La Cigale: Blog en-us La Cigale (La Cigale) Fri, 10 Aug 2018 22:09:00 GMT Fri, 10 Aug 2018 22:09:00 GMT La Cigale: Blog 120 80 Arriving in Fakarava Fakarava video The morning after Isabelle and Xavier’s birthday, we weighed anchor at 5am and headed to Fakarava. It is the administrative capital of the Tuamotus, with the main village of Rotoava at the North pass. This is primarily, historically, because the atoll has two passes, giving it greater ease of access. Now, though, it is famed for the unique phenomena of “the wall of sharks”, more of a carpet lining the sea bed of hundreds of sharks that congregate to feed on the groupers that come to breed from June to September in the South Pass. The atoll is, like Kaeuhi, within the marine reserve, and still preserves that clarity of water about which Robert Louis Stevenson waxes lyrical in his memoirs. 

The wind had dropped away completely, so we had to motor the whole way over from Kauehi, so with the engine running and a calm passage it was a good opportunity to thoroughly clean out the boat and run a number of washes. We slipped through South Pass, and as we anchored, the place lived up to its reputation - we were immediately surrounded by seven sharks circling the boat, black and white tipped reef sharks, and at least one grey. Isabelle hopped on a paddle board to nip over to our friends on SHAWNIGAN, and a few of them diverted from their circle to follow her. Xav in turn nipped in the dinghy to follow them! 

When we got the paddle board back again, it was my turn. The water was as still as a millpond and snorkelling by the shore as the sun set was like dry snorkelling vertically. On the way back I stopped by a beautiful aquamarine trimaran called “Yana”, which means vehicle of enlightenment, owned by a lovely Dutch couple Henni and Trijne, who fed me popcorn while I stood on the paddle board chatting. I sang them the only Dutch song I know, the children’s song “Two Mice lived in a windmill in old Amsterdam…”, that a housemate taught me at university. I am sure my rendition was more pigeon German than pure Dutch, but they recognised the song and it made them laugh. On gondola mode all the way back to our boat I serenaded Xavier with the Neapolitan “Santa Lucia”, but he ignored me. He made me a gin and tonic though, as the sun set over the yardarm, and we drank it all in.

(La Cigale) atoll Bluewater sailing drone Fakarava footage sharks snorkelling Tuamotus wall of sharks Wed, 15 Aug 2018 23:45:00 GMT
Kauehi - Gemini Stars

Ua mamao ka lani, ua kahaea luna,

Ua pipi ka maka o ka hoku

The heavens were fair, they stretched above,

Many were the eyes of the stars.


Hawaiian poet as quoted by Robert Louis Stevenson, In the South Seas 


The best birthday present I ever gave him, Xavier often tells me, is Isabelle, and to be in Kauehi to celebrate was a real gift. Celebrations began the night before with an impromptu family movie night screening Stardust, a dazzling fantasy adventure, based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name, about a young man in search of his Heart’s desire, watched over by the stars above. It is funny, it is dark, and it is Xavier and my favourite romantic movie, even more so under the Polynesian sky at night. We were joined by the kids from SHAWNIGAN, and the aptly named COUNTING STARS, opinion divided among them as to whether the brief kissing scenes whether either cute or eugh, dependent on their age and sex. Actually, I think there was only one objection…

The following moring, Isabelle woke up to a birthday table set by Catherine, and 10 presents, one for each year, including a small set of panpipes she had her eye on in the Galapagos, and a picture of a waterfall. The picture reflects Isabelle’s Heart’s desire has been to swim in a waterfall one day. The trickle in Soufriere (see post xxx) over a couple of rocks had been a sheer disappointment, while swimming under the cascade at Fatu Hiva was a dream come true, and has been the biggest highlight for her of this whole adventure. Shortly after breakfast kids came over, ostensibly to help ice the birthday cake (or lick the bowls!), but ended up playing “plus plus”, imagination running wild in the constructions made with these pieces of flat lego. Nina, 15 years old from Shawnigan, is awesome at braiding hair and wove a plait into a crown around Isabelle’s head. She looked like a ballet dancer fresh off the stage at Covent Garden. 

Xavier didn’t have quite such a good start to the day. He awoke to find our kayak missing. The kids had all been playing a game called “Mission Under” the day before, between the hulls of the boat. The kayak had been unattached boat end, and reattached later with a simple knot (we assume) so while it was tied up to the cat with a secure bowline, the other end came undone in the night and the boat drifted off. Francis and Xavier zoomed off in the dinghy to search for it, but the kayak had floated away without a trace. Oh, and our watermaker has broken. We can still use water for washing, but we’ve discovered the saline content is too high to drink.

Thank goodness it was a joint birthday quite frankly, we needed something to lift the spirits after that. The kayak wasn’t just a toy, it gave independence to the kids to nip out to other boats without needing us to ferry them, and now we just had a paddle board to share and a dinghy. Still, on the bright side, maybe we can pick up another paddle board in Tahiti, and a mini kayak for Catherine, like her five year old friend Taj from SHAWNIGAN, who picks her up for lifts to the beach in his! 

We rigged up my aerial silks at the bow in the afternoon for the party, but the wind was so strong we had to tie them down at the bottom, limiting the fun. Still, we had a fun time getting stuck into the cakes… brownie cake for Xavier, lemon sponge for Isabelle, and banana loaf for the hell of it. Tea with SHAWNIGAN, their friends on SUMMER and COUNTING STARS, segued into sundowners, mojitos for the adults, and Josie’s special hibiscus brew for the kids. Homemade cards and decorated paper planes covered the cockpit, strung from our washing lines. Isabelle had a wonderful time with the boat kids, while the Dads brought over jerrycans of drinking water for the birthday boy, which made his day! We sat out later that night on the trampoline, eyes wandering over the night sky, picking out the Southern Cross and Maui’s hook. in the great scheme of things, we are so very small, life is so very simple when you have the basics covered. We look up at the stars, they look down on us… and I swear one of them winked! 



(La Cigale) birthday birthday stars family sailing gemini sailing sailinglacigale stardust Tuamotus Tue, 14 Aug 2018 06:30:00 GMT
Kauehi Kauehi video

“Conceive, on a vast scale, the submerged hoop of the duck-hunter, trimmed with green rushes to conceal his head - the water within, water without - you have the image of the perfect atoll. Conceived on that has been partly plucked of its rush fringe; you have the atoll of Kauehi."

- In the South Seas Robert Louis Stevenson

Our passage out of Makemo as very calm and easy, a different ball game to coming in, and then we had an even calmer 20 hour sail to Kauehi. Too calm in fact. The wind, that had been forecast to drop the following day, dropped away completely and we had to motor the entire day. The Skipper was frustrated, but the kids were delighted - finally, a chance to recharge all their electronic devices! 

The water was so smooth going into Kauehi, and we were so relaxed, that Xavier managed to get the drone out and record us sailing through the pass at the same time as navigating our passage through. Unlike the minefield of bommies (coral-heads) at Rairoa, the lagoon was straightforward to cross and we didn’t need to deviate once, because of a bommie, to get to the South East anchorage.

