The World ARC 2014 Blog, Marquesa, Tuamotus, Society Islands

World ARC 2014 Blogs: Marquesa, Tuamotus, Society Islands | Society Islands, Suvarov, Tonga | Tonga to Fiji | Vanuata

The Marquesas Islands

We had 4 new people join us in Hiva Oa - Bill & Eian from Sydney, Australia, Holly from Oxford, UK, and Erico from Washington DC. The Marqueses are 4000nm from Australia and 3000nm from America -- certainly the middle of nowhere! The Marquesan landscape is very dramatic -- sheer rock cliffs rising out of the sea, with huge skyward rock spires which are old volcanic plugs. The highest peak on Hiva Oa is over 1200 meters high. The people are very friendly and live a very simple life -- but they all seem to drive late model 4WDs! The first thing that struck us were the prices in the super market -- $150 for a bottle of Jack Daniels, $5 for a can of beer, a pizza $30 -- ouch! But they were very good! From Hiva Oa we moved across to Fatu Hiva or Bay of Virgins.

Once again, truly breathtaking topography and a beautiful anchorage. We were told of a waterfall which was supposedly a short walk from the village -- it turned out to be a 45 minute walk that was mostly quite easy. We kept encouraging Holly to keep going, with Eian regularly reminding her it was only another 10 to 15 minutes! The waterfall was amazing -- it looked to be over 300 feet tall. At the bottom was a beautiful, deep swimming hole -- interestingly, the water runs down a vertical dark rock face so as this faces the sun for many hours, the water falling on your head was warm, quite a treat!

From here we sailed to Nuku Hiva which is the capital of the Marquesas. Thursday was an official rally meet up day so we had around 30 boats in the small harbour. We rented two cars and set out on an exploration of this large island. Boy, I am not going to complain about the state of our roads at home again -- there are some paved concrete sections, but mostly very rough unmade roads once you leave the villages. The scenery was stunning but it was sometimes hard to enjoy when you realised that there was nothing but a small amount of light tropical vegetation between you and the sea, generally many hundreds of feet below! We asked in a very small village that we passed through where we should eat lunch and were directed to Mama Yvonne's in the next bay. What a treat -- Mama Yvonne has had her restaurant for over 30 years, the food was GREAT, the selection was great and she had menus in both French and English. We had to be back to town by 5.30 for the official mayoral welcome of the fleet. The locals put on a feast for us and a dance -- a demonstration of traditional native dancing. There were both men and women dancers, the women sang like angels and the stamina of the men had to be seen to be believed! Snack Vaeki, a lovely little cafe at the dock front offered free wi-fi, so needless to say they ran a roaring trade with many of the ARC participants spending many hours catching up with the outside world. From there we motored the 4 nm around to Daniels bay which is apparently the location where the American "Survivor" was shot. We had been told not to swim in this bay as there was a resident tiger shark which we were wondering was a myth until he swam leisurely past us in the dinghy! We went for a walk -- yes Dan had heard of ANOTHER waterfall! Once we reached the very small village in the next bay it was like walking into the garden of Eden! There are probably only around a dozen houses, but the garden of each one was a picture. Here we met Haka Tiki, a very friendly local man fully tattooed- including his face (see a picture of Eian making friends with him!)

We then started our trek south and set sail for Ua Pou, from here we set sail for the Tuamotus some 500 nm to our south.

All the best from Skyelark - Eian

P.S. A poem from Sarah (to be sung to the tune of Waltzing Matilda):

There was a jolly Skyelark crew, anchored in the Marquesas,
under the shade of the boats canopy,
and they sang as they watched and they waited as the kettle boiled
I wonder what the Ozzys are making for Tea

Goodbye to Marquesas, hello Tuamotus

We left the dramatic towering peak of the Marquesas a few days ago. Our slick crew had the boat all prepped for sea in record time, and we set sail towards our first port of call in the Tuamotus, Ahe. For once Dan and I had to do rather more preparation in terms of navigation for this trip. The Tuamotus have tiny passes to enter and there is much discussion about getting the timing right for going through. Unfortunately no two books offer the same advice and we were relying more on information from past cruisers who had spent many months cruising these atolls. The general idea seems to be going through the passes at slack water to avoid big tide rips and standing waves. Trouble is no one quite agrees on when slack water is or whether there might be one or not! Anyway with all available resources we worked out that we needed to be coming in at 1330 on the 9th April, and so we would maybe need to adjust our speed enroute to try and time it right.

We had a lovely three day sail across, the first day was a successful fishing day, and Dan reeled in a fair sized tuna. This provided several lunches enroute including sushi, and the main event was saved for our arrival dinner. The next day we thought we might strike lucky again as we passed through a boiling sea of tuna, with millions of birds swarming overhead. It was quite a sight but unfortunately nothing jumped on the line.

