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!
getting a new freezer in french polynesia. TWICE
We were in Tahiti when our freezer broke. This freezer had been on our boat since we bought it, and we don’t know how old it was at the time. It was a good big standalone freezer but one day it just died.
When the freezer stopped freezing, we were in the yard, staying in an airbnb, so we were able to bring all the food to the freezer in the airbnb. However, we couldn’t find a 12volt freezer anywhere in Papeete that would fit onto our boat. We found one but it wouldn’t fit into the passageway, and we would have had to cut a piece of our salon settee. Hard no.
We ordered a freezer from Europe. France ships stuff here everyday, it couldn’t be that hard. It took 3 weeks. By then, we’d moved out of the yard, back onto our boat, been to Moorea and were in a marina in Tahiti. By then, we’d eaten or given away all our frozen foods. It took me a while to fill that new freezer again, afraid it would break and I’d waste food, and it was much smaller than the old one.
We were back in Tahiti a few months later when the new freezer broke. Actually we were in Moorea when the second one broke, so we made an unplanned trip back to Papeete to replace it. They are close islands, so it could have been worse. I think the freezer from SVB lasted 4 months. It just died. We tried to repair it, and failed. It’s now sitting in our spare bedroom waiting for directions from SVB of where to send it for servicing or refund. That was two months ago.
That time we did give away a lot of bacon and burgers, to good friends, and we had guests on board so we had a big barbecue on board Sava.
Fortunately, when we were in one of the many marine hardware stores in Papeete working on another boat project, Brian found another freezer. It’s a no name Chinese brand, is even smaller than the second freezer, but we got it working. The funny thing about that freezer is the store had two more on order, which Brian posted in the local Facebook group, and those two were sold out later that day. Goes to show how many other cruisers had the same issue with broken freezers.
how to repair a boat in french polynesia when you’re not in papeete
Shipping is Easy
If you’re living it up diving and enjoying the Tuamotus when something breaks, fixing your boat becomes complicated. The good news is, French Polynesia being a vast territory, they know how to ship, and it’s not too expensive.
When a pipe on our watermaker broke in Fakarava, we had to ship the old part to Papeete so they could duplicate it. We worked with Yacht Services to get the old part on an Air Tahiti flight to Papeete, and then to pay.
Another example is the toilet pump. We worked with a friend (thanks Elliot!) in Papeete to pay for the pump and the store sent it with a courier on the ferry to Moorea and to the dinghy dock at our anchorage.
In both cases, shipping costs were approximately $25-35 USD.
Paying is Not as Easy
You may have noticed already, but a lot of times we needed help with payments. Yes, paying remotely is complicated in French Polynesia. Many providers don’t accept credit cards over the phone or internet, and you can’t pay through the banks without an account. We went into a bank in Moorea and tried to give them money to pay someone in Papeete into their account at that bank. Not possible.
A big thank you to the yacht services, who for a small fee, will pay the providers through their French Polynesian bank accounts. We once had Kevin in Nuku Hiva make a payment for us when we were touring around another part of the Marquesas. It’s a complicated process when you’re fixing your boat in French Polynesia and you’re not in Papeete!
Help From Other Cruisers
Several times we’ve had help from other cruisers who were conveniently located in Papeete and went to paid for us at the marine stores in town. Other cruisers have paypal. The stores in Papeete do not.
Anne on Pelican helped us when it wouldn’t stop raining in Fakarava and our bimini cover sprung holes. She brought her sewing machine on board Sava and fixed it right up!
It’s always good when you don’t have a spare, but another cruiser does. Then you can order two of the part so you both have spares. Cruisers helping cruisers holds true in The South Pacific as much as it has from the start.
Fixing A Boat in French Polynesia: Job List
This was a worse than normal year for breakages on the boat, but keep in mind all the stress we put on Sava. Sava is not just a recreational vehicle, she’s our home. We live on her all day and night, moving her through good weather and bad. This past year we put a lot of miles on her, going back and forth from Marquesas to Tahiti and beyond. The multiple freezer failures? I think that was bad luck.
Our jib sheet tore on the voyage from Panama, and we had our boat hauled out in Papeete for some big jobs. These are some of our other boat fixes in French Polynesia:
- Fixed our watermaker twice (the first time they didn’t use brass or stainless for the pipe so it wore through in a few months)
- Repaired the davits that lift our dinghy
- Replaced the toilet pump, the shower pump, and the black water pump
- Replaced the freezer twice (and we still have the first new one sitting in our guest birth waiting to find out where to send it for reimbursement)
- Replaced our TV screen
- Replaced our dinghy propellor
- Fixed the rigging
- Installed a new counter in the galley
- Replaced the refrigerator controller
- Fixed the autopilot – a few times – the wires like to come loose
- Replaced the accumulator tank
- Replaced the alternator
- Repaired torn bimini cover
- Repaired the anchor roller
Many of these jobs are DIY one to two hour jobs, but some are bigger and messier. Some, like the rigging work, requires experts working on the boat and off for multiple days, and sourcing hard-to-find materials.
For me, the worst part was rationing water in The Tuamotus and Marquesas while waiting for the pipe for the watermaker. The first time was annoying, but when they had to make it again because they didn’t do it right the first time. Grrrr.
Oh! And walking all the way to the airport in Fakarava to wait for a part and the plane was delayed, and then we walked back before the plane landed because we wanted to get back to the boat before dark. Only to hear from the guy in Papeete that he hadn’t dropped the part at the airport yet. Grrrr.
Grateful for the beauty around us in these exotic locations.
Be Prepared When Cruising in Remote Places
Here are a few tips to make it easier when fixing a boat in French Polynesia, or anywhere.
Always have spare parts. If you’re going to be cruising beautiful but remote islands, make it easy on yourself. Buy an extra engine prop for your dinghy, stock two of each kind of pump, and keep lots of filters. They don’t take up a lot of room, and they’ll make it easier to celebrate at the end of the day.
Another maxim for liveaboard sailors is “Don’t Make Plans” and it is true. We’ve gotten good at being flexible aboard Sava. Be ready to sail back to the big port if something breaks.
Never say that everything is working, because it is not true. On a sailboat, something is broken, you just don’t know it yet. At least we’re enjoying these exotic locations!
Hope you enjoyed hearing about our time spent fixing a boat in French Polynesia. It’s not all beautiful views and sundowners. I wish!
3 thoughts on “Fixing A Boat in French Polynesia”
Wow! One adventure after another. 😊 fixing a boat is an adventure. Glad in the end it’s all working out fine. The photos are spectacular.
Thanks, Fred! We’re so used to things breaking we’re never in a rush. Our attitude is “we’ll get there. Eventually!”
Oh, it all sounds so familiar! The nice and scenic anchorages, the many sundowners AND the repairs!
Very well described 👏 👌 👍