Sept. 2, 2022. If you click the “Where are we?” tab on the BioTrek-sailing website, you will notice that the GLY World Odyssey rally boats have left French Polynesia, but we are still in Tahiti. Yes, we have changed our plans and will not move on the with the rally for a New Zealand winter but instead will remain in French Polynesia until next spring. We are not European Union citizens, so this change required planning and applying for a long-stay visa. Since this is our second around-the-world, we decided that we did not want to pass through this beautiful area so quickly. We will explore more of the 121 islands and atolls covering a stretch of ocean approximately the size of Europe.
On April 1, 2022, we wrote in our logbook that we had two reefs in the main, the waves were huge and hitting us on the side, and the winds were howling. Later that afternoon, we entered French Polynesia as we sailed into the protection of the Gambier archipelago’s lagoon. All the bad weather was quickly forgotten. Mountainous islands and turquoise waters greeted us as we finished our 18-day passage with a peaceful sail toward the main island of Mangareva, home of Rikitea, Gambier’s only town. Saga, an Outremer 55 had already arrived, and they invited us on board for homemade French crepes. As the sun was setting, we launched the dinghy and motored over wearing heavy sweaters. They were in t-shirts; I guess that is what bad weather at sea and lack of sleep do to the human body.
Our stay in Gambier is documented on BioTrek-sailing’s YouTube channel: episodes 107 and 108 . We enjoyed snorkeling the coral reefs and hiking. The shallow barrier reefs are the most diverse and well-preserved in terms of fish species and coral colors. The cooler southern waters, absence of people, and absence of reef-deadly sunscreens seem to have spared this region from the coral bleaching we have seen in other lagoons around the world.
French Polynesia consists of five island groups: the mountainous Marquesas Islands, the donut-shaped Tuamotu atolls, the southern Austral Archipelago, the tourist destination Society Islands (Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, etc.), and the Gambier Archipelago, which is a mix of mountainous islands inside a coral reef atoll.
We next sailed to Makemo and Fakarava in the Tuamotus (YouTube episode 109) and then on to Tahiti. The cosmopolitan city of Papeete is a must-see for any trip to French Polynesia. The market is a bustling mix of vendors selling black pearl jewelry, woven baskets, fresh fruits and vegetables, and fresh tuna slabs. We experienced “Autonomy Day” on June 29, a day of festivals and Polynesian dancing. The party continued into the night, with the multiple stands of music along the main promenade by the water reminiscent Montreal’s Jazz Festival, but with a distinct Polynesian vibe.
Visitors who travel to French Polynesia can easily visit the more remote regions by taking local flights with Air Tahiti. I flew to Bora Bora for a couple days with my sister rather than suffering a rough up-wind sail.
Our sailing plans are to return to the Tuamotus, then head north towards the equator and the Marquesas for the Southern Ocean’s hurricane season, January to March. We enjoy hearing from all our sailing friends and family and especially appreciate your YouTube comments. A new video was just posted!