The Marquesas Islands first showed up in version four of our planned
itinerary across the South Pacific. We weren’t even going there initially,
not because it wasn’t appealing, but because the islands were a long run
east from Hawaii. And we decided to make it even more challenging by going
to Palmyra Atoll and Fanning Island first. Running from Fanning Island
signed us up for strong counter currents and winds the whole way to the
Marquesas. But having done it, the rewards are substantial. The Marquesas
are impressive and we almost can’t believe they weren't on our itinerary
from the beginning.
We arrived at Nuku Hiva in the northern Marquesas the morning of April 15th and spent the next two weeks island-hopping to the southern extreme at Fatu Hiva. The scenery, impressive in Nuku Hiva, became even more dramatic as we worked south: sheer mountain cliffs with almost impossible formations, mountain ridges so narrow that holes have formed from one side to the other, and incredible views into the anchorages below for those willing to climb. Fatu Hiva,
pictured above, was our last stop in the islands and typifies Marquesan geology.
We particularly enjoyed the diving there as well. We love exploring, and usually move frequently, but ended up staying at Fatu Hiva for five nights. If the rest of the South Pacific weren’t waiting, we’d probably still be there.
Highlights from the trip follow, or click on the image at left for a live map-based version of the complete trip log. On the live-map page, clicking on a camera or text icon will display a picture and/or log entry for that location, and clicking on the smaller icons along the route will display latitude, longitude and other navigation data for that location. And a live map of our current route and most recent log entries always is available at
The steep slopes of Nuku Hiva.
4/15/2013: At anchor
At anchor in Baie de Taiohae with our quarantine flag flying as we head in to clear through.
View to our first French Polynesian anchorage. Dirona is just visible in the background directly to our right.
Local Tahitian beer Hinano on the veranda at Pension Moana Nui. We had a delicious pizza there the following night.
We took on 1,170 gallons of diesel at the fuel dock, but wanted 1,364. They were short on fuel, so we couldn't quite fill. The fuel dock has a cement wall and the surge was substantial, so a side-tie risks damaging the boat. Instead, boats needing small amounts of fuel often ferry them by dinghy in jerry cans. Those needing larger amounts typically med-moor to the wall, where the boat is anchored and backed into the dock and tied standing a few feet off the wall. We've got a 75-foot line from each stern corner to a bollard ashore, and a large Aere inflatable fender protecting the swim platform. The fuel hose runs from the dock, over the swim platform and into the cockpit on the far side of the fender.
4/18/2013: Anse Hakatea
At anchor in Anse Hakatea, Baie do Taioa. The bay also is known as Daniel's Bay after a longtime Marquesan resident. Three sailboats were at anchor there when we arrived, and two more came later. We anchored outside them all with plenty of swing room. Swell was a little higher were we were, but it was fine with the flopper-stopper.
4/19/2013: Along the path
The valley we're heading to is directly behind that tall palm. Once we'd left this tended path, the trail through the forest was still quite easy to follow.
4/19/2013: At the falls
Rain hadn't fallen for a while, so the falls weren't flowing much, but the valley was spectacular with steep shores enclosing a tranquil pool. James is standing just to the left of the pool.
4/19/2013: Baie Hooumi
We left Anse Hakatea after returning back from our hike and anchored all alone at Baie Hooumi in the late afternoon. We anchorage felt secure and snug, with steep shores on either side. Some swell did reach us, but we were fine with the flopper-stopper out. We're able to deploy and retract it within ten minutes, so it's not a bother.
4/20/2013: Baie D'Anaho
Serrated cliffs along the south shore of Baie D'Anaho, on the north shore of Nuku Hiva. We also has this beautiful and tranquil anchorage all too ourselves. The waters were calm too--the first at Nuku Hiva where we've not even considered the flopper-stopper. A few houses ringed the shore and it night local music drifted across the water.
4/21/2013: Ua Pou
A view to the distinctive spires on Ua Pou. The scenery in the Marquesas is spectacular, and keeps getting better at each island. We were lucky to see the spire tops so clearly--apparently clouds often hide them.
