Nuku Hiva, Marquises, French Polynesia

It’s funny to think that only a few weeks ago we were making our way through the Panama Canal. Now we are sitting in French Polynesia some 4100nm west. Almost two weeks after our arrival, the 29 days offshore seem like a short and distant memory. That’s a good indicator that we had a successful passage. Along the way we saw whales, dolphins (plenty of), red-footed boobies, and all sorts of birdlife. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to haul a fish on board, but they were happy enough eating our lures!

Whales as we departed Panama

Red footed Boobies on passage

The first ten days were spent slowly sailing or barely motoring through the calms of the ITCZ – the Doldrums. That was fine as we have a small drifter spinnaker to keep us moving in the slightest breeze. As long as we were doing 3kn, we were happy enough to float along the current. Each day I’d update trip notes on our GPS Tracking link (see above right).

Crossing over the Equator (the fourth time for us ol’ shellbacks), we began our southerly pass of the Galapagos archipelago, then headed west before making our way to 4 degrees for a better angle and better current to sail direct to the Marquesas. By this time, we’d settled into our normal offshore routine – eating, sleeping, reading, sailing – and repeat each day until arrival. The days seemed to melt by.

The islands that make up the Marquesas archipelago lie in a SE-NW direction, with Nuku Hiva at the top of the chain. Pre-COVID, yachts could clear in at other islands, allowing sailors to sail the trade winds up the islands. Now, the only official place to clear in is at Nuku Hiva. This means that sailing south to the other islands will be a disappointing bash into SE winds, so many yachts are foregoing visiting islands south of Ua-Pou, which lies 26nm directly south of Nuku Hiva.

Arriving in the early morning at Nuku Hiva in the Marquises, the rugged high mountain tops over-looking the bay is a beautiful sight. Gybing in with reduced sails with 15kn on the beam, we furled the sails for the final time in over four weeks. The bay had at least fifty yachts anchored. During the week, this number changed daily as boats arrived and departed regularly. A fleet of Oyster boats kept our agent, Kevin at Nuku Hiva Yacht Services, busy. As their fleet dwindled, new arrivals of Outremer catamarans and the World Odyssey fleet filled up the anchorage, as well as individuals, solo sailors and a surprisingly large amount of family groups with kids. There’s always a rally of some sort passing through. We joined the South Pacific Posse at Panama – about 30 boats all leaving and arriving from different locations – and have since caught up with others on the same route as us. It’s a great way to meet people and even better when we have similar interests, such as hiking and diving.

Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva

Church, Nuku Hiva

We have a 90 day entry to French Polynesia, and anyone with a British passport can no longer stay for six months on European passports, and would need to obtain a long stay visa. BREXIT just keeps on giving…

As far as the boat, we had no dramas on this voyage, although we had an issue with our auto pilot. The Raymarine Type 1 has been unreliable on all our ocean voyages, so we are thankful our WindPilot has steered us over these passages. We carried spare drive gears and rotary ring which Wayne replaced on arrival and the autopilot was back to normal operation in a day. Wayne also spent some time re-programming and wiring to improve our Raymarine tiller pilot setup to work better with the WindPilot and added a remote control. This all seems to be working well too.

Fixing stuff in exotic places! Can you see Wayne?

The next thing to fail is our fridge. Of all the places for our fridge to die, the Pacific isn’t the best place. (Why didn’t it fail in the UK?). We thought it might be low on gas and fortunately Kevin could do a re-gas, although it didn’t really fix the problem. There’s something not right with it and it’s running too warm, but left alone it can keep things cool, but not icy cold. As long as it stays cool and we don’t fill it with meat, we’ll look at sorting this out once we get to a place with more convenient facilities.

Kevin from Nuku Hiva Yacht Services regassing our fridge

While Wayne busied himself with the electrical stuff around the auto-pilot, I busied myself washing the boat of thick salt that had accumulated from the voyage. Water is available from the fish dock, but it’s brackish and only suitable for rinsing the boat, or maybe some hand washing. As luck would have it, a huge downpour came that night and washed the places I couldn’t reach, rinsing the salt away from the teak deck. Once clean, I polished the stainless, removing rust stains where the salt had sat for days. Other typical jobs on arrival include laundry, organising a sim card for internet from Kevin and TopUp cards from the Post Office, then sitting at the local snack shop with free wifi to sift through loads of emails while we supped on a Hinano beer and downed a plate of hot fries.

