French Polynesia is often on the itinerary of BCA members when they head offshore. We are in French Polynesia now, and would like to share some information that was not readily available prior to our departure from Mexico that might help others with planning.
Prior to our departure, information sources we used to guide our preparations included Charlie’s Charts; Pacific Anchorages by Warwick Clay; Pacific Crossing Guide from the Royal Cruising Society, and Nadine Slavinski’s “Pacific Crossing Notes”. The online Soggy Paws Compendia (Marquesas and Society Islands) is very useful and the most up to date. Other online resources include the Tahiti Cruiser’s Guide and the Yellow Flag Guide. All of these sources were useful in one way or another, but as is often the case, we have learned a lot since getting here.
Sailing to French Polynesia was more than half the fun for two of us and less than half for the third member of our crew. It is a very long sail from Mexico. Fortunately, we had plenty of good food and water on board to keep us very well fed and hydrated during the 29 day passage to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas. Enjoyable and nutritious meals help to keep morale up. Provisioning in La Paz, Mexico, is super easy, inexpensive and pretty much everything we needed was available. The only things we brought from Canada were xylitol, a sugar substitute, and dark chocolate. The latter is strange, given that chocolate is produced in Mexico, but for unknown reasons, dark chocolate is very hard to find in the large mega stores or elsewhere in La Paz.
Buying vegetables from the La Paz Farmer’s Market and using “green bags” to store them, resulted in us still having fresh vegetables when we arrived in Nuku Hiva. The selection of fresh vegetables in La Paz was extensive and we took advantage of the many varieties. One of the vendors was willing to deliver our order to the marina the night before our departure from La Paz.
Having a lot of food on board prior to leaving Mexico was a very good idea, as our first landfall was Taiohae Bay in Nuku Hiva, where there is a very limited range of food items available. No fresh meat or chicken, and though theoretically fish should be easy to buy, the limited fish market didn’t operate every day and was sold out shortly after opening at 0500h.
The daily market close to the dinghy dock in Taiohae Bay has fruit (papaya, cantaloupe, bananas, soursop, melon) but limited vegetables (cucumber, long beans, tomatoes, cabbage, bok choy, lettuce, eggplant, zucchini). The produce selection differs each day and it is recommended that if you see it, buy it, because you might not see it again. No carrots were seen, tomatoes were marginal and we found onions once. Garlic was sometimes available.
Two snack bar/restaurants are very close to Le Petit Quay (dinghy dock) and both locations offer free wifi if you buy something. The snack bar closest to the dock is very friendly; the coffee is okay, but the wifi is really slow. However, the terrific view over the anchorage and surrounding hills and the super friendly staff help to mitigate the slow internet connection. The snack bar next to the market has better coffee, good wifi, but sometimes somewhat indifferent staff.
This latter snack bar is also the keeper of the keys to the public restrooms. The restrooms are pay per use, (100CFP) and if you ask for paper, you usually get it with a strong request to bring back what you don’t use. These toilets are challenging; real squat toilets would be better than the existing toilets without seats. There was a new building nearing completion in the general vicinity of both snack bars, which look like they might offer new public washrooms. The building is quite attractive and hopefully the facilities will be as good as the building looks.
The “Best WC” award goes to Boulangerie Snack Joseph, which is a short walk down the ocean side from the dinghy dock (turn left on the road). It is a bakery and also serves up passable Chinese food, which like everything else is in Taiohae Bay, is expensive. “Bread” throughout Taiohae Bay, at least in our experience, means a baguette. These are always fresh and all of the vendors are typically sold out before noon. Baguettes, which are subsidized by the government of France, are good value at 60CFP each.
We were told that showers were available in the restroom building. However, what looked like a shower was non-functional and not very inviting. We stuck to cockpit showers on board. Water is available at the dinghy dock, and although it is not considered potable, it was fine for showers. If you don’t have a water maker, Nuku Hiva Yacht Services will drive you to a source of potable water for about US$10 return. This source can be walked to, but it is a bit of a hike.
