September Approaches

Except for the brief window from June through August when the puddle jumpers come through, French Polynesia is cruised year round almost exclusively by European boats, mostly French. In fact, June – August is the season of mara'amu winds and fronts and so many French boats consider it the crappy season to be cruising, particularly in the Tuamotus and Gambiers. Funny, because of the difficulty of visas and passage windows, that is the only season most of us North American boats ever experience.

As September approaches, there is an increasing awareness among transitory cruisers that we have two months before the South Pacific hurricane season officially kicks off. It seems that majority of boats crossing to NZ this year are converging on their last few countries and starting to think about the passage from the tropics to NZ. As we turned NE to the Tuamotus from Tahiti we left the company of the jumpers who were heading West. When we left Fakarava in late June we were surrounded by North American boats and as we returned to Tikehau in August we find only the stragglers of this year's jumpers. The Tuamotus feel very different. Good news for us, the stragglers have turned out to be an interesting crowd. We've run into SVs Wizard's Eye, Ichiban and Almacantra between Tikehau and Rangiroa. Primarily though, we are meeting and hanging out with the Frenchies again. It's a similar feeling to when we returned to French Polynesia from the Cooks in October last year.

For us, September is the time of impending decisions. We will stay in French Polynesia cruising through the hurricane season, but sometime soon we have to decide where. Where in French Polynesia do we feel comfortable -- e.g., Society Islands and if so which half? Tuamotus? Australs? Gambiers? Marquesas? Will it be a neutral or La Nina ENSO cycle? Will we differentiate between early and late in the hurricane season in choosing our "safe" cruising grounds?

It's interesting to make this decision again, here in the Tuamotus, surrounded by local boats who (in a non-El Nino year) seem to cruise almost anywhere they please in French Polynesia during the hurricane season.

Stay tuned…

Flying over a coral carpet

A big thanks to Adam and Cindy from SV Bravo for giving us some of their photos from our snorkel trip a few months ago in Fakarava*. We don’t often have pictures of us underwater unless they are arm’s length “selfies”. At the time of these photos we were shooting through the high current section of the pass and diving down to the coral carpet to fly over it. Adam caught a nice series of me showing the dive down, the “flying” over the coral at the bottom and the resurfacing.  Water is pretty darn clear, n’est-ce pas?

*They gave me the photos right away. I’ve been a lazy photo sorter.

Snapshot: 3 years of cruising


At 2 months and at 12 months, Carol and I answered a bunch of questions about cruising. At 12 months I added some more questions than we answered at 2 months and this time I’ve slimmed them down again a bit. Here we go again with quite a few more miles under our belts. We answered all of the questions independently.

P1010084What do you love about cruising?
Carol: I like the adventure. I like the people – local and boaters. I like the fact that everyone I know back home is jealous.
Livia: (In French Polynesia) I see something that is mind bogglingly beautiful in nature, on a daily basis, often more than once a day.

What do you dislike about cruising?
Carol: Being run by the weather. The weather controls my life. We chose this. I could go to only protected anchorages but I choose to go places where weather can chase me out at any point.
Livia:  I’m tired a lot, either emotionally or physically. I didn’t realize how much of my life as a working woman involved chilling out. Pre-cruising I spent a lot of time sitting in front of a computer, or driving (not in traffic) and those hours added up to a lot of dead time. Now, I always seem like I’m having to say “I need a break” and making a conscious choice to sit down and relax/rest. Obviously, this reflects the activity-driven way that we cruise. My new theory is that everyone has an ideal number of activities per day and mine is 2-3 medium (snorkel, hike on motu, campfire) or 1-2 biggie (most of the day transit, kiting). Carol’s is virtually unlimited. Also, I miss my family.

What do you worry about?
Carol: Getting complacent. Not appreciating what I have in front of me, getting bored of it. That is why it is good to hang out with vacationers.
Livia: We made the choice to go cruising which was big and scary. Now that we are out here, totally in charge of our happiness on a daily basis, I worry about whether there is something else we could be doing that would be even better. It’s a high class worry, but hey, I only have one lifetime.

