A Kiss Under a Rainbow


Today Sabrina and I celebrated our four year anniversary together. We met on this boat, and this voyage is a product of our relationship… so I wanted to share a glimmer of how I feel. 

Sailing the Pacific can be extremely hard work… and I’ve never seen anyone work harder than Sabrina to make life wonderful for those around her. No matter the conditions, she can bake a quiche, clean a bilge, don a harness in a rainy night, organize thousands of photos, or chisel paint for countless hours. 

Although as captain, I am the one driving the boat, it is Sabrina who turns this trip from good to great. 

Like fairy dust, her joyful enthusiasm adds an extra twinkle of magic to even the most mundane moments. Now sprinkle that onto the exquisite vistas and experiences that we reach through sailing.

Despite the laughably exhausting moments, we are rewarded with the most sublime moments. I am lucky beyond words to share them with her. 

Like a kiss under a rainbow under a waterfall. I mean, seriously! Magic is possible. I love you Sabrina. 

Petroglyphs in Omoa

In the 1930s, Thor Heyerdahl lived around Omoa during most of his time in Fatu Hiva, which he relates in his book (of the same name).

In his map of the island he pointed out rock art petroglyphs near Omoa. We asked Dolina’s dad, Leon, about this and he took us to see the area.

A somewhat muddy, 30 minute trail uphill landed us at a clearing with a large flat rock. Leon brushed away coconut palm fronds to reveal a number of carvings etched directly into the stone’s surface.

Besides some tikis drawn into the rock, there was also the largest: this fish, perhaps a tuna, although Leon called it a dolphin.

“The ancients spent a lot of time here,” Leon said. The wind blew through the trees in the valley and we imagined the ancient Polynesians 1000 years ago. Perhaps there were no coconut trees back then, but the same stone was below our feet.

Polynesian Generosity

Dolina and her family are some of the sweetest people we’ve met.

As if making us two feasts wasn’t enough, each day they sent us back to the boat with a wheelbarrow full of fruit (!) including pamplemousse, breadfruit, papaya, limes, starfruit, bananas, fei (red bananas), and an entire bag of home-grown ginger.

On top of that, when it was time to leave, they told us to each pick a tapa as a gift! We felt showered with presents.

The Polynesian spirit of generosity is legendary; but to experience such kindness and thoughtfulness in real life is very moving!

The people we have met in remote islands, accessible only by boat – Pitcairn, Taravai, Reao Atoll, and now Fatu Hiva – are grateful to have your company, since visiting them is so difficult. Their openness is remarkable. Whatever they have, they are willing to share in abundance. We are incredibly inspired by this spirit of generosity, and hope to keep it alive with us forever.

Feast at Dolina’s

After purchasing Tapas and wood carvings from Dolina’s family, we arranged to eat a meal at their house. Or should we say, “A Marquesan Feast”!

The first course was ‘poisson cru chinoix’ from yellowfin tuna that her dad had caught. Poisson cru is raw fish, typically marinated in coconut milk with lime juice and salt. We had ours with vinaigrette and fresh ginger; it was the most delicious one we’d ever tasted.

The second course was wild caught chicken – which Dolina catches using traps – sautéed in coconut milk; plus fire roasted breadfruit, and steamed “fei” (a local variety of plantain).

For this feast, Dolina charged us an incredibly low $5 per person, instead of the usual $20 per person asked throughout French Polynesia. We loved it so much we asked for another meal the next day!

On the second day, everyone was in heaven… but especially Spencer. Dolina served us wild boar that her dad caught the previous week in the mountains. This was one of Spencer’s dream experiences for the South Pacific. Dolina roasted the wild boar in an fantastic soy-ginger sauce. She also served grilled fish, along with a plethora of accoutrements.

We had not anticipated a culinary extravaganza here in Fatu Hiva- but that is exactly what we received!

Tapas, step 3

The final product of the Tapas are hand drawn paintings on the parchment paper, made from the tree bark.

Often the drawings are Tikis, manta rays, turtles, or story-telling motifs from the Polynesian tradition.

Interestingly, the paint brushes have typically been made from the hair of the artist!

