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11 weeks in French Polynesia

June 28, 2017

Marquesas will be remembered by us as the green, rainy and swelly place.

It took us 21 days from Galapagos to Hiva Oha. We entered a new world in the middle of the Pacific, the first week of April, when we anchored in the bay of Atuona. It was quite a few other sailing boats there and the bay is small, but we managed to get a good spot with good holding. The check in procedure, Marquesas being a part of French territory, was quick and easy. The main town was very small and 2 km from the harbor, but OK for stocking up with the essentials   after so many days at sea. However vegetables were scarce. Plenty of fruit trees though, so we managed to buy some pomplemousse (like grapefruit). Everything was rather expensive.

The first impression was that everything is green. High hills filled with trees and bushes. A bit like the Scottish coastline.  Second impression was rain. It rained at least once per day, sometimes enough to fill a half bucket (150 mm) in a couple of hours. Of course this is also why the islands are green and lush. The water in the anchorage is also affected by the rain. It is brown, filled with tree trunks, coco nuts and mud/sand. We also learned that a couple of Tiger sharks used the lack of visibility to sneak up on their prey. So, no swimming for us! The harbor is open to the south west which gave us a very rolly place to stay. Hiva Oha is mainly used for clearing in to Marquesas, but not suitable for long stays.

During our week there we met some new sailors and some we had met before. At one time we were 5 Swedish flagged boats in the bay. The rest were mainly of Canadian, US, French and Swiss origin.  We took a day trip together with a Canadian and US couple to look for the Tikis, the figures made by the Marquesan tribes 500 years ago. At that time, and as late as beginning of 1900-, people were also practicing cannibalism. The island is beautiful with a very broken coastline and few “roads” . We saw a lonely “Smiling Tiki” far off the beaten track (we had to walk on foot) and a more touristic place filled with statues and platforms for worshipping. A day well spent.

After a week the wind shifted to a less favorable direction and we moved to the neighboring island, Tahuata, and anchored in a bay on the west side. What a difference! Crystal clear water, lots of wonderfully colored fishes (and a few octopuses) and a nice view of Hiva Oha. We stayed for 3 nights before the wind turned again and we had to move. We tried one night further south, close to the main village, but the bay was deep raising from 50 m to 20 to 10 very close to the shore, so the swell was tremendous. We had to head back to Atuona again.

Last week in the Marquesas we spent anchored at the main village in Nuku Hiva. Hugh bay with a lot of sailing boats. Good holding but still a bit swelly and our bodies started to get tired of the constant moving, and the rain. We therefore hoisted the anchor and set sail for………


We had read about a small atoll to the north, Ahe, which we wanted to explore. After approx. 3 days and 520 nm we entered the small passage into the atoll. At almost slack we experienced about 2-3 knots outgoing water. The entrance is a bit narrow but not more than 500 m long. Minimum depth was 4-5 meters in crystal clear water. We motored trough the inner water to the south and the main village where we took a place at the concrete pier. You are allowed to use that when the ferry is not coming. We were the only yacht during the 8 days we stayed at Ahe. A small village with 100 friendly people, a couple of small shops and clear water. Ahe is one of the major atolls of the Black Pearl industry of Tuamotus, which we found out due to all moorings with oysters hanging beneath.

From Ahe we went to Fakarava. We had read that it was supposed to be fantastic, but since we had no dinghy (it broke down and was left in Ahe so we used the kayak instead), rather bad weather etc. it did not turn out to be our favorite place. We had a nice dinner at one of the hotels, saw some dolphins in the entrance, but not much more so we left after 3 days for the Society Islands.

Society Islands

The 200 nm sail over to Tahiti was interesting: some squalls and an auto pilot that gave up (after 20 years). We had to hand steer the last 60 nM. As normal we arrived at Tahiti 01.00 at night. We knew however that the entrance was OK for night arrival, but everything looks different in darkness with all lights from the cars and villages ashore. We managed to find our way through the reef passage and took a mooring in the Papeéte marina.

The marina “downtown” is nice and we really recommend it, with all you need in terms of water, garbage handling, washing machines and WIFI. We ended up staying there for 18 days, exploring a city of approx. 25.000 inhabitant,) with grocery stores (cheese and vegetables!), shops (new shoes, batteries, dinghy) and small speciality workshops. The market at Papeéte is famous for all its goods: fish, vegetables, handicraft etc. The nice surroundings at the harbor side allowed for jogging and good walks. We really enjoyed ourselves. We even managed to watch a dance exhibition where all islands were represented, close to all the Roulettes (food on wheels). The Marquesans were the best, we thought. The Pearl museum got a visit and we admired a necklace worth 250.000 dollar. Eva got a pearl necklace at the market for a completely different price, but very beautiful and appreciated.

