Dinghies and Cars

Using our dinghy, we are exploring Tahiti’s best snorkeling spots. If you are thinking about living this lifestyle, the best little golden nugget of wisdom I can offer is get a great dinghy with a reliable motor. I smile as I write the word reliable, more to come on this. When we first started to cruise, we went cheap. This turned out to be a big mistake. Our old dinghy and motor were not dependable and we hesitated to go any great distance. Since those days we’ve upgraded both the dinghy and the motor. This is some of the best money we’ve spent.

So why did I smile about the word reliable? On one of our recent trips we took off to a favorite spot about 5 km away (about 3 miles). We spent a fun few hours floating over the huge reef situated about 1 meter (3.3 ft) under the surface. One meter is a perfect depth. It is deep enough we don’t bump or cut ourselves on the coral and shallow enough to see everything up close and personal. We got our sunburned bodies back into the dinghy and stowed our stuff to ready for the trip back to the marina. The motor wouldn’t start.

I tried for about 30 minutes (seemed like hours) to get the darn thing to fire up. Absolutely nothing. It was obviously a fuel issue but I lacked the appropriate tools to do anything about it. On our older less reliable dinghy I always carried a small tool kit. I needed it on quite a few occasions. I guess I had become complacent with this new motor always starting on the first pull. That is, until this time.  So, I had no tools.

The spot we decided to go to on this day is also a favorite of many locals who come out on their boats, have lunch, and enjoy cooling off in the water. The family next to us watched with interest as I tried to start the motor. Between the pullings of the starter cord, Cindy and I discussed our other options. Could we paddle all the way back into the tide and the wind? Maybe in our younger days we might have been able too but with old age comes wisdom and modesty. We asked the people next to us for some help. They beamed huge smiles. Boaters are always willing to help other boaters.

It turned out two families were together and had two boats anchored off the edge of the reef. And as luck would have it, they spoke perfect English. They put the ladies and kids on one boat and two guys offered to tow us all the way back to the marina with the second boat. The guys were both French and relocated permanently here to Tahiti. And being French, they immediacy recognized Cream Puff as a French manufactured boat. We all agreed the French make darn fine boats. A bond was formed. We thanked them and offered drinks aboard the Puffster. They just laughed and said they were happy to help and they left the wine with the wives. Boaters helping boaters is a worldwide thing.

It didn’t take me long to figure out why the outboard engine refused to start. Within about 10 minutes, I had the carburetor off and found the float inside was sticking and not allowing fuel to flow. It’s such a simple thing to fix if someone has a 10mm wrench and a phillips head screwdriver. Lesson learned: We now have a small tool kit set up for our dinghy excursions.

Reluctantly, Cindy and I went to go buy some parts for the boat. Shopping for boat parts here is difficult for me for two reasons. First, it seems whatever we need is very difficult to find. Regardless of the item, it is difficult. The store is full of things we do not need and has none of the items we do need. This leads us to order from another country and have items shipped here. So many times I find myself looking at an item wondering if I can make it fit. Second, stuff here is expensive. And, I mean expensive! Stupid expensive!

In the USA, I used to often rant about the stupid expensive prices at the boating store chain West Marine and how someone could easily save 30% with just a single Google search. I only shopped at West Marine in dire circumstances. I used a multitude of online e-tailers for my needs. Cindy will attest how a trip to West Marine made me grumpy due to the high prices and lack of inventory. I would most often exit the store empty-handed mumbling something like “I don’t know why I bother coming here”. Now today, I look back and would happily pay West Marine prices.

A boat part here is about two to three times the price of the exact same item in the USA or Europe. A good portion of this is import duty. The duty is largely due to there being no income tax in French Polynesia. In addition, it is entirely possible for a person to own a store, such as one selling boat parts, and make a very good living. This is contrary to most countries that have been taken over by chain-stores slowly eliminating the single-store proprietors. I do like to support small businesses and always have. However, it is hard here to swallow the end price with a reasonable (and sometimes unreasonable) mark up.

Walking to the store, we cross several streets. I am constantly amazed at how courteous the drivers are toward pedestrians. They will stop at crosswalks as a person approaches the crossing. In some countries, we felt we risked our lives when crossing the streets. Colombia and downtown Panama City immediately come to mone. But, not here. We always wave at the driver as we cross to thank them. Most smile and wave back.

I am not a car person. Cars do not turn me on. And, I don’t find them sexy in the slightest. I never have. A mild interest in a few makes and models is about all that exists within me and some tend to stick out more than others. Obviously, something like a Ferrari stands out but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone would want to own one.  Once someone has accumulated enough money in life to buy one they’ve also hit the point in life where getting in and out of a low riding sports car is an obstacle in itself.

