What would you do to be stranded in one of the most lusted-after spots on the planet? One American family, trapped in the French Polynesia thanks to the current pandemic, is now getting a taste of that question.
As Traveller reports, “For as long as she can remember, 28-year-old Kristen Pankratz has shared in her dad’s dream to sail around the world. Life somehow always got in the way. But after giving up her advertising