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Are We Cruisers?

I thought this would be a funny thing to write about because my husband and I often go back and fourth on this topic. Most of the time though, we end up agreeing that - we don’t actually identify as what we think the mainstream understanding of a “cruiser” is, at least not here. To elaborate on this, we have observed that most boats that come through French Polynesia are on the trades-route. Cruising routes often come from the Americas (and beyond, from Europe!), make their ways across the water to French Polynesia, and then continue through Polynesia to New Zealand or Australia, and / or perhaps continue around the world. While here in French Polynesia, I’m sure most boats try to explore as much of these beautiful islands and atolls as they can, living on the hook from port to port, adventuring in new places and knowing there’s a time limit for their stay - or import the boat and go through visa hoops to stay longer. Cruisers are most often “long term visitors” it appears.

When we decided to make the move to French Polynesia, we were sailing here with the intentions of setting up a life. A bit adventurous, I know, but there were so many reasons for it, the biggest being that in some ways - French Polynesia is my home. My father grew up on a small atoll in the North Western part of the Tuamotu Archipelago. Our immediate family has inhabited that atoll probably since the late 1800s, and prior to that came from other islands and atolls in French Polynesia. My husband tells me all the time, “You’re a legit first-generation American on your dad’s side”. I spent many summers here in FP, and lived here briefly when I was 3 and again when I was 20. With those experiences, and the times I spent with family here, I wanted to live in FP someday just to TRY, just to SEE how it could be, and also attempt to build a house on my family’s land. I’m not sure we’ll every be able to afford purchasing a house in America, but I know for a fact that it is possible for us to do down here! When our first child was born, these desires grew exponentially. With Covid just arriving on US shores closing down the world, an odd rise in crime in the place we were currently living in, and of course the ridiculous political climate that was and IS the United States, it just seemed like there was no better time than the then-present to leave for French Polynesia.

At that point, we had been living on our Hudson Force 50 for a little over a year, a small portion of that time had been dedicated to boat projects, another small portion towards the months we were sailing her from Washington, down the coast, and over to Hawaii. The largest portion of that time was us just living- Martin was working and I was taking care of a newborn. When we made up our minds to leave the US for FP, and set our sights on a tentative date-when borders were scheduled to open back up after the initial hardcore lockdown, it seemed like everything “fell into place” more or less.

Now here is where optimism, or naivety maybe, kicked in. We thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to sail here and set up a life. After all, I am practically related to the entire country, I have a French passport/citizenship, so getting my family (and myself) residency shouldn’t be too difficult. We had a small savings as well, so it seemed like a perfect time! The boat was ready-enough to make the crossing…probably not a good way to word it but very much the truth, and we “would easily find work down in FP with our skills in the maritime industry”. I have to say, a lot of this lifestyle neccesitates that one think with some level of adventure and wanderlust, otherwise the boat will never leave port! But at the same time, the mind should always remember how much unforeseen variables can completely F#&^%$ with your plans.

Fast forward a bit; we lost our engine during the passage to Tahiti. The engine was unsalvagable, so we took out a loan and installed a new engine, ONE YEAR LATER. During that time, we blew through our savings and scrounged to make cash here and there, and sell things we didn’t need. I became a yacht broker in FP, but because it takes time to establish oneself, I only closed on one boat, earning a whopping commission of $2500 USD <- this is for those people who think all brokers live on Scrooge McDuck mountains of gold. It wasn’t huge, but it was essential for life. We did what we could, all the while learning how to navigate the new world of French/French Polynesian healthcare, labor, laws, residency, and all other systems. Paperwork is a nightmare here… After living a life in the US where most of one’s paperwork can be done virtually, especially with the rise of distance-working during the pandemic, I was thrown back in time at the French system’s need to do everything on paper, and the several different places I needed to visit in order to get one form done. I can totally understand now why my cousins always complained about paperwork here in FP; the Bueracracy is unbearable.

And work. I’ve tried to work, as best and as much as I can, while also taking care of two young children. Oh yeah, we had another baby while here! That brought it’s own blessings and struggles... And we are still working on Martin’s work permit so he can find a job here. Many family and friends talked about “just working for cash”, but Martin is respectful of the promise he makes every year - not to work - in order to keep his Carte de Sejour (residence permit for familial purposes). Ah, and French. French is a tricky language. I’m grateful that I have been able to get around as well as I have with French, largely due to my years of experience here, and also courses taken in college. But Martin has a very difficult time with French, and that language barrier, along with boat projects and our personal desires to stay aboard often while on the hook just in case we drag and need to re-anchor, all these things have made it difficult for him, for us, to integrate into the community. Also, it hasn’t been two years yet, and we’ve had to move around… Setting down roots takes time…in one place.

