19. Cannibals, Carvings & Cascades – The Marquesas Islands

May 3rd, 2021 – June 5th, 2021

Passage to the Marquesas

The Tuamotus are littered with coral bombies and virtually all the cruisers we met told stories of places where they had got their anchors good and stuck. With our rock slot anchor and a bit of luck we never had a problem until our last anchorage in the Tuamotus. The Makemo anchorage was on the deeper side (about 50’ deep) and we could see the anchor when we dove down but couldn’t get to it without scuba. When we went to pull the anchor, the bow pulled down an it was clear our chain was stuck on something hard. We drove Atica in a 360 and still the bow pulled when Austin hauled on the chain. We did another circle and this time the chain came free. Thne we were able to haul the rest of the chain and anchor back onboard and stow it properly for the upcoming passage. They call the Tuamotus the Dangerous Archipelago because the navigational hazards have caused shipwrecks both past and present and we were extremely relieved to be departing unscathed.

The weather forecast for the passage to the Marquesas showed the wind shifting from North East to more comfortable (and typical) East trade winds, but that never really materialized. Once again it was upwind to our next destination and we bashed into messy 1–2 meter swell for 5 days. We had little energy for much beyond our duties; laying in the cockpit, looking at the sea and sleeping down below in the sea bunk. We even had trouble being creative in the galley. One day we ate beans and rice for breakfast, beans and rice for lunch and beans for dinner (we ran out of cooked rice). It typically takes 2-3 days to get into the rhythm of passage making and on a short hop like this by the time you are in the rhythm it’s almost over.  We had planned to make landfall on the southernmost island of the Marquesas to see the famous Bay of Virgins but the reality of cruising is that the wind takes you where it wants to take you. Fatu Hiva was just not in the cards. Hard on the wind we were too far west of the island and we couldn’t justify a full day of motoring into the wind or several more days of tacking so we decided we would head for our next stop at the island of Tahuata. All in all, the passage wasn’t terrible but it also wasn’t particularly enjoyable either.


At sunrise we could pick out the mountainous outline of Tahuata through a thick layer of clouds and rain. As we got closer the rain cleared up and we could see little white specks on the rocky cliffs. As we were coming around the headland into the bay the specks grew more defined and we could hear the BHAAA sounds of the wild mountain goats. We anchored in Hapatoni Bay below a shrine topped cliff. A few days later we were joined by SV Lorien, they had stopped at Fatu Hiva on the way. From our secluded anchorage we were surrounded by jungle and 1,000 ft high cliffs that were shrouded in clouds. We could see whole families of mountain goats, even tiny baby one’s scampering up the cliffs and along the beach logs.

We were excited to explore the island but the first order of business was addressing an issue with our house battery bank. On passage we noticed that the batteries were not holding a charge and we had problems with low voltage as soon as we were not getting solar power. Just like with our alternator problems we experienced before leaving Washington, our awesome solar panels were masking a problem that needed to be addressed. During the day we had surplus solar power but by the time we were in Tahuata our batteries were no more than a wire. When the sun was up we had all the power we could use but as soon as the sun went down we had virtually nothing. The idea of sailing back to Hawaii in the dark (no lights, electronics or communication) at night did not sound like a good idea but we also were not sure what options we had, being so remote in the South Pacific. Luckily Big Bro Harvey was in Tahiti and was able to find us the right batteries as well as helped get them on a ship to us in the Marquesas! What a relief to know that in a few weeks and a couple islands down the road our battery woes would be behind us. We decided a full inspection of the electrical system was in order to make sure we didn’t have a problem that would damage the new batteries. We did find a bus bar in the bilge that was severely corroded and replaced it and a few other connections but nothing seemed to be the obvious battery gremlin. Likely the damage was caused by a combination of full-time cruising, some inverter/power tool abuse and was exacerbated by the additional draw from our new freezer.

