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Marquesas in the Hurricane Season

By webmaster last modified Jan 10, 2003 10:34 AM

Published: 2003-01-10 10:34:36
Countries: French Polynesia

Having found out from different friends that it was a myth that you couldn't spend the hurricane season here, we decided to do just that! See later how much time you can stay (depending on your nationality) and how long your boat can stay!

La Baie des Vierges, FATU HIVA

It's no problem to stay here a few days before proceeding to Hiva Oa to clear in. That island became well known since Thor Heyerdahl spent a year on it trying (in the 30's) to live back with Nature because he understood already that Man's progress took him away from nature! We read again his great book: Fatu-Hiva - Back to Nature, enroute, which excited us to see the same sites despite the numerous critiques about his theory! Our landing could not have been better timed! We saw the island from the distance as the sun rose, and sailed along the East coast in the early afternoon, (great view of the uninhabited side!), turned the North point, and motored (light and unstable wind here in the lee) into the wonderful setting and panorama of Hanavave bay. The anchorage is set in a narrow valley, guarded by huge, natural rock formations on each side, which funnel down sudden gusts of strong offshore wind (up to 39kts). You can anchor in around 20-35 ft with the bottom dropping fast to 40 then 70 ft. Check your anchor visually as there are some patches of rocks closer to shore, good sand everywhere else.

The locals were welcoming to us off-season yachts, and many wanted to barter for items they want: like gun shells (22/12) to go hunting (the officials have a strict control over weapons and ammunition that forces some locals to go hunting wild pigs with their dogs to exhaust them -the pigs- and then kill them with knives at the end of long sticks! Does that technique remind us of ancient times?), rum and beer, spearguns, fishing hooks, thick rope to tie the horses and perfume for the ladies!

Dinghy landings here are quite adventurous - big swell, no dock, only a concrete ramp where you surf in and then you lift and pull your dinghy out of the water - our big 12 ft hard bottom dinghy is too heavy for this! ... We did go to Omoa with a local boat (3 miles by sea) to visit the bigger town. We met locals who showed us their arts and crafts for sale or trade. They make the famous tapas here, and wood and stone carvings. Tapa cloth is made from tree bark and then hand painted with black paint that used to be made from plants. Each artist makes her own designs and keep making tapas of different sizes and on 3 different tree barks: breadfruit (uru), some type of berry tree (murier) and banyan. Our friends had great success trading perfumes samples and clothing for them and we had a deal for cigarettes ($45-$50 a carton here!).

In Thor Heyerdal's book, he speaks of the secret lake of Vai-Po (Water of the night) where the legend speaks of an underwater tunnel to a secret chamber where the local medicine man went to die on a throne. We did find the place and explored it in free diving and scuba with a small tank! While we didn't find any tunnel (another legend!), we did find human bones that we left undisturbed!

No no-nos or mosquitoes during this dry season here, another advantage of staying this time of year! Once a week, the island catamaran makes a round trip to Hiva Oa, so you may try taking it to go clear in if you want to stay in Fatu Hiva before going NW! Call them before to be sure, and bring all necessary documents! At the end of our stay in the Marquesas, we came back to Omoa to teach some Padi scuba classes; see Roberto, the captain of the island ferry, for diving info. I am sure that he will gladly accompany you on a dive if you like!


Go see the gendarmes for all entry formalities: (can also be done in Ua Pou and Nuku-Hiva)

Atuona harbor Anchorage well protected behind the breakwater, but can get crowded; everybody uses a stern anchor to keep nose into the swell and to not drag because of the changing winds. Fishing dock here to tie your dinghy, fresh bread at the gas station and easy hitchhiking from here and back as this is the only gas station on the island! During the times of South swell, do not anchor closer to the beach than the end of the wall where they store the outriggers or you may end up in breaking waves.

We were lucky to meet Jean-Marie, the only taxi in town and his wife Simone who welcomed us in their family. J-M is quite a character! He described himself often as a sculptor (he is an excellent one, as you will see his wood carvings and other art pieces), taxi driver (the only one who obtained a license in South Marquesas!), fisherman (we saw the 25 lb. tunas that he brings back!) and a good singer and musician (they are a great duo). They can take you on tours in the different valleys to visit archeological sites and pick plenty of fruits on the way. The island is gorged with mangoes, lemons, coconuts, grapefruits, papayas, and much more. Jean-Marie and Simone are a new SSCA cruising station.

Prices of first necessity items are not too bad (controlled, red tags) but anything else can be expensive (2 to 4 times US prices!) so you won't regret having loaded your vessel in Panama, Galapagos, South America or California.

If you need any SS or aluminium welding or repairs, go see Lucien at the CJA, where they teach metallurgy, woodworking, and more, to adolescents. They did many good, inexpensive jobs for us!

Hanaiapa (north coast): good protected anchorage (even in NE winds), watch out for rocks amid good sandy bottom (better to anchor in at least 45 ft to avoid snagging your anchor), petroglyphs and warm welcome from William, who welcomes cruisers with fruits since 1975 (look at his livre d'or (GuestBook)) You can also visit Hanaiapa going by the road from Atuona.

