We spent a year in French Polynesia, exploring beautiful islands, communing with marine life, and meeting amazing people. We also dealt with lots of broken equipment. From sails to machinery, something was always broken on board Sava. Sometimes it was easy to solve, sometimes it wasn’t. Here’s what it’s like fixing a boat in French Polynesia.
Location Location Location
One of the cliches and constants of life on a cruising boat is fixing your boat in exotic locations. At least we have nice views while we’re dirty, tired, and frustrated. In French Polynesia, the views are beautiful. That’s an excuse for a scenic shot!
papeete is best for fixing a boat in French polynesia
The best place to be when fixing a boat in French Polynesia is Papeete, Tahiti. Since all the stores selling marine hardware, and regular hardware, are in Papeete, you almost always have to source from there unless you get very lucky. In our three different stays in Papeete over the year, we visited every possible chandler and hardware store. Multiple times. And a machine shop. Living the glamorous yacht life!
French Polynesia is a vast area, with five major island groups: The Marquesas, Tuamotus, Gambier, Austral, and Society Islands. We are traveling west with the winds after crossing from Panama and landing in the magical Marquesas islands. After a few weeks or months in The Marquesas, the next island group is usually the Tuamotus. Cruising the Tuamotus is like nothing we’ve experienced, and a great reason to get the long stay visa. We can’t believe we almost raced through all of these islands, a necessity with the standard French Polynesian three month visa.
Introduction to The Tuamotus
Motu in Tahitian means a small islet of coral reef, an atoll. The Tuamotus is a chain of 70+ of these small islets, many sparsely inhabited.
To sail from The Marquesas to anywhere in The Tuamotus takes 3-4 days, depending on departure and arrival points, and, of course, the wind. Once you’re in the chain, you can do short day or overnight hops to get from one motu to the next.
The archipelagos’ total population is only about 15,000 people. That’s right, across almost 80 islands. The main industries include pearl farming, copra cultivation (coconut oil), and a small amount of tourism in a few places.
This may be hard to believe, even to us, but we are commemorating four years living on a sailboat. On December 5th, 2018, Brian, Domino and I moved onboard Sava in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and now we are in French Polynesia, on the same boat!
High Highs and Low Lows
We’ve had some high highs and low lows living on a sailboat. I’ve learned that in nature everything is more extreme. I have felt more awe and joy on the ocean and at anchor than I ever imagined, mostly when interacting with wildlife.
This year alone we experienced noteworthy nature shows. One of the most memorable was being surrounded by hundreds of eagle rays leaping out of the water in Las Perlas, Panama.
The rain started early this year in the South Pacific. Rainy season normally hits The Society Islands in December. This November, rainy season in French Polynesia has already begun.
About The Tuamotus
The Tuamotu Islands are a French Polynesian archipelago located south and west of The Marquesas and east of the Society Islands. A natural progression for sailors is to visit The Tuamotus after landing in The Marquesas. Since we have a year in French Polynesia, we’ve already visited this area once, before Tahiti, and now again for part of cyclone season.
The motus (islands) are basically big sandbars interspersed with strips of coral. The atolls make nearly circular shapes, surrounding water, known as the lagoon, and creating nice protected anchorages. We visit the atolls with entrances, called passes, where the water between sandbars is wide and deep enough for boats to pass. While there are almost eighty islands, we can probably enter twenty on our sailboat.
The Marquesas are beautiful and fun to explore. Located in one of the most remote regions on earth, tourists are uncommon and supplies are thin. In contrast, the land and seascapes are stunning! Read about cruising in the Marquesas, with some tips for first-timers.
About The Marquesas
The Marquesas archipelago is in the northeasternmost part of French Polynesia. This location makes it a common first stop for sailors crossing the Pacific. Other than sailors, not a lot of tourists visit this part of the world. Which means a lot of unspoiled beauty and some difficulty accessing basic goods.
The Marquesas consists of six occupied islands and we have been to five. Mountainous and green, the land provides ample fruit for its residents and visitors. So much fruit that Marquesan citrus is exported to Tahiti and beyond. The hard part of cruising in the Marquesas is finding internet, fresh veggies, and propane, and if you can get that all in one anchorage with clear water, don’t ever leave!
Sailing in The Marquesas
Sailing between islands in The Marquesas is good in that distances usually allow for daytime trips from one island to another. Here’s an idea of distances between islands (obviously differs depending on departure and arrival bay), from northeast to southwest (our route):
Nuku Hiva to Ua Pou: approximately 22nm
Ua Pou to Tahuata: approximately 60nm
Tahuata to Hiva Oa: around 20nm
Hiva Oa to Fatu Hiva: about 45nm
The island we didn’t visit – yet – is Ua Huka, 30 miles from Nuku Hiva, so would take 6 hours.
It’s nice to have the luxury of jumping between islands without overnight trips, and each island is unique and worth visiting! Sometimes we have to motor sail, or just motor, especially when travelling between Tahuata and Hiva Oa.