Tapas, step 2

Originally, Tapas were made from tree bark solely for clothing. Since tattoos covered the bodies, the Tapa cloth was left blank – that is, without painted designs. The cloth was thin and supple for comfortable wearing.

Once cotton cloth became prevalent, Tapas were made thicker as parchment paper for paintings. Polynesian motifs were inscribed on the Tapas as part of a new art form.

With modernity, this technique has been largely lost – except for a few places in Polynesia. Thanks to the art revival in Marquesas, the village of Omoa in Fatu Hiva is now ones of the few hubs for the renewal of the Tapa tradition.

Photo: Dolina and her mom Marie Noelle show us blank tapas, before they are inscribed with paint. The white cloth comes from the mulberry tree, and the brown cloth comes from the banyan tree.

Tapas, step 1

What looks like white rags drying on the neighbor’s line is actually the bark of a tree, pounded like parchment paper.

The village of Omoa is the Polynesian center for the revival of the art of making cloth (or paper) from bark, called “Tapas”. They are so-named (we think!) after the 1000 times one must whack a wooden mallet to soften and flatten the bark: “tap-tap-tap-tap”. This is the gentle monodrome that echoes through the valley of Omoa.

(Nope, these Tapas have nothing to do with appetizer foods sold in Spain and now popular in American bistros!)

The mulberry tree, shown in the picture, is used for its bark, which produces a Tapa with a pleasant off-white color. This was at the house of Dolina, whose Tapas we were here to look at.

Omoa’s Mellow Feel

Omoa lies just 3 miles south of Hanavave, but it has a very different vibe. The valley is more open, dissipating the powerful winds that spill over the mountain range. The sun shines on the flowers and fruit trees that line the streets. Overall the energy here felt more tranquil and peaceful. The girls were happy exploring town to search out some local artisanal crafts…

Rainbows in Omoa

Omoa is the anchorage south of Hanavave; they are the two villages in Fatu Hiva, set in the lush river valleys.

Rainbows seem to be a daily fact of life here. The afternoon sun shines on the perpetual rainclouds hanging over the mountain peaks; the sun’s rays refract into rainbows that seem to start… right over… there.

Time to find the pot of gold!

Bay of Virgins, one last view…

Around the end of the day, with the sun low in the sky, the famously ‘phallic’ rocky pinnacles light up, creating a stark contrast against the dark backdrop of the mountains and grey clouds.

Despite its challenges, the astounding bay of Hanavave is a must-see, given the opportunity. Goodbye for now… or as they say in Tahitian, “Naná!”

Artists of Fatu Hiva

A few decades ago, the revival of Marquesan arts and culture began.

Several artisans we met had gone to a school in Hiva Oa (the capital of the southern Marquesas) to “re-learn” the forgotten arts of wood etching, bone carving, and tapa cloth creation.

Now nearly everyone in Fatu Hiva makes art. They sell to the cargo ship that brings tourists every two weeks; or direct to souvenir markets in Tahiti; or to the sailboats that visit the island – such as Spencer, who purchased a tapa of a Polynesia paddle from this friendly guy.

Dragon Ridges

We had heard that Marquesas is “powerful” and indeed, there is no better word to express both the landscape and the people.

Hiking to the waterfall, each gain in elevation gives us new views at the ridge lines which cut through the valleys like jaws of a buried dragon.

The thick coconut trees and red hibiscus flowers keeps things “soft” and pleasant; until the next turn in the trail, when your eyes widen at the vista once again.

Damage Control

Although I would rather forget our tribulations with the boat, and just soak in the scenery of Bay of Virgins, I had to dive and evaluate the extent of the fiberglass damage that we sustained enroute to Fatu Hiva.

A lot of fiberglass had delaminated from the powerful jets of water that hit the boat underway, including a section below the waterline. Delamination is a slippery slope: it can accelerate quickly. You must get rid of all the poorly attached fiberglass so that the good pieces have a chance of staying on the hull.

The bottom line: we’ll need to haul out to repair the hull. If they aren’t able to haul our trimaran in Hiva Oa, the larger island to our north, then we’ll have to come up with a “bandaid” to cover the exposed wood, until we get to a larger haul out facility in the Society Islands. This would be non-ideal, and could possibly compromise the wood foundation of the boat, if left for long.

