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If you're looking for a special sailing holiday then halfway between California and Australia on the Pacific Ocean and including the paradise island of Tahiti, French Polynesia is an island nation spread across an area of ocean roughly the size of Western Europe. As far escapes from the rat race go, you're not going to get much farther away than a French Polynesia yacht charter!
Believed to be the ancestral home of all Polynesians, the tropical island of Tahiti, the country's capital, has had a page or two of history in its time. On the islands you will find ancient temples, the crucible of the ancient oceanic civilisation. The Polynesian peoples of the Pacific, from the Cook Islands to Hawaii, still make pilgrimmages to the Society Islands to this day.
Captain Bligh's HMS Bounty was there for five months when its crew decided they preferred Tahiti to Britain and ultimately mutinied. Many of the island's people are direct descendants of the Bounty's crew. In 1968 Bernard Moitissier decided he was a 'being of the sea' and instead of finishing the Golden Globe Race (the world's first solo round the world yacht race) decided to go half way around the world again to settle in Tahiti!
On a French Polynesia yacht charter you'll soon see why people have foresaken Europe for these islands. Extinct volcanoes jutting out of the ocean with verdant slopes, surrounded by coral reefs in a climate that can only be described as idyllic. Swimming with giant manta rays and harmless but large reef sharks. See humpback whales breaching offshore. Peoples for whom conflict isn't even in the dictionary and could teach the world something about welcoming friendliness (and tatoos!). Ecosystems that are a different league to those at home.
Be warned - after finishing your Borrow A Boat yacht charter in these islands you may want to rip up your return flight ticket and not return home!
If you are on a skippered sailing holiday in French Polynesia you will just have to concern yourself about getting to the boat and then once aboard, focus on forgetting life ashore and having fun.
For those on a bareboat charter you will find that in most cases the charter company will be happy with an RYA Day Skipper, International Certificate of Competence, ASA 104 Bareboat or equivalent. The sailing is line of sight and during the sailing season, the weather is gentle.
Do be aware however that French Polynesia is administered by France and that does mean the authorities can be quite strict on having the right sailing qualifications and experience. The bar may be set quite low but it is strictly enforced by the authorities. Do keep your passport, insurance documents and sailing qualifications easily accessible while aboard.
From Europe it takes about 22 hours of flying to get to French Polynesia. From California and Australia, around eight hours. All international flights go into Papeete on the main island of Tahiti. If your charter base is on one of the outlying islands or archipelagos such as Raiatea or the Marquesas Islands you will take a connecting flight to the charter base island - this can be over 900 miles in some cases. Your charter company will look after transport from the airport to the marina.
The three main charter bases for a sailing holiday in French Polynesia are Tahitian Leewards, Marquesas Islands, and Tuamotu. You will generally sail within these groups of islands thanks to there being a fair distance between these groups and their neighbours.
A Tahiti yacht charter will often involve island hopping out of Tahiti or the nearby island of Raiatea. You'll soon see why Captain Bligh's men thought that life was better there than the UK with the friendly people, extraordinary scenery and amazing land and sea ecology. Do consider bringing walking boots to climb the hills inland!
At 930 miles from end to end, these 80 South Pacific islands and atolls cover an area almost the length of mainland Britain. The climate is better, as are the seas and land! A scuba diving paradise, yet with so much to offer ashore, you will love the crystal clear seas and astounding scenery on the Tuamotu atolls and islands.
932 miles NE of Tahiti, you will find the Marquesas Islands a remote and utterly different world to home. High, forested cliffs, remains of older civilisations, wild boar and horses and people who live a life that can only be dreamed of at home. This is a remote paradise that once visited you may never wish to leave.
Hundreds of miles from the Tahitian Leewards, these groups of islands are still worth a visit if you get time off the boat. The Austral Islands are the southernmost islands in the country on the Tropic of Capricorn. The climate is cooler thanks to their geographical position and so is the ecology. The Gambier Islands, 994 miles to the SE of Tahiti and at the end of the Tuamotus have just 1,000 people living there on four islands and countless coral islets known as 'motus'.
Within the island groups there are islands where charter companies have their bases. Let's look at the major bases now.
