Cruising the Marquesas

Duet has been in French Polynesia for about 7 weeks. We cruised the Marquesas Islands for three weeks after our arrival. They are really spectacular, they look just like Jurassic Park, high stone cliffs, lush vegetation. They are also quite hot and humid, so Duet’s air conditioning was working overtime. After the Marquesas, we visited an atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago for two weeks, before moving the boat to Tahiti, where she will spend the summer.

Our big news is that we have decided to keep Duet in French Polynesia until mid 2018, rather than continuing to New Zealand this year. This area has too much to offer, and it took too much effort to get here, to rush through it. When we return in late August, we shall cruise the Society Islands and the Tuamotus until December.

We will return to the boat in February to do some boat work and perhaps a little touring. November to April is the wet season here and there is some risk of cyclones, so we don’t want to go far from shelter during that time. Tahiti is infrequently hit by cyclones, it tends to just get brushed, so we hope that Duet will be well protected.


When we leave French Polynesia, we will be bound for Australia. Astute readers will note that we are no longer going to New Zealand, at least just now. We think we will find the westbound journey to Australia, particularly with just Nancy and Ron aboard for most of the trip, easier than the southwestern track required for New Zealand. As is obvious from this post, however, plans change.


Logistically, remaining in French Polynesia is easier than you might think. Duet can stay up to 3 years on a temporary import permit. Nancy and Ron hopefully can get, with some paperwork and an interview, a 12 month visa. Papeete is a major yachting destination so we can find everything from boat washers to a 300 ton lift, should we need it. Our insurance has no restrictions, all that was required was a navigation change, with no change in premium. We can even extend our duty free fuel permit for another 6 months.


Now that we’ve disclosed the big story up front, let’s go back to the start. We arrived in Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas Islands around noon on Sunday April 2 after 17 days at sea. We ran up our yellow “Q”, for Quarantine, flag and had a beer. This tasted pretty good, we must admit, as, other than our brief taste of rum at the Equator, we’d spent 17 days as a dry ship. We then watched our buddy boat Daybreak anchor, and headed over to her for a celebratory dinner, where much fun was had by all. Daybreak gifted us several pounds of the 200 pound blue marlin they landed during the trip and both crews got a much needed night of uninterrupted rest.





The next morning we went ashore and checked into French Polynesia. This process was made much easier with help from Kevin, the local agent, who works with our agent, Tehani, in Tahiti. Kevin filled in all our paperwork, drove Ron to the local Gendarme office, where our passports and boat papers were stamped and Ron met the Chief Gendarme, which apparently doesn’t happen to everyone. An hour later we were legal. After that we took a walk, and bought some local beer, which was $16 a six pack. French Polynesia is not for the faint of wallet.



Taiohae Bay, Nuku HIva


Nancy even managed to pay a bill, via wifi.  It took 45 minutes but who’s counting.  There are far worse places to be paying bills!



Taiohoe Bay, Nuku Hiva, is a beautiful bay in the center of the caldera of the old volcano that formed Nuku Hiva. It is, however, the rolliest place we have ever anchored. We immediately put the flopper stopper in the water to counter the 1-2 foot swell which ran steadily shoreward throughout the bay. It did help, Ron took some video of the “level” in front of Duet’s engine room door. With the flopper in the water, we rolled about 5 degrees, without it we were rolling about 10. That said, we were anxious to find somewhere less bumpy. What we didn’t know, and it was probably a good thing that we didn’t, is that there are few anchorage in the Marquesas that aren’t rolly. They are all open roadsteads, and the prevailing swell comes right in the door. The only ones that sometimes don’t roll are the ones on the north side of Nuku Hiva but, when we were there, the weather was coming from the north, so they would be rolling too.


Video of the flopper stopper working is shown below


Flopper Stopper Working


Duet has two dinghies, the big one which we normally use, and the small one, which is used for difficult landings. The big one relies on the hydraulic crane to launch and retrieve it. So, when we first arrived, we launched the big dink, as it hauls all three of us comfortably and was easy to dock at the rolly quay. Sean and Nancy used it for a provisioning trip, and to haul the trash and used oil, after Ron changed the oil in the main and generator. Taiohoe Bay is very welcoming to cruisers, there is no charge to dispose of trash or oil, unlike many places we have visited.