I view a car as one of the worst possible investments a person can make. Yes, those that know me know I always look at the bottom line numbers. Let me ask you a question. Would you invest $40,000 in a stock that you knew for certain the price would be worth $10,000 in five years and there was never a chance you could get your money back? I am guessing you’d agree this would be a bad idea. Now, let me ask you another question. Regarding this same stock that you know is going to lose 75% of its value in 5 years, would you borrow money to buy the shares and pay interest?  I would hope not. But, yet this is exactly what people do when they buy and finance cars.

I once read (a very long time ago) most millionaires drive cars that are an average of 4 years old. Their cars are fully paid for at the time of purchase, and they drive them until the wheels fall off. Most buy used cars letting someone else take the largest chunk of the depreciation hit. This is why they are millionaires. They know not to invest in depreciating assets and certainly not to borrow money for such. For those who have known me a long time, this is little golden nugget of financial wisdom should come as no big surprise.

But, and there is always a “but”, what if you find cars sexy and this is what makes you happy? My answer to this is, spend money on the things that make you happy. You only live once and you can’t take the money with you. If you like to drive an ultimate driving machine and this brings joy, go for it. However, if you need a loan to do this, you can’t afford it. This little golden nugget of living happy wisdom was recently confirmed.

Please understand, Tahiti has no highways.  Ninety-nine percent of the roads are two lanes, one in each direction. The speed limits are 40 kph (24 mph) in the towns and villages and 80 kph (48 mph) on the open road.  There is one stretch of divided road with a higher limit but the sheer amount of cars restricts any speeding. For about three miles the speed limit is 110 kph (68 mph). That’s pretty much it.

As with most islands, it is impossible to get lost here. No matter which way you begin to drive, you are going to either hit a dead-end or wind up right back where you started. It is entirely possible to drive the entire perimeter of the island in about 5 hours. Cindy and I have done this a couple of times. We didn’t do it in five hours. It’s because we stop to take pictures, shop, and eat lunch. We rented our last car for 6-days and used ½ a tank of gas over the entire rental period. It’s hard to travel a long distance. Gas is expensive! I was afraid to do the conversion. I still am. The rough, off the top of my head, math tells me it is over US$5.00 per gallon.

If I lived here, my choice of car would be a small to mid-size 4-wheel drive truck or SUV made by a Japanese company. It would, of course, be purchased used and paid in full. This would to me seem like the most practical vehicle for the island. It would allow for some off-road trips and provide comfort on the not so smooth roads. So imagine my surprise today when I saw a Porsche.

This wasn’t any old Porsche, it was a new 911 Carrera 4S. It has a top speed of about 300 kph (185 mph) and will go from 0-100 kph (60 mph) in 3.2 seconds. It had all the whistles and bells. How do I know about this car? I thought about buying one once. The urge lasted about a week and disappeared as quickly as it arrived. It lasted just long enough for me to understand this car retails at about US$180,000 with some of the whistles and bells. Owning a car like this on Tahiti the retail price is just the beginning of the expense. The car has to be freighted to French Polynesia and an import tax levied. Off the top of my head, I think the duty on the car is somewhere between 20-40%. There is no question in my mind the buyer of this rather nice shiny object had to pay in excess of a quarter of a million dollars for the privilege of ownership. You already know what it is I am asking myself. Why?

Why indeed? I have to think the answer is, driving a Porsche makes the person happy. And, if it takes a quarter of a million-dollar car to make them happy and they can afford it, good for them. Is it practical on an island like this? Heck no! I wonder if they ever get out of third gear.

I recently found on Ali-Express (the kinda-sorta like Chinese eBay) a three-wheeler powered Tuk Tuk. What the heck is a Tuk Tuk? It’s is those odd-looking half motor-cycle have car things that are very popular in India. The high-end model retails for about US$4,000. So, let’s compare the two

Number of seats:
Porsche has 2. Tuk Tuk has 3
Includes solar panels:
Porsche – No. Tuk Tuk – Yes
Porsche – High-grade octane expensive polluting fuel. Tuk Tuk is electric
Cost of tires each:
Porsche – Over $400 each. Tuk Tuk – $6.95 on Ali-Express (probably cheaper just to buy a new Tuk Tuk than put new tires on a Porsche)
Driving thrill 0-10:
Porsche – 10. Tuk Tuk – 10 (it’s a death trap).

Doing the math once again, a person could have over 60 Tuk Tuks for the price of the Porsche. Of course, they’d need a garage the size of Jay Leno’s. I imagine if someone bought 60 at one time they’d get a discount. Even with Ali-Express’s low price, there is probably some wiggle room for a shrewd negotiator.

There isn’t just one Porsche on this island. Actually, there are quite a few. Most of them are the SUV type. This leads me to believe there are some very wealthy people living on Tahiti. My guess is one of them owns the boat parts store.





Categories: French Polynesia, Sailing Blog, South Pacific Ocean

Post navigation

Comments are closed.

Proudly powered by WordPress Theme: Adventure Journal by Contexture International.