Tag Archives: French Polynesia

Samoa Days by Trent Rigney

South Eastern Coastline of Upolu, Samoa

Samoa was a great place to visit. We visited Apia, capital city on the island of Upolu, the smaller of the two islands. The other island is called Savai’i, a bit like Hawai’i. Samoa used to be called Western Samoa to be different from ‘American Samoa.’ ‘American Samoa’ is an American overseas territory. The people of Samoa voted their country name to be simply ‘Samoa’ when it became it’s own country, independent, no longer a protectorate of New Zealand. In Apia, they have great restaurants and really nice people. The food in Samoa is much cheaper than in Tahiti and the people were always smiling. Not much Wi-Fi in Samoa but they have great surf and exciting new things to do.

There are all kinds of special natural wonders on Upolu all owned by different villages. In order to visit these sites, instead of paying a national park fee, you pay the family or village who owns and maintains the site. We got to visit the Papase’ea Sliding Rocks, the To Sua Ocean Trench, and the Piula Cave Pool.

The Papase’ea Sliding Rocks was mind blowing. We asked locals how to get down to the slides just to make sure we wouldn’t get hurt. There were over a hundred well-maintained stairs to walk down. It was a hot day, so there were already a lot of people visiting the falls and slides. Dad asked a local how to slide down the rock. He went first, then I went, Bryce and mom last. It took some time for her to gather her courage. After awhile having slid a lot, Bryce and I went over to the waterfall. I went under and it felt like I was getting a massage. It was the best natural rock slide I’ve ever slid on. We all had a lot of fun.

To Sua Ocean Trench, Upolu, Samoa

The To Sua Trench was nothing I’ve ever seen before. When I saw it, it looked like a big blue hole in the ground. The sides were covered in vines and plants. It was located next to the ocean with what looked like pretty good surf swell. To get down into the water hole, we walked down some stairs then climbed down a ladder made out of huge trees. You can jump off the ladder at whatever height you want (no rules) then swim into the connecting cave. It was lightly raining, not cold though. Bryce and I jumped and swam to our hearts content in the refreshing fresh water.

View from the cliffside next to To Sua Ocean Trench. Could have been good surf!

Another day we got to swim again in cold, fresh water at Piula Cave Pool located on the north side of the island, also right next to the ocean. When you go deep in the cave where it’s dark, your body turns blue. It might turn blue because the water was super clean, or because the rock ceiling dripped water minerals in the water. It sparkled in the sun. There were two caves and we heard they were connected by a small opening that you could swim through, but the passage was dark and under the water so you would’ve had to hold your breath all the way to the other side. We didn’t have a light and a mask, so we didn’t go.

Piula Cave Pools, Upolu, Samoa

We had a great day visiting ‘The Samoan Cultural Center’ to learn about different aspects of Samoan culture. First, a trio of men danced a Samoan paddle dance.

It was much tamer than Marquesian and Tahitian dancing. It wasn’t a war dance as the three men dancing were all smiling. A woman danced too, but all she seemed to move were her arms, hardly any hip and leg movement.

After the dance, the performers treated us to a kava ceremony and explained, back when they were cannibals, if they didn’t give you a kava ceremony they would eat you. Next up, we walked to see real tattooing in progress. Samoan artists like using their old wooden tools, but in an upgraded style. They used to attach shark teeth on a stick, but now they use stainless steel combs. We got to see them tattooing on two Samoan men. It looked very painful. Every Samoan guy has the same tattoo in the same spot. For Samoan men, it’s their dream to get this tattoo, but if you start and then stop because it’s too painful, you disgrace your family. The session goes for an hour a day for six days.

Lastly, we went to see how you could make clothing and artwork from bark. You cut off a branch from a specific tree, and carefully remove the bark. Then they separate the outside of the bark from the inside layer. After, you get two shells, one that is a little sharp and one that isn’t. After you’re done scrapping the bark, it’s six times the size. They stretch it out with rock as weights and let it dry. They dry it in shade letting the wind and air dry it because the sun dries it too fast.

Samoa has some great surf, but you have to pay to surf. Families own surf sites, which I don’t think is right. You can’t own a part of an ocean! Samoa is a Christian place so you can’t surf on Sundays. There are some surf resorts in Samoa and they pay to get permission from the families to go surfing, but they can only allow 12 people to surf at a time. We went to a resort and made an arrangement to surf on the following Monday morning. The spot was an hour and ½ away from our boat, and we wanted to catch the first boat out leaving early from shore at 6:30 am. So we woke up at 4:30 to drive over to the other side of the island and the surfer guide said we couldn’t go surfing with them. He said it in a really mean and aggressive way. We left and searched for another way to paddle out to the surf later that same day. When we arrived, that surf guide was frustrated we were there.

Internet photo of Salani reef

It’s said that Samoa and Tonga are where all the Polynesians came from and that the islands form a triangle in the Pacific from New Zealand in the west, to Hawaii to the north and Easter Island at the eastern corner and all the French Polynesia islands are in the triangle. Rapa Nui is the island where the performers wear the least amount of clothing when they dance. Performers in French Polynesia and Hawaii wear similar clothing, using grass and leaves, coconut shells and pareos. In New Zealand, dancers wear warmer outfits sometimes with fake animals skins. It’s cold in New Zealand even in summer.I loved the rockslide and the trench. Bryce and I had a great day surfing the Salani reef. I loved how Samoa, being next to ‘America Samoa,’ had my favorite chips that we’ve not found anywhere else: Spicy Hot Cheetos. We were going to tour Savai’i but immigration would only let us check out from Apia and dad didn’t want to sail back against the wind. After just one week only, we left to Fiji.

Surfing, Camping, Islet, Friends

The Motu at Raiatea

Gotta see Video: Motu surf camping

“Yo, Bryce, wanna come? We’re spending a night on the motu,” says my best friend in Raiatea, Nari. Motu is the Tahitian word for islet inside or along the reef. Nari is a young man, three years older than me, who extended his friendship at a time when I had felt abandoned by my previous group of wave-faring comrades. Together with Nari and a couple of other surfers, we would take a boat to surf along the reef’s passes. My immediate response was “Yes!” hoping there wouldn’t be the rain and 25-knot winds like our last campout attempt. After school, I ran back to tell my parents the plan and to start packing for the next two days. First, I packed a hammock to sleep-in and a rain jacket, just in case this experience played out similar to the last. I also packed two extra pair of underwear, one pair of board shorts, one extra shirt, and a thin sheet in the form of a sleeping bag that would keep off the hundreds of mosquitos that would most certainly try to make a buffet out of me. Completing my packing was my surfboard, of course, my machete & sheath, and a 1.5-liter bottle of water. Nari had asked if I could bake a cake like I had before, to serve as breakfast before the morning surf. Hurriedly, my mother and I baked a 5 x 8-inch chocolate cake.

Waiting for Nari to pick me up.

Around 17h30 (5:30pm) Nari showed up in his boat, the one we would use to go surfing as you can only reach the passes by boat. As I loaded my things into his boat, I handed Nari a thousand Polynesian francs or US$10 to help pay for gas. Filling up the tank at the gas station, we came across a few of the other kids who would be camping with us that night. They also needed to purchase gas before heading out. Our outboard full of gas, we headed south from Uturoa to the motu and our hope for surfing adventure.

