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Polynesia – charter in paradise

You have decided to flee the northern hemisphere’s winter and charter a catamaran in Polynesia. Not the geographers’ Polynesia, which stretches from Hawaii to New Zealand. And hello to shiver-free dives in the warm blue waters of the lagoons, the miraculous aquatic fauna, the white sand beaches topped by the green of the lush vegetation then the charcoal gray of the volcanic relief. As the Polynesians’ gentle way of life and hospitality are not just myths, in a word, this is paradise on earth!


Firstly, you don’t set off for the other side of the world just like that. Papeete is 18,000 km from Paris, 6,500 km from Los Angeles, 9,500 km from Tokyo and 6,000 km from Sydney. Air tickets are expensive, even overpriced if you buy at the last minute; there are not that many flights and they are often full weeks in advance, and the supply of multihulls for charter is not unlimited, so it is best to book your place. Especially at the best tariff. Following in the tracks of Gaugin, Brel or even Fletcher Christian will require more than two or three weeks’ charter. But there is no doubt that you will immediately fall under the spell and return several times to visit this mythical archipelago, which is as big as Europe. So, as you wouldn’t visit Greece, the Balearics and the Norwegian fjords in the same summer, the same applies in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Because Polynesia is not just one single archipelago, but five: the Marquesas, the Tuamotus, the Society Islands, the Gambiers and the Austral Islands. The distances between them are sizeable enough to limit yourself to just one, and there is enough to keep you occupied in each charter period. From the Gambiers archipelago in the south-east to Maupiti in the far west, or from the Marquesas to Rurutu, the distances approach 1,000 miles. Bareboat, with a skipper, with crew or per cabin - all solutions are of course possible, but note that despite the ‘paradise’ image of these archipelagos, you mustn't forget the precise navigation necessary for your safety: narrow passes, currents which are sometimes strong, almost non-existent buoyage, even more so at night, stormy squalls in certain seasons…

Situated between 8° and 27°S, Polynesia enjoys a pleasant tropical climate all the year round, with a cooler season from May to October, during the southern winter. As it is situated in the southern hemisphere, don’t forget that the further north you are, the hotter you will be! The hot and rainy cyclone season, which theoretically spares the Marquesas, lasts from December to April. From September to May, the south-east trades which blow steadily at between 15 and 20 knots predominate. A good reason to sail mainly from north to south, or in any case to avoid wanting to return from the leeward islands to Tahiti! Beware, from June to August, in the heart of the winter, the stormy Maaramu often blows at over 30 knots. The temperatures vary very little throughout the year: 22 to 32° for the air, 26 to 28° for the water. Only the Australes, further south, are the slight exception, as the exterior thermometer can descend to 18 degrees between July and September, and even 23° in the blue of the lagoons…which still remains reasonable! Ideal conditions for enjoying some of the most beautiful anchorages in the world, which is lucky because there are few marinas and it would however be a shame to go and shut yourself away in one, when every evening you can drop anchor in a ‘postcard’ setting..


Without doubt he most well-known archipelago, the most visited, the best equipped in terms of infrastructure, the Society Islands consist of two groups of islands whose names (Leeward and Windward) will allow you as a sailor to know in which direction you should organize your cruise, according to the weather conditions. The Windward Islands are mainly Tahiti, Moorea and Tetiaroa and the Leeward Islands include Bora-Bora, Tahaa, Huahine and Raiatea. The main charter companies are based on the latter island, with the most emblematic sites of the Polynesian dream just a few miles away. For one week, you will perhaps not go much further from your base than Huahine and Tahaa. Huahine, the island in the shape of a woman lying in her lagoon…magic. Two weeks will allow you to push on as far as Bora Bora, the jewel of the Pacific. Finally three weeks will allow you to reach Maupiti, further out, and more authentic perhaps as it is further away from the flow of tourists. Note that the latter islands nevertheless remain reasonable, compared to what you may be familiar with in the Caribbean arc or in the Mediterranean, given their location. An original idea for the more sporty sailors is to charter a cabin or a catamaran just for yourself and to take part in the famous Tahiti Pearl Regatta! A fun and festive way to discover the Leeward Islands. For the next edition, note the dates in your diary – from 7th to 12th May 2019.

You will also find boats for charter leaving from Papeete. Sailing round Tahiti and Moorea will take from one to two weeks. But Papeete can also serve as a departure base for slightly longer vacations, a bit further away. Towards where it will be much harder to find multihulls for charter, especially bareboat. The detour towards the Gambiers and Marquesas is even more exotic and provides a greater change of scene. Getting there by plane is already a voyage, in the authentic sense of the term. The isolated position of Mangareva, the pearl reserve for the whole of Polynesia and the most beautiful lagoon in the Pacific, is worth all the sacrifices. At the geographic opposite to the archipelago, if the Marquesas have attracted so many celebrities or people who have become famous, from Herman Melville to Jacques Brel, it is without a doubt through their virginal charm, their relief straight from the origin of the world, their cultural traditions which have remained authentic, away from mass tourism. The realm of tikis on land and divers under the sea - you will perhaps never return from the six islands which form the Marquesas (Hiva Oa, Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou, Ua Huka, Thuata and Fatu Hiva). In any case, not unscathed. As for the Tuamotus, you will reach them most easily from Papeete, notably Rangiroa, situated 180 miles away, whose lagoon is so big that the whole of the island of Tahiti could fit in it. In the south, Rurutu puts the Austral Islands at over 300 nautical miles. Voyages off the beaten tracks which require good preparation and excellent weather conditions, but ones which you will remember all your life.


Practical Polynesia

Getting there: Polynesia is quite simply on the other side of the world (17,000 km from Europe – 7,000 from the USA)… The flight to approach this paradise is long, very long!

Time difference Papeete / Paris (-11/12h) – New York (-6h) – Los Angeles (-3h) – Sydney (+3h).

Price of air tickets: Return flight to Papeete from Paris 1,500 euros, New York 1,200 euros, Los Angeles 1,000 euros, Sydney 800 euros approx.

When: For Polynesia, it’s when you want… The trade winds blow constantly and both air and water temperatures vary very little. Note however that there are two major seasons:

- from November to April, the rainy season, with a warm, wet climate.

- From May to September, the dry season, a little cooler (from 26 to 29 °C) and windy. The period between the seasons, April – May and September – October, are the pleasantest months for cruising. 

Cruising conditions: The biggest danger comes from coral heads. You must pay attention to the differences in the color of the water, which inevitably indicate a change in depth or the nature of the seabed. It is therefore always wise to sail with the sun high in the sky, and if possible, behind you. The setting sun is a real trap, it masks completely everything on the surface of the water. Otherwise, there is no tide to speak of (30 cm range) and only going through the passes requires a little nautical common sense...

Currency: 1,000 Pacific Francs (XPF) = 8.35 euros = 9.59 US$ 

Formalities: Visa: no visa required for European citizens or non-Europeans benefiting from a visa valid in a country of the European Union, nor for stays of less than 3 months for citizens from countries exempt from visas (USA, Canada, South Africa, Brazil, South Korea, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Turkey…).

The local charter companies: Archipels - Dream Yacht Charter - L’Escapade Charter - Moorings - Oceans Evasion - Sunsail - Tahiti Yacht Charter…

Examples of weekly rates for catamaran charter: from 2,300 euros for a 40-footer, 4,000 euros for a 45-footer, 7,000 euros for a 50-footer.

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