The island of Fatu Hiva is 40 miles upwind from Tahuata. We made the trip motor-sailing, using the power from the diesel engine to get upwind with the mainsail pulled in tight to give stability. Of course it’s possible to sail a boat upwind without the engine by tacking. The boat never goes directly upwind, but sails back and forth +/- 45° from dead upwind. This is slow and difficult for us, mostly because of the waves. When we hit a big wave, we lose momentum and can’t keep the boat pointed in the right direction until we regain some speed. With a big, heavy boat, it takes a while to recover. Max and I once motor-sailed Akela 800 miles from Cabo San Lucas to San Diego, so it’s a game that we know well.

Fatu Hiva is 33 square miles with rugged mountains and about 600 people. As the most remote of the Marquesas islands with no airstrip, Fatu Hiva doesn’t get many visitors. It’s a really special place. We anchored in Hanavave Bay, also known as the Bay de Vierges, the Bay of Virgins. Lore has it that the early explorers named it the Bay des Verges, the Bay of the Phalli because of the magnificent phallus shaped rock spires. More prudent followers have modified the name.

Hanavave is magnificently beautiful. The view from the sea past the spires into the green mountains is breathtaking. Ashore, it gets even better. Hiking in this rugged terrain rewards one with countless vistas that juxtapose mountains, lush tropical jungle, and ocean views. The land is rich with fruit bearing trees that seem burdened with an abundance of mangoes, pamplemousse, limes, oranges, coconuts, breadfruit, bananas, guavas, and flowers, flowers, flowers. With so much fruit and no mechanism to get it to market, much of the fruit rots on the ground. The people here genuinely want us to take as much as we can. While walking down the road, we heard a man call from his house, “Hey!” We couldn’t see him, so we stopped and looked. He called again then came out from behind a blind where he was showering. He was butt-naked, wrapping a towel around him as he came out. He insisted that we take a bunch of limes from his tree. The tree was filled with limes, and a number were rotting on the ground. We picked a few dozen and thanked him. He told us to come back and take more. I remember a similar situation at the farm in Ohio with zucchini, which is a kind of green squash. When the zucchini plants were ready, they would create an abundance of food that we couldn’t deal with. We were happy to give them away to anybody who would take them.

Hanavave has only ~200 people, so in less than a week, we have met many of them. These people are pleasant and open to visitors. Unfortunately, they speak Marquesan first, French second, and English last. For the most part, they have been patient with us, trying to communicate. I really wish that we had learned French before coming here. Better yet, that Laura was with us! We miss out on a lot.

We were lucky enough to be invited to attend an elementary school cultural event where 30 kids dressed in traditional costumes, had a story telling competition, and had great fun doing Marquesan dances. The kids wore grass skirts and were adorned with bright flowers. Five of the biggest kids (maybe 14 years old) each stood alone and told a traditional story. There were judges who made awards. The girl who won spoke forcefully, clearly, and passionately, and she combined this with a number of graceful gestures. I have some videos that I will try to post. I wish I could understand Marquesan, but I think that they told the story of their history on Fatu Hiva. She was awarded tickets to Tahiti for a bigger competition. The dancing was great. The girls danced a version of the hula, which has them on swiveling gracefully with one leg in front, and always on their toes. The accompanying arm motions give an easy fluid appearance. The boys seem to dance mostly by stomping. The little kids took this seriously with lots of jumping and laughing.

Near the anchorage is a full size football field that has bacci court on one side and a spring fed pool on the other. This seems to be the natural hangout for kids young and old. Max and I go there regularly and throw frisbee where some of the kids have joined us. They also pulled us into their game. There were 3 girls, about 10 years old climbing a tree and dropping into the pool. We asked them to join us and a boy, Emil, at frisbee. But, and they said no, they wanted us to play football. They were very insistent with us, and were laughing hysterically amongst themselves at our clumsy attempts at French. They were pretty good and had great fun beating us. Kids here seem to spend a lot of time laughing. We frequently see a group of kids from barely walking to teenagers playing together in the spring or at the beach. Also, the bacci games include everybody from young kids to old men. This is a special place, and I can think of no place better to be a kid.

We met another boater, Attila, who sailed a tiny 22’ boat here from Ireland. He had been sailing the Marquesas for 7 months and lived at Hanavave for 2 months. You can find his blog at One night, we invited Attila and his first mate Kate over aboard for dinner and drinks. We still had a big piece of beef from US that was too much for the two of us, so we grilled it up and shared it. It was the first red meat any of us had had for a long time. They brought a fresh salad of green papaya and peppers, picked earlier in the day. Attila had learned to live on locally foraged food, supplemented with the heavily subsidized staples. He said that he spent only 20 Euros in two months living here. Kate is from Montreal and arrived recently on another boat. She wanted to go to Tahiti, and I think Attila wanted the company, so now the tiny boat has 2 people on it. The two of them sailed off the next day for a trip through the Tuamotus before going to Tahiti. We had met them both separately in Hiva Oa, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we run into them again.

We came to Fatu Hiva, the southeastern most island, for a week before we needed to go to Nuku Hiva, ,the northwestern most island, to pick up my friend Tony on Tuesday April 2. Tony is my sailing buddy from Tucson. We had sailed and maintained the boat together for years while the boat was in Mexico, since the kids were young. He also spent a few weeks busting his ass with us in the San Diego boatyard just before we left. Tony is an artist, a musician, and a fun guy to be with. He’ll sail with us for two months.
Island time is funny. It’s hard to keep track of days and dates because they all look the same. But airplane flights are pretty specific about things like that. Max and I were ashore in Hanavave on Saturday, planning to meet a new friend David on Saturday afternoon. We needed to get back to Akela early so we could prepare to leave at dawn Sunday for the day-and-a-half sail to Nuku Hiva just in time to meet Tony. We saw a football schedule showing a game on Saturday, March 31. My stomach dropped out like it does when the car goes quickly over a ridge. This means that Sunday is April 1 and that Tony arrives MONDAY April 2 — the day after tomorrow!!!.We promptly blew off David and rowed back to Akela. After confirming our mistake, we readied Akela for the 140 mile sail to Nuku Hiva as quickly as we could. We got underway at 3:00. If conditions were good, we could easily make it by Sunday afternoon, giving us a few hours to figure out how to get to the airport to meet Tony. The airport is on the other side of the island and there is no airport shuttle. On Hiva Oa, it took us 3 hours by jeep to cross the island.

The sail was delightful. We had nice wind and pretty easy seas. We arrive Taiohoe Bay around noon Sunday feeling pretty smug. We had been advised on how to set up a ride to the airport at the information center. No rush, we have all afternoon to do this. Ashore, we find a new problem. It is Easter Sunday and everything is closed! We ask around a bit, but this doesn’t look good. We may have to find the airport ride on Monday, but Tony arrives Monday morning. We’ll get there, but we might be late. Finally, we find a man Coco, who doesn’t speak any English, but understands what we want and he has a truck. He’ll give us ride. We meet him at 8:30 Monday and we get there in plenty of time to see Tony off the plane. He was happy to see us at the airport, and Max and I are both glad to have a third crew for the next 2 months.

2 thoughts on “Fatu Hiva

  1. Thanks for sharing all this stuff! I love how you write and can really picture what is going on. Continue to be safe and enjoy! Nan


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