Sean ready for ferrying duty.


The provisioning is pretty good, considering how remote the Marquesas are. Almost everything comes in via the supply boat, except for some fruit and vegetables. There isn’t much available on the fruit and veg front, Nancy rapidly learned that if she saw it and wanted it, she should buy it, as it wouldn’t be there long. The bread was locally baked and very good, there was excellent cheese and plenty of great NZ butter. We didn’t buy any meat, but everything was available, from New Zealand lamb to French duck. Most things were expensive, except the bread and locally grown fruit and vegetables. We did eat out one night with Daybreak’s crew and found the prices quite high. The food ranged from great to mediocre, depending on what you ordered.

When the time came to refuel, we recovered the big dink using the crane. Once the recovery was complete, we noticed that the crane had suffered an arterial hydraulic fluid bleed. The good news was the dink was already on the boat, not still in the water. The bad news was that the motor that drives the crane’s power rotation function, which is critical to safely managing the 750 pound big dink, had what Ron and Sean figured was a bad seal and needed to be replaced or rebuilt. The crane did swing around a bit during the long crossing without stabilizers. That said, swinging around shouldn’t destroy the seal, so Ron is looking forward to taking the motor apart to see what really happened.


One of the things we’ve learned on this trip is that stuff breaks. You can either let it stop you enjoying the journey, or not. We choose not. Someone, we can’t remember who, wrote “tie a knot and go on” to describe dealing with adverse circumstances. This has become a new Duet saying. So we tied a knot in the crane and went on by using the small dink for the rest of our stay. The small dink and motor can easily be deployed manually. The small dink, however, is slow and quite wet in any conditions other than flat calm. That said, it ran fine through the remainder of our trip. Also, unlike Alaska, the water in French Polynesia is warm, so repeated dousings were not a big deal.

The dinghy dock in Taiohae Bay, photo credit to sailing vessel mysticeti.  


After Ron and Sean worked through a diagnosis of the crane, emails went out to the technical support guys at Steelhead. Rebuilding the motor is apparently difficult, so we decided to order a new one, although Ron will also try to have the old one rebuilt or rebuild it himself. During the next three weeks we sorted out the cost to get it delivered to Tahiti. The shipping was more than the part, so in the end we decided to hand carry it back when we return in August. In the meantime we figured out a good way to launch and retrieve the little dink. Landing it in Nuku Hiva with three of us aboard (it’s load limit) wasn’t so easy, but we managed it. Then we got organized to depart for the rest of our tour of the Marquesas Islands.


Sean made a habit of buying the crew ice cream every time we went ashore in Taiohae Bay.  We hate to admit it, but we kept doing it after he left.




First, though, we refueled. In Nuku Hiva this is an interesting exercise involving a med moor, which is not something we have done before. This operation had been described by boaters who had gone before us as not something you really wanted to sign up for, but we had no choice, so off we went. To be honest, refueling was something that had worried Ron and Nancy ever since we decided to come to the Marquesas, but we figured if other boats could do it, so could we.


To reach the fuel hose, you need to back the boat up to a large concrete commercial dock and line her stern up with a single bollard. Setting the boat up for this is a multi step process. First, you drop the anchor, about 300 feet out, so you can get enough chain in the water to be sure she doesn’t drag the anchor while being shoved around by the surge of the waves banging against the dock. Then you slowly back up, paying out the chain, pick a distance from the dock to set the anchor and set it by pulling on it, the same way we do every time we anchor. That hopefully ensures that she will stay put at your set distance from the dock.


Then you put on the snubber to unload the windlass, which another boat neglected to do several days before, thereby destroying their windlass as the surge yanked their chain back and forth. After all this you hope you end up close enough to the dock for the fuel hose to reach, or else you have to do it all again. The hose is pretty long, so you don’t have to get much closer to the dock than about 20 feet. Frankly, you don’t want to get any closer than that, it’s a big concrete dock and not friendly to recreational vessels.


Ron calmly managed the anchoring and the positioning using a combination of radar and Nancy feeding him numbers from our range finder as we got closer. It worked pretty well. The big advantage was we had Sean, who could manage the lines, while Ron and Nancy got the boat lined up. Without him it would have been doable, but harder. Kevin often serves as a third crew member for boats refueling and we might have gone with that option, had we needed to.


