the sea, and even the occasional old lava flow. And in all this, endless birds and bird song.
Having driven only a few tens of kilometers the variety of vegetation, wildlife and scenery were amazing. As for human activity … very little. The occasional few houses clustered together (always with a church). Nothing more. Certainly, no place for a nice coffee or snack!

The car trip was a highlight for us on Nuku Hiva. We could have done some hiking, but we just weren’t in the mood for it. So, with that island “done” we sailed 85nm SSE to the island of Tahuata. Departing Nuku Hiva at dawn we just got the anchor down as the sunset, 11 hours later. It was a fast beam-reach sail but rather rolly with side-on swell.
We spent one night anchored next to the village of Vaitahu and the next night anchored in the Hanamoenoa bay which is renowned as being the only palm-backed white beach bay in the Marquises. And it was indeed pretty. But again, the swell wasn’t only rolling the boat at anchor but was also rolling so strongly up the beach it was impossible to land the dinghy for a walk. Hence all we could do was look at it from the boat.

The next day we sailed the short distance to the bigger island of Hiva Oa, where we managed to anchor inside the tiny and very crowded harbour anchorage. Probably barely enough room for 10 boats to safely swing on anchor. Yet there were 20+ yachts in there, all swinging around at differing rates. And yet again, swell coming in, rocking all the boats. Not pleasant to say the least.
The village on Hiva Oa, situated about 2Km from the harbour, was more pleasant than the one in Nuku Hiva, but still fairly basic.
All this time we had dreamed of French bread, patisseries and quiches. Each village did have its boulangerie and granted they did make bread and croissants that did look like the real thing, but that’s where the likeness stopped. Taste and texture were nothing like French!

We also hired a car in Hiva Oa but we found the scenery less impressive than Nuku Hiva. At least having a car allowed us to get up to the only hotel in town, the Hanakee Lodge, where we had one very pleasant dinner (although rather over-priced) complete with a traditional Polynesian dance show. And for a moment there, we actually felt like real tourists and not uncomfortable travelers!
The car also allowed us to do some fruit picking. On our first day driving we had noted several places with wild fruits. So our second day was dedicated to picking pomelos, mangos, papaya and a huge bunch of green bananas which must have had at least 50 bananas on the stork. The machete that we purchased in Puerto Rico in 2019 finally got some good use!

Our intention had been to visit one last island in the Marquises, Fatu Hiva. The Bay of Virgins there is supposed to be the most spectacularly scenic anchorage in this island group. But in the end, we decided to skip Fatu Hiva because there was a rare weather-window for us to comfortably sail south to the first island in the Tuamotus chain of coral atolls. Hoping we would at last find a peaceful anchorage, sheltered from the ocean swell, inside an atoll. And at long last have a full night of undisturbed sleep. Plus, being 500nm further south, we also prayed it would be a degree or two cooler.

In summary, the Marquises islands themselves each have majestic scenery, pleasant people, some fresh fruits and veggies (when we found them!) and hardly any tourists (apart from the fellow yacht cruisers). But the oppressive heat and the annoying swell sapped both our energy, enthusiasm, and mojo. And the lack of any good places to land the dinghy made going ashore rather annoying. Effectively we ran away, southwards, much sooner than we had anticipated.
Marquises: ticked!

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1 comment

Jim May 20, 2023 - 6:37 am

Nice to see the blogs are back Glen. Hope you’re enjoying the atolls.

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