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Preparing for a Puddle Jump: Lessons Learned by 2019 First-Timers

When I crossed the equator for the first time last May, I paid tribute to the ocean by pouring out a tipple of precious rum. I’d brought just one large bottle for the trip, because I’d heard that cruisers are only permitted to have a total of six liters of alcohol aboard when they arrive to French Polynesia. I don’t regret sharing my favorite libation with the sea deities, but just like so many things I’d heard before departure, the six-liter rule was a bit of a myth, and one of many lessons that my newbie cruiser friends and I learned during the 2019 Pacific Puddle Jump. From rum shortages to engine issues, our hard-earned knowledge will help other first-timers prepare for the challenges ahead, and avoid sinking into low spirits.

When you’re going to places like this — the island of Moorea in the Society Islands — the last thing you want to worry about is if you brought enough saltines. The author wants to help you prepare for remote cruising, as well as sticker shock when you reach big cities in new countries.
© 2020 Elana Connor

Many of us Puddle Jumpers in the 2019 fleet were new to full-time cruising, with perhaps a Baja Ha-Ha under our belts, or a few years of experience in Mexico or the Carribean. The long passage across the Pacific into remote islands was a wholly new experience. At 3,000 to 4,000 nm, the journey is one of the longest bluewater crossings a cruiser can do, and lands you in far more isolated places for a longer stretch of time, demanding a different approach to preparations. Despite reading the accounts of experienced cruisers and attending helpful seminars, we still faced challenges that could have been eased with a few minor adjustments to our preparations. There were some general trends in learning among the 2019 PPJ fleet, especially when it came to provisioning, mechanical issues, and keeping the crew and skipper happy.

Provisioning Wisely

“Everyone says there’s nothing available in the South Pacific,” says Cody Heath of Zoe from Houston, Texas. “That’s not true; there is everything — help, parts, food — it’s just different from what you’re used to, and may be expensive.” Depending on your budget, provisioning most of what you need before leaving the Americas can be the difference between a successful, happy experience and feeling miserably deprived in the South Pacific.

Cody and Katie from Sailing Zoe on their land yacht in New Zealand.
© 2020 @sailingzoe

If you’re budget-conscious, you may find the “good stuff” too pricey for purchase in the South Pacific. “Take as much as you can of the things you like or have an attachment to, especially your favorites,” says Flo Benincasa of Flocerfida, echoing the sentiments of many 2019 alums. “Plan to have enough to last you until you reach a really big port, like New Zealand.” (She notes that even Tahiti falls short of the price and selection in Mexico or the US.)

Where did Flocerfida go wrong? They skimped on one of their favorites: whiskey. “Alcohol is expensive in the South Pacific, and, even in New Zealand, it’s $32 US for a bottle of whiskey,” says Benincasa, who wishes they’d stocked up before leaving Mexico. Not only is hard liquor pricey in Polynesia, but the cheapest wine is around $10 US, and even local Tahitian rum is never priced below $18 US per bottle. The prices skyrocket quickly for even slightly better-quality booze. The official rule that you can’t enter French Polynesia with more than six liters of alcohol seems to go completely unenforced, so “bring 10 times the amount of alcohol you expect to consume,” says Heath of Zoe. “Everyone entertains!”

We’re going to let the exotic places — like Kauehi Atoll — speak for themselves. Just make sure you arrive with enough rum.
© 2020 Elana Connor

Puddle Jumpers need to provision not only their favorites for the whole season, but completely different foods for the long passages. Kathy and David Bennett, of Pacific Destiny from Alameda, shared an experience echoed by many in the 2019 fleet; “We typically don’t eat much processed or prepared food, but on the long passages these became extremely important, because we could still have a balanced meal even when we didn’t want to turn on the stove.” Everyone seems to agree that pre-cooked foods got them through the unavoidable bad weather, and nearly every sailor admitted that cookies, crackers, and other snacks seemed essential to night watches (even for those who typically don’t eat these things). Other popular “quick” foods included:

  • sandwich bread
  • large tortilla-type wraps
  • cooked lentils
  • cans of pre-made soup
  • nuts
  • UHT pouches of prepared rice or curries
  • parboiled or quick-cook grains (quinoa, couscous)

When it comes to stocking up on favorite provisions, everyone has their own preferences. I love honey, and I’d heard it was expensive in French Polynesia. But while honey was pricey, it was also readily available, delicious, and often locally made. There are other hard-to-find treats, though, so you’ll want to bring them with you. These include:

  • muesli, oatmeal, and chia seeds
  • maple syrup
  • coffee beans
  • sprouting seeds
  • whole-wheat flour
  • regular yeast packets (quick-rise is available but behaves differently and spoils quickly)
  • shelf-stable meats like jerky, pepperoni, salami, and sausages
Did anyone say fish? The author’s dog contemplates the fruits of spontaneous grocery shopping.
© 2020 Elana Connor

“But don’t overstock the basics,” warns Elizabeth Stacey of Irwinish from Miami, “because these foods are subsidized throughout French Polynesia [even on rural atolls] at prices comparable to the US or Mexico.” Subsidized foods have their prices marked in red, and include: flour, canned vegetables, cream crackers, lentils, beans, grains, pasta, tomato sauce, powdered milk, butter, instant coffee, and fresh baguettes.

