Sailing French Polynesia



It can be a challenge to live on a boat. Most of us humans are used to unmoving ground below our feet, shelter over our head, and a stable orientation to the world around.

Most of us have never spent more than a day floating out in the sea.

Most of us have never had the responsibility, before night falls, of choosing a safe anchorage. Watching the shallow reef, the currents, and the wind. Watching, as the afternoon light fades, how our home pulls and moves. How the boat swings with the tide, dancing around the hook, and swaying with those invisible movements from below.

Deep sleep interrupted in the hours before dawn, hearing creaks and groans, ropes whipping in a fresh wind, clanking against the mast, the splash and thump of predators just there, through the thin fiberglass wall. Spinning porthole views of ever-circling stars and the dark water outside.

bora      happy boats

It was the beginning of June, a perfect time to fly five hours south to Pape’ete and have a little taste of the boat life in Tahiti.

Saville was down there waiting for us. He had purchased his catamaran a year earlier in San Francisco and sailed down with a small crew through the Marquesas, the Tuamotu, and across the Society Islands to his lagoon home for the moment, tied to a yellow mooring ball a half mile off the sweaty town of ‘Fare’.

In ‘Olelo Hawaii, hale is house. As in Haleiwa, ‘house of the iwa bird, house of the thief’ the town closest to my home. In the South Pacific the Hawaiian H turns to F, and the L turns R. So in Tahitian, fare means house.

We met Captain Saville in Fare. A bit more pirate than the last time I saw him. A grin on his face, pride in his stance. We filled his little tender (an eight foot, slightly tattered zodiac named ‘Animal’) and headed out to take our first look at his fine sailboat, ‘Kaimana’.


Captain Saville and Canard


It’s beautiful here. Stunning. The water. The surrounding mountains. A handful of small, good looking, well-travelled boats floating here in boat paradise.

We unload our bags onto the swim step, and get a quick tutorial on tying the tender up. We watch and listen. The cat Canard comes over to say hello. Noelani and I complete our first test, tying the tender leash properly with a bowline while the captain watches, nodding, pleased.

We leave our luggage there, precariously close to the edge, and head inside for a quick tour.

2nd lesson, pumping salt water through the toilets. An explanation of why the forward head doesn’t work as well as the aft one. A request from the Captain for short showers. A quick tale of Roache not bathing for weeks and how that made the captain happy and proud.

We gather in the small, functional kitchen. Good airflow and windows, a plus in the boating world. We’re all eyes, so many details to take in. The inside of the Kaimana is a happy home. Cozy.

Captain Saville shows us the breaker board. Located in the main living zone, a control panel for the home.   The conscious use of electricity and fresh water something that’s important on a boat, and always a good reminder for the brain.


We stow our bags, drink water, and it’s time to swim.

The Kaimana is moored in twelve feet of water. Crystal clear water over sand. The mountains of Huahine are green and beautiful. The island is feminine. A pregnant woman in the line of the mountains. The island is named for the Wahine. The women who surf here are as good as any in the world that I’ve yet seen.

On the sea floor we find large shells with large animals. Around us swim rays and fish. The life of the corals, the sea anemone, the neon blue and green clams in the reef… giant cat eyes, giant turbans and cones…

And reef sharks, like wary stray dogs, watching from just around the corner, blacktips swimming circles, their crescent eyes watching us. These wild animals are beautiful and graceful.

We bodysurf. We paddle around the lagoon on standup boards. We motor to town and drink Hinano and eat delicious poisson crue.

We stock up at the grocery store. 3,500 Polynesian Francs.   ‘Sure, put it on the plastic. Seems about right.’

And we make plans to sail west.


kitchen       IMG_2943

When it’s time, we pull the tender up out of the water and tie it up tight. We stow extra ropes and bumpers. We bring Canard’s kitty litter up off the swim step.

The motors are a soft rumble as we pull forward, unhook from the mooring ball and head slowly out of the reef pass.

Fishing gear out. Sunscreen up. Organize the kitchen for the crossing. Close the hatches as we head out into the real ocean.


We raise the mainsail, take our heading west southwest, and then unfurl the jib. There’s a nice, steady trade wind blowing, and with the engines shut down we click into a nice, comfortable six knots. It’s beautiful out in the channel, and the boat rides the ocean perfectly.

We have good music and good speakers. Nahko Bear. The lures are skimming along a hundred feet behind us. And for lunch, cabbage cups.


And this easy movement with the wind is what it’s all about. Crossing the sea. The boat is strong and glows with the movement. We look at the map, and I push for exploring an area that Saville has never checked out before, a southern pass called Nao Nao.

We have a pleasant crossing. Hours slip by like a meditation. And as we come in close to the barrier reef we motor up again, and there’s a bit of stress about entering a pass for the first time. And there’s wind and waves. And the afternoon is a bit ominous. Darker clouds, darker mountains here. No sailboats sitting happily together in the lagoon. No anything really. A dark forested motu. Big mountains above the dark coastline. We slide through the narrow channel, and Saville yells out the depth at one point, twenty five feet. Shallow enough to make it impossible during real groundswell.

And we’re in, and it’s time to find safe anchorage because the afternoon is heading for night. And we need to see what we’re dealing with.

Our first attempt at dropping anchor doesn’t go right, and we drift backward into dark water. We try another spot, but it gets too shallow, too quick, and Saville puts the boat into reverse, yelling out that it went from twenty feet to ten to five to three in a matter of seconds.

We try again, and get the anchor to set, and the boat pulls sideways and stays put. And after fifteen minutes of quiet, Saville shuts down the motors, puts on diving gear and goes to check out his anchor and chain.

And then it’s night. And this spot is a little spooky, everyone agrees. But it’s beautiful in the absence of people. The darkness of the night, uninterrupted by lights or noises, save the splashing of big fish. And the little motu close to us is dense with jungle. And in the morning the waves on both sides of the pass have potential. It looks like the right could handle big swell. It looks like the left is a punchy fun small wave. But today the wind isn’t quite right. The surf is mediocre. The ocean here is sharky, and not in the fun lagoon style. The south pass faces right into real ocean, and there’s big sharks here swimming in the strong current waiting to feed.

We decide not to surf this one, but go for a drift dive through the shallow coral heads. The morning turns beautiful and bright. And after a leisurely breakfast we decide to pull anchor, head back out into the open ocean and go for a sail.

We batten down the hatches, stow loose items, put the kitty litter back up high, and head out into the real sea.

Fishing gear in place, lures set. Sunscreen, sunglasses and smiles. It’s another beautiful day and we’re headed west for miles before we tack up north and aim for Uturoa.





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