4/21/2013: Baie d'Hakahau
We were able to find a space with just enough swing room between the three transient boats anchored behind the breakwater. Then we followed the road up to a cross on a hilltop east of the harbor.
4/22/2013: Gray Matter
Approaching Baie Hanamoenoa, where our good friends Christine Guo and Mark Mohler are anchored aboard Nordhavn 62 Gray Matter. We last saw them in San Francisco, where they'd arranged a slip for us at their marina in Redwood City. And now, both boats having travelled over 5,000 miles since then, we're finally back together again.
4/23/2013: Baie Hanatefau
Both boats made the "big" run to Baie Hanatefau the next morning. The anchorage was beautiful, with torquoise waters and steep slopes. We initially had the basin all to ourselves, but half a dozen other boats eventually stopped there too. The small village of Hapatoni is in the background at the south end of the bay.
Enjoying the sunset from the bow.
Sunrise through a hole in the cliffs, en route to Fatu Hiva.
4/27/2013: Tahuata cliffs
Dramatic cliffs at the south end of Tahuata
4/27/2013: Baie Hanavave
Soaring cliffs and dramatic formations flank the valley that heads Baie Hanavave at Fatu Hiva. We've been in some pretty beautiful anchorages on this trip, but this one without question is the most impressive.
A road connects Hanavave and the larger village of Omoa to the south, climbing steeply to a 2,000-meter pass. We followed the road up to the pass for sweeping views into the anchorage, the village, and the valley beyond. Dirona is anchored at the far left of the picture.
Lunch in front of the pool at the base of the falls. Jennifer was going to have a swim, but got over it after we saw an 18-inch eel hunting there.
After the hike, we toured the shoreline around the anchorage. Steep, vegetation-covered hills soar above us around at every corner. This is easily the most beautiful place we've ever been.
Some of the caves were large enough to fit the dinghy well inside.
This arch Jennifer is sitting at runs about 40 feet clear through the cliff.
Welcome sign on the way into the village. Fatu Hiva is the only populated island in the Marquesas without an airport, so everything arrives by boat.
On the first dive, we saw many octopus tucked into the rocks, the first we've seen on this trip. The octopus appeared reasonably large, although not nearly as big as the ones we've seen in the Pacific Northwest. We believe this is a Day Octopus, which grows to about 2.5 feet. They changed colors patterns frequently as we watched, going from dark brown to almost white in some transitions.
4/30/2013: Moray eel
One of several Moray Eels, possibly a Stout Moray. We saw many eels on this dive, but none were bright yellow like this one.
One of two Spotfin Lionfish hiding under a rock overhang.
5/1/2013: Moorish Idols
Two Moorish Idols swimming above our dinghy anchor. We did two more wall dives today--and the underwater scenery and sealife was even better than yesterday. Massive schools of thousands of fish frequently surrounded us, and we saw all kinds of Triggerfish, Butterflyfish and Angelfish.
5/1/2013: A nudi!
This 1-inch creature likely is a Nippled Pleurobranch rather than a Nudibranch, but close enough. Both are of the subclass Opisthobranchia whose species often are so wildly colored they look fake. Over 3,000 Nudibranch
species live throughout the world's oceans--their fantastic forms and psychedelic colors
make them among our favorite sea creatures. Our boat name is derived from Dirona Albolineata
, or the Alabaster Nudibranch
, an invertebrate indigenous to the Puget Sound that we often saw when scuba diving there.
A small (left) and a large Moray eel peering out from the rocks.
Swimming through a school of thousands of Fusilier-like fish.
Click on the image at left for more photos and the complete map-based trip log.
We arrived in Baie de Taihoae on Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia, 31 days
and 2,550 nm after leaving Honolulu (trip
log map). We had stopped at Palmyra Atoll and Fanning Islands for 11 days, for a
total of 20 days at sea. We left Honolulu with
2,350 gallons of diesel and consumed 1,964 gallons en route, 1,864 to the
main engine and about 100 to the generator.
