Breakdown on Fatu Hiva and the Wild Ride to Tahuata

We were planning on sailing out of Fatu Hiva yesterday but Murphy’s Law reared it’s ugly head and we were temporarily stranded in the Bay of Virgins!  ….what a terrible place for engine trouble 😉

As Allan (Alyssa’s dad) likes to say about one of the truths of boating: “Sh!t breaks”

Yesterday morning we woke up early to set sail for Tahuata.  We deflated and strapped the kayak down, removed all the canvas covers on the eisenglass, stowed everything and proceeded to start the engine…..and nothing happened.  We tried to start it again and not a sound.  We needed to leave by 8:00 am to make sure we reach the anchorage on Tahuata before sunset and it was 7:45.  There was no wind so we couldn’t even sail out.  So out came the voltmeter, off came the engine covers and I began my ritual of probing leads to trace the issue.  There was good voltage at the starter solenoid and the batteries were fully charged so I knew we had power.  I suspected the starter switch or the wire from the starter switch to the solenoid so I checked that.  The fuse was good so I had Lyss go up to the control panel and push the starter button while I held the voltmeter to the leads.  I got a reading of negative 9 volts with no difference when she hit the start switch.  Ok found my culprit.  Thankfully we have a spare starter switch onboard (thanks to John the previous owner) so we tore apart the v-berth and dug out the spare switch.  I wired it up with alligator clips and that sweet sound of the engine firing up lit up our faces.  then the real fun began; we had the opportunity to clear out the jam-packed aft lazarette to get to the back of the engine panel!  After much contorting and sweating I emerged from the lazarette triumphant in having replaced the faulty switch.  We crossed our fingers that the switch was the culprit and successfully fired up the engine!

We had already strapped the kayak down and made the boat passage-ready so we spent the afternoon relaxing, reading and enjoying our amazing surroundings for an extra day.

This morning we woke at 6:30, fired up the engine, pulled anchor and headed out to sea.  We pulled out the spare 140% genoa that we bent on in the anchorage and set a course for the lee of Tahuata.  We enjoyed a great 35 mile beam reach to the south side of Tahuata.  As we approached the point I asked Lyss to help me furl in half of the genoa in anticipation of gusty winds around the point.  I really wanted to have the main up and double-reefed but laziness prevailed and we closed with the island under a half furled genoa.  This old genoa is a real pain to handle when furled because it’s old, a bit worn out and has a huge belly.  Having a huge belly makes it a total pig when half-furled and it’s impossible to sheet it flat.  I thought we would see winds pipe up from 13-15 to maybe 20 or a max of 24.  I was wrong and the winds piped up to almost 30 knots and the seas became really confused and steep.  I told Alyssa to ease the sheet so I can furl it in more or just furl it all the way in.  As soon as she eased the sheet the genoa went nuts flapping in the wind and was putting immense strain on the rig as it yanked the hell out of the rig to the point I thought it was going to come down.  As soon as she eased the sheet I pulled on the furler line with all my strength but I couldn’t get it in.  WTF?!?!  I was fighting with the line while the sail tried to take the rig down flailing and flogging in the 30 knot winds.  I couldn’t get it in so I yelled to Alyssa to sheet it back in.  I had never had a problem furling in a headsail even in very strong winds.  The line must have been wrapped over on itself on the furling drum…great!  I was pissed but needed to sail the boat close to the wind so it wouldn’t rip the genoa to shreds or pull the rig down.  It was very tense and high adrenaline sailing to say the least.  Alyssa was at the helm steering to the ever-changing wind direction and I was manning the port winch so I could blow out the sail when the wind went from 10 to 28 in less than two seconds.  We were sailing in the lee of Tahuata and the huge soaring peaks and valleys were funneling the trades resulting in patches of dead calm and then huge winds!  I would never fly that much sail in this situation but I couldn’t get the damn genoa to furl away and dropping the sail entirely was completely out of the question in these conditions.  So we did our best for the next 45 minutes until we reached a spot behind a mountain peak where the wind dropped to an inconsistent 15-18 knots.  We then orchestrated a way to furl the reluctant sail away.  I had Lyss ease the sheet completely and I quickly uncleated the furling line and threw a few wraps around the winch drum and cranked like hell to get the sail furled away.  It worked and we proceeded to motor the last mile into the anchorage.

We are now anchored in the beautiful Hanatefau Bay, just north of Bay Hapatoni.  As we came into the bay we were welcomed by a pod of baby dolphins jumping and twirling just off the starboard bow!  It was an awesome moment and Alyssa was thrilled to be out of that wind and watching the dolphins.  We are anchored on rocks and coral patches and the water is crystal clear.  We can see the bottom 40 feet below us!  The wind is pushing us around and we are dancing a bit and dragging our 200 feet of chain along some rocks which echo’s throughout the boat but this is a gorgeous bay and we are very glad to have survived the previous ordeal!

We’ll launch the kayak later and go explore the bay.  Tomorrow we will go explore the town of Hapatoni, the largest on Tahuata, and seek out some bone carvings.

Hope all is well back home.  We love hearing from you all so drop us a line when you have a moment.

Lewis and Alyssa

April 23, 2014

Hanatefau Bay, Tahuata Island, Marquesas, French Polynesia

09 57.795 S
139 07.111 W


  1. Bob & Miriam's Gravatar Bob & Miriam
    April 25, 2014    

    Congratulations are in order for your keeping a cool head during the genoa
    challenge; and in keeping with the finest traditions of the sea, not throwing
    your starter overboard when the switch is the prob. Murphy’s Law applied at
    sea is exponentially worse than on land.
    It makes that anchorage feel like home.

    Bob & Mir

    • April 28, 2014    

      haha. Thanks Cap! It sure was a challenge but we managed to keep the stick upright and the sail from being ripped apart so I reckon it was a successful sail! We are having our jib sewn over the next two days while anchored in Taiohae Bay on Nuku Hiva.

      Always great to read your comments. Hope all is well. Talk to you soon!

  2. Rina/Mom's Gravatar Rina/Mom
    April 26, 2014    

    Uggg, I hate when that happens….glad there were dolphins to calm you nerves after a feat like that…Reef early, Reef often….Sailors rules… Love you guys!

Thank You

© RidetheTrades, 2012 – 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any blog entries or photos without express and written permission from this blog’s owners is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full credit is given to, with appropriate direction to the original content. Thank you!