The Marquesas are known for carving and the island of Tahuata is famous for its bone carvings. We read that the best bone carvers were in the small village of Hapatoni and we were excited to see this unique artform. One of the village elders took us to an open-air pavilion and banged on a drum to alert the carving merchants that there were customers in the village. Soon after trunks of carvings were opened and different items were placed on the tables in front of us. There was everything from carved bone rings and traditional Polynesian fish hooks to a 4’ dagger carved from a horse femur and swordfish bill with wood and mother of pearl inlays. The details were exquisite and we had a hard time picking out what mementoes we wanted, everything was so beautiful! We ended up getting a pair of fish hook necklaces and an intricately carved bone vessel with a wooden dolphin on top.

We went for several hikes on the roads going out of Hapatoni with amazing views of Atica and Lorien in the bay far below. Wild mango and lime trees lined the road and we filled our backpacks to take back to the boats. One day we decided to pack a lunch and go for a longer hike out of town. The road was a steep mix of concrete, gravel and dirt. At the top of one of the peaks we met some road construction workers and asked if we could sit in the grass and have our lunch. They insisted we sit in the shade at their work picnic table with a great view out into the ocean. On the way down we noticed a big stock of bananas that had fallen over and we strapped it to Austin’s backpack to carry home. When we got back to the boat Austin rigged up a “banana boom” off the back of the boat so that the bananas would not make a sticky mess of the cockpit and not bring any bad banana juju to the boat. “No bananas” is one of the sailor’s superstitions that we usually follow, but how can you pass up a huge stock of wild bananas that practically falls into your lap!

Our next stop on Tahuata was the town of Vaitahu. We only spent one night since the anchorage was a bit gusty and the swell was uncomfortable. Access to shore was tricky here, because the towns pier is incredibly surgy, meaning the water rises and falls almost 6ft at the pier as the swell rolls through. Chris took us all to the pier and we timed the swell to get out of the dinghy and onto the slimy cement steps as the water rose. Then he went to the middle of the bay to anchor the dinghy and swam to shore. This is a tricky maneuver but not uncommon when trying to get ashore from an anchorage that is open to the ocean swell. This beach was very rocky and the waves crashing on shore would be too dangerous to try and bring the dinghy to the beach. We enjoyed walking around the large church in the center of town that had many stone carved Tikis. The Tikis were many different ages, some modern and some centuries old. We hiked up the hill to the towns shrine and were startled when we passed by a yelling sheep tied up in a yard. We started to become accustomed to looking out for the shrines at the entrance to the bays that had villages. They made for good hiking destinations since we could often see our boats and always had a view of the ocean. We had lunch at one of the three Snacks where we had fresh mango juice and the only thing on the menu was again… steak frites. We read a travel blog that said eating in French Polynesia would make you sick of french fries and it really was true, Steak Frites was the most common restaurant food and we were about over it! While we were waiting for Chris to pick us up on our way back to the boats, we got to see one of the “ferries” from another island come in. It was less than 30’ long and looked like an old sports fishing boat. They loaded it up with people and supplies all while holding the stern just off the pier with rubber bumpers. Everything from a bushel of baguettes to children were passed through the air from the pier to the ferry as the ocean lifted and dropped the boat. Everyone lends a hand when loading and unloading the vessel.

Our last anchorage in Tahuata was in a bay called Hanamoenoa that had a beautiful white sand beach. The waves were pretty big on shore so we anchored De Lorien and all swam to shore for a beach walk. The sand was fluffy white and our foot prints where the only ones. The afternoon was hot and the water was cool and clear, so we enjoyed floating around and body surfing in the waves.

