We awake within seconds of one another, suddenly aware of the rain pouring in the hatch above our heads. Time for the rain dance! I jump up to close our cabin hatch then make my way to the salon to secure the windows there as Wags runs to shut the forward hatches. All in all, it takes less than a minute but that’s plenty of time to soak a few parts of the interior. Two minutes later we’re settled back in bed as the rain stops.
This has been our routine for the past several nights as we wait out a frontal system moving through the Tuamotus, an archipelago in French Polynesia made up of 76 atolls. We are holed up in a beautiful SE anchorage, called Hirifa, inside the lagoon of the atoll of Fakarava, partly sheltered from the 25-30 kt winds and nicely protected from the 15-foot swell in the open ocean outside the atoll.
There are 20 boats here, all doing the same thing. It’s a festive atmosphere with dinghies buzzing around the anchorage, kite boarders enjoying the strong winds, and snorkelers exploring the abundant marine life on the small clumps of reef, known as “bombies,” scattered throughout the clear water of the anchorage.
Cruisers gather in the evenings on each other’s boats for potluck dinners, drinks and conversation, swapping stories and plans. We failed to take a single picture of the anchorage itself but we did snap one of these cute piglets we encountered on a walk through the coconut grove.
Fakarava is the third atoll we’ve visited. Each atoll has a fringing reef surrounding a lagoon. Most have a single pass through which to enter, although some have more than one and some have no way of entering the lagoon. Entering the passes can be a smooth process if you time your entry for slack tide or a hair-raising experience if you try entering with strong wind or current against you. We’ve been lucky. With the exception of a slightly sporty exit from one atoll our timing has been sufficient to keep our adrenaline levels in check.
Each atoll also has a different vibe. Our first was Raroia, where we arrived after a pleasant (for once) 3-day passage from the Marquesas Islands with a feathered visitor along for the last part of the ride. We anchored in calm, clear waters in front of the village.
Raroia is less popular than some of the atolls, mainly because of its more remote eastern location in the archipelago. There were a few other boats there when we arrived but by our last night we were the only boat in the anchorage. We spent our time exploring the village and snorkeling. There are just 200 people on the atoll so it doesn’t take long to explore but the village has a wonderful laid-back feel, the residents are very friendly and the main mode of transportation is bicycle. The sunsets aren’t bad, either.
There is a beautiful blue lagoon a short stroll from the village. The lack of shade makes cooling off in the clear water a treat.
One day we took the dinghy to the pass and drift snorkeled on the incoming tide. For this we drove the dinghy to the outside edge of the pass, tied ourselves to it with long ropes and jumped in. As the current carried us back inside the pass the sensation was like flying as we effortlessly glided over the coral, fish and sharks below. It was so cool we did it four times.
Our next stop was the atoll of Kauehi. The pass is at the south end of the island and is an easy entry, especially when timed at slack tide. There’s a small village at the north end of the island but we chose instead to spend our time in an anchorage in the SE corner of the atoll. We had read that this anchorage is the epitome of visions of the South Pacific so our expectations were high. We were not disappointed. We anchored in 25 feet, watching our anchor the entire way to the sea floor. There were three other boats in the anchorage, two of which were friends. That evening we all met up on the beach and cooked dinner over a fire of coconut husks. The next day, everyone went their separate ways and we were left as the sole inhabitant of this gorgeous corner of the world.
We spent the day exploring ashore and snorkeling the crystal clear water of the reef, watching black-tip reef sharks and dozens of species of colorful reef fish go about their daily lives.
We could’ve stayed longer but the aforementioned blow was approaching so we left the next day for Fakarava.
On Fakarava, aside from our time in Hirifa, we spent several days anchored off the village of Rotoava in the NE corner of the atoll. We loved our time there. The village, while small, is a hub of activity with several restaurants, markets and dive shops. It didn’t take us long to find our favorite establishments. Fakarava Yacht Services, run by Aldric and Stephanie, is a godsend to cruisers needing internet, sail repairs or laundry service. It’s a great place to meet fellow cruisers and you can find half the anchorage there on any given afternoon. There’s also bike rental available, which we took advantage of for a little out of town exploration.
The rest of our favorites were, of course, focused on food. The local boulangerie (bakery) kept us stocked up on fresh baguettes and pain de chocolate (yum!), which we were always sure to order a day in advance and pick up first thing the next morning. We loved the paninis and off-the-hook ice cream sundaes at La Paillote, plus the owners’ dogs, who provided much entertainment. And we couldn’t get enough of the delicious poisson cru du coco (raw fish in coconut milk) at Rotoava Grill, where we ate enough times for the waiter to recognize us.
