NEVER THOUGHT – 10 Days in French Polynesia

French Polynesia

It was getting late in November and Georgian Bay was looking cold and less than inviting. Perhaps the South Pacific would be a bit warmer? We are four Georgian Bay sailors: Mark and Claudia Neelin and Nancy Cohen and Bob Gallant. NEVER THOUGHT we would be headed to French Polynesia and its islands of Raiatea, Tahaa, Huahine and Bora Bora.

July 27, 2023

By Mark Neelin, Claudia Neelin, Nancy Cohen and Robert Gallant

It was getting late in November and Georgian Bay was looking cold and less than inviting. Perhaps the South Pacific would be a bit warmer? We are four Georgian Bay sailors: Mark and Claudia Neelin and Nancy Cohen and Bob Gallant. NEVER THOUGHT we would be headed to French Polynesia and its islands of Raiatea, Tahaa, Huahine and Bora Bora.

Dream Yacht Charters offers a fleet of yachts from their Uturoa Base on the French Polynesian Island of Raiatea. The base manager, Frederick Banneville oversees the operation. The base has a fleet of thirty boats – five monohulls with the remainder being catamarans. The base has been in operation for about 10 years with a staff of twenty-five people. Most of the charters are bareboat but those who do opt for a captain usually have a chef as well. While the typical charter is 7 days, we opted for a longer time of 10 days.

French Polynesia 3 400Extended charters can be for a month. The base in the village of Uturoa is easily accessible by plane or ferry and is a short taxi ride from the Raiatea airport.

Our departure date coincided with a large group leaving the same day. Dream Yachts accommodated our departure ahead of the large group by hosting our onboard equipment briefing prior to the main chart briefing. Christopher Martin gave an excellent equipment briefing going over every aspect of the Bali 4.1 catamaran and all its equipment. The in-depth briefing was incredibly helpful and made us comfortable with the operation of a catamaran, which none of us had sailed before. The boat was perfectly cleaned and supplied with fresh bedding, towels, and basic galley amenities. The cookware could have used updating. We provisioned ourselves, which was easy and quite a bit of fun. The DYC agent was bang on when she assured us that provisioning would be easy in FP (French Polynesia) as it is French with plenty of good French wine and cheese, and at what were reasonable prices.

The captain’s chart briefing with Oliver Naslain was very thorough. The features of the various lagoons, tides, currents, anchoring locations, and restrictions along with provisioning information were fully explained. The top anchoring challenge would be finding the right depth in the very deep lagoons to set an anchor and in a place that would not damage coral heads. The top three fatal swimming/snorkeling events in French Polynesia caught our attention: Stone fish (wear solid soled water shoes), Cone snails (do not pick up) and coconuts (watch for falling ones!!).

French Polynesia 13 400Having sailed Georgian Bay for years we were surprised with the ease of navigation here. However, there are things to watch: the lateral buoyage system is reversed – it is red (buoys) to red (port side-light) returning into the lagoons. Once inside the lagoon there is a combination of lateral buoys and cardinal buoys. The cardinal buoys are the same as home, but the lateral buoys are placed with red buoys on the island side and the green buoys on the reef side.

Navigation between the buoys meant clear water. Once outside the buoys the water colour was key. Dark blue = OK, light blue = 2 mts and yellow = you are aground! You can only view the different water colours if the sun is above. If the sun is at too low of an angle, water will appear to be a monochrome grey, no matter the depth. Dream Yachts strongly recommended that we be anchored before 3 pm. Tides are minimal – about one foot and tend to be diurnal solar tides – high tide at noon and midnight – low tide at 6 am and 6pm (lunar tides are all but nonexistent in FP).

TahitiTahiti 2

Briefings complete, it was time to head out! The crew from Dream Yachts took the boat off the dock and out into open water before handing it over to us. Once underway, the sails went up with Bob at the helm. We were headed for our first night anchorage on the east side of the island of Tahaa.

A 2-hour motor-sail brought us just north of the Toahotu Pass. We anchored along with four other catamarans and two monohulls in 3 to 5-metres of water with a gentle breeze drifting in over the reef. The Windstar cruise ship joined the group for the night, anchoring out in deeper water.

French Polynesia 5 400French Polynesia 6 400

To celebrate the start of the cruise it was a sashimi dinner with champagne. We were delayed heading for bed because of being fascinated watching the fish and sharks swimming around the boat illuminated in our flashlights. Night swimming was immediately reserved for Georgian Bay.

Everyone woke early for day 2 as we were still adjusting to the time change. It had been an active night in the water with fish trying to get away from the sharks all night and one (an anchovy) jumping in the open porthole and landing in the sink in the head! After breakfast we motored out through the Toahotu Pass then 10 to 15 knots of wind provided a close haul, 25 knot sail towards the Island of Huahine. Gently rolling seas on the open South Pacific Ocean under bright sunshine! We were in paradise with everyone taking a turn at the helm.

We entered the lagoon through the Avapehi Pass on the northwest side of Huahine and motored down the west side of the island, gob smacked by the views of the passing tropical vistas. We droped anchor in Avea Bay at the south end of the island in the lagoon. We could easily see that the anchor set well in the sand under 3-metres of water. Strong winds offshore coming around the south end of the island made for large breakers along the reef line, yet total calm at the anchorage. After lunch, we enjoyed a quick swim in the warm water then a nap. There was little shade on the boat and the heat and sun were taking their toll.