At the start of our voyage, Nari steered the boat outside the reef to engage in a little bit of fishing along the way. I was handed the fishing pole so that he could steer the boat as close to the breaking waves as possible. After ten minutes, I yelled, “I caught something, I caught something!” As I reeled in the line, I sensed a bit of pride knowing I hadn’t let down Nari, an expert fisherman. Nari steered the boat away from the reef as I brought the jackfish, the size of my forearm, inside. “Hey, Bryce, do you think you could steer the boat so that this time I could cast the line?” asked Nari. With that I took the tiller and copied him as best I could, staying close to the waves like he had. Twenty minutes passed with no success (I had been reluctant to direct the boat as close to the reef as Nari had). As we approached the entrance to our destination, Nari reeled in his empty hook and I caught sight of our fellow campers out in the water already surfing. Once ready, Nari said, “Throw the anchor!” When the hook grabbed, we threw off our shirts, snatched up our boards and paddled out towards our friends. While greeting all the local surfers, I watched for the sweet spot, where I would set myself up.

That afternoon, we stayed out until we could no longer see. One by one, trickling away, the various boats hoisted their anchors and headed back home, or in our case right next door to our motu campsite. From the surf, we saw hoards of boats gathered along the white sand beach of the motu. Finding our group, we stationed the boat and tied the painter around a tree. Afterwards, I unpacked my things from the boat and searched for a spot to set-up camp for the next two days. Because of all the pretty distractions that had just finished their evening swims, it took me a while to find a spot. I settled in the middle of two trees behind the fireplace, attaching my hammock to a coconut-less coconut tree and a chestnut tree (didn’t need the possible headache). That night all the kids circled around the fire to talk, listen to music, drink, smoke, and to barbecue whatever food it was they had brought to share for the night. Nari was the main chef that night, cooking breadfruit, sausage, rice, and potato gratin. It was practically an all-you-could-eat buffet surrounded by friends!

The best surfer in our group, Heremanu, who I looked up to, was the only one besides me not to drink or smoke. I was glad that it was with someone like him that I could relate, and appreciated him more for it. As the moon rose higher in the sky, our fires burned lower. Nari knowing that I was the earliest bird in the group whispered, “Hey, Bryce, I know that you’re going to be the first to wake up. Can you wake me up early in the morning so we can be the first to go surf…. and gorge on your cake? Don’t tell anyone else about the cake. All right?”

My normal routine was to go to bed early and wake up early, so I hit the sack at 21h00 (9:00pm) for a good night’s sleep. As instructed by my dad, I positioned myself at a 20-degree angle in the hammock. I slept well through the night, and with the luck of no rain or falling coconuts, I arose with the early morning light. As I walked around, I heard the wrestling of giant ground crabs, tupas, running back to holes they had dug for themselves for shelter. That morning, despite the fact that they had gone to bed at 3:00 am, Nari and Heremanu woke up on their own. A few of the other kids had also woken up eager to go surfing as well. Being that my friends were all Polynesian, the three of us were obliged to share the cake and to bring them along surfing.

Before leaving, we all headed to the beach to examine the morning’s surf conditions.

Morning’s sunrise view from the motu

At the last minute, Vaimiti, the fourth musketeer in our group, awoke to join the surf excursion. With surfboards, wax, and friends all loaded inside Nari’s boat, we took off. Heading to the pass we saw another boat arriving at the same time as us. Vaimiti anchored the boat in a stable position. Given the okay to go, I hopped in the water and paddled out looking for the day’s sweet spot. There was only enough light out in the sky to see my own hand, yet the others as well started to paddle out. As the first set started to roll in, I placed myself in the right spot to catch the wave. Once the wave started to lift and carry my board, I stopped paddling and popped up to my feet, surfing the dark, glassy figure of the wave. For two hours, we were a group of seven, surfing a 40-second left, reef-barreling wave in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. Towards the end of our morning session, a group of 14 body-boarders showed up to crowd the occasional seven-wave sets. After three hours of great surfing, we returned back to the motu for some much needed lunch. This way, we could eat, regain energy, and wait out the crowded surf spot.

All the girlfriends clad in bikinis had come out to play volleyball and petanque (like bocce ball) on the white sand beach of the motu. I unfortunately was one of the few fellows left to keep his hands in his pants. For lunch, Nari and I reignited the fire to boil rice and to heat up a few cans of corned beef. While waiting for the food to cook, we joined in on the beach activities. After a few games of bocce ball, the scent of food led all the famished clan into a huddle. The music and the plates came out as we dug into the huge portion of mixed rice and corned beef hash. Not a grain was left in the bowl.

Our group of four musketeers, anxious to head back to surf, walked over to the beach to scout out the new afternoon conditions. Seeing as the waves had grown in height, the four of us headed to the boat with haste for another session. Approaching the pass, we watched six foot linear barrels being surfed. We quickly anchored the boat amongst five other boats and flew into the water. It was the best day of surfing I have ever had. The waves were perfect. In a single wave, one could maneuver three carves and shoot out of a hollow tube big enough to stand in. I had only ever dreamed of waves like these. It was truly a gift to be surfing these perfect waves with my awesome friends!

Conversely, wiping out on one of these perfect waves would land you cuts from the sharp coral reef just below the surf. Respectfully, GoPro photography was forbidden. The locals do not want their home waves to be overtaken by professional surfers from around the globe.

With the swell picking up, two of our party too frightened to continue, caught a boat ride back to the motu. That left 8 of us who continued to surf the waves of our lives, including the ‘early bird’ guy from the boat that had arrived before us that morning. I watched my friends as they surfed, shooting out from being fully covered in clear blue tubes and carving up and down those perfect lines with grace.

Bryce rigney surfing a clear blue tube.

It was the happiest day of my life that I could remember. To be experiencing my Polynesian dream amongst good people was truly awesome. We continued to surf until rashes, jellyfish stings, sunburns, burning muscles, and reef cuts covered our whole bodies. After four hours of doing what we eat, sleep, talk and dream about, we returned back to the motu to find some more food . . . Hungry!

With all our energy left in the pass, making our way to the motu’s luxurious fresh water spigot came with great difficulty. We rinsed our things and ourselves then brought the boat back to the campsite to tie it off. De-energized, dehydrated, reef cut, and starved, we looked like a bunch of bedraggled kids who had just returned from being exiled in the desert. Immediately upon arriving back in camp, we scavenged potable water to drink and snacks to satisfy our needs. With our stomachs satiated, we hit the sack to nap and ready ourselves for the day’s evening surf; yes, morning, noon, AND night! After an hours worth of rest, us four musketeers were ready to go back to the pass, cut, burnt, and all. At around 16h (4:00pm) the boat departed full of newly waxed surfboards and brow beaten Tahitians. The local crowd, including our loyal ‘early bird’ friend, was still there. They were shredding what was now a 4-foot barreling line. Though the afternoon swell had died down, so had the wind. We caught wave after wave, landing ourselves more reef cuts, stings, and rashes. Nothing stopped us from our love for surfing. As the light dimmed so did the band of surfers who needed to get across the lagoon to their main island homes before dark. The few to prevail included us and the ‘early bird,’ who seemed to know everything about his home pass. We couldn’t get enough, the swell and conditions were too great to pass up. Though as the time passed, the sun and the light descended to hide behind the mountain. Too dark to read the waves any longer, we left the pass and headed back to camp, having added two more great hours of surf that day. Being as the conditions were too good to pass up, a few of us decided to stay for an extra night on the motu. Our only problem was the food rations.

