On Tahiti, our patience is being tested. In the meantime, we get new energy and enjoy the comforts of housesitting.
Mo’orea – Tahiti (PYF)
“We are leaving for New Zealand next week” Jacob of SY Anita casually mentions at a get together of sailors in Mo’orea. We’re stupefied. There are hundreds of boats in French Polynesia that, like us, would like to be in New Zealand before the approaching hurricane season. But the country’s borders are closed. “Did you get permission to go?” Floris asks. “No, but we’ll take our chances. It’ll be fine”, Sophia, Anita’s female crew member, replies. The unorthodox attitude of the German crew unleashes the tongues and emotions of many cruisers. The sailors’ plan leads to speculation, comments, and discussions among sailors. Will New Zealand be strict or show compassion? We will not take our chances, but will wait for an official reply from Wellington to our request to be admitted. In the following weeks, our patience is put to the test.
The Exemption that Confirms the Rule?
New Zealand implemented strict measures, including border closures, swiftly after the outbreak of the COVID crisis. As a result, the country managed to keep the number of corona infections and deaths low. It earned the government much international praise. While it is good news for the kiwis, it spells disaster for many cruisers. They are left to find an alternative destination to sit out the hurricane season and do boat repairs. It doesn’t help that almost all countries in the Pacific have also closed their borders. Only Hawaii and Fiji allow visiting yachts under certain circumstances, such as with a negative COVID test and a mandatory quarantine period on arrival. Several American sailboats have left for Hawaii, but for us that archipelago offers no advantages over French Polynesia. And when it comes to the possibly being hit by hurricanes, Fiji is a much more likely candidate than where we are now. So we quickly rule out these options. Our strong preference remains New Zealand because of its good repair facilities and the sustainability initiatives we wish to document. The big question is: will they grant us an exemption to enter the country?
“I think we have a good chance,” Ivar says optimistically. “It’s about 2,500 miles of non-stop sailing from here, so we’re out at sea for many weeks. In other words, we pose a minimal public health risk. In addition, we have to do a lot of maintenance on the boat, which is good for the local economy.” On other days, we are more pessimistic. “The prime minister said she does not want the maritime border to be a backdoor into the country when its borders are closed,” Floris reads from a newspaper article. Rather than speculate about the outcome, we focus our attention on the application forms. To maximise our chances, we decide to submit one application for humanitarian reasons and another one for economic reasons. We fill in dozens of pages with information about the boat, the maintenance to be undertaken, a self-isolation plan and our strategy to deal with COVID on board. Some questions are quite difficult to answer, as they seem to be intended for cruise ships or super yachts rather than sailboats.
To complete the application, we reserve a marina and shipyard in Wangharei, and ask for quotes for all kinds of boat maintenance. It takes us three weeks to prepare and gather all the information. When we finally send an e-mail with all digital paperwork to the Ministry of Health, we receive a confirmation of receipt from “Nathalie”. She indicates that it will take two to three weeks to process our application. She signs her email with “Nat”, which prompts Ivar to quip: “Our travel plans are now in Nat’s hands!” The waiting has begun.
Delay In Our Favour
With the application out of the way, we focus on getting ready for a possible trip across the Pacific. It means we first need to sail back to Tahiti, as packages with spare parts for Lucipara 2 should be arriving there any day now. One of the packages, the first of four, has recently arrived, so we expect to receive the others soon, too. While we wait, we get the opportunity to housesit for Cyril and Virginie. They are friends of Emeline and François from SY Ribouldingue, who we met in Gambier and who live on their sailboat in Tahiti. “Cyril and Virginie are going sailing and need someone to look after their house and cats”, Emeline explains when we have dinner together. “We’re in!” we reply in unison. Both of us welcome a change of scenery, especially when it comes with a shower and internet. “That way I don’t mind waiting at all” Floris jokes. Ivar is a bit more reserved. “Let’s first find a safe place to leave the boat,” he cautions.
The crossing from Mo’orea to Tahiti is straightforward. Ferries pass at a safe distance and the pass of Pape’ete, the island’s capital, is wide and easy. It proves more challenging to find a slip in the marina Like other marinas and anchorages in Tahiti, it is packed. True to the theme of 2020, the reason is corona. The crews of numerous boats, not knowing whether they can continue their journey through the Pacific, have decided to sit it out in the comfort of the marina. There are also quite a few abandoned sailing yachts. Their crews have flown home to observe the course of the corona crisis there. Thanks to Zach and Tripp, our American friends from SY J.Henry, we find the last free spot in the maze of masts. We do have to dust off the mooring lines and fenders: they have been lying unused in the front cabin for more than nine months. After some precarious manoeuvring we tie up to a floating jetty opposite a brand-new, palmtree-lined promenade. It instantly feels like a good spot to leave the boat for a week.
