French Polynesia - Profile
- French Polynesia covers an area of the South Pacific Ocean about the size of Europe. It is made up of over 100 islands in five archipelagos: the Society Islands, the Marquesas, Tuamotu, Gambier Islands and Australs, as well as Clipperton atoll, a small French possession off Mexico.
- In the last few years, the total number of boats cruising in the South Pacific has increased. This is undoubtedly due to the draw of the South Seas, but also in the last couple years because of safety concerns in other parts of the world.
- From the rugged beauty of the Marquesas to the crystal clear waters of the Tuamotu atolls and the lofty peaks of the Society Islands, the variety in scenery and sailing conditions is unsurpassed anywhere in the South Pacific.
- Most yachts make their landfall in the Marquesas, which is a perfect introduction to this vast cruising ground. There are few man-made ports here and the swell can tuck into the anchorages, but this is more than made up for by the beauty of these high islands.
- In complete contrast are the Tuamotu, once called the Dangerous Archipelago on account of its treacherous currents and lurking reefs. Yachts used to avoid this area, but now often stop and visit the low atolls, as the hazards have diminished considerably with the advent of radar and satellite navigation. Negotiating the passes into some of the lagoons can be a difficult operation, mainly because of the strong currents. Generally, the weakest current occurs one hour after low water and one hour after high water. Passes are for the most part well-marked, some even lit at night. However one should still be sure to use careful eyeball navigation, ideally when the sun is overhead and the colour of the water gives a good indication of its depth.
- Entirely off the usual cruising routes are French Polynesia's other two groups, the Austral and Gambier islands. The latter is best visited if coming from Easter Island or Pitcairn, while the former are only a few days' sail away from Tahiti or make a convenient landfall for yachts heading towards Tahiti from New Zealand.
- Getting work done: The best facilities are to be found in Papeete (Tahiti) where everything is possible, but expensive; the only other centre with extensive repair facilities is on Raiatea, where two charter companies have their base. Facilities are on a par with Tahiti, or even better, and have the great convenience of being grouped together. There is a resourceful yacht repair business on Nuku Hiva. Yet even in the more remote places it is often possible to find someone who can do welding or repair an outboard engine. Be warned though, prices are high in French Polynesia. A new boatyard opened on Aptaki in the Tuamotus in 2015 and in Hiva Oa in the Marquesas in 2016 - both are reported to be reasonable.
- Provisioning: Best in Tahiti (Carrefour) and adequate in the other Society Islands. Provisions in the Marquesas are adequate, though very expensive, and it's best to stock-up, particularly in fresh goods, when heading for the Tuamotos.
- Fuel is available in the main settlements, although it is more difficult to find in the Tuamotus.
- There are excellent postal services throughout the islands. At its 54 island branches the post office (OPT) provides a wide range of services besides stamps: phone cards, parcel post, placing collect calls, international calling cards (ATT, France Telecom), sending & receiving money orders.
French Polynesia used to be one of the safest cruising grounds in the world, however in recent years the islands around Tahiti have suffered with social and economic problems and consequently petty theft has been on the rise.
Cruisers' reports indicate that care should be taken at night to lock up dinghys, dinghy motors and other loose items on deck whilst at anchor in Moorea and Papeete. With the downturn in the islands hotel trade it is thought there has been an upturn in non-violent crime, confirmed by the Gendarmerie.
In Raiatea at the Uturoa town centre public dock, there continues to be incidents of thefts from boats (both unlocked and locked). It is recommended not to overnight on this dock.
See comments posted at bottom of page concerning security in the islands and reports adjacent.
Last updated January 2017.
The islands have a tropical climate. November to April is warm and rainy, while May to October is cooler and drier, when the islands are under the influence of the SE trade winds. The cyclone season is November to March. Full cyclones rarely hit anywhere in French Polynesia.
Weather forecasts in French are available from Meteo France, BP 6005 - Faaa Tahiti Airport, 98702 Tahiti, Tel:(689) 36 65 08, Fax:(689) 80 33 09.
Meteo France Outre-mer (in French)
Weather forecasts for the next 24 hours are broadcast every day on VHF channels 27 (Windward Islands) and 26 (Leeward Islands) at 1100, 1200, 2040,2100 local Tahiti time.
A useful guide to South Pacific weather resources complied by a Noonsite contributor, Rory Garland.
For links to free global weather information, forecast services and extreme weather information see the Noonsite Weather Page
Gambiers: Mangareva *
Other Atolls: Clipperton Atoll
* indicates port of entry