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
Carol:  Be careful who you listen to. Be a researcher not a follower.
Livia: I wish someone had told me how much of what I was reading about “how to cruise” and “what gear or boat you need” was influenced by N American culture. I wish I had talked to a few cruisers from other countries about boat types and gear so that I could see how much of what is passed around in books, boat shows and forums in the US and Canada is influenced by a fear-based, risk-adverse mindset. I’m not sure if I would have made any different choices but it would have been freeing to see other viewpoints on things like cored hulls, fin keels and multi-hulls.

IMG_20130721_145219What are you looking forward to?
Carol: Nothing. I’m here. I’ve got it.
Livia: I’m so happy here in French Polynesia that I am (for once in my life) mostly living in the moment. If pressed, I would say I’m looking forward to another few years in the Pacific, particularly the Marshall Islands and stopping in some out-of-the way places like Kiribas, and Wallis and Futuna.

Favorite place recently was
Carol: Everywhere has had a good surprise. Now that we have time, it is easier to enjoy every place either because we meet cool people or because the place was fantastic/gorgeous.
Livia: Oh Tahanea, how I love thee. Let me count the ways...

Least favorite place recently was
Carol: No answer to this one.
Livia: I’m probably going to get my butt kicked for saying this but I have to say that my least favorite place recently was our recent trip back to Washington State. I *loved* seeing my family and friends and I still think Washington has a lot of beautiful places but if you stack up all of the places I’ve been recently Washington stands out at the bottom of the list.

A lesson learned is that
Carol: Chill out, you could be in Moose Jaw. .
Livia:  I actually like buddy boating. With the right crew, it is amazing. I’ve also learned that I really enjoy having non-boaters aboard our boat, whether they are local residents or they are travelers in a hotel, I enjoy having non-cruisers aboard.

DINGHIES Best gear award goes to...
Carol: I am really impressed with our new tow generator (until we lost the prop). We should have bought one before.
Livia: Our new 9’ semi-rigid dinghy with a 15HP engine. Although I love the fact that even though we have it, we still paddle our kayak half the time.

Worst gear award goes to...
Carol: Our watermaker (Powersurvivor 40E). On paper it looks good but then we realized that you don’t get what you expect. We wanted to run it overnight but our volts overnight are so much less than the output specs are based on that we don’t. In general, watermakers are a pain in the ass unless you have a mechanical one that doesn’t use your batteries…but they are necessary. 
Livia: All plugs. We had a microphone for our VHF radio in the cockpit and the connection always corroded and it finally died. All of the stuff that plugs into our 9V outlet in the cockpit gets corroded connectors. Our quick disconnect plug for our solar panels has given us problems. The 9V plugs in our navigation station are annoying. Our handheld GPS plugs have corroded. Salt air gets at the plugs it seems before anything else on the units.

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you didn't find to be true?
Carol: “Boatwork in paradise”. Yes, you have to do work but it really isn’t just that. If you want to work all of the time on your boat, you can, but if you pick up some hobbies and keep your boat simple, it isn’t just that. Yes, you have to maintain your equipment but it hasn’t been just that so far for us.
Livia: I heard over and over that cruising is hard, but ultimately that it is rewarding. For me this is true, but I find that I’ve met a fair number of people who don’t find the actual process of cruising fun, and who stick it out only because they set themselves a goal and invested so much time into it. You might be surprised at how many people I meet cruising who don’t seem to be actually enjoying themselves.

from bella starWhat is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you found particularly accurate?
Carol:  Go young.
Livia: We’ve met some really wonderful people. As cruisers Carol and I are focused on the outdoors, and outdoor sports, but I’ve spent a lot of the last year in the company of kindred souls and that has really changed our perspective on what we want from cruising.

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?
Please ask us a question in the comments of our blog. We promise to respond.

Cruising Tikehau


Click on any image below to be taken to Google Maps at that location.


tikehauNWUsing the word “anchorage” in an atoll in French Polynesia is a little weird because there are miles of anchorable depths in more or less protected regions of the atoll and it is fairly rare that there is only one good spot even in the well protected region. Boats tend to congregate near villages, or near waypoints given out in guidebooks.