This process is made more interesting by the continuous sea surging against the dock. The surge causes Duet to move up and down and forward and back, thereby stressing both the anchor and the lines from her stern to the dock. The primary line securing her to the dock (we also had a backup just in case) made a low pitched rumble as it stretched and transmitted vibration to the hawse it was attached to. Nancy was not a fan of this noise. The lines had to be adjusted throughout the process to account for the stretch and keep Duet properly positioned, so no strain was transmitted to the fuel hose.


Attaching these lines is an art in and of itself. First you have to have the stern lined up straight with the dock bollard, not blowing off one way or another. Duet doesn’t have a stern thruster, so backing down straight was a challenge, fortunately both days we did this (yes we did it twice, since we used quite a bit of fuel cruising the Marquesas and wanted full tanks for the run to through the Tuamotus to Tahiti) we were lucky and the winds were relatively calm. We also picked days where the surge was low, and went as soon as the fuel dock opened, as mornings were calmer than the afternoons.


So there you are, neatly backed up, about 20 feet off the dock, but now you have to get the lines to the dock. Fortunately for us, Sean can really throw a dock line. He learned it as part of his river rescue training. Sean is based in Vancouver, Washington, on the Columbia River, so his fire department also does river rescues. He threw the lines. The fuel guy caught them and tied us up. But what if we try something like this and it’s just Ron and Nancy?



Sean had the answer, he gave us a line throw bag, which even Nancy could throw it’s full length of 25 feet. So we could have thrown that and then attached a dock line to it. Actually we did throw it to pass our credit card back and forth when it came time to pay, and it worked beautifully. Sean uses these bags on the river rescue boat and also while working as a fireman, in case he needs to get a line to someone. We highly recommend them, they would also be handy in a man overboard situation, or to pass a line or package from one boat to another. We keep ours on the floor by the starboard pilothouse door, where it is readily available in an emergency.


Once we got the lines to the dock, and the hose to Duet, we started fueling. It was slow, since we were fueling from a standard gas station pump. We specified how many liters we wanted, by tank, and the attendant set the pump to deliver that. When we had filled one tank, we attracted his attention (Sean, among his other skills, can also whistle rather loudly) and he would reset the pump for the next tank. The first time, when we took on slightly over 900 gallons, this process took over 3 hours to complete. The second time we only bunkered 300 gallons, so that wasn’t bad.

Fueling at Taiohae Bay

Fuel prices in French Polynesia are quite reasonable, under $3/gallon with the duty free exemption, which our agent helped us get. Without it, fuel is over $6/gallon. We have found having an agent very useful, Tehani has helped with hotel reservations for Sean, dockage for Duet, paperwork, etc. Kevin is a great guy, he handles the check in in Nuku Hiva, has rental cars available and he knows a lot about the island.


The following is a longer video of our trip around the Marquesas.  The various places we visited are shown and are discussed below.  

Cruising Around the Marquesas




So, after fueling, we set off for Ua Poa, which is about 20 miles southwest of Nuku Hiva. It’s a small island, famous for it’s rock spires. Sometimes you even get to see the spires, although they are often covered by clouds. We did see some of them as we headed towards the island. We tried to anchor in the main bay of D’Hakahau, but it is small and was already full of boats.



So we headed westward around the island and ended up in an interesting spot in Bay de Vaiehu. It is bowl shaped and the swell rumbles up the cliff edges and then back out. There was a catamaran there before us, so we anchored in about 60 feet of water in the center of the bowl. The sunset was fabulous, and we took our daily swim. After a day of cruising, there is nothing like jumping into the clear, relatively cold (85F) water of the South Pacific.



The next day we continued on around Ua Poa, bound for the island of Tahuata, which was an uphill run, into wind and wave, of about 65 miles. Our arrival in the northern part of the Marquesas at Nuku Hiva meant we had to beat our way south, against the prevailing trade winds, to the other islands. The plus was, once we got there, coming back would be easy. In the meantime, Nancy slept a good part of the trip, head seas not being her favorite. Sean took most of the watch, with Ron resting in the salon in case he needed backup. Head seas aren’t Ron’s favorite either. Sean had a great time, as he had not piloted Duet in head seas before, and even made some video.