So with all my ramblings, are we cruisers? I don’t think we are cruisers, necessarily. We don’t sail all that often, honestly…and when people want to visit us and go day sailing, we cringe at the idea of needing to stow our lives real-quick just to take someone out on a little cruise. We don’t island hop all the time like most cruisers strive for, because we have obligations in certain places at certain times that all residents would normally have, and we have two very young kids which can make it stressful to sail our boat with just my husband and I. ”Get Crew!” one might say, but then we need to handle costs of another one or two adults onboard with us, and hound them on water usage so we don’t blow through 100GA of water too quickly- because we don’t have a big water maker that we use all the time- we have an emergency water maker. Having crew is great, but it also complicates daily excursions, especially when we only have one dinghy.

As I write, it seems like I’m just being a Debby downer, not seeing solutions, just looking at the issues that build up. Sometimes it feels that way, honestly. But don’t get me wrong, we’re always seeking out solutions, always trying to find our way through barriers, and we’re pretty good at it- even when it doesn’t seem that way or feel that way.

Sometimes I wish we were “regular cruisers”, because we’d take complete advantage of this place and all it’s wonders, and then we’d sail onto the next country-> the next adventure. But we’ll continue to try and make a life here, and deal with all the things that come along with that. Our goal is to make roots where we can, establish ourselves in a place where we can grow into our community, where the boys can grow up feeling like “this place is home”. At the same time though, is that possible if we live on a boat? I guess we’ll find out.

And don’t think that it’s all doom and gloom here. We’re so grateful to have spent the time we have here in beautiful French Polynesia. We always feel safe in the community, we’re always surrounded by lush greenerie that feeds the soul, the ocean is always beautiful and inviting, and rarely is it cold. We get to experience wildlife more intimately here, and watch our boys learn and grow in this environment. My heart is full when I can watch my boy run barefoot through a grassy opening between coconut tress and breadfruit tress after wild chickens or land crabs. I love to watch him play freely on the beach, in the sand, and on the trees. People are kind here, and hospitable, and love kids - our kids! Strangers go by auntie and uncle, until they literally become aunties and uncles to our boys. There is so much beauty in life here, and I’m so happy that we made the decision to come - even if it wasn’t the ”perfect time”.

We didn’t end up doing what we initially thought we’d do, due to the engine, and then the pregnancy, and then, and then, and then… But some great lessons we’ve learned and have to remember as we continue through life, are the following:

Flexibility - We’ve been the most bummed when we try to “stick to a plan”, an itinerary, a rigidly set schedule. I’m not saying we live without any kind of schedule, but once we gave up on hard deadlines for certain things, we felt more at peace.

Gratitude for what is - Where ever we happen to be, whomever we happen to be with, we should continue to look for things that we are grateful for. We’re grateful for the beatiful mountains that surround us in Cooks Bay. We’re grateful for the babysitter we met in Moorea, who’s family has fallen in love with our boys and given them a local experience we would never be able to give them. When we’re really low on money, we’re grateful for a meal, a solid boat that homes us, and an anchor that holds. We’re grateful for the friends we have, and the new friends we’ve made. When the project list seems insurmountable, we’re grateful for the projects we HAVE managed to complete - never forget to look back and see what you’ve accomplished!

Community - When we first got here, we tried to spend our time with local family. But boat life doesn’t always parallel well with land life, and land schedules, so there have been times where we keep to ourselves mostly. We didn’t spend much time getting to know other boats because, ”they’ll just leave anyway” which is a ridiculous way to think, but we thought like that... Finally, we just fell into a natural flow, creating a community where ever we go; fellow boaters, family, new friends on shore, and friends online. Build a community, it is essential.

Be kind to oneself - Martin and I have this nasty habit of beating ourselves up if we don’t meet our personal expectations. That’s a no go, wether you live on a boat or not. Be kind.

Take life day by day - Until we have a dependable mooring, or dock the boat again, living on the hook necessitates we live day by day. Our location is largely based on the weather, and if it looks like a storm system will heavily affect our current location, we need to be able to move to a new, more protected location. This makes it difficult to grow roots at the moment, but it is necessary until we can work towards making a mooring where we plan to live long term. And that is okay, that’s life.

That’s my ramblings for the day, of what we are, what we’re doing, and how it’s going. LOL Below is a couple clips of current life.

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