Day 725 - Ua Pou, Marquesas (S 9° 21 W 140° 02)
20:38hrs - May 25th 2009
Legend of the Marquesan Warriors

We arrived in Ua Pou (pronounced Wapoo) Friday morning at 8:30 after an uneventful night passage - motorsailing northwest from Tahuata for 65 nautical miles on a calm sea and under a moonless sky. You would think by now that after spending three weeks in the Marquesas we would be a little more accustomed to these remarkable landfalls, but as we motored around Ua Pou's eastern shore in the morning light, Catherine and I were struck with the same level of giddy excitement that we felt three weeks ago when we first raised Fatu Hiva after spending a month at sea.

Anchored in the middle of Hakahau Bay in a partially collapsed volcanic crater, the view from Dream TIme is so impressive it would inspire even the most unsentimental among us to pause and reflect on the overwhelming beauty of these islands. While Ua Pou, our fourth Marquesan island, has a population of only about 2,000, half of which live in Hakahau Bay, it is perhaps the most striking and recognizable within the group because of its dramatic basalt spires that tower high above the island. Located in the center of the island, which is about 10 miles long by 8 miles wide, the pinnacles dominate the skyline, piercing the fluffy clouds that drift past in the trades, demanding the attention of all who visit, which, according to Jerome, our tour guide today, isn't many - a mere 53 privileged cruising boats have anchored in Hakahau Bay so far this year.

Jerome moved to Ua Pou a few years ago and with his Marquesan wife runs the little hotel and restaurant, Pukuéé which overlooks the bay. We were introduced to Jerome by his wife's cousin, the local Gendarme (policewoman) and Marquesan dancer who we watched Saturday night along with a dozen other graceful, swaying Marquesan woman at a Polynesian festival. An ex-French Marine and tattoo artist - his left arm, shoulder and much of his right leg covered with detailed, symbolic designs administered by his own hand - Jerome is a wealth of knowledge about the islands and their unique culture. Wanting to learn more about the history of the Marquesas before we soon sail west towards new islands and cultures, we arranged for Jerome to take us on a hiking tour into the the heart of Ua Pou and to get an even closer look at the soaring spires.

During our 5-hour trek through the island, Jerome, marching at a pace that would make the French Marines proud, thankfully made regularly stops to show us fruits, special nuts and medicinal plants that grow in complete wild abundance in the valleys. We picked flowers whose deep red pollen is used to stem the flow of blood from minor cuts and abrasions. Small leaves gathered off shrubs on the jungle floor repel mosquitoes when rubbed over the skin. Bark pulled in long thin strips from trees is used for rope. A certain wood is ideal for making outrigger floats on canoes. Oily nuts laced together in a chain make lamp wicks, burning off a thick black smoke, its soot captured in coconut shells and mixed with water forming the ink used for traditional Marquesan tattoos. We trekked deeper into the jungle, climbing over windy ridges and down into humid valleys, feasting on ripe fruit and sucking sweet coffee beans we gathered along the way. For three hours we hiked into the middle of the island, along a narrow goat trail, clambering over giant volcanic boulders, repelling across a ravine using a knotted rope which replaces the wooden bridge that collapsed last month, swept away during a final downpour in the rainy season.

At the pinnacle of our climb we reached a remote rocky ledge, over a thousand feet above the ocean, and were rewarded with a uninterrupted cobalt sky - one that in all his years hiking Ua Pou's peaks, Jerome had never seen. For an hour we absorbed the magnificent views across Ua Pou, sitting amongst the shadows of the legendary Marquesan warriors - the towering rocky spires.

We listened as Jerome shared the ancient tale of how the mighty spires, the warriors, fought fierce battles for supremacy, and how Oave, Au Pou's strongest warrior, proved himself by battling Matafenua, a fierce adversary on Hiva Oa. Slaying his rival, Oave returned victoriously to Au Pou, his challengers head tied to his belt - proof of his 'mana' - his superior strength. Holding the head up into the sky for all to see, the mighty Oave tossed Matafeunua's head into the ocean, eternally settling the debate of who was the most powerful of all. Matafeunua's severed head still rests to this day just off the western shore of Ua Pou, awash at low tide, a warning to mariners, and to all who visit the island a reminder of who's boss.