The remaining group of ten walked over to the showers to rinse our salty dry skin.

The remaining group of kids.

Dinner was breadfruit and rice mixed with the fish I had caught with Nari on the way over. Again, the alcohol and weed came out for the ones who wanted it. With my good friend Heremanu being one of the kids to have taken off, I was the only ‘good’ boy left. Towards 20h00 (8:00pm), dinner was ready. Being hungry surfers, we ate like champions, going back for seconds and thirds. I kept to my same schedule, going to bed right after dinner. Even after the nine hours of surf, the others stayed up late till one in the morning, talking and being teenagers.

That morning, lucky to have slept well through a second clear, starry night without rain and deadly coconut droppings, I was awoken by Vaimiti. He had the bright idea to wake everybody up an hour early for no apparent reason. So being awake, we pre-packed our things into the boat, ate breakfast, and waited for the sun to come up. We couldn’t help but walk over to the lookout spot a few times, anxious to see what the day’s conditions might be. After thirty minutes of waiting, a speck of light glimmered over the horizon, giving us a peek at what our waves were going to be. Our guesstimate was 4-foot. And with that, we motored off.

Again the six of us guided the boat through the exit of the motu coral reef and out to the breakwater. Ten minutes later we dropped anchor and jumped into the rolling waves. I was the first to start out and swam away from the boat to relieve myself of a full two days holding tank. Swimming as fast as I could away from my fish food, I saw two more boats arriving to profit from the perfect waves. In one boat was a group of three older guys who could hold their own, and in the other, our good friend ‘early bird’ who came with nothing but his surfboard, machete, and spear gun.

With the tardiness of the others, I had gone ahead and caught the first wave of the day. As the surfers came together, we exchanged friendly greetings, bantering about our hopes for the day’s conditions. Later in the morning, more and more people appeared including a group of ten to sum up 20 and counting. I had never seen so many people in a given Raiatea surf spot. It was as if all the known island surfers had gotten wind of the day before, and all decided to come to the pass.

Becoming more and more crowded, it felt as if the sets were an eternity away; more and more people started to snake one another. Eventually, I made my way to the top of the line where the three older dudes tended to remain stationed. I watched as one of the three started to loose his energy, no longer able to easily catch the waves he paddled for. A set of waves rolled in and being first in line, I began to paddle for the first wave of the set, thinking normally people like to wait for the bigger waves behind. While paddling for the wave, I saw the fatigued older man cutting to the inside to try and catch the same wave. I continued paddling thinking that the man would be overtaken by the wave, like all the other times, but this time he seemed exceptionally ferocious and determined to catch it. Paddling head to head, I felt the wave lift me up and I popped up on my board. I saw the man giving all his might to catch the wave. He stood to his feet finding balance and pointed the nose of his board to the left down the line. But I had already caught it! I looked back at him with an expression like “What are you doing…I was on it first!” but he kept going. With the wave starting to close, I left the line disappointed, while the water pushed the man further down the reef. As he left the wave, he looked enraged by the fact that I had not relinquished the wave to him. On top of it, because that wave had been the first of the set, he had to deal with the next few crashing waves. I paddled back out with all eyes on me as I heard the enraged Tahitian spitting insults as loud as he could.

I didn’t know what I had done wrong. Normally, in California, that should have been my wave. I had started paddling for the wave before him, and I had caught the wave before him. Yet I could still hear him bellowing things like “bastard…stupid kid…idiot, etc.” The other older men, with whom I had previously surfed, turned their backs on me with a sense of contempt. Others started to say, “Kid, you need to get out of here. That guy’s gonna come over and start wailing on you…you really need to leave!” A few others came over offering me support and comfort saying, “Don’t worry, you did nothing wrong. Just wait a few and then go apologize.” So I did. After a few minutes, I started my approach, cautiously paddling closer to him, knowing any second he could just start raging on me. My friends; including, Nari, Vaimiti, Antoine, and a friend’s dad, John, came along to cover my back should things go sour. As I got closer to the guy, adrenaline surged over me. Within six feet, I stopped to sit up on my board and began apologizing.

He turned around and started with, “I know who you are, Bryce. My friends told me about you. They told me you were a disrespectful American who snaked and cut in line whenever you were surfing.” Then he cussed some more before continuing. “Bryce, you need to start being more respectful with us elders.” A bit more cussing, he approached until he was approximately a foot away then said: “But it’s not just you, it’s all of you arrogant little boys who don’t give a rats ass about how you surf and disrespect those of us who are older.” Then he started to say crazy things like how he and his people had formed the passes and how the elders should have priority out in the water. He continued to go on for a while about respect and how things needed to change. Since half of what he was saying was in Tahitian and the other half in French, I was having a hard time understanding. But after about ten minutes of him lecturing and humiliating me for what I didn’t realize was a disrespectful action, he calmed down. I repeated that I was sorry once more and that was the end of that.

I thanked my friends for having my back, then paddled back into the sweet spot with the other 20 surfers who had been gossiping about what had passed. An hour later, we caught our last waves for the morning before pulling anchor. Cautiously guiding the boat through the motu coral heads, we made our way back to the fresh water spigot to rinse. Following our now familiar routine of tying up the boat, we rummaged to find whatever food was left over to eat for lunch.

Heremanu: guy holding the camera
Nari: super buff guy sitting down
Vaimiti: guy in the back with machete

Now we were only three, as the other two surfers with us were picked up to return home. Since breadfruit takes a while to cook, we stoked up the fire, setting a timer for an hour nap. Awoken just in time to pull out the cooked breadfruit, we heated the beans on the dying fire while the charred breadfruit cooled enough to remove the skin. The other surfers left behind three baguettes. Once Nari and Vaimiti had skinned the warm breadfruit, we jumbled the baked beans and breadfruit together into the bread to make a breadfruit/bean sandwich of sorts…a tasty and filling last meal on the motu.

Since the music had gone home with the others, we chatted about how incredible our last couple of days had been, and how we were going to miss each other when I left on Kandu to continue my family’s world voyage.

Enjoying our last bites, we prepared our departure from the motu. Once I was done stuffing away my single person hammock and personal junk, I offered to help Nari and Vaimiti put away the 14-person tent. Together with a bit of punching, kicking and shoving, we got the tent into its small bag, the size of a small car wheel. We then tossed our things into the boat praying they would stay dry, grabbed the remaining trash bags, and pushed off the motu for the last time. Knowing it was going to be the last time I would experience anything like this again soon, I felt a sadness pass over me as I said goodbye to the motu. Yet our day wasn’t over as we still had one last afternoon surf session to relish. Hastily anchoring the boat next to Heremanu’s family boat, in my excitement, I jumped out first to greet Heremanu and his dad, who is the best surfer I’ve ever had the pleasure to surf with.

That afternoon’s current was entering the pass, pushing us away from the line-up and making it hard to paddle out. I examined the waves finding that they were 7-foot tall and made a little messy by the 10 knots of on-shore wind. The nine surfers caught huge outsides and enjoyed being out in the water, laughing with and at each other – sharing only smiles. After an hour, Vaimiti broke his board, so he and I paddled to the boat to catch a break. We grabbed some fins and snorkels to head back out to watch the action under water. Vaimiti and I pretended to spear huge parrotfish that were gorging on the sharp coral reef. When we reached the sweet spot, we watched through the clear water the surfers catch drop-in barrels and carve up the waves above. The sight under water was as mesmerizing as it was on top of the wave.