So we need to do our best to fix and seal the wood, as soon as possible.

The Origin of Tiki?

It’s easy to see how the ancient Polynesians developed a religious tradition around the god Tiki, and became famous for carving stone statues to represent their deity.

Just one look around the valley of Hanavave and you’ll see many faces in the rocks, carved by Nature’s forces. It is enchanting and bizarre!

Who wouldn’t worship and try to emulate such a power; which manages to make life-like human figures out of massive stones in steep cliffs?

The Astounding Bay of Hanavave

Many sailors have called Hanavave bay the “most beautiful bay in the world.” I disagree…

‘Beautiful’ suggests it is pleasant to look at. But this understates its sheer, wild intensity.

It is transfixing. The valley is full of the most improbable rock pinnacles, sprouting like organic skyscrapers in a mad urban planner’s dream.

Yet it is the elemental power of the place that elevates it to another level. A perpetual black cloud hangs over the mountain crests, and the sun acts like a pinpoint torch, lighting up different rock outcroppings as it peaks through the shadowy clouds, constantly shape-shifting and powered by the tremendous gusts that blow through the valley, smothering the coconut trees (and the yachts).

Beautiful is one thing. This bay is ‘simply astounding’… it is in a class of its own!

Sunset in the Bay of Virgins

Ever since seeing Fatu Hiva from 5 miles away, our jaws were down by our chins, mouth agape in awe.

Then we pulled into Hanavave, the Bay of Virgins. It was simply too much. We just sat staring at it all day.

At sunset, we regained our senses and flew the Honey Bee to photograph the anchorage.

Photo: Aldebaran in the middle of the front row of boats, Hananave sunset.

The play of light

Cruising along the sheltered, east coast of Fatu Hiva, the light keeps alternating: from being shadowed by dark clouds one moment, to bright sun rays splashing down on the valleys. Thick clouds constantly linger over the islands’ peaks, and the sun plays hide and seek on the dramatic topography.

Wondering where we are, and from where we came?
See our Map of Marquesas Passage:

Approaching Fatu Hiva

6:30am. The rising sun lit up the sky around us. Up ahead, a dark mass loomed like a sentinel: the incomparable island of Fatu Hiva. Arriving here is a long time dream!

Fatu Hiva’s powerful nature starts from afar. The fluffy clouds from the easterly trade winds, that truck steadily across the ocean, are lifted by this sudden topographic barrier, with its peaks over 3000 feet tall; they morph into charcoal grey, rain sodden pillows of air, spilling into the lush western valleys.

As Aldebaran sailed herself well-balanced, we watched the approaching island from the deck. “I’ve been waiting 15 years to see this,” said Spencer. “I’ve had a picture of it on my wall, ever since I first looked at a sailing magazine.”

We savored every minute as the island grew larger. Its vertical bulk, in the middle of this ocean expanse, was awesome to behold. But most impressively, it acted as a meteorological phenomenon, affecting the weather for miles around. Like a supernova exploding in the sky, Fatu Hiva is the black hole; a minuscule land area of 8 x 3 miles, in comparison to the Pacific’s enormity, exerting a disproportionate gravitational pull.

Everything felt intensely alive. The headsail pulsated under the gusts as I held onto the forestay, the boat arcing under the swells.. Eons of tradition are weaved into this moment; from early Polynesian navigators and European explorers, to the modern community of international sailors.

Approaching this island via sailboat – instead of arriving by ship, or if it were available, by airplane – is a truly special experience. We are going 7 miles per hour, the speed of a slow bicycle, yet it still feels too fast to digest it all!

Especially after a multi-day passage, the gamut of emotions are vast… and in our particular case, with Aldebaran wounded as she is, having suffered bad damage, this is the epitome of Yin-Yang. We are in that white circle of blissed out excitement, yet there is a dark spot of lurking uncertainty. It is good beyond good, and it is bad… how bad? We are not sure yet. Living in harmony with these wildly opposing feelings was our reality as we approached the supernova of Fatu Hiva.