Sign Up for Our Monthly Asia Newsletter
A foot-long hermit crab inched its way across the lagoon’s sandy floor. Dozens of Tahitian blue clams snapped their shells shut in unison, and a school of black-, white- and yellow-striped butterfly fish nonchalantly swam by my side, almost as if I were one of their own. I tried to make sense of my newfound weightlessness and the ethereal underwater world I was somehow inhabiting 30-feet below the surface. It was my first-ever scuba dive, and I couldn’t have picked a more picturesque diving spot than the coral gardens of Raiatea, French Polynesia.
My introductory scuba lesson happened on a whim while sailing on one of Tahiti Yacht Charter’s 40-foot catamarans last month. The French Polynesian cruise company specializes in private sailings and encourages guests to follow their impulses, whether that’s sunbathing on the bow’s mesh trampoline or getting PADI certified in the Leeward Islands.
“The boat is yours,” said the ship’s captain Jimmy Triboulat. “We can sail anywhere in the lagoon and do whatever you wish. If you have a desire, let us know, and we will try to make it possible.”
This was true on my two-night sailing from Tahaa to Rangiroa. When I arrived, Triboulat built an itinerary based on my interests, scheduling a visit to Raiatea’s Ferme Perliere Pearl Farm, to learn how Tahitian black pearls are raised and cultivated, and a tour of Vallee de la Vanille, a family-operated vanilla farm on Tahaa, Tahiti’s Vanilla Island.
Tahiti Yacht Charter’s fleet consists of 25 French-manufactured catamarans that can hold two to 8 guests on a private cruise or up to 12 guests on a “bareboat” charter (without the crew). My ship was a stylish Lagoon 400 catamaran with a generator and an air conditioning system partially fueled by onboard solar panels. Each stateroom, though compact in size, featured private bathrooms with showers and windows that let the outside in.
The captain and my private chef were quick to make me feel at home on the Manuia VII, and it wasn’t long before I started to feel like I was sailing with old friends. On one occasion, off the coast of Raiatea, the crew took the liberty of teaching the basics of spearfishing. Although I failed miserably at the task, our chef snagged two lagoon fish (a ruddy-orange apai fish and a black maito fish), which she pan-fried in a sea of butter and served as an additional dinner course.
Onboard meals are gourmet and range from shrimp curry fettuccine or creamy peppercorn chicken with rice to poisson cru, a traditional Tahitian salad made with tuna, lime juice, coconut milk and vegetables. The chef’s version of tuna Carpaccio was one of the best dishes I had while in French Polynesia. It consisted of thinly sliced red tuna drenched with olive oil and flavored with raw garlic and ginger, dried dill, diced onions, curry powder and whole rose peppercorns. The dish was complemented with Mediterranean-style lemon couscous and French Polynesia’s ubiquitous baguette bread.
When I wasn’t gorging myself, I explored the Leeward Islands by foot, swam in crystal-clear water, kayaked and tooled around in the ship’s dinghy. The captain always had masks and fins at the ready for encounters with the countless neon-colored tropical fish and friendly stingrays that call the lagoons of French Polynesia home.
The four-day, three-night Iti Iti cruise includes the services of a captain and a private chef. The cruise takes place on one of Tahiti Yacht Charter’s catamarans which range from 38- to 56-feet in length. Vessels feature air conditioned cabins and a mesh trampoline, located on the bow of the ship for lazing in the lagoon.
All meals — including a dinner at the Relais & Chateau Le Tahaa Island Resort & Spa — are provided. However, snacks and alcoholic beverages are an additional cost. Prior to arrival, guests can preorder everything from a bottle of Veuve Clicquot to guacamole and chips, and the staff will make sure that the kitchen is stocked to their preferences. A 10 percent service fee applies.
There are three possible Iti Iti routes from which to choose:
• Raiatea-Tahaa-Bora-Bora: When possible, guests will be delivered to the dock of their Bora Bora hotels.
• Huahine-Tahaa-Raiatea: Guests can connect to Bora Bora via a 15-minute Air Tahiti flight.
• Raiatea-Tahaa-Raiatea: Guests will visit a marae (Polynesian temple), a pearl farm and a vanilla farm.
Prices for the Iti Iti cruise vary between approximately $2,080 to $2,535 per person, depending on the season.