The Marquesas


Fatu Hiva
What a thrilling sight after nearly 3 weeks at sea – the lofty vivid green volcanic mountains of Fatu Hiva rising over 2,000ft straight up out of a vast deep blue sea – clearly visible from the sea even though Sea Cloud is still 25 miles to the East closing the gap rapidly as she romps along in very consistent 18-22 kt ESE trade winds.

After rounding the north cape of Fatu Hiva, great excitement and anticipation dominate the mix of emotions as we approach and prepare to make landfall in the iconic and stunningly beautiful anchorage of Hanavave (Bay of Virgins) on the sheltered west coast. This anchorage is on every yachtie’s bucket list and, while words don’t do it justice, the description of Thor Heyerdahl upon his arrival in 1938 comes close:

“A mighty valley opened before us. It looked completely artificial, like the stage of a theatre, with rows of red side screens jutting into the green palm forests from both sides. These fantastic side curtains were outlined with bizarre profiles against the greenery as if cut from plywood by an artist with a sense of shape and effect, rather than crumbling red tuff moulded by millennia of rain and storms. A row of thatched bamboo sheds was discernible between the palm trunks above the boulder strewn beach.” (Thor Heyerdahl, Green was the Earth on the Seventh Day)

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It was so good to launch the dinghy and head for land.



The locals here are so friendly. While trying to identify a new fruit in someone’s garden, the owners, Henri and Anne invited us inside to look at their beautiful tapa and woodcarvings. They have made a pair of beautiful carved paddles which they will take to the large Artisan festival to be held in Tahiti at the end of June. They offered us fresh fruit, which we could pick up after our walk to the waterfall. On our return they had a bag of pamplemousse (the largest grapefruit we had ever seen, limes, mangoes and a huge hand of bananas, then lent us their wheelbarrow to get the load back to our dinghy!

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They did not want money, but were happy to take some perfume, notebooks and pens in return. The kids using our dinghy as a pool toy smilingly helped us load the dinghy so we could head back to Sea Cloud.

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We celebrated our arrival with Moet and Fois gras on the Norwegian yacht, Alutia. It was great to finally meet Birgitte and Olav, who had left Santa Cruz 30minutes after us, and arrived in Hanavave an hour before us. Ian and Olav had twice daily conversations on SSB radio as we were never more than 50 miles apart the whole way.

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The magnificent scenery is at its absolute best at sunset when the colours of the setting sun reflect off the craggy rocks surrounding the bay and valley.

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fh rainbSunday church is an important part of community life. Listening to the beautiful singing while looking through the windows at the craggy peaks beyond was a magical experience.


Simon, a local woodcarver took a few of us in his boat to Omoa the larger village on the island. Although the town is only about 20minutes by boat, it is a 17km walk over the island’s central mountain spine. The coastline was very dramatic. The landing in the small harbour easy in comparison to earlier times where landing on the beach amongst the crashing waves was the only choice.

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Fatu Hiva is famous for both woodcarving and Tapa, paintings done on the beaten bark of local trees. We were able to view many of these artists at work in Omoa.

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Hiva Oa
After a pleasant 45mile sail north, we anchored outside the breakwater in Atuona, Hiva Oa. Fortunately the seas were calm so this notoriously swelly anchorage was quite pleasant, and we haven’t had to bother with stern anchors which are necessary inside the harbour.

hiva oa bay

The town, a good half hour walk from the anchorage has small museums for its most famous residents, Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel.

We rented a car to explore the spectacular mountainous island, The main road which runs along the spine of the island has beautiful views down to the coast.

hiva drive

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With the help of Monique and Dick, we managed to find the smiling tiki hidden amongst the coconut palms and dense forest. The archeological site of Iipona has very large impressive tikis.

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us tiki hivaThe white sandy beach and crystal clear blue water of Hanamoenoa bay on Tahuata island was the perfect spot to chill and to clean Sea Cloud’s dirty hull and remove the green beard growing along her waterline.

