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Pacific Post: Blog 4- Houston, We Have A Problem…

We have just heard that French Polynesia has closed its borders to everyone except residents. We are truly shocked and stunned to find ourselves sailing 4,000 miles towards an island group that is now on lockdown.

It’s peak season for sailing across the Pacific Ocean and Two Drifters is one of many boats making the ‘puddle-jump’; there is no turning back, we have sailed too far.

While we appreciate, French Polynesia wants to stop the spread of coronavirus, we left Panama a week ago in good faith; on the premise we would be allowed in, subject to a 14-day quarantine - towards which, our time at sea, would count.

We even got the required medical certificate, signed and dated five days prior to departure, to prove our good health. Our journey, expected to be about 30 days, means we are actually in self-isolation until we reach Nuku Hiva, our intended port of entry in the Marquesas Islands.

We’re ev en taking our temperatures twice a week and recording them with photographic evidence, just in case further evidence of continued health is needed. So, with the two of us arriving in French Polynesia and showing no signs of coronavirus, we hoped to be welcomed with open arms by the locals, especially at a time when their tourism industry is suffering with air travel significantly reduced and cruise ships forbidden entry.

While the situation will no doubt change many times in the next few weeks, the government of French Polynesia have currently offered us just two options:

1. Arrive into a port of entry such as Nuku Hiva or Tahiti and find a safe anchorage, mooring buoy, marina or hard standing to store the boat. Then leave and return to our home country on the first available flight.
2. Arrive in a port of entry to re-supply, re-fuel, effect repairs and then leave French Polynesia for somewhere else. At this stage, it’s unclear if we are even allo wed to get off the boat.

The first option is not even a consideration for us for many reasons. The main one being that our insurance company will not cover the boat to be in French Polynesia during cyclone season - which isn’t for a while yet, but who knows how long the closed borders will last for. The boat is also not allowed to be left unattended at anchor or on a mooring for more than 24 hours.

As for getting a flight out, good luck with that! The airlines have significantly reduced their flights and no transit is allowed through New Zealand and Australia. Air Tahiti Nui is the only airline to maintain international flights to France and, I can only imagine, this option will soon be greatly diminished.

That only leaves us Option 2. So, our current plan is to make landfall in Nuku Hiva, stock up on fruit, veg and essential provisions and hope to stay as long as they will let us, in order to catch our breath after a month at sea. We will t hen consider sailing another five or six days to Tahiti to do the same.

This is about to become the fastest track ever through the South Pacific by a cruising boat. I cannot begin to tell you how disappointing this is for Fergus and I. It was a dream to sail across the Pacific Ocean; a test of endurance and an adventure. To arrive after a successful trip and then explore the idyllic islands, with their high mountains and magnificent waterfalls, miles of coral atolls, aquamarine seas, white sand beaches and immense marine life. The South Pacific sounds like the epitome of paradise, but, for us, it’s paradise lost.

As of today, islands open in the Western Pacific are American Samoa and Fiji, but with Fiji announcing its first case of coronavirus this week, we have no idea how long it will remain a safe and open haven.

We will head in that direction as Fiji sounds amazing and has great diving, which is perfect for our divemaster Skipper, but i t’s 2,500 miles from Nuku Hiva - so a further two to three weeks at sea. I’m hoping we can find a deserted island en route to put the anchor down for a night should we get tired. After all, it would be a shame not to see at least one idyllic island having come so far.

As it happens, Fiji is well positioned for us to go to New Zealand as planned for the cyclone season in November. Well, that is, if New Zealand re-opens its borders by then. And there goes a more serious scenario, which we will have to be prepared for.

We set off from Panama a week ago, with a boat stuffed to the gunnels with food, which is one consolation. But looking ahead to the amount of sea miles we are faced with, and unknown re-provisioning options, we are now rationing. Luxuries, such as the night shift treats of chocolate and cheese biscuits, as well as sparkling water, are the first items to be limited.

So there you have it, it’s a fluid situation for Two Drifters. It all feels very surreal and as if we are playing a part in a new Bond or Mission Impossible movie. I just hope 007 can drop in and save the planet as, for now, our non-alcoholic cranberry juice cocktails remain firmly shaken, not stirred…and soon to be rationed!

Total miles sailed in 24 hours: 150
Date: Friday 20 March

Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.

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