Tahiti and the French Polynesian capital Papeete is a major yacht charter base for those exploring the Society Islands (also known as the Tahitian Leewards). Explore this ancient and fascinating island or just chill out on the white sandy beaches after swimming with marine life over the coral reefs. With the country's international airport closeby you will be able to quickly get on the yacht and set about your Tahiti yacht charter adventure.
Also within the Society Islands and just a short connecting flight to the west of Papeete, Raiatea is a major yacht charterbase for those who want to explore the western Tahitian Leewards. The second largest island, it is no less bewitching than its larger neighbour. Set sail and head for islands like Moorea and Huahine, with ample time to explore ashore.
Some of the remotest yet rewarding sailing is to be done among these islands. Do check the Borrow A Boat charter yacht list to see crewed and bareboat opportunities - these are rare but it will make for an adventure of a lifetime.
For exploring the Marquesas you will head from Papeete to Nuku Hiva, the main island in the Marquesas where you can join your yacht. It will be at least a 3-4 hour addition to your journey from home but if you want to fly to the ends of the Earth for a yacht charter, why not go all the way?
From US $100 or so a day up to whatever you can afford, monohull sailing yachts are fun to sailat all points of the wind, whether nose into a building sea breeze or blasting under all canvas downwind. A luxury yacht charter at an affordable price!
Far more luxurious than a sailboat these often have en suite toilets and showers in the staterooms as well as ample entertaining space in the saloon and on deck. They have twin engines to compensate for their lack of windward ability but are great sailing with wind abaft the beam.
Want your own personal cruise ship for you and your group to leave the world behind? A luxury yacht charter or superyacht charter in the South Pacific with crew to look after you from breakfast to bedtime could be just the ticket. Often carrying scuba divingequipment and in some cases even a diving guide, you can get the very best from a sailing vacation in French Polynesia.
Whether a motor yacht with cabins or a day boat for a fishing trip / blasting up the bay, these are comfortable seagoing boats with a kick of speed should you want to cover a bigger distance on the day or just for the fun of having a 10 metre wide wake and 10 tons of steel flying along at 30 knots!
Very much day boats for fishing and day cruising, RIB boat charter can be a lot of fun for a day afloat. They can be very quick and are great should you be in a town on holiday and fancy seeing the coast or finding secluded white sand beaches from another perspective. Find yourself alone on a turquoise lagoon for an afternoon or explore a barrier reefwith its snorkelling opportunities.
Where it comes to a yacht charter in French Polynesia you have two choices - bareboat hire or skippered / crewed yachtcharter. Both have their own advantages.
Fancy going on a sailing trip yet have no sailing qualifications or lack the confidence to go it alone? A skippered yachtcharter gives you the advantage of being able to get afloat without having had to invest in getting sailing qualifications beforehand. You will pay over $100 a day extra for the skipper, as well as their food and a tip at the end but they will show you the best that the area has to offer with their local knowledge.
You will also be able to explore further afield than the traditional cruising grounds of bareboat sailing vacations. Exploring the Tuamotu atolls and their barrier reef guardians is one of those destinations where a crewed yacht charteris advised.
For those who seek a bit of adventure off their own back without the expense of a paid skipper aboard, a bareboat charter could be just the ticket. Though the navigation is fairly simple when staying within an archipelago do be aware that coral heads aren't well marked so within a barrier reef complex you need to have a sharp eye as a mistake can be very costly indeed.
If you want to bareboat charter you will need an approved boating qualification. Below is a list of relevant qualifications:
ASA 104 Bareboat certificate: The American Sailing Association skipper minimum qualification for hiring bareboatyachts in the Seychelles. BoatUS and US Sailing also offer bareboat charter qualifications, as does CANsail.
RYA: The Royal Yachting Association's qualifications (minimum Day Skipper level) is necessary for bareboat charterhire, it's also worthwhile seeing do you need to have done a VHF radio course as well as some boat owners will require this.
There are also many other European national boating qualifications that are accepted here too, it's worthwhile checking these details before hiring.
If you want a skippered boat hire as a charter yacht then you don't need any sailing certification at all, you just turn up and off you go.
There are two seasons in French Polynesia - the warmer season between November and April and the cooler season between May and October. That makes for excellent winter sun for those from Europe.
