21 June 2020 | Opunohu Bay, Moorea
A fellow sailor once mentioned to me that he was anxious to get out there cruising "while the world is still a great place to cruise." I thought his concern was nonsense but now I'm not so sure.
French Polynesia has been one of our favorite cruising grounds, we have been here more than two years. One of the things we love about FP are the people. They are some of the most genuinely friendly on earth. Sure, in Bermuda, everyone says "good day." But it goes no further. Polynesians want to talk and share stories. Lisa has one friend who literally says, "Lisa, come sit and let's talk stories." They also share readily from their gardens.
We were told to check in at the police station when we sailed to remote Raiatea. The police officer gave us some huge pamplemous (grapefruit on steroids). He said, "If you want fruit or vegetables from someone's garden, just ask. They will probably give it to you or charge a small amount." At one point we were the only cruising boat in Raivavae. Everyone knew who we were, we would ride our bikes around the island every day. One day we went to our bikes and someone came to us, happy to see us. A resident nearby called the police and expressed concern that we were lost in the mountain. We were just on our boat, about a mile away.
Our landing in FP was at the magnificent Fatu Hiva. A man and his son came out in a boat, asking if we wanted fruit. They took me ashore and filled a bag with fruit. We later became friends, having their family on Uproar for dinner. This was our first encounter, 1 hour after we anchored!
One remote village in Gambiers, we helped an elderly couple land their powerboat at their home. Without asking, the lady took us into her extensive garden and filled bags with fruit. They spoke no English but we had a nice conversation at their outdoor table over a drink of cold water. They had a huge pepper plant, we picked some peppers, made hot sauce that night and brought them a bottle the next day. We were treated to another bag of fruit.
Everyone waves, smiles and some strangers even kiss us on both cheeks. FP is a sailor's paradise and Polynesians welcome us to share it with them. We have heard stories that there were a few places where locals didn't want cruising boats anchoring but these were very few. I did anchor in one of the forbidden spots during a Maramu (strong wind storm) when I was alone. It was the only safe place at the time. I was asked to move but allowed another night as I mentioned I was alone.
It would be too easy to say Covid 19 changed things. There were rumblings against cruisers last year. We went to a meeting where anchoring restrictions in Tahiti were discussed. There is an anchorage in a bay where a large, hotel development was planned. Local "sailors" live on their boats there year round as they work in Tahiti. Some of these boats are derelict and some even uninhabited. They are an eyesore that gives cruisers a bad name. The plan was to close that anchorage and all anchorages in Tahiti. Moorings were planned and marina expansions to accommodate boats. But we were told, this comes up every year and nothing is done. The most alarming part of the meeting was a statement by the head of maritime affairs that "Anchoring is prohibited in French Polynesia except where it is specifically allowed."
Bora Bora, the more touristy atoll, now has moorings everywhere. Francis zooms around in his boat and is a nice concierge as well as collector of money for the moorings. Most cruisers avoid Bora Bora. We just don't do well anchored where the meter is running and restrictions are in place. Now, it costs $30/night! Visions of this everywhere in FP would just ruin it for us.
Covid 19 caused a big change. The world gave up an intimate part of our humanity with lockdown restrictions. We were forced to stay anchored for over 60 days in one place in Tahiti. Boats arriving from Panama were mostly funneled to Tahiti. A little used anchorage by the airport now became Hotel California. There were 50 boats there at one time. We heard rumblings of discontent in the media. Polynesians were not allowed to swim or boat during lockdown. Here we were living on the boats in their beautiful lagoon. Polynesian smiles turned to looks of fear behind masks. We don't know if there was fear that foreigners would bring Covid 19 or whether they were jealous of us able to use the lagoon when they could not. There was concern about us polluting the lagoon. Nonsense, the river in the nearby bay ran like coffee au lait when it rained. Water in Hotel California remained clear.
I'm the last person to believe the attitudes toward cruisers is changing in FP. But there are enough incidents (dutifully reported on Facebook) to make me believe we may have seen this paradise at its best, never to be again.