We set sail from Maupiti, French Polynesia on Monday 28 th June 2021, to sail directly to Cairns, Australia. We had almost three months in this lovely Pacific nation which gave us the opportunity to explore all the major places. Some cruisers hang around here much longer, because they love the culture, or, because of Covid-19, they cannot continue west to the other Pacific nations. These boats sail up and down French Polynesia like the mythical Flying Dutchman. Australia and New Zealand are also closed to international sailors and only allow their citizens back.
In a previous post I referred to some problems with officialdom and now that we have left French Polynesia, we can tell you more about this: Despite us hoping to spend a year cruising the numerous Pacific Islands, between Panama and Australia, only French Polynesia and Fiji were open in terms of Covid-19 protocols. Back in December 2020, Annie submitted an application to the French Polynesian authorities for a standard 3 month visa to cruise these islands. By the end of January 2021 she had not had a reply, despite cruising friends who had applied during January, receiving their approvals.
She again emailed them for the visa, but some official had filed and forgotten our application. In the first week of February a new case of Covid had arrived in FP by plane from the USA, so the authorities immediately closed the FP borders. On further enquiry from Annie we were advised that our application to enter FP had been refused. We now had to leave Panama for Australia, facing a hell of a long passage going home, with nowhere to stop but in Fiji!
Annie contacted an agent in Nuku Hiva, FP who said: “For US150 I will sort this out”. A week later we were advised that we could enter FP for 4 days to rest and replenish our water, fuel and provisions! Arriving in Nuku Hiva, the agent took us to the Gendarmerie to have our passports stamped and other French documents signed. It turns out the Gendarmerie passport stamp is valid for the standard 90 day stay in FP.
In five years of cruising, we found that the more layers of bureaucracy (and the French have many), the easier it is to find a solution to these ad hoc bureaucratic decisions. There is a vast difference between arrivals by plane from Covid hotspots and sailors who are effectively in quarantine for 27 days, sailing from Panama to FP, without a living soul in sight.
After four days, we set sail for the Tuamotus. Bad luck provided the solution, when a stay in Esprit’s mast rigging started unwinding. We were now forced to stop in Tahiti for repairs and time marched on – four days turned into four weeks. Not a sign of patrol boats or officials – only friendly locals happy to welcome us. We kept a low profile and had the balance of our 90 day visas to see the rest of the Society Islands, which was a wonderful experience.
Now, we are back to take two: Pacific crossing from Maupiti, FP to Cairns, Straya. As the crow flies, it is 3,600 nm (6,667 km) for this leg, but in reality it will be longer, as the boat sails. For example, in take one: Panama to Nuku Hiva, FP is 3,800 nm (7,038 km) as the crow flies, but as the boat sails, it was 4,028 nm (7,460 km).
Bob in Auckland advises us that this leg of the Pacific crossing may be more challenging due to the shifting SPCZ (South Pacific Convergence Zone). Also, as a result of high westerlies down in the roaring forties, a huge low (no wind) has settled below Samoa, directly on our route to Cairns. He suggests we take a northerly route above Samoa to avoid the low.
This will be longer, but at least we won’t have to motor (or so we thought). To summarise: Days 1 to 5, we have wind from the North-east, but, with lots of wind and rain squalls and lightning around us. We know that lightning is not our friend, as one lightning strike to a yacht mast can toast the electronics. At the moment, there isn’t another yacht mast for hundreds of miles around us.
The weather gods have also decided they will only send these squalls at night, as it delivers amusing mayhem, with lots of shouty shouties (to quote circumnavigators Wayne and Barry on SV Nauty Buoy). Say no more. Despite this, we clock up 710 nm, average 142 nm/day for the 5 days. Once we reach latitude 12 south, the rain abates and we continue west slowly from day 6, due to light winds. We started motoring on Sunday arvo day 6, as the low has now moved further north into our intended route. We take the sails down as they are slapping uselessly in the little wind that there is.
