French Polynesia is a French overseas collectivity. French Polynesia is made up of 118 islands, located in the south-central part of the Pacific Ocean. The archipelago includes the Society, Marquesas and Austral islands and the Tuamotu Archipelago. Tahiti is the most well known of the islands. There is no better way to truly explore French Polynesia than to take a sailing yacht charter holiday. The main yacht charter base is on the island of Raiatea
The choice of yacht charter in French Polynesia is extensive and includes; bareboat yacht charter, luxury crewed yacht charter, skippered yacht charter, dive charter, fishing charter, monohull and catamaran charter and both sail and motor yacht charter.
Tahiti was estimated to have been settled by Polynesians between AD 300 and 800 coming from Tonga and Samoar. The fertile island soil combined with fishing provided ample food for the population.
Although the first European sighting of the islands was by a Spanish ship in 1606, Spain made no effort to trade with or colonize the island. Samuel Wallis, an English sea captain, sighted Tahiti on June 18, 1767, and is considered the first European visitor to the island. The perceived relaxed and contented nature of the local people and the characterization of the island as a paradise much impressed early European visitors.
Wallis was followed in April 1768 by the French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville who was completing the first French circumnavigation. Bougainville made Tahiti famous in Europe when he published the account of his travel in Voyage autour du Monde. He described the island as an earthly paradise where men and women live happily in innocence, away from the corruption of civilization.
In 1774 Captain James Cook visited the island, and estimated the population at that time to be some 200,000. This was probably too high; another estimate from the same period was 121,500. After Cook's visit, European ships landed on the island with increasing frequency. The best known of these ships was HMS Bounty, whose crew mutinied shortly after leaving Tahiti in 1789. The European influence caused significant disruption to the traditional society, by bringing prostitution diseases, and alcohol to the island.
In 1842, a European crisis involving Morocco escalated between France and Great Britain when Admiral Dupetit Thouars, acting independently of the French government, was able to convince Tahiti's Queen Pomare IV to accept a French protectorate.
The island remained a French protectorate until June 29, 1880, when King Pomare V was forced to cede the sovereignty of Tahiti and its dependencies to France. In 1946, Tahiti and the whole of French Polynesia became a Territoire d'outre-mer (French overseas territory). In 2003, this status was changed to that of Collectivité d'outre-mer (French overseas community).
French Polynesia is tropical destination with lots of sun all year round. However, when planning your vacation you need to be aware of the seasonal differences. There are roughly two seasons: from November through March when it is warmer and humid, and from April through October when the climate is cooler and drier. Average temperatures during the warmer humid season range from 85-95 degrees. And the cooler dry season range from 78-85 degrees. Sailing conditions are really ideal during this dry period with trade winds from the East.
April to June offers moderate trade winds blowing from the East at 10 to 15 knots with gusts up to 25 knots. July to August represents winter with cooler temperatures and usually stronger south easterly winds from 25 - 35 knots with gusts up to 40 - 45 knots. These southeast trade winds are known as “Maraamu Wind”. September to October is very comfortable with moderate winds from the East 10 to 15 knots. But you will want to be sure to have a cotton sweater with you for the evening, as it is cooler. The second half of October marks the beginning of the rain season and will be a bit wet. November to March will put you in the rainy season, which is hot and muggy. However, the rain showers usually do not last very long. Sailors must also be aware of the risk of hurricanes that may occur at this time of the year.
To make your planning even more precise, you must remember that as French Polynesia covers a surface as large as Europe, the climate will change slightly from one archipelago to the other. The Marquesas Islands have their dry season from August to December. The Tuamotu Archipelago has less rain than the other islands due to the lack of mountains. Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora each have their own microclimates related to their altitudes and exposition. Trade winds and rainfalls are more prevalent on the eastern coasts than the western coasts.
Navigation between the four main Leeward Islands of Raiatea, Tahaa, Huahine and Bora Bora is not overwhelmingly difficult. The distances between these islands are a manageable 5 to 6 hour sail. However the distances between the other archipelagos are tremendous. If planning to bareboat you will need good charts with all the reef markings and depths but you will need to proceed carefully. Lagoons are well marked. Anchorages are available in the turquoise waters by the reef or there are more protected anchorages in the deep bays. Once inside a lagoon, there are plenty of mooring buoys from which to choose. Arrive before dusk in order to have enough light to navigate between the coral heads, potential obstacles and shallow spots. It is forbidden to sail at night in the lagoons. Beware of strong currents in some areas of the lagoon. Navigating the Tuamotu Archipelago or the Marquesas Islands has its own set of rules and a local skipper is obligatory.