Do be aware that through the winter winds can build to a Force 8 and stay there for several days at a time. That's why many people tend to choose to sail during the French Polynesian winter (the Northern Hemisphere summer).
Warmer months - November to April: Expect temperatures from 29°C to 35°C. North-easterlies and easterlies are the prevailing winds in the hotter months. Winds stay at 15-20 knots most of the time. Most of the annual rainfall is at this time of year. Cyclones do reach the region too at this time of the year.
Cooler months - May-October: Expect tempertures of 25 - 29°C and SE winds of 15-20 knots. Do be aware of the Mara'amu gales that can reach 35knots (Force 8) and stay there for days at a time. It is drier and less humid too.
There's almost a yacht for every budget when it comes to chartering. For US $120 a day - $840 a week - you can take a sailboat monohull out with five other adults. That is going to be cheaper than a week in a hotel for everyone.
Catamarans cost a lot more - expect to pay anything from $500 to $2,000 a day depending on the season.
Motor yachts taken on a bareboat basis can cost as little as $500 a day if they have sleeping acommodation - much less if they are day boats.
RIBs can cost as little as $50 for an afternoon.
In each of the examples above you can take on a skipper starting at $150 a day depending on what the vessel is and their required qualifications to sail it.
Superyachts and luxury yachts are a different league - expect to pay $15,000 a day and up to $100,000 a day if your budget can manage it.
A long haul escape for almost everyone who charters a yacht in this far off part of the South Pacific, you are guaranteed the adventure of a lifetime. Swimming from white (and black) sandy beaches and sailing in comfortable SE Trade Winds. Seeing sea turtles and manta rays in their home environment, and perhaps climbing an extinct volcano to see far off horizons. A French Polynesia yacht charter is one of those experiences you will never forget.
Yacht chartering is one of the best ways to fully appreciate this vast country. Tourism and boat hire is a key source of foreign currency for the islands. Do be aware that the rules are administered as tightly as in its ruling country, France.
You can hire a motorboat, RIB, catamaran or sailboat on bareboat terms in French Polynesia, or you can hire a skipper to help you. For a luxury yacht or super yacht you will hire the crew and skipper as part of the package.
Consider your budget, sailing experience, whom you are taking sailing and where exactly you wish to go. Have you the sailing qualifications to do the trip? They can be very tight as to these requirements.
May to October is the main sailing season in French Polynesia though it can be pleasant sailing most of the rest of the year.
You will typically pay 50% upfront on booking the yacht hire and the balance on arrival. You will either pay a security deposit with your credit card on departure or can get insurance covering damage in advance.
If you are at sea and in danger, call MAYDAY on VHF Ch16. If you have a mechanical fault and can make it to/are on a mooring you will be able to phone a number given by the yacht charter company.
You should consider do you have the experience to handle the yacht charter you want to book and where do you want to go. Bring something windproof for sailing but it never cools to anything uncomfortable so light clothing and of course, swimwear!
Tourism is an important part of the French Polynesian economy. It being a French colony (but not within the EU), the same rules will apply to entering the country as it would apply to someone from your country entering France.
The main points to consider are what is your budget, have you got the necessary sailing experience and qualifications to manage the boat if it's not going to have a skipper, whom you are taking sailing, where exactly you wish to go and what will the weather be like on the proposed dates of your trip.
You will typically pay 50% up front on booking the yacht hire and the balance on arrival. You will either pay a security deposit with your credit card on departure or can get insurance covering damage in advance. In some cases (such as the recent Covid situation) charter companies may be more flexible but this depends on the individual charter companies themselves.
If you are at sea and in danger, call MAYDAY on VHF Ch16 or ring the coast guard on your phone if you have reception. If you have a mechanical fault and can make it to or are on a mooring you will be able to phone a help line number given by the boat charter company.
You should consider do you have the experience to handle the yacht charter or boat hire before you book and where do you want to go along with what the weather will be like. Bring warm weather and cool weather clothing if it looks like the weather can be cool as well as warm and remember at sea it can be cool on most evenings.
If you want to sail without a skipper then you will need relevant qualifications like RYA Day Skipper/International Certificate of Competence (ICC)/ASA 104 Bareboat certificate or the US Sailing Certificate. For small 'day boats' or if you choose to have a skippered on board your yacht charter you typically don't require licences.
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