Landfall: The Southern Marquesas

April 18th, 2018: The Islands of Hiva Oa, Fatu Hiva and Tahuata

Clif got the flower crown he wanted so badly on arrival to the Marquesas!

Clif got the flower crown he wanted so badly on arrival to the Marquesas!

When we arrived in the Atuona Harbor in Hiva Oa, is was mildly uneventful. There wasn’t any “Hooray! You did it!” Or “Welcome to the South Pacific!” Our first steps on land made us sweaty and sore. But the smell— the smell of tiare flowers on the side of the road, big lush banana leaves and rain clouds over the mountain— that was our welcome.

The harbor was full of about 20 boats, and most of those boats had just completed the passage that we had done, so everyone had the same agenda: sleep, shower, do laundry, use the internet and provision— and maybe have one meal that wasn’t made on the boat. We did all of those over the next several days. The Atuona Harbor had newly constructed dinghy dock, which we arrived just as they were completing. At the top of the dinghy dock was a concrete outdoor shower, with walls that wrapped around to create privacy, and a counter top with an extra water spigot for scrubbing laundry. All of our laundry I did by hand, in several loads, including our sheets and towels. The option to have laundry done was expensive— for wash and dry, almost 30$ USD for a large load— so hand washing it is! Sedna was draped in brightly colored clothes for two days, and most of the items dried rapidly, thanks to the tropical climate and no mid-day rain squalls.

New ink in Hiva Oa, comemorating out first ocean crossing into the South Pacific.

New ink in Hiva Oa, comemorating out first ocean crossing into the South Pacific.

In Atuona, we also hiked around the small town and found a local tattoo shop (Tattoo Make Make - pronounced mah-kee mah-kee), right behind the main market. Clif had three things he wanted to do when we got ashore: drink a cold local beer, get a flower crown (traditional of welcoming gifts in Polynesia) and get a manta ray tattoo from a traditional Marquesan tattoo artist to commemorate our ocean crossing. We completed all of the above! We found the most amazing tattoo artist, our age, who had studied under several artists in the Marquesas and Tahiti, and had just moved back home to open up a shop. He did beautiful free-handed drawings on both of us— with traditional Patu-tiki symbols that we chose (Marquesan Tattoo using the ancient symbols is called Patutiki: example- ocean, clear skies, love for ancestors, the Marquesas cross and guiding compass are all symbols in my ankle band). We were incredibly pleased with the results— even though it was a full day in the studio and a couple hours of pain!

Fatu Hiva

Hiking in the hills of Fatu Hiva.

Hiking in the hills of Fatu Hiva.

We left Hiva Oa among friends, and sailed the 50 miles south to the island of Fatu Hiva, with three other boats. The anchorage at Hanavavae (also known as the Bay of Virgins), was crowded and windy, but that didn’t ruin the incredible view you had from the boat looking into the valley. Hanavave is a tiny town, with a catholic church, school, small, one-room, dry-good store  and a street lined with pamplemousse trees, just dangling out of peoples’ yards. Here is where Clif and I really got our legs back into shape! There is one road out of town the leads to one other village on the island, and the road is steep with many switch-backs. We hoofed it up to the top one day, above the anchorage and found a large cross on a one of the hill tops— reminiscent of the cross above the Mt. Roberts tram in Juneau.

Hiking up to that cross above Hanavave held important significance to me, because it immediately reminded me of our late family friend and priest, Father Thomas, and the fact that my Mom and I blessed the boat, before leaving Mexico, in his name. I had to get up to that cross, to thank him for the safe passage! So I kicked in high gear, we made it up the hill, ate mangoes off a tree at the top and made our way back down… both with very sore knees and calves. I know how excited Father Thomas would have been for us— to hear all the details of the crossing, the sail changes, provisioning— even the tattoos. He will always be a part of Sedna now, which I appreciate. 

*Since this hike, we’ve seen large white crossing above many of the anchorages on the islands— which make for good hiking pilgrimages in every bay.

Another highlight of Fatu Hiva was a local dinner we had prepared for us by a family. I was chatting with a local woman, Iris, who knew a small amount of English, and she said for 17$USD per person, she would fix a big BBQ for any cruisers. We ended up having nine of us come to her home, and she made a tremendous amount of food: bbq chicken, bbq whole fish, poisson cru (the traditional dish of raw fish, lime juice and coconut milk), fresh squeezed juice, baguettes and some bananas soaked in water for dessert.

