Stamp

I never imagined I’d become an official resident of French Polynesia. Albeit temporarily. But that’s what we’ve applied for at the High Commission to be able to stay here legally, above board with an official stamp for the next year. We’ve been through a modicum of bureaucracy to get to this point but not as much as Barbados which still takes the biscuit – in triplicate.

Papeete, on Tahiti, the capital of French Polynesia has been our home for the past two weeks. There are hills and ridges behind the city but so far we’ve been no where near them. Our days have been filled with getting organised for 6 months in the Tuamotus and Marquesas, which offer few services and facilities. Our shopping list has included super sexy things like pipe, a bilge pump, oxalic acid and engine oil.

We gave our 72 hours departure notice to the people who needed to know and then the fridge / freezer decided to stop working. The freezer was rammed full of food. We needed to find some kind person with available freezer space in super quick time. After unsuccessfully approaching a couple of locals that we know, thinking they may have large partially filled domestic freezers, we started round the marina randomly asking boaty people if they had any space in their freezer. When meeting new people, an opening gambit of, ‘can we put our food in your freezer” is an interesting opening line when starting a conversation with people you’ve never met. Perhaps dating sites can add it to their lists of what to say when meeting new people. I won’t charge much for the intellectual property. 

Happily, we found a solution and didn’t have to throw away lots of soggy inedible food. The boat next door is unoccupied as the owner is back in Europe. Some friends of ours, happened to have the keys so Dave and Charlie went on onboard, fired up the freezer and all is happy in frozen food world.

Three days later….. the freezer is back in the world of the living. There’s still some carpentry work to do then we will be able to move in the next day or so. 

Back in the real world, COVID is multiplying on Tahiti and from tonight, there’s a traffic curfew from 9pm to 6am. Pretty much everyone round town is wearing a mask. There are restriction on the number of people who can meet together. It’s time to get out to quieter less populated places. 

Lost head

We’ve taken to occasionally listening to Radio New Zealand on the SSB radio in the evening. We can’t go there so this maybe the closest we get for the next year. 

The teatime show, reporting on the day’s news, talked about a short spell of unseasonable weather and snow falling unexpectedly in a town somewhere. Don’t recall exactly where. It was the second item on the national news. To be more precise, a snowman was the second item on the news. Not just a snowman but the fact it’s head had fallen off! Maybe it was a slow news day. In a crazy world, I think we need more stories like this. Poor Mr Frosty. 

We are in Papeete on Tahiti. It was a two day sail from Fakarava. A downwind blast with a dying wind as we approached the island. Buddies Holly and Jarne had sussed out a spot for us in the marina and were waiting to take our lines. Nice. 

We’ve been here about a week and the days have been full. Papeete is a large town, population around 200,000 I believe. It’s a complete contrast to the Tuamotus. Shops, traffic, people, services, frozen yoghurt bars. And Covid is present which is something we haven’t had to contend with since Panama. As we’re going to be in the Pacific for a goodly number of months, all the things we planned to shop for in New Zealand are now being looked for high and low here. 

Our big purchase has been new chain for Grace. Our previous one was disappearing akin to a bar of soap. Every time we used it, there was less of it. And the deck was getting covered in rusty detritus each time we brought it up. We’d never really considered chain as a disposable item but the majority of ours came with Grace when we bought her so no idea how old it was. We added about 30m before we left Hull. We cut that section off and will keep it for our secondary anchor. Can’t throw things out. It’s against the law on a boat according to Dave! You never know when…..

We have a list of other exciting items to source. Toilet service kits, new flip flops, silicone bread trays, varnish, ink for our printer, the list goes on. There are many lines of items on an excel spreadsheet sheet. Plus a massive food shop. We buy in bulk. 24 cans of tomatoes, 24 cans of tinned peaches, 24 cartons of milk. Days can disappear walking round trying to source stuff.

But you’ll all be pleased to know we found a Chinese wholesale shop selling sacks of potatoes,  Carrefour sells Earl Grey tea bags and the market does a nifty line in cabbages. There are some reasons to visit town. 

Officialdom

The expected arrived. 

“The Director General has decided not to grant Grace of Longstone permission to arrive in New Zealand for humanitarian reasons. In making his decision, the Director General has received advice and determined that a potential future cyclone does not provide a sufficient basis to warrant an exemption for COVID 19 Public Health Response (Maritime Border) Order No. 2” 

An official way of saying, you haven’t got a good enough reason to get in. Which I can just about accept. However, committing to spent fifty thousand dollars on your boat can provide exemption. This unsurprisingly generates mixed emotions in me. How this relates directly to a public health emergency I struggle to understand. Money it would appear has a different health agenda. 

