[Editor’s note: this is the first part of a 2-part article. The second part will be available in the following month.]
Arrival in the Marquesas
We’ve enjoyed slowly cruising the Marquesas in our first two months since arriving. Having gotten the long-stay visa for French Polynesian (FP) means that we have the luxury of spending time in the different bays so we get to know the locals and take in some of the July holiday celebrations in the larger villages. (Jacaranda Journey has up-to-date information on the process for a long-stay visa application.) We used Tahiti Crew as an agent for clearing in as we were also using them for our temporary resident card (Carte de Séjour – CDS – good for one year ) application – a temporary resident card good for one year and renewable within FP for a second year. Some cruisers who were only on regular 90-day visas cleared in themselves following the well-documented steps in Jacaranda Journey and using an online website for booking a return flight ticket at the cost of $US 10-20 (onwardticket.com or onewayfly.com). With all the appropriate documents in hand, it is easy to get yourself to the Gendarmerie Office to clear into French Polynesia. Also, although we haven’t done it yet, we’re told that the clearing out process requires 3-4 days in advance of the end of one’s visa. We chose to arrive and clear-in on Hiva Oa, the largest south island, in order to take advantage of exploring the southern windward islands before heading downwind to the north islands.
Atuona on Hiva Oa, is the island capital and a good place to provision, top up with fuel, and get laundry done. Prices are higher than in Mexico, but for many items not unlike what we would pay in Canada. There is some relief as some food items, usually marked with a red label, are subsidized. Availability of fresh food items (eggs, tomatoes, lettuce, etc.) can be sporadic. A seasoned FP cruiser counselled that it’s good to purchase items when you see them, as they may not be available again for a while. Access to delicacies from France is a definite plus. Baguette, croissants and éclairs from the bakery, delicious cheeses and patés have been a highlight – available in larger villages (Atuona and Taiohae). Marquesans start their day at sunrise and the grocery stores sell out of baking by 9am. However, at most stores, you can order a baguette for the next day and they will put it aside for you.
The Marquesas Archipelago is serviced by supply ships, the main one being the Aranui, which travels every two weeks from Tahiti, stopping at many of the islands. The Taporo is another supply ship, which brings fuel and some agricultural products to the islands. Arriving shortly after the supply ship has been in port is one’s best chance to obtain goods and produce. Although supply chain problems (someone suggested bird flu impacted laying hens in Tahiti) did make for a shortage of eggs for several weeks on the islands, Tahuata does have a farm with laying hens, which meant it was possible to obtain eggs when we were there. Fruits are plentiful and include passion fruit, starfruit, mango, watermelon, the famous pamplemousse, and bananas. Fruits can often be purchased inexpensively from locals rather than the grocery store, and they are often available inexpensively in smaller villages. Availability of vegetables is more varied. One can usually find cabbage, carrots, potatoes and onions. Lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants are sometimes available. We’d been in the Marquesas a month before we saw our first avocados. They are about twice the size of Mexican ones and lighter in flavour. We were recently rewarded with fresh sweet tomatoes that now at the beginning of August, are plentiful here in Taiohae! We’ve stocked up before leaving for the Tuamotus.
Finding potable water can be a challenge in the large more populated bays. We were often told that locals drank the water, but given the silt in it, we figured that they must filter it. We took some 20L containers on our day-long guided tour of Hiva Oa and were able to get potable spring water in Puamau , where we stopped for lunch. That, and the spring water at the small remote island of Fatu Hiva, allowed us to top up our drinking water while we were waiting for parts to repair our watermaker during our first month.