Don’t be afraid to try different foods in the French supermarkets, because some are actually better than in the Americas. When Jan Alexander of Hanna (Wappingers Falls, NY) had me over for dinner, she served French mashed potatoes that were so good I had no idea they were instant. Canned butter from New Zealand is also surprisingly tasty, and French baking chocolate tastes like good dark chocolate (and costs less than regular chocolate bars).

How about one more insanely beautiful picture from the South Pacific to kindle the dream? Once you decide to take a Puddle Jump of Faith, the rest — like provisioning — will fall into place.
© 2020 Elana Connor

Don’t forget your favorite household items. “We didn’t bring enough marine toilet paper,” says Audrey Toal of Wild Orchid from San Diego, who prevents head plumbing problems by flushing no other kind. I found myself searching for fly tape to deal with the proliferate Polynesian fruit flies, but couldn’t find it anywhere.

Along with chemical-free pest-control products, other household items that cruisers forgot included machetes for coconuts, empty water jugs, insulated drink bottles that don’t overheat in the sun, and plenty of topical benadryl or hydrocortisone to treat rashes and bites.

But even if you provision well, you’re still going to find shopping in Polynesia to be quite a different experience. The best piece of advice I’ve heard was from Elizabeth Stacey of Irwinish: “The key to a happy cruise is to let go of the idea that you can have everything just as you do at home. The faster you can let that go, the better off you’ll be.”

5 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Rose Alderson 9 months ago

    My husband Dave (s/v Aussie Rules) joined the Baja Haha in 2014 and Puddle Jumped in 2015, bound for his homeland of Australia. A real treat that we enjoyed was homemade Baileys for coffee. It uses the perfect and cheap small (about 1 cup size) UHT Media Crema everywhere in Mexico It was always a hit with our boat friends and the recipe is as follows.
    1 3/4 cup of alcohol of your choice (we had bought 14 bottles of Trader Joes ‘Rum of the Gods’, which worked out about right for us).
    1 UHT Media Crema (or if you are near land 1 Cup of whipping cream)
    1 can of Sweetened Condensed milk
    1 Tsp-1Tbsp cocoa powder (mixed with coffee, while still hot, then added into mix)
    1 shot glass +/- of hot strong coffee/espresso
    1 tsp Vanilla
    Mix and enjoy.

    We brought Gin and Tequila and beer as well, but not NEARLY enough, especially beer, which was something that REALLY added up at around 6-8$ CDN each in the stores in the Tuamotus. One thing we did right, was take way more cheese than I thought we’d need. I kept buying the big 15-20$ wedges of various kinds and they all ended up in the bottom of our fridge. They and many kinds of dried meats found in the large grocery stores in Mexico kept us going long into the trip and were Very happily received during our many Cruiser get togethers, long after everyone else was out. If you think you want to go, just do it, as its truly the best experience of my life and I hope to do it again! If the images above make you drool, do whatever you can to spend as much time in the Tuamotus as you can, as it’s bound to be a highlight.

    • Avatar
      Elana Connor 9 months ago

      Thank you so much for the recipe, Rose! 🙂 I am SO going to save this one for the future. My friend just introduced me to UHT cream and it’s amazing how many new dishes (and drinks!) it opens up to a cruiser without refrigeration ! 🙂

      And you are totally right about the Tuamotus. As someone who can easily pass hours snorkeling and free diving, the Tuamotus were heavenly. Easily my favorite archipelago; I’m so glad we had everything with us that we needed to stay there for longer than most!

  2. Avatar
    Jeff Bush 9 months ago

    Great information that I save my future PPJ.

  3. Avatar
    David Cohan 9 months ago

    Regarding liquor prices in Polynesia: Unless things have changed dramatically in the last few years, liquor is relatively inexpensive in American Samoa. Pago Pago harbor has a decidedly mixed reputation, but is manageable. We found it a good mid-Pacific stop for reprovisioning, with cheaper prices than French Polynesia, and considerably more variety and availability than Tonga.

  4. Avatar
    Mark 9 months ago

    IMO this statement is irresponsible:

    “The official rule that you can’t enter French Polynesia with more than six liters of alcohol seems to go completely unenforced, so “bring 10 times the amount of alcohol you expect to consume,” says Heath of Zoe. “Everyone entertains!””

    Just because this particular boater got away with breaking the rules doesn’t mean others always will. To get caught with excess alcohol can result in a large fine or entry denial. I would hope in the future Latitude 38 takes a more ethical approach by not encourage boaters to break the rules of other countries.

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