Moving swiftly on, this means the boat will be here in the Pacific for a good few months to come. For cyclone season, November 1st to the end of April, we’ll stay east, watch the weather closely, identify in advance a few places that offer protection, be ready to move quickly if we need to and see what transpires. After April 2021, we’ll have further decisions to make, depending on what shape and level of madness the World is in then. We would like to organise a trip back to the UK at some point. How this will play out, we have no idea. 

This year is shaping up to be a La Niña year. Ocean water temperatures influence where cyclones track and how far across east they occur, or more importantly for us, don’t, in the Pacific. This does offer some good news. Historic data showing cyclone tracks suggest in La Niña years, cyclones have not visited the Tuamotus and Marquesas island groups. To paraphrase the banks though, ‘past tracks may not influence or guarantee future tracks’. But such data offers a basic level of understanding to help make decisions.

Enough about official letters and potential cyclones for now. Some fun stuff. We’ve done lots of snorkelling at the south pass on Fakarava. It’s rather good. Photos of fishies and other marine life for your delight. I had to pinch myself at times. “We’re snorkelling with sharks in the South Pacific”. 

Our next sail will be to Papeete on Tahiti. About 2 days away. Neither of us are in anyway looking forward to a large town with many people. But paperwork necessitates a trip for a long stay visa come December. Thanks Brexit. And the lockers are looking relatively bare so a big shop is required. Plus some replacement and service boat parts. Stuff we’d planned on getting sorted in NZ. Poo. 

Anyone like to place money on the NZ borders opening by October 2021? 

Atoll Life

I heard a little ditty the other day that I’d never heard before. My reaction was, ooh, I quite like the sound of that, I’ll jot it down as there maybe the bones of blog post in that, sometime in the future. 

When we worked away a lot, I recall exhaling quietly going into conference centre rooms or corporate headquarters where ‘cheesy motivational posters’ or corporate values were displayed. I know the intention is to inspire staff and visitors. But they often missed the mark completely. They so often weren’t genuine. I found them shallow and insincere. (For the purposes of balance I do know at least one company who can hold their heads high….. Nando’s 😀)

I once went to a meeting in Barclays Head Office in Canary Wharf. In the foyer were three or four words spelled out in meter high individual blocks. As I entered through the door, the word ‘Integrity’ was in bang in my line of sight. It was very soon after the banking scandal, and surprise surprise,  when there was little or no integrity in how the banks went about their business. ‘You’re going to have to work a bit harder than just putting a few buzz words in your foyer’. At that particular moment in time, I didn’t believe them. Deliver or act in a way that you say you’re going to, or forget it! Credibility shot. 

The ditty that I referred to earlier is this. People are with us for ‘Season’s, Reason’s or a Lifetime’. Made me think about people we’ve met on this trip. And then what constitutes Helen’s wider world. Dave and I  often make friends that are with us for a ‘season’, a period of time. The family on a Dutch boat fit this category nicely. Four of the smiliest people you could possibly meet, they are off further west. Our paths may cross again. Do hope so. 

They called up today on the radio as they headed out of the north pass on Fakarava. We were inside the lagoon heading to the south pass. A loud tuneful version of voices blasting out Happy Birthday came through on channel 18. It’s Dave’s turn to get older today. 

We will have steak and salad for dinner tonight. That’s a treat. Just to clarify…the salad is the treat.  We bought some freshies. 12 tomatoes, 5 cucumbers, a big lettuce, 4 heads of pak choi and a water melon. This constituted at least one item of everything that was available. We are now giving up sailing to pay for our freshies. Cost ….. have a guess? $35. In sterling that’s about £27.50. 

Not much grows in the Tuamotus. Enjoy your 35p tomatoes from Lidl in the UK.  But you don’t get a Pacific Island vista thrown in! Not complaining. 😀

Coconuts

We’ve been learning stuff about the coconut tree. From Bob and Mina. This tree really is an all rounder providing materials for shelter, fire, food and comfort. Incidentally, they look good in photographs too. If you grew up close to Scotland in the UK, let me tell you, the coconut tree is pretty darned exotic.

