Tahiti, Society Islands, French Polynesia

Tahiti: the tropical paradise we couldn’t escape fast enough. We’re sure it’s lovely if you stay in a resort, but as a boater, it’s not great. The right way to visit Pape’ete is to go to the downtown marina, but since we have Captain Cat we can’t easily do that. All the remaining options have distant access to land with terrible ground transport, and a bus system that stops at 6pm and rare, disorganized taxis. Despite being a French island, the food is mediocre, especially if (like Jazz) you don’t eat seafood so your only option on every menu is a $25 hamburger. In fact, everything is expensive; we saw a bag of three romaine hearts selling for $20. Jazz paid 50% more for her hair highlights than she would have in San Francisco, and then had to hitchhike home with two guys holding beers because the last bus had apparently passed early.

We sailed out of Rangiroa at night, threading a needle-thin weather window between “no wind” and “way too much wind.” We ended up motoring for a lot of the first day, as sailable wind came and went. Mostly that was due to some medium-sized storm cells blocking the trades and spinning the wind around on us. We passed Makatea with some regret: this flat-topped island is supposed to be really interesting, with excellent hiking and rock climbing, but it has only one anchorage which wasn’t going to be safe in the coming weather. The wind slowly picked up over the trip, so the last day was a little rough, and we ended up breaking the bracket that holds the dowel that keeps our bookshelf shelved.

The wind dropped off as we got into Tahiti’s wind shadow. We tacked a little to let our sails dry out, and then motored in towards the island. We radioed and received permission to enter the harbor, and then to pass by the airstrip as we headed to the west side of the island. This is absolutely the wrong way to visit Papetee; the right way is to get a slip in the downtown marina. But we have a cat who’s not allowed on land, so marinas are just not worth all the closed windows. Plus, we had mail waiting for us at our agent’s office by Marina Taina.

After we passed the airport, we picked up an escort: these three guys paddled along in our wake for a good ten minutes, as we slowly chugged along and ate our under-way breakfast. We got to the mooring field and picked up one of the many open mooring balls, as our guidebook had told us that they were first-come first-served. But we were immediately approached by a launch from the marina, who informed us that all the balls were private and reserved, none were available, and we would have to go back to the airport anchorage. We left the ball, but as we saw many other boats anchored around the mooring field, we figured we could find an open spot, and we dropped anchor outside the Intercontinental hotel.

The highlight of the anchorage, and probably of Tahiti, was watching the sun set over Mo’orea from the front deck.

Despite the birds, and the derelict sailboat sitting on a mooring ball right between us and the sunset. And the sounds of the nightly (and weekend morning) shows from the hotel, and their super bright security light pointed right at us. And the screaming feral children on the neighboring boat. Great anchorage. Despite the conditions we were happy to be there, rather than miles away from any dock at the Airport anchorage with our 6hp dinghy engine.

One of our bucket-list items for Tahiti was to see a heiva, the Polynesian dance performances. We were too late to see the annual competitions, but we found out that there was a “mini-heiva” at the Intercontinental every Friday and Saturday. Even better, the dive shop on site let us use their dock, first to buy our tickets and then to go to the show, so we had a super short commute back to our boat. And a nice view of our boat from the “ticket office” aka reception.

We found flower crowns in the city, and got all fancied up in matching sarongs. We had gotten the impression from the ticket lady that seating was first-come, so we showed up on time and were ushered to our seats in the back, in what we presumed was the non-hotel-guest holding pen.

We got a waiter to take our picture…

Apparently the standard clientele here are honeymooners, so “now kiss!” is a part of their standard photo taking routine. We’re adorable though.

The group performing that night had won the competition this year, and they put on a great show. There was shaking and jumping and all kinds of drumming. There were giant hats and guys running through the audience. There was rock throwing and tree climbing and fire juggling! We were a bit surprised to see how few tattoos were in evidence, as compared to the smaller shows we’d seen the Marquesas; this was a much younger group of dancers.

