Christmas in Tahiti, Again

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Sometimes when there is no traffic, we’ll stop our car on a bridge to soak in the view

It just dawned on me I haven’t written anything here for quite some time. I guess it’s time to rectify this. The real reason this page is a little quiet lately is because we’ve been so darn busy. Let’s begin with the obvious: Hope you had a happy Christmas and we wish you a wonderful new year.

It’s really hard to think of Christmas here on the beautiful island of Tahiti. Today it is sunny, after some morning rain, and 32.2°C (90°F) in the shade. It seems the Tahitians don’t go all out with Christmas decorations like we’ve seen in other countries. They are pretty subdued. Yes, the shopping areas sport a tree as do the churches and parks. The main waterfront street just put the lights on the palms trees about a week before Christmas. Some homes have decorations but this seems the exception rather than the norm.

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The blue tree at a shopping center. The fuzzy reindeer was a hit with young kids. But wait…..

This cracked me up

I have to laugh at the ornaments and Christmas merchandise we see for sale. Most of it features snow and a Santa in his normal North Pole cold-weather getup. I would die here if I had to wear a Santa suit. They even sell snow globes. We’ve seen a few homes decorated with an inflatable snowman. This makes me wonder; how many people here have actually seen snow?

Yes, I realize the connection to France and how some people go off to university there. And, yes I know France has the Pyrenees and Alpine mountain ranges permanently snow-capped so there is a reasonably good chance quite a few people here have seen snow. But there are also many people we’ve met here who have not ventured outside of French Polynesia. Personally, I’d love to see more Santas sporting a flying surfboard pulled by dolphins and Mrs. Claus in a grass skirt and coconut bra doing a dance. Now, there’s a movie waiting to be made. You’re welcome Hollywood.

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Our 2021 tree ornament – We had to really hunt for this. We have ornaments from all over the world on our tree

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Our Martinique Santa hangs about on Cream Puff

How does Santa deliver presents? There are no chimneys here. This is where we can refer to our world-traveler knowledge encyclopedia and reference another French island, Martinique. While in Martinique, we noticed Santa on ropes being sold. We bought one. This is because Martinique also doesn’t have chimneys in homes. Santa arrives on the roof, uses the rope to get down, before doing his breaking and entering thing to get to the tree. My guess is there is a similar spin made here.

Cream Puff was recently hauled out of the water for bottom paint, again. If you are keeping track, you know we just did this earlier this year in May.  Why on earth are we doing this so soon? Isn’t bottom paint supposed to last a couple of years? Well, it’s not something we wanted to do and yes, it is supposed to last a couple of years. But alas, there was a problem.

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Wait for me

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This fish reminds me of blue eyeshadow from the 1970’s

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Cindy spots a sand dollar – Echinarachnius parma. We have found them on beaches many times but never seen one  in the water

Cindy and I were returning from a fun day of snorkeling. Already being in my swim attire, I decided to take a quick look under the boat when we returned to our dock and check the zincs*. We have three zincs, one on each side of the rudder and one on the propeller. I can see the zincs on the rudder since the water in the marina is often very clear. However, the one on the prop is way under the hull.

It doesn’t take a second to jump in and take a quick look-see. Diehard Amelist (Amel Owners) will tell me I don’t need a zinc on the prop. The boat is supplied with a plastic cap for the prop at the time of launch. My feelings are better safe than sorry should we have a stray current. It is much cheaper to buy a zinc than a new prop. This is when I saw we had a paint problem.

I tend to push myself under the boat toward the prop by placing my hand on the underside of the hull. As the prop came into view, I noticed I could see blue paint where my hand was touching. This is not good. When we paint the boat, we use ablative paint. Ablative paints are designed to create a hull coating which ablates (wears off) slowly, exposing a fresh layer of biocides. The biocides prevent all sorts of nasty sea things from attaching and growing on our boat. When we painted the Puffster, we put on three coats of paint in this order: blue, black, black. The idea being when the black ablates and we start to see the blue, we know it’s almost time to paint again. These three coats normally last a minimum of two years. I could see blue paint after just 4 months.

Cindy sent an email to the local yard that did the work. We also purchased the paint from the yard. I like to purchase the paint from the yard specifically in case of an incident like this. Many cruisers try to save a few dollars and, I really mean a few dollars, by buying paint themselves and giving it to the yard to use or perhaps they will apply it themselves. I don’t paint boat bottoms. If you’ve ever painted a ceiling, you already understand why.

