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 Tahiti - Aboard the Nemo Polynesia

Nemo Polynesia

A Cabin Charter on the Nemo Polynesia

by Brooke Cunningham

In the early morning, Moorea shines pink across the turquoise lagoon of the barrier reef. We walked the paths through playful exotic gardens, graceful palms, and fantasy pools always aware of the delectable blues of the sea beyond the lagoon. A breakfast buffet was spread on tables in the shade of the palms, warm breezes played in the flowers while we watched small sailboats and the occasional outrigger canoe. The air was filled with sweet salty smells drifting on the morning breeze and the peacefully intoxicating sound of the open ocean hammering against the barrier reef. 

A half-hour flight from Tahiti brought us to the town of Fare on Huahine Iti. The air was filled with the quiet bustle of barefoot activity and the ever-present rumble of the barrier reef. Children and chickens wandered the street among the restaurants and shops. The locals are physically beautiful people, so innocent that they meet your eyes like old friends. There are flowers everywhere on these islands and people pluck a blossom from a bush to stick behind their ear as part of strolling down the street. Children's brown little bodies were flipping off the dock through the air into the iridescent water, performing tricks and grinning in delight as they burst to the surface. 

John and I had crossed the 3875-mile distance from Los Angeles to FAAA airport on Tahiti to board a cabin charter boat called Nemo Polynesia. Don’t let anyone tell you that getting to the French Polynesian Islands is easy. No matter where you start, it is a very long way. We would live aboard the 83' catamaran in our private cabin as we sailed between Tahiti, Huahini, Tahaa, Raiatea, and Bora Bora. Cabin charter is the middle ground between taking a cruise and chartering a yacht. Like a cruise there is a planned itinerary, meals are all served at one time and the other guests are unfamiliar. Unlike a cruise, there were only 12 of us and we had some flexibility in our schedule because of that. Like a yacht charter, the boat was comfortable, the food was exotic, plentiful and beautifully presented, the crew was charming and attentive but cabin charter costs a fraction of the cost of a private yacht.

We met Michel, our captain aboard Nemo, when he came to pick us up at the covered bridge dock in Fare. After moving into our cabins and exploring the catamaran, the process of getting to know our fellow travelers began. We all had sailing, travelling, and discovering new places in the world in common. There were twelve of us on board, but with a boat 83’ long and 30’ wide there was always space for gatherings small or large, and places to read or work on a tan. Our cabins were tight but efficient, each with its own entrance and head. Life aboard had a comfortable rhythm as we explored these primordial islands. 

We took a land tour with AFO Safari in the afternoon. Afo is a native who gives a tour circumnavigating the twin islands of Huahine Nui (big) and Huahine Iti (small). 

We saw fresh water blue eyed eels that have been hand fed by the locals in the town of Faie and have been tame for decades. At a small farm we all saw the processes involved in growing the fresh vanilla used in most local recipes. The farmers pollinate the blossoms by hand since there are no native insects for this job. We were taken to the Maeva Bridge, the last remaining site of the local tradition of using fish traps. You build stone walls in the tidal pools, shaped as a “V” which follows the outgoing flow. These stone walls are just higher than the lowest tide. When the tide comes in, the fish do too. When the tide goes out, the fish are trapped. The traps were just one more indication of people living in elegant simplicity and a lifestyle which reveres the harmony of natural forces.

Our first dinner aboard was a delicious raw fish salad full of chopped raw vegetables and a salty sweet sauce, followed by Polynesian chicken marinated in coconut milk. For dessert there was fruit compote with crème fraiche, and lots of wine. Fabianne is a creative french cook using fresh native produce to create beautiful and tasty feasts day after day from her tiny galley. At breakfast she offers eggs cooked to order and various cereals served along with fresh pastries, yogurts and native fruits. Lunches were made up of crunchy locally grown salad of fruit and vegetables in interesting combinations, followed by chicken pies, or marinated cold fish or wonderful soups. Dinner always started with salads, followed by special native dishes, several bottles of wine, and Fabianne's unique and delicious desserts.