Our climb down through the western valley's was rewarded with a refreshing dip in a crystal clear pool at the base of a 80 foot waterfall. Sheltered from the midday sun by sweeping palm trees that arched majestically over the water, we bathed, paddled around in slow circles and sat quietly on smooth warm boulders, pleasantly exhausted from our expedition, and feeling truly privileged to be among the few that are fortunate enough to experience the remarkable history and culture of these fascinating and remote islands.


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Day 719 - Tahuata, Marquesas (S 9° 54 W 139° 06)
19:03hrs - May 19th 2009
The Rhythm of the South Pacific

Well I have finally got into the rhythm of the South Pacific.  

We arrived at the Marquesas 2 weeks ago but it’s taken me this long to really get into it.  I am at last sleeping properly again, I have finally figured out how to sleep while rolling from side to side in our little bed (I guess exhaustion takes over eventually) but being in the middle of the pacific most bays are, not surprisingly, exposed to various ocean swells and its almost impossible to escape some level of movement. So it turns out the 28 rolling days at sea getting here, were actually just helpful preparation!.

We are anchored a little bay in Tahuata, our third island, and it’s deserted. No town or village so no people, and other than the odd boat going by, stopping for a day or two, we have the place to ourselves.  By day we watch fish and huge Manta rays glide by the boat and at night we sit on the deck in utter darkness and watch the stars and sparkly phosphorescence twinkle around the boat.  There is such a lovely peace when there is nowhere to go and nothing to do other than to ponder the blue of the sky.  I find when we are near a town there is always the temptation to find things to do like projects, laundry, shopping or expeditions, but in a deserted bay like this all that nonsense vanishes, and is replaced by warm swimming and vague notions of climbing a distant hill.  But I know eventually the call of a warm fresh baguette will lure me back to town, but for now as I watch the sun set into the sea I will let myself be absorbed by the rhythm of this South Pacific.


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Day 713 - Hiva Oa, Marquesas (S 9° 48 W 139° 01)
13:24hrs - May 13th 2009
Permanent Memories

We did it! I suspect that our families reading this blog will be rolling their eyes in bewilderment and perhaps even disapproval, but Catherine and I are now the proud owners of the ultimate Marquesan souvenir.

Like the sailors of old in the giant square riggers who braved and survived the treacherous waters around the Horn - mountainous seas, hurricane strength winds and colliding current - who wore rings in their left ear, their port side, the side that faced the Horn to signify their accomplishment, Catherine and I now sport Marquesan tattoos, a keepsake that marks our accomplishment of reaching the South Pacific in Dream Time.

Now, I'm not suggesting that our GPS-guided, autopilot steering, diesel engine supplemented, comfy cruising in gentle warm tradewinds is in any way comparable to their heroic passages, but in our own small way, after sailing over 8,000 nautical miles and reaching French Polynesia, every sailor's dream destination, or certainly mine, our accomplishment is just as noteworthy.

Santos, Hiva Oa's premier tattoo artist, sculpture and competitive outrigger canoe racer, has been covering the majority of the island's 2,000 or so population for over 17 years. While his tattoo 'studio' was a little rough around the edges - an open air garage with a corrugated iron roof shading his folding tattoo couch, equipment and his prize-winning fighting chicken, his work is spectacular.

It took us while to decide what to have, after-all, it's a decision we'll have to live with for the rest of our lives, but I had a general idea of what I wanted and found the design in Santos' original 'portfolio' - a sketch book of tattoos complete with fine illustrations of traditional Marquesan designs complete with descriptions and their recommended placement. The circular tattoo I selected, with a few minor design alterations (I couldn't help myself) covers much of my right shoulder. For over an hour and a half, stopping only to refill his ink and to wipe his brow, Santos delicately drew an intricate pattern of traditional Marquesan symbols and shapes, each spiraling around the other, flowing together to form a manta ray above a serene Polynesian Tiki.