We swam around the surf point for half an hour before getting bored and returning to the boat. I pulled my board back out. As I paddled over, Nari shouted, “Just a few more minutes!” I decided to make the best of it – to catch the biggest outside in the set. I positioned myself alongside Heremanu’s dad and watched as the other surfers caught the smaller waves. Then, the time for waiting was over as a big set rolled in. Though the first few waves in the set were good size, we continued to stall on the outside in hopes of a bigger wave.

The moment came when the momma wave peaked. Both of us started to paddle. I looked at the surfing legend before me, (Heremanu’s dad) and asked permission to take his rightful wave. He looked over and responded, “Yeah, it’s yours.” With that I was off, digging deep with each stroke to catch the sizeable six-foot wave rising behind me. “Go, go, go, go, go, Bryce. It’s all yours!” yelled Nari, Vaimiti, and Heremanu. Once I felt the lift, I popped to me feet and readied myself for a tuck n’ barrel. As the lip of the wave fell over me, baby blue water and a slim hole at the end was all I saw as I rode Fa’aroa’s glassy tube. I rode inside for a magical three slow seconds before I shot out of the tube and paddled back to the boat. My friends caught their last waves and also paddled back to brag about each other’s waves. Before picking up anchor, we quietly sat and watched the beautiful curling waves for a good ten minutes, then the three of us motored back to our homes to recount our weekend’s stories. I hope never to forget those three days spent camping in French Polynesia, off the island of Raiatea, on the motu  with all my Polynesian friends!  Bryce Rigney

View from under the water

Daily Logs: Maupiha’a and Mr. Toad

Daily Log Notes & Observations by Leslie Rigney

Mipaha’a lagoon

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 – Back on the blue. We had an exceptional time in Maupiha’a (Mopelia). The dinner we shared with Norma and Harris was absolutely delicious. It started out with a home-brewed aperitif made from leavening, water and lychee fruit, aged over three months. Incredibly tasty! We should have gotten the recipe! We then enjoyed a coconut palm heart salad, seasoned rice with home grown green beans and as much lobster and coconut crab as we could eat, perfectly cooked and seasoned. The coconut crab was my favorite as I had never seen or experienced it before. Then dessert was a delicious fruit salad of papaya, banana, and coconut shavings served with chocolate cake that we brought.

Coconut crab served for dinner.

The boys opted out of the cake if you can believe it, because they had previously set-up their tent and bedding for a campout on coconut crab motu. With the setting sun, they needed to zoom away before they could no longer see the coral obstacles! We didn’t hear from them again until morning, but we worried terribly, as a nasty storm blew in just after Eric and I returned back to the boat after dinner, rocking the boat violently all night long.

Here is Bryce’s recount of that crazy night: “Trent and I set-up our tent and bedding while there was plenty of sun before dinner. We returned to the crab-inhabited motu after dinner at sundown with the dinghy. We made sure to tie securely the dinghy to a tree in order not to lose it or we would have in BIG trouble. From the beach, we walked back to the tent on our way collecting firewood as there were dead trees everywhere. I used the skills that I had learned while camping with friends in Raiatea: how to collect palm fronds and turn them into bundles of fire starting material. With dry leaves collected from under a big tree and piled over rocks made into a hill, unlike in survivor, I started the fire with a bic. Then we added sticks and palm fronds over that. Once ignited, it burned hot. I turned on my little boombox to calm our nerves about the possible invasion of crabs that we had been warned about during dinner…we were a tad bit nervous. We looked for more firewood to last the night and prayed that it wouldn’t rain. As Trent was collecting firewood, I heard, “Oh my God!” coming from Trent’s direction. “Bryce, Bryce, LOOK, there’s one of those crabs!” The body was the size of a man’s hand lengthwise. It was dark blue in color – they only turn red when they’re cooked. The legs made it look enormous. So I grabbed my machete and forcibly pushed it away as a warning so it wouldn’t come nearer to our camp. The crab was not aggressive, just curious. He quickly scuttled away. We saw three of them in total, but after we scared the first one away, the others didn’t approach. I think we were camped close to the first crab’s nest. It became very dark, so we scrambled inside the tent to play cribbage. We started to fall asleep, when we heard sprinkling rain. Trent said, “Gee, I hope our tent is waterproof!?!” Then it started to rain harder. We felt a couple drips, but thought, “Oh, we’ll be fine.” A little later, we spread out our feet and felt water. Water had started to pour into the side of our tent. Thank goodness Mom had the idea to bring mats to sleep on. As it was we were getting soaked. Then the wind picked up and it started to rain harder. The top of our tent, even covered with a fly, dripped constantly. At about 2 in the morning, we thought about going back since the rain had stopped, but then it started raining in force again. We slept poorly, wet and cold, huddled together soaked on our somewhat dry mats. Of course, our fire was drenched. Up at sunrise, we quickly packed-up and returned to Kandu. Mom and Dad were relieved to see us and the dinghy in tact! Evidently they had worried about us all night long.”

The next morning, due to not getting quality sleep, the boys slept on the boat while Norma and Harris took Eric and me on a ride in their four wheeler to the other end of the atoll. The men rode in the front cab while Norma and I enjoyed a pleasant outdoor air ride in the back lounging on a wooden loveseat. At the end of the driveable atoll, we met a couple that hailed from a family that had lived on the atoll the longest. Along with harvesting copra, they raised pigs. Their living quarters were simple, yet tidy. The 4 pigs were all females and babies; the males had already been harvested. Fresh off the tree drinking coconuts were offered all around…what incredible hospitality.

Norma, Harris and their lovely friends.

Making our back to chez Norma and Harris, Harris stopped off to determine a good small palm tree to harvest for eating. It was amazing how he chopped down and then stripped the outer bark to expose the soft inner whites of the interior…palm heart. The palm heart Harris offered us was enormous, the size of a T-Rex bone. It tasted sweet with a delicate flavor of coconut, bien sur!


5/10/2017 10 pm

Leaving Maupiha’a lagoon in the late morning, we were on our way to Apia, Samoa. It’s a solid portside broad reach – our main sail, fluorescent orange staysail, and genoa are flying. The two larger sails, main and genoa, are reefed to maximize power but minimize heeling over, thus increasing our balance. Due to the large swell, it’s a ‘Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.’ Trent was nervous to perform the first watch, but armed with his new book, he faired well. No rain, but nevertheless wet due to ocean spray into the windward side cockpit. All hatches and port-lights are locked down tight. The swell is large and pushes us over regularly. Everything is rattling.

5/11/2017 6:00 am. Exhausted, Bryce woke me early. Rough night. Eric was up a several times. The wind got stronger during the night. They had to furl in the genoa.

5/11/2017 11:30 pm. Not much has changed. Still wild though I dared to make pancakes this morning and pasta spaghetti for dinner….no easy feat when the pots want to come tumbling off the already gimbling stove. Had a few spills making the sauce. Bryce made Capuccino this morning and spilled the entire quantity. In reaction, he threw a spoon. When I spill something due to an aggressive wave, the expletives are many!

Water water everywhere, not a drop to drink!

Bora to Maupiti to Maupiha’a: 130 nautical miles

Daily Log Notes & Observations by Leslie and Eric

Good friend Bowman Puahio from Bora took the boys spear fishing & scurfing of a jet ski!! Woohoo!