Our first night sky was filled with luminous reds and vibrating purples. The islands make shadows into the bioluminescent water, as if they are floating. John and I slept on the trampoline one night, or I should say we tried to. In fact, we spent the whole night there, but the display of stars was so intense and dramatic that our eyes refuse to close. The new moon in the Southern Hemisphere hangs in the air like a teacup without a handle on a tapestry of spilled sugar crystals. In the morning the water was flat calm and reflected the pink morning light so evenly that you could not tell where the sea stopped and the sky began. Clouds hung in the pink light, roosters crowed, and there was a sense of being suspended and timeless between sky and ocean. The smell of fresh coffee drifted over the deck as people began to emerge from their cabins. Michel prepared for our first day's sail. After breakfast we set sail for a two-hour run between Huahine and Tahaa. 

I had never seen an atoll before, and did not understand the effect of a barrier reef. What it creates is a lagoon with a clockwise circular current surrounding the volcanic island in the center. Outside the surf is made up of rolling curls as high as 30', a luminous turquoise force pounding into white spray with a continuous roar. There are only a few breaks known as “passages” in the reef where the boats can pass through. The ride through the passage was calm, just a moderate swell actually. As you go through the passage you can look down the throat of this rolling wave, see the sunlight through it, and imagine what power it must have. The stable design of the catamaran makes for an easy crossing between Huahine and Tahaa. 

We were able to go ashore on Tahaa for a little shopping in the afternoon. John and I explored the small shops and sandy streets then settled in for a cold local beer at an outdoor café. There was a feeling of being at the end of the world, pretty much true. Children chatted happily to us in very pristine French as we took in the pace and style of the village.

Back aboard Nemo we headed out around the lagoon to the south to spend the night in the harbor of Point Tuamaru. Our first dinner ashore was at the Marini Iti Restaurant. We were treated to a traditional festive dinner complete with native musicians and dancers. We wondered about an odd small wire basket with a long handle at each place setting. The answer was that Poisson Crue is a traditional dinner served rather like fondue. Each table had a large platter of fresh fish cut into chunks and slivers. Vegetables were to be mixed with the fish pieces and quickly seared in the wire basket and eaten hot. The reward for not losing things in the cooker is a constantly changing mix sprinkled with coconut shavings and delicious fruit sauces. The dancers were impossibly graceful while music was naturally joyous. You would really have to work hard to have a rotten day in an environment such as this.

Being the earliest riser among the group, I spent some time writing, and chatting in my rusty French with our captain and his wife. I learned that we were headed to a black pearl farm that day. We would travel inside the lagoon to Motu Tau Tau. They told me a bit about the black pearl farms in the region, describing the strings of oysters hanging in the water, and how the farmers check on each oyster every day. I could envision the large black irregular shapes clinging to the silver strands hanging down for 30 feet quietly making dark pearls, and the strong brown swimmers diving in the clear sunlit water to tend the current crop. It seemed like a dream job!  

We set out to the west and then north along the lagoon. Cabin charter offers flexibility of itinerary not possible on a cruise ship. Michele took a detour up a large inlet called Baie Hurepiti. He told us that it was a place where we could see the homes of fishermen on the island. The terrain is so steep that it appears like a fjord with palm trees. The houses were all on the beach with a variety of watercraft tied up in front. Dense jungle rose steeply up behind them and I wondered if the only avenue of travel was boat access. We saw typical working boats, dozens of outrigger canoes and a few large sailboats along the way. There were swings hanging from the branches of palms, and sandcastles along the shore, bright pareos drying on lines in the breeze and flowering gardens everywhere. All the signs of people who take time to enjoy their lives.

Then back out into the lagoon for the trip to the Motu Pearl Farm. The pearl farm was a casual riot of flowers and shells with gardens everywhere and a lovely beach. A fabulous explanation of the process of growing, tending and harvesting pearls was given to us by our host. This farm had been in his family for eight generations. He told us that the variety of color in the pearls comes from the section of “lip” used to irritate the oyster into making a pearl. The term “black” actually means a spread of about a dozen iridescent sheens all the way from gold, to green and rose to purple. 

The next day was filled with exploring the reefs around Raiatea. Many guests wanted to walk on one of the barrier islands so Michel took them across in the raft. John and I preferred to snorkel in the beckoning coral heads that we could see below the surface of water so clear as to make determining depth impossible. There was no loss of light as we dove 35-40' down to come up with a beautiful conch shell. The natives called it "sept doigts" or "seven fingers", named for the slender points that extend from the shell. Live ones are protected but since there was nobody home in this one, we were able to keep it. 

