Cruising

Stories from the South Pacific: Entranced in Tahiti

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For many world travelers, the South Pacific is little more than a dream, a place where the tantalizing scenery seems slightly out of reach. But for sailors, thanks to the many charter bases scattered around the region, it’s ours to explore. The question is: Where will you sail first?  

Here are a few of our favorite trips to help you get inspired. 

Time Out in Tonga

Whitsunday Magic

Read on to get Entranced in Tahiti...

I yearn to return to Tahiti. I was there in 2010 for the Pearl Regatta and fell in love with the islands. I can still hear the crash of surf outside my room that first night, smell the scent of orchids at the top of the mountain on Raiatea and see turquoise seas turning to emerald as mighty Pacific swells pushed us toward Bora Bora. Even the names of the places are blissful incantations of joy, beauty and peace. 

Sailing in Tahiti is more than a physical experience. Tahiti envelopes the soul, engages every sense, vibrates within you long after you’ve returned home—exotic, distant, a place of legends and romantic history. 

For most, sailing in Tahiti means chartering. You’ll find excellent charter options in luxury crewed, skippered and bareboat sailboats. Bareboat packages are offered by North American companies like The Moorings, Sunsail and Dream Yacht Charters, and foreign companies like Tahiti Yacht Charters and Poseidon Charters, all of which have a solid selection of well equipped monohulls and catamarans.

You’ll arrive in Papeete (pah-pah-YEH-tay) on the island of Tahiti and transfer by plane to Raiatea (RAH-ya-TAY-ya), in the Society Islands, which includes Tahiti, Moorea, Bora-Bora, Taha’a and Raiatea. In this region, there’s easy sailing inside the reefs and exhilarating passages outside between the islands. Navigation is line of sight, but study your charts carefully and beware of shallows.

Leaving the dock at Raiatea, your first cruise could be a lovely excursion through the lagoon up to the island of Taha’a. This is a short, easy passage inside the reef, giving you time to acclimate to the boat and cruising ground. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you’re hit by the scent of vanilla wafting from the mountainsides. These two islands are the only islands in the Society group that you can sail around without exiting the reef. 

From Taha’a, head out one of the passes for Bora Bora, whose high volcanic peaks pierce the clouds in the distance. Sail west, then north to Bora Bora’s only pass, where you’ll enter another exquisite lagoon below the island’s breathtaking mountains.

Beware: it’s easy to get hooked on the fabulous sailing here. You’ll want to sail on and on, but doing so means you’ll see little of the islands themselves. Restrain yourself, or book a longer charter. There’s too much to see ashore that you don’t want to miss.

On Tahiti in particular, I was beguiled by the island’s cultural heritage. Europeans discovered the island in 1521, but it has preserved its unique culture, which I experienced while viewing native dancing, dining on native food cooked in a pit formerly used by cannibals, and exploring various historical sites. On other nearby islands, I learned about pearl harvesting and vanilla farming—two important local industries. I visited local markets and rode horses through the mountains, peering down at incredible views of the ocean.

On my next visit I intend to dive the reefs, which are home to hundreds of species of marine life, including humpback whales and manta rays with wingspans wider than you are tall. There is a plethora of sites, ranging from 10 feet deep to depths that require technical expertise, all with little current, 80-degree water temperatures and perfect visibility. 

Winds range from 10 to 15 knots, although should you get a mara’amu, or south wind, you’ll experience a gale-force blow. Temperatures range from a winter chill of 77F to 95F in the summer. Keep in mind that French Polynesia is south of the equator, so the seasons are the reverse of our own. 

High season for chartering is June through August, while May, September and August offer great weather at good values. Tahiti is well suited for charters and your charter company can help you organize itineraries and activities before you arrive. 

Just don’t fall victim to the greatest danger of these islands, one experienced by captain Bligh when half his crew mutinied and refused to leave. Leaving is the most challenging thing you’ll do there. Believe me, I know. 

Photos by Tor Johnson

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