A 15-20 nM sail to Moorea following in the footsteps of Captain Cook, left us in Cooks bay. However, Coock never went to Cooks bay but to Opunou Bay, close by. Cooks bay was fabulous, We did not pick up a mooring, but anchored in the inner bay  at  15 m. Good holding in mud/sand. Before anchoring we bunkered diesel at the jetty recommended to us. The depth was sufficient, but the fuel station was not installed and the jetty almost came loose when Tina’s weight was tied to the dock. We managed to borrow some jerry cans from an American neighbor, and after 3 hours of moving and filling diesel we had filled 600 l. The anchorage is spectacular, surrounded by high mountains of spectacular shape. When filling diesel, we got a tip to sign up for a tourist tour to check out the feeding of the Sting Rays. It was a 1 day trip, well worth the money. We used the Albert Tours with Sisi as guide. The feeding was spectacular. Loads of Rays and Black Tipped Reef Sharks surrounded us. It is a very peculiar feeling to have a Ray around your body like a second skin. They were friendly and many! The tour ended with a lunch and entertainment. Also well worth the money. The feeling of Rays close to our bodies will linger for a longtime.

From Moorea we set sail to Huahine, by many mentioned as the pearl in the district. The moorings close to the village Fare are were very well placed, and we found one that was free. No fee to pay. Close by was the best dinghy dock we have enjoyed in a long time, next to the yacht club. The club personnel were friendly and the dinner superb. Adding to the perfectness was that the garbage handling was cost free with easy access and the supermarket was close to the dock and fully equipped with all necessities including fresh baguette. We snorkeled at the reef close to the mooring and the number of different species was enormous. We could tick of new fishes in our reef guide! To see the rest of the island (it is really 2 islands) we rented a car. To the north there was a major archeological excavation from the 900-1000th century. It was most impressing. 8 “clans” that had been living there side by side with their own burial areas and their fish traps still in use. Due to the topology, at all these islands you see no villages except along the one road that goes round the island on a low coral plateau.

We spent half of the week in Fare and the next half in a southern lagoon called Bay of Avea. A bit tricky to maneuver down the small path with 4meters as lowest water, but very well marked with green and red buoys. The anchorage has moorings but you could drop anchor at 15-25 meter. The difficulty with most of these anchorages is that you have a depth of 30 meter until its slope up to 0,5 meter, so if a mooring is free you use it. We did some dinghy drifting in the crystal clear water (1 meter deep). The corals are damaged, because of snorkelers, warmer water or hurricanes are difficult to say, but we hardly see anything that is fragile or higher than a couple of decimeters. The brain corals seem to handle it better and those are also the boulders you have to watch out for when navigating. The water was crystal clear. Close by was a resort so if a need for a beer turned up, you were in no trouble.

Within eyesight from Huahine was Tahaa and Raiatea. Same reef but 2 different islands. Raiatea is the most touristic with all the charter fleets and most of the resorts, and Tahaa is more secluded with only 5000 inhabitants. It is only 35 nM between Huahine and Raiatea-Tahaa so a day’s sail brought us there. The most enjoyable spot was on the east side on the reef close to the east entrance, where we did some nice snorkeling.

35 nM to the NW is Bora Bora. This is going to be our last stop in the French Polynesia so today we cleared out (will get our papers tomorrow) and started to do some major bunkering of food and diesel.

We have seen quite a lot of the island: stopping at the south west at the free moorings at Bloody Mary, enjoying a nice drink (Eva’s favorite). To the North West we stopped at the BoraBora Yacht Club and stapled a GKSS flag to the wall. We did a hike (not so well planned with flip-flops and no water) and ended up after 20 km at the Sofitel for a much enjoyable beer. The inland around the spectacular,  2mountain tops is very green and looks like a botanical garden.

Sum up:

  • Marquesas in april is very rainy
  • Ahe (Tuamotus) will always be close to our hearts: lot of sunshine, good snorkeling, fine sea shells and friendly people, all 140 of them.(We got a 2,0 kg tunafilé as a gift when asking for fish to buy)
  • Pape’ete was much better than the reputation. The marina in the city center was good, and the surroundings just what you needed after 3 months without “civilization”.
  • The differences between the high islands to the east without reefs, the atolls in the middle and the island to the west with reefs, are 3 completely different parts of the French Polynesia. You move from the swelly and rainy east, via the atolls with 1-5 meter to the sea level, to the Tahiti islands with its high (up to 2000+ m) mountains and surrounding reefs securing a smooth anchorage.
  • All people have been friendly and we have not experienced or heard of any crimes or violence. They carry the flowers in their hair, naturally, and not for the sake of tourists.
  • The handicraft is fantastic. Beautiful black pearls, sea shell necklaces, wood carvings (Tiki figures and ukuleles), palm hats and baskets. A majority of the Polynesians have big tattoos over large parts of their bodys.
  • THE big outdoor sport if canoeing in outriggers. Single or up to 8 people.

From → Sailing Letters

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