Hiva Oa

The following morning, we set sail for Hanamenu Bay on Hiva Oa. It was a fast and easy broad reach across the Canal Du Bordelais. The bay is on the dry side of the island and the red and orange cliffs reminded us of Baja Mexico. It had a black sand beach and a couple of what appeared to be seasonal dwellings that were unoccupied. The water was an opaque muddy brown from the stream run off at the head of the bay. None of us were tempted to swim even though it was an extremely hot day. We dinghied to shore to walked the beach and found out there were two streams flowing into the bay. One shallow and muddy and the other deep and clear so we waded through the ice-cold stream to cool off in the afternoon heat. After dinner it was early to bed to prepare for an 0500 departure for the island of Ua Pou.

Ua Pou

We arrived in Hakahau, the main town of Ua Pou, just before sunset after a long day of sailing and motoring. The bay is mostly protected by a concrete breakwater and pier and there is just a small area where sailboats can anchor. It’s a popular spot and the “local” cruisers of the anchorage were very territorial. We had read boats often stern anchor in the bay to keep their bow into the swell, but what we didn’t expect is the boats to have out 150 ft of chain and TWO stern anchors in 10-15 ft of water. We found a spot that looked decent for us and dropped the main anchor and let out enough chain so that we could back away and set our stern anchor from the boat. Then an angry Frenchman on the boat next to us started yelling and telling us we could not anchor there and his boat would smash us, very dramatically waving his hands. Then a lady in another boat started yelling too and saying that her anchor was underneath us. We thought we were in a decent spot with the limitations so we took a few minutes to decide if we needed to move or not. The Frenchman didn’t like our hesitation so he yelled “I warned you” and we saw him go back to his stern anchor and he started letting out more road so that he would swing closer to us. At that point it wasn’t worth it to stay where we were so we backed down to pick up the stern anchor and then went forward to pick up our main anchor. During this time the Frenchman pulled back in his stern anchor so he was back to where he was when we anchored. By this point it was getting dark and we opted to anchor for the night close behind the pier where the ships come in and move first thing in the morning. After such a long day and all the anchoring drama we were exhausted and just wanted to get some sleep. That day happened to be a big outrigger canoe race and sports festival so ALL night there was loud dance music and partying on the pier. At sunrise we were both awake and once again pulled the stern anchor and main anchor and went to find a spot outside the protected breakwater where the swell comes in but at least there was no one to yell at us. The one good thing about this experience is that we really honed and perfected our stern anchoring methods! We had heard such good things about the village so we put Litha in the water and tied to the peer to go explore the town with Chris and Julie. The town had some really cool stone carvings but all the people seemed to be pretty hung over or still drunk from the night before. We sat on the beach for a while and watched a few outrigger canoes surfing waves around Atica. When we went back to the dinghy Litha was completely full of water and our jerry jugs and floaty cushions were in side of De Lorien?! That was the last straw for Austin and he said “F#@% this we’re out!” Lorien was tucked in between two boats in the shallows and the wind was coming from astern which made it too dangerous to pull the stern anchor so they said they were going to wait until the wind changed or died down to leave. As we were pulling anchor we looked over and we could see Lorien pulling their main anchor too, which was confusing to us. As we motored out of the bay, we called Lorien on the radio and learned that while they were watching us pull our anchor their stern anchor line chafed through and they had to immediately pull their anchor to avoid swinging into another boat. Chris had to go back in their dinghy to get the stern anchor that luckily he had marked with a buoy. We were all relieved to be leaving that anchorage!

We sailed less than an hour around the corner to Hakahetau. Hakahetau Bay was a night and day difference as it was a large and calm bay and we were the only two boats in it. No yelling and no stern anchors, we were all happy and ready for a good night sleep! The next day we dinghied to a nice concrete pier and walked around the small village. Everyone was cheery and happy to see us. Groups of kids played in the river and the small grocery store was stocked with Orangina (a natural orange soda), our FP drink of choice. At the top of the village was a home-restaurant called Ti Piero and we made a reservation for lunch the next day. When we returned, we received a huge feast of local cuisine; goat stew, shrimp jambalaya and three varieties of fish: house smoked swordfish, tuna nuggets and grilled reef fish. The meal was so good and the owner/chef was so nice we made a reservation to come back in a few days. 