As much as we loved the food, however, we had to move on.
Saturday morning we caught the slack tide and cruised through the pass under sail, headed for our next atoll, Toau, 37 miles away. While there is a pass with anchorage areas inside the atoll, the more popular option is to visit Anse Amyot on the NW side of the atoll. The short pass here is a “false” pass in that it provides access through an outer reef to a small anchorage area but not inside the atoll lagoon, which is blocked by a larger reef. Gaston and Valentine, a local couple, are the sole inhabitants of this location and they maintain eight mooring balls for cruisers to use. The sea floor is littered with coral here so using the moorings not only saves one from getting an anchor chain wrapped around a bombie but it also prevents damage to the coral. We picked up a mooring ball and settled in, quickly jumping over the side to have a look at the nearby reef, an easy swim from the boat. If there was one place we wish we could’ve stayed longer in the Tuamotus, this quickly became it.
Toau is part of the Fakarava UNESCO Biosphere Reserve (as is Kauehi and Fakarava), and we had heard that the snorkeling and diving here was excellent. After our first snorkel, we were convinced. After our second and third, it took the prize for top snorkeling destination we’ve ever visited – the healthy coral, abundance and variety of reef fish, sharks, monster moray eels, and tiny seahorses were extraordinary. Getting to snorkel through a huge ball of bait fish right in the anchorage was the cherry on top!
Gaston and Valentine also run Pension Matariva, owned by Valentine’s sister, who lives on Fakarava, so if you want to check out this slice of paradise, just hop a flight to Tahiti, then a puddle jumper to Fakarava and a speedboat to Toau. You won’t be sorry!
Our time in the Tuamotus was much too short, but with only a 90-day visa for French Polynesia we have to keep moving. Next stop, Tahiti and the Society Islands.
After six months at home, where we consumed more than our fill of salmon, Dungeness crab and good beer (as our waistlines now attest), and enjoyed quality time with family and friends, we returned to Hiva Oa, Marquesas in late March, a journey lasting 31 hours, on several airplanes, the last of which was a twin-engine Otter that provided a sporty final approach and landing in strong trade winds.
A few days later Gadabout was back in the water and we were regaining our sea legs. We were slightly delayed leaving Hiva Oa while we waited for a FedEx package of boat parts (which we now refer to as the Golden Package, but that’s a story for another time). That turned out to be serendipitous, however, as we got to catch up with our friends on S/V Linda Marie when they arrived fresh off their journey across the Pacific from Mexico. Soon it was time to depart and get this cruising season underway. We made a short stop in our favorite anchorage on Tahuata then headed to the island of Ua Pou, our first visit there.
Ua Pou is a beautiful island with striking basalt pillars that appear like skyscrapers through the mist on a cloudy day and are absolutely stunning if you’re lucky enough to experience a clear day.
From Ua Pou we sailed the short 25 miles to Nuku Hiva and the town of Taiohae where we spent the next several days provisioning and preparing for our next hop. Now, it’s on to the Tuamotus Archipelago, where crystal clear water and white sand are the norm and nothing is taller than a palm tree. We can’t wait to share this season with everyone. Please be patient, though… internet is sparse in the Tuamotus so we’ll have to wait for a few weeks for our arrival in Tahiti to catch you up on the latest Gadabout Life!
From my seat in the cockpit, I glanced up frequently to admire the towering, verdant green hills ringing the bay in which Gadabout was anchored. Coconut palms near the water’s edge were replaced by hardwoods upslope and rolling blankets of grass in the highlands where goats and cows roamed freely. The hilltops were shrouded in clouds delivering their daily dose of moisture. We were still dry on the boat but would likely get a fresh water rinse soon. We had been in the Marquesas Islands for three weeks; it seemed like more. We were in Baie du Controleur on the island of Nuku Hiva where we’d spent the last four nights waiting out a strong easterly before we could continue to the north side of the island. We tried to leave the previous day. The seas were big and angry, however, so we retreated back into the protection of the bay. There were certainly worse places to wait. Though the water in the bay was very murky and not at all appealing for a dip, the surrounding area was beautiful. At the head of the bay lay a lush valley made famous by Herman Melville in his book, Typee. On one side of the bay there was a river, accessible at high tide through a narrow cut between the rocky shore and a sandy peninsula. One day we took the dinghy through to explore. Spotted rays darted about in the shallow water of the lagoon inside. A half mile up the river we tied the dinghy to a concrete quay at the edge of the village of Taipivai.
