Polynesia by catamaran with Donnavventura
Equinoxe Yachts and Donnavventura have been partnering for a decade now and one of the most successful of their mutual ventures was exploring Polynesia by catamaran aboard a Moorings 4800. Dedicated sailors that they are, Maria and Paola kept a logbook for the trip in which they reveal the emotions the entire group experienced throughout this wonderful time.
Polynesia by catamaran with Donnavventura
Day 1– From Papeete to Raiatea: and we’re off!
The alarm clocks go off early for the Donnavventura team – 4.30 on the dot. Destination: Papeete Airport where a flight to Raiatea awaits. We are all champing at the bit to explore Polynesia by catamaran. And now here we are at last on the second largest and most important island in this little piece of heaven. It is dominated by towering mountains and a lagoon ringed by a coral reef. The combination is literally breathtaking and makes you forget all about the lack of long sandy beaches.
After leaving the airport, we head to the marina where skipper Laurent and our 48’ catamaran Bessie, with her six en suite cabins, are waiting as Donnavventura has decided to partner up with Moorings and Equinoxe Yachts once again this year. We load our luggage aboard and settle into our cabins in twos. Life aboard is both wonderful and adventurous but it’s also quite different: we are all too aware that the spaces aboard, although comfortable, are compact and that we will have to be super-tidy and organised. Plus we will have to limit the water we use for washing up and showering.
The first thing we have to think about is stocking the pantry to ensure we are fully prepared to tackle Polynesia by catamaran. So we head off to the centre of Uturoa and into a small local supermarket to buy what we need for five days at sea. That means milk, cereals, fresh fruit, bread, vegetables and tuna. Once our provisions are stowed away, we’re ready to cast off. We’re bound for Taha’a but the weather doesn’t look too promising.
Big clouds gathering on the horizon threaten rain. But nothing scares this team!
The catamaran heads north, setting a course for Taha’a, which is a wonderful refuge from the chaos of the rest of the world. We can already see sandy motus and the outline of Bora Bora in the distance. Taha’a is also known as “Vanilla Island” because it produces three quarters of French Polynesia’s entire vanilla output. The growers here pollinate the plants by hand because the island doesn’t have the insects that normally do it in the wild. It is also supposed to be the most delicious in the world.
For lunch, Vale and Paola cook the rest of the group a frittata to eat with grilled fresh tuna and a green salad. We cast off again later but the weather isn’t great. Rain-laden clouds alternate with brighter moments. The catamaran draws to a halt near Taha’a and we down anchor for the night. Around 19.00 Ana makes the group a special Donnavventura dish: spaghetti alla chitarra with bottarga (grated dried red mullet roe) and saffron. (Michela)
Day 2 – From Raiatea to Raiatea: up close and personal
The Donnavventura team wakes to the gentle swing of the sea and, rocked by the waves, we begin our second day of exploring Polynesia by catamaran. Ana and Paola, who are the morning people on the team, have already laid out breakfast on the table in the outside dinette: yoghurt, cereals and herbal teas to give us the best possible start to the day.
Unfortunately, it rains again. With a little help from skipper Laurent, Ana starts the engine and we head for the island of Taha’a and the “coral garden”, the area between the motus where the water is very shallow and we can walk around admiring the stunning coral. Once we have got in position, we jump into the tender and set off to explore the tiny lush, palm-topped islands: it’s a stunning place, completely wild and deserted. Every now and then, we see a few fishermen in a pirogue and they always greet the girls with a huge smile. Later we head back to the catamaran. Ana helps Laurent cast off for the trip bac to Raiatea. Helped by the skipper, Michi tries steering the boat south and the team chills out in the little, soaking up the rays when the sun comes out every now and then, and snapping a few photos. Around five o’clock, which is just before sunset, we tie up in the marina at Uturoa we set out from: we’ll spend our second night here in a more sheltered spot in case there is a storm. (Michela)
Day 3 – Raiatea: Meetings the locals
The skies over Raiatea are grey once again this morning but the alarm clock goes off at 07.00 on the dot. Armed with nautical charts, our expedition chief Ana shows the rest of the Donnavventura team the northerly course we’ll be following to the leeward islands. Weather bulletin in hand, Michela observes, however, that the weather is not looking good at all. But we won’t let anything get us down on this voyage of exploration of Polynesia by catamaran. We still have all the equipment we need to document this little corner of paradise from underwater cameras for our dives to drones for aerial shots. We decide not to move but explore the island of Raiatea while we wait for better weather. The few little houses on the island, which are mostly made from corrugated iron, are the homes of Polynesians who work the land, growing fruit trees (coconuts, bananas, avocadoes, grapefruits, oranges) and also raise chickens and pigs. That said, fish is staple food of the Polynesian diet. We take the opportunity to call to a primary school in Opoa, where we are welcomed with open arms by the children who are curious and eager to joke around with us. We move on and arrive at the well-preserved remains of the Taputapuatea marae – the most important 17th century Polynesian temple dedicated to the God of War, Oro.