The island of Ua Pou is characterized by five epic basalt pillars that reach high above the surrounding mountains and Hakahetau is a common base camp for mountain climbers who come from all over the world to climb the pillars. We were even told that someone tight rope walked between two of the spires! We went on several hikes from town. To the west we explored the ruins of the ancient settlement and got lost in the jungle for a bit. Another day we went to find the notorious chocolate man and planned to do the big loop hike around the pillars. We met Manfred the “Chokoman” on the road and we were instructed to climb in the back of his truck for a bumpy ride the rest of the way to his villa. He had a super funky house with 47 cats, 9 dogs, tons of chickens but “no rats!” he exclaimed. He said years ago he had a peacock for a guard dog. Manfred was a German helicopter pilot and says that he flew Tom Hanks and Donald Trump around French Polynesia in his younger days. He was an eccentric character with tons of crazy stories and was very into the ladies. He wanted to hand feed Julie and Elise his homemade chocolate guava truffles called “The Killer”, saying that if he were to eat the second half the women would not be able to resist him, but he reluctantly gave Chris and Austin the other half. He talked about the thousands of women he had touched in his geodesic dome massage/sauna he used to own back in Germany. We were all getting a bit anxious to get going on our hike, so we purchased some of his chocolate bars and before we could leave Manfred loaded us up with a bag of star fruit from his tree. He showed us his cacao tree, guava, macadamia nut plants and even a coffee bush.

When we finally got out to the trail head he said if the trail gets too hard, we could always come back by. We headed up the trail that started out easy with a few creak crossings but quickly got steeper as we got closer to the spires. At points there were ropes to help climb up the steep spots and dry palm fronds that made the path super slippery. The path got narrower and we were soon on a knife edge ridge with cliffs on both sides. We stopped for a water break and sent Austin ahead to scout out the next part of the trail. When Austin returned, we all agreed that it was too sketchy to continue on. We cautiously climbed back down the hill towards Manfred’s villa. Along the way we passed through a wild avocado grove and found a bunch of good ones to take back to the boat. The avocadoes were a little different than your typical green Haas avocado. The insides of these ones were more yellow in color and the flesh was nuttier and creamier. They made great avocado toast on Elise’s homemade bread. After we made a quick pass by Manfred’s villa, we took the trail to a waterfall that was on the way back to town. All four of us agreed it was one of the most beautiful waterfalls we had ever been to. That’s a lot to be said since we are all from the PNW where there are some pretty amazing cascades. It had a nice sized swimming hole completely surrounded by jungle vines, trees and cliffs. There was even a little ledge where you could stand behind the waterfall. The swim was a refreshing end to a hot and difficult hike.

The swell started to change direction the day after our hike which made our perfect bay a little more rolly than we would like. We picked up anchor and moved a few bays down to Hakaotu Bay which was more protected for the night. There wasn’t much to see onshore so we spent the day doing small boat projects and relaxing on the boat. The next day the swell had calmed down and we headed back to Hakahetau for our lunch reservation and another trip to the spectacular waterfall. On the way back we motored through a pod of dolphins that played in our bow wake and rolled over onto their bellies when we made whistling sounds like they were listening to us. It was a good thing we didn’t bail on our lunch reservation because as soon as we walked into Ti Piero the owner brought out a bowl of fresh baked rolls and a stand for the huge paella style dish for the table to share. The huge pan was filled with fish, shrimp, muscles, octopus, calamari, noodles and a delicious broth. We left with full bellies and take away boxes for lunch the next day on our sail to Nuku Hiva.