Walking along the riverfront we found a charming scene: tidy houses with neatly trimmed lawns and abundant fruit trees, clean streets, horses happily munching grass on the town soccer field, and a huge outdoor event area with tikis lining the grounds.
The only downside was the biting no-nos that feasted on us at every turn. We happened upon a craft market in a small building at the edge of town, which we assume was set up for a visiting tour group, although we saw no evidence of its impending arrival. After purchasing a pair of earrings and a wooden carving of a manta ray we headed back to grab a few provisions at the local store we had poked in earlier. As we reached the main road, a woman waved to us and asked if we would like some fruit. “Oui, merci!” we quickly replied. She and her husband proceeded to load us up with so much fruit from their trees – pamplemousse, star fruit, mangos, limes, passion fruit – we were good for weeks. When we asked what we could give them in return, they smiled and, pointing at the trees, said, “Nothing. We have plenty!” We chatted with them in broken French and English for a few minutes (we found out they love Las Vegas and have a friend there who is a French professor), thanked them again for their generosity and went on our way, 10 lbs. heavier.
Of the places we’ve visited in the Marquesas, this was one of our favorites, not because of the fruit (although, it was good!) but rather because it gave us a taste of what we call Aloha, Marquesan style.
Gadabout is put to bed in Hiva Oa, Marquesas, where she’ll spend the cyclone season. We’ll return to her next spring and continue our travels through French Polynesia and the South Pacific. For now, we’re back in the US, in our home port of Anacortes, WA enjoying the last few weeks of a beautiful Pacific Northwest autumn and getting ready for the slightly less appealing winter season (but hey, that’s how it goes when you swap hemispheres). We had a wonderful couple of months exploring the Marquesas islands. Now it’s time to catch up on our blog posts and share what we saw and did after crossing the Pacific Ocean. We have several favorite experiences and stories so rather than try to cram it all into one long post we plan to split it up over the course of the next few weeks/months. Thanks for following along. We hope you’ve enjoyed the ride as much as we have so far.
The Galapagos Islands are an amazing anachronism of nature. Visiting these Islands is like going back in time. We will spare you the history lesson, suffice it to say that since the islands’ discovery by the Spanish in the 1500s, subsequent occupation by pirates and privateers, and ultimately Charles Darwin’s visit, which led to ground breaking theories on the evolution of species, all who have visited have known them to be extraordinarily unique. Home to countless endemic species, many of which have endured near extinction at the hands of man, the flora and fauna remain largely unchanged from the initial discoveries and amazingly, almost all wildlife shows little interest in or fear of man.
– Getting there
As we previously reported, getting here is no small feat. It requires either a demanding boat journey or an expensive air ticket, which has probably been one factor in helping keep the islands pristine. Another is the government of Ecuador. They realized early on how important and unique this ecosystem is, and as tourism and interest in the islands have grown, the government instituted measures to ensure the survival of these delicate lands. These measures come in the form of high entry costs and limited access (unless with a park guide). This chuffs many cruisers as they are used to being able to toss out the anchor at any secluded cove (usually for free) and being able to take it all in on their own. In the Galapagos cruisers are restricted to just one anchorage on each of three islands: Isla San Cristobal, Isla Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela. While we would loved to have anchored in secluded coves ourselves, we understand the restrictions and found that locating our boat in a primary harbor on each island afforded us a nice home base from which to explore.
Costs are another factor for cruisers. “How much?” you ask. For Gadabout, with three crew aboard, it cost us about $2000 USD. Those costs included: mandatory park fees ($100 pp), customs/immigration, fumigation, port fees, and agent costs. We have often heard the refrain that it would be cheaper to fly to the Galapagos and go on a tour, but when you put pencil to paper that doesn’t work out. Airfare from Quito, Ecuador alone is around $700 pp and most cruise tours run somewhere between $500-$1000 per day. Although many of those cruises do get to visit locations inaccessible to sailboats, it seems they view the same wildlife that we were able to see mostly for free (excluding previous costs, of course). We watched many of the cruise passengers come ashore and it was a little more of the organized tour group scene than we prefer. We enjoy seeing, visiting and discovering at our own pace. However, if you are an avid scuba diver then one of the cruises makes perfect sense as they visit tons of inaccessible and unique dive sites.
It is true that to visit many areas you must have a guide, and those guides are a part of any organized tour that you book, but we also found that every island has plenty of opportunities to explore and interact with the wildlife on our own—it is everywhere! Furthermore, each island has its own personality and varieties of wildlife.
