French Polynesia is on!

It’s never too early to plan next year’s cruise – and since that cruise was supposed to happen two years ago I’ve had a lot of time for planning. Countries started to close their borders in March 2020, and over the past 18 months not a lot has changed out in the South Pacific. French Polynesia borders are closed, Cook Islands are closed, ditto for American Samoa, Samoa, Tuvalu, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands. If I wanted to go south to New Zealand I’d find that Niue, Tonga, and New Zealand are all closed. Even Australia is closed. That makes it tough to go anywhere…

French Polynesia closed its maritime borders March 2020, went into lockdown, opened air travel in July 2020 (but not the maritime border), re-closed the air border in February 2021 as the Covid-19 delta variant emerged, and now in November the air border is again open… but the maritime border remains closed.

The French Polynesia DPAM (Direction Polynesienne des Affaires Maritimes) are the folks that manage the national maritime border, and they had always included a humanitarian exception to the maritime border closure to allow brief stop-overs to reprovision and refuel; you needed advance permission from DPAM to do so but then you had to depart and go away somewhere else. In August DPAM altered their rule such that boats could request authorization to cross the maritime border provided the people on board were vaccinated or would go into quarantine, but the border remain closed.

Word of this change filtered through the cruising community and people pricked their ears up. It’s fantastic DPAM might let boats in but the timing wasn’t great as the cruising season mostly ends as Typhoon Season kicks in November 1. It also wasn’t clear if boats were actually receiving approval from DPAM to enter French Polynesia for purposes of recreational sailing.

The Authorization signature block received on my Declaration of Entry or Stopover – Pleasure Boat form submitted to DPAM. This means I (and Beetle) can visit French Polynesia, commencing in Nuku Hiva, come May 2022.

By late October Andy Turpin, organizer of the Pacific Puddle Jump group ‘sail/rally’ to French Polynesia, had been given the go-ahead by DPAM to host the rally in 2022 – this suggested recreational sailing might receive DPAM approval. One catch – each boat wanting to enter the country still must request and receive authorization from DPAM to cross the still-closed maritime border. I downloaded the form, studied it, not sure if I had only one chance to get it correct or not – who knows how lenient the DPAM folks might be if I screwed it up? I sent my draft request to two people I knew from my time there 2017 – Tehani (Tahiti Crew) in Papeete and Kevin (Nuku Hiva Yacht Services) in the Marquesas – for advice. Then I emailed the form in to DPAM on my own, no Yacht Agent involved.

The big news is that two days later Tiger Beetle and I were granted permission to cross the French Polynesia maritime border and enter the country at Nuku Hiva in May of next year. Yeah team! French Polynesia is on for 2022!

The red line is my ideal route – across the South Pacific and exiting the Typhoon belt in November to over-wrinter in the Marshall Islands. The blue line is an alternate likely route (as of today) that would see Beetle in Fiji and then down to New Zealand. The pink line is the more typical, but less likely route today, through Niue and Tonga then on to New Zealand.

The next question becomes – where to go after French Polynesia? One option is to obtain a Long Stay Visa (LSV) and remain in French Polynesia – that’s what I did in 2017 and come typhoon seasson I sailed north to Hawaii. That worked out well, I’ve been there/done that and it might be fun to try something different. As Beetle is in Southern California it will be significantly easier for me to request the LSV from here as compared to 2017 when Beetle was in La Cruz, Mexico – mostly because I need to request the LSV from the French Consulate in San Francisco. So if New Zealand or the Marshalls don’t look like they will open then I will need to request an LSV.

I would prefer to clear the South Pacific typhoon belt by sailing north to the Marshall Islands (red route) – there’s lots of atolls to explore in the Marshalls, as a USA citizen I can be in the Marshalls for a long time, and it just sounds like an interesting and remote place. The alternative is south to New Zealand (blue/pink routes). The Marshalls and New Zealand are both closed at the moment…

And now we get to announcements from the past week. Countries are announcing *planned* openings, at least of air borders, between now and mid-January 2022: Kiribati intends to open up January 13, the Cook Islands have just stated the same, New Zealand is planning for January, and today Fiji announced they will be opening up December 1 – they are ahead of the pack. It’s entirely unclear if Tuvalu, the Marshalls, Niue, or Tonga will re-open their borders in 2022, and if they do decide to do that, when might that happen?

I am currently in communications with Chester, the Chief of Sea Port Police in American Samoa, about whether or not I would be (or might be) allowed to enter American Samoa (Pago Pago) in August of next year – will be interesting to see what the response is, hopefully it’s positive even though no one can know what the American Samoa border restrictions will look like 10 months into the future.

So it starts to look like cruising the South Pacific is a GO for 2022. Next up is Andy Turpin should be opening up registration for the 2022 Pacific Puddle Jump come 1 December, something Beetle will sign up for. Then the big decision about whether or not I request an LSV for French Polynesia. The risk of Typhoons is high in Fiji, therefore it’s entirely unsafe to remain in Fiji come 1 November 2022. I need New Zealand (or Australia) to open up to the south, or the Marshalls to open up to the north before I can commit to arriving in Fiji in September – that’s late in the season and Beetle needs to be clear of the region in 5-8 weeks after arrival. The upshot is I would want a reasonably likely destination north or south to clear the typhoon belt before rolling west from French Polynesia – currently only Fiji is open through it’s Blue Lane Initiative for yachts (and that is likely to simplify come 1 December). Will be interesting to see how travel possibilities progress.

This is going to be fun!

– rob & Beetle

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