Bora Bora sailing and cruising the waters of French Polynesia’s Leeward Islands is nirvana for many. The choice is tantalizing with the legendary Bora Bora, authentic Tahaa, spiritual Raiatea & Huahine, the most feminine of them.
Also, not forgetting magical Maupiti & the untouched motus (atolls) of Tupai and even Mopelia. It’s truly the best cruising in the world as there’s nothing to rival the consistent sailing conditions, the majestic mountain scenery, the exceptional diving, and the world’s most beautiful lagoons.
You can choose to rent a boat and go sailing with your group or book one of the many private sailing tours around Bora Bora.
There are plentiful fishing opportunities, sensational sunrises and sunsets. Most undertake Bora Bora sailing voyages through paradise aboard sumptuous catamarans with a multi-skilled skipper.
You have a hostess with the mostest so your every comfort is catered to. Catamarans are ideal for this type of sailing, offering wide deck space and less draw than mono-hulls. This gives greater access to excellent mooring sites & the best spots possible in the scintillating lagoons.
Many look to Raiatea for their Bora Bora sailing vessel. The selection of available craft is as varied as the blue hues of the island’s lagoons. The Raiatea makes an ideal base from which to explore. The catamarans come in all sizes & configurations.
Looking for a private tour? I highly recommend the Bora Bora Half-Day Catamaran Sailing Tour. It takes you to amazing spots with scenic views (of places like Mount Otemanu) and of the lagoon, all aboard a large catamaran. You can also snorkel and swim with some of the amazing sea creatures here.
Sailing Raiatea & Tahaa
For those who feel they lack the experience to venture into open water, Raiatea & Tahaa are made for them. Both islands sit majestically within the same expansive & beautiful lagoon, offering stunning still-water cruising.
One can sail around both islands without having to leave the lagoon. There’s plenty to do, but my recommendation is to take your time & concentrate on the waters surrounding Tahaa. From there you can specifically target places of particular interest in Raiatea — Marae Taputapuatea or Motu Nao Nao.
The motus to the north of Tahaa is simply drop-dead stunning. From their northernmost extremity, you can watch the sunrise over Huahine and set over Bora Bora without your moving!
Cruise into the exquisite Tahaa Resort for lunch or a drink or ten and then meander past the multitude of Motus. You can take dips in waters whose colors you would have thought were only possible through worked photos.
Continue steadily around Toahotu Pass mooring near Motu Mahaea (Ceran) opposite Motu Toahotu (Atger). This is a very special place and an action-packed location offering great dives, with the opportunity to surf or wind-surf.
You get access to certain modern commodities despite the relative isolation. Huahine is visible in the distance, and it feels magical to see the sunrise over Huahine for those rising early.
Returning to the cataraman from the Tahaa Resort and view the sunrise overlooking Motus Mahaea & Toahotu with Huahine just visible behind the later.
From Toahotu Pass it’s easy to access the sensational diving in the passes off Raiatea or the spectacular bays cutting deep into the island of Tahaa. They make for magic spots to moor overnight.
My favorite is Hurepiti Bay, flanked by the waterside. It has the shimmering white church at Tiva with a mystical Bora Bora as the backdrop, and great fishing/diving at the famous Paipai Pass through which the world’s greatest outrigger canoe race.
The Hawaiki Nui Va’a passes each year, and dolphins regularly cruise by just as you are settling into sunset drinks.
There are plenty of images of the magnificent scenery surrounding Raiatea & Tahaa, so here are a couple of photos capturing different aspects of life on a catamaran.
We took these while cruising the beautiful waters, including heading up Raiatea’s Apoomao River by any means in the last 2 middle images.
For those who are a little more adventurous, the opportunity exists to visit Huahine and Bora Bora. There is also Tupai, Maupiti and Mopelia, and even further afield once the sailing bug has got you!
If you are looking to sail across open waters to visit other islands & motus be sure to discuss your Bora Bora sailing tri[ in advance with those whom you hire your yacht from. The pass at Maupiti can be treacherous, so self-skippered craft may not be permitted to sail there and safe mooring off Tupai is not for beginners.
Mopelia is a long trip, an atoll where a keen understanding of narrow fast flowing passes and mooring in certain weather conditions is indispensable. A skipper might well be required by the yacht rental company.
I’m an experienced yachtsman, and even so my advice is to take both a skipper and a hostess. The skipper knows well the boat, the seas, the passes, the motor in case of mechanical issues and so on. Not to mention the best spots to go sailing around Bora Bora.
The hostess keeps the beers flowing and they are skilled cooks. If you’re not convinced, then reflect on the value of insider knowledge, such as knowing that in Tahaa there is only one pharmacy (it’s at Haamene). Or that in Maupiti, there’s no doctor or pharmacy & medical treatment can only be found at the dispensary near the Town Hall. t
The skipper will know where it is, and would you? In Mopelia it’s total isolation, so how well do you know your boat in case of a problem?