5-5-2017 Friday

We cleared Bora Bora Customs & Immigration after a bit of a run around from the local gendarme (a newby officer misdirected us on several accounts) by 10:30 am and departed Vaitare at 11h30 for a 17h00 arrival in Maupiti. The passage was straightforward yet enlivened at the end while heading through the Maupiti reef pass. It was like ‘Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride’ motoring through the deep but somewhat narrow pass into the lagoon. Trent and Bryce and I were all posted on deck to watch for coral heads while Eric maintained as straight a motor forward as possible.

Maupiti Island, French Polynesia.

We rode in on the substantial swell at a 6.5 knot over-the-water clip with a 3 knot exiting tide, giving us 3.5 knots of forward way, plenty to steer by. The conjunction of swell and exiting current made for a tumultuous yet thrilling entry. Sometimes Kandu rowdily slid left or right, even under Eric’s steady hand. We were all exhilarated and relieved to have passed successfully into the lagoon, to easily navigate through the lagoons’ large coral heads and to find an empty mooring. Once settled, fellow cruiser comrades Walter and Meryl from s/v Flying Cloud (first met them in Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquesas) dinghied over to share some refreshments. It was great to discover they were in Maupiti and to catch-up on their latest adventures.

Trent Rigney proud of his part in the Bora Bora spearfishing catch.

While preparing Bryce & Trent’s spearfishing catch from Bora for dinner, the boys and I played a few rounds of our new favorite game, Cribbage, taught to us by Ron and Michele while Eric borrowed Flying Cloud’s dinghy to head ashore in order to meet up with contacts for whom the next day we would be transporting items and mail to atoll Maupiha’a aka Mopelia by French sailors. We slept comfortably in the calm lagoon. Leslie

Maupiti island with s/v Flying Cloud in the distance as seen from Kandu.

5-6-2017 22h00 Maupiti to Maupiha’a (Mopelia)

First night-watch since what seems to be forever. It’s clear out with more than a ¾ moon illuminating the clouds and rolling dark sea. We have the genoa out, but probably only gaining a knot of speed as we’ve got the engine running. Engine sounds normal. Kandu fairs well, but it is pretty rocky and rolly since there’s no wind. Yet we are blessed with light swell and no rain. We have our cockpit canopy up which during the day provides much needed protection from the blazing sun. Hard to believe we’re on the road again after so much time being stationary. I’m not yet adapted to the constant movement. My stomach is a bit off. Leslie

Eric Rigney sending Delorme satellite texts while enjoying the open cockpit air.

5-7-2017 Sunday 2h40 am

Nice motorsail. 5+ knots making good time. Nice stop at Maupiti. Swam with 2 mantas at their cleaning station near pass: beautiful majestic creatures. Picked up supplies for Mopelia families. Had ice cream and spent the last of our French Polynesia money on souvenirs and gifts. Shopkeeper gifted Leslie earrings and a matching purple pencil urchin bracelet!

Ice Cream store/Souvenir shop where Maupiti locals naturally congregate.

Bought our last baguettes for awhile and eggs too. In the center of the very small town, young boys hailed Bryce from Lycee d’Uturoa. (Those boys were home from the high school’s boarding school for the weekend.) Enjoyed visiting with Flying Cloud. Borrowed their dinghy. French elections yesterday. Interesting to see how the small community was buzzing with energy as a result of the elections. Excited to motor through Mopelia’s extremely narrow pass and to meet the families. It’s a Fr. Polynesia site I’ve never visited. Due to our connections, we may just get to gorge on some of their local lobster and coconut crab. We’ll see. Eric

Bryce Rigney, the eyes of Kandu.

5-8-2017 Monday

Motored safely through the narrow Maupiha’a pass with Bryce up the mast at the first spreader to direct us around coral heads. Anchored at 10h00 am quite a distance from the shore to avoid the large coral heads. Due to storms or squalls, shifting winds could blow the boat in any direction dragging our chain and possibly wrapping it around coral heads. Later bringing up anchor tends to be tricky. Right away, a local fishing panga motored over to us by two young women. They had been eagerly anticipating our arrival us being laden with their packages sent from their Maupiti families. Cordiality extended on both sides, we unloaded their things onto their boat brimming over with smiles, happy to have been of service.

Goodies that Kandu offered to each of the two families knowing they rarely get supplies.

They invited us to dinner that evening in thanks. Shortly thereafter, a darling couple, Norma and Harris, motored over to greet and thank us for transporting their belongings. Offering us lunch of island delicacies: seafood coconut cucumber salad and steamed whole fish, they were excited to get to know us and asked us to join them for dinner the following evening also mentioning that they’d like to take us on a 4×4 tour of the atoll. Wow! Trent took one trial bite of the seasnail salad saying, “That’s interesting…” Eric, Bryce and I found it to have a delicious taste with an intriguing texture. Leslie

Norma and Harris from Maupiha’a.
Maupiha’a Coconut crab captured and cooked – ready to eat.

Leslie’s Letters : Stones and Modems

May 2, 2017

Mom and Dad –
Happy 78th Birthday this Friday Dad! Happy Mother’s Day on the 14th Mom!
We are always thinking of you!

Ron & Rosie Dennis at San Xavier Mission in Tucson

Such a lovely photo of the two of you at the San Xavier Mission in Tucson. I also am astonished to see photos of you riding on donkeys. Wow, full of surprises you are. That’s great! So glad you’re out doing it: traveling and living life to the fullest. Whoohooo!

Ron and Michele left yesterday for Bora Bora by plane. We were sad and frustrated to see them go as we had planned to sail with them to Bora and then to Maupiti.

Kandu captain and crew saying goodbye to Ron and Michele Bruchet

We have been slowed down due to two things: Eric was troubled by a kidney stone and we had a radio problem that we thought was going to be fixed by some parts brought in by another friend, but after three days of messing with it, the pactor modem seems to be broken, unfixable here.

Eric’s kidney stone started giving him trouble on Friday morning when we were leaving the Miri Miri surf site after spending 2 days sailing around Taha’a. He took 800 mgs of Ibuprofen around 9:00 am to reduce swelling and just after he took another 800 mgs of ibuprofen around noon, it seems he felt the most amount of pain, and must have passed it. We staged and enjoyed a lovely happy hour on the dock that night with our friends in Marina d’Uturoa hoping to leave on Sunday. It was a lovely farewell gathering. But based on the recommendation and help of two doctors who also live on their boat, Eric walked over to the emergency on Saturday morning to have an X-ray performed. Eric’s kidney stones are always oxalate, so you can see them on an x-ray if he has one. In fact, they could not see a single one, so either some stones exist but are so small they will pass, or he doesn’t have any more for the time being. This one was his 10th! Since it has passed, we can depart into the big blue without worrying that he will be troubled by the pain of passing kidney stones – at least for now! He is under doctor’s orders to drink twice as much water as before, preferably with lemon!

Eric Rigney drinking lemon water – Doctor’s orders!

On the other subject of the pactor modem, unfortunately it appears that the modem is faulty and needs to be repaired in the states. The system is so antiquated, there are only a few people who know how to repair it, and one of them lives in San Francisco. It looks we’re going to send it home with Ron and Michele to be repaired. We’ll have to sail without it for a while.
In the meantime, Eric set Bryce to read a manual on obtaining weather faxes straight from the radio through some special software that we already have…perhaps he’s going to become our weatherman specialist. And if we’re so fortunate, that’s all we’ll need to download weather grib files. We’ll see. To buy a new pactor modem we think would be about $1,500 and we just don’t want to spend that kind of money on electronics right now if we can avoid it.