Nuku Hiva

Nuku Hiva, is the largest island of the Marquesas. The huge anchorage at Taiohae, in a collapsed ancient volcano is very beautiful. The hub of the town is the dock where groups of yachties gather outside of Nuku Hiva Yacht services or the adjacent cafe – catching up on emails and enjoying local poisson cru and listening to the guitar players who gather there in the early evening.  A group of us took a guided tour, great for learning about the history and archaeology of the island and hearing about life in the Marquesas.

Atuona Bay, on the north side of Nuku Hiva has been described as one of the most beautiful bays in the Marquesas. It certainly is a spectacular anchorage with palm fringed white sandy beaches, framed by a backdrop of huge mountains. The locals are very friendly. A group of 11 of us were treated to a BBQ goat dinner under the coconut palms listening to the locals playing guitar and singing.




The walk across the saddle to the adjacent bay was challenging, but the beautiful view over the anchorage was well worth it.

Back in Tahohaie Bay its been a very social time catching up with friends, trying Marquesan dancing, provisioning and  preparing for our time in the Tuamotus. Internet has been tricky here, but will be even more so once we venture further west, well at least until we reach Tahiti in a few months time.


Galapagos-Marquesas Passage


“And yet the sea is a horrible place. Sailing the sea is stupefying to the mind and poisonous to the temper; the sea, the motion, the lack of space, the villainous tinned foods, the sailors, the captain, the passengers – but you are amply repaid when you sight an island, and drop anchor in a new world.” (Robert Lois Stevenson 1888; letter to a friend 1888 on making landfall in the Marquesas).

…To which Paul Theroux adds: “Those were my sentiments exactly: sailing the sea was a monotony of doldrums interrupted by windy periods of nightmarish terror. No desert was ever deadlier or more tedious than an ocean. Then – after weeks or months of your thinking life is a reach and then you jibe – landfall.” (Paul Theroux, Happy Isles of Oceania (1992))

At over 3,000 miles, the Galapagos-Marquesas voyage is the longest ocean passage that we’ve undertaken so far – indeed the longest by far for the vast majority of sailors circumnavigating in low latitudes. During the passage it didn’t always seem so, but looking back, the overall experience was pleasurable sailing in brisk trade winds, under mainly clear skies on deep blue water. However, the passage had undoubted physical and mental challenges including sleep deprivation, relentless, and at times profound, unpredictable arising from a very confused sea from mixing of several ocean swells, as well as an undercurrent of subliminal anxiety about the unknowns ahead and all the “what if” scenarios that inevitably creep into ones mind in a boat pushed beyond the norm. However, we now share a sense of achievement that a couple of risk-averse, conservative, 60 something, “Mom & Pop” sailors actually did this together as a team – as well as a great sense of relief that we and Sea Cloud have arrived in one piece in a pretty respectable time of just over 19 days.

The first hurdle was getting through the doldrums as fast as possible. Although the primary ITCZ is north of the equator at this point, there is a frequently encountered trough (“2nd ITCZ”) SSW of the Galapagos with highly variable winds and convection activity. This dictated we sail south below 30 S before attempting to head west.

Passage highlights:

  • The endless ever changing, restless, groaning, white cap spattered deep deep blue sea and knowing we are further from “civilisation” than the vast majority of the human race will ever or could ever be.
  • The ever changing nature and unpredictability of the sky, wind, waves and weather
  • Brisk sailing every day & night with Sea Cloud posting a 181mile day – a PB
  • Spectacular bright starry nights with virtually no light pollution
  • The bright ¾ moon shimmering silver on wind-affected water
  • At the end of night watch seeing the sunrise out of the water
  • Seeing the green flash at sunset
  • Never tiring of watching the skilful boobies diving for flying fish scattered by Sea Cloud’s bow wave. The fact that these amazing birds, often alone, are seen more than 1,500 miles from land.
  • Great food and that we were still eating fresh fruit, vegetables as well as fresh baked bread and home made fruit cake on day 20. This is testament to Cathy’s brilliant foresight, planning and provisioning in Panama and Galapagos (which posed not insignificant challenges in achieving this aim). Extensive supply of deep frozen, pre-prepared meals ensured superb hot meals even when adverse conditions and passage fatigue precluded lengthy periods in the galley.
  • Not breaking anything (vang broken before we started) & the “Green Death” (Volvo engine) did fire up on arrival. A crucial aspect of minimising wear while sailing downwind for weeks on end is chaffe prevention, balancing sails and helm to permit our indispensible Hydrovane to maintain a steady course without much interference or effort.
  • Approaching land after weeks at sea and being greeted by dozens of dolphins leaping around us and gliding for hours in the bow wave while a welcoming party of dozens of curious boobies circled and swooped around us seemingly looking for a spot to perch
  • Making landfall in a spectacularly beautiful, isolated bay on an island considered to be among the most isolated populated islands in the world – something only enjoyed by the small handful of yachties who get here the hard way. Then, seeing the play of light towards sunset on the jagged peaks and green hills while cracking that first beer after a dry 3 week passage.
  • It’s a big ocean, but knowing others are also out there somewhere over the horizon, makes it feel a little smaller. The Iridium GO, enabling weather reports, unlimited email and SMS and limited phone calls was our lifeline. Most of us with SSB radio could also contact others with variable success out to 800Nm. The community of cruisers in the Pacific is something quite unique. We are catching up with many people we met earlier in the season, from Curacao to Panama. Although there are hundreds of boats making the same voyage across the Pacific each year, many of the boat names and faces are familiar. Panache (Canadian Cat) regularly updated and plotted the position of a smallish group of about 20 boats (“M-Fleet”) between Galapagos and Marquesas. We were sent daily positions of all the fleet, exchanged stories of fish caught, meals eaten and received updates of life on the ‘other side’ from the boats who had made landfall. These emails and those from our friends Monique and Dick (“Umnyana”) as well as Ian’s daily SSB chat with Olav & Birgitte (“Alutia”) were so important in maintaining human contact over the 19 days.

The synopsis of the passage Galapagos – Fatu Hiva:

  • Distance sailed: 3,158 nautical miles
  • Time taken 19d 5hr; overall average speed (SOG) 6.83 kts
  • Average daily run 164 Nm (range 143 – 181Nm)
  • Winds: Doldrums/equatorial trough (2nd ITCZ) days 1-3; remainder SE-ESE trades 16-22kts (90%); 22-25kts (10%)
  • Waves: 0.5-1m (5%), 1-2m (80%); 2-3m (15%)
  • Weather: Rain squall days 5 (25 – 35kts)
  • Sail plan (conservative): double reefed main 95% (with boom preventer and Walder boom break); poled out genoa (“wing on wing”) 80%; broad reaching both sails on port gybe (20%). Number of gybes – nil.
  • Engine hours 21
  • Generator hours 10 (ave 1.5h every 3 days)
  • Water consumed 840 L (22L/d per head)
  • Gear we wouldn’t leave home without: Freezer permitted access to precooked meals for weeks – obviating need for lengthy galley time when fatigued or in unpleasant seas. “Mr D” slow cooker saved LPG and kept galley time to a minimum. Mung beans and sprout cultivator and Basil our potted friend. Ikea “dog bowls” to prevent spilling dinner in rough seas. “Ted” our Hydrovane wind vane self steering device worked superbly & was engaged 98% of the entire voyage. Watt & Sea hydrogenerator worked flawlessly and, without the power drain from the Raymarine autopilot, W&S (if boat speed > 7.5 kts) can provide near 100% of power needs day or night. Water maker (& 900L tankage) permitted the luxury of daily showers. Bean bag – on the cockpit floor on a rough night provided much needed muscle rest during times of profound rolling. Nespresso machine – life too short to go without good coffee