We explored Huahine over the next 2 days. We went ashore at Teapaa Beach and met the caretaker responsible for looking after the beach for the last 22 years. We took the dinghy through the Honoava Pass separating Huahine Nui from Huahine Iti. The dinghy was underpowered with a 5-hp motor! A 9-hp should be the standard, so it took a great deal of time to traverse any of the lagoons and it could only be done in calm weather.  Intermittent rain (we were early in the rainy season) was accompanied by strong winds that only lasted short periods. Clear skies at night gave us a highlight – our first view of the Southern Cross.

Tahiti 6Tahiti 9

We rented a car and Nancy drove us around the island. It was worth exploring many cultural and scenic sites. The small museum of Fare Potee Maeva provided insights into the island’s history but the much anticipated sacred blue-eyed eels in Faie did not live up to the hype. The village of Fare was an excellent place to reprovision with a well-stocked grocery store.  As in many of the FP Islands, the local yacht club provided dinghy mooring.

Day 5 was highly anticipated. We raised anchor at 5:00 am to clear the Avamoa Pass at 5:30 am. Light winds did not provide much lift, but the jib steadied us as we motor-sailed 50 knots across the South Pacific headed for Bora Bora. The running engine provided the opportunity to run the watermaker. We relied on bottled water to drink and used the tank water for showers and washing up. The fishing rod was out but the fish were not to be found. Taking turns at the helm we were mesmerized by the colour of the ocean, the fresh air, and the open sky. What was surprising was that because of the height of the peaks on each of the islands, navigating between islands was mostly line of sight.  The 727-metre Mount Otemanu peak on Bora Bora was not only spectacular but visible for the entire sail. By afternoon Claudia was steering us through the Teavanu Pass into the lagoon of Bora Bora. NEVER THOUGHT we would be here!

French Polynesia 11 400French Polynesia 7 400

Bora Bora is an exquisitely beautiful island and the main attraction for most tourists visiting French Polynesia. It is becoming less favourable for cruisers though as the government is taking action to reduce the damage to the water quality, coral, and beaches in the lagoons. Anchoring (even your dinghy) is not permitted anywhere in the Bora Bora Lagoon. Boaters are required to contact the mooring service in advance of arrival and to take an assigned mooring ball in a designated mooring field. Black tank water is not permitted to be discharged in the lagoon.  Going ashore anywhere is limited as most of the land is privately owned. The lagoon has numerous resorts with over the water bungalows stretching out over the shallows. Surprisingly, several of them were closed and looking in a bit of disrepair. From our mooring looking north at night they looked like a floating village. The main village of Vaitape has little to provide for reprovisioning and was the poorest of all the French Polynesia Island villages we had visited. On the other hand, fresh fruit and freshly caught tuna were readily available at an excellent price from local family food stands.

French Polynesia 4 400Tahiti 8

We decided to head to the southeast side of the lagoon to take a mooring ball with a view to the mountain. From there it was a long dinghy ride with the 5-hp motor pushing the four of us to the famous Bloody Mary’s restaurant to try the requisite drink. Enroute, we passed by Matira Beach, a 2-km long stretch of sand on the southwest tip of the island and the only beach with public access. Refreshed, we dinghied back to the boat. Next day we arranged a snorkeling tour with a local guide who picked us up directly from the boat. NEVER THOUGHT water could be such amazing colours. The Bora Bora blues were different – darker blues and lighter blues combining to make a never-ending picture. We made a few stops at snorkeling areas. The water was warm and clear allowing the sun to penetrate the depths that were filled with such beautiful marine life. We swam with moray eels, manta rays and through a huge coral garden. The snorkeling was so incredible we did it again the next day.

We moved to the mooring field in front of the Bora Bora Yacht Club for night 7. The club has nice facilities and provides dinghy mooring. Dinner ashore was a highlight. NEVER THOUGHT we would have dinner watching the sunset over the South Pacific from Bora Bora.

Tahiti 19Tahiti 20

With our time winding down we started our return passage. Sailing into a strong easterly breeze and rolling seas we made our way to the PaiPai Pass and anchored for the night off Tautau islet on the westside of the Island of Tahaa. From there it was an easy dinghy ride to the wonderful world-famous coral garden for snorkeling.

Next morning brought a mix of heavy rains and sunny skies which cleared in the afternoon. Although we were prepared for the onset of the rainy season, rain was rare and short lived during our cruise. We enjoyed our last full day of snorkeling and relaxation, and then moved to the DYC mooring field near the Raiatea base to return the boat in the morning.

The following day we motored to the Dream Yacht base where we were met by a crew who took the boat to the fuel dock and then into the slip. An inspection of the boat including underwater videoing of the hull brought our adventure to a close.

NEVER THOUGHT we would be in for such a wonderful experience.

Tahiti 3Tahiti 4

French Polynesia 10 400French Polynesia 12 400

Tahiti 5Tahiti 7


French Polynesia 8 400French Polynesia 9 400


Tahiti 13Tahiti 14

Tahiti 12Tahiti 11

Tahiti 15Tahiti 17

Tahiti 10Tahiti 18

Related Articles

Pursuit S268 Sport CC

By Andy Adams

The Pursuit S 268 Sport centre console is a do-it-all kind of boat with a solid sense of style. Centre console designs have been developed for the southern blue water sport fishing enthusiasts (and this boat would raise fish with the best of them) but the Pursuit S 268 Sport centre console offers far more utility and enjoyment than just fishing.

Read More


Bayfield Marine Turns 40 with Big April Events

(l to r) Holly, Adam, Pat, Ron, Shelley

Ron and Pat Reder started out in October 1984 across the road from where they are right now on the Bayfield River in Bayfield ON. The store front was about 10 x 20 and the rest of that side of the building was a stock room, wood finishing room, then behind that was more back stock and the lunchroom. Expanding every few years for the store front, then moving over to this new building five years ago, this year with Adam, Shelley, and Holly are carrying on the business.

Read More