When we arrived in Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands on March 12, the world was in the midst of rapid change. French Polynesia includes about 800 nautical miles east to west with a hundred plus islands in 5 different archipelagos, including the Marquesas Islands, the Tuamotus and the Society Islands (of which Tahiti is part). Our initial concern was getting officially checked in so we had the proper custom and immigration clearances to stay. We were relieved to check in to French Polynesia with customs without a problem. However, upon arrival our two Boston friends who joined us for the passage became nervous about their travels back to Boston during the approaching pandemic. Instead of doing some sightseeing in the Marquesas, they were battling slow internet connections trying to confirm flight details. After a few days, they did get out on their flights to the US.
Upon arrival, we knew the virus was an issue but did not appreciate the effects it would have on cruisers like us. After Mike and Dave flew out sailed to a bay on the north coast of Hiva Oa called Hanamenu for a night. There was a waterfall on land that we walked up to. Later that day, we got an email from our French Polynesian sailing agent who forwarded something official from the the government saying that free cruising had ended and we had to be at one of the main ports in the Marquesas – either on Hiva Oa or Nuku Hiva. We did a long day sail to Taiohae Bay in Nuku Hiva. This is when we realized that the rapidly evolving pandemic was going to have a large effect on the cruising community and our upcoming plans.
We ran into some boats we knew in Taiohae Bay that had just landed from their crossing from the Galapogos. They were very stressed – they were not being allowed to check into French Polynesia. One boat with kids aboard ended up quickly provisioning and leaving for Hawaii. They were US citizens and they felt that without being allowed to officially check in, it was best to get back to the US right way. When you live on a boat, you cannot just get a flight and go home. There are no marinas in the Marquesas or many options for leaving the boat on land. A two week long sail was the option that they chose.
Then in Nuku Hiva, things began to get progressively more restrictive. You could not go to land without carrying an “Attestation,” which is like an affidavit, stating one of the listed purposes for being on land. They were shopping for necessities, medical, and professional. You started getting stopped numerous times by the Gendarmes when you did go to land, asked to see your papers and questioned about where you were going.
Pretty quickly after that, French Polynesia banned swimming and all nautical activities. We are stuck then on a boat with kids in 90 plus degree weather and cannot swim! And then they banned alcohol sales. I guess land residents who were not working or in school were partying at the beaches, so the government banned all nautical activities and alcohol during the pandemic.
We were on the boat for almost 2 weeks with no swimming and very little access to cell, WiFi and land. There were quite a few boats in the harbor at the time and there was a VHF radio net. The radio net made a quick community – which had its pluses and minuses. Boats organized to help each other and people on the island if they needed it. We started a VHF trivia night on the radio at 7 pm – which was popular and fun. The kids started a kids net on the VFH for other kids on boats. They played 20 questions, told riddles, talked about homework and hobbies a bit. The minuses of the harbor community were too many bored, watchful eyes. Each day there would be people complaining that they saw neighboring boats in dinghies talking to, or on other boats, and lecturing us on the regulations etc. The Nuku Hiva situation was pretty confining. It was frustrating to have sailed so far to get there and not be able to enjoy it!
Then we got a notice on April 1 from the Maritime Dept. of FP that we had 4 days to go to Hawaii! Since we were checked into FP prior to March 21, we were supposed to be allowed to stay according to the regulations. Instead of going to Hawaii, which is over 2000 nm, after some further inquiry we were allowed to go to Tahiti. We had planned on going there anyway, so after some initial shock on this, we were ok with heading to Tahiti.
We took one additional crew member from the anchorage, a young British woman, that we knew previously for the passage. A few squalls but a nice passage to Tahiti. It was good to be on the move at least.
We arrived in Tahiti on the evening of April 7, and got onto the dock on April 8. Things are better in Tahiti. We have a dock space and can plug the boat in – which means we can run the AC! One day when the AC was on the fritz we logged over 95 degrees below deck. There is also decent cell service and internet. There was not much cell service in the Marquesas at all. There are great French supermarkets that we can walk to and no gendarme check points. We can talk to our neighbors on the dock. It feels much less restrictive. We are set up at Marina Taina which is a few miles outside of downtown Papeete.
Currently there are 57 cases of Covid-19 in French Polynesia – all are in Tahiti or Moorea. The other islands are Covid free and there haven’t been any new cases for a few days. We continue to await the end of lockdown and daily discuss our next move.