As mentioned in the previous post, Kauehi is a popular starting point in the Tuamotus, but even so, that meant half a dozen cruisers tops at anchorage, and we had fun meeting up on the beach in the evening for barbecues. Here there was evidence that we were a bit more on the beaten track again - there was a stone table for picnics, a treehouse for kids, and a hut that had featured, with Tom Cruise in it, apparently, in a film. My brother reckons it was Mission Impossible II. The beaches also had other visitors. We had to be careful where we tread so as not to step on a scuttling hermit crab, and there were a number of rats in the trees, which may account for the absence of fairy terns. 

The water was transcendentally blue and the snorkelling phenomenal. It was in Kauehi that we first started to really swim with sharks. There had been plenty in Rairoa seen from the paddle board and kayak, but we had never bumped into one snorkelling, mainly because we had been in the shallower hoa - a fun passage between motus we drifted along - rather than exploring clumps of coral heads further out. 

Here in Kauehi, it was an altogether different experience. I didn’t think it was possible for the water to get any clearer than Raroira, but here, part of a marine reserve, it was like swimming in a turquoise pool. No sooner had we anchored up than SHAWNIGAN took us over to visit “the best bommie in town” and within seconds we were all surrounded by every colour fish imaginable. Seeing our first shark circling the bommie was quite something. It was a black tipped reef shark, not past a metre long and quite harmless. The perfect introduction for the kids (and adults!)

On our own, it was a different experience. Xav jumped into the water from the boat with his go-pro, found himself circled immediately by three sharks, which was fine, but somewhat unnerving. I had a similar sensation swimming alone from the boat to the nearest bommie, only about 20 metres away. In a bid to step out of my comfort zone I would swim out to the coral, and, each time, as the first shark came towards me I would repeat the mantra “Sharks are friends, sharks are friends” (well, it works in Finding Nemo… kind of!), not knowing then that sharks are quite blind, as well as curious, so they will come right up to you before turning away. Steeling myself, I would still carry on, but when the second shark approached from the side, and then a third from a distance, I would begin to feel more like prey, and (quickly) crawl back to the boat. I have to say, they seemed quite relaxed, but I wasn’t! 

In a group it was different, and it was on a snorkel with other sailing Mums back to the main bommie that I had a wonderful encounter. Sharks are very territorial, and a reef shark came straight towards me to check me out, but, as I was holding a go pro and concentrating on the delight of capturing him on camera, this time I was utterly chilled and just enjoying watching the beautiful, graceful movement, quite mesmerising. It was like falling in love, as though the whole world had dropped away and there was just the two of us sharing the same space, in harmony. I had a deep sense, on this occasion, that the shark had given me its seal of approval to be there and after that I swam around at ease, in awe, and feeling supremely grateful for the encounter. Namaste! 

(La Cigale) Bluewater sailing board Kauehi paddle Robert Louis Stevenson sailing Tuamotus Sun, 12 Aug 2018 06:30:00 GMT


We arrived in Makemo early in the morning, and it was a very tricky pass. It was slack tide, there should have been zero knots of current and yet we had 4 knots against us, so we only just made it at 3 knots, engine on full throttle. Still, better to be against that force of current that swept along from behind, potentially into a reef.

We were met there by BAJKA ((, who had seen us come en route to the boulangerie and picked us up some baguettes for breakfast. While we all had coffee together, the younger kids then had a lovely play together on our trampoline at the bow before heading into town. After our experience in the village of Rairoa (see previous post), I was not uber-keen to go ashore. Still, we were only in Makemo for a few hours to wait for a propitious window to sail onto Kauehi, where we were joining our friends SHAWNIGAN (family aflota), and nothing ventured, nothing gained.

This village experience was poles apart. Gone was the “ghost town” vibe, here there were lots of people around, and friendly, or at least indifferent, dogs. Kids were in seventh heaven as we picked up some mini donut like baguettes, deep-fried, not super sweet, but very moreish. 

We visited the Mairie first to enquire about replenishing water (there is a reserve), old airline seats offering a comfortable seat in the waiting area outside. We visited a pretty, white-washed Church, with a lovely Lady Chapel outside that invited a moment of reflection on this, the last day of May (see Fatu Hiva month of May), while inside I liked the multi-coloured flags lining the walls, and hanging lamps made of mother of pearl.  Palms were woven into hearts and hung on the walls while the floral displays again bedecked the lectern and altar. The kids enjoyed going up to the minstrel’s gallery and peeking through the railings. 

On our way back to the boat, a local streetcleaner stopped us and presented to each adult a wreath woven with reeds. It was literally our crowning moment and a gentle welcome to the Tuamotus.


(La Cigale) family sailing French Polynesia Makemo sailing sailinglacigale Tuamotus Fri, 10 Aug 2018 06:00:00 GMT
Rairoa - The Village

Before joining us at Kon Tiki island, BAJKA ( had spent the day at the village. It was Saturday morning, the kids were running around, and, delighted to see a couple more, gave the family a tour of the island, chattering away. Ela & Lukas cleaned out the local shop of ice cream, handing them out to the children in return. Inspired. The children gave very good advice too, about sharks: “Sharks are pretty harmless, like big dogs. Show them no fear and you’ll be fine.” Given how nervous I get around large, barking dogs - particularly here in Polynesia - I didn’t find that remotely reassuring! 

We stopped at the village for an hour or so, and it was a weekday. The children must have been at school, adults at work, and so, despite a population of around 200, the place was pretty much deserted. We were met on the pier instead by a rather agitated dog, more scared than angry if I’m honest, but still, not the warmest of welcomes. Dogs barking all around as we walked round the village put me further on edge, and since learning that Rairoa is breeding ground for dog-fighting, I feel slightly vindicated. I did not appreciate the village walk under such circumstances, but back on the pier I did enjoy watching with the kids a couple of huge greys surface and lazily wend their way round the small harbour.

That said, every other boat we have met who has stayed at the village and got to know the locals has said how friendly and welcoming they are, more so than anywhere else in the Tuamotus even. Because of it’s remote location, tricky entrance pass and passage across the lagoon laden with bommies (coral heads), Raroia is often skipped by cruisers, many preferring to start first at the more navigator-friendly Kauehi. Like Fatu Hiva, in the Marquesas, the islanders here really do welcome cruisers with open arms.

That was our first lesson in the true peril, and wonder, of the Tuamotus. An atoll can change character in the blink of an eye, depending on the luck of weather, and timing.


(La Cigale) family sailing French Polynesia rairoa rairoa village sailing sailinglacigale Tuamotus Wed, 08 Aug 2018 06:00:00 GMT
Rairoa Raroia Video


“The first experience can never be repeated. The first love, the first sunrise, the first South Sea island, are memories apart and touched a virginity of sense”

Robert Louis Stevenson In the South Seas



Rairora, Kon Tiki island

Longtitude: 16’4 S

Latitude: 1422’2 W

Some things are worth repeating. Raroia was our coup de foudre in the Tuamotus, as Fatu Hiva had been in the Marquesas. The crew of La Cigale would be hard pressed to say which of them tops the list for Polynesia as we love the craggy, mountainous Marquesan giants as much as the the low-lying Tuamotus, a mere twinkle in the sea, blink and you miss them.

