Things are getting back to normal on Tahiti. I think I already mentioned in a previous post how on July 15th French Polynesia opened the airports to tourists. The government realizes there needs to be a balancing act between allowing tourists and devastating the local economy which is about 85% service driven dominated by tourism. An estimated 17% of the workforce here is employed directly by tourism companies. I would imagine the indirect number is huge. Approximately US$400 million is generated by tourism and accounts for 11% of the GDP. The majority of the visitors come from North America and Europe. There are, of course, strict guidelines about how people can travel here. The strength and accuracy of the requirements continue to be a hot topic here. The absolute best thing about the airport being open again: we can order and receive stuff by airfreight.
The major airfreight carries (FedEx, DHL, and UPS) do not fly their own planes here. We think DHL might fly their planes here but I am not entirely certain. For most carriers, there is not enough cargo to justify the expense of a company cargo plane. Instead, they contract freight space on commercial passenger airlines or cargo carriers. So when the country closed it borders and airport, all airfreight stopped. Only sea-freight was arriving.
During the time restrictions were in place and the airport closure, fresh food items normally shipped by air all stopped. For a little while, it was impossible to purchases things like fresh mushrooms, bell peppers, or berries. Now that planes are arriving we have more selection in the stores. When shopping in general, we see our choices in stores continue to grow.
You might have heard me say in the past, we shop globally. This is especially true now. Items coming from the USA by air can be a complete disaster. I ordered a boat part from Defender Marine in the USA. UPS picked up the package and promptly shipped it to a warehouse in California. This is where the package sat for 6 weeks! No estimated delivery date or reason for the delay was posted. If you have ever done business with UPS, you already know they do not assist the receiver of the package. The shipper seems to be the only person to whom they respond. And in our case, they couldn’t provide an explanation to Defender. After about 10 emails, Defender agreed to recall the package and gave us full credit.
For boat parts, we use a customs agent on Tahiti. This enables us to import items for the vessel without the normal 20-35% import tax. Since Cream Puff is a vessel in transit, items consumed by the vessel or used in repair are going to leave with the vessel and are technically not imported. As an added benefit, our agent has an affiliation with a sea-freight shipper in Los Angeles, California. Sea-freight, although slower, is about one-tenth the price of air-freight.
After our UPS fiasco, we decided not to use air-freight anymore from the USA. Instead, we took up an offer from Cindy’s parents to help. We ordered about fifty items we needed from various online retailers in the USA. The items shipped to their house where they are isolating themselves due to the rampant virus outbreaks in the USA. I think they were happy to have something to do. A feeling of Christmas was mentioned by them due to all the goodies arriving. We’re more than willing to put them to work. They email us what has arrived and the condition of the items. They will repackage everything and consolidate the multitude of packages into three large boxes. Double boxing everything and wrapping items not waterproof in plastic, they are going to ship the three larger boxes to our sea-freight company in Los Angeles.
The sea-freight company provides a schedule of ships leaving for French Polynesia and the deadlines to make the ship. The boxes are addressed to us C/O (care of) the sea-freight company. When Cindy’s parents ship the boxes using USPS, we provide the sea-freight company the tracking number. Upon arrival, the boxes are loaded into one of those huge cargo ship containers after they are relabeled for shipment to our agent in Tahiti. When the container arrives in Tahiti, our items are cleared in Duty-Free and we pay the agent a fee for their services. Our local agent is only a short walk from us. This method saves us hundreds of dollars in freight.
So what are we buying? Every now and then, Cream Puff stomps her feet and makes demands for new parts. It seems we are going through one of these temper tantrum periods. A part of our long list includes a new VHF radio. Apparently, people being able to hear our transmission is an integral part of the concept of communication. We have also ordered a full set of new sails since we are tired of patching the ones we have. These are custom made in Turkey by Q-Sails and as you can imagine the Q stands for “quite expensive”. Our water maker high-pressure hoses need to be replaced. Cream Puff communicated this to us by leaving a small puddle of water to be found in the engine room. A multi-function display unit for navigation started going wonky. Being able to actually read navigation displays is a good thing. And, the list goes on and on.
