A lot of years back France resumed underground nuclear testing at Mururoa, southeast of Tahiti

Blog Post 25 by Jon Sanders: Tahiti

Now Tahiti.

A lot of years back France resumed underground nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll (south-east of Tahiti) approximately 450 to 500 N Miles south-southeast of the track I took thru the northern portion of the Tuamotu Archipelago.

At the time of nucler testing, the amicable Polynesians rioted. The headline in the West Australian Newspaper (home) read “Something in Paradise” (I think “Chaos in Paradise”). It worked, France brought the testing to finish sooner.

So, here I am in Paradise

Kelly reckons she wants to visit paradise.

I think the Polynesians (French word) are fortunate to have the French umbrella, i.e. their own local government, their standard of living, health, navy to patrol five huge Archipelago from foreign fishing, European access, EU passport and so on.

The obvious thing about navigating the tricky Tuamotu region and arriving at said destination is there is a 100% chance it will be one of two things: It will be night time, or it will be day time.

I got the former this time. Black as night. Because it was. Passing thru the currents of the narrower channels of the Tuamotu’s. The Low Archipelago. The Dangerous Archipelago.

A lot of 25 knots, dead – dead down wind. One hopes the wind vane self-steerer doesn’t loose concentration (I wouldn’t, of course) and gybe the yacht. – It actually never has in fresh or strong winds. Plus, when there is a sudden wind change, one can get in rain squalls and it adjusts immediately. The electronic does not. Anyway, the wind was fresh.

It seemed I would get to Papeete (Capital of French Polynesia) Tahiti sooner than later. In the day time, in fact.

It was not to be.

50 NM from destination there was a huge bank of cloud in the west. Me, going west.

40 NM to go, I fetch a front line wind – a 25 knot west wind. Head wind, plus a downpour type rain, followed by not much wind and drenching rain. Motor sailing to windward, with my electric tiller on pilot. Squalls now and again and not much wind, though lots of rain, all stymied my idea of daytime. Bummer!

I docked at Papeete Town Marina soon after 11 pm, and it was still raining. Though not before docking on the military dock. I didn’t know. Soon did though. Oops. Bad and naughty Jon.

The next morning, without rain, 6.30 am, I motored 5 NM inside the fringe reef to Taina Marina. Passing on route the Tahiti airport airstrip (it Juts into the ocean).

One must stop, call up Port Control on channel 12 and ask permission to proceed (Permission given). – Suppose it is better than knocking the B&G instruments on top of my mast off on a Boeing 737, or Airbus (that’s French- sort of). – Port Control monitors channel 12 at most ports about the world.

Here it was a Polynesian chap on the VHF, with a clear and understandable English. They came back to me immediately when I was first approaching Tahiti, pronouncing Perie Banou exactly. Nowhere has anyone else has done that. My guess they were following on the AIS.

Kelly Scott RPYC ( Hi Kelly) – my boss! does an excellent job booking and advising my arrivals.

Nearing the Marina, and still early, a Marina ‘follow Boat’ was out there waiting just for me. How did they know I was coming? AIS? Listen to the Port Authority channel 12 when one calls re runway? Or Port Authority called? Whatever. – They were waiting.

I was looking forward to an early morning shore type meal. Well and truly bored with what was left on board.

At one end of the Marina is a beautifully located restaurant that opens early. A garden seating, to their style, and it looks out over the lagoon.


The name of the restaurant? McDonalds!

At the other end of the Marina, plus a 5-minute walk, is a super-good Carrefour Supermarket.

The Polynesians learn English at school, with a Polynesian accent (I suspect a bit of Australian and NZ there). It is easy to understand.

The French, unlike their German neighbours, struggle with English. As for myself, I get a fail with French, even though I try. Paul Stratfold, on the other hand, has a natural ear for languages. Genetic I suppose. 50 to 60% Spanish, and better with French (easier). It is helpful being with him in French or Spanish speaking places.

So, I arrive Taina Marina, next to McDonalds, on Saturday morning. Surprisingly it is Sunday the next day. I head to the marina office to check-in, and it’s closed. Don’t bother to catch a bus into Papeete to check into to customs and the immigration police because it is the weekend – silly.

Go Monday, that was the advice. Did that. Quite right re Customs /Douane (a custom house in France or other Mediterranean countries). Wrong immigration. Now required to do immigration same day of arrival at the airport. But the immigration officer was helpful. He’s Polynesian. Two stripes on his shoulder.

