Trapped in Paradise – French Polynesia during COVID

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.

Paul Gauguin Museum in Hiva Oa
Gauguin museum in Hiva Oa
Tiki statue on Hiva Oa.
We rented a pick up one day on Hiva Oa to see some of the island.
Really scary cliff roads, but beautiful views!
Horses in the road on Hiva Oa

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.

Nuku Hiva anchorage from land

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.

Anchorage in Nuku Hiva

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.

Ben made a day by day lockdown chart after restrictions were first announced and had an end date. After the date was extended, we decided not to make another one.

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!

Bill in the hammock in Nuku Hiva

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.

Last page of deportation notice saying we are refused our request to stay in French Polynesia and we have 4 days before we need to leave for Hawaii

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. 

Headed for Tahiti with Annalisa
Apataki in the Tuamotus
Vera sailing us into Tahiti

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.

On the dock at Marina Taina, facing Moorea
A full marina, we ended up at the super-yacht dock. Our 90′ mast is the short one.
Ben went paddle boarding with the neighbors
Fish tacos on Verbena!
Walking the plank
Ben on bike ride toward Papeete

16 thoughts on “Trapped in Paradise – French Polynesia during COVID

  1. I love following your trip on this website & trying my absolute best to live vicariously through you! (All efforts are failing abysmally!) Simply amazing! Take care! Stay safe! Go Blue!

    1. Reniam Verbena! My thoughts are with you out in Paradise in this strange time. I know your sense of adventure and general VeraBen positive attitudes will see you though! Just know that you are seeing and doing things that explode my mind – with envy and delight that you all had the joi-de-vivre and good sense to take this adventure. We truly are only going to walk this planet once – and you are striding! Well, I guess technically it’s sailing. Little has changed back home – spring is coming haltingly – we actually had a snow flurry on May 9th. Then 70 degrees on the 10th. Governor Baker is slowly “opening up” the state, but there are still so many unanswered questions about testing, how C-19 works, what, generally, to do. Little sane word from the federal level. You really are in a good place for the time being. The consultant in me is absolutely fascinated to see where all this will go. Are you discovering how our planet works? Ben – are you still hogging the computer from Vera? When you get back – I have no doubt – in fact excitement about – what you can teach me. You are all wonderful in committing to really living! Hugs to you all and above all find Joy! Tooey

  2. Bill and Renee, Vera and Ben; Clearly this is all an adventure! What a time in the world and what a time to be cruising! I am thinking good thoughts for you four out in the Pacific. We are all “social distancing” and “sequestering in place” – one gloved and masked trip to the market a week – during “seniors hours”. Massachusetts has the third highest death rate below NY and NJ. But, is so surreal – the Federal Govt is more or less watching the states do their independent thing. Stunning. I noticed Vera has a large bandage on her left thigh – barracuda bite? You all look great, and I can only imagine how this trip has changed and lifted you! Love to you all – Stay safe and always find joy! Tooey
    (in all of this, I learned a new word: melophile…)

  3. Always so glad to hear that you and your beautiful family are well and having fun! It is still chilly here in NY and we r mostly still at home, but things should get better soon! Keep sending us up-dates!! Ellie & Marty

  4. Man, what a tale, you guys!

    This was an epic post–the images and narrative really give us a sense of the roller coaster you all have been on. I’m very glad you are currently in a good situation–keep planning, though! Things are so fluid everywhere you are wise to be consistently consulting with people who have access to outside information.

    Fair winds to you all!

  5. Super interesting update, glad you are well and navigating the difficult macro environment. If there’s anything we landlubbers can do please let us know – for example shipping a needed item to Tahiti for you.

  6. Glad you are all safe and figured out a place to enjoy this epic trip of a lifetime! Looking forward to hearing where you are able to go to next.

  7. Hey gang! Glad to hear you’re safe and navigating the weirdness of life with Covid in such a unique way! One thing I learnt: I’m a ‘land’ resident- who knew! All my best and I hope your options open up soon.

  8. Another wonderful sail for Verbena and crew. Congrats. Seems like things are better in Tahiti but uncertainty still reins. What’s up with the bandage, Vera? Shark bite? Just kidding. Hope it is nothing serious. Enjoy Tahiti. I hope you achieve some clarity for the future.

    All the best,

  9. Have been checking in on your journey since the Boston Globe article. Glad you are all safe and sound in Tahiti. Just a bit jealous given the rainy, cool (and even some snow) here in Boston in April! Gave me a lift to see sun and palm trees!
    Best wishes,

  10. So glad you were able to go to Tahiti – sounds much better there! NYC is … different. Few people and cars on the street and no end in sight. Hope you continue to be safe and that your next port is welcoming and easygoing!

  11. Dear Bill, Renee and children.

    Sitting in our Boston apartment, we often think of you and hope that you are well. We appreciate your colorful and excelent writing about the adventure in which you are engaged.
    Hang in there, stay safe, and keep up your good spirits.

    Tomás and Elaine

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