Conditions were mostly in our favor on the 950-mile run from Hawaii to Palmyra,
but were against us on the 1,394-mile run from Fanning Island to Nuku Hiva. On
that last leg, the wind blew steadily on the bow 15-25 knots, typically around 17
knots, with an opposing current of 1.0 to 2.3 knots, mostly in the 1.7-knot
our average speed for the entire run was 5.61 nm/hour with a fuel economy of
4.13 gph or 1.36 nm/gal.
To clear into the country, we had worked with an agent,
CMA CGM Papeete. This helped in several ways. First,
non-EU citizens must either post a bond equivalent to return airfare home, or
purchase a refundable ticket in order to enter the country by boat. CMA CGM
provided a bond exemption so long as we had proof of health insurance and that
the insurance would cover the costs of flying us back home in an emergency (our
Divers Alert Network travel insurance was sufficient). Second, diesel fuel can
be purchased duty free, but the exemption must be processed in Papeete.
CMA CGM's local agent got us cleared through the day we arrived and we
received our fuel exemption the day after. Third,
we needed to pre-order with the local fuel dock in
for large quantaties of diesel, as they only have a 13,200 gallon capacity
and we'd use 10% of their fuel. And
finally, while Jennifer can speak a bit of French, having someone to help with
translation was useful as well.
Coralie Mante of
CMA CGM Papeete was very responsive and helpful in preparing for entry,
and Kevin of Yacht Services Nuku Hiva was fast, efficient, and friendly in processing us
We took on 1,170 gallons of diesel at the fuel dock, but could have taken 1,364.
They were short on fuel, so we couldn't quite fill. Tying up to the fuel dock
was interesting. The fuel dock has a cement wall and the surge was substantial,
so a side-tie risks damaging the boat. Instead, boats needing small amounts of
fuel often ferry them by dinghy in jerry cans. Those needing larger amounts
typically med-moor to the wall, where the boat is anchored and backed into the
dock and tied standing a few feet off the wall. In the picture below, we've got a 75-foot line from
each stern corner to a bollard ashore, and a large Aere inflatable fender
protecting the swim platform. The fuel hose runs from the dock, over the swim
platform and into the cockpit.
From Palmyra Atoll, we travelled 200 miles southeast to Fanning Island, another
atoll in the Northern Line Group of the Line Islands. Fanning Island is part of the Republic of
Kiribati, so this would be our first exit from the U.S. into another country
since leaving Seattle last September, over 4,000 miles ago.
The entry channel has plenty of depth, but current there can run at 4-5 knots.
We'd arrived about an hour before low water slack on a 1.7-foot exchange and
conditions looked good to enter. The current still was ebbing a bit, but we had
no trouble passing through.
Most of the atoll is shallow with coral heads throughout. We anchored just
south of the channel off the main village, flying a yellow quarantine flag until
we'd cleared into the country. We'd attempted to make
radio contact several times before entering, as the Kiribati administration
requested, but it turns out the village radio
was not working. Shortly after we'd anchored, however, a skiff came out from the
village with officials representing customs and quarantine, and the police chief
reviewed our papers and requested a brief inspection of the vessel.
Generally the process went smoothly and efficiently. Spitfire wandered out on
deck during our meeting, and his paperwork was in order as well. Once we'd
cleared into the country, we swapped
the quarantine flag for the Kiribati courtesy flag.
The Fanning Island population is about 2,000, and fishing is a major activity.
No matter what time of day or night, someone always seemed to be out fishing, either from
shore or by boat.
A road reportedly rings much of
the island, so we brought the bikes ashore to
check it out. In the picture below left, we've landed at the pier you can see in
the background of the topmost picture of Dirona at anchor. The picture
below right is the road heading north towards the channel. The main settlement
and administrative buildings are to the left of that photo. Generally the
village was clean and tidy, and appeared well-run.
The road was wide enough for a truck until we got to the southeast end, then it
became more of a footpath, but still quite rideable, with stone bridges across
We'd apparently set off during rush hour: the road was quite busy--we passed several trucks and
many groups walking or bicicyling. Bicycles are a particularly common mode of
transportation here. We also saw the occasional motorcycle and moped. The people
were very friendly, pretty much everyone smiled widely and said hello as we passed.