The memorial to Thor Heyerdahl has been erected at the centre of a small motu, barely an acre large where he ran aground on the reef exterior to the atoll. It is a small plaque with a couple of beams from the Kon Tiki raft propped up in front, and a few Norwegian flags in the trees around. As we approached two dozen fairy terns, like white dove with black beaks (where was the olive branch? wondered Isabelle), part hummingbird, part seagull, circled above our head. Island spirits flitting above, they conjured up an ethereal atmosphere, a regular fairy turn and midsummer (well, nearly!) day’s dream. As the sun set on the island, we built castles and flamingos in the rose-coloured coral sand. And the light. An artist would have a field day here. Constable springs to mind. As we passed over the transparent water, as still as a millpond, I spotted a splash of royal blue and called a halt. I thought, as did he, that we had somehow dropped our swim towel and manoeuvred round to pick it up. On closer inspection we realised it was coral, deep azure. In other parts, violet.

We had five days in Rairoa with our Norwegian friends on KEA, C'EST SI BON and JOVIAL, and it was so much fun. Each evening they would get a bonfire going on the beach, and, keen on spearfishing, barbecue the catch of the day. I imagined Thor Heyerdahl looking down on his fellow country-folk, there in his honour, and smiling. Meanwhile we brought the sausages. That in turn would bring the sharks - the first surprise for me in the Tuamotus was learning in what shallow water they could swim! We also toasted dough sticks, cracked open coconuts (just add rum!) and had a wonderful time. A couple of days later BAJKA ( arrived and the Norwegians downloaded for us the award-winning film  Kon Tiki. It was all in Norwegian, but we got the gist and had great fun doing our own interpretative voiceovers! The film begins with a flash back to ten years before when Thor and his wife live in Fatu Hiva - another link in our journey - and he has a revelation about the Tiki that prompts this whole endeavour. 

For the first few days the water was blissfully calm, great for snorkelling, especially in the hoa or channel between two motus. Catherine can swim perfectly well unaided but a life-jacket was the right call to allow her to bob along exploring the underwater garden there, the drift current was quite strong, while Isabelle was overjoyed to see a sea snake darting into a rock. She has always loved snakes! I loved the giant clams with the metallic blue or jade creatures in the lining. Meanwhile back on the boat Francis was especially enjoying the science element of his home education science lessons, examining the how of generating energy from our solar panels, and looking at the function of rope pulleys to explain the gearing principle.

Rairoa, then, was paradise for us. Eventually though, the wind picked up, the waves became choppier, and that restricted our movement out and about on the paddle boards and kayaks.  It was time to move on.

In a neat twist, our bridesmaid Heather and her husband Alex were holidaying in the Lake District, and while touring round Beatrix Potter’s house bumped into  Øystein Kock Johansen who was on the Kon Tiki expedition with Thor Heyerdahl, and his closest co-worker over the years. Xavier had just posted a drone photo of Rairoa on Facebook, which they were able to show Øystein in turn. “Very, very boring place” he observed drily, and walked off. I’m not sure how long he had to wait before being rescued from the island, but I think we lucked out with the company there and had lots more fun!

(La Cigale) atoll bluewater sailing drone footage Kon Tiki Norway Rairoa Thor Heyerdahl Tuamotus Sat, 04 Aug 2018 21:51:17 GMT
Sailing from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus

“In none is the navigation so beset with perils as in that archipelago that we were now to thread. The reputation of the place is consequently infamous; insurance offices exclude it from their field, and it was not without misgiving my captain risked the Casco in such waters. I believe, indeed, it is almost understood yachts are to avoid this baffling archipelago.”

- Robert Louis Stevenson, In the South Seas

Leaving the Marquesas was a wonderful feeling. We had thoroughly enjoyed our three weeks there, and while there is so much more to explore in terms of hikes, horse-rides and local cuisine (like the sticky poi poi made from breadfruit), we felt we had a pretty good innings, having visited four of the six inhabited islands and getting a real feel for each in turn. It was time to move on.

We set sail from Ua Pou at around 3pm. It was not the most auspicious of beginnings. We were due to leave Ua Pou at midnight, but suddenly at 3pm the Skipper observed a change in the weather forecast, signalling an imminent drop in wind, meaning we had to leave immediately. We set off and got nowhere quickly, soon realising the one thing holding us back was the anchor we had forgotten to raise in our haste!

We were heading for the Tuamotos Archipelago. In Robert Louis Stevenson’s day it was called the Paumotus  or the Dangerous (Pau) Islands (motus). The islanders, so it goes, objected to the negative connotations, and, petitioning Tahiti, the name was changed to the Tuamotus, or Distant Isles. The archipelago comprises 78 low-lying coral atolls, each being “rudely annular in shape; enclosing a lagoon, rarely extending beyond a quarter of a mile at its chief width, often rising at its highest point to less that the stature of a man (…) offering to the eye, even when perfect, only a ring of glittering beach and verdant foliage, enclosing and enclosed by the blue sea” (RLS). According to a modern guide the atolls “resemble pearl necklaces gracefully tossed upon the ocean”, and pearl farming is indeed the main industry there. 

The atolls are indeed perilous to navigate, they are low-lying, with treacherous coral reefs. There was a container vessel wrecked on Raroira and a family cruiser reefed in Fakarava during the time we were sailing there. Each atoll has one (sometimes two) passes, the crossing of which must be carefully timed. This is because the pass acts as a funnel, intensifying the current at ingoing and outgoing tide, and entrance therefore has to be timed with slack tide, to minimise the current,  therefore only possible twice a day in daylight hours. As these times change daily, it is important to have an accurate calculation guide. We downloaded one such excel spreadsheet in Nuku Hiva, thanks to the Norwegians KEA and C’EST SI BON, who are incredibly well prepared, having prepared for this trip for the past 7 years. If ever I were to write a book of our trip, it would be called “Winging It” and it would be dedicated to all such guardian angels we have met along the way. 

Our journey from the Marquesas took three days and the first night was marked by the being caught in the most enormous squall we had ever encountered. The Skipper was soaked to the skin by a rogue wave from his side, while I got the side awning down on mine in the nick of time. After that we had four more smaller squalls to contend with… never a dull minute on watch! 

The following morning however, and for the rest of the trip, the weather settled and we had dream conditions. We had wind on the beam which La Cigale loved and flew along, even without our gennaker, overtaking three Norwegian boats, our friends, in the process. We were all heading to the atoll of Rairoa, where their fellow countryman Thor Heyerdahl had (crash) landed the Kon Tiki in 1937. Given what a pilgrimage this was for them, and how long it had been in the planning, it therefore seemed in poor form to sail on ahead. I was further embarrassed, in fact I wanted the sea to swallow me up, quite frankly, when our Skipper announced publicly in a group email, to a dozen boats including them, that this was the revenge of my competitive British wife for the South Pole! Luckily everyone knew that was Xavier joking.. right?!

(La Cigale) Bluewater sailing In the South Seas Marquesas to Tuamotus Robert Louis Stevenson sailing sailing passage squall Fri, 03 Aug 2018 06:44:15 GMT
Ua Pou - The Fare Agricole (Farmer's Market)

Ua Pou is reputedly one of the best places in the Marquesas to provision. There is certainly a more affluent air to the village of Hakahau than anywhere else we had come across in the Marquesas, and the people noticeably warmer and friendlier in general than in Hiva Oa or Nuku Hiva, maybe as a result. The first surprise was the availability of eggs. Yes, eggs! That invaluable source of protein and pancakes! Despite the fact that there are wild poules running all over the islands in general, domestic hens laying eggs are much scarcer. We couldn’t find any in Fatu Hiva or Tahuata, and only just in Nuku Hiva. However, there is an enterprising guy on Ua Pou who has a farm of about 1,000, supplying the rest of the islands too. No shortage here! 