The islands of French Polynesia are some of the most peaceful in the world. Their culture combined with a low population and strict border control makes them very safe for travel. In particular they are very welcoming to Americans. The official languages are French and Tahitian although English is commonly spoken.
Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora are considered to be some of the most beautiful tropical islands in the world. A magical combination of dramatic geography, lush tropical vegetation and multicoloured crystal lagoons come together to create this paradise.
Tahiti is relatively accessible as there are non-stop flights available from many places. There is a 7.5 hour flight from Los Angeles and a 10.5 hour flight from New York.
Tahiti's main yacht charter grounds are the Leeward Islands, at the northern end of the Society Archipelago. The four main islands of Raiatea, Tahaa, Huahine and Bora Bora are just five or six hours sail from each other. Tahiti and Moorea are further away involving more challenging sailing. Each island features volcanic lush green hills and fine sandy beaches and islets known as “motu” surrounded by protective reefs. The reefs are abundant with colourful marine life. There are great yacht anchorages off the lovely beaches of the main islands in their idyllic blue lagoons.
Your international flight will bring you directly to Tahiti. Though most sailing bases are located at Raiatea, arrangements can be made to have your yacht waiting for you at the port of Papeete. However, sailing from Papeete to the Leeward Islands is challenging and requires 30 to 36 hours with night sailing. To have your boat delivered to Papeete may also come at a considerable fee. This may not be how you want to start your vacation after a long flight. Tahiti’s main attraction is its stunning rain forest and mountain ranges. As the largest island of French Polynesia, Tahiti has the largest population of the islands.
You will most likely find yourself starting your yacht charter from Raiatea, one of the Leeward Islands and the second largest island in French Polynesia. As the sailing capital of French Polynesia, Raiatea is just a 40-minute flight from Tahiti’s international airport. Raiatea is also very conveniently located close to Tahiti, Tahaa, Bora Bora and Huahine. With its fascinating history as the birthplace of the gods, Raiatea is considered to be the cultural and religious heart of Polynesia.
Tahaa is considered the sister island to Raiatea, it is smaller and shares the same lagoon. However Tahaa is renowned for its seclusion and spectacular exclusive resorts. Tahaa is nicknamed the Vanilla Island as it produces 80% of the vanilla from Polynesia. Tahaa may be completely navigated by boat inside the protected crystal clear lagoon.
Bora Bora is known as the Pearl of the Pacific, Bora Bora is its most famous island and considered by many as perhaps the most beautiful island in the world. For all its fame, Bora Bora is surprisingly small. The extraordinary lagoon is defined by a coral reef and islets, which are strung around the centre island like a string of pearls. At the very centre of this spectacular setting Mount Otemanu rises up dramatically. The lagoon is three times the size of the landmass.
Huahine are two islands linked by a bridge and sharing one lagoon comprises the “Garden Isle” of Huahine: Huahine-Nui and Huahine-Iti, big Huahine and little Huahine. Huahine rivals the others islands as the most picturesque with its very lush vegetation. Huahine is relatively untouched by the modern world. The island is special for its seclusion as well as offering a glimpse of a traditional Polynesian way of life. Huahine is also home to a very important archaeological site: the Maeva Marae.
Moorea is another spectacularly beautiful island; Moorea offers dramatic beauty and lushness. Moorea however is not included in most sailing vacations as it is quite distant from the other Society Islands. Getting there may be challenging and time consuming. However, if your starting point is Papeete then Moorea is located only 9 nautical miles away.
To explore another facet of French Polynesia you may be tempted by the Tuamotu Archipelago. These islands are approximately 180 miles northeast of Tahiti. The Tuamotu islands with their colourful marine life are renown for snorkelling, deep sea diving and black pearl farms. In fact the Tuamotu are a series of low coral, which enclose crystal clear lagoons. UNESCO has preserved the atolls of Tikehau and of Fakarava. The main island of Rangiroa is the largest of the atolls. Rangiroa is a one-hour flight from Papeete. As the Tuamotu are very particular, only crewed boats are offered and you may be surprised that they are often booked far ahead. You will find that you are not alone in realizing the privilege of visiting an unspoiled paradise.
If you are truly looking for isolation, the Marquesas Islands represent the group of islands located the farthest away from any continent in the world. They are approximately 1,000 miles northeast of Tahiti. Unlike most of French Polynesia the spectacular scenery is not due to coral reef and lagoons but endless small bays in a tropical lush environment. This group of 20 mountainous volcanic islands is located about a 7 to 10 day sail from Raiatea. A flight from Tahiti would take 3.5 hours.