I’d always wondered why coconut trees grow at such bizarre angles. Well apparently they have enormous root systems. The roots will hold up trunks that point out almost horizontally. If a tree ‘falls’, the root system is never dislodged. Instead, the tree will snap somewhere on its trunk.

Nothing else grows around them. They spread out their roots, claiming all the water in the earth so the bulbous bit at the bottom of the tree is ram jammed with liquid. Making them very heavy too.

The wood is hard and good for making things and the fronds can be used as roofing materials as well as being woven to produce baskets, place mats and floor coverings.

The coconut itself goes through several phases …. When young, I understand this to be when they are green, they are filled with water. Flatten the bottom so the nut will stand on a surface without rolling away, hack the top off to create a drinking hole and voila, you have your glass and drink in one. Adding rum apparently can enhance the taste. Umbrellas are optional. No plastic of course.

Having drunk the liquid, the nut can be cut in two to reveal the meat. In a young nut, the flesh is soft and moist, bright white, quite thin and comes away easily when scrapped with a spoon. The older the nut, the thicker the meat requiring a heartier spoon action and the taste is stronger. Young is better in my book. I’m assuming the liquid and the flesh are mixed together to make coconut milk which we buy in cans. And added to oils and potions to create suntan cream, shampoo and associated products.

As the nut gets older, the inside changes so there’s no liquid but a solid-ish candy floss type substance inside. This is called copra and is used to feed chickens, dogs and hermit crabs.

Dried nuts burn really well and of course dried shells provide excellent sound effects for horse clippety clopping. The Knights that say Nee being a prime example.

There endeth my coconut tree information broadcast.

87 year old man

There’s a novel you may have read called “The hundred year old man who climbed out of the window”. It’s a rip roaring tale of a man with a remarkable history who lurches from one crazy unbelievable situation to another. He finds himself meeting prominent people, being at significant historical events and even at 100 years old, the crazy madness hasn’t stopped. I think we have met the real life 100 year old man. Only difference is he’s just 87.

Our new friends, Bob and Mina, who’s a mere 75, live on Takaroa, an atoll in the Tuamotus. We’re anchored off their property in the lagoon. As a pair they are bright and sparkly with an ongoing zest for life. Both have amazing stories to tell.

The iceberg tip of Bob’s tales include being a stowaway on a ship to Australia when he was 16, surviving an explosion at sea then rowing to land which took three days, meeting Donald Trump in a restaurant back in the ‘70’s and making money and losing it again in the Pearl Farming Industry.

Mina equally has a colourful history. Accidentally having breakfast with the King of Samoa, playing golf for French Polynesia all round the world and meeting Princess Margaret while working for Air Tahiti at a time when Maggie’s drinking was not in the public eye, are just a few of her stories.

Together they are a joy to be around. A story to provide evidence. They have a crack in the bottom of their boat. It’s 3 miles across the lagoon to the village and they are the only people who live on this side of the lagoon. The boat is their lifeline.

Bob is upside down in the boat investigating. He’s struggling to get out as he’s wedged in a small space. Mina is trying to help him by pulling his tee shirt but it’s tightening around his neck. When we catch up with them they are falling around laughing. “She thinks she’s helping me, but actually she’s killing me!” reports Bob in between guffaws of mirth.

We’ve had breakfast with them once and lunch twice, not to mention the spent time just passing the time of day. Lunch in true french style lasts several hours because of all the chatting.

To get here we initially followed the marked channel from the dock. We hit the dodgy shallow dogleg bang on high water slack. Even then, the water is dancing fairly manically. Coming across the lagoon, I was on the bow spotting any ‘bommies’ which are areas of solid coral. You want to avoid these.

It was all more straightforward than I’d anticipated. But still a slightly anxious time. The reward, an anchorage in blue green clear water. Farrow and Ball, Little Green, Dulux and Crown do not have a selection of paint colours this vivid. A vista of beach and palm trees, the full on Pacific island experience. And nestling in the trees behind, Bob and Mina to entertain us.

We are the only sail boat here on this atoll which makes it even more special too.

Photos to follow. We have very limited comms here so I’m sending this via Lisa on the sat phone email. Thanks Lisa.

It’s amazing how your perspective can change. When we kept the boat in Gorgeous Goole and then its downstream neighbour, Hedonistic Hull, the start of our summer holiday trip was usually a 3 day non stop sail to the south coast, usually the Solent area. The thought of doing 3 days was a BIG DEAL. What would we eat? Did we have enough fuel? What was the back up plan? Would we get enough sleep?