Boat parts are available at the chandlery in the boatyard in Atuona on Hiva Oa and in Taiohae on Nuku Hiva. The chandleries are moderately stocked and can be useful if you’re missing some part for a boat job. Building and repair materials are limited to wood and steel. When we were re-configuring our solar panels, we were told that there was no aluminum extrusion available in the Marquesas or Tuamotus. If in a bind, other boats in the anchorage may be able to provide a spare part, like a replacement impeller or just the right fitting to repair the rigging. We have used Tahiti Crew as customs agents and freight forwarders to bring in boat parts from North America. They have arrangements with yacht service providers on the different islands and will ship items by air or sea to them. There’s a fee but we’ve been very happy with the seamless service. Our two main systems that needed replacement parts were our watermaker (motor and membranes) and upgrading our flexible solar panels, which had degraded to less than 30% of rated output, to rigid panels. We were able to find two 415 Watt rigid panels in Tahiti that were shipped on the Aranui to Nuku Hiva. The other factor at play with solar power is that it is winter now in the Marquesas and days are generally cloudier than in Mexico, so having more efficient solar panels allows one to make better use of the limited sunshine.
Cruising the South Islands – Hiva Oa, Tahuata, and Fatu Hiva
We spent a month in the south islands. Generally, the anchorages are more exposed than in the Sea of Cortez, or the islands of the Pacific Northwest. In some anchorages we stern anchored to limit rocking and greatly increase the comfort level. In the first half of the cruising season (March – August) when the winds are predominantly southeast to east, the most protected anchorages are on the west and northwest sides of the islands. Because we were delayed awaiting our long-stay visa in Mexico, we arrived in the Marquesas at the end of May, by which time many of the boats in the 2023 Pacific Puddle Jump fleet, especially those on a 90-day visa, were starting to move on to the Tuamotu Archipelago, a 3 to 4 day sail to the southwest. It meant that we got to experience anchorages that were less crowded than they had been a month earlier.
The Marquesan people are open, friendly, warm, and caring. Speaking French to communicate certainly helps in having more extensive interactions. But many locals speak some English and saying Kaoha, hello in Marquesan, goes a long way. You’ll occasionally get a Kaoha-nui back – many hellos, not unlike beaucoup added for emphasis to French expressions like merçi beaucoup.
Most of the larger villages have a Centre Artisanal where Marquesan crafts, art and carvings are displayed and available for purchase. The people are more than happy to speak about the process used for making the crafts. We’ve seen these centers in Hiva Oa, Ua Pou, and Nuku Hiva. All these towns also will have someone who can provide a guided tour of the island. We thoroughly enjoyed our day-long guided tour of Hiva Oa during the first week in French Polynesia. As well as giving us a sense of the history of the Island and seeing some of the archeological highlights, we learned about the Marquesan way of life over the last several generations, and some of the inter-island differences. The ocean views were awe-inspiring on the drive around the mountainous Island and sea-side rocky outcrops dropping down into the bays. Our day-long tour included a traditional lunch of poisson cru in a lime and coconut marinade, goat stewed in coconut milk, pork and vegetable stir fry in a soya sauce, breadfruit fries and manioc/cassava at Marie-Antoinette’s, the best eatery on Hiva Oa. The meal was served with a couple of condiments of banana and spices and a sweet, moist coconut cake to round off the meal.
In Atuona we took the opportunity to visit the Gauguin Museum and Jacques Brel memorabilia collection that described his music, art and life, from the last several years of which he lived in the Marquesas. It was interesting to reflect on both these artists and their appreciation of the Marquesan people, landscape and culture. We made the walk up to the cemetery at the top of the hill where each is buried.
With the steep volcanic spires in nearly every anchorage, there are wonderful walks and hikes and many include a waterfall. We used the Charlie’s Charts Polynesia Cruising Guide (8th Ed. 2020) and we were pleasantly surprised to find concrete docks for going ashore in many more bays than indicated in the guide. (We’ve provided feedback for their next edition.) Hapatoni on Tahuata and Hakahetau on Ua Pou were two anchorages where we spent 4 to 5 days because of the convenience of going ashore. Navionics charts have been accurate for navigating the Marquesas, and we’ve stayed outside their periphery of marked uncharted areas. We do have satellite charts, which we check coming into anchorages.
[Editor’s note: see part 2 to read about cruising in the north islands and other aspects of the Marquesas.]