We began 2021 in the best way. This New Years’ day began with an early morning trip to the reef and a snorkel before breakfast. Taking full advantage of the glassy morning waters we hopped into the dinghy about 6:00 am after a couple of blueberry muffins. Some friends recommended a new spot to us and we gave it a try. Such fun.
Just as I was about to roll out of the dinghy, a huge shark passed by. Our dinghy is about 10 feet long and the shark was longer by a couple more feet. As I splash into the water I can’t help but think, I hope the shark has already eaten breakfast. Contrary to mania spread by the movie Jaws and Shark Week on television, almost all sharks will avoid people. This was the case this morning and we didn’t see any more sharks. When we do see sharks near us in the water, they serve as a reminder we just entered a world where we are few notches lower on the food chain.
We spent a couple of hours swimming about the coral heads and exploring the area. The best part of today’s swim was we saw a ton of new to us fish types. The lagoon water is crystal clear and we amble about taking it all in. After which, we returned to the Puffster for omelets. As I said, our new year is off to an excellent start.
Another year of cruising is wrapped up and we once again look back at the highlights for us. It would be very easy to focus on some of the negative aspects of the year but, in all honesty for us, these have been minimal. We’ve spent the bulk of 2020 in French Polynesia. The local government here has done an exceptional job of managing the virus outbreak. We’ve had minimal restrictions. The island remains open to tourism (with some restrictions and requirements). We received word today the first lots of vaccines have arrived and the priority plans for immunization have begun. Again, many good things install for the first part of 2021.
Cindy and I love to look back at the end of the year and relive some of our highlights. Amazingly, we have already forgotten some stuff and our memories are jogged. I view this as one of the perks of aging. For instance, we can watch movies on Netflix that our profile tells us we’ve already seen. But yet, it is new to us.
We have experienced quite a few firsts this year. Having now sailed over 13,200 nautical miles (over 15,190 miles or 24,445 kilometers) we can add crossing an ocean, crossing the equator, and entering the southern hemisphere by boat as recent achievements. We sailed more miles this year on our 29-day trip to French Polynesia than our total miles sailed during the entire year of 2019.
I present to you our highlights in no particular order. I say no order since it would be really easy to rank at least half of these as number one. Other than a few hiccups about covid, our year has been extraordinarily fun and filled with new things. We happened to find ourselves in the right place at the right time with the right paperwork this year.
Crossing an ocean
Our sail from Galapagos to French Polynesia turn out to be longer than planned. This is when the virus became an issue. Our planned trip of 21 days turned into a 29 days journey as we had to change our French Polynesian destination. This amount of time at sea can test the skills of a sailor. Our journey was close to perfect other than the angst of not knowing if we’d be allowed to dock once arriving in French Polynesia. We received an email confirmation from the authorities about 2 ½ weeks into the trip and sighed with relief. We posted a blog entry about things learned when crossing the South Pacific Ocean. I jotted comments down in a notebook while on watch and from the feedback we received some were quite comical. i.e. I wake up tired and go to bed exhausted and Do not attempt to put on shorts or pants without protective headgear. A motorcycle helmet would be very appropriate for this task. Imagine having your feet together and using both hands at once on a rolling floor. You are going to fall over. It is the head that will meet any surrounding hard surface before any other part of the body. Ask me how I know this. You can read the rest of these here. link
Crossing the equator
A huge event for any sailor is crossing the equator. We did this on the way to Galapagos, February 7th at 11;09 pm (EST). Cindy was on watch and woke me up about half an hour ahead. We watched on our navigation monitor as we passed from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere. We captured a screenshot. Before going back to bed, I ran water in the sink to see if it spirals in the opposite direction. We began a new chapter where we are now upside down on the planet’s surface.
One of the better things we did in Galapagos was hiring a private guide. Because of this, we found ourselves off the tourist path and into the countryside. We discovered giant tortoises in their natural environment. Our guide joked how they are happier than the tortoises in the tourism enclosures. And, she was right. They were active. Well, as active as a tortoise gets. If we got too close they would get upset and grunt.
Getting up close to a blue-footed boobie
The sailors of yore referred to boobie birds as boobs or boobies because were easy to catch if they landed on the boat at sea. Easy to catch meant fresh meat for the lucky sailors. On the way to Galapagos, we had a red-footed and brown footed boobie on our bow railing for a few days. They hitched a ride almost all the way to Galapagos and would fly off periodically, I’m assuming to fish. Then they returned to the exact same spot. Proving to be quite territorial about their spot on the railing the returning bird was often greeted with loud squawking by the other.
I couldn’t imagine being in Galapagos and not seeing a blue-footed boobie. I really really really wanted a good picture of the blue-footed bird. It was as high on my list as seeing giant tortoises. I was thrilled when I did spot one and it allowed me to get up close and personal for a picture on top of a cliff edge. Luckily we had a freezer full of meat so, just the picture.
Seals in Galapagos
The seals in Galapagos are pros at sunbathing. They are especially talented in finding a way to get on people’s boats to bask in the hot sun. No matter how hard we tried to keep the seals off Cream Puff, they somehow managed to find a way. There were pros and we were newbies. The seal’s experience outshone our ineptness. Here are some of my favorite pictures of seals.