We are pulling out of the marina tomorrow morning – finishing up last minute details today. I may pop into the market one more time for more oatmeal…as we pretty much used up all I had on stock. We plan to catch-up with Ron and Michele in Bora. If we leave tomorrow morning, Wednesday, we’ll arrive there by the evening and we could meet them for dinner and perhaps spend Thursday with them depending on their schedule. We want to get a bit more instruction on the new game they taught us: Cribbage. They leave on Friday for Huahine. We’ll pull-up anchor also on Friday for Maupiti.

Trent and Leslie Rigney learning to play Cribbage – our new favorite game!

Our plan is to visit Maupiti island for a day, then head north to Mopelia – a very small atoll to deliver mail and enjoy some lobster, which they have a plethora. Then we’ll head on towards Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu and make Darwin by mid-July. Lots to see, lots of surf, lots of sailing. Our ocean passages will be about 10 days each, god willing. We simply don’t have time to stop in the Cook Islands or the Solomon Islands because we plan to join the Indonesia Rally which leaves Darwin July 28th. We did some research and found out that Papua New Guinea has a big theft problem. So we decided not to stop there.

Maupiti here we come!

It was lovely having Ron and Michele aboard. They were incredibly helpful – Ron worked a lot with Eric and was able to engage in some handyman issues that needed addressing, plus he washed dishes!!! Michele shopped food inventory with me, cleaned, vacuumed, helped with dinner, even planned and made dinner one night, and cleaned things all on her own volition (what a concept!)…generally reducing my work and stress. Amazing. I had a wife for a week!!

I only wish we had been able to sail with the two of them as planned to Bora Bora and then Maupiti. It’s frustrating. However, we did sail around the island of Taha’a together and got to enjoy the corral gardens there on the west side of the island near the Pearl Lodge Hotel. Also on Taha’a across from the corral gardens, we enjoyed an educational tour of a combined rum manufacturing plant, coconut oil, Temanu oil and vanilla bean provider. I had been buying the coconut oil from that very business, Pari Pari, since we arrived here in Raiatea. It’s the only local company around pressing virgin and edible coconut oil. I mentioned to the owner farmer giving us the tour, that I bought out all his bottles of coconut oil from the store that retails it in Raiatea. He was tickled to hear that.

The four of us are excited to head out. With the last minute details worked out: laundry, cleaning up ropes and installing the wind vane, we feel ready in mind and boat. Aside from the radio problem which previously allowed us to send emails at sea, and most importantly enabled us to download weather grib files, everything else is working great. We’ll get by with our delorme texting device and I can’t say I ever communicated by sailmail anyway. I send this email to you with big hugs, thoughts and well wishes for you r special days this Month of May. Please take very good care of yourselves. Did I mention to you that Curtis and Joel will be coming to see us in Darwin in July?  Sending you virtual hugs and kisses

Leslie’s Letters: Cracking the Chrysalis

April 19, 2017

Chers Maman et Papa,

Today, Wednesday – we have been making great progress on getting the boat loaded, newly rigged, tuned up and ready to go. All of our stored stuff has been pulled out of our friend Sylvana’s house, and is either sitting on top of the boat to be tucked away, to clean, or to get rid of. We have now sold all of our posted items except for Bryce’s surfboard which we’ll try to sell along the way.I have been shopping for lots and lots of food supplies, knowing that our next big food shopping won’t be until Fiji.

The boys have been working so hard for us now that they’re out of school. For Easter, Eric went out and bought some chocolates and hid them in the boat for a mini egg hunt. They loved it. He’s so thoughtful. I didn’t think to do that myself…wasn’t in the mood as Trent had been nastily sassing me the night before. Sigh.

Not much news since our phone call – just working on boat stuff. Eric has discovered some problems with our electronic instruments, specifically our pactor modem. It turns our radio into wifi for email and weather reports. We got a name for an electrician here and hope that he can fix it for us.

Annie requested that we send back Bill’s Snuggie that he left. We’ve been enjoying it since the Galapagos – all of us finding it quite useful, so I decided to make ourselves one out of a blanket that I had bought to use as filling for the Kandu totes. Since I’m not going to be able to get making those right away and I have plenty of felt from you, I figured it would be the perfect use for the huge blanket. Also – made some nice covers for our cockpit pillows out of the green sunbrella material that I had left over. They look so much better now. I still plan to make some covers for our interior settee seats. Looks like I may have time, as things are coming together well. I went out and bought a little more fabric to match the fabric you brought. The banquet seats are quite long. I will end up using all that material plus the new.

Our car starter is performing worse and worse. The poor girl who bought the car knows all about it, but says it’s okay because her father is a mechanic. We turn the car over to her on April 24th. That will be a sad day…no more easy wheeling!

Finally got a good video of the little Tupa crabs that run around here digging holes. I’ll share it on Facebook. It had been raining really hard, and his hole must have gotten filled with water. Dusk – I came out of the laundry room and frightened him on the sidewalk. Poor little crab had his claws up in the air and being trapped really couldn’t run away. Eric fortunately showed up with his camera – so we got some good photos and video of him. Most of the time the little crabs are hard to photograph as they scurry away so quickly.

We were invited over to Hauari’i’s grandparents home for a lovely Sunday afternoon Mexican extravaganza (remember that Hauari’i’s granddadis Mexican married to a Polynesian. Hauari’i is Trent’s friend from school). Jose taught us how to make tortillas and the kids had a blast playing ping-pong around the world and then they went swimming, kayaking, outrigging, and scurfing in the lagoon out in back of their home! Neat!

Jose and Nelly Cacelin

The boys did have a great Va’a pirogue competition this past Monday. And the Saturday before they ran all the way around the island in relay with the same group of runners that placed well during the LaCrosse season that you witnessed.The previous weekend we got together with Sylvana who led us on a very nice hike up to a local private waterfall. We were glad to enjoy a few more local activities before leaving this lovely Polynesian Island of Raiatea. Loving you, Leslie.


Leslie’s Letters : Ron & Michele Arrived!

Bienvenue a Raiatea nos amis Ron and Michel Bruchet!

April 24, 2017

Hello Mom and Dad – I know you had some busy days getting packed up for your time in LQ and travels to Tucson.

Just wanted to say hello and let you know Ron and Michele arrived yesterday safe and sound carting along a HUGE duffel bag full of our boat parts, amazon orders, and Spicy Hot Cheetos X 6 big bags for the boys! It was a bit like Christmas sorting through the various orders. Wonderful fun. Michele was sweet to also bring some fun new spices that will liven my cooking. I have been feeling a bit bored with my general menu fare – so that will brighten things up a bit for sure.

Feeling a bit tired today as yesterday we did a lot of cleaning in prep for our guests’ arrival. Ron and Michele went for a hike up Tapioi while crew Kandu worked on various chores to get ready to depart. Ron and Michele are sweet, sweet, sweet yet I imagine their minds are a little boggled having to deal with the smallness of space, and not being able to get everything one might want at a moment’s notice. Fortunately the stores stock oatmeal and okay wine which was on their list. Organic foods and non-gluten are available, but very expensive. In general food is expensive except for white rice, white flour, boxed milk, white sugar, canned butter and baguettes, which are considered “daily needs” and are subsidized. I don’t buy the expensive organic or fancy items; note-to-self, organic or raw peanut butter is nonexistent. Skippy it is and Nutella, of course! Buying raw nuts here is impossible. Fortunately I have a good supply that I hoard in the freezer for banana bread. Being away from the US commercial haven of the world for the last 2.5 years, I no longer think about the things that we can’t get, just the things that we can.

