There’s a feeling I get in my gut when it’s “right” to go. None of my anxiety eases, but a new feeling arises companionably with it and says, “yeah you’re scared, but it’s time.”
This morning I woke up at 5:15 with that feeling. I was eager to get going (as I’ve been for a week now), and planned to stop by customs quickly on the way out. The U.S. doesn’t require that you clear out, but I had been informed that the officials in French Polynesia require a clearance letter from whichever country you just exited. The customs dock is on the way out of the bay, so I tied up at 6 AM and contacted them.
I did not check the weather, which is typically the first thing I do in the morning.
At customs, I spoke to a very confused agent. “We don’t do that.” he said. “You’re a U.S. vessel? You can leave whenever you want!” I explained again that yes, I was, and I knew it wasn’t their requirement for me to “clear out,” but it was French Polynesia’s policy that I arrive with that document.
“You live here! Those are for foreign ships!”
He asserted again that they wouldn’t give me a letter. For the record, I know of at least two vessels who have gotten these right here in San Diego within the last month.
My friend Olivia popped by from the neighboring harbor. “Are you sure it’s required?” she asked.
This is the thing with cruising. You get mixed reports from others, and government websites rarely have thorough information for traveling yachts. You’re left to sort of muddle through all this and decide things for yourself.
We checked my South Pacific sailing guidebook and it said there are “some exceptions” to the requirement, but that was the extent of the detail provided.
I dropped a note to the e-mail “net” of other cruisers sailing to the South Pacific this year, asking if anyone who had left from the U.S. had been required to present a clearance letter to the officials in French Polynesia, and waited for a response.
That’s when I finally checked the forecast.
Weather is so different as a mariner. It’s not like, “do I need an umbrella today?” It’s all angles, and winds, and determining if you’re even going to make headway, since you can’t sail within 40 degrees on either side of the direction the wind is coming from. Since I am heading south-southwest, I need the typical California coastal winds from the north or northwest.
I knew that there was going to be a period on Friday of southerly winds, but the forecast as of Wednesday night was that they would be under 10kts. per hour, and only last about 16 hours. When I checked this morning, I saw a wall of south/south-westerly winds starting tonight and lasting nearly 48 hours, with winds of 10-18 kts, and thunderstorms down the coast. I could sail in angles that would get me some progress, but not much. Upwind sailing is particularly exhausting, and I’m always extremely tired the first few days of a passage. As a solo sailor, I need to make different choices than others might. I tend to sail and plan more conservatively.
I concluded that I could go without the clearance letter. I really, really wanted to leave, and I felt discouraged and disappointed at the prospect of lingering here for two more nights. But you get in trouble out there if you don’t respect nature. We’re staying here until the southerly passes. And that’s just how the wind blows sometimes.
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