Sailing Huahine vs Bora Bora
Huahine is a beautiful island possessed of unique charm & mystery, an island bathed in history & culture. It’s held to be the most feminine of islands (just ask your skipper to explain the significance of the Tahitian ‘Hua’ & ‘Hine’). It’s well worth visiting, particularly the island itself.
In a move welcomed by the boating fraternity, 16 permanent ecological moorings have been installed around Huahine. There are 5 alongside Bali Hai Beach, 5 others around Mati, 3 in the lagoon at Hana Iti & 3 others in Haapu Bay.
The buoys are placed at least 70m apart & can accommodate yachts up to 20m long & weighing up to 20 tons. It’s also envisaged that Bourrayne Bay will be developed as a safe anchorage during cyclonic conditions for both yachts & superyachts.
Bora Bora is simply paradise on earth. Depending on your sailing itinerary, Bora Bora is a good option to consider as the place from where to start your sailing.
Why not have the world’s most beautiful island lagoon as your base & Bora Bora offers better proximity to the off-the-beaten adventures of Tupai, Maupiti & Mopelia.
I took a cruise from Bora Bora to Raiatea/Tahaa several weeks back. Our skipper owned the catamaran and as a diving instructor, knew the islands both above & below water like the back of his hand.
Meanwhile, our chef was the owner of one of the better restaurants in Bora Bora! Fun crew, great cook (food better than on any other rental craft on which I’ve sailed), booze included, the skipper willing to sail where required.
We were better equipped with leisure equipment than other similar rental craft. Best of all around an all-up price some 30-40% less than that proposed for similar but frankly not as good tours ex Raiatea.
Our cat arrives back in Bora Bora around sunset & below, anchors off Matira Beach, where va’a (outrigger canoes) can be seen heading out for a training paddle in preparation for the Heiva i Bora Bora.
In the shot that follows, look at the sunset on Matira Beach, backgrounding the fish caught on the way home!!!:
If you’re sailing in Bora Bora without a hired skipper, there is excellent mooring to be found off Bloody Mary’s or along Matira Beach. It’s in the relatively deep waters just around Raititi Point, where the now-closed Hotel Bora Bora is located. Just follow the channel markers closely!
Close by there is a good snack with Snack Matira and a great restaurant called Restaurant Matira Beach. Both are at the water’s edge, plus a nearby supermarket. Alas, the unmarked patisserie opposite Snack Matira has moved closer to town.
It’s not possible to sail safely around Point Matira itself, but it’s fairly straight-forward in a smaller keel-free craft and well worthwhile giving access to the Coral Garden snorkel dive amongst other gems. Just bring your snorkeling equipment with you.
Lying just 17 km (10.5 miles) off Bora Bora is the world’s most photographed atoll – the heart-shaped Tupai. It’s the symbol of love and the dream spot for many to seal their union for life.
During the last population survey (ISPF 2012), 2 people are recorded as living on Tupai. Presumably reflecting the fact that the atoll reportedly has a guardian!
A small number of Bora Borians pass by spasmodically to harvest the motu’s coconuts for copra. In yet another moment of political folly 2 overwater structures were constructed for the sole enjoyment of a single man.
At the same time, the motu’s pass was dynamited to make a shallow entrance into the lagoon and what a stunningly beautiful lagoon it is. Safe access for yachts is not possible to the atoll, but it can be achieved using smaller keel-less craft.
It’s a thrilling entry adding to the overall buzz of the outing:
It’s best to visit (early) in the morning to permit a round tour from Bora Bora or as part of a sail across to Maupiti. Don’t be late for Maupiti, as the pass can be treacherous.
Tupai is not without its own unique place in history. In 1777 two sailors jumped ship from Captain Cook’s “Discovery” whilst she anchored in Huahine. They headed for Tahaa before deciding on Tupai but were captured there by locals & handed back to Cook.
Tupai has also been long-held as the place where the Chilean mutineers from the ‘Araucano‘ buried their considerable treasures in the early 1820s. More recently, many hold that Tahiti’s GIP said to be akin to a private army for a most recent President of Polynesia.
They were reportedly trained in armed warfare on Tupai by former members of the French Foreign Legion.
Tupai was inhabited many years ago, but cyclones saw residents moving to safer shores, a move which has seen Tupai preserved in its natural state. It’s the true Robinson Crusoe experience.
It’s here that one can truly say: ‘I got away from it all’. Tupai has also a primitive stone tidal fish trap – Tupaiofai – initially constructed many hundreds of years ago. It’s sited between the passes of Apooparai & Teavamoa.
Needless to say, the marine life is exceptional. During a recent visit, whilst diving off a famous wall, there was a massive humpback whale that descended to check us all out! If you want to see whales for yourself, then read our whale watching guide.
Why not check out Tupai for yourselves.
Maupiti is a real gem, and it’s simply sensational. Many say it’s Bora Bora without the development.
The island’s only pass, Onoiau Pass, can be extremely difficult to navigate, but the rewards are a fantastic lagoon. There are no major hotel constructions, making it the type of tropical island paradise for which most spend their lives searching.