Lovely moonlit and starry nights sailing, although there was some rain at times which was a bit of a surprise, not really seen much rain since leaving the Caribbean! Otherwise a fairly uneventful trip apart from the boom falling off at one point, which was a minor inconvenience. A spare bolt fixed the problem and the main was back up again in no time.

As we got nearer to Ahe we did have to do some slowing down to avoid being too early at the pass. We saw the first land from about 10 miles away -- just some trees sticking up seemingly out of nowhere. A fellow rally yacht was waiting outside the pass when we got there and there was another behind. We decided to be brave and go first (that and also wanting a better anchoring spot)! There were large breaking waves off to one side of the pass but other than that it was uneventful and we made it in no problem at all. Then the heavens opened as we motored the 4 miles south to the anchorage off the village. So much for using the high sun to see all the reefs, we just saw greyness and a lot of rain... The celebratory arrival drinks were hot chocolates and coffee instead of rum punches! Anyway we made it in and were happy to have the anchor well set before an evening of squalls and rain. We tried out our water catcher on our awning to make the most of the free fresh water. It became clear that it was going to be a film night, so Captain Ron was followed by the tasty tuna.

The next day the sun came out thankfully so we went for a stroll ashore after a fine breakfast of beignets (french doughnuts) that Sarah had arranged. We went to visit one of the pearl farms that the region is famous for. The guy that owned it showed us round the hut on stilts over the water and then showed us all the pearls -- there seem to be two types, the cheap ones that are slightly misshapen or are not perfect, then the perfectly formed ones which are much more expensive and get sent to Tahiti for sale. I think everyone bought some as a souvenir or because wives back home were demanding them! Photo is of my birthday selection, a souvenir from an amazing place, as far from a continent as you can get.

Some facts about the Tuamotus:

  • French Polynesia covers an area larger than Europe.
  • The whole of the land mass of French Polynesia can fit inside its largest atoll, Rangiroa (which is 40 miles long).
  • Ahe was where golden globe sailor Bernard Motissier spent 3 years after pulling out of the race, and today we sat in his house.
  • They used to look like the Marquesas -- a very long time ago!

Four days in Rangiroa
Rangiroa proved to be a water lovers dream, which is helpful when the actual atoll itself is little wider than a cricket pitch! First impressions were of a true island paradise -- thatched bungalow suites stretching out over the turquoise water and golden sand. A short walk found shops with low roofs and high prices, their small selections luckily including essential food groups of coke, baguette and ice cream. Some of the crew hired bicycles to cycle the road that runs the 10km length of the motu but like a siren the atoll reserves its treasures for those who venture beneath the water, a true snorkel and diver destination. A short dinghy ride brings you to the Aquarium with its abundance of riches - angel fish, spotted puffer fish, tiny lapis blue fish that dot in and out of the branch coral like miniature hummingbirds, purple coral and, for the unsuspecting, a giant moray eel.

A snorkel through the Taputa pass will bring sightings of black tipped reef sharks swimming peacefully below while the current pulls you effortlessly to the other side.

I went for two dives and will never forget the experience of feeling suspended at 90 feet below the surface inside what locals call 'the big blue', just watching fish and sharks swim above and below me. But a short swim away into the Pass and at 60 feet below you enter an undersea canyonland where the fast moving current will have you swooping and flying across the ocean floor, into ravines and out again -- a ride as thrilling as any rollercoaster.

The Blue Lagoon is famed for its beauty and we took a noisy powerboat tour there. An hour away from the main village of Rangiroa the lagoon is a stunning island in azure waters which deserves the superlatives in the guide books. Our guide cooked us a delicious lunch of chicken and fish with coconut bread followed by chocolate cake. Afterwards we swam with blacktipped sharks while a larger lemon shark circled disinterestedly below. Disappointingly the guide fed the sharks, contrary to all guidance I understand about caring for wildlife. Clearly the feeding took place after we exited the water because I'm still alive to write this.

Back on shore we visited the Gauguin pearl farm, enjoying their informative tour and description of the painstaking nurturing of the coloured pearls for which the islands around Tahiti are famous. We watched transfixed as a shell was gently opened and a perfect coloured pearl carefully extracted from the mussels sac within. In these islands black pearls, like functioning wireless internet, are a fable born of creative marketing writers and don't actually exist. 50 shades of gray yes, and pinks, greens and purples and, unlike those atrocious books, each pearl is unique. Those of you who have husbands and fathers on this trip will be happy to note that we had time to visit the shop!

We ended our final afternoon swimming and snorkeling again before returning to Skyelark for cocktails and carrot cake. Our four days in Rangiroa have passed quickly with an abundance of things to do, amidst perfect scenery, sparkling clear waters and sunsets which spread across the water like a distant fire...

- Sarah

World ARC 2014 Blogs: Marquesa, Tuamotus, Society Islands | Society Islands, Suvarov, Tonga | Tonga to Fiji | Vanuata