The supermarket, when I arrived, was very well-stocked. Mouth-watering cans of Hinano beer, with the iconic Tahitian maiden on the front, gazed alluringly at me from the fridge, but this being Sunday, alcohol, we were informed in large letters, was not for sale. Still, I struck gold with a tube of kids toothpaste that Catherine had grown very fond of in the Caribbean. We had run out a couple of months ago, and since then she had been reluctantly been making do with our adult bicarb of soda toothpaste. When I presented the strawberry flavoured one to her back on the boat, she was so delighted she burst into tears of joy! Isabelle was excited that they stocked Nutella, while Francis couldn’t believe his luck that we would have pesto again. Result!

The pièce de resistance though, was the fare agricole, or farmer’s market, a five day event that only happens once a year. Given the drought the Marquesas has suffered this season as well, the market was a veritable oasis. A series of temporary shelters were being erected when we arrived, red and yellow awning, reminiscent of a circus tent canopy, lined inside with palm fronds. The market opened on our last day in Ua Pou, how’s that for timing?! We went with our friends Marine and Adrien, and their toddler Lazlo, from French boat GAIA. Marine is a great cook. We had been savouring Marine’s marmalade, made with Polynesian citrus fruits, that she gave us in Tahuata, over many a sourdough loaf at breakfast. She explained how to make it without gelatin, by using the natural pectin in the pips to thicken the jam, which was interesting. Adrien, as well, is a dab hand in the kitchen. Walking along, Marine remarked how much walking to a market reminded her of the way she does all her shopping back in France, as for me back when I lived in Valencia, so for us both, there was a gentle, nostalgic familiarity to the outing. 

At the market, all the older ladies were wearing the wreaths of flowers, many too draped in traditional prints. But this was not put on for the tourists. This was a local community event, plenty of chatter and gossip, clearly on catch up, going on at the stalls. There weren’t many vegetables around but there were plenty of fruits and plants, both ornamental varieties and functional ones, like budding pineapple plants, coconut and plantain saplings. One stall holder gave us a tasting of the half dozen varieties of bananas for sale, from savoury to super sweet, while Marine introduced me to the red apples whose flesh is rose-scented, and Isabelle persuaded me to get a couple of bunches of “quenettes”. They are a gooseberry-looking fruit that have a thin strip of sweet pulp wrapped around a large stone. A stingy fruit, we sucked on them like bonbons. The following day we set sail from Ua Pou even more laden than when we had left Fatu Hiva...


(La Cigale) fare agricole farmers market liveaboard provisioning sailing Ua Po Thu, 02 Aug 2018 06:30:00 GMT
Ua Pou - Chuch of Epano Peato


We arrived in Ua Pou on Pentecost Sunday, celebrated as a very important day in the calendar of the Catholic Church. But we didn’t get there until the afternoon and so missed morning Mass. It was still May though, and as I walked past the church there was a Marian devotion going on in full song. Had it not been half way through I would have stopped and joined in, but did not want to intrude on such an intimate affair, or interrupt the harmony. In any case, I had been given a lift to shore by the Swiss German boat, for a quick stock up at the supermarket, and was reliant on them for a lift back to the boat. 

So the following morning, I returned to the church en famille. We admired the beautiful floral decorations, flames tongues of exotic blooms either side of the altar Crucifix, while on the statue itself a garland of flowers a gentle counterbalance to the crown of thorns. The wooden carvings, with their particular Marquesan stamp, as seen below in the detail at the foot of the lecturn, were as intricate as the floristry arrangements in front and either side of the lectern, and along the pews. We had time to sit down and have a quiet moment before being brusquely ushered out by a church-cleaning volunteer, one of the stalwart pillars of the church you would expect, though even younger than me. She softened when I chatted to her outside, and showed, being Catholic aside, that we were clearly interested. She introduced us to her children and explained that Epano Peato means Saint Etienne, coincidentally the name of Xavier’s father, which made us all smile. Very often there is an assumption, born of a bad experience no doubt, or simply prejudice, that cruisers are rude and disrespectful, and it is up to us to prove it otherwise.

(La Cigale) Tue, 31 Jul 2018 06:30:00 GMT
Sailing from Nuku Hiva to Ua Pou

“It was what was called a good passage… but among the most miserable 40 hours that any one of us had ever passed. We were swung around and tossed together all the time like shot in a stage thunder box (cue description of how poorly everyone was, captain throwing up on deck…!) It was in these circumstances that we skirted the windward shore of that indescribable island of Ua-Pu; viewing with dizzy eyes the coves, the capes, the breakers, the climbing forests, and the inaccessible stone needles that surmount the mountains.”

- Robert Louis Stevenson, In the South Seas

I had written in an email home from Hakatea that we were looking forward to travelling to Ua Pou “a leisurely 25 nautical miles away”… well, at least I got the distance right! 

The passage was a good five or six hours against headlong winds of 20-25 knots, and was the most rolly sail of our time, to date, on the Pacific. I took the helm at one point, while Xav put in a reef, and was bumped up and down on the seat, stomach turning somersaults as though on a rollercoaster. While I do enjoy a good funfair, poor Francis was suffering, to the point that he announced he was done with sailing and would be jumping ship at the first chance in Tahiti. Then our jib got into trouble - the D-shackle that attaches the sail to the mast through a hoop came flying apart with such force that it was bent beyond all recognition. After we were through the worst, Xavier and I then played tag team sleeping off the seasickness, while Catherine slept the entire passage.

Robert Louis Stevenson, in his memoirs 150 years earlier, had a similarly queasy experience, as described above, though he was passing Ua Pou en route to Hiva Oa, hence 40 hours as opposed to our 6. 

We were similarly impressed by the landscape. As we approached the harbour of Hakahau, we wondered at the needles RLS refers to, rising up like a dozen gigantic stalagmites in a crown of mist. Not surprisingly, a more recent guide describes these volcanic spires as “arguably the most striking geological formation on the planet”.

The harbour was tiny and very sheltered, great for winching Xav up the mast to fix the jib! There was enough room for maybe half a dozen boats, unless you are willing to risk the space reserved for the supply ship - and good luck finding out when that is due! It just so happened that it did indeed turn up that very night, so I’m glad we played it safe. We lucked out with the last spot next to Marine, Adrien and their toddler gorgeous toddler Lazlo, with his golden curls of hair, trop chou!,  on French boat GAIA, our neighbours back in Shelter Bay by the Panama Canal. Both the view and their company made the passage over from Nuku Hiva more than worth it.



(La Cigale) Sun, 29 Jul 2018 06:45:00 GMT
Nuku Hiva - Hakatea (aka Daniel's Bay)

“The mountains loomed up black; and I could have fancied I had slipped ten thousand miles away and was anchored in a Highland loch”

 - Robert Louis Stevenson, In the South Seas


Hakatea, also informally known as Daniel’s Bay, in honour of the friendly local who used to welcome cruisers there, is just round the corner from Taoihae, but another world. It is famous for access to the fabled Vaipo Waterfall in the Hakaui Valley, which, at 350m high, is the tallest in French Polynesia.