Most of the buildings were built in a traditional style, with thatched roofs. In
front of those in the picture below left, a large pit has been dug with plants
growing inside. This was fairly common. We also saw at least a half-dozen larger
gathering places like the one below right.
Other sights along the way: bananas and a sleeping pig.
From 2000-2008, Fanning Island was a weekly stop for the Honolulu-based
Norwegian Cruise Lines ships to work around Jones Act restrictions that a
commercial ship built outside the US cannot travel directly between two US
ports. We saw several signs and other vestiges of their presence there. In
earlier history, Fanning Island also was the terminus of the British Pacific telephone cable
from Barkley Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, Canada. Now we've been
at both ends. From Fanning,
the cable system linked to Australia via the South Pacific.
We eventually reached a point near the southeast tip where the bridge across
a channel was gone, and turned back. We might have carried the bikes
across, but the day was becoming hot and we we felt we'd gone far enough
already. We stopped on the way back for lunch overlooking the lagoon.
We did a dive the next morning. We anchored the
dinghy in about 25 feet just south of the entrance channel outside the atoll and
dove south to 60-feet. The quantity and variety of sea life was
amazing: 3' Giant Trevally and Double Header Wrasses, the biggest we've seen;
schools of Barracuda that circled us completely; many varietes of Butterflyfish
and Angelfish, in particular the striking Flame and Golden-Spotted Angelfish;
and a sea turtle. Unfortunately the camera battery hadn't been charged properly,
so we didn't get pictures for this one.
We'd arrived on a Wednesday, and originally planned to stay until the following
Monday, but the weather was looking to deteriorate over the weekend, so we
decided to leave for Nuku Hiva after the dive instead.
The diving at Palmyra is incredible, with huge schools of colorful fish and
extensive stands of healthy, vibrant coral. We saw Parrotfish and Surgeonfish
over a foot long--much larger than we've seen in the past. Black-tip reef sharks
were exciting to see. Fortunately, as in the shallows, they avoided us
underwater and didn't approach too closely. Most impressive of all, however,
were the Mantas Rays. We never tired of watching their graceful passage.
Below is footage from three of our dives. The first is off the Western
Terrace (mid-left on the
map), and the second two were in the entrance channel, where Manta Rays
are often found.
We were given permission to tour Strawn Island, directly west of Cooper
the only island on the actual wildlife reserve portion of Palmyra Atoll where
unaccompanied public access is allowed.
Several idyllic coves are along the lagoon side en route. Slightly less idyllic is the cove below right, the site where the bone's identified as Muff Graham's, of the
Sea Wind murders, washed ashore and were found.
The sand flats here are a productive black-tipped reef
shark nursery. We saw many, ranging from less than a feet long to over four feet
long, cruising in water perhaps a foot deep. The sharks aren't interested in
humans and generally keep their distance, so
we weren't too concerned being in the water. But we did keep an eye on them.
A little farther along is the ruins of an old military powerhouse. We climbed a
ladder to the roof for a sweeping view north.
The Norwest Gun Battery was once on the extreme northwest tip of Strawn Island
and is slowly becoming part of the sea.
Walking back along the north shore, turtles were swimming just offshore with lots of boobies in the trees and the sky.
The tide was too high to continue alongshore, so we picked up the trail back in
the woods. A pair of White Terns, apparently curious, swooped and wheeled
only 3-4 feet above us for a good five minutes as we walked. They're beautiful,
We popped back out to the north shore to check out some offshore bunker ruins.
Near where Cooper and Strawn Island connect is a massive Sooty Tern
nesting area. They prefer flat wide-open spaces--this is one of several areas
the Palmyra Atoll staff have cleared to keep the terns off the runway. Thousands
upon thousands of birds are here, on the ground and filling the sky above. The
terns will often take off, fly around, then land as a group. We were out on the
Amanda one time and passed under a literal cloud of Sooty Terns.
"It's a Ternado!" she joked.
We cooled of after the walk on the rope swing at the
swimming hole (44, bottom right on