Sean is shown below with Sky Diamond, who belongs to his daughter Elizabeth.  He took pictures of Sky Diamond in all sorts of unlikely places to show Elizabeth when he returned home. 



Tahuata had gotten rave reviews in the Marquesas Cruising Compendium. There are few cruising “guides” to French Polynesia, especially the more remote islands of the Marquesas and the Tuamotus. The Compendiums are prepared by the sailing vessel Soggy Paws and are a compilation of guidebook references and cruising reports from those who have gone before us. They are available free from the Soggy Paws website. We relied on these extensively. We also had Charlie’s Charts for French Polynesia, which, while out of date, did give us some additional information.


Anyway, the word on Hanamoenoa Bay on Tahuata was that it was the most perfect beach in the Marquesas. That alone recommended it to us. We wanted somewhere we could hang out, sleep late, swim, snorkel, and generally recover from the long journey, before Sean flew home. Hanamoenoa fit the bill perfectly. We were the only boat there for several nights. We could walk on the beach, but not go inland, as the natives who lived there forbade it. That didn’t matter, it was a beautiful beach and the snorkeling was great. Nancy even managed to teach Ron and Sean a cannonball dive, which she learned as a child. They couldn’t make as big a splash as she could, which everyone was sure was due to her better dive technique, rather than a difference in body mass, but they had a great time trying.



We even did some boat projects.  First, though, Ron and Sean discussed which projects to do, from seems to be an endless list


Nancy worked on the blog

Ron and Sean fixed the ice maker,  a project which was well received by all.


To celebrate the now working ice maker, Ron taught Sean to make a Manhattan, which, while it doesn’t really count as a boat project, was fun.


Sean cooked breakfast several mornings

Ron inventoried all the belts on the boat


Nancy and Sean did some cleaning


Nancy cleaning the boot stripe along the hull.  The warm water allows some amazing things to grow, amazingly fast. 

Ron revised the flopper stopper system, again




Sean fixed more canvas snaps and cleaned up the fishing gear, again


Sean resting after too many projects


After three days of lazing around at Hanamoenoa, celebrating our successful voyage, we decided we should get off our collective sterns and visit what is considered one of the most beautiful anchorages in all of the South Pacific, Hanavave Bay on Fatu-Hiva. Reaching this bay was an uphill slog of about 40 miles but it was definitely worth it. Nancy even managed not to sleep the entire way.


Hanavave Bay definitely lived up to it’s billing. It is one of the most beautiful bays we’ve ever seen. It’s narrow, and the anchorage is in a rolly bowl in front of a beautiful green valley, surrounded by tall cliffs. The cliffs are made up of large spires of rock, and the bay used to be known, before the arrival of the missionaries, as the “bay of the penises”. This appellation didn’t sit well with the conservative newcomers, so it is now known as the “bay of the virgins”. It’s not clear how that transition was achieved, nor why the new name was considered appropriate. Whatever it’s name is, it’s gorgeous.



Duet was anchored in about 110 feet of water, at the outskirts of the anchorage, which was narrow and crowded. 




It rains a great deal in the Marquesas, so everything is incredibly green.

That afternoon we were visited by some local fisherman, who sold us 3 kilos of just caught tuna for $10. Sean filleted it, we froze some and ate the rest, grilled with salt, pepper and olive oil. It was some of the finest tuna any of us have had. The only downside was we didn’t catch it. Our fishing has, despite Sean’s talented presence, truly sucked. So far we have only hooked one very large grouper while playing with spinning rod in Hanamoenoa Bay. Even if we had managed to catch it, rather than have it break the line and run off with the lure, Ron wouldn’t have let us eat it. Reef fish here can carry cigeratoa, which is a nerve disease, so we make a point of not eating them unless we know other people who have safely done so.



The next day we launched the small dink, loaded up and headed ashore. As we got closer the valley revealed itself as being larger and more spectacular than we realized from the boat. The small harbor was, however, undergoing renovations, so it was dominated by a large crane busy setting huge concrete blocks in the water. We hope this isn’t to allow cruise ship tenders to access the island, as that will definitely spoil it. In the meantime, it is one of the few Marquesas where the cruise ships don’t stop, and it has no airport, so it is relatively untouched.