It is magnificent here. Breathtaking, and almost as impressive as arriving into Virgin’s Bay at Fatu Hiva. We were sheltered in calm waters surrounded by imposing mountains, on one side a mossy mass of green velvet and shadowy crags, the other covered in shrubs and trees growing from rocks, home to wild goats and cattle, while ahead lay the beach at the foot of a slope. Maybe it was all the Robert Louis Stevenson I was reading (even if he were writing about Anaho Bay, on the other side of Nuku Hiva, in the north, according to Paul Theroux "the loveliest spot in the Marquesas") but I was struck by how we too seemed to be anchored in the dark waters of a Scottish loch. Instead of Nessie concealed in obsidian waters though, according to local fishermen, there are a good dozen tiger sharks  lurking in the depths, each up to 5 metres long. I wasn’t tempted to to go for a dip and find out, but rowing Catherine in the kayak, I saw my first shark surface next to us, either a baby tiger or a small reef shark, I was too much of a novice then to distinguish. Either way, it was exciting to see so close up, not remotely threatening, and a gentle introduction to the sharks of Polynesia…

The following morning I awoke to find Francis, Isabelle and Xavier all struck down with a pretty virulent stomach bug, so I kayaked ashore with Catherine, the SHAWINGAN crew (, and Bajka (, armed with a ton of insect repellent. Ella from BAJKA had warned me that on an earlier trip ashore they had been devoured by the dreaded “no-nos” or “no-see-ems” - invisible insects whose nasty bites only show up a few hours after the damage is done. This was the first time I had heard about them, thanks to the joys of not having done too much research in advance. Forewarned is forearmed, but in retropsect, sailing round the Marquesas until then, oblivious to the existence of these critters was bliss!   

There was a couple whose house overlooks the beach and we introduced ourselves to Natasha and Michèle, who gave us the low-down on life here. There has been a drought this winter that has hit them hard. Natasha gave me a tour of her garden, pointing out the withered pineapples that should be blooming. The waterfall has completely dried out. The land leading to it belongs to their family and Michèle’s brother, living in the next door bay, charges $10 per person access (note: back in St Lucia it was $5 to see the “waterfalls” at Soufrière, a stream over a few rocks!) With the family poorly, a good two hour hike was not on our agenda anyway, but still we were interested in taking the hidden coastal path round to the other residences, and Natasha gave us directions. 

While BAJKA, with the couple’s permission, and delight, rigged a couple of sea swings in the trees for the boys to stay, attracting SHAWNGAN’s Ellamae, and Catherine as well, Josie, Nina and I went on a reccie, to see also if we could find the couple that apparently would cook lunch for cruisers on request. 

It was a fun walk to talk, wending our way through the trees. Before we got to the other habitations, there was a fresh water river to cross. Natasha had warned us of snail-like sea urchin creatures that lay in the fresh water river we would need to cross. Forewarned is forearmed, but in a gesture of sisterhood with Josie, who was barefoot, I slipped off my sandals. The path looked clear, but no sooner had I taken a couple of steps one embedded itself in my foot and, as predicted, was a bugger to remove. It took a good couple of hours, several times over the following week to remove it all. Josie, meanwhile, was absolutely fine! 

As we started to cross the river, dogs started up, barking, warning, Keep Out! Tapu! I imagined. Maybe it was dig of the urchin spike making for a thorny reception, but I was starting to get the hereby jeebies about the place.  The dogs appeared to be tethered, but in this remote location my experience in Fatu Hiva sprang to mind, time to gang warily. We called out to say hello to the owners, but no-one was around. A dozen habitations, eerily deserted. We walked further along. Being so acclimatised to the colours of bluewater sailing and verdant mountains, it was a novelty to see vibrant reds and roses, all in exotic bloom. A wild horse lazily chomped the grass by the river. There was a simple outdoor chapel, an alabaster Mary, belonging to the Southern Irish convent classrooms of my childhood, on the centre of the altar. She stood demurely on a piece of cloth, arms stretched out towards the pepples and shells in a rectangle pattern in front of her. 

We never found the couple we were looking for, and it was getting late, time to head back, and to be honest, we were all relieved. As we headed to the river, the face of a dog, rather belligerent, looked out at us from a car window. We called out to his owner that had slipped into his home. No answer, so we carried on. Just as we were half-way across the river again, the dog ran to the edge, and barked at us. Friendly, right?!

It was a case of bad timing and bad luck from what we heard from other cruisers, who’ve subsequently had an amazing experience, trekking to the fall (now the rain, and the waterfall, has come back) and feasting with the locals. On the radio later I heard some Italian cruisers joking about surviving the trek and not getting eaten by cannibals, which I thought was in very poor taste. It turns out later there was a story doing the rounds about a cruiser, *many* years ago, who went wild pig hunting with a local there. His guide returned later to the boat, telling the wife something dreadful had happened and she had to go with him immediately. He raped the wife, she escaped, the bones of the man, eaten, were later found, the culprit caught and imprisoned. I find that last titbit particularly hard to swallow, purely sensationalist. Anthropophagist customs died out long ago in the Marquesas. I wonder, though, if a temporal echo of that gruesome history in part accounts for the goosebumps we had on that walk. I can see why traditionally in Polynesia there is such a superstition and terror, even still apparently, about revenants and the walking dead. Still, it didn’t diminish my appreciation of the beauty here. I spent childhood holidays in the Highlands of Scotland, drinking up awe-full landscapes along with the awful history of the Glencoe Massacre, and the politics of the Appin Murder. My paternal uncle had a hotel on the shores of Loch Leven where we stayed, and we would visit ancestral graveyards in Appin, where my mother’s clan was from. Maybe it was this familiarity that explains was why Hakatea caught my imagination and held such magnetism, from which it was hard to drag myself away.  I wonder what Stevenson would say. Wha’s like us?! 

Back on the boat that evening I got out my Celtic harp, for the first time since New Year, and began to play from the heart out, beginning with “Havana Gris” (Grey Havana), and working my way through other nostalgic Latin American melodies. After about an hour I stopped, and then over the waters came the sound of an ethereal flute, as though in response. I later found out was Josie on a Native American recorder. There was something about the lyrical nature of the place that was called out our music, and enhanced our spirit harmonies.



(La Cigale) Thu, 26 Jul 2018 23:33:37 GMT
Nuku Hiva - The Cathedral

The churches in the Marquesas are beautiful, a wonder of  Marquesan craftsmanship. Pride of place goes to Notre-Dame Cathedral in Nuku Hiva, built on a sacred Marquesan site. At the entrance, a Christian stone cross, testimony to the gift of the life of One for the good of all, stands on a low pillar, formerly the altar of ritual human sacrifice. I guess that answers, in part, my question of cultural diglossia in religious worship here. 

One name I hear again and again is that of the Bishop Toti who, about 20 years ago, did so much to spearhead the reclamation of Marquesan heritage, as well as being instrumental in the construction of the churches.

There is an archway over the road, with a couple of turrets, then a square leading to the Cathedral. the building is a wonder of Marquesan craftsmanship, build of wood, and stones belonging to each of the six inhabited islands of the archipelago. All the carvings, whether behind the baptismal font on illustrating the 12 Stations of the Cross, brought local life to the scene depicted. The lectern was engraved with the names of each island in the Marquesas, and Marquesan patterns, and the Marquesan cross, akin to a Hindi swastika, which predates the arrival of Christian missionaries here.