We end up motoring for 40 hours until Tuesday the 6 th July (Day 8), burning 80 litres of diesel. At 07:00 on day 8, a light 10 knot S-E kicks in, we hoist the sails and cut the engine – hallelujah! We are now directly north of American Samoa and the American navy and air force spot us on AIS. We get visited by both a warship and a plane, not once, but two days in a row – good on them!
We re-set our course to the south-west to head for the French Islands of Wallis and Futuna, 510 nm away. Short lived excitement – we sail for 95 nm and then have to motor again for 21 hours. Getting a bit worried about our diesel.
On Day 11 we get into the easterly wind and set the pole up to run downwind. With winds between 18 – 24 knots, we are flying with 3 reefs in the main and 30% of the jib. We sail 164 nm in the next 24 hours and pass Wallis Island.
At 03:00 am on Day 13, we cross the International Dateline at 180 degrees of longitude and miss one day as we sail into the Eastern longitudes. At 07:00 a 40 knot rainstorm hits us for an hour and everything on the boat is wet. We have 1,954 nm to go to Cairns. Days 14 to 17 have repetitive 18 – 22 knot SE winds with very unsettled 3 – 4 m seas and occasional rain squalls.
Vanuatu (previously New Hebrides) is ahead of us and on Day 18 we round this large group of islands to the North. We drop the sails behind the small uninhabited cluster of Rowa Islands for an hour, to run our water maker and fill the aft tank. The Coral Sea is ahead and we set our final course to Grafton Passage in the Great Barrier Reef and on to Cairns – still 1,150nm away.
The wind, rain and wave conditions are variable over the next 5 days, as we slowly reduced the distance to the North Queensland coast. At longitude 163E we encountered a squall line which stuffed us around and had us on our toes for 12 hours.
The bird life out at sea is fascinating – from big gulls to small pigeon sized birds, they manage to survive miles from nowhere, on what they can get from the waves. The night of Day 23 saw 7 blue face boobies settle on our solar panels for a rest and a free ride. I only discover them at 06:00 in the morning and managed to chase them away. They left a huge mess which took me nearly an hour to scrub off, so that we can harvest solar power again.
Waypoint 2 came up outside the Great Barrier Reef on Day 28, Tuesday 27 July at 10:00 and from here we motored through the Grafton Passage in the reef for the long dredged approach channel into Cairns.
We tied up at Cairns Marlin Marina on Tuesday the 27 July 2021 at 15:00, to complete our circumnavigation of the world – 5 years and 2 months since departing Sydney in 2016, having sailed 37,321 nautical miles x 1.852 = 69,118 km.
It may now be appropriate to quote the Chuck Berry song: “C’est la vie said the old folks, because you know, you never can tell”
Our second leg across the Pacific from Maupiti in French Polynesia to Cairns in Australia took us 28 days over a distance of 3,874 nm, (7,175 km), and was more difficult than the first leg from Panama to the Marquesas. You may ask why we made our landfall in Cairns instead of Brisbane which is a shorter distance? As we can’t visit the other Pacific nations due to Covid-19, we decided to again cruise in the Whitsunday Islands off northern Queensland and slowly make our way back to Sydney for the rest of the year.
Most importantly, The SICYC (Shag Island Cruising Yacht Club) annual rendezvous is on again at Gloucester Passage north of the Whitsundays, from the 26 to the 29 August 2021. This is party central for yachties, which we enjoyed 5 years ago. We made a lot of new friends then, who we hope to catch up with again. Watch our blog!
But first, we have to spend 14 days in quarantine in the Pacific hotel in Cairns at a cost of $4,130 for the two of us and leave our boat in the Marlin marina for that period at a cost of $1,895. A nice welcome home for Aussies due to the Covid-19 pandemic. At least we could come back, as other nationalities can’t get in.
We will keep you posted on Australia’s beautiful east coast as we sail back to Sydney, so stay with us. Cheers for now!
Annie and Dirk.