Since last March, when the COVID pandemic caused French Polynesia and virtually all of its Central South Pacific neighbors to close their borders, many sailors have been thirsty for accurate updated info. But with the ever-evolving nature of government policies and regulations related to COVID, here in Tahiti, as well as in the US and Europe, what’s accurate one day can become dangerously inaccurate the next, resulting in boatloads of misinformation being posted on various online forums.
The bottom line today is that French Polynesia’s maritime borders are still officially closed, but we’re told the doors may finally swing open soon — like, possibly this month — thanks to the lobbying efforts of maritime industry advocates. But today, it’s closed to typical cruisers. (*Please also see “Special Entries into French Polynesia” note below.)
Likewise, French Polynesia’s closest neighbors, the Cook Islands and Tonga, are locked down tight, as they have been for more than a year, with no hints of when they might open. These islands served as the traditional stepping stones for boats en route to Fiji, which is now — sort of — open. (The country recently had a COVID surge, which triggered new quarantine regulations.) But Fiji-bound sailors now face a nonstop 1,800 nm passage from Bora Bora, FP, before making landfall at one of three designated ports of entry. A number of international yachts that had been idling in French Polynesia all year have recently jumped off for Fiji; some of these are New Zealand-flagged or have followed the procedure below.
Some megayachts and a small number of cruising yachts have been granted entry to New Zealand, provided that they agree to spend at least 50,000 NZ dollars (roughly $25,000 USD) for marine services in that island nation during their stay. Meanwhile, we’re told that a marine industry group is lobbying the NZ government to open up to yachts more fully by March 2022. We hope they succeed. However, the fact that New Zealand has no vaccination program may make that date unrealistic. Australia is similarly closed with no opening target yet announced. Also New Caledonia: no one in or out.
*“Special Entries into French Polynesia” — As noted above, French Polynesia remains “officially closed” to international yachts. What has added a great deal of misunderstanding to the situation, however, is that during this period, a number of foreign-flag vessels have been granted short stays based on special needs or circumstances, and at least a few have even been granted stays of a previously normal length. Special entry requests are handled by the FP maritime agency DPAM. Applications are reviewed individually, but I am told that all such requests must demonstrate what is termed “imperative need:” special circumstances that deserve special consideration.
Who Joins the Pacific Puddle Jump?
Since its inauguration in 1997, the PPJ has always been promoted as a loosely structured passagemaking event between various points along the West Coast and French Polynesia. It imposes a minimum of rules and requirements on entrants, and is focused on fleet camaraderie and safety. But it is certainly not intended to be a hand-holding event.
Of the hundreds of international sailors who have done the Pacific Puddle Jump, many previously had substantial bluewater experience, including circumnavigations. Some wanted us to know that they were normally fiercely independent, and not the sort who normally join rallies. Yet they signed up anyway to meet like-minded cruisers and be part of what we like to call the ‘annual westward migration’ to Tahiti and her sister islands.
Again, if French Polynesia reopens in the coming weeks, as anticipated, we intend to announce the 2022 Pacific Puddle Jump by midsummer.