Ah, had we not been in Taiohe only for a couple of days, mid-week, it would have been interesting to go to Sunday Mass here, and hear once again the beautiful singing that still haunted us from Fatu Hiva (see post "O Lady Fair" - click here). Instead, I just sat for a while and used my imagination to conjure up the siren call of island worshippers. 


(La Cigale) Wed, 25 Jul 2018 06:30:00 GMT
Nuku Hiva - Reclaiming Marquesan Identity

In the Marquesas, one name heard a lot in terms of spearheading the movement for cultural regeneration in the islands is that of the Bishop, George Teikihuupoko, aka “Toti”, originally from Ua Pou. The cultural association “Motu Haka” (island gathering) was set up in 1979 to defend Marquesan identity, which at that time was being subsumed by Tahitian. Children were even taught in Tahitian. The first Marquesas arts festival was held in Ua Pou in 1987, and then a couple of years later the Pae Pae Piki Vehine was rebuilt on the seafront at Taiohae. A pae pae is a traditional platform for people to gather, and I really enjoyed visiting this one and looking at the sculptures and tiki that had been made by craftsman of the island. My favourite though was the Easter Island tiki, made by a local there, primarily because I would have liked to sail via there and Pitcairn from the Galapagos, and the statue really did transport me. We had decided against that route because anchoring and sailing conditions sounded like a complete nightmare, but Jonathan and his daughter Jemima from ESCAPADE travelled there, and their blog makes for fascinating reading. 

I was also drawn to the lizard-faced sentinel, gazing out to see, and appreciated the satire in a headless pot-bellied figure, apparently a rif on a French Marianne dispensing justice, her tremendous girth representing how fat Tahiti has grown living off the rest of French Polynesia - off with her head!

As well as reclaiming the Marquesan language as spoken, the movement also sought to preserve the language of Marquesan tattoos, or the art of patutiki (to strike or beat in images) of the tupuna ‘enana (Marquesan ancestors). I learned about this thanks to SHAWNIGAN, leafing through their Marquesan dictionary of tattoo art, Hamani ha’a tuhuku the patutiki, painstakingly put together by Teiki Huukena tuhuka patutiki, or master tattoo artist. According to the book, the art of tattooing went very quickly into decline in 19C and 20C and many of the keys to understanding the motifs, often documenting family stories and ancestry, were lost.

He was able to recapture the spirit, if not exactly replicate, the ancient practices, primarily thanks to research documented by researchers and curious individuals in the past. In 1804 a Russian expedition, Tilesius and Langsdorff, meticulously kept record of the designs they encountered. Then in the late 19C, an enthusiastic German, one Karl von den Steinen, devoted himself to learning what he could, struck by the high mortality rate at that time and wishing to preserve the knowledge held.  at a time when many islanders were dying quickly. Then, in the 1920s, funded by the Bishop Museum in Hawaii,  a Mrs Handy was able to supplement the work of ethnologists documenting the last remaining designs on islanders, dying out, by having access and able to document patterns particular to women. “Each one of the compositions was unique and specifically designed for the person in question, even in relation to the essential elements specific to their group, position and iconographic language”.

In Robert Louis Stevenson’s time there was a sad about a white person getting a Marquesan tattoo. He tells the tale of a red-headed (and blooded!) Scot who fell in love with a local beauty, who laughed at his advances, declaring she could never make love to a man naked of tattoos. So he went off and had his entire face covered - a highly painful procedure, mark of courage locally - and when he returned to court her she laughed even louder, saying he looked ridiculous! However the notion of white people getting tattoos then in general, was not ridiculous. Apparently the tattoo artists considered it an honour, seeing it was so rare, to see their designs displayed on a different background colour. While some in other parts of Polynesia today may consider it a sign of disrespectful cultural appropriation for white people to adopt their traditional tattoos, Teiki takes the view that, if done respecting the significance of the motifs (in the Marquesas there is gender separation in the motifs - a woman can’t have a stingray, for example), the personal selection of appropriate patutiki will do nothing but honour the spirit of the Marquesas ancestors, whoever you are. And so I love the fact that, with this in mind, Josie, Christian and Nina had tattoos done, and Josie made a time lapse video of the whole procedure, which is fascinating. Keep an eye out on

The end result is beautiful, speaking volumes about their own personal stories translated into Marquesan designs. Sometimes travelling, and connecting with other cultures, is a case, quite literally, of spreading the word. 


(La Cigale) Mon, 23 Jul 2018 05:30:00 GMT
Nuka Hiva - Taiohae


“a vast natural amphitheatre in decay… the deep glens that furrowed its sides appearing like enormous fissures caused by the ravages of time. Very often when lost in admiration of its beautiful, I have experienced a pang of regret that a scene so enchanting should be hidden from the world in these remote seas, and seldom meets the eyes of devoted lovers of nature.”

- Herman Melville, Typee

Taiohae is the capital, not just of Nuku Hiva (the second largest island in French Polynesia) but of The Marquesas. I was excited about arriving in the town as it features not only in Robert Louis’ Stevenson’s South Seas Memoirs, but in Herman Melville’s “Typee”. The novel, which predates Moby Dick, tells the story of how Melville absconded with a friend from a whaling ship, got captured by the reputedly fierce Typee (actually written Taipai), which he declares means “lover of human flesh”, fell in love with the fair maiden Fawaway, and then subsequently escaped. The view at anchor certainly did not disappoint. 

There was a sense of tourist ennui  on the island. The lady at the tourist office was visibly pained when I pointed to a photo of fire-eating behind her and asked where that was happening. She gave a patronising sigh, as though that was the type of question to be expected from dumb tourists and admonished: “Ici aux Marquises c’est très calme, si t’es venue pour le spectacle, tu seras deçue”. (reading between the lines:  we are not some sort of spectacle put on for your entertainment, if you think that you are sadly mistaken, and ignorant!). A far cry from all the local colour, traditional dance and festivities laid on for the World ARC rally here in Nuku Hiva, described to me by friends on Norwegian family boat TINTOMARA. Still, I could understand her pride and defensiveness, and she thawed when I joked I was just interested in swapping notes, having done my fair share of fire-eating myself. By the time I’d bought some of her home grown mangoes and pommes citernes (tart stoned citrus apples that mellow and sweeten as they ripen yellow), we were on the best of terms, and she helped me out with directions to the Melville memorial I was seeking. Yes, I guess that was her job! 

The memorial is an engraved wooden post next to a cemetery at the other end of the bay. Blink and you miss it. I would have been hard pressed to find it without directions, or to recognise it for what it was, had I not seen the word “Typee” carved at the top. Melville’s name is there somewhere, but I couldnt’ see it, though I did spot the name of his whale ship engraved at the bottom of a compass, below a map delineating places mentioned in the book. At the top, in lieu of author’s birth and deat, the dates commemorated the publication of the original book, and the inauguration of the memorial. 

Despite a certain indifference to tourists, emanating from many islanders, there were pockets of gracious kindness and thoughtfulness, from the grandmother in the supermarket queue who intervened to get my name on a reservation list for eggs the following day, when the till girl initially denied the list’s extistence, to the car that stopped on seeing me struggling with groceries, and gave me a lift back to the dinghy dock. Sitting in the back of the jeep, chatting with two dear little five and six year old girls about their efforts in learning to swim, and swapping stories about my own daughters, was one of those moments of normality and everyday connection that enrich the travelling life no end. 