Puamau (north coast): nice anchorage where we could not go during this time of year due to NE winds! We went in an all day tour with Jean-Marie from Atuona. Saw the biggest tikis in Polynesia and got great vistas along the road that follows the peaks on the island!


Few tourists here as no airport yet! Since we got NE winds, we only checked the 3 usual anchorages on the west coast:

Hana Moe Noa bay: nice sandy beach, good sandy bottom, and nice young people ashore taking care of the property. Can get swells.

Vaitahu: gusty valley (like Hanavave), some coral heads (deep), must search for good sandy bottom (a good place is just in front of beach ramp next to church, 50 yd. out, in line w/ pirogues moorings), nice hikes to the TV antenna and ruins of the fort. The main town of the island is in this bay and is scenic from the anchorage. Hapatoni, in fact it's better to anchor in the bay just North of it, good sandy bottom but winds and gusts coming from sea!, nice town to visit (clean, nice paepae, (ancient building site), ancient roadway).


Baie d'Hane: beach surf landing, sand and rock bottom, check anchor as gusty winds come from the sea (NE trades season), nice hiking to the nearby villages, nice people, nice hike to the tikis on the paepae in the valley, nice stone carvings (big tikis). The best wood sculptures of all the Marquesas as far as originality and choice.

Baie de Vaipaee: narrow anchorage between high cliffs (can be a death trap with SE winds!), dock (water), short walk into town for provisioning, visit of the oldest and most professional museum of the Marquesas. If the Aranui cargo ship is due, it will tie to both cliffs and block you in or out of the harbor for the day.

Baie de Haavei and nearby baie Hatuana: on the West coast would logically seem a protected place, but we found the wind turned around the island and followed the coast giving us a lee shore! But there's good sand among the corals and clear water, rolly if wind from SE, nice beaches, nice dinghy ride to Bird motu and along coast. Beautiful scenery.

Ua-Huka was fun exploring as people are really friendly and very generous with fruit! Ua Huka is much more arid than the other islands and has a very different look to it, as the brochure says, it's the wild West of the Marquesas with its dry grasslands and dozens of wild horses and goats dotting the sky line. For the least populated and the least visited island, we found it the most sophisticated as far as things to visit. We visited the local attractions: maritime and arts museums, hiked to more paepae to see tikis and had a guided visit of the unique arboretum. Locals experiment with trees to see which ones grow well here; they have found trees suitable for local wood carving (as the native trees take too many years to grow to a suitable size; and like everywhere else, locals used most of the trees without planting new ones as if nature could keep up with the heavy chopping going on!). Amazingly to us, we saw new fruit trees bearing fruits already when only 6 months old! Much experimentation with grafts to create new species.

One example of friendly people: We hitch-hiked a ride with a nice guy to mango trees on his family property where he graciously let us take as many mangoes as we liked and then leaves. A few minutes later, a lady from a nearby house (same family) comes, not to chase us but to invite us to her house and to let us know that her husband will be coming soon to help us collect mangoes! When in their house, they happily chatted with us, offering us coffee and more fruits from their garden! We were glad that we had with us some cake that Jackie made with local fruits to offer them. And natives, here, love sweets! They give the fruit to the pigs! After awhile, the husband excused himself to go get his car at the nearby property to drive us back to the anchorage later! We told them that we could easily walk or even catch a ride but they said that since we were loaded with fruits, it would be too hard! Could this story have happened to you recently??? If the wind goes into the NE, take advantage to visit Ua Huka!


Baie du Controleur: 3 different bays, 2 (Center and East) with plenty of room and good sand in 6 to 30 ft, river dinghy ride at high tide to the dock of Taipivai village (center bay). Taipivai is unimpressive as a village, but we visited it 3 times and each time we met someone new, all friendly, helpful, generous, and each time we discovered more. The trick everywhere is to look beyond the obvious. When fruits are in season, you can have all you want, just remember to ask. People do not like people to pick fruits w/o asking, as all fruits belong to someone, in the Marquesas, but if you ask, people will shower you with more than you can possibly use! From the village, you can walk along easy roads to 2 different beautiful waterfalls, each about 11/2-hr walk. One is on one side of the river that runs thru the village and the other is on the other. Ask villagers for directions. Another very nice little waterfall with a great pool for swimming is a 30 min relatively easy walk following the left side of river from the beach of the left bay (west) of the 3 bays of Baie du Controleur, this bay does not offer a good anchorage, so it's best to anchor in the Bay of Taipivai and take the dink over. The only drawback about the waterfalls is the no-nos. We walked to them and swam in long sleeves and long pants! The 3rd bay, Houmi, has a good anchorage if you don't go in too close. The little community also has a fertile valley and generous inhabitants. These bay make a great get-away from the hustle and bustle and crowds of Taiohae.

Baie de Taiohae: plenty of room, sandy bottom (15-30 ft), dock (dinghy, water, fuel), biggest town in Marquesas with big hospital, administrator's office, gendarmerie, grocery stores (altho better prices can be found in smaller towns sometimes), soon an internet-cafe, ... You won't get much luck hitch-hiking here as locals are less friendly than in all the other islands (is it the feeling of the big town?).