When you find your own little corner of paradise, away from a village and away from the guidebook waypoints, another boat will see you anchored and come over to investigate your spot. Not that I’m complaining too loudly because we’ve done that ourselves. Always wondering if the other guy found something good. We’ve become better at moving around and finding our own corners. Satellite imagery has made locating good spots a very fun game for the navigator.

tikehaubirdmotu Tikehau is an atoll in the Tuamotus that is interesting in a number of ways. Tikehau is relatively small which is usually good news for wave build up across the lagoon (i.e., fetch).

However, it is a circular atoll and we found that the fetch wrapped around and so always seemed to hit the boat just a little bit off from the direction of the wind. Because the boat was facing into the wind, the fetch hit the boat at 20-30 degrees and caused, not a rolling motion, but a short little jerking motion that drove Carol and I bonkers.

tikehauNEWe started calling it Lumpy-how and we had to get rather creative in avoiding the fetch in order to enjoy this atoll (which is beautiful, more on that later). tikehaupbrWe ended up anchoring in more unusual spots, surrounded by reefs, or behind a line of coral heads or behind an island in the middle of the lagoon. We also moved around a lot as the wind switched. it was fun to explore an atoll “fast”. We kept joking that we were cruising charter style, never spending more than a night or two at any one anchorage.

We spent a night or two anchored in front of one of the expensive honeymooner hotels and it was fun to have the same view and to be reminded of how much of a dream location we are currently cruising in.tikehaupass

You can always see where we are currently anchored by checking out our map. Switch it to satellite view if you wish to see images like these.

French Polynesia Customs Update

The laws have been changed several times over the last year in French Polynesia and it has been causing some confusion. Here is the story as we know it:

First you must separate customs from immigration in your mind. When you fly into an international port you usually clear passport control, then pick up your baggage and clear your baggage. The passport control is immigration and their laws deal with how long your body can be in their country depending on which country you are a citizen of. Then you clear customs and their laws deal with your baggage, your stuff.

This is the same with French Polynesia. There are immigration laws about how long your body can be here and laws about how long your stuff (your boat) can be here. For Americans and Canadians, your body can be here 3 months out of 6 months. This used to mean that you could be here (in French Poly) for 3 months, then get a renewal for another 3, totaling 6 months in 12 months. However, a number of years ago this changed and after being here for 3 months, now your body must leave French Poly for 3 months before it can come back for the second three months.

As of Dec 1998 (Arrete #1861) their was a special customs law for non-resident boats (not the boaters' bodies, just the boaters' boat) visiting French Polynesia. This law stated that visiting boats, of non-residents, could stay in French Poly for 24 months without paying taxes and that time on the hard at a boatyard, with the person out of country, if properly documented, did not count toward that 24 months. Also, with this law it wasn't clear how you could reset the 24 months but it seemed that simply taking the boat out of the country, clearing it in and out of another country, and returning would suffice.

The problem was that there is another law, an immigration law, on the books which says that after 6 months of living in French Polynesia, you are a resident.

In mid-2012 the customs officials suddenly started enforcing the customs law differently. They said that because immigration considered anyone inside the country for 6 months a resident, that any visiting boaters here for more than 6 months were residents and because they were residents the special customs law no longer applied. Several boats were fined and ordered to leave or pay the tax (approx. 26% of assessed boat value, called Papeetization). This new interpretation caused a big stink.

In March of 2013 the stink was semi-resolved with a new law (Arrete #401) which established that visiting boats, of non-residents, could stay in French Polynesia for 18 months, consecutive, time on the hard doesn't mean anything, and the boat has to be out of the country for 6 months to reset the clock. When this law changed, some boaters mistakenly thought this meant their bodies could be in French Polynesia for 18 months even though this was a customs law not an immigration law.

While this new law is clearer on many fronts, it still didn't resolve the issue of residency. However, at this point, customs is going back to their old policy of ignoring the residency law and so boaters can (for now) ignore it as well.

Further, people already in country have been scrambling to find out if they are on the old law, the new law, or a mix, and this has been being solved on a case-by-case basis rather than a straight grandfathering.

Finally, the boatyards, which used to make good money off people leaving their boats here to extend their 24 months, are not happy with the new law.

Several different organizations including the association of local cruising vessels are pushing for changes to this law and I wouldn't be surprised if we have to write a new update in the next year :)


Click on the dollar and buy Livia and Carol a cold frosty one:


Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner