Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fatu Hiva

Leaving the Island of Hiva Oa, we set sail for the small island of Fatu
Hiva, about 45 miles to the southeast.   Fortunately, the wind direction
and sea conditions were cooperative and we made the crossing in good time
on a single tack (without zigzagging back and forth to make windward
progress).  We approached our intended destination with eager anticipation
knowing that it is regarded by many as the most beautiful anchorage in the
world. Hana Vave, or the Bay of Virgins as it is now called, is a small
bay on the island’s northwest side at the mouth of a narrow valley.  A
village with about 600 residents sits near the water’s edge surrounded by
incredibly beautiful, jungle-covered rocky cliffs and spires.  These
dramatic rock formations inspired the bay’s original name of the Bay of
Phalluses.   Apparently, that name didn’t meet with the approval of the
Catholic missionaries upon their arrival years later so, by a changing a
vowel in the original French word, phalluses became virgins.

We approached the bay when the late afternoon light was illuminating the
rock formations and lush green hillsides with such intensity that the
colors and shapes were a feast for our eyes.  We hurriedly took photo
after photo as we made preparation to anchor knowing that it was unlikely
that any would completely capture the majesty of this place.  The
anchorage there is deep, limited in size and has, in many places, a rocky
bottom.  We slowly meandered through the gaggle of already-anchored boats
looking for a spot where we might drop “Blue Rodeo’s” anchor to a sandy
bottom at a reasonable depth.  We settled for an area that was 90 feet
deep (we’d prefer to anchor in 25 to 30 feet of water) and lowered our
anchor and almost all of its 350 feet of chain.  Reports had mentioned
that wind gusts of 60 knots can funnel down the narrow valley and blow
anchored boats out to sea so we made sure our anchor was well set before

While we were still underway to the island, we had spoken to friends from
the vessel “The Rose” who invited us to join them and a number of other
cruisers for a dinner ashore that night at the home of a local family.  It
turned out to be a lovely evening with an opportunity to sample lots of
typical Marquesan cuisine and get to know more interesting cruisers.
Since Fatu Hiva is the most windward of the islands in the Marquesas, it
is often the first stop for cruisers coming from Panama or the Galapagos,
even though it is technically not a port of entry.  Several groups at
dinner that night were from Europe and had come straight to the island.
During the next few days that we spent in the Bay of Virgins, several
others would arrive with the tell-tale coating of algae and gooseneck
barnacles along their boat’s waterline as a result of many days at sea.

The next day was spent in the company of friends from the boats
“Charisma”, “The Rose”, and “Island Bound” exploring the small village and
getting to know some of its residents.  There is just one tiny market but,
with a bit a asking around, we soon connected with several of the
friendly residents who provided us with fresh fruit to restock our onboard
supplies.  Most of our exploratory walk that day took us to the backyard
sheds of local craftspeople that produced fine wood carvings and painted
art works on “Tapa” cloth made from pounding water-soaked bark into
paper-like sheets.   We couldn’t help but buy a small, carved, rosewood
“Tiki” and a “Tapa” print to commemorate our visit.  By the way, the
Marquesas are considered to be a birthplace of the art of tattooing and,
even though the traditional art form nearly died-out, a number of current
artists are practicing it and most locals we encounter have their bodies
decorated.  Often, visiting cruisers are so moved by the experience of
crossing an ocean to visit these exotic islands that they choose the get a
Marquesan tattoo to commemorate the experience.  While Anne is opposed to
the idea, Mark admits that he can’t help but have some interest in some
small, traditional tattoo.  He has though, opted not to get one, motivated
mostly by the fact that his hairy, freckle-covered skin that continues to
wrinkly before his eyes is probably not the best “canvas” to display a
Marquesasn work of art, no matter how beautiful it might be.

The next day was spent hiking to a stunningly beautiful grotto in the
hills above the village that features a 200 foot waterfall and freshwater
pool at its base.  A group of about 8 of us make the trek up through the
steamy jungle to reach it and were rewarded by magnificent scenery along
the way and a refreshing dip in the pool at the falls.  That evening
turned out to be the high point of our visit with another feast ashore put
on by a delightful and friendly woman named Kati, whom we had met during
our visits to the wood carvers.  Pat, from “The Rose”,  used her better
French communication skills to arrange a cooking lesson for anyone that
wanted to come early to watch how the traditional meal of poisson cru,
beadfruit, papaya salad, baked bananas, and chicken was prepared.  The
event coincided with the celebration of Kati’s 7 years old granddaughter’s
birthday so our fortunate group of cruisers became part of the huge party
that concluded with after-dinner birthday cake, guitar and ukulele music
and singing and dancing from the many neighborhood children.  We took
dozens of photos and some short video clips but, sadly, none will do
justice to the warmth, camaraderie and joy that we experienced that night.
 We have to trust our memories to accurately record forever the magic of
that evening.

The next morning, when Anne climbed out into “Blue Rodeo’s” cockpit, she
squealed with excitement at the sight of a familiar sailboat entering the
bay.  Our friends Larry and Karen, whom we spent good times with during
our first season in Mexico and had not seen for many months, were arriving
after a 22 day passage from the Galapagos.  Since many of our cruising
friends in the anchorage were planning to go ashore in less than an hour
for the town’s Sunday church service, we quickly greeted our arriving
friends and offered to take them ashore in our dinghy as soon as they
could get settled.   We had heard from others that the Catholic church
service, spoken in Marquesan and featuring lovely music and choir singing,
was very special and not to be missed.  We were not disappointed as the
beautiful, pitch-perfect voices of the children’s choir left us all very
moved.  We also couldn’t help but be entertained by the warm interaction
of the villagers.

That Sunday concluded with a delicious dinner aboard Larry and Karen’s
boat “Phanta Rei” with their crew Katie and Kent and friends from “Island
Bound” Bill and Kat.  Before dinner, we all shared information about where
we planned to go next and our probable itinerary for the next few months.
While part of the fun of cruising is getting to know new people wherever
you travel, connecting with those that you have already met in exotic
parts of the world is extra special.

Our evening aboard “Phanta Rei” ended  rather suddenly when some of the
anchorage’s notorious wind gusts began to blow through the bay and we felt
it best to head back to our boat to make sure that all was well.  Upon
return to “Blue Rodeo”, we were disappointed to see that one of Mark’s
Patagonia Hawaiian shirts and his favorite pair of board shorts, that were
left pinned and drying on our clothesline, had been blown off into the
darkness of the night.  Oh well, it was another lesson learned about
leaving anything unsecured while we are off the boat.  It certainly could
have been worse as our entire floating home might have been blown out to


  1. Great to read your blog. You are having so many exciting adventures. what a thrill to meet up with Karen and Larry. Give them our hugs and best wishes. We just arrived at Marina Papagaya in Costa Rica. It is a beautiful spot.Stay well and happy.Love you, Howard and Lynn

  2. Just catching up with you two, glad all is going well. To bad about the shorts and shirt, but now you have the rational and room for replacements! Ask Larry if he ever found his 30# of Velvita, tough to find out there I'll bet. Good call Mark, I'd hate to chance an infection from a tattoo.

  3. Hi Guys! Sounds like you are making some progress in you travels. Elba lost a pair of Keens...that walked off the boat in Daniel's Bay while we were anchored there....she was not happy either! Safe travels to you both!!
    Susan and Elba
    sv Mist

  4. Love, love, love, reading about your adventures! I can't even imagine how absolutely beautiful it is there. Thanks for all the details and photos for the rest of us to live vicariously through you! Stay safe and enjoy every little moment! xoxo