You’d think that sailing offshore our hull would be nice and clean. For the most part it was, but on the starboard quarter, a thick band of Gooseneck barnacles had gathered, their sticky feet sticking to the gelcoat, but not the newly applied antifoul. These were scraped these off and the waterline tidied up.

Gooseneck barnacles only on the starboard quarter after 4000nm

Reading through our emails on arrival, there was one email from JRCC Tahiti (Joint Rescue Coordination Centre – responsible for coordinating aeronautical and maritime search and rescue operations in an area covering 12.5 million km2). Apparently about 24 hours out from arrival, a yacht was in distress and we were the closest boat. JRCC had only our regular email, not our offshore email or satphone number so couldn’t reach us offshore. Underway, we saw no vessel, and heard nothing on the radio so were unaware of the situation. Turns out, the septuagenarian captain had died from a heart attack, and his wife, in her 70s, in an obvious state of distress, was trying to sail under duress – a terribly sad and stressful situation for anyone. I guess the fact that she was so close to Nuku Hiva certainly helped with the rescue, and I doubt that we could have helped her much, except perhaps reassured her and maybe assisted with navigation – it’s hard to say, as conditions were 25kn with 2.5-3m seas. Very sad. We’ve since given the JRCC our correct offshore contact details.

Taiohae Bay can fit a hundred yachts, but unfortunately the fish dock can’t fit many dinghies. With a slight swell and a tide of around one metre, the concrete dock struggles to accommodate the many dinghies and yachties all vying for their chance to get ashore. One ladder is available so the best time is to arrive at high water, or early morning, making it easier to get on and off. Nuku Hiva Yacht Services, run by Kevin and his wife Annabella, is found under the yellow awning. He is run off his feet managing all the paperwork for arriving boats – his time is spread thin around the visiting yachts so patience is required. On VHF68 at 7.30am, there may be willing yachtie to run through some announcements.

With so many boats and so much rubbish, the local Municipal office requests that each boat pay a fee for access to water and garbage – FP1500 (around US$15) for one month. There are large rubbish bins a little way up from the dock, and turning left onto the road, and across into a carpark, there are large bins for plastics, cans and bottles (no paper). I think this fee is fair, after seeing so many garbage bags of rubbish being brought ashore by visiting yachts. It’s annoying to see boats arriving with plastic drink bottles in the garbage bags – you’d think that cruisers would be more considerate with keeping pollution down.

Near the fish dock is a Tourist Information office with a friendly lady; a hut presenting works and jewellery from local artists; and a fruit and veggie market. By mid morning most of the produce is limes, coconuts and bananas, but if you get there early you can pick up tomatoes, eggplant, bok choy, lettuce, cabbage, mangos, sweet potato. The supermarket up the road just beyond the bank also has regular supplies of freshly laid eggs and you can buy fresh baguettes. The supermarkets are well stocked with a good variety of products, and those marked with a red price label are subsidised so may be a little cheaper. The items are expensive, but considering where we are, that’s to be expected. The bank has an ATM so it’s easy to get some local Polynesian Francs.

As we motored conservatively since leaving Panama, we decided we had enough diesel to continue on to Tahiti but we did fill our unleaded jerries (sans plomb), as we need to run the Honda generator, our dive compressor and the outboard over the next couple of months. The cost was 134 Polynesian Francs per litre for unleaded.

Visitors can go on 4WD tours of the island, and the local guys were kept busy shuttling people around the island each day. Once we’d done our chores and had a look around, we decided to leave the bay and head west 5nm to Taioa Bay, known as Daniel’s Bay. This turned out to be a lovely spot, anchored in 9m with good holding on a mud bottom. Two other yachts were there, making it a peaceful change from the busy Taiohae Bay. The next morning we sailed to the small island of Ua Pou, 28nm directly south of Nuku Hiva. I think this is the first ‘day sail’ we’ve done in the last six months!

Taioa Bay aka Daniel’s Bay

From Ua Pou we are planning a 480nm sail to the atoll of Makemo.

Until then…

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Sailing the world aboard Blue Heeler
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