And if we needed any more convincing, they take some time to talk to us about the amazing place they have made their home, and why travellers who enjoy diving and sailing will love it too.
Valérie wanted to marry the son of Jacques Cousteau when she was 4 years old. She began diving at 20 years, and she has now more than 7500 dives under her belt. Later she learned to sail in Réunion Island, where she lived for 10 years. Jeep learned to dive with his father when he was 8 years old, and as a child he also learned to sail and drive a motor boat from his father.
How did you make the transition to becoming tour guides?
Valérie has been a dive instructor since 1994, and Jeep is retired from the army. In 2008, we decided to realise our dream – we bought Niyati, a sailboat of 15.4m and in December of the same year we left Toulon in France to sail to Polynesia (8 months of navigation!). Lovers of sailing and diving, we decided to share our passions with customers by offering cruises with diving aboard Niyati.
What does a typical day look like for you?
We have breakfast around 7:30 and then we discuss the program of the day. For example: a scuba dive in the morning to see sharks, rays, tunas, barracudas and napoléon fish; a one hour sail to a second location; anchor in the lagoon; have lunch with typical food from Polynesia and fruits for dessert; spend the afternoon at a “motu” – a little Island on the coral reef; snorkeling; beach time; hiking; aperitifs on board at sunset; dinner (always fresh food and a “boat-made” dessert - we ask our guest before they embark what they like to eat) and a good night!
Our style is to be always tuned in to listen to the customer so no cruise looks like any another and there is no “typical program”. In dive, for example, some people have a preference for encounters with the big animals that are a speciality of Polynesia – sharks (guaranteed!), rays, tunas, barracudas. Others also like spending time on a small patch of coral, in search of nudibranchs, pipe fish and other subjects of submarine photos. Certain customers want to dive as often as possible while others also want to go ashore and visit archaeological sites, waterfalls, pearl farms or beaches by private boat. We adapt the program according to the will of our passengers.
What is the best part of your job?
Meeting people from all over the world! It gives us real happiness to offer them our experience of diving, navigation and Polynesian culture while being attuned to their desires and to their culture.
Ever had any unusual requests from clients?
For a honeymoon, our guests asked for a picnic on a little island on the coral reef known as a motu, but they didn’t want a big fuss with tables, chairs and too many people. So we organised it ourselves – lobster and champagne on the beach!
For us the worst thing is when the customers do not take full advantage of their cruise or take the opportunity to truly appreciate all the richness of the landscapes, the dives, the local culture.
As experienced guides yourselves, can you explain to our readers what the benefits of hiring a guide are?
By renting guides – a skipper and a dive instructor – for a cruise, you’ll be able to discover the most stunning locations and the most interesting spots to dive, to be advised on the best activities to do and the most beautiful sites to visit. But it is also the safety and the tranquillity! Navigation is not easy in Polynesian lagoons – more than 50% of those who rent a boat without a skipper touch the coral!
Tell us something about French Polynesia that only a guide would know.
After years of discoveries on our islands, we know where you are most likely to find dolphins, whales and manta rays according to the weather report and the season. And we continue to discover new dive sites – it is our favourite activity during our days off!
Firstly, the guide has to be passionate, to love the activity which they are providing and to respect the wildlife. Then he must be competent. In France and also in French Polynesia, the compulsory diplomas are very demanding. A dive instructor must be awarded a diploma by the Ministry of Sports which requires at least one year of training and the skipper must hold a diploma of the merchant navy, otherwise we would not be authorised to work. It is a guarantee of quality and safety for the customer.
And finally, have you got any tips for people who are interested in booking a guide like yourself, but aren’t too sure what to look for?
People who want to rent a boat with a skipper must know the difference between a privately owned boat and a charter boat from a big company. In a privately owned boat you will find the same crew working all the time. Like us, they have been in that country for a long time so they know the place really well and they can choose their rhythm of work. With the big charter companies, you never know who your skipper will be – he might be very experienced or he might have only just arrived at that place. Very often, they finish a week cruise at 9 am and then the next guests embark at 12 pm so it’s not easy to be on top of your game after two months! And privately owned boats are also better equipped and maintained. It is very important to verify that the boat is well declared as a charter boat with a qualified crew.