“I think we better make your arrival today.” “It is as well you are using your EU passport.” (My mother’s parents were Irish).

The Douane there was a Frenchman from Guadeloupe. He too was A1. He did all the writing for me.

When we finished all my documentation, he showed me on his computer what he really does. Using a long-range, fat looking, short pilotless aircraft – he plots (probably all) fishing vessels across the Southern Pacific. Each white dot was a fishing vessel. When he expanded the map on the screen to South America, it all became huge dense Milky Way clouds. Fishing vessels.

After the rest of the world, it is great to come to French Polynesia. The locals are nice looking, smile and are pleasant. Their national sport is multiple crew canoe racing. They look fit.

The scenery is South Pacific mega plus.

It doesn’t mean you should wander around a side street in Papeete plastered at 1 am in the morning. It’s an invitation for the young Turks to relieve your wallet.

Not one of you are here! Why not?

Kindest regards to all.


Robin’s notes…

Since last commenting on the geology under Perie Banou II, Jon has crossed the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the Panama Canal and is now halfway across the Pacific Ocean. Crickey!

In geological terms, the Atlantic is a straightforward affair – a sea floor created by magma being repeatedly injected along dikes into the mid-ocean ridge. Not surprisingly, the location of the mid-ocean ridge is, well, mid-ocean and generally, there is a good correlation between the symmetrically separating passive-margin continental plates. Compare the west coast of the African plate to the east coast of South America plate.

The Caribbean Sea and the Isthmus of Panama are geologically complex. For those interested in geology and its history in this region, it is worth a closer look.

The Pacific Ocean is vast and complex, especially around parts of its periphery. There is a major mid-ocean ridge where a new oceanic crust is formed. However, as we have explored in earlier posts this mid-ocean ridge is not mid-ocean. It sweeps north from the south-western part of the South Pacific Ocean sea floor, across the equator and impacts California. Parts of its periphery are made up of subduction zones and associated explosive silicic volcanoes; think colloquial ‘ring-of-fire’ analogies and volcanoes. Other parts form stike-slip faults; think San Andreas Fault and other associated structures that define much of California’s coastline. Given the location of the mid-ocean ridge off western USA, the Pacific oceanic crust increases in age from this spreading ridge westward, reaching under the Marshall Islands and under Polynesia. Vast arrays of oceanic volcanoes (sea-mounts) emanating from this sea-floor are included in this assemblage of rocks. Their age may also increase westward although, given hot-spot-type activity, younger volcanoes can occur atop the older oceanic crust. This geometry and the intrinsic symmetry of sea-floor emplacement reveals vast areas of oceanic crust, to the east of the Pacific mid-ocean ridge, have been consumed.

Since departing Panama, Jon has sailed past the Galapagos Islands, past many of the Polynesian islands, including the Marquesas, the Tuamotos and into the Society Islands group where he is currently safely dockside at Papeete (Tahiti).

Some of these islands reveal their volcanic origins by having exposed volcanic rocks – the Galapogas, Hawai, etc. The majority conceal their geologic origin because the volcanic sea-mounts upon which all are located are now well below sea level. We can see and measure live foraminifera, algae and coral as well as their skeletal remains. Many form into structures we describe as atolls. A classic atoll shape is circular-to-elliptical with a shallow interior lagoon and very steep drop-off, often to abyssal depths, from the fringing-reef perimeter. Its perimeter may be continuously emergent or it may consist of a series of islets or motu (in Polynesia: a small island, an islet).

Reef-building corals thrive in the top 30m of a tropical water column. Given this axiom, we will explore why it is that drilling down into the Bikini Atoll of the Marshall Islands, in 1947, produced a largely unconsolidated and porous assortment of calcium carbonate detritus down to the maximum drill depth of 780m; volcanic sea-mount basement somewhere below that depth but above the abyssal plain… And the implications? Charles Darwin worked it out in 1842, and his hypothesis holds today.

Robin Morritt

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2 thoughts to “A lot of years back France resumed underground nuclear testing at Mururoa, southeast of Tahiti”

  1. So many fond memories of French Polynesia.
    We arrived at Arue in the dead of night too – the next morning we found out about the “Reef Rules” buoyage system – oops…….
    Love reading your blog.

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