Following a 2 ½ day easy passage from Raivavai, we arrived at Port Phaeton, tucked in the south crease between Tahiti and Tahiti-iti. We wanted to cast our eyes on what is reported to be a reasonable hurricane hole. What we found was, indeed, a fairly well-protected harbor, but north-sector winds tend to funnel thru the gap between Tahiti and Tahiti-iti. Further, the anchorage is packed with yachts, many of which were in sorry condition and some of which appeared to have been hurriedly left, perhaps by owners catching “the last flight out” before French Polynesia’s COVID lockdown a year earlier? All-in-all, not someplace we’d want Pazzo in a big blow.
John joined us on October 16 bringing a kit of spare parts and treats from Seattle. While we enjoy visitors, these deliveries are a special treat for usJ. This was our first extended visit to French Polynesia’s seat of government and we made the most of it. Fresh baguettes every day, fresh produce from the market, huge mega-stores, yummy food trucks, new cruising friends Earl and Dianne on “Dun-Racin’.” And, of course, a decent internet connection for phone calls with the kids.
With John squared away, we made an overnight passage to Raiatea to carry greetings from Greg Gillette in Hawaii to Dominique Grochet at Raietea Carenage. The Carenage is the boatyard where Greg lost his beloved “Spellbound” to a very late season hurricane in the early 90s. More importantly, however, we were eager to reunite with our Dutch friends Nils and Linette and their new baby, Jade, on “Stormalong.” While Cindy played surrogate Oma (Dutch grandmother) to Jade, John and I rolled up our sleeves to help Nils with boatyard projects. Boatyard life is dirty and very inconvenient with a new baby so Nils was anxious to get the boat back in the tide.
“Stormalong” floated again on October 20. By this time, almost 10 weeks had passed since we submitted our application to enter NZ. Our agent was checking weekly with NZ’s ministry of health for progress on our application, but was unable to offer any information other than, “in process.” She insisted that the ministry was continuing to process applications, even though the ministry website indicated that application processing had been suspended with the outbreak of the Delta variant. With November 1 as the official start of the South Pacific hurricane season, we were starting to think about a return to Hawaii.
For the balance of October, we explored the many exotic anchorages around Raiatea, sister island, Tahaa, and nearby Huahine. The Society Island group of Tahiti, best known for it’s marquee islands of Bora Bora, Moorea, and Tahiti itself is a hotbed of charter activity – both monohulls and catamarans. Despite the number of charterboats swarming the islands, we were able to find quiet anchorages to ourselves here and there. Snorkeling was largely blah, but we found several very nice coral gardens replete with beautiful aquarium fishes. John was the master spotter of flamboyant lionfish lurking, for the most part under coral heads. Plenty of white and black-tip reef sharks, barracuda, and sting rays to be found along with an occasional octopus.
On October 30, we received good news that NZ had granted our request to cross their closed maritime borders. This permission started another frustrating wait for visas from New Zealand’s Immigration department. This was a 2-step process. The first step, taking a week, was requesting permission to apply for a visa. Visa applications would only be accepted from applicants with special approval. While waiting for permission to lodge our official visa applications, we completed our exploration of Huahine. A highlight of our visit was a long day on rental bicycles. Stunning views and friendly locals offset the pain of uncomfortable saddles. We were thankful to be anchored in the company of fellow cruisers who kept an eye on the flotilla while we were away on our shore sojourns. Huahine is a beautiful island but has seen theft from yachts in recent years… including 2021.
We received permission and filed our NZ visa applications on November 8 and promptly set sail for Bora Bora where we expected a 5 day wait for our visas. While waiting, we enjoyed snorkeling and a strenuous hike to the peak of Bora-Bora. Cindy and I made this climb in 2004 and I can report that it hasn’t gotten easier. It was fun to revisit the trail and share the awesome views with John. No visit to Bora would be complete, of course, without enjoying a bloody mary at world famous Bloody Mary’s Bar and Grill. With the bar’s wifi password, we were able to pick up their signal with our booster antenna from a nearby mooring. To be sure, we were checking our email for our NZ visas frequently. We were now over a week into hurricane season for the waters extending from the Coral Sea northeast of Australia westward to Tahiti. Fortunately, a la nina weather pattern like this one brings a late start to the hurricane season and they tend to spin up first in the Coral Sea above New Caledonia before they start brewing around Fiji. Our weather routers were not concerned with cyclonic activity before mid December. Still, the clock was ticking.
November 11 found Team Pazzo snorkeling with a tour group chumming the water to attract reef sharks and sting rays. Entertaining but hardly natural. The weather was gorgeous both in the Bora Bora lagoon as well as in Puerto Rico where our son, Zach, proposed marriage to his girlfriend, Kasia. Her entire family watched, and approved, from a distance as Zach, on bent knee, popped the question. Her answer, of course, was a very excited YES!
In response to the growing problems with too many visiting yachts filling the lagoon, staying months at a time, and tearing up the precious coral with their anchors, Bora Bora implemented the BBMS (Mooring Service). In 3 – 4 well defined areas, the service placed and maintains a dozen or so very stout mooring balls anchored to 4-ton concrete blocks. For the most part, free anchoring is forbidden. The service charges $30USD/ day (or $300 USD/month) for the use of these secure moorings. Each day a very nice young woman comes by to collect mooring fees, take away garbage, and sometimes delivers ice. The monthly pass allows use of any BBMS mooring during the following 30 days. In this way, the island discourages yachts from overstaying their welcome, protects the coral, and keeps rubbish out of the lagoon. An excellent idea that Tahiti, Raiatea, and Moorea should adopt.
As we anxiously awaited our visas from NZ, we were dealing with another potential difficulty: exit papers from French Polynesia. The entry procedure for many (most?) countries around the globe includes a review of an exit (Zarpe or Clearance) paper from the preceding country. The clearance paper is typically issued on the day of departure following a brief review of the boat and crew’s behavior while in the country. Customs, immigration, and (in some cases) police and consulted to make sure boat and crew are in good standing. New Zealand’s ports of entry require exit papers from the last port so we needed this document from the Gendarmes in Bora Bora – a process that normally takes 2-3 days. After nearly a week, and several visits to the very nice Gendarmes in Vitape (main town on Bora) we were still waiting on our Zarpe. Each day, we were told, “come back tomorrow.” Instead of waiting through the weekend, we sailed to Maupiti, a small island about 30 miles west of Bora Bora. There we found friends on “Stormalong” and “Iroise” along with nice hikes and warm water for splashing about.
After a long weekend, we returned to collect our Zarpe, top up fuel, and check email for our NZ visas. Sadly, we were, once again, disappointed with the slow rate at which the wheels of bureaucracy turn. Nothing from NZ and “come back tomorrow” from the French. Apparently, the French had changed their exit clearance procedure to eliminate approval from the health department. So the clearance manager was waiting on approval from health – an approval that would never come. We had our clearance in hand within a couple more “come back tomorrows.” With diesel and groceries topped up, we cleared “officially” out of French Polynesia to await our visas “any day now”. After all, how long can the damn visas take? The accommodating gendarmes in Bora made it clear that we were to leave the country within 24 hours, but conceded that a brief stopover in Maupiti would be tolerated.
Our second visit to Maupiti was rich with adventure. Like many of the French Pol islands, Maupiti is circled by a fringing reef and features a single ring road. It takes only 90 minutes to walk the entire ring road, including short visits with friendly locals. There’s a lovely but steep hike to the towering Tiriano Peak where the adventurous will find breathtaking views overlooking the lagoon, reef, and distant views to Bora-Bora, Raiatea, and Tahaaa on a clear day. Each morning we stood in line with the locals to buy fresh baguettes and afternoons were spent snorkeling with huge manta rays in the lagoon or in the bath-water warm shallows bordering the pass. As the days ticked by, we set a deadline for Immigration NZ. We’d enjoy Thanksgiving day at Maupiti and sail for either NZ or Hawaii the following day. NZ was our intended destination, but Hawaii offered a fond reunion with our Waikiki Yacht Club and Kaneohe friends.
The day before Thanksgiving, as we returned from a grocery run, where we secured some NZ lamb and “entrecote” beef, our cell phones delivered email from INZ: visas issued!
We were FINALLY fully cleared for takeoff. We spent the afternoon with Nils and Jade collecting fresh mangos from John’s mother-load mango orchard half way up Tiriano Peak. On Thanksgiving day, we sadly parted company with “Stormalong”, knowing that Jade would be walking and talking the next time our paths crossed. Our 3 months in French Polynesia had been longer than we had expected or wanted, but paradise is still paradise. Not a bad place to stay too long.