We walked through town, looking for a path to the local waterfall, which we had read about in the Compendium. We immediately got lost, and Nancy asked a local lady for directions. She didn’t speak English and we speak no French, so she took us to her house, as her husband spoke some English. They invited us in, he drew us a map and they tried to give us a large bag of pampelmousse, which is a giant tasty version of a grapefruit. It grows everywhere. We refused the gift as we didn’t want to carry it to the waterfall, but promised to stop by on our way back to collect it.


Heading into town


Tourist Sean

Coconut drying before being shipped to Tahiti to be turned into oil

The hike to the waterfall was relatively easy, although it is important to remember that the Marquesas are a jungle, complete with mud, bugs, dark dank areas, huge plants which represent an opportunity to get stung or acquire a rash, big eels (which may or may not bite depending on who you ask) in the rivers you cross, the odd horse or cow wandering around, lots of wild chickens and some incredible scenery. We did reach the waterfall and spent some time sitting in the natural air conditioning of it’s spray, while munching trail mix and taking pictures. We then hiked back down and visited our new friends. It turned out he was a woodcarver, so we bought some of his work, the carvings here are beautifully done. We all parted friends.


Into the jungle

 Up the hill


More jungle


Rock cairn to mark the way


Sean channeling his inner flower child


Nancy wondering whose idea this was anyway


We found it – the waterfall!

After the falls we returned to Duet, ate some more tuna and got up early the next morning to head back to Hanamoenoa Bay. Yes we were rushing, but Sean had a plane to catch. Before that, however, he wanted to get a tattoo. The Marquesans are believed to have originated the art of tattooing, and their work is unique. We also wanted to rent a car and tour Nuku Hiva, an activity which had been highly recommend by Jerome from Daybreak.


It took two easy days to return to Taiohae Bay, where it was still rolling.  On arrival, we picked up the new Gates Predator Belt for the Naiads, which Sean and Ron promptly installed.  We shall see how it does on our next leg to the Tuamotus.


Below Ron is showing Sean the “Krikits” he uses to tension belts


We scheduled Sean’s tattoo for the next day. At the appointed hour we showed up at the artist’s house. Fortunately for Sean, as the artist spoke little English, there happened to be a nice Brazilian girl there who spoke good English and French. She was able to help translate Sean’s “story” for the artist. Marquesan tattoos are story based, in Sean’s case his incorporated his job as a firefighter, his family and the ocean crossing we had just completed. The tattoo was drawn in ink on Sean, and, once it was approved, the artist set to work.


In the meantime, Ron and I, who came along as moral support, chatted with the next customer, who turned out to be an English guy skippering a custom built ketch for a Dutch couple. They were on a 17 month voyage around the world, having left Holland the previous year. Much too fast for us, but driven by the owner’s work schedule. We also met a young Brazilian guy, who had arrived with the Brazilian girl, aboard his father’s 80 foot steel ketch. They had come from Chile, after cruising Antartica, and were bound for Alaska, via Hawaii. There are some very interesting cruisers in French Polynesia. It is hard to reach in a small boat, which tends to separate the women from the girls, so to speak, as far as cruising skills go.


Once Sean was inked, we headed back to the boat for the day, as he needed to get some rest and stay out of the sun. We fired up the generator and the A/C and settled in for an “industrial” day where we do laundry, make water, etc. We had an early night. Sean was feeling pretty good, but we wanted to make sure there were no issues with the tattoo.


Happily tattooed.  Note the two circles of tattooing are Marquesan, the inner symbol was there already. The artist did a great job of combing the two designs. 



The next day we refueled, again. We had traveled 250 miles in our Marquesan tour, but, more importantly, the generator was running a lot more than expected, to power the air conditioning. We wanted to be sure we had plenty of fuel aboard for the approximately 900 mile journey to Papeete, without stinting on the A/C.


