Au Revoir French Polynesia
09 January 2021
This will be my last blog from French Polynesia. It is a sad day for Team Uproar. But we have had almost three years here and they have been magic.
FP is among the most beautiful places we have cruised, visited or even imagined. The people here have been not only friendly but welcoming. Many of the people we have met, especially in outlying areas, want to share fruit, vegetables, fish, etc. But most of all they want to share stories and get to know us. Seems we are a bit of a curiosity to them, even though cruisers are abundant here.
The scenery graces many a calendar page. FP has mountains, waterfalls, perfect beaches, abundant reefs and turquoise lagoons. The French have spent a lot of money here. Roads are mostly smooth pavement which makes for great biking.
But it is the water that is most striking in FP. Some of the lagoons are vivid turquoise that reflects a beautiful turquoise color on the bottom of clouds. The snorkeling is the best we have ever enjoyed. Fish, coral and sea critters are plentiful. Sharks are everywhere and exhibit the typical FP courtesy. They are curious and gentle. We have enjoyed getting to know them.
Cruising friends we have met here have become life-long friends. Anyone who sails to FP is fully committed to the cruising lifestyle or they wouldn't make it here. We have met a lot of cruisers and enjoyed getting to know them. This past year we have sailed mostly with Kjell and Kaia on 2K. We are now even adopting some Norwegian expressions. Love you guys!
Now I have to really thank the French Polynesian government for how they have accommodated cruisers during the Covid 2020. FP has been the only country in the South Pacific who allowed cruisers to enter. That is a huge and important statement. Imagine sailing from Panama and no country would allow you entry. You might just have to keep sailing for half-a-year to reach a safe haven. But FP put in place protocols which allowed all boats to enter! They recognized that the two plus weeks it takes to sail here make for an effective quarantine. And they recognized a responsibility to care for those who would otherwise be in peril.
Cruisers and the entire FP went through a lockdown during mid-March to mid-May. Cruisers were told to stay in place and stay on their boats. There were exceptions for medical or grocery needs. We were in a large anchorage in Tahiti we called Hotel California. Helicopters and patrol boats visited daily at first but any communications we had with officials were as polite as can be. We were allowed to swim around our boats even though local residents were forbidden from swimming or boating!
I can't express how grateful we are to the way FP government have treated us during these difficult times! New Zealand could sure take lessons!
Lest one thinks I am looking at FP through turquoise colored glasses, there are a few negatives. First of all, the sailing can be difficult, both to get here and between islands. Distances are far and weather is not the consistent trade winds we enjoyed in the Caribbean. The cruising ground in the Eastern Caribbean all fits inside Lake Michigan. The cruising area here is the same dimension as all of Europe, after you sail 4,000 miles from Panama just to arrive!
Weather can be a challenge. Wind changes direction which can cause a scramble for a safe anchorage. Maramu winds can cause three days of howling winds up to 40 knots. We did not witness any cyclones but we did survive a tropical depression in Gambiers. Believe me, it was not fun! We have even had several days of continuous rain and gray. But sun and balmy temperatures are more the norm.
There has been much talk about animosity toward cruisers in the past year. Part of it stems from the lockdown where 40 of us were in a favorite reef area and locals were not allowed to boat or swim. There was concern that we were polluting the reef. A few articles in local papers spread the concern. I can tell you that our effluent was minor compared to the cafe-au-lait that flows out of the rivers after rain. A map showing water quality problems did not show problems in any of the anchorages visited by cruisers. But there are also a few anchorages in Moorea and Raiatea where local people just don't want to see cruisers. This has led to some hard feelings. Bora Bora has taken the hardest line. They do not allow anchoring, cruisers must pay $30/day to rent a mooring! We did spend a month at Bora Bora with a special rate of $300/month and enjoyed it. Still, we prefer areas without that kind of control.
None of this can take away from the open welcome of the local people we have met. Imagine waking up and finding a fresh fish in your dinghy. Or people who insist on giving you fruit for just walking by. We have been invited to numerous meals and shared in pot-luck dinners. We have had a few local friends join us for dinner on Uproar too.
I can't possibly express our love and appreciation for French Polynesia and her people. As Dorothy states, it gets into your blood. We can only say maruruu roa (Thank you very much)!