As we are on our way back, the youngest member of the group, Paola, stops off to buy some bananas which are particularly fresh and sweet in these parts. We end up going into a small local craft market. The stalls sell a bit of everything but we are particularly enthralled by the local weavers who meticulously fashion beautiful hats, necklaces, macramé, fans and bags out of straw. The lovely woven garlands are our favourites. We try a few on our own heads and take some photos with the locals who were curious about our team. Once we bid farewell to everyone, we set off for home or rather to the catamaran we call home for these days, to finish off our post-production work and make some dinner. (Michela)
Day 4 – From Raiatea to Raiatea: Discovering the coral garden
We wake nice and early because we know we have a very special day ahead: it is Vale’s birthday!
It also looks like the weather has a gift for her: by early morning, the sun is shining and the sea has turned a lovely sky blue. We leave the marina early and head for open sea. Our first call is to the coral garden. During this section of our voyage of discovery of Polynesia by catamaran, we come upon Miri Miri, a tiny, palm-topped deserted island, and immediately afterwards make some unexpected new friends – dolphins playing in the waves. A half an hour later we reach our destination. Michela and Paola get the masks and flippers ready while Vale do likewise with the cameras. Once the gear is good to go, we pile into the tender to get out to the coral. The garden lies between two very wild, unspoilt islands. The views are like something out of a film: a wonderfully clear sea and a light breeze. We dive in and get snorkelling: the coral is wonderfully colourful with a huge array of marine life ranging from manta rays to parrot fish and the ever-present black tip reef sharks. After we finish our explorations, we return to the catamaran to make a good big lunch and then set off again. We spend the afternoon on the boat, working on our computers, downloading the photos and video and writing up the logbook. We have a quiet evening. We turn in early because we know that the next day will be spent doing reconnaissance too and is also our last day exploring Polynesia by catamaran. (Paola)
Day 5 – Raiatea: Homeward Bound
We wake at 7.00 a.m. with the islands of French Polynesia just waiting to be explored. We are buzzing with energy as we make breakfast aboard. The catamaran is ready and waiting to cast off once again. We begin our day with a bit of a workout to keep us fit and then the expedition chief Ana takes the helm and we sail close to some stunning motus, including Waini and La Pirogue. We make a collective decision to take the tender out to explore Tau Tau, a tiny island covered in palms constantly ruffled by the sea breeze. It is home to a single local family. We get to know Angelo, the head of the family who is also a fisherman. He was born there and makes his living selling his catch on Taha’a. We take our leave of the family and head back to the channel, a natural pool that separates the motus. However, we also stop off for a refreshing dip after hours in the hot French Polynesian sun on our way back to the catamaran. As we sail south, we spy an unusual little hut, a wooden stilt dwelling used by the farmers of the famous black pearls which are the mainstay of the Polynesian economy in these parts. In the distance, we can see the unmistakable outline of Bora Bora and its coral garden beginning to take shape. We set off there in the tender for another dive. The garden is only a little over a metre and a half deep and, despite the ravages of global warming, the flora and fauna remain unique as it teems with sponges, flowering coral and tropical fish.
French Polynesia a dream destination for those who like to honeymoon in the magical resort bungalows built on stilts in the sea, and for holidaying with friends, perhaps aboard a catamaran like the ones offered by Equinoxe Yachts. This really is a remote corner of heaven on earth: it took us two days to even get there as we had to go all the way to the southern hemisphere. But the effort was more than rewarded.
Towards evening, as the sun begins to dip and sets the horizon aglow, we head back to the marina at Uturoa from which we’d cast off on our first day. We spend our last night there, rocked by the waves and lulled by the sound of the Pacific. The best possible end to our Polynesia by catamaran adventure! (Michela)