Similarly, Nuku Hiva Yacht Services will drive you to the fuel station for US$15 return. We did use this service, because tying up to the fuel dock (stern tie – very HIGH dock) involves a lot of drama and a risk of boat damage due to the rolly nature of the anchorage, and the configuration of the fuel dock. We met the crew of a Beneteau 50, which sustained damage to their boat at the fuel dock. We only needed 30 litres of fuel, so the “driving” option was fine for us. It is possible to rent a car in Taiohae Bay, and this might be a good option for those with lots of jerry cans who do not wish to take their boat to the fuel dock.
Of the three grocery stores visited, Magasin Larson has the best selection, except for vegetables (better to buy these at the market when they are available). Frozen meat, unusual cuts of frozen chicken and processed frozen fish are available at most grocery stores. Tinned foods seem popular and stores stocked at least five kinds of tinned cassoulet.
A very good time to shop is right after the supply ships arrive. Lots of cheese and other dairy products, mostly from France and New Zealand, are available, as well as ice cream – something at least one of us on board Marathon determined would be the first thing to buy when we went ashore. A day or two before the supply ships arrive, the store shelves are generally empty.
We were not able to stop in at the Tuamotus, but have been told by many people that it is best to stock up in the Marquesas, because not much is available in the Tuamotus. As noted, variety was very limited in Nuku Hiva, so better to have lots of critical items before leaving Mexico. Papeete in Tahiti has pretty much everything imaginable, but it is also very expensive compared to Canada, and pricey compared to La Paz.
Similarly, while boat parts, equipment and technical expertise are abundant and easily accessed in La Paz, this is not true in the Marquesas. In Tahiti, there are limited options and they are expensive. Nuku Hiva Yacht Services in Taiohae Bay can do a lot, including sourcing parts from Papeete and beyond, but not everything. In Papeete most services are available but expensive. For example, a bottom cleaning for our 11.5m boat cost US$50 in La Paz. In Papeete we were given an estimate of US$250 for a SCUBA diver to do this work and about US$80 for a breath-hold diver.
There are no marinas in the Marquesas and roughly two in Papeete. They are very expensive; one requires Med style docking, while the other has security issues and is located on the main downtown street where traffic noise can be problematic. Once the traffic thins at night, the clubs start up with karaoke until the wee hours. We tied up Med style outside of town in “Marina Taina”, across from the mega yachts. We feel small but accomplished.
Anchoring out is an option as is taking a mooring buoy. The buoys are reasonably priced compared to tying up to the dock, and marina privileges are provided along with access to the dinghy dock. Marina privileges include wifi (slow to medium) next to the office (not on the dock) and cold water showers. There is a busy laundry where a domestic-sized washer costs US$9 per load. We have been assured that the dock water is drinkable, but have not tried it.
Marina Taina is about 5-10 minutes by foot from both a huge Carrefour store and a fairly good, large supermarket. Variety and choice are excellent at both, but prices are high. Strangely, tomatoes and onions are very difficult to buy and when they are available, they are really expensive. Fresh meat (mostly from New Zealand), chicken and fish are available and of high quality. Fresh chicken seems to be limited to legs and thighs, but frozen breasts from New Zealand are available, but expensive. We are not familiar with any other food stores (there is a least one more Carrefour), but have been told that the outlets closer to town are smaller and have a more restricted selection of goods.
When we started to fit out Marathon for offshore sailing more than ten years ago, we installed a multi voltage, multi frequency battery charger. This turns out to have been a good idea. On arrival in Papeete, we disconnected it from the 110V distribution panel, bought an appropriate plug and 3-strand cable (from a very well stocked Ace Hardware) and now have the charger safely connected to shore power, which is 230V/60hz. We don’t have hot water, but with a very small inverter and multiple USB powered devices, we do not need to rely on the solar panels and wind generator to keep the batteries charged. The sun does not shine everyday, even in Paradise.
As we approached the equator, air temperature went up and have stayed in the 30C range during the day. It cools down to 26C or 27C at night. Fans are thus really important. For the three of us, heat has been the greatest source of discomfort, even though we lived in Indonesia for nearly 10 years. We quickly remembered why we never slept inside the Van de Stadt 34 we shared in Jakarta.
We have been in Papeete for just over three weeks and are delighted to be here. Nuku Hiva and what we have seen of Tahiti so far, are very beautiful. We intend to leave the boat here towards the end of June and return in March 2020 to further explore the Society Islands, the Tuamotus, and perhaps continue on to Fiji, other points west and ultimately New Zealand.