Looking at the photos of previous Tahiti Pearl Regattas, I thought there was no way this place could be real, that it was the visual equivalent of “Fake News.” It’s just not possible for anywhere to have water that clear, skies that blue, settings so bucolic and evocative that they’re on every computer in the world as a screensaver to annoyingly remind you that you’re at your desk and not there.
Yet when you do get to Tahiti, you see this it’s exactly as it’s depicted. The people are attractive, friendly and kind, the scenery is stunning, the temperatures in the Austral autumn remain unvaried in the low 80s, and you quickly feel your internal turbines winding down to a low hum. It’s no wonder those first European and later American visitors in the 18th and 19th centuries jumped ship.
Each year, three of four islands in the Society Islands group play host to the Tahiti Pearl Regatta: Raiatea, Taha’a, Huahine and Bora Bora. Being of extinct volcanic origin, all feature a steep central mountain turned green with foliage, deep narrow valleys, coastal fields and an encircling barrier reef with a navigable lagoon and occasional outer palm-covered islets called “motus.” These latter features are what serve as the venues for an event that is essentially a travelling menagerie of participating sailboats, sailing canoes of local design, race committee and support boats.
In this year’s regatta, some 50-plus boats were grouped into divisions of monohulls, multihulls, sailing canoes and cruisers. The latter were those boats that chose not to participate in the daily “banana” course race in the host island’s lagoon, but only on the following “rally” races to the next island, usually about 20 miles away. This year, after starting in Raiatea, that first island was Huahine, where a dying breeze nudged the race committee to set up a finish line just outside the pass through the reef. Everyone then anchored in the lagoon, went for a swim, jumped in dinghies and went ashore for that evening’s Polynesian-themed party of traditional food, drink, live music and dance performances, and a raucous party with a Pareo theme.
After a night anchored in the quiet lagoon under the stars, lulled to sleep by the rumble of the surf crashing on the outer reef, fresh baguettes were delivered at dawn by dinghy throughout the fleet (this is France after all!) and the day started with another banana race followed by a rally race to the next island, Taha’a. With some clouds and a very light version of the northeasterly trades, the race committee decided to lead the fleet towards the finish in the pass at Taha’a until enough wind appeared to start the rally race. After its finish and a lunch break, an afternoon race was held in the Taha’a lagoon before that evening’s shore party, this one with a pig roast and an underwater theme.
The regatta finished with a spectacular sailing day; the clouds had parted, the tradewinds returned in full strength, and after a two-lap banana course the entire fleet raced around the island of Taha’a in a picturesque parade of sail. Each point cleared in the clockwise rotation of the island brought with it stunning new views that it’s safe to say are unrivaled in the sailing world.
While most of the participants were local, with visiting cruisers and charter boats mixed in, this 16th edition of the Pearl saw plenty of international interest and enthusiasm. Rupert Wilson’s Rumpus, for example, came up from New Zealand to have fun, and Gorm Gondesen’s beautiful green custom 53ft Nica, built at Knierim in Germany, was easily the fastest monohull in the fleet.
And next year’s running of the Transpac Tahiti Race, a 3,571-mile marathon from Los Angeles, may bring even more awareness to those from around the world on just how gorgeous this setting is for all sailing, racing and cruising alike, and where both are done in perfect form.