Created by a group of enthusiasts in 2003, this sailboat race has become a major rendez-vous in the South Pacific. Foreign and Polynesian teams come together in good humor and friendship to cross and navigate the magnificent archipelago of the Leeward Islands. Again this year, for its tenth anniversay, the Tahiti Pearl Regatta was more athletically challenging than ever; but it was also an opportunity for festive, warm encounters.
In 2003, theYacht Club of Raiatea, the Moorings Society, and the Hotel Hawaiki Nui launched the Tahiti Pearl Regatta. The impetus for this decision came from a small group of friends and enthusiasts, including Henri Dejust, who created the Raiatea Regatta Association. Their first wish was to organize a yearly get together to sail from shore to shore on one of the most beautiful waterways in the world. Over the years, the challenge has gained notoriety in Tahiti and on the international stage, attracting teams to French Polynesia from abroad. The TPR, as it is known by its aficiandos today, has two atypical characteristics. Although it honors friendliness and fellowship, it merges true athletic challenges with festive islander encounters. It is the time for islanders to put culture and the richness of Raromatai first (the Tahitian name for the Leeward Islands, one of five Archipelagoes that make up the country and that create the setting for this unusual regatta). The course changes every year to allow for discoveries of other islands in the archipelago: Raiatea, Tahaa, Bora Bora or Huahine. Its unique setting has created TPR’s reputation and success as one of the most attended regattas of the South Pacific. About thirty volunteers and fifty service providers take the reins to prepare the event and to ensure the logistics for stopovers to three islands during the five days of the regatta. For the tenth anniversary that took place from May 7th to 11th 2013, more than 50 sailboats took part in TPR’s four successive courses. Here is the logbook:
For opening day, Tuesday May 7, Raiatea’s sky was filled with clouds, and squalls followed the arrival of the last sailboat participants…which was a good sign, according to a mama who was present at the square at Uturoa market, the headquarters on the island where the information booths and exhibition stands had been set up. For ten years of the TPR, there have been activities throughout the day following a presentation to recap all the previous years. More than 300 team members from nine different nationalities sign up for the regatta at the welcome booth. Once on site, the participants, just like the general public, can partake in nautical activities, such as catamaran rides or an initiation to stand up paddle boarding. There is also a visit from the traditional double pirogue, Fa’afaite. This is an opportunity to discover the navigational circumstances and techniques of ancient Polynesians who accomplished migratory voyages throughout the Polynesian triangle a few centuries ago. The arrival of Fa’afaite to the sacred island of Raiatea is an homage to the emblematic marae Taputapuatea, a sacred site that served as the diffusive centre of Polynesian culture dedicated to social, religious, and political practices of Polynesians prior to colonization.
A Very Difficult First Race…
The course joins Raiatea to Huahine, a race of 23.6 nautical miles (44 km) performed almost exclusively on high seas. At 8am on Thursday May 9, the 54 teams are at the starting line, ready to take off. Once out of the lagoon through Te Ava Piti pass, there is a wind from the East-South-East at 17 knots (locally referred to as maramu), and a 10 ft (3m) crest in front of the trough of the wave that is an advantage to large vessels. The weather suddenly worsened with wind gusts attaining 35 knots and it became vital to slalom between the squalls. These conditions further handicapped the smaller coques, and some of them had to abandon the race. Once this segment was over, despite some damage, a truly sportive regatta ambience delighted all the participants who were invited to a Polynesian evening in the town of Fare, which for the occasion, had been transformed into a traditional village.
A Final in Full Color
The return to the island of Raiatea on Saturday May 11, sailing downwind with a back swell favorable for a smooth glide, offered a vibrantly colored panorama of the moving fleet with its ballet of richly brocaded spinnakers. As soon as they arrived at Raiatea, the sailboats left in the direction of Te Otuheru point to join the course leading to Te Tutava point. For this last race, the oblique light of sunset radiated the sails with surreal clarity. There were no anchors in the middle of this Pacific Ocean. The winners of TPR 2013 received their awards that same evening on Ceran motu. This event came to a close in beauty with a pirate theme, dinner, concert, and a supercharged dance floor with all the spirit of Tahiti Pearl Regatta! The rendez-vous is set for year eleven!
The Training Race
On Wednesday, May 8 at 11am, Isabelle Barbeau, president of the race committee and highly medaled regatta sailor accompanied by Georges Korhel, referee of the French Sailing Fedration who came from Saint-Tropez, France for the occasion, briefed the skippers. All types of sailboats can participate without size limits. Teams are registered into two categories : single hulled vessels and multi-hulled vessels. For the latter, Nusa Dua, a superb Outremer 45 foot catamaran (13.5m) equipped with a 208 square yard (174 m2) parasailor, forms a hybrid sail through merging the qualities of a paraglider wing with a traditional spinnaker. The Moemiti displays a reproduction of a local artist on its hull. As far as monocoques, there are 18 foot Speed Feet (5.5m), the smallest sailboats in the regatta, as well as an enormous 83 ft. (25m) Oyster called Pandemonium. This year, a renowned British shipbuilder, Oyster Marine, organized its first rally, “Oyster Marine Around the World,” and the TPR was included in its itinerary. Four staggered departures are specially reserved for the sailboats. The training race takes place in Uturoa’s lagoon, allowing each boat to get into position. By the evening, a nautical parade animates the port with lights and Tahitian dances before the first race the next day.
After the Rain, Gorgeous Weather
A new day of racing for the sailors started at 8:30 am on Friday May 10, 2013 for the second “banana” course of 14 nautical miles (26 km) along the coast of the superb island of Huahine under sustained winds of 15-18 knots. After being subjected to the swells on the course the day before, the competitors are thrilled to be able to enjoy the serene turquoise hues of the lagoon. Once back at port, while waiting for an evening planned on the Relais Mahana beach on the southern tip of Huahine Iti, some sailors took time to snorkel in the lagoon, do some stand up paddle boarding, or try their hand at “va’a tri,” a small canoe with a sail modeled after the traditional Polynesian pirogue, the va’a.
French Polynesia, A vast maritime space to explore
For a long time accessible only by sea routes, French Polynesia is comprised of 118 islands spread over a territory as large as Europe. The islands represent only 0.7% of the surface area. Consequently, there is an array of vast waterways in which shades of blue vary from dark nuances of the deep to the turquoise lagoons. Within the five archipelagoes, distances between islands are short, which makes it possible for sailors to make quick excursions to discover atolls, motu (islets), and high islands, that have always been linked to a romantic imagination where adventure is synomymous with lost paradise, lush vegetation, and a gentle life. Today, Tahiti and her islands still remain an exceptional destination as well as a vital expedition for circumnavigators or transpacific crews. The Society Islands are ideal to experience sailing that is fun and safe, especially Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa et Bora Bora in the Leeward Islands (or Raromatai in Tahitian). Each island has a large lagoon that offers mooring zones safe from swells, and the absence of lunar tides makes sailing easy.