If the yard had not supplied the paint, we could potentially have a situation where the yard would be saying, “We applied the paint you gave us correctly, perhaps something was wrong with the paint you gave us. Perhaps you should talk to the store where you purchased it”. But, purchasing the paint from the yard removes all doubts I did anything wrong and stops me from being caught in the middle. The bottom line: the paint is coming off. The fault lies with either the paint company or the yard, and certainly not with us.

The boatyard asked for a video or a few pictures. Good idea. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? I took a short video and some pictures. The quality wasn’t very good but it was enough to clearly see we had a lot of blue areas now. We sent this to our contact at the boatyard. Within just a few minutes, we receive an email that only the most highly-principled of companies would do. It simply stated, we are very sorry you have a problem and we’d like to arrange a time when you can bring your boat back to us and we will repaint it at no cost to you.

If you don’t see the video below, click here.

I have to tell you, although this was the solution I was ultimately seeking, I was extremely impressed the boatyard stepped up so quickly. There was zero hassle. They are really a first-class operation. And, the expense they were about to incur isn’t small-change. In fact, because of the amount, I asked if they had contacted the paint supplier for free replacement paint. The cost of the paint is over US$300 per gallon and we require at least 6 gallons.

After a couple of weeks passed, our contact at the yard said the paint supplier was refusing to make them whole on the paint and wouldn’t provide free replacement product. He told us not to worry, they would still paint the boat for free. I did not think this was fair. At this point, we don’t really know what went wrong. But, we do know it was either the paint that was at fault or the application of the paint. I decided to spend some time talking to the paint company to see if I could help the yard get free replacement product. After all, they stepped up so quickly, it just seemed the right thing to do. Thank goodness we were still in the area. Can you imagine the headache this would be if we had sailed west thousands of miles already?

It took me a couple of days on the internet to find out with whom at International Paint I should converse. It is a Dutch global company with offices all over the place. I started a query on the US website (because it is in English). As you can imagine, this didn’t begin well. I will not bore you with the details, but a few days turned into a couple of weeks and I still had no contact person to discuss our situation. This is when I decided to start copying the CEO of the company on all back and forth email conversations. Unfortunately, one of the things in life I find myself being very good at is being a squeaky wheel. It’s very sad I have needed to hone this skill.

You’d be surprised how quickly things get done when the CEO is involved. Although he never personally wrote back, and nor did I expect him to, I saw lots of other employees or managers suddenly being copied on replies. So, I knew I was making a noise and management was watching the outcome.

I provided the same video to the paint companies representative and in return, I received a ton of questions. I politely suggested he contact his customer (the boatyard) and talk to them, with the CEO copied. After a few days, I received a sincere thank you note from the yard telling me the paint company would be providing them with free paint for the job. This saved them a couple thousand dollars.

Leaving this marina is tricky. Not because it is hard to get in or out. It’s tricky because they have a couple of really stupid rules. One of the rules is you cannot reserve a slip. Slips are on a first-come first-served basis. That’s great if you are arriving since they do not take reservations. You just take the first open slip you see and you can stay for as long as you are willing to pay without fear someone has the slip reserved at some future date. This part makes perfect sense to me.  But, the manager takes this one step further. If you leave your slip for any reason, someone else can take it. This is true even if you have paid for it. I think this is insane.

The marina is still pretty full since there are quite a few boats temporarily abandoned here from people who planned to pass through French Polynesia but got stuck due to countries west of us closing for Covid reasons. The owners flew home and their boat is still docked here. Many are up for sale. Our biggest fear was losing our dock while Cream Puff was being repainted at the yard. We love our spot since we back onto the boardwalk and can watch the activities as people pass up and down the shorefront.

It seems people can get away with leaving for a couple of days. Some will leave a rope tied across or red and white plastic caution tape to indicate to another boater wanting to dock that the slip is occupied. Some others used their dinghy as an indication the slip is occupied. We decided to leave the dinghy locked to a dock cleat since it would be in the way at the yard. We have witnessed firsthand boaters ignoring the red tape and just taking a spot regardless. This of course angers the other boater (who paid for the slip) when they return. The marina management refuses to get involved.

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Hopefully nobody will touch this

I had a spiel all ready just in case we received grief from the marina. I was fully prepared to argue that we paid for a monthly rental of a slip in which we can tie a boat. There’s a boat in the slip. What’s the problem? Luckily we didn’t have to come to blows with the marina staff or another boater. Our dinghy remained chained to the dock in the slip. It stayeds there for 9 days. The haul out was supposed to only take 4 days but we must have picked the rainiest week in the history of Tahiti for the work to be done. This caused us to have a sort of musical chairs with rentals.