Nuku Hiva

Our first stop on the island of Nuku Hiva was a bay called Controleur Bay. The bay was not too comfortable so we just spent one night in the anchorage. We did take De Lorien up into the river to the town to go exploring. The town is small but the historic village of Taipivai was made famous my Herman Melville when he wrote the book Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life. There was a huge ceremony space with a big grassy field with lots of stone tikis and ornately carved wood shade structures in the middle of the valley. The town had three small stores and out of habit we checked all three not necessarily needing any thing but curious to see if there was anything we had not seen in a while. Regular grocery shopping had turned into something more akin to thrift store or garage sale shopping back home due to the variability of goods stocked.

The next morning we had a good sail around to Anaho Bay on the Northeast side of the island. There were half a dozen boats anchored in one area but we opted to anchor on the other side of the bay with just Lorien. We dinghied to shore and walked over the next hill to a farm surrounded by sand dunes. We met the farmer and a few European boat hitchhikers who had just arrived after 43 days at sea from Mexico. They had never sailed before hopping on board a boat to cross the Pacific Ocean! We had locally speared lobsters at the hostel on the beach and enjoyed walking the long beach around the bay.  Another day we all hiked up a steep trail to the top of the hill west of the bay and down the other side to the village at Hatiheu Bay for lunch. On the way down the hill, we got soaking wet in a squall. When we got to the restaurant, we were so happy that they would even seat us. Then it got even better, when the sweet lady brought us our cold Hinano beers, she also brought us each a big warm towel so we could dry off. We all ate our pork and goat lunches with big smiles wrapped in towels. The highlight of Anaho Bay was our amazing encounters with manta rays. Each evening the boat was surrounded by manta rays that would glide along in the swell around the boat. They were feeding on plankton right at the water’s surface and we could see their “wing tips” stick up out of the water. Sometimes they circled together and other times we saw their belly as they “flipped” upside down just below the surface. Some of them were almost eight feet across and we were mesmerized watching them drift almost effortlessly through the water. It was one of the most amazing experiences we had in French Polynesia.

It was hard to leave the anchorage surrounded my manta rays but we had to move on, so we sailed around the north side of Nuku Hiva to Haahopu Bay. We were now on the dry side of the island and the shore was baren and shrubby. Its amazing how different each side of the islands can be in the tropics. Jungles, pine forests and deserts are all within miles of one another. From Haahopu we made another overnight stop in Marquisienne Bay. We got in and swam a bit but the water was full of tiny jelly fish and when Austin got a sting on his neck, we decided it was time to climb out. We had gotten very spoiled with the crystal-clear water of the Tuamotus and were not very inspired to swim in the Marquesas. Maybe we would have felt differently if it was our first stop in French Polynesia like it typically is on the Milk Run. We were getting antsy to pick up our batteries in Taiohae the main town on Nuku Hiva so we just spent one night at Daniels Bay our first time through. We tried to find the waterfall trail but ended up getting lost in the jungle with lots of scratches and mosquito bites. Chris and Julie stayed a few more days while we headed to Taiohae Bay so we could pick up our batteries before the weekend.

Taiohae Bay is the most common arrival port for boats coming from Mexico and Panama. A US expat named Kevin runs Nuku Hiva Yacht Services (NHYS) and helps cruisers check in and out of French Polynesia. He provides other services like laundry, internet, parts, repair work and general info. He will even take you on a tour around the island if you book in advance. We arranged with him via email to have our batteries shipped c/o Nuka Hiva Yacht Services so Kevin could receive them from the big ship and hold them until we arrived. When we inquired about the arrival date of our batteries to Nuku Hiva his response was, “The Taporo IX is a ghost ship, I will know a couple of days out.” The new batteries required a bit of rewiring since they are a different post style than the old ones but we were so happy to have a working system once again. We took our old batteries that were ballooning at the sides to the recycling shed where we found hundreds of other boat batteries. I guess we are not the only ones that needed a South Pacific battery swap. The joy of getting new batteries was quickly dampened when we learned that one of our oil hoses from the engine to the filter had leaked and the oil had spilled into our bilge. It was a messy, sweaty, sticky cleanup and a huge pain because there was oil in every compartment of our bilge.

