Holly Martin: The Marquesas Islands
A Report from French Polynesia in the Central South Pacific Ocean
Photos courtesy Holly Martin
Last fall Holly Martin, 28, set out from Round Pond Harbor on the Pemaquid Peninsula, on her way to sail around the world alone. In the pursuit of this dream, she had worked aboard scientific research vessels to earn and save money, purchased and refitted a 27-foot-long Grinde (built in Denmark in 1983), and christened it the SV Gecko. An experienced sailor, Holly had largely grown up at sea and abroad, as partially documented in her parents’ fascinating book, Into the Light: A Family’s Epic Journey (2002), by Dave and Jaja Martin.
Just after passing through the Panama Canal, Holly’s global sailing plans were delayed by the global pandemic, which closed harbors and made supplies difficult to get. She spent the time of strictest quarantine near the Perlas Islands, with a small community of other sailors. Eventually, however, she was able to get ashore to buy what she needed, and she set sail for the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. Forty-one days later, she reached Nuka Hiva, one of these small, isolated volcanic islands in the middle of the Pacific. She had been out of sight of land for most of that time. Many of her friends from Panama ended up in the same anchorage, and the sailors enjoyed a big reunion of sorts.
Holly’s mother, Jaja Martin, is in occasional communication with Holly via a Garmin inReach, a two-way satellite communicator, and she shared with us an outline of the route ahead: “Holly plans to cruise around the Marqueses Islands for a while. On Aug. 2 she left Nuka Hiva and sailed to Uo Pou Island, where she’s currently anchored. She hopes to visit some of the other outer islands in the archipelago but is not sure which ones. She’s very spontaneous!”
Jaja continues, “After leaving the Marqueses, Holly will head for the Tuamotu archipelago. She’s picked out some of the more remote atolls to visit, but her choice will depend on the wind and current at her time of arrival. She plans to bask in the luxury of being remote and completely detached from communications. Eating coconuts, fishing, snorkeling, and walking the beaches are her main goals. After that, Holly will head to the Society Islands and will finally clear into (have her travel documents checked and approved by officials in) Papeete, Tahiti. Right now, French Polynesia will only process paperwork for cruisers in Papeete, but they give a temporary clearance to cruisers landing in islands groups other than the Societies. Because of COVID restrictions, once Holly leaves the Society Islands, she won’t be able to land on any other island groups in the Pacific. At this time, Tonga, Fiji, and New Caledonia are all completely closed to travelers. So, the next stop after Tahiti will be New Zealand. It’s a long trip–about 2,600 miles!”
Here is Holly’s latest report, in her own words.
I arrived in Nuku Hivav on July 11th at mid-morning. The capital town of the Marqesas is on this island, and it’s the only place currently open for yachts entering the country. Even though it’s the capital, the town is very small—they have only recently paved the roads! Upon arrival, I had to submit an email to the local doctor declaring my state of health. After receiving this email, the doctor responded with a list of questions. He asked me if I was experiencing any symptoms of COVID. Since I had just been completely isolated alone at sea for 41 days, I obviously was fine. After I sent this off, I was cleared to go ashore. Right now, the only place to officially clear myself and my boat into the country is in Tahiti. Boats are allowed to cruise the rest of French Polynesia without clearing in. The understanding is that once we reach Tahiti, we’ll go to the officials and fill out the required paperwork.
There’s only one cell tower on Nuku Hiva, and it reaches the bay that I cleared into (Taiohe’a Bay), and the surrounding mountains. After a week and a bit in Taiohe’a, I sailed around the corner to a small bay with no connection to the outside world. The only way to get into the very tiny village is by boat, or horseback over the mountain pass (about 4 hours). The locals pass their time fishing and hunting for wild pigs. They sell copra to boats that drop it off on Tahiti. For those of you who don’t know, copra comes from coconuts and is made into coconut oil. It’s a way that many of the people in the small villages and atolls around French Polynesia are able to make money. Seeing a whole village of people who have no internet connection or TV is such a beautiful sight in today’s world. The children run around and play in the trees. The adults stay busy by working on their fruit trees, fixing hunting equipment, and playing with the kids. One afternoon I went down to the beach to watch the surf. Several families were sitting in the sand looking at the waves and talking with each other. Not a phone was in sight. Everyone was living in the present moment and engaged with their surroundings.
I was able to trade for and buy as much fruit as I wanted from the locals. One day I hiked two hours up into the mountains surrounding the village. My theory was that I could pick up a cell connection from the tower in the next bay. I was right! Once I got to the top of the mountain around my bay, my cell phone started pinging. I was in touch with the outside world! I hung out on the mountain top for about an hour, and then made the two-hour hike back down to the village.
I was also able to get fresh drinking water in my new tiny bay. At one end of the beach there is a river that flows out into the ocean. At high tide, it’s possible to navigate the surf and get a dinghy up into the river. From there, it’s a short little stint up the river to the first hut of the village. In front of the hut is a palm tree that hangs out over the water. This also conveniently can be a bollard for a dinghy. Once tied up to my palm tree, I hopped ashore with my jerries and filled them from a spigot near the house. The drinking water comes from the waterfall above the village. Perfection. While I was filling my jerries, local kids shyly came out from the house and started playing in the dinghy and “helping” me to fill my jerries with water. They found my French accent hilarious. The locals here speak French as well as their own local language.
Tomorrow I’m heading to the next island over to do some more
exploring. I think some of the bays might have a weak cell signal, but I don’t really care anymore. I’m embracing a life without the internet. Especially in today’s world, this is a real treat. I think I’ve finally found paradise.