NLSC Trip Report

Tahitian Paradise 

By Bob Rouda

Wow. What a trip. Thirty-four NLSC sailors escaped winter by spending a fantastic two weeks on four boats visiting five (or six) islands in French Polynesia February 19 to March 5.

This included flying to Los Angeles (except for us – we drove out), then to Papeete (city) on Tahiti (island) in French Polynesia (country) in the South Pacific (ocean). After a night at the Sheraton Tahiti (hotel), we flew a microprop (airplane) to Raiatea (island), where we rode Le Truck (open-air maxi-pickup truck) to Sunsail Base (marina). We ate Polynesian (food – well, almost), and finally got on our four chartered catamarans - two 38 footers, a 43’ and a 47’.

We sailed to 3 other islands (the Leewards of the Society Islands), with four all-day inter-island crossings – three beating upwind with some or all motoring, and one great day of reaching downwind.  The islands we explored were, in order: Raiatea (“rye-ah-tee-ah”), Tahaa (“ta-ha-ah”), Bora Bora (“pora-pora”), Tahaa (reprise), Huahine (“wha-heh-nee”), and back to Raiatea.

The early Polynesians had the foresight to build coral reefs around all their islands.  Calm(er) waters inside the lagoons, but some interesting entrances and exits through the few passes.  Bonus: great coral, snorkeling, fish, and anchorages.

Navigation was very important, especially for the 20 to 30 mile crossings – you do want to hit the pass when you get there, not the reef.  We used Dead Reckoning, land bearings, GPS, stars (especially the Southern Cross), charts, and follow-the-lead-boat. NavAids are backwards down there: Red-Right-LEAVING! for the passes and harbors.  Also, when inside the reefs, it was green buoys on the reef, and red on the land. Or was it the other way around?  No problem as long as you knew if you were coming, going, or staying. No run-agrounds, no hits, nobody left on the reefs.

We had fantastic snorkeling, including drifting through a pass between two motus, or moti (small islands on the reefs).  We had the photogenic light-blue water and corals of all types.  It was like swimming in a tropical aquarium, full of all types of colored fish (and one shark?). With volcanic peaks in the background.

We ate mostly on the boats. Also at the Sheraton Hotel (expensive), at the walkable-to pizza place (Italian food, French owner, Spanish name, Euro prices-plus), Bloody Mary’s (on Bora Bora), the French place (on Tahaa), Le Bar & another resort (on Huahine).

We flew back to Papeete after 10 days of sailing and touring, where we stayed for 2.5 days at the Sheraton Tahiti.  We got to relax, or tour the island, rent cars, shop, walk, ride Le Trucks, visit museums and markets, swim (spectacular pool), drink (poly-beer), eat (cheeseburgers in paradise), and take the ferry to Moorea (for those who hadn’t had enough islands). We also finally got some air conditioning so we could sleep.

About sleeping:  The catamarans had “staterooms” down in the pontoons – small, HOT, no ventilation since it rained a lot which meant we had the hatches closed.  Hard to sleep.  It was about 90 degrees with 110% humidity.  Worse on the smaller boats.  A trick: Prop the hatch open a bit, put an umbrella outside, hang a 6-pack on the umbrella handle inside – this allowed some ventilation without letting all the rain onto the bunks. Or get a monohull.  Or go somewhere where it doesn’t rain so you can sleep on deck.

For anchoring we either used mooring buoys (“you can trust the white buoy”), or dropped the anchors. Having 100 feet of chain helped hold the boats; you do need the electric windlasses.

What we ate – whatever we cooked, fresh fruit, fresh fish, cheeseburgers. Each boat did their own provisioning, cooking and eating (we had gourmet cooks on our boat) – group cooking, raft-up for happy hour, go-ashore for happy hour, individual vegetarians, fresh ginger (prevents mal de mer), beer, rum.

Most beautiful: the blue water, the mountains, the underwater coral & fish, the volcanic mountains, the coral reefs and lagoons, the people, the warm weather.

Most ugly (debatable): the hot, stuffy PPT airport. Or the prices for everything.

Most exciting moment: Trying to find mooring balls on Ta-haa-ah.  Real fun when it is getting dark and you can’t find a good anchorage.  We (somehow) survived a night tied to the “trustworthy” white buoy.

Most boring: Waiting around.

About sailing catamarans:  Harder to tack than real (mono-) boats.  Rudders too small for the size of the boat – we steered (tacked) with the sails.  Otto the autopilot was a great help.  The large saloon and cockpits were great for our crews.

Our favorites (tie): sailing, tanning, snorkeling, eating, drinking, swimming, island touring, parlez-vous-ing Francais or Tahitian, riding Le Trucks, shopping (black pearls, T-shirts, pareos).

Best meal: Bloody Mary’s on Bora Bora. Or the French place on Tahaa.  Or the one on Huahine. Or on our boats.

Thanks to Commodore Gordy for organizing this fantastic trip, and to our captains (Stephanie, Gordy, Kim and Wayne), our first mates (Steve, Jeff, Paul and Vicki), and the crews and cooks.

Punch line:  Had a wonderful time, wish you were there.