The following day, we crossed through another passage, this time on the western side of Tahaa onto the deep blue headed to Bora Bora, a four hour crossing. Approaching the island we were silenced by the towering green cliffs as they rose into the luscious blue of the sky. There is only one passage into Bora Bora. It is on the western side. The barrier reef had huge rolling aqua waves, which traveled as a luminous curl for miles before crashing down. Our native stewardess, Jesi, did a traditional dance as we crossed through the passage. Her reverence for this island was profound and unmistakable. 

At Viatapea we disembarked for a short shopping trip. John and I wandered the streets and bought presents for our friends at home. As had become our custom, we had a beer at an open café, and watched people go about their lives. Children walked or rode bikes chatting happily among themselves or with us as I tested the boundaries of my improving French. They seemed unconcerned about our language skills and were much more interested in these two blonde and blue eyed visitors appreciating their black eyes and tattooed bodies. 

After reboarding Nemo, we set sail to choose a lovely spot to put out a hook for the evening. That would be a hard target to miss here. All evening, my eyes kept drifting up to those two huge slabs of rock jutting up into the sky that create the distinctive silhouette of Bora Bora. As the light faded and the boat rocked gently I asked Jesi about the meaning of her dance. She told me that sea travel was full of legends about these island passages. The story goes that Bora Bora was such a sacred place that one should never enter the passage without a gift, traditionally a dance. 

After breakfast, we headed to the Lagoonarium on Motu Tofari. It is a charming small barrier island, which appears to contain only a few small houses for the people who tend the pens used to contain turtles, sharks and tropical fish in shallow water. We were able to swim in the pens for a close up look. The pens were large enough to really travel with the animals, and in a funny way they seemed interested in us too. When we emerged from the fish pens, the owners brought us a huge tray of fresh fruit cut up into finger sized chunks as we rested under the palms. 

When the dinghy came, Michel took us to a place locally known as the coral garden. It is unmarked, simply a turn in the lagoon. We plunged backwards over the side of the dinghy, and by the time we surfaced we were 100 feet from it riding the 5-6 knot current. We held hands, and raced over the bottom 2-4 feet below us. The yellow and orange coral heads, black and brown snails, brilliant jewel like fish, and neon colored scallops flashed by for about a mile and a half. Traveling at such speed it was like watching an Imax movie right in front of your nose! This was one of the most sensuous and exhilarating experiences I have ever had. Michel picked us up with the dinghy in the wash where the current slowed, and took us back to the headwaters so we could do it again. It was a stunning show, a truly exotic insight into the life that exists within and under the coral beds.

On one of these races over the coral John began to do lazy somersaults in the fast current. Twisting and rolling in the weightless turquoise water, flying over the brilliant display of color and sparkle from the coral he looked for all the world like one of the ebullient native children. I think each of us recognized that the child within sometimes demands expression in this place and we were watching his now. If I had to summarize what French Polynesia had to offer, it would be the reverence for simple pleasures made of water, sunlight and flowers. French Polynesia wraps its friendliness and beauty around you until you view its charms with the uncomplicated eyes of the child within.  



Nemo Polynesia - Cabin Charter
Launched: 1995
Length of deck: 83’
Width of deck: 30’
Cabins: 10
Heads: 10
type: Sloop rigged catamaran
Nemo carries masks, snorkels, fins, windsurfer & a kayak

Location of Nemo Polynesia: 
Year Round: French Polynesia

Casual clothing and bathing suits make up most of your wardrobe. Soft luggage is necessary. Currency is the Coeur de Franc Pasifique, but US dollars & credit cards can be used in larger stores and restaurants. Sun block (at least spf15) is important. There is plenty of light, so slower film is preferred.

Travel Information
Fly into FAAA Airport, Papeete on Tahiti
Airlines: Air Caledonie Int, Air France, Air New Zealand, AOM French Airlines, Corsair, Hawaiian Airlines, Lan Chile and Qantas

From Tahiti you can get to the other islands by small plane or boat.

Entry Requirements
You can stay for up to a month without a visa, and everyone who is not French needs to have a passport.

Charter Contact:
Richleigh Yachts
email [email protected]

To see other Richleigh yachts visit

Brooke Cunningham

Brooke Cunningham

[email protected]

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