I had absolutely no idea what it would feel like, but for those of you reading this and contemplating a tattoo, it's a feeling that I can best describe as a mild, and sometimes not so mild, electric shock. Catherine was next, opting for a smaller and ultimately less painful and more elegant Marquesan turtle, its head peering up around her left shoulder inquisitively.

We're both thrilled with the results and even though it's only the second day we've lived with our new tatts, we've yet to regret the decision. They represent so much more to us than just abstract body art, but rather they will be a permanent reminder of our current lifestyle, that won't last forever, but that we never want to forget.

Day 711 - Hiva Oa, Marquesas (S 9° 48 W 139° 01)
18:31hrs - May 11th 2009
Tiki Tour

Catherine and I have just returned to the boat after spending an adventurous weekend exploring the isolated archeological sites along the remote northern coastline of Hiva Oa.

Carving its way through the heavy blanket of rain forest that covers the island, the single road that connects the south coast to the north, at times, was little more than a rocky, narrow, dirt track. As the road wound its way over the craggy 3,000 foot crest that forms the spine of Hiva Oa, and dropped down into the lush valleys below, Catherine and I would burst into song, chanting the Indiana Jones sound track as our little Suzuki 4x4 trundled along, struggling to negotiate the particularly rough patches of road. A smiling local, concerned for our well being, asked if we knew where we were going, probably unaccustomed to seeing tourists off the "main road".

We meandered our way around the edge of cliffs, at times with only a few feet separating our tires from a vertical drop to the ocean below, winding up and down between the valleys and bays that dot the coastline. For two days we searched for Polynesian Tikis - stone statues, carved by Polynesians hundreds of years ago to honor gods, chiefs, warriors and priests. So remote are the Marquesas, many of the Tiki sites are unmarked and rarely visited by tourists. Vague maps show locations in tour books, but many are wrong, indicating roads that don't exist and not even attempting to describe the exact locations of the Tikis. With no paths, signs or maps to guide us to some of the more remote sites, we asked friendly locals for directions, who, sweeping their arms vaguely across hills blanketed in every shade of green imaginable, would explain that the Tikis were just, "over there."

For hours we wandered through valleys and over hills, sliding down embankments covered in marble-size volcanic stones, we waded through bushes and clambered over rock piles, we visited numerous Tiki sites and even found the elusive Tiki Moe One, buried deep in the hills within Hanapaaoa Bay.

We ate lunch on volcanic boulders lining the beach in the deserted Hanapaaoa Bay - dining on sweet bananas plucked from the bunch and stuffed inside crispy fresh French baguettes. We filled bottles with water pumped right from the stream that trickled down to the ocean through the valley, adding the juice of sour oranges we found on the drive down, making fresh lemonade. We met a colorful Polynesian local in Puamau who bought us ice cream, invited us to his house and gave me a special stone he had found in his village. Explaining his love for Hiva Oa and wanting me to take a little of his island with us on our travels, "we are brothers now" he said, "peace and love."

We stopped at a local farm at the bottom of a little valley just dripping with ripe fruit - bananas, mangoes, oranges, pamplemousse (giant, bowling ball size grapefruits). The owner, Mr. O' Conner, armed with a 15 foot pole with a net on the end, personally selected the largest, heaviest, sweetest pamplemousse from the tops of his trees. It was a weekend we will not soon forget.

Tomorrow will be another big day. At 9:00 AM we'll be meeting Hiva Oa's most prestigious tattoo artist, sculptor and competitive outrigger canoe racer. I'm not entirely certain what Marquesan tattoo design I'll have, but after spending a weekend with the Tikis...


Day 708 - Hiva Oa, Marquesas (S 9° 48 W 139° 01)
12:54hrs - May 8th 2009

I know that this may sound silly, but I didn’t know that the French Polynesian islands are in fact actually French? I think I thought the ‘French’ part was more of a descriptive flourish to make it sound more exotic but it turns out that everyone here speaks French, the French flag flies at the top of the flagpoles, and every morning there are heavenly fresh baguettes to munch on with your café au lait!  I’m not sure how France managed to get hold of these beautiful islands so very far away from France, and the rest of the world, but they did and they must be pleased because it’s truly a paradise here. 

