South Pacific Wind Shift: Beginning of the End of Lockdown

We recently received the following report on the improving status of South Pacific cruising from Pacific Puddle Jump ringleader Andy Turpin. Andy has been ‘sheltered in place’ for the past six weeks aboard his Cross 42 Little Wing in Nuku Hiva. Andy’s report:

Yesterday, in a joint statement by the President and High Commissioner of French Polynesia, it was announced that the ban has been lifted on traveling between islands and atolls of the territory’s five archipelagos. This means, for example, that cruisers who have been confined to their boats in the Marquesas Islands may now travel freely to any island in that archipelago. However, it does not mean that boats now in the Marquesas can also cruise the Tuamotus, Society Islands, etc. But there are indications that all restrictions on inter-island travel may be lifted soon.

That said, there are still some very fundamental policy decisions to be made by politicians and administrators regarding this year’s fleet of visiting international yachts — including members of the Pacific Puddle Jump and ARC World Rallies. As many of you know, since mid-March French Polynesia has been allowing boats to make landfall on a case-by-case basis, in order to make repairs, fuel up, and reprovision, functioning essentially as the only available harbor of refuge in the area. Most island nations to the west simply closed their frontiers to new arrivals when the COVID-19 threat spread worldwide.

Pacific Puddle Jump at the Vallarta Yacht Club
In early March, a large crowd of Pacific Puddle Jump participants listened as the PPJ Poobah led the cruising seminar at the Vallarta Yacht Club. Little did they know the entire Pacific Ocean would close shortly thereafter.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

To our knowledge, however, none of those boats have been allowed to actually clear in, as they would in a normal year. And until that issue is addressed, none of them — we assume — will be allowed to circulate between the islands, or make future plans based on the length of their visas, as they would in a normal year.

We anticipate, however, that these administrative issues will be sorted out very soon. We are told that marine industry representatives are working hard to insure that government policymakers understand that: A) All visiting cruisers have proven their good health through weeks-long quarantines while at sea and at anchor; and B) Not only are cruisers eager to spend money on shoreside goods and services, but in the absence of cruise ships, income from cruisers may be more important this year than ever.

Here in the Marquesas — where I am writing you from my boat Little Wing — some boats that had cleared in before the lockdown are beginning to up-anchor and explore neighboring islands.

Others opted out of the uncertain state of limbo here and sailed on to Hawaii to wait out the pandemic and reassess their options.

Now that the peak of the crisis appears to have passed, we will keep you informed of additional developments and policy changes. We are very happy to finally have some good news to report!

Some fundamental activities, such as fishing for tuna in nearby waters, carried on as usual even at the height of the COVID-19 scare. Then as now, you could buy as much as you wanted right on the town quay.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Andy

Latitude would like to know, where have you been sheltering? Because reactions to the pandemic accelerated at precisely the time when Pacific Puddle Jumpers would normally have been starting their passages to Polynesia, fewer than half of the registered PPJ boats have made the crossing, wisely opting to stay put in a safe place and monitor developments in the islands.

We know about all the PPJ boats who passed through Nuku Hiva, but we are very curious to know about the rest of you. Please tell us:

  • Where have you been ‘sheltering’ since mid-March (aboard your boat or otherwise)?
  • How have you been passing the time?
  • Are you still considering a late-season crossing?
  • If other South Pacific island nations open their doors again, how far do you think you will travel this year?

Email Andy Turpin at andyturpinatlarge@gmail.com.

During normal times, Nuku Hiva’s ‘Downtown’ Tiaohae Bay is a pretty quiet place, but during confinement it was particularly sleepy. The harbor was full but the shore was quiet.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Andy

Now that the idea of inter-island cruising is looking a bit more possible in the weeks ahead, we’re sure that some of you will consider making late-season crossings.

Such decisions are yours alone to make. We would encourage you to do your homework, however, and consult with knowledgeable sources, be they highly-experienced friends or professional weather gurus — especially if you will be traveling in northern latitudes, where the Eastern Pacific hurricane season has begun.

Every year there are a few stragglers within the PPJ fleet, who, for whatever reason, are not able to set sail until late May, June or even July. Last season, for example, Michael Berry of the San Francisco-based Passport 42 Peregrine set sail from his homeport on July 10. He arrived in the Marquesas 49 days later, unharmed but weary, having dodged a tropical storm and two hurricanes along his route.

While he probably wouldn’t try to talk anyone out of following in his wake, he would discourage them from crossing during that timeframe in anything but a heavy-displacement, bulletproof boat like his.

Frequent reports from PredictWind were ample and accurate during Michael’s trip, but if he had it to do over again, he’d probably also consult a professional weather-routing service, especially for long-range planning.

Wherever you are, we hope you are healthy and safe. And we hope to see you out in the islands eventually.

2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Joe mckeown 3 months ago

    Bad idea to cross hurricane alley Polynesia bound from the West Coast that time of year. You are rolling the dice mate!

  2. Avatar
    Darrell Smith 3 months ago

    We are 2019 Puddle Jumpers who really enjoyed all the festivities along the way from the Marquesas to New Zealand. After arriving in Opua we stored the boat for 3 months in Whangarei to make a Christmas visit with family and returned just ahead of the COVID lockdown. We’ve been in Whangarei for all the time since then doing boat chores. It’s been really easy and sensible here but we’re ready to sail away whenever it makes good sense. We really appreciate Latitude’s efforts and support.
    Darrell and Gayle Smith
    Gone Bambu

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