– The Islands
Isla San Cristobal
The first island we visited, where we made landfall and checked in, was Isla San Cristobal (Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, AKA Wreck Bay). Tom’s wife, Ginny, joined us here, as well.
The word in the guidebooks was that the sea lions run the town and the humans are the visitors. This is pretty much true! Contrary to places like the west coast of the US, the relationship here between sea lions and people is quite amicable. The sea lions aren’t quite as large and definitely not as territorial. It is not unusual at all to have to step over them on a path or have them come up to you while swimming to see what’s up.
The town had a great eclectic vibe with plenty of restaurants and a good balance of locals and tourists.
Here we met our primary agent (Bolivar Pesantes) who was a wonderful man. We spent an entire day on an island tour with him and after it was all through he gifted us with fresh Galapagos coffee, eight lobsters, and a HUGE stalk of bananas. We tipped generously.
It was on this tour we visited a high volcano caldera lake where frigate birds visit to rinse the salt off their wings, a family coffee plantation and our first tortoise sanctuary (there would be many more).
Isla Santa Cruz
A blustery 50-mile day sail brought us to Isla Santa Cruz. This island is the main hub for the Galapagos, where all the tourists fly in and meet their cruise vessels, and the feel was much different. The town was nice enough with a lot of (tourist priced) restaurants and decent provisioning for us but the locals were more cursory and less open, no doubt a function of the endless stream of nameless, faceless tourists who spend a few hours wandering through town before being whisked away by their tour guides.
While the town was nice…the anchorage was HORRIBLE. The harbor is open to the sea and the predominant swell. All boats (even the catamarans) rocked violently at anchor and it was all you could do to get a decent night’s rest. We spent three days here and visited the Darwin Research Station, a wonderful free-range tortoise area in the rainy volcano highlands, and an interesting beach/lagoon where we swam with white tipped reef sharks and began to see many of the dark marine iguanas.
We spent two weeks at Isla Isabela, the least populated/visited of the three main islands, and really enjoyed the opportunity to slow down, decompress and get into the rhythm of the Galapagos. The town is simple and quaint with dirt streets and many restaurants serving local cuisine.
The island itself is best known for its Galapagos Penguins (the only Penguin species that lives near the equator), many marine iguanas, giant land tortoises (of course), and pink flamingos!
There was a beautiful walking path just outside of town that meandered through an estuary and we took any chance we could to visit and ogle at the beautiful pink flamingos residing there. Seeing them in flight was amazing! They aren’t the most graceful during takeoff or landing, but when their wings are spread they are huge with a distinctive black stripe contrasting the vibrant pink on the backs of their wings.
We also took a snorkel tour where we swam with giant sea turtles, small sharks, sea snakes, rays, and even sea horses. The tour also visited an amazing area called “Los Tuneles” where old lava tunnels were filled with seawater and you could snorkel through them and between an amazing maze of volcanic spires and arches. An added bonus was the exhilarating boat ride through large breaking waves to get to the area. Fortunately, our boat captain, Leonardo (AKA “Galapagos John Travolta” because of his resemblance to the actor), was an extremely skilled and knowledgeable pilot.
We bid adieu to Tom and Ginny and spent the rest of our time on the island exploring, relaxing and doing boat projects in preparation for our passage to the Marquesas. One day we rented bikes and took a ride up some punchy hills to visit the remains of an old prison camp that operated from 1946-1959, where prisoners were forced to stack rocks into a giant wall in the middle of nowhere (“The Wall of Tears”) for no other reason than punishment. On the way we passed a tortoise the size of a boulder leisurely crossing the road…no big deal.
Each day when we would dinghy ashore we would motor past the penguin colony and slow to watch their hilarious waddle/walk/hop way of getting around. At the dock cheeky young sea lions were everywhere. They interacted with each other like dogs, playing keep away with a stick, or just wrestling in the water. At night when we returned to the boat the sea lions would jump just ahead of us, chasing our spot light and the needlefish it stirred up. Some nights we would drop the underwater light over the side and watch as small sharks and sea lions circled around the beam feasting on small fish. From the day of our arrival to our last day in the Galapagos we never ceased to be amazed and entertained by the abundant wildlife around us, unconcerned with our presence. We are so glad we took the time and effort to sail to these unique islands, and Isla Isabela was a perfect last stop to recharge before we made the giant leap across the Pacific.