The harbour master has a pleasant surprise for us. The rates are very reasonable because the marina’s new facilities are not ready yet. “We have no idea when the renovations will be completed” he sighs. “The project is almost one year behind schedule,” he adds, despondently. “Don’t even ask me when it’s finished!” We wouldn’t dare, as we don’t need any facilities anyway. “Let the marina renovation take a while. That makes it not only a safe, but also affordable place to leave Lucipara 2 while we housesit”, Ivar laughs.
“Any news on our packages?” Ivar asks as we lie by Cyril and Virginie’s pool. The cats are fed, the washing machine is running and we are making good use of the fast internet to upload blogs and videos. “They are all still in transit, it seems”, Floris sighs. Not knowing where they are makes the waiting tedious. “I’ll ask the courier again if he has any news”. A few hours later, a reply arrives. “The solar panels are here!” Floris reads out loud. We pick them up the next day and install them on our bimini. They are flexible panels from Sunpower. With no less than 25% efficiency and 170W each, they are even much more powerful than our five-year-old fixed panel. We look at the amp meter in awe. “Look at that charging power!” Ivar exclaims. “They were well worth the wait.” We wonder if the same is true for our New Zealand application…
As the waiting continues, so does our enjoyment of the comforts of living in a house. The friendly cats add to a very homely feeling. Cyril and Virginie also kindly let us use their hybrid car. It enables us to see parts of Tahiti that are difficult to reach by boat or public transport. With our friends Niels and Linette from SY Stormalong we discover the island’s lush interior, full of tropical vegetation, refreshing rivers and stunning waterfalls. Tahiti proves to be a real gem. We hike along black lava beaches, visit Polynesian ceremonial sites called marae, climb a mountain and wade through rivers. Our wheels also come in handy when it comes to taking advantage of Tahiti’s other forte: it’s shops. We provision with a possible trip to New Zealand in mind and get new antifouling paint. Thanks to our continued partnership with Seajet, we receive the eco-premium, copper-free Taisho 038 paint as a sponsoring gift.
After our house sitting intermezzo, we stay in Tahiti. Two packages are still “in transit”, according to the track & trace information. We’re beginning to think they are lost, as it has been more than two months since they left Europe. We start spamming UPS in Germany, the Netherlands, USA and their agent in Pape’ete until we learn that the packages are on board the freighter “Southern Pearl”. We can follow the ship’s track online from Auckland until it docks in Pape’ete’s commercial port opposite our berth in the marina. We can even see the containers being unloaded. “Maybe our packages are in that one”, Floris wonders while he observes the cranes picking up another container.
Assuming that it won’t be long now before we can collect the packages, we leave the marina and move to an anchorage not far from Emeline and François. They are the addressees of the packages, so we keep asking them if they have arrived in their postal box. “Sorry, still no news on the packages”, Emeline keeps informing us. How much longer will this take? Ivar puts into perspective: “Well, as long as New Zealand has not decided anything, we are not going anywhere anyway”.
No Warm Welcome
Speaking of New Zealand, we wonder about the fate of SY Anita’s crew. Opinions among the sailors about their actions vary widely, from brave to irresponsible, but everyone agrees on one topic: they are all curious about the outcome. The day after the crew’s arrival, WhatsApp messages with snippets of news make their rounds, followed by reports in the New Zealand press. “Their application was denied but they still sailed on, so customs escorted them to port. There they were given 20 minutes to pack their belongings before they were locked up. They are now awaiting a hearing about deportation to Germany. Their boat has been confiscated and might be auctioned”, Floris reads. “Holy moly. The New Zealand government makes it very clear that they do not tolerate any arrivals without permission”, Ivar assesses. “It’s clear that we have no choice but to be patient.”
Adjusting our Sails
“Nothing again”, Floris reports routinely when he checks the mail in the morning. Still no news from New Zealand and the last two packages are still being processed in Pape’ete. “It’s a shame, but there is nothing to do about it. Then we’ll stay on Tahiti for a while ”, Ivar responds. However much we would like to continue sailing, we just have to accept the situation. “Practicing patience is not easy,” Floris continues, somewhat frustrated. “You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails”, Ivar answers with a wink. We decide to further explore the island, read, blog, vlog and enjoy dinners with friends. And, reluctantly, we work out a plan B. Just in case Nat says “No”, or we run out of patience.