The islands are physically stunning with their epic black volcanic peaks covered with lush green foliage surrounded by a dazzling sapphire ocean, and the people here are mesmerizingly beautiful.  We spent our first few days on Fatu Hiva a small craggy volcano of in island, and probably one of the most beautiful, replete with a Bay of Virgins, a 300 foot waterfall and a very competitive and successful football team.  When we went ashore we were pursued by curious giggling children who were thrilled when we returned the next day with photos we had taken of them the day before, along with the requisite candy and pens.  

At our next stop Hiva Oa, a larger island, and the final resting place of the French impressionist Paul Gaugain, we anchored in Traitors Bay along with 20 or so other boats.  Happily there are a few restaurants and hotels here so the ice cream predicament has been resolved for the time being and although it’s expensive, I don’t think you can put a price on ice cream after a 3,000 mile ocean crossing.  Last night we were lucky enough to be in town for a Polynesian dance festival held at the towns’ sports hall.  It was a spectacular exhibition of traditional and modern Polynesian dance and music, and everyone from the island, including all their many many children, had come to watch and eat scrumptious French pastries and it was just lovely being temporarily included in this huge happy family of people enjoying an island evening out. 

We are heading out tomorrow to do a mini road trip to explore some of the island visit the black volcanic sand beach and to find some of the mysterious stone Tiki’s hiding in the jungle, we’ll keep you posted…..


Day 702 - Fatu Hiva, Marquesas (S 10° 27 W 138° 40)
18:50hrs - May 2nd 2009
The Marquesas - Land, Sweet Land!!

A dark, featureless mass appeared off our port bow long before the morning sun had brightened the night sky. But as the warm glow of a new day spread from the east, chasing away the last of the stars, it revealed what our radar had known for over 2 hours - we had reached land!

After sailing for 28 days and 31 minutes, traveling 3,142 nautical miles, burning only 25 gallons of diesel, 1 propane tank, generating 5 small bags of garbage, catching 7 Mahi Mahi (spearing the last one, a 36" Mahi from the boat!) collecting a carpet of sea growth on the hull and growing an inch of facial hair (me not Catherine), we have finally arrived at Fatu Hiva, the Marquesas, French Polynesia!

Sitting defiantly in the middle of the ocean, Fatu Hiva reaches over 3,000 feet above sea level, its jagged peaks hidden behind a matching canopy of soft clouds - one island sitting atop another. Serrated crests and wrinkled valleys carve their way deep into the center of the lush island, stretching down, reaching for the sea like outstretched claws rooting themselves to the world. After living for a month in constant motion, where everything around us changed, moved and shifted, sailing along side such a vast, immovable mass was overwhelming, exhilarating and intimidating. We crept along its north east shore like we were sneaking up to a sleeping giant. Catherine and I sat on the coach roof in silence, mesmerized and in complete awe of what we were seeing, and in what we had accomplished.

We dropped anchor in Baie des Vierges at 10:31 to the sound of cheering from John and Andy aboard Happy Spirit, friends we first met in the San Blas islands that now seem like a world away and a lifetime ago. We spent our afternoon on board, we didn't need to go ashore, the breathtaking view from Dream Time was more than enough, at least for today. We sat on the foredeck and gazed in awe as the island before us changed in shape and color - the setting sun streamed into the valley, filling it with a warm, tropical glow, turning cliffs into towers of bronze, moving shadows across vertical rock spires, revealing faces that have gazed out across the ocean for centuries. Palm leaves softened and became a blanket of rich, green velvet draped over the island. And a soft breeze fluttered down through the valley, across the anchorage and out to sea, carrying with it the sweet, rich, poignant unmistakable scent of land.

With the sun now deep below the horizon, Dream Time rests in the comfort of Fatu Hiva's solid and reassuring embrace, providing us with relief from a world of constant motion. It's a strange feeling to think that we'll wake tomorrow and the island will still be there, it's not going anywhere, and, at least for while, neither will we.