Art/Dance festival every 4th yr. in Dec. (went to one of the dance rehearsals on a paepae which just has been cleared up after 150 yr. when the French colonials made it illegal for the natives to go there, to stop cannibalism and inter-tribal wars. Now, like everywhere else, people here want to connect again with their cultural roots. The Festival for the New Years 2000 was a 4-day Spectacle at 3 different locations in Nuku Hiva and watching Marquesian and Polynesian dancing at restored ancient ceremonial sites was fabulous!

People think that since Nuku Hiva has the biggest town and is the administrative center, it should have the best airport and facilities...WRONG! To go from town to the airport 30 miles away, people go often by helicopter ($70 pp one way, limited baggage), or speedboat (11/2 hrs in rough seas), to avoid the long and bad road! (21/2 hr 4-wheeling IF the road is not washed out!) If you plan on guests visiting or crew changes, you will be MUCH better off to have them fly in/out of Hiva Oa, only a 30 minute drive albeit, still on dirt road.

Did 3 scuba dives but visibility is poor. We saw one nice group of caves. The only dive center of the Marquesas is here (not Padi, neither too friendly) and you may wait for the Tuamotu's clear waters!

Filled 2 American propane tanks with butane at magasin Bigot (abt 1$/lb.).

Baie Taio (Daniel's bay): good protection, one of the quietest anchorage of the Marquesas, infested with no-nos!, of course, the famous waterfall, lemons, caramboles, and naturally, hospitality from Daniel and his wife (do not forget to add your passage in his guest's log!) Also remember, during the yacht season, they see hundreds of yachts, all expecting to be greeted like Capt. Cook. Maybe turn the tables and greet them and see what you can do for them...they're getting along in years and have little. Maybe help them with copra!

Baie Marquisienne: good sand, rolly, good only as a jump off point for Eiao if you're hardy enough to go there!

Baie Anao: well protected from any swell, easy beach landing, do not anchor too close to shore as you will see the extended reefs at low tide, anchor in at least 40 ft and you'll have sand, nice 2 hours walk to baie Hatiheu.


We sailed to the uninhabited island of Eiao, the most NW island in the Marquesas. Except for the few French boats going there, we never heard any other boat making that trip. We had to leave at 3 in the morning to cover the 65 miles to make the anchorage by daylight (currents and winds are with you so you can even leave later! Only one deep bay affording an anchorage in good sandy mud (07°59'S-140°42'W) with access to the island but despite being on the leeward side, it was so rolly! Cross swells would have turned crazy any monohull sailor but it was tenable (if not fun) for us on multihulls (winds were from E-NE, some N swell)! We caught fish trolling both ways (tuna, mahi-mahi); we spearfished some (watch out for ciguatera) but the constant big surge made it difficult to find a place to snorkel without bad visibility and getting smashed on the shore! The second day, we made a wet landing (good luck timing the waves!!!) but we were prepared for it so no harm was done! We rinsed ourselves in the small waterfall (brown water pools!) and hiked for hours thru the scrubs, to the top of the plateau. How local hunters do the same, plus shooting wild goats and pigs is difficult to imagine! Back on the boat, it was hard to believe that we actually got above those steep cliffs to the top!

Our last day we scuba dived just outside of the bay and saw sharks, plenty of fish and best of all, we swam a long time with a dozen mantas rays that must be in mating season as they dive-bombed us and let us scratch their bellies! Memorable moments that made the whole trip worth it!

To sail back to Nuku-Hiva, we had to motorsail for 15 hours because we had to sail too close to the wind in big swells making us slide off course (E-NE winds, usual NW current)! Our recommendation: go with local hunters from Nuku-Hiva (you will have dozen of volunteers!) and camp on the island for a few days! Get the wild animal and dispatch them sur place! Some of our friends did it and had a great time!


Very scenic island offering good diving along its western coast.

Hakahau harbor: anchorage behind a breakwater in 20 feet of good sand for 5 or 6 boats with bow and stern anchors, dock with water faucets and dinghy landing, easy walk to village. Bank, post office, small hospital, bakery, gendarmerie, and good grocery stores (best price and selection: last store in town as you go towards Hoi Hoi... The baker also delivers goods to other valleys once or twice a week and gives rides if he has space.

Anse Hakaotu (in Baie de Vaiehu): rocky beach, calmest anchorage on the west coast, 30 ft, good sandy bottom, small road leads to main road around the island, good snorkeling and scuba all along the west coast (best visibility we saw in the Marquesas!) Contact us for exact dive sites.

Try hike + hitchhiking to Hohoi beach where you can find the famous rochers fleuris (flowered rocks). Go on the weekend for the best chance for a ride. The Baker also knows some interesting places not listed in guides. The hike to the next bay up the hill to the left of the harbor is also a good one.

If you have the chance to spend the cyclone season in the Marquesas, where the incidence of storms is almost nil, you will have a drier season, milder winds, many more fruits, less insects, and most importantly, avoid the hordes of other boats rushing their way through the most popular anchorages.