The cafe by the dinghy dock served up a delicious seared tuna, and poisson cru marinated in coconut milk, as well as offering the only wifi connection I had come across in the Marquesas, which was just about enough to upload one or two small school assignments over the entire hour that lunch took. I did wonder though, if there was something in the fish causing me to hallucinate when I saw a giant inflatable tube of toothpaste bob past. In an even more surreal twist, it turned out to be a tube of Norwegian Kaviar, that the kids from family boats C’EST SI BON and KEA were waving around in honour of Norway’s national day. It was great to see them all again, after celebrating crossing the Pacific, arriving in Fatu Hiva on the same day as them. They were joined by JOVIAL, a Norwegian boat skippered by Anne-Christine, sailing round the world with her boyfriend Atlee. It turned out JOVIAL had spent Christmas in Marigot Bay, St Lucia with our ARC friends TINTOMARA, while we had celebrated New Year with them down the road there in Rodney Bay. Crossing oceans in a 40 foot catamaran we often feel tiny in the grand scheme of things, but sometimes the world does feels very small indeed.



(La Cigale) Sat, 21 Jul 2018 06:30:00 GMT
Tahuata - Vaitahu

A 20 minute dinghy ride away was Vaitahu, a small village that lies along the seafront while the slopes reach up behind. On our first trip there the swell was so great I wasn’t sure how we could actually get off the dinghy, and was very grateful to a couple of workmen on the quay giving the kids a hand up, timing it between surges. There was a museum charting the island’s history, with a few artifacts apparently, but the key was lost, the caretaker on holiday for a fortnight.  The central attraction for us was the Catholic church. It was staggeringly beautiful, the highlight being a the centrepiece of azure stained glass depicting a Marquesan Mary holding the Christ Child in her arms. The following day Xavier returned to the local internet hotspot with Francis and Isabelle, to upload some homework assignments, and on the way home the dinghy was surrounded by a pod of dolphins playing around, so close if they had stretched out their hands they would have touched them. Another highlight to our week in Tahuata.

(La Cigale) Thu, 19 Jul 2018 06:00:00 GMT
Tahuata - Hanahevane Bay

8 nautical miles along from Hiva Oa is the island of Tauhuata. This really is the place to go for some R&R in the Marquesas. The main draw initially (after Heave..Oh! see previous post) was the sheltered bay, but there was more to it besides… a beautiful beach of golden sand and one of the few places in The Marquesas with stretches of coral that are wonderful for snorkelling. The Marquesas are much younger islands and so coral reefs are not so prevalent as they are in the rest of Polynesia.  

Cruising myths abound about the owner of the land behind the beach, a no-go area. Some have it that this young guy, reckoned in his 30s, is doped on hash when he is there, which accounts for erratic and surly moods should he be approached, others that he ran off with a wife of a cruiser and so is on the defensive, others still make a link to the news a few years back about a girl left behind when her boyfriend went on a hike with a local one day and was never seen again. Actually that last story, I’ve since learned, has relocated to Daniel’s Bay in Nuku Hiva (post to follow on that anchorage). Still, a love triangle?! We did see a white woman, clearly not a cruiser (smartly dressed, no dinghy on the beach, where did she come from?), early one morning walking up and down the beach. I have since heard that the guy is a troublemaker that the community want to see in prison, but don’t have sufficient evidence, so instead banish him here. 

The tale he told to some French friends was that he started a beach restaurant a while back, cooking up feasts for cruisers, but they would take advantage of him and steal his coconuts, as it were. Now, he imagines yachties are there to rob him of his livelihood harvesting copra (coconut husks for oil), and is simply defending his territory, ne touchez pas mes arbres!

Ah, but I can see why he would want to defend the paradise that is Hanahevane Bay. It was a joy to be able to swim from the boat and snorkel over to the coral, drifting along wondering at all the multi-colour fish, sighting the shadow of the odd reef shark in the distance. We arrived in the bay just in time for a barbecue on the beach with a dozen other cruising boats, all celebrating crossing the Pacific in one piece, and also to celebrate birthday of Megan, Isabelle’s dear friend from RAFTKIN. We chopped up driftwood, roasted marshmallows on the fire and Isabelle swears she saw the fabled green flash as the sun set.

Meanwhile Christian from SHAWNIGAN (see had a fright on a night free-dive, looking for lobster by the rocks underneath their boat, when a sea serpent shot out, undulating towards him at full throttle. Well, what would Eden be, without the odd snake?!

Drone footage below, with a little Jacques Brel from the album "Les Marquises":

Tahuata from Lucy Van Hove on Vimeo.

(La Cigale) Tue, 17 Jul 2018 06:00:00 GMT
Hiva Oa

“It is a narrow and small anchorage, set between low cliffy points, and opening above on a woody valley… The swell crowded into the narrow anchorage like sheep into a fold” 

Robert Louis Stevenson on the anchorage at Atuona, Hiva Oa


Heave…oh! we quickly nicknamed this island. Our official check-in stop. The swell in the harbour was ridiculous, and we quickly secured any potential missiles in the galley as La Cigale rolled around. We arrived in the afternoon, just in time to join our friends Shawnigan and Raftkin on the 40 minute walk into town. On land our legs buckled at first, the steadiness of the ground in marked contrast to being on the boat at anchor here. The gendarme doing the check in could not have been more charming, giving me directions to the Jacques Brel museum, the Belgian singer retiring to the island years ago, around the corner from the Gaugin one. Both shut. Instead, we moved to a field with marae around, clearly for the benefit of tourists, and a fare artisanal or cultural centre in the corner selling carvings, honey, jewellery and other local gifts. With honey at 30 dollars, there was nothin there in our budget, but I was glad to note there was a tourist ship arriving in the morning, which would be good for business. None of the woodwork compared to what we found in Fatu Hiva, I was relieved to note! 

Chilling for a while on the steps of one of the buildings of the tohua (open-air gathering spots), we watched the kids muck around, along with a couple of local kids, doing all sorts of tag games and wheelbarrow races. The walk home was miserable. After watching a stunning sunset, the rain came down. Within a minute we were drenched to the skin, but then had a further 39 to get back to the dinghy dock. We kept spirits up with songs and jokes. The inflated pontoon reminded me of one of the challenges in Takeshi’s castle, and what with the swell and the rain it was a job keeping our balance and getting back into the dinghies. Taj fell in the water, but was scooped up out in a minute and took it all in his stride. The next morning, woken around 4am by a lurch, Xav and I had enough, raised anchor and sailed on, having spent barely 12 hours in port!

Note: Brel's "Les Marquises" (click here)

Paul Theroux' book "The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific" is a fascinating read. In this extract, appearing in the LA Times, he writes on Gaugin in Tahiti and the Marquesas Beyond Gaugin and the reality of French Polynesia (click here)

(La Cigale) Sun, 15 Jul 2018 06:00:00 GMT
The Art of Fatu Hiva

Fatu Hiva is renowned for its wood carving. The children and I had been given directions by PELIZENO to the home of one craftsman and ended up taking a wrong turn up a track and chased back down by three large, angry dogs. Generally in the Marquesas, guard dogs (nature’s burglar alarm) either strain at the tether, or else they are all bark but stay within the confines of their territory. These were the exception. Heart still racing after shepherding the children along, and shaking off the dogs, a man calling out from the house we were passing, inviting us to come and look at his carvings, was most welcome. I was drawn to a box in the shape of a wooden stingray for Catherine (Moana style!), beautiful in its simplicity. Back along the main road, we bumped into Norwegian boat families KEA and C’EST SI BON, who recommended another wood carver they had just been visiting, whose workshop was up some stairs round the corner. His sculpted torso, covered in intricate tattoos, was another work of art to admire. In his workshop Isabelle gravitated towards a stunning box engraved with Marquesan patterns, and Francis’ eyes lit up when they fell on the statue of a particular Kon Tiki that stood out, for him, among a dozen of similar shape and size. He responded in a way I had never seen him react to an object before, and the artisan’s wife clocked his reaction as well. By chance we had been sitting next to her at the prayer service in the previous post, and she took us under her wing. We left having bought both sculptures, but also laden with fruit and Catherine, Isabelle and I were each presented with a couple of black pearls, and advised to change them into earrings when we got to Tahiti.