As I have mentioned before, we do not stay on the boat when it is out of the water in the boatyard. We consider this extremely unsafe since we know too many people who have fallen off ladders in a yard and suffered serious injuries. For a few dollars, we will rent a small apartment or house while the work is being performed. Our first rental was just a five-minute walk from the yard. This was perfect since I had a couple of projects I wanted to do while the boat was out. The main one being changing a thru-hull valve at the waterline for one of the toilets. I could see the yard falling behind on the work due to rain. We hauled on a Monday and expected to splash back in on Friday. On Thursday, I told Cindy we’ll need another place to live.

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Cindy snaps a pic of Cristiano and Mark being lifted out. Note the wet ground and grey skies – they got soaked on the way to the yard – a sign of things to come

Cindy talked to the yard manager and got another expected splash date – Monday. This quickly changed to Tuesday on Friday afternoon. Since our AirB&B was booked after us, we had to move to another place. Cindy actually found a better and more comfortable apartment just two blocks away. As an added bonus, the unit was not currently booked after us so we thought if we needed to stay longer it would be easy. Ha!

Upon arrival, we discover the apartment very near to our favorite pizza place and is next door to an awesome bakery. If you know me and how much I love bakeries, you know I’m thrilled about this. And besides, my work on the Puffster wasn’t weather sensitive so I was done and just wanted a place to chill. On Monday, we watched it rain as we binged watched some shows on NetFlix while eating pizza. The yard called and said, we will splash on Wednesday. Ha! We are going to be homeless again for one night as our current place is now booked right behind our stay. Oh well!

Again, Cindy gets back online and finds us another apartment for one night. And you’ll never believe this, it’s in the same building located just one floor down. She makes the arrangement and talks to the owner explaining we are already in the same building and just need an extra night. It turns out the owner is very into boating a perfectly understands our dilemma. On Tuesday afternoon, Cindy received an email from the marina ask when we plan to return.

One of our friends in the marina tells us there were some very strong winds associated with the rains over the weekend. A couple of boaters tried to move from the anchorage to the almost full marina. One boater removed a rope blocking someone else’s paid slip and parked there. This causes a ruckus. I don’t know the outcome. Another boater complained to the office about our dinghy taking up space in our slip (for which we had paid).

We splash Cream Puff early Wednesday morning and my friend Cristiano and I are greeted by dolphins as we re-enter the Pape’ete harbor. Cindy has gone ahead of me walking back to the marina to move the dinghy out of the way. We have managed to save our slip for nine days, stayed in three AirB&Bs, and finally have what we hope is a good paint job on the boat.

After Cream Puff settles back into her normal spot, we rent a car to do some provisioning. Our plan was to let things dwindle down prior to the haul out. We can leave the refrigerators running on the Puffster while she’s out of the water because we have enough solar panels for this. We had a little bit of trouble getting a car since tourism here has really picked up. Tahiti is a popular Christmas destination.

We treated ourselves to strawberries as they were on sale. It’s been over 2 years since we’ve enjoyed fresh strawberries because they are so crazy stupid expensive here. We paid US$11 for the 16 oz. carton. This was about half the normal price. The funny thing was the smaller 8 oz. container next to these is US$15. Needless to say, only the larger container is selling. We enjoy strawberries with cream and pound cake for a couple of nights and strawberry pancakes for breakfast. Yum!

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Strawberries are a rarity for us

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Strawberry pancakes – Yum!

We tend to rent the car for about three to five days. One or two days are spent shopping; the remainder is spent having fun and sightseeing. We drive way down to the other side of the island to frequent our favorite restaurant, Tavania. School is out for the holidays so the owners have their young kids in the restaurant. One little girl is very sociable and visits each table to talk to the patrons. She is cute as a button. When she gets to our table, the fact she doesn’t speak English and we don’t understand French doesn’t deter her one iota.

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Visiting a neighbors table

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Tuna, onion, peppers, and tomato kebobs with BBQ sauce – Life is Good

At Tavania, we are so lucky! They tell us we manage to arrive on the last day they’re open. They are closing for four weeks to enjoy the holidays. One of the things I love about island life is the family-owned businesses and the fact they can close to go fishing or take time off at Christmas. Their customers perfectly understand and will be there when they get back.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, there is no tipping in restaurants here. It is not expected and if people do tip it might be considered rude. So in place of a tip to show our gratitude, Cindy gave the staff small Christmas gifts. Words cannot explain how happy this made them. Tahitians have a face that will absolutely light up. And, this gesture by Cindy made their day. Tahitians love to hug and kiss. Sometimes, I think people haven’t seen another for eons because of the way they greet one another. It’s really wonderful.  Hugging strangers is still taboo due to Covid but if it hadn’t have been for Covid fears, no doubt Cindy would have received a big one.