Sending you hugs and love. Gotta get lunch on. Maybe Sashimi today. Mmmm good.

Tuna Sashimi over a bed of cabbage and grated carrots served with rice and quinoa! Fresh!

Leslie’s Letters: Prepping Ron and Michele

March 3, 2017

Hello Ron and Michele,

We are getting excited for your visit too. We do have many stories to recount. I wish I had time and energy to write them all down. Alas, what are we doing here in paradise, if we’re always on the computer recording?

Paradise found in Marina d’Uturoa.

Certainly we’re not the best sailors in the world, but we at least have some experience now. We’re especially getting good at reading the weather! It is very uncomfortable to travel in bad weather!

Yes – the end of April and your arrival coinciding with our departure is looming. We are working furiously to get boat repairs and projects accomplished…then we’ll need to reload the boat – Ugh! Not my favorite thing to do as Eric always thinks it’s only going to take a day or two and forgets every time how long it takes to fit everything back into/onto the boat, tie it down, etc.

Anyway – regarding your thoughts about our needs – There will definitely be some boat parts. Eric will either be ordering them and having them shipped to you or Uncle Bill will organize them when he returns and ship them to you. Eric may have you pick some things up at the local West Marine Chandlery. Which one is the most convenient for you? Can you send me their phone number and address…email and contact person?

We will be ordering some things from Amazon prime and shipping them directly to you. You won’t need to really buy much for us. However, the boys absolutely love the hottest, spiciest Cheetos that you can find – those cannot be found here. Mexican tortillas, corn chips, salsa and the like can actually be purchased here in Raiatea along with all the candies a person can imagine – so no need to cart those – we’ll have other things for you to bring for sure.

Trent and Bryce munchin’ those Cheetos.

Regarding your own personal items and clothes. It’s very sunny, hot and muggy here. You’ll want to purchase or bring along a long-sleeved button down Columbia sunblock shirt along with a pair of similar fabric pants: light, stretchy and beige colored – to keep the mosquitos off at night if we happen to be walking around in town. No jeans or heavy cotton fabrics. Colorful T-shirts, a couple bathing suits and stretchy light fabric shorts. You should bring a pair of Teva or Keen closed toed sandals to hike with and wear around town, also a pair of flip flops (they’re expensive here) and maybe a nicer pair of sandals to go out with. Sundress or light sleeveless dress could be good too. I normally wear shorts during the day and tank tops – with a long sleeve shirt nearby in case I spend anytime outside. You’ll also want a good floppy hat – Columbia is the best anti-sun. You’ll want to bring mosquito spray and zinc sunscreen. You can buy or borrow a pareo here – no need to bring. We have all and every medicine you can imagine. Don’t bring shampoo or towels, or bed sheets or pillows – we have all that.

Okay – now for business: health insurance. Eric and I discussed the options regarding the renewal of our International World Health Coverage Plan. We are going to go with Ron’s suggestion to up the deductible and add a sports rider on the boys. We would like to pay for that soon.

As you know, we have been having some great times traveling at large away from Kandu by airplane. You probably know that over the Christmas holiday we visited the north island of New Zealand and spent two weeks with Eric’s brother Curtis in Sydney, Australia. Such great times and then we enjoyed more good times at the end of Jan-early Feb, when we spent two weeks on Easter Island. It had been on my bucket list for years to visit that remote mysterious island. Since we decided not to sail there in 2015, adding 2 months of open water sailing to our itinerary between the Galapagos and the Marquesas, we took a plane instead (only US$450 per plane ticket from Papeete) and stayed in a home run bed and breakfast. The entire experience between studying about and visiting the archeological moai sites all around the island, traveling with dear Marquesan friends Sebastien & Raymonde Falchetto-Ly, and Linda & Chuck Hoolihan from s/v Jacaranda, plus witnessing the Tapati cultural festival events, was extraordinary. I’m not sure if the boys really understand what they’ve witnessed, but someday they will. We splurged spending one morning playing dress-up Rapa Nui style. We hired a woman and her daughter to paint us, dress us, and then photograph us in front of an impressive moai site near the city. We had such a great time posing and mugging for the camera nearly naked, onlookers be darned! On top of all the site-seeing, the boys got to surf almost everyday. For all four of us, it was a top-notch experience. I’m trying to take advantage of our easy and fast internet while staying during this month of February at the Sunset Beach Motel near the boat yard where Kandu is hauled. She is getting a new anti-fouling paint job and we are accomplishing various boat chores that are easier to perform on land. Our boat is terribly torn up inside with all the work being done. It’s impossible to live on right now. So staying in our little bungalow situated right on the lagoon is a real treat. Plus it’s great having Uncle Bill with us helping out. The pressure to get things accomplished is halved with his help. 

We’ll be seeing you soon,

Leslie and the Kandu guys

Tupa Mascot of Raiatea

Skateboard park mural art in downtown Uturoa, Raiatea honoring the Tupa crab.

In Raiatea, the tupa (land crab) is the island mascot. Its image is featured on all the local island and city insignia. Whenever you walk along the waterfront road, these little crabs scramble for cover, hoping to avoid being someone’s dinner. In fact, the edible tupa are revered for their prolific nature, quick to reproduce and prepare for dinner. During years of island famine, tupa provided necessary sustenance for its otherwise starving people.

2017 mural painted on a city hall wall during the graffiti Intl art festival, Uturoa.
Located at a turnaround in the middle of the town Uturoa welcoming drivers to town.
City and island map in downtown Uturoa, Raiatea. Note the crab insignia in the upper left corner.

VIDEO: Tupa crab on the move!

We were invited to a fundraising event on the southwest side of Raiatea. Among the typical Polynesian fare of roasted breadfruit, pulled pork, coconut milk taro and banana poi, they offered the below delicacy. The inside was like a cream soup a la tuna flavor. It really was quite delicious.

Tupa crab bodies cooked and served at a huge fundraising event. Delicious!

These little crabs are harmless and sorta charming. After being in Raiatea for some time, they grow on you. Thus inspired, I drew my own reminder of these silly land crawlers that show enormous bravery under stress when caught outside their dugout holes.

Zentangle drawing by Leslie Rigney

Customs & Foreign Travel as an American Family

Eric Rigney, Captain of Kandu, ready for Customs Entry.

The first contact when traveling into foreign countries as a tourist is most often with customs officials whether by plane or by boat. When dealing with maritime customs agents, we have a few technics: Eric shows up dressed in his Kandu uniform with all his papers organized in our ‘Important Papers’ enclosed documents case. This box holds our most recent US Coast Guard Vessel documentation, our four passports, and other important papers that may be needed, plus a writing pen. So far, our boat and crew clearances have been straightforward, although much of that ease was due to Eric’s advanced preparation and our being American.

Trent & Bryce Rigney in front of the Customs Clearance building in Ensenada, Mexico 2015.

In Mexico, our pre-contacted marina agent in Ensenada led the four of us through customs on a Saturday, and everything cleared within two hours. All the Mexican documents had been filled-out the afternoon before. We simply needed to show up in person, with those papers in hand and money in our pockets to pay for the fees in cash, US dollars (USD).