On our final day in Fatu Hiva, I attended mass at the small, open air, Catholic church. Everyone was dressed up very nice— lots of floral print and flowers in hair, and were very welcoming. The mass was all in Marquesan, not in French, and the music was beautiful! The voices of everyone in that church were so loud, and in so many different harmonies. There was one large drum and one guitar accompanying (although the drum is not audible in the recording), and several cantors— or a small group of men and women leading each song and mass part. The mass parts (the songs they sang every week) were the most developed as far as harmonies and men/female parts. I did bring my audio recorder, which I set down next to me in the pew, and got some decent recordings— enough to give a feel of the mass.


The next island on the Southern circuit it Tahuata. The west side of the Tahuata has three major bays, two with small villages and one uninhabited. All of the bays have beautiful clear water— the first we’ve seen so far. The middle town, Viatahu, was filled with warm and friendly people, all offering free fruit (We’re learning really quickly how to say, “Do you need fresh fruit?” In French, because we hear it so often.) We spent just a couple hours in the villages and rowed away with a bushel of green bananas, eight perfect mangos, limes and some more pamplenousse… we have to start giving this fruit away, or we won’t be able to eat all if it in time!!

Pamplemousse and Mangoes filling out cockpit!

Pamplemousse and Mangoes filling out cockpit!

Our buddy boat friends, Bravo and Tioga were one anchorage up at Hanamoenoa— a gorgeous bay with a beautiful beach, clear water and coral formations surrounding the bay. We headed up there bearing baguettes, croissants and fresh fruit to share. The anchorage was busy with boats that we recognized from Puerto Vallarta. More boats had been arriving in the 10 days we had been bouncing around from island to island— and this Bay was an easy bay to access from Atuona after check-in. The water was so clear, we couldn’t resist going to a quick swim, even though we are on the tail-end of our tattoo healing time. We wrapped our tattoos in Plastic-wrap and tape, and did a short snorkel. In that time we saw one smaller manta ray (5ft wide) that swam around the anchorage and right underneath Bravo’s boat! I popped my head out of the water to tell our friend Andy, who was just getting ready to swim, to hop in right away! It’s not often you have an aquarium with coral and sand AND a manta ray, underneath your boat… or maybe that will be the norm!

On our last day, all together in Hanamoenoa, our buddy-boat-posse put together a small floatilla. We tied up all of our paddle boards, dinghies and inflatable toys (yes, Bravo and Tioga have some excellent pool toys), and we all sat behind Bravo chatting and drinking beers. It was our last day as a unit before we all started cruising at different speeds— and it was a good one! 

Back to Hiva Oa...

Our last stop in the southern Marquesas was in the most north western anchorage of Hiva Oa, a tiny fish/hunting camp called Hanamenu. We were originally planning on making it further around the north side of Hiva Oa, but the wind and current thought otherwise. The second we rounded the corner on our transit from Tahuata, we hit a wall of wind and standing waves. Sedna was not making any ground, and although the Hanamenu anchorage was not very protected, it was better than beating into the snot that proceeded us. We went in and anchorage in a murky bay with no water visibility, and several small huts on the beach. Later that afternoon, we rowed ashore, having to time our landing with the wind waves rolling into the beach. A small family of four— two parents, one teenage son and an uncle were the only residents of the small camp, but they had an incredible secret— a gorgeous, clear, fresh water spring! This tiny oasis was behind the main home of the family, and even though we didn’t speak much French, the mother and son greeted us on the beach and brought us to the spring oasis, signing to us that we could bathe and do laundry in the crystal clear pool. They pulled all of their drinking and irrigation water off of a separate pool above. What a beautiful treat! And no one else there!

The next day, Clif and I rowed in with a big bag of dirty clothes and soap for bathing. We hand-washed most of our clothes and took bathes. Later that morning, back on the boat, the wind was blowing so strong into the bay that we couldn’t hang our clothes to dry outside— without the fear of loosing everything. We strung up several lines inside the boat and hung the clothes to dry inside, with all the windows open, and rotated the really wet items out into the sun of the cockpit. 

This was our jumping off point. Our next stop (and next blog), Ua Poa (pronounced wah-poo), our first of the northern Marquesas…

Here's Clif doing laundry in the crystal clear spring on the north side of Hiva Oa...

Giselle Miller