One of my favorite moments with a seal was when one decided to pose near a Charles Darwin statue. I was clowning around with the stature and put my hat on Chuck. Cindy was taking my picture. We noticed a seal heading over to a bench where it presumably was going to lay and sun itself. It changed its mind and started to come over to the statue. The seals are completely undaunted by humans. They grunt if you try to make them move but this is about the extent of their aggressiveness. Once at the statue, it posed in-between the giant tortoise and marine iguana at the side of Charles Darwin. As Cindy said, the seal was trying to tell us the exhibit failed to include any seals in the sculpture and was therefore ensuring no tourists escaped the island unaware of the seal presence. As if we ever could.
Sunrises and sunsets
With our two longish sails this year we spent a lot of time watching sunrises and sunsets over the ocean. This is usually a solo event because when one of us is on watch, the other is sleeping. Rather than wake the other person to watch, we often snap a picture to save. When we arrive in port, it is amazing how many beautiful sunrises and sunsets are on the camera.
The most memorable was watching a full moon set ahead of us on the western horizon while the sun was peaking above the water on the eastern horizon. In our entire lives, we’ve never seen a moonset and sunrise take place simultaneously. This phenomenon is called a selenelion. A full moon selenelion, such as we saw, is rare. Cindy captured these pictures on her watch. I wonder how often selenelions occur?
Most cruisers will agree the paperwork for Galapagos and an extended stay in French Polynesia can be a bit of a nightmare. Trying to time the French paperwork not knowing the weather windows and approval times for Galapagos is a challenge. Both countries want applications in advance. Both have expiration dates. This means if we got stuck in Panama for weather, and the same thing happened in Galapagos, we could arrive in French Polynesia without a long-stay visa option and our time would be limited to 90-days and not 3 years. Some people are forced to cut a Galapagos trip short in order to make the French Polynesian deadline.
Why not just push the French visa out a bit? They won’t let you. Once issued, you have only so many days to arrive in the country. The visa can only be applied for a certain number of days in advance and must be done in Panama.
Cindy did all of the paperwork and built in extra room for issues in case they arose. We were delayed leaving Panama for about 3 weeks due to the weather. We spent an extra week in Galapagos because we were enjoying ourselves. And, we arrived in French Polynesia with an extra 3 weeks to spare even though we were routed to Tahiti and had to spend an extra week at sea.
Provisioning for 11 months
Leaving Panama, we thought we’d be in Galapagos and then the outer islands of French Polynesia from Jan – Nov. We had always planned to be in Tahiti for cyclone season beginning in November. Cindy planned 11 months of food, paper products, and toiletries. Yes, we can buy some items at our stops along the way but choices in some areas are scarce. Here’s an example of her planning. Cindy figured we’d need 60 cans of powdered milk. She keeps track of all our food consumption. Powdered milk stores well, so why not buy what you need at a discount store in Panama and stow it away. We both like to drink milk. We even found a brand of powdered milk recommended to us by a fellow cruiser that tastes just like real milk when reconstituted. Yum! Guess when we started to run out of milk. Yep. November. How is that for planning?
Why is provisioning a highlight? Well during the global toilet paper shortage of Australia and America, we had tons of the stuff. We figured if we couldn’t land anywhere during the outbreak and country closings, we could always show up in Australia and bribe our way in with a few rolls. Toilet paper on a boat is a bit of an art form. It must be thick enough to be of use but not strong enough it clogs the mechanical marine toilets. So, when we find a brand that works, we stock up. In Panama, we loaded up at Pricesmart (their equivalent of Costco). Guess when we had to buy toilet paper again. Yep, you guessed it, November.
A Side Trip to Mo’orea
If you think Tahiti is beautiful, wait until you see Mo’orea. Mo’orea is where Tahitians go to get away from it all. Located just a few miles northwest, this beautiful heart-shaped island is gorgeous.
We took a vacation from Cream Puff and rented a cottage on Mo’orea. For a few days, the word uttered constantly by us as we explored the island was, wow!
Being in a safe Place for Covid19
Last and certainly not least, we consider ourselves very fortunate the majority of our year was on Tahiti. The government has done a superb job of managing the virus outbreak. We’ve had limited restrictions and active cases have not overwhelmed the medical facilities. We see very level-headed rational decisions being made as the government tries to balance the safety of people and the economic impact.
With the limited restrictions, we’ve been able to get out and explore the island during a time with very few tourists. We did a couple of blog entries where we just posted pictures. Here are some of our favorites from our stay so far on Tahiti.
Our Favorite Picture of 2020
This shot was taken by Cindy as we were out and about armed with our good cameras. She was taking a picture of water lilies when the bee photobombed her. Awesome!
From our home to your home, we wish you a very happy new year. To quote John Lennon, “Let’s hope it’s a good one. Without any fear.”
Location of The Aquarium a popular dive and snorkel site on Tahiti. Where the airplane and two sunken boats are located: 17°33’55.2″S 149°37’38.3″W