March 14th – 21st, 2021
At around 0800 on March 14th, we radioed the harbor master for permission to enter the Passe de Papeete. The protected waterway between the island of Tahiti and its barrier reef is highly regulated and you must get permission three times between the entrance and Marina Taina where we planned to stay. This seemed a bit overkill until we realized we were essentially passing through the airport runway and the harbor master is checking to make sure no planes are going to be taking off or landing while you navigate the narrow channel. Just inside the reef we saw a family in Polynesian canoes. They started getting closer to us so we slowed down the engine and waved. The father waved for us to keep going and his two daughters quickly fell in line behind our transom. They were trying to draft behind us and as we sped up the older of the girls paddled harder and harder to keep up with a big grin on her face. After a while she stopped for water and we continued on. We passed tons of boats at anchor in crystal clear blue water. Many of the boats looked in disrepair or derelict. As we approached the fuel dock at Marina Taina we were greeted by Chris and Julie of SV Lorien who arrived a few days prior. Chris jumped on board to help us back down a tight fairway and “Med Moored” to the dock. This involved tying our stern to the dock and our bow (with lines) to an anchor block in the fairway. This is a new setup for us since its not very popular in the US but seems to be a good way to get a lot of boats into a small area. After a quick chat with Chris and Julie about the passage, we all walked up to the Carrefour, the big grocery store nearby the marina. It was overwhelming to be around so many people, let alone walk on flat ground after so many days at sea, but the fresh baguette for 50 cents made it all worth it. On our first night Chris and Julie took us out for ice cold Hinano (Tahiti’s local beer) and pizza to celebrate all of our arrival in French Polynesia. It felt surreal to be with familiar friends in a place not familiar at all. French Polynesia so far seems way more French than we expected. Very few people outside of the tourism industry speak English and there are many young French people living on the sailboats or attending the University.
The Gendarme (police officer) who checked us into the county the next morning had a briefcase full of stamps and put them to use stamping each page of our entrance documentation multiple times before saying we were cleared for 90 days in French Polynesia. What a relief, we did not want to turn around and go back to Hawaii right away. The boarder of French Polynesia remains closed, especially to tourism and no flights are coming to the islands. There was a loophole that allowed us to come to French Polynesia. Essentially, we applied to the government maritime affairs or DPAM as a sailboat needing to reprovision and refuel in French Polynesia and they granted us the standard 90-day visa to do so. That policy has since changed to allow for only 4 days for the same request. We are lucky and feel very grateful that we get to be here. We had completed all the right paperwork in advance of our departure and with our “Golden” DPAM “Ticket” we were rewarded with bureaucratic normalcy. The check-in process was extremely easy since we had prior approval before we left Hawaii and we worked with a ships agent to help process the paperwork and bridge the language barrier.
Wasting no time, we got to work giving Atica a well-deserved bath. Every surface needed to be scrubbed and washed because if it wasn’t covered in salt it was growing mold. On passage to conserve fresh water we washed all dishes in salt water, so all the pots and pans needed a vinegar scrub to remove the rust and everything else needed a good wash with fresh water. We washed our sail bag full of stinky laundry at the marina laundry mat and hung it to dry all around the boat. Chris joked that we looked like the Clampett’s with all our laundry hanging anywhere we could reach. After a long upwind passage, the list of boat tasks was pretty significant and we took advantage of being at a dock to knock them off one by one. The list included cleaning out the lazarette and fixing the lazarette hatch seals that were letting water into the boat each time we took a wave to the cockpit. The starboard primary winch needed to be rebuilt and Austin had to take apart the steering pedestal to tighten up the wheel lock. The solar panel wiring was majorly corroded and needed to be replaced along with the plug for the autopilot. It is amazing how much damage salt water can cause in such a short amount of time! The biggest priority for boat work in Tahiti was to address the engine issues we had on passage and give the old Volkswagen some love, after all she is almost 40 years old. We wanted to replace the fuel lift pump that was no longer operational and update the fuel filter system. Time to get out google translate and head out on an adventure into the ‘big’ city of Papeete!
We walked down to the Carrefour and boarded the airconditioned bus into the city. On the way we stopped at a very rough looking auto parts store and were thrilled that our attempt at French resulted in a robust looking fuel lift pump. It wasn’t cheap ($90US) but we were thankful that we could even find one on this small island. Back on the bus we passed by the airport and got off in the city center by the cruise ship docks. We walked through the open market that was full of stalls with colorful sarongs, pearl jewelry, and fresh fruits and vegetables. It reminded us of a cross between Pike Place Market and the markets we visited in Bali. The venders were happy to see us especially as they haven’t had any tourist in months with the boarder still being closed. Everyone was extremely friendly but a few people looked confused and asked how we got here. Elise had her eyes out for the perfect pearl ring and was very excited when we found a pearl collective where she got to pick the setting and select the loose pearls to be made into jewelry while we did some errands. The pearls are graded similar to diamonds by their color, shape and surface smoothness. The lady who helped us couldn’t hold back her excitement to have a sale in these hard times. This made us feel so good that we could support the local artisans. After a morning of shopping, we went to a brewery for lunch and Austin enjoyed the l’IPA. In the afternoon we headed to the marine stores to look for fuel filters and a few other odds and ends. The stores are reminiscent of what we came to expect in Mexico and have mostly what you need but you wouldn’t expect it when you first walk in. There are things under other things, behind counters and in back rooms. You really have to ask for help if you want any chance of finding what you are looking for. Also we learned that stores have limited hours and close completely for an hour or two for lunch so you have to time you shopping accordingly.
By Saturday we had almost all the boat projects and tasks complete and we just needed a few more things from Papeete. We took the bus into town and walked the rest of the way to a different auto parts store that we were told would have the fuel filter fittings we needed. We had everyone in the store cracking up laughing when we asked for our typical engine oil that happens to be able to handle cold temperatures. We assume the clerk said in French, “These people think it could snow in French Polynesia!” After getting the parts we headed back to the bus stop. We waited a few minutes and then a lady in a car drove up onto the sidewalk and waved us over. She only spoke French and asked where we were trying to go. We told her the marina on the other side of the town. She said it would take to long for us to wait for the bus and insisted she take us there herself. We chatted along the way and learned that her name was Meloni and she was from the Austral Islands and was spending the day with her granddaughter. We were thankful for their generosity and it did make the trip back to the boat much quicker! The rest of the day was spent filling the boat back up with fresh fruits, vegetables, baguettes and water. Austin did an oil change on the engine and we soaked in the last bit of internet. We have enjoyed our time here in Tahiti but now we are itching to get out on anchor and explore what French Polynesia has to offer under the water!