There is a beauty to the gentle spirits of Fatu Hiva, a graciousness and a welcome that I think is unique in the Marquesas. Other islands just seem more jaded when it comes to the arrival in harbour of yet another cruiser. It would have been hard for us to spend more than the two nights on the island as by the end we had run out of both cash in hand and any items of interest to hand on, but we left with the satisfaction of knowing we had given everything we had. Even then, we still feel entirely indebted to the people of Fatu Hiva and truly grateful that this was our first port of call in Polynesia.

(La Cigale) Fri, 13 Jul 2018 06:15:00 GMT
Fatu Hiva - O Lady Fair, Star of the Sea…

9 May: May is the month of Mary. How many times had I heard that over the years, brought up at school by Southern Irish nuns. I was surprised to be reminded of that in Fatu Hiva, as I had not appreciated, until arrival there, that The Marquesas is predominantly Catholic. 

On our walk back from the waterfall, Xavier got out his drone at the dock, and was suddenly surrounded by adults and children alike, as he gave them a demonstration. Meanwhile I slipped away to the whitewashed Catholic church opposite, to give a quite prayer of thanks for our safe passage across the Pacific. 

I returned to the church the following day with the children. We admired the carvings and the flowers, but, maybe because there was no-one else around, felt we shouldn’t reallly be there either and didn’t linger. Further along the road we came to a shack that was the Lady Chapel, that somehow was much more inviting. Maybe it was because, at the centre of the altar, there was a statue of Mary crowned with exotic blooms, the real Queen of Virgins Bay! We sat down for a minute and I taught the children quickly the Hail Mary in French for good measure. I thought of Stella Maris, Our Lady Star of the Sea. In santería working in Cuba, she is fused with Yoruban deity Yemayá, goddess of the sea, and I wondered if there had been any similar acts of cultural resistance here in the Marquesas when devotees of Kon Tiki assimilated Christianity. 

Back at the dock, we had time on our hands. We had done a reccie of artisan workshops (post to follow) and still had an hour and a half before Xavier, back at the boat in Skipper mode cleaning the hull, had arranged to pick us up. A grandfather (to be fair, probably about the same age as me, I did the maths later!), babysitting his one year old daughter, beckoned me over. He had 15 pomelo in a box at his house, waiting for Xavier as a thank you for showing the drone! He was so kind. As the children played beside us with local kids, he and I whiled away the rest of the time talking about life, the universe and everything. We had some funny twists and turns in conversation. At one point he was trying to fell each of my arguments as to why I didn't want any more children. Eventually I gave up trying to persuade him and simply told him my age as justification. Ah, he nodded sagely, you are over the hill… there may have been a twinkle in his eye, but there were no more questions on that score! 

His grandaughter was called Vai-kuhane. It talk me several goes to get the hang of the pronunciation, and separate out each vowel sound. Robert Louis Stevenson in his memoirs is quite derrogatory about Herman Melville’s linguist ear (or lack thereof), and spelling of the Marquesan language. I laughed then, and now sympathised.  Her name means spirit of water. My daughter-in-law had some fun getting that name past the priest at Baptism, he smiled. I learned the priest was over on the other side of the island at Ooma for the time being, so there were no services at present in church, although daily prayers in the Lady Chapel at 4.30pm, but mon Père would be returning at the end of the week with the bishop, for the Confirmation Service, a great event that only happens in Fatu Hiva every few years. The teenagers being confirmed would be returning too - Fatu Hiva has a primary school, but all children of secondary school age are sent to the government-subsidised boarding school in Nuku Hiva, and, because of the cost of transport, normally only return for the holidays. There would be much to celebrate. 

Xavier arrived at the dinghy dock, time had flown, and it was already time for prayers in the Lady Chapel. The service was all in Marquesan (French was a fat lot of use!) with members of the congregation taking it in turns to read out prayers or readings from where they were seated, and heavenly singing, accompanied by a set of tambour drums and a guitar. We slipped into a bench at the back, and over the next half hour were transported by the harmonies. Boy, do the Marquesans sing. They practice daily, and the melodies lift spirits skywards. Afterwards, already recognising a couple of friendly faces, we were caught up in chatter with various members of the congregation, just like back home in Hampshire at St Agnes, a small  chapel, where families would chat for ages after Sunday Mass was over. We were half way round the world, in the most exotic of locations and yet in many ways it really did feel home from home.


(La Cigale) Thu, 12 Jul 2018 06:15:00 GMT
Fatu Hiva - The Waterfall Over 100m of water - the water actually warms up against the rock.  Fatu HivaOver 100m of water - the water actually warms up against the rock. Fatu Hiva

One of the major attractions of anchoring at Hanavave rather than the other village of Omoa (where the gendarmerie is, so probably best avoided if you haven’t got the right paperwork!), is the waterfall, about an hour and a half track from the village. 

We walked through the town, greeted by every passer by and replying in kind. It was a touch surreal to be on such a hike barely an hour after anchoring, after a three week ocean crossing, but the children were bouncing around, thrilled to be reunited with their friends Hayley and Megan from RAFTKIN, while Francis was enjoyed lapsing into French with Anne from LE RAYON VERT, who was instructing him in the art of mango-gathering. Now, in French Polynesia, the children were in their element, able to chat to the local kids we met along the way, united in their endeavour to ferret out the fruit by, and in, the rivers we crossed. 

We followed the road out of town for a good half an hour at least, until we found a 26 painted on the road, and a pyramid of carefully stacked stones, our indication that we should take a path forking off to the left. Eventually the track disappeared and we then scrambled up a very narrow path up through rain forest for another half hour. Just as I was beginning to lose faith that we were on the right track, shouts from the older kids racing ahead indicated we were nearly there and our route opened out onto boulders that led into a freshwater pool being fed by a waterfall 100 metres high. We were in with a splash, making straight for a freshwater shower, while Catherine, googles and flotation vest on, face down, was happy just bobbing along, spread-eagled like a starfish.

Opposite the waterfall was a giant rock, an open invitation to climb up and jump off, for the more nimble mountain goats in our party. Xav was immediately back home in the Swiss mountains of his childhood. I tried a couple of times and managed half-way, before my arms and legs began to buckle and I gave up. But watching Francis conquer his nerves and keep going, knowing what it took for him, inspired me to try, try again. This was our first day in a new world, and that leap from the top into the unknown, embraced it body and soul.

FATU HIVA VIDEO from Lucy Van Hove on Vimeo.


(La Cigale) Wed, 11 Jul 2018 06:15:00 GMT