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Sometimes when driving, it’s hard to keep eyes on the road when this is the view

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Tahiti’s Chinese Temple

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The roof detail is very cool

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No photos allowed of the inside – the incense smell from here was enough to keep me out

Speaking of Covid, during the height of the pandemic the President here made a plea for people to stop the hugging and kissing. They didn’t. We laughed as we’d see people pull their masks down to kiss someone else on the cheeks. We also saw people kissing with masks on. I really honestly and truly hope Covid doesn’t force the people here to ever change this. It’s wonderful to see.

Speaking of the President, we went to his palace for our Covid booster shots. In Pape’ete, this is the main vaccination station on weekends. They can easily do three thousand vaccinations on a weekend. There are other smaller sites located throughout the town open on weekdays but we thought it might be cool to see what the locals refer to as the vacineodroma. This is our third shot. With the new Omicron variant, we are seeing a big push here for the boosters from the health department. At the same time, many of the anti-vaxxers are having a change of heart since during the Delta outbreak here almost all the people suffering and dying in the hospital were unvaccinated. The local news and the health department made absolutely certain people knew this. Everyone knows it is just a matter of time before Omicron is here.

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Inside the vacineodroma. Note the fans, plants and even a model of a ship.

All covid vaccinations here are 100% free and the country boasts a fully vaccinated rate over 70% for people 12 and older. The vaccination center was incredibly organized. We arrive about 8 am at the front gate of the palace and the police point to the side entrance just around the corner.  The area is already bustling with activity. As we enter, we are asked if this is for a first shot or a booster.  With a little help from our charades skills, we can communicate this is our 3rd shot. We are given the appropriate form to fill out. The form is in French.

We have to answer some medical questions and use Google Translate to help. A volunteer sees us doing this and comes over to translate for us. He also explains the process and how to proceed. This is a good move on his part since if anyone were going to get lost in the Presidential Palace and venture into off-limit areas, guess who it’d be? Next step, an interview with the Physician.

We have found many of the doctors here speak English, thankfully. Luckily we picked a line where the doctor did speak excellent English. I’m not sure if they all did, there were four lines. After a few quick questions, we move to the next area: the vaccination station.

The nurse has the jab down to a science. By the time I sit in the chair, she’s done. She keeps our vaccination card and we are given a piece of paper with a time written on it. We’re told to go to the observation area and await our allotted time.

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Hanging out in the Observation Area

In the observation area is a huge TV with a clock on it. When the clock shows our time (20 minutes later) we walk to the table by the exit and pick up our now completed vaccination card and we’re good to go. The entire process takes about 35-40 minutes. It would have been less if we spoke the language. We exit the palace grounds onto another side street. On the way out we notice a triage area setup – just in case someone has a bad reaction. I think they strategically placed this on the way out after people had had the shot. It might be a turnoff for someone at the entrance. We head back to the boat wondering if we’ll have any side effects and happy we didn’t need the triage center.

The best part about going to the vacineodroma besides it being kinda fun, our vaccination app was automatically updated. French Polynesia requires people to have the app or proof of vaccination to move between islands. Also, to enter some government buildings and large events also requires proof of vaccination. This can be done one of three ways: the official vaccination card record, a paper with a QR code, or an app that displays the QR code and vaccination history. All of these we received at the exit of the vacineodroma.

The phone app is very cool. It requires Bluetooth to be turned on and looks for other apps on other peoples phones as they pass near you. It also tracks movement via GPS. In the event someone near me is later diagnosed with Covid, I will receive a text informing me I was in close proximity to an infected person and the precautions I should take. People don’t have to carry the app, but I see it as one more barrier against infection and welcome the technology.

We learned something recently from a couple who just returned from Europe to their boat here in French Polynesia. I think the same is true in French Polynesia but for me the coin just dropped and now I understand why. I was wondering why so many pharmacies here had huge amounts of rapid covid self-testing kits. People self-test themselves a lot, an awful lot.

Our European friends explained when they went to go to a family member’s house while in Europe everyone self-tests before the get-together. This often means they might self-test a couple of times a week. This has become common practice in the EU to help protect family members, friends, and especially the fragile people. Now I understand why there are so many tests available here. People care enough about their loved ones to not pass on the virus.

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Do you see the face in the grain of the wood fence? If it started to weep I was ready to call the Pope

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Just in case the Titanic passes by this area



*For the non-boaters: Zinc, being a high voltage conductor, ensures that the current flowing through your boat and the water exits from the zinc anode. The anodes must be connected to the parts that need protection and to the boat’s negative bonding system. The idea is that the zinc is sacrificial and will corrode faster in the event of a stray current.

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