So that was a blast. Andrew gave the buffet a run for its money, and we made it back to the boat fat, entertained, and happy. Expensive, touristic, and a highlight of our trip to the big island.

But the main reason we were in Tahiti was to get some Big City things done. Jazz got a referral to a hairdresser from one of the ladies at the dive shop, and booked an afternoon appointment. She figured she could head to the area early and check out that part of town.

But the bus got her there faster than expected, and then there turned out to be very little open down south, so she found herself walking around aimlessly. And she hopped back on the bus to meet Andrew in downtown Pape’ete for lunch.

Andrew, meanwhile, was walking around the industrial part of Papetee (with its gorgeous mountain backdrop), because we’d heard about a machine shop. They were able to pop our seized windlass parts into a hundred-ton hydraulic press and separate them. Of course, the hydraulic press was going to win whatever fight it got into with the aluminum part, so to get them to do it Andrew had to agree that it was OK to risk destroying it. Luckily, the corrosion turned out to be the weak link.

We met up for a lunch at the dockside brewery, rushed because Jazz’s six mile trip had taken an hour and a half. Andrew got to try a few new beers, and Jazz got to hurriedly stuff some food into her face and run back to the bus station to get back to her hair appointment. The parts still weren’t finished, so Andrew killed time by going to yet another brewery, where the highlight was the restroom decor.

Jazz ended up getting a nice set of highlights and a referral to a waxing salon. There, she found that google translate was not sufficient to figuring out a waxing menu. In fact, the use of language here has flummoxed us several times; the truck here is sporting a logo from what’s apparently a clothing brand?

Back to the boat to play with the cat, look at the anchor out the window (because despite the weather forecast showing heavy trades, we had virtually no wind), and enjoy another lovely sunset over Mo’orea.

Our other major goal for Tahiti was to re-provision, and we made several trips to the Carrefour down the road from the marina. They had an amazing American isle, with giant (American-sized!) containers of American staples like ketchup, barbecue sauce, and cheeze puffs. And Jazz found herself a new, more supportive ankle brace.

We made it up to Pape’ete a few more times, where we got to see Searcher and Sava again. We also got some other shopping done: a new scuba regulator for Jazz, and a new wetsuit for Andrew. Of course none of these things got pictures, so instead, some fun things we saw from our boat: a massive sailing yacht passing by on its way to Taina, and a rainbow over the Intercontinental.

We also stopped by the marina laundromat for a couple of loads of laundry, at $9 a wash and $8 to dry. Of course, this ended up being more complicated than it needed to be, because the water in the marina happened to turn off just as we started, turning a two-hour affair into a full half day. (In fairness, there was a number posted and a guy came immediately when called.) And of course the office didn’t have the coins their machines required, so we had to beg for change at the gas station down the road. Note also that the marina only has restrooms for mooring ball customers, but you can’t get a mooring ball, and there’s nowhere else to go to shore, and the whole area is rife with mosquitoes… The silver lining was that everything did eventually end up clean, and we spent some time chatting with a couple of other cruisers who gave us some good advice about Mo’orea.

So we went to Mo’orea. This was a motor, because despite the nice sailing window in the forecast, Tahiti is a huge mountain and blocks the wind almost all the way to the next island. Captain Cat does not like motoring. Nobody really likes motoring, but he is the saltiest.

On our way out, we took a last look back at the island; it’s prettier the further away you get. We got passed by several ferries going back and forth, and Andrew tried to fix the broken cockpit speaker, only to discover that it’s corroded beyond repair and needs to be replaced. Ah well…

As we motored along, we saw distant splashes, which turned out to be whales! They were too far away for more than a bigfoot-style photo, but it was still super cool to see them breaching and splashing. A good portent for a better experience on the next island…


  1. Great to hear from your recent adventure! You to know how to make things happen, better or worse, Now tell me about your tatto. I want details.
    I miss you

    1. We’re so glad the car is treating you well! It brought us lots of joy, and we hope it’s doing the same for you.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.