Isla Isabela agent JC chatting with Bill Kohut 2015.

Clearing into Isla Isabela, yacht agent extraordinaire, JC Desoto, with whom Eric had communicated months in advance, helped us in the Galapagos. Eric even handed JC a package from his wife, sent to us in Ventura prior to our departure: weed-eater cord. Once arrived, Eric dropped off to JC all our passports and documents who subsequently on our behalf presented them to the officials along with cash in USD (Ecuador’s national currency is American dollars). Until the process was complete, Kandu remained in quarantine. Only the captain was allowed to disembark until the vessel inspection was concluded. Expecting an inspection, having just sailed 18 days, the crew quickly passed through to tidy up as best we could. We put on some clean clothes, brushed our teeth and hair to look presentable before the five officials boarded our boat, delivered to us on a water taxi.

Hurry Up and wait Kandu crew!

It immediately felt congested aboard our 42-foot sailboat. Three officials left the cockpit to poke around – one in particular asked about our toilets and the size of our holding tank. Another official asked what fresh foods, if any, were on board. I had purposefully cooked almost all of the fresh items prior to arrival. The only fresh items left were some garlic and a couple limes sitting out in the open. They didn’t mind those items, letting us keep them. They did not ask whether the underside of our boat had been cleaned of all animal life 40 miles from land, one of many unusual entry requirements some other boats had to address. After 45 minutes, they departed. Five minutes after that, the captain and crew were on shore in search of our first Galapagos experiences and some cold treat to consume.

Hoisting the Q (quarantine flag) and the country courtesy flags 2015

From the Galapagos, 24 days later, we arrived soundly in Taiohae Bay on Nuku Hiva, the administrative capital of the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. Again, much of the requirements had been handled ahead of time before leaving California; we went through the arduous process of obtaining a long-stay visa through the Los Angeles French consulate six months prior. Our wonderful agent, Tehani Fiedler-Valenta of Tahiti Crew, located in Papeete, Tahiti, facilitated other important requirements. Just as with JC, prior to leaving California, Eric pre-arranged with Tehani all paperwork and fees to be ready for processing.

Tehani Fiedler-Valenta of Tahiti Crew with Leslie Rigney.

Being a small archipelago, the Marquesas did not house a customs office. Instead, the gendarmerie handled all clearance procedures. They did not search us, nor were we quarantined. Eric simply met up with an associate of Tehani, based in Nuku Hiva, Kevin of Yacht Services Nuku Hiva, an expat from Southern California with whom Eric had also been in contact prior to leaving California. Eric had asked Kevin if he wanted anything from the US. Kevin asked for a couple of garden hose nozzles and bottles of Bacardi dark rum (French Polynesia places a 300% import tax on alcohol), which we gifted him.

Similarly, when entering a foreign country by plane, as we recently did in New Zealand, Australia, and Easter Island, it’s important to have completed all customs and personal documents before approaching the official (preferably prior to the plane landing while you can comfortably spread out your passport and flight information). We always approach officials calmly, as a foursome, presenting Eric’s and my passport first. Traveling with kids and/or teenagers tends to have a positive effect on officials as we are all smiling. With families, one parent represents the group. Eric usually plays this role as seemingly unnecessary bureaucratic requirements too easily frustrate me. During this time, the rest of us remain silent and respectful, not questioning or volunteering information, giving rise to a glare from Eric. When passing through customs with our bags, we never bring fresh fruit, vegetables, honey, or meat. I did declare some pre-packaged cookies and dried fruit and nuts. They were not concerned about those items. The American bee malady has reached the South Pacific and customs wishes to protect their honey beekeepers from its spread.

New Zealand Maori carving at the airport with Bryce Rigney.

One incident occurred that likely caused subsequent inspections to occur. The four of us were waiting for our baggage after landing in New Zealand when an official approached asking if I would be willing to help in the training of a new inspection dog. He asked me to put a specially treated cloth in my pants pocket. In Los Angeles through a specially arranged event with the cub scouts, the boys and I had gotten a chance to tour the LA airport police division with specially trained dogs. The dog master explained that these special dogs are not treated as pets. They are extremely intelligent and almost ADD in their emotional make-up – having lots of energy. They are trained to locate specific substances, drugs, explosives, or food products. When they pick up their scent, they are not to bark, but to sit quietly next to the targeted smell, pointing with their snout. Getting back to my experience in NZ, about 5 minutes after placing the aromatic sample in my pants pocket, we saw a different police official with the trainee dog scouting around the baggage claim area.

Airport Sniffer in the baggage claim area of Auckland airport 2016.

The dog was calmly in the lead. He strolled around smelling everything, approaching people and their bags, nosing close to peoples’ clothing, pockets, and around bags. At some point, the two approached us. The dog smelled our luggage and then got close to my backside pants pocket. I could see in his eyes that he detected the target. He sat down next to me, alerting the officer of his discovery. The officer rewarded the dog with a chance to play with his toy. The boys and I enjoyed the experience having been previously educated on the subject. We had followed along closely to see if the dog was trained the same way as in Los Angeles. Immediately afterwards, I visited the bathroom and washed my hands, but didn’t think to clean the scent from my clothes and backpack.Two weeks later, I had since washed my jeans, but when we were getting ready to fly to Auckland, as usual, we all passed through the human scanner; our carry-on luggage was independently scanned next to us. The guys all went through no problem, but a lady official picked up my backpack and asked me to follow her over to a machine. She rubbed a piece of material over the handles of my backpack and inside then inserted the material into a machine. Evidently, the machine detected something. She made a phone call, looked at me closely, and told me to wait. Unfortunately, our flight was getting ready to board and our luggage was checked in. The boys and Eric quickly left me behind to find the gate. They would board without me if necessary. I waited and waited somewhat patiently for more than ½ hour until an airport dog and official finally showed. The dog casually approached, sniffed inside and outside of my bag, sniffed all around me and especially my hands, then just as casually walked away. Evidently, they had been on the other side of the airport when called. In any case, I was free to go and hurriedly ran quite a distance to locate the gate just in time to board. Sigh! It was an unpleasant experience to be wrongfully suspected. I couldn’t help but think that having been a willing participant in the dog training two weeks prior had contributed to what could have been a very expensive delay had I not caught the plane in time. “No good deed goes unpunished,” as the saying goes. After that, we always made sure to pass the carry-on baggage clearance into the boarding area before looking for bathrooms, food or refreshments.

Gandalf and Eagle from “Lord of the Rings” in Wellington Airport designed and created by Weta Cave Workshop.

Soon, we will be heading out to visit more countries . . . many more, of all shapes, sizes, and bureaucracies. Traveling as we had recently done by plane, the boys and I are much more aware of the process and the importance of Eric’s customs clearance preparations. All these countries will require clearance in their own fashion, cultural and bureaucratic. I can’t help but wonder how President Trump’s recent international travel and trade restrictions might impact how we are treated upon arrival. Hopefully these soon-to-be visited foreign lands will not impose more paperwork, added restrictions or financial impositions on American visitors. We don’t plan to visit the Middle East, but who knows what role unexpected winds or repairs may play on us, especially as we cross the Gulf of Aden or cross over to Turkey. Yemen borders the gulf and Syria sits between Israel and Turkey. Since Eric is our front-man, his uniform and charming smile may simply not be enough.

Vision of French Polynesia.

By Leslie Rigney