In addition to all the stuff we sent to Cindy’s parents, we placed a sizable order with SVB24. If you are a sailor and unaware of SVB24, you need to click on the link right now. And, have your credit card ready. SVB24 has good prices and they ship worldwide with reasonable rates. This order included parts for our toilets. We have an extensive inventory of spare toilet parts but guess which part broke. Yup, the part with no spare in stock. A few of our ropes need replacing; evident by the fact the inner core is visible. Real sailors don’t call ropes ropes. They call them halyards or lines. For some reason, boats don’t have ropes in sailing lingo. Some blocks (the thingamajig with a wheel the rope goes through) have reached their life expectancy finally succumbing to the UV and salt environment that eventually destroys everything manmade.
Why don’t we buy these things here? The answer to this is three-fold: availability, price, and urgency. Many of the items we need are just simply not available on Tahiti. This is one of the frustrations cruising sailors face. Often times, we know the part number and the manufacturer. We can even find it on the internet. But, buying an item locally can be challenging especially when we are unfamiliar with stores and don’t speak the language. If we do find an item, the sticker-shock can be overwhelming. With import duty and sales tax, the retail price can often be two to three times higher than discount on-line retailers in other countries. Paying the air freight can be a wash for the taxes but with sea-freight, the savings for duty-free imports is a no-brainer. Another factor of buying locally versus importing is in regard to the urgency of the part needed.
Prior to COVID, most cruisers used stores in New Zealand and Australia to import parts to the South Pacific islands. But, these countries have yet to open and once again commercial flights are not available to ship freight. I think this is where UPS fell down with our package from Defender Marine. Normally UPS ships from the USA to their New Zealand hub before being routed to Tahiti. Shipping Air-Tahiti from Los Angeles is more expensive for them so they decided not to ship at all and just store it. We are finding items shipping from Europe arrive faster than most other countries thus we now divert our shopping searches to e-tailers there.
Between waiting for our shipment to arrive, we decided to make a change to our cooking set up. We tossed out our microwave. I think I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve used it. It evolved into a bread storage container. The unit is also an older model and runs only off 50 htz power. The newer models run off 50/60 htz. But even with this new feature, we’d still never use it. We just don’t care much for nuked food.
We opted to replace the microwave with a nice toaster over. We looked at ovens recently and made up our mind to take the plunge while talking to some friends when visiting their boat. It didn’t take us long to find one meeting our needs. It’s a very cool model with upper and lower heating and convection for even cooking. The oven can handle our pan in which we make pizza and will be perfect for baking bread.
The icing on the cake for us: the model we wanted was on sale. It was the last one and was the display item. In the store, I flagged down an employee. She didn’t speak English and my French isn’t enough to ask about the box and instructions. A lady standing nearby jumped in to help and translated for us. We then chatted with the interpreter while the employee went off to find the box. I love the Polynesian people. They are so laid back, friendly, and helpful. It turns out she is from Bora Bora and is on Tahiti visiting family.
I installed the new toaster oven using the same base mounts from the old microwave. This gives me the option of bolting the oven to the shelf ensuring it will not try to go flying when at sea. For the short amount of time we’ve had our new toaster oven, it’s now been used more than the microwave was for the past 9 years we’ve owned the Puffster.
At the end of each month, Cindy and I update our budget. This includes looking at all the money we spent for the month. We keep a spreadsheet so we can see what our monetary outgo is by category. Part of our routine is to look at our credit card bill and enter the charges into their appropriate categories on the budget spreadsheet. The line-item Boat Parts is often one of the larger expense categories for the month. This month was larger than normal. When I logged onto our credit card company’s website to view our account and update our spreadsheet, I was surprised our balance was not numerical. It just said, “Ouch!”