We left on Sunday for our first passage of any distance since the biggie from Panama. It would take around three days from Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas to Takaroa, an atoll in the Tuamotus. We bought some veggies, put some stuff away, tied the dinghy to the deck, hauled anchor and we were off. No fuss. No big conversation. Our mindset was, it’s only three days. That’s what I mean about perspectives changing. 

The sailing itself to get here was very straightforward. Plenty of wind, probably averaging around 18 knots, wind on the port quarter, (think of over your left shoulder when facing the front) one reef in the main, one tack, point and go. We reefed the Yankee as and when the wind piped up a bit or died away but that’s as sophisticated as it got. 

We did however have to be really mindful as to the time of our arrival. This arrival would be more complicated that arriving into the Solent. Although I must remind myself of scary trips up to Goole on the river and that horrible lock in Hull. Lots of places have their individual gremlins.

The atolls here have passes into their central lagoons. The passes are often narrow, sometimes with a dog leg over a shallow patch, fringed by coral and are susceptible to fast incoming and especially speedy outgoing tides. Timing your arrival for high water slack is recommended. But working out when this is not straightforward. And can appear to be nigh on impossible.

It seems to me that there’s some science based on moon rise and moon set times and always, always, always a disclaimer that the wind, the tide, local variations, the atmospheric pressure, the weather for the last week, the price of fish etc etc can all influence when this time is. The top advice from most books and articles seems to be to ask a local. Great! 

We started with a slow scout of the entrance as we tried to work out exactly what the tide was doing. Dave had prepped a graph yesterday with moon phases, high water, timings and we estimated we were close to slack water. It was all very scientific, with a smattering of black magic. Our objective, a concrete dock just inside the pass where we would tie up and check out the lie of the land and the flow of the water.

Once past the first navigation mark, we were committed. The tide was still actually in the final throws of going in. A final dribble but with two strong coffees inside him, Mr Savage positioned the boat skilfully  and with nimble (ish) Parker working the lines, the duo parked neatly without any marital strife or shouty shouty pointy pointy moments.

We were met by three friendly officials in masks who asked where we’d come from as Covid is unfortunately spreading again in French Polynesia. We have our ‘out of quarantine’ documents from the Health Department in Nuka Hiva which they were keen to have copies of. A short walk to the local government building, a WiFi hotspot and pages whizzed off a printer. Sorted. 

It’s been quite a while since we’ve been tied to something solid. I’m enjoying it! No need to get in the dinghy and whizz across acres of water to get ashore. Luxury. 

Thin WiFi….so not many piccies!

Please let us in!

We have submitted paperwork to request an exemption to the border closure, for a ‘compelling reason’ to be allowed to enter New Zealand. With help from an Australian friend who is more in the know than us, we (well Dave almost exclusively) pulled together the required documentation. It proved to be rather like writing a proposal for work. I remember those days! Dave was always pretty good at that, being pithy and to the point with no extraneous words or bullshit. His mantra was often, ‘well the words look pretty and some people may think that sounds impressive but it actually doesn’t mean anything’. 

We are part of a pilot group of a handful of sailing boats ‘testing the waters’ for getting permission to go. 

It took most of the day as we had internet / connectivity problems but the twenty six page document has been lodged, we have received an acknowledgment of its arrival and now we wait 15 to 20 days before NZ process it. 

Are we confident about getting a yes, do come? The mood varies from its pretty unlikely to there has been an enormous amount of behind the scenes work to get to this point. Marine organisations, insurance companies, a particular marina in NZ, weather experts, the Ocean Cruising Club plus many committed individuals have all had a part to play talking to various government offices and the health authorities is NZ. 

We have fingers, toes, legs and eyes crossed for positive news. Means we’ll be tied up in knots while the two to three week wait drifts past. In that time, we will move further west, meaning a few days at sea again. Not sure when we’ll start to move. Need to check the weather. 

We’ve been in a bay called Anaho for a few days. Take yourself back to 1949, get into a musical theatre mind and search out South Pacific on you tube. You’ll recognise some of the tunes. I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair, There is nothing like a dame and Happy talk. You know you want to sing along.

Anaho is a small village only accessible by boat or by an hour’s hike over a hill. If you’re looking for a film location in the South Pacific, this could be your place.