Once Duet was full of fuel, we anchored in the bay again and went ashore to pick up our rental car. It turned out to be a 4 wheel drive truck, with a crew cab and a manual transmission. Ron drove, Sean navigated and Nancy helped. We set off, with detailed directions and a map from Kevin, to visit the far side of the island. The roads are good, concrete all the way, but it’s a big climb from one side to the other. It had been raining a lot, and we slid backward on one of the really steep bits. Once we got safely stopped, Sean taught Ron how to use a manual 4 wheel drive system. After we got that worked out, we proceeded. Marquesans drive slowly to avoid all the livestock in the road, which includes dogs, cats, chickens, horses, and cows, not to mention people.


We visited two places. First, a 500 year old Marquesan village with a temple for human sacrifices, which is now an archeological site. Cannibalism was also practiced there. It was in the deep dark jungle and was eerie. Nevertheless, Duet’s intrepid crew scrambled all over it, only regretting that we couldn’t read the French information posted at each area. We did find the pit where they kept the unfortunate victims before their turn on the alter and the dinner table, and we also found several fine petroglyphs.


The banyon tree where sacrifices waited 


Sean looking for cannibals

Sean surrendering to cannibals

Nancy taking a break from scrambling over rocks


Nancy and Ron, going for that honeymoon look at the site.

After that we went somewhere a little more cheerful, a nearby village on the beach. We parked near the Catholic church, which appeared to be the center of town. It was surrounded by a green, with several common buildings. It was late in the afternoon and children were at play while parents and teenagers were sitting on porches talking, playing music, etc. We walked around for a bit and then headed back to Taiohae Bay to have our last dinner with Sean, or at least our last one until we get to Portland to visit him and the family.


The next morning we awoke to the sound of a very big horn. A Holland America cruise ship had come to visit and was anchored right off Duet’s stern. Launches were shuttling passengers ashore. We decided to move up our schedule to make sure we got Sean to the airport in time, so we set off early to the dock, retrieved the truck and, following Kevin’s map, started off over the mountains once more.


This part of the island was quite different from the jungles we had visited the day before. It was dry and grassy, with many horses and cows, and no fences. Ron dodged livestock like a local and we arrived at the airport in good time. Sean checked in, we had lunch together and then, once it was apparent the airplane was actually going to arrive, we set off back to Duet, while Sean headed to Papeete for his flight home.


Nancy at the airport.


Once Sean left, the plan was to leave on the next weather window for the Tuamotus. Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas. We waited 8 days for a window, during which time it rained a great deal. When it rains in the Marquesas, muddy water runs down into the Bays, and floats on top of the seawater. This fresh water is very dirty, so running the water maker, or swimming, is out of the question. Not only that, but Taiohae Bay was even rollier than usual due to the fronts passing by, so we decamped for Daniel’s Bay, made famous by the first season of Survivor, which was filmed there.


Daniel’s Bay was actually named, by cruisers, after a Marquesan named Daniel, who lived there for 60 years and allowed folks to visit and share his fresh water source. He is no longer there, but the name remains. This bay proved to be far less rolly than Taiohae, and we remained there, absent a couple of trips outside to make water, until we got a window for the Tuamotus.


Weather rolling into Daniel’s Bay


Nancy on the beach one day it wasn’t raining

Wet weather visitor



3 thoughts on “Cruising the Marquesas”

  1. SUBJECT: Re: Cruising the Marquesas

    Wow. Love it! Bet you”re glad to be back in the cooler air in Tahoe. We are in NYC with Dennis. He has loads of family here. Condo tentatively sold!!! Responding to your trip “fixits”, Gale says learning your boat one breakdown at a time. Miss seeing you guys. If you want to fly over and join us we hope to get to Nova Scotia.

    Sent from my iPad

    > On Jul 3, 2017, at 1:34 PM, ( wrote:

  2. Hello,
    My name is Moehau HAMBLIN, I’m working with the crew placement agency Tahiti Crew, based in Tahiti (French Polynesia), as Marketing Consultant.
    We have created a Facebook page called « Cruising with Tahiti Crew » that aim to share to the world cruisers’ experiences in French Polynesia, like photos, videos and stories.
    We’ve seen your experience in French Polynesia on your blog, and we really think that a lot of cruisers would find it very interesting, as we do.
    Therefore, we wish to know if we could share some of your photos, videos to promote the destination for the cruisers.
    Thank you a lot, and feel free to share our Facebook Page as well.

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