We spent a week in Taiohae Bay completing our list of boat prep for the passage back to Hawaii. We visited each of the small grocery stores multiple times selecting passage provisions and scoping out what stores had fresh vegetables. We found vegetables to be very difficult to come by in the Marquesas even in the big towns. The only veggies we could find for the passage were a few onions, potatoes, cabbage and luckily some small green peppers. Oh yeah there was always a ton of eggplant, but we are not into that stuff. We spent a few hot afternoons soaking up the internet at NHYS and walked to the store to buy ice cream bars. We met two boats that were from New Zealand and they had just arrived from their pacific crossings. They didn’t have the special approval that we had and were told they only had 4 days to move on. Luckily for them the enforcement was not very aggressive but we could tell it was a stressful situation for them, not knowing what they should do or if the rules were going to change to allow them to stay. We learned while in Nuku Hiva that boats with 5 or less people on board got to count sea time towards the covid quarantine for arrival, but boats with more than 5 must to do 14 days on the boat before they can come to shore even to check in. We heard over the radio there were two Danish boats, not that much bigger than ours, that had just arrived. One had 12 people onboard and another had 7 people. We could not imagine how so many people could fit and when we went by in the dinghy, they had jerry jugs hanging off the bow and people everywhere. At least Kevin delivered them pizzas because that would be a miserable cramped quarantine. One afternoon we walked around the bay to the fancy Nuku Hiva Pearl Lodge for a nice lunch and hi speed internet with a view of the bay.

At the end of the week Kevin helped us get checked out of the country. Since we wanted to depart over the weekend he warned us that we should start the checkout process several days before departure because the bureaucracy is quite slow in French Polynesia. We headed over to Hakatea Bay (Daniel’s Bay) to fill up our water tanks at the small settlement of Hakaui that’s just on the other side of a small peninsula from the anchorage. Daniels Bay was the location that Survivor Marquesas was filmed back in 2001. It’s a beautiful white sand beach with steep green cliffs all around so it makes sense that it would be good for TV. What you don’t see on screen is that there is a village right next door and the main town in Taiohae is just a few miles away by boat. There is a much darker story from this bay though, in 2011 a German cruiser was allegedly cannibalized on a goat hunting expedition by a man from the village. We didn’t get the full story until after our visit but it makes the Cannibal Art shop a whole lot creepier. The small village of Hakaui has only a few houses and about a dozen people live there full time. The community maintains a nice trail up the steep sided Hakaui Valley to the Vaipo Waterfall that plunges more than 1,100 ft. They charge $10 a person to go on the hike but when you return to the village, they load you up with bags of fresh fruit and avocados from their gardens. The hike was beautiful with moss covered tikis along the way and three major river crossings where we needed to use sticks to help us across. Chris prearranged with one of the village women to cook lunch for us when we returned to the village from the hike. She cooked us barbeque goat, reef fish, breadfruit fries, fruit salad and fresh squeezed mango juice. We ate at the family table in the yard while the neighborhood pack of mangy dogs, puppies, cats and kittens begged for scraps. We stayed until we could no longer stand the flies and gnats and gave the last of the goat meat to the pregnant dog and headed back to the beach. It was a great last day in French Polynesia and the weather window was looking good to leave for Hawaii the next day. We had no set time to leave in the morning but just like always we pulled anchor within 5 min of Lorien and headed around the south west corner of Nuku Hiva and began our passage North!

2 thoughts on “19. Cannibals, Carvings & Cascades – The Marquesas Islands”

  1. Another instalment of your voyage in the south pacific, riveting to the last word! Here in the PNW a heatwave has unleashed a flurry of forest fires a month or so ahead of time making life somewhat challenging – we’re under an evacuation alert and have a go kit at the ready for a quick exit. Have a safe passage back to Hawaii and I can’t wait for your next instalment…


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