Here is Maupiti’s only pass from water-level & from atop the island’s highest point:
For things to do in Maupiti, we cover the subject extensively in a great report entitled Magical Maupiti.
Mopelia or Maupihaa as it is also known, is a beautiful untouched motu that sits enticingly in the Pacific some 100 nautical miles from Maupiti. Visits here are so rare often that the locals, a population of a grand total of 11 during the last population survey, will paddle out in their outriggers to greet you.
The atoll has been known for centuries to local French Polynesians as a place of abundance for sea turtles, coconuts and a wide range of sea birds. Turtle meat is a delicacy and regrettably when turtles first became a protected species in French Polynesia, Mopelia’s turtle resources were plundered for a number of years by speed-boats making day trips from Bora Bora & Raiatea.
Mopelia has a stunningly beautiful, totally untouched lagoon with depths in places approaching 40m for those looking to moor. A full day’s sail from Maupiti, Mopelia’s pass is quite narrow & can be dangerous.
You’ll need a good motor to counteract the strong current often flowing against you at more than 6 knots! Be aware & closely check weather forecast details as this is an atoll, thereby offering little or no protection in the case of high winds. It’s well worth the planning though, as this is a truly magical spot!
Mopelia is a virtually unknown dot of land lost in the Pacific Ocean. It has a most intriguing story in its history, which deserves telling here. It’s the story of a certain Felix von Luckner (“the Sea-Devil”) & his crew (“the Emperor’s Pirates”) were merchant boat raiders in the early 20th century.
Aboard the Seeadler (Sea Eagle), a three-masted windjammer, they operated with great success in the Pacific Ocean (& Atlantic) with a capacity to attack opponents causing only minor, if any, casualties, an ability which made them legendary heroes internationally.
From a painting of the Seeadler:
Luckner ran away to sea from school aged 12 years on a boat traveling to Australia. He fell overboard in rough seas & was only saved by his grabbing an albatross. Despite being severely pecked, he used the bird’s flapping wings & the flight of other albatross overhead to guide the lifeboat to him.
He would jump ship in Australia and then work for 7 years in an incredible array of jobs, including newspaper salesman, assistant lighthouse keeper until caught with the lighthouse keeper’s daughter, kangaroo hunter, circus worker, professional boxer.
He had great physical strength able to bend coins between his fingers & tear up telephone directories by hand. Also, as a fisherman, seaman, Presidential Guard in the Mexican Army, railway construction worker, barman & inn keeper. It perhaps goes without saying that Luckner was an accomplished magician!
Luckner later joined the German Navy seeing action in WWI, during which he was appointed Captain of the merchant raider Seeadler. After a considerable number of successful raids, Luckner found both the US & the Royal Navy looking for him.
To avoid capture, he sailed south into the Pacific & in June 1917, needing to scrape clean the hull of his boat & with beri-beri amongst his crew, put into Mopelia.
Too large to enter the lagoon & in the interest of safe mooring, Luckner anchored outside the reef. Later that August, the Seeadler was wrecked on the reef in a tsunami, according to Luckner but as a result of drifting aground whilst the prisoners and most of the crew were having a picnic on the island.
The crew & prisoners were able to salvage certain provisions, some firearms, & two of the Seeadler’s life-boats. As optimistic as ever Luckner rigged one of the 10m long open life-boats as a sloop & set sail for Fiji, 3700kms away via the Cook islands.
He intended to capture a sailing ship once there, return to Mopelia for his crew & prisoners & resume raiding!
Luckner passed by the Cook Islands authorities posing initially as Dutch American mariners and then as Norwegians. He was multi-lingual, as Luckner had earlier in his career passed off one of his seamen as his wife to escape the British.
His luck ran out, though when he was bluffed into surrender in Fiji & subsequently held prisoner in New Zealand. Of course, he managed to escape & capture a vessel before being re-caught, but that’s another story as is the remainder of his life as a leading author, and public speaker in the USA.
News of Luckner’s arrest soon reached his crew on Mopelia. At the time, a French Trading vessel, the Lutece, had anchored outside the reef. One of Luckner’s officers would head out to ‘greet’ them capturing the vessel at gunpoint!
Luckner’s crew then set off aboard the captured boat leaving the French on Mopelia with the American prisoners.
Four of the American prisoners would subsequently sail the remaining open boat 1,600 km to Pago Pago & arrange for the rescue of the 44 sailors left stranded on Mopelia.
Parts of the wreck can still be seen, through hundreds of fish, in the relatively shallow waters of the reef on the southern side of the pass. Relics from the Seeadler have been salvaged over the years, some of which can now be seen in the Australian War Memorial Museum. Perhaps one day they can be returned.
I think anyone making the effort to visit Mopelia should strongly consider eating like the locals. Make enquiries about lobster fresh from the reef or the delectable, huge blue keveu (coconut crab) for dinner and then local bird’s eggs for breakfast.
‘Bon apetit’ takes on a totally new slant!