We’ve been in the Marquesas for a little over a month now. The islands are beautiful, the people friendly, and the pace slow. After spending the first three months of our cruising season repairing the boat and the next four months traveling from Mexico to Panama with only the occasional stop greater than a few nights, followed by two long passages from Panama to the Galapagos to here, we’re happy to take advantage of the slower pace for awhile. One thing that the remoteness of these islands makes tough, however, is staying connected. While we don’t mind the disconnect from the constant news cycle, it’s quite evident how much we depend on a solid cell signal and internet connection for keeping in touch with family and friends, taking care of business at home and, of course, updating our blog. It’s not that we haven’t been writing new posts. We have, complete with lots of pictures. We simply cannot upload them to the website due to the lack of internet connectivity. Since we arrived, we’ve had access three times, none of which yielded anything close to the speed needed to accomplish all the tasks on our list. We’re using our satellite phone to load this post, mainly to let everyone know we’re still alive and to share a small taste of the beauty the Marquesas have to offer. We’re planning to leave the boat here for the cyclone season and return home in October, which may, in fact, be the earliest opportunity we have to post our typical picture-heavy updates. In the meantime, we’ll continue to document all the amazing experiences we’re having and we’ll be ready as soon as we find the elusive internet again. Stay tuned…
We dropped anchor at 1500 local time today in Baie Tahauka on the island of Hiva Oa, Marquesas. We are so happy to be here. Not only are we barely moving at anchor, this place is beautiful. There are about 15 boats sharing the anchorage with us, including our friends on Cinderella (we last saw them in Costa Rica back in April). We did a quick reconnaissance of the immediate area ashore and bought a fresh baguette and some New Zealand butter at the gas station. We’ll check in with the local Gendarme tomorrow to make things official, then it’s time to explore. For this evening, we’re quite content to have a sundowner, our baguette and brie, and get a much needed FULL night’s sleep! Thanks for following along on our passage. Be on the lookout for our insights on 20 days at sea and our Galapagos post (as soon as we find some decent internet).
Current location: Lat 09 48.215S Long 139 01.925W – AT ANCHOR! Distance traveled: 189 NM
We’re about 125 miles from the island of Hiva Oa. We should arrive sometime tomorrow, depending on the wind. Right now, it is light and from a less than ideal direction so we’re having to head more north than we’d like, which mean more miles. But the seas are calm and we’re having a nice downwind sail on a beautiful afternoon. We’re in a wing-on-wing configuration with the mainsail out on the port side of the boat and the jib poled out on the starboard side. This allows us to sail with the wind right on our tail and make up several degrees of angle toward our destination. Hopefully tomorrow’s update will be the last before we make landfall. Stay tuned!
Breakfast: Steel cut rolled oats w/honey drizzle, cinnamon and dried fruit, cafe au lait
Lunch: Grilled meat on a bun with dijon and hand-prepared relish, chips (it was calm enough to grill!)
Dinner: Meat, beans and cheese wrapped in a crispy tortilla blanket with house-made sour cream, pico de gallo and salsa picante
Evening entertainment: “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”
Current location: Lat 10 17.495S Long 136 58.603W
Distance traveled: 182 NM
It’s Bastille Day in French Polynesia. There are parties, traditional dances, lots of food and fun. Unfortunately we aren’t there to help celebrate. We’re still a couple of days out. The wind and seas are not cooperating; in fact, they seem to have something against us (and each other). The wind is light and the seas are big and lumpy, making for a very uncomfortable motion. We’re hanging in there, though, with visions of calmer surroundings in our heads. Reports from the boats ahead of us are good and we’re looking forward to finishing this passage and meeting up with the crowd.
Breakfast: Toast and coffee
Lunch: Ham and cheese sandwiches
Dinner: Breast of chicken in a lemon pepper, white wine reduction, served with roasted rosemary potatoes and steamed peas
Evening entertainment: “The Office” and “Modern Family”
Current location: Lat 09 57.937S Long 134 42.486W
Distance traveled: 190 NM
Trying to stand, and walk, on a sailboat constantly rolling from side to side in a big swell… the struggle is real. We’re getting better at it but today has been testing us mightily. Simply standing still is even a challenge. We’ve both developed a touch of tendinitis in our dominant legs (Wags’ left and my right) from constantly bracing ourselves in order to perform such simple tasks as, say, making a meal or brushing our teeth. This is probably the most frustrating part of the passage, in fact. We’re really hoping for smoother seas over the next couple of days so we can finish on a high (and stable) note.
Breakfast: Griddle cakes with LOTS of syrup
Lunch: Nothing… still running on griddle cakes
Dinner: Penne pasta with basil, garlic and parmesan, served with garlic bread
Evening entertainment: “Blade Runner 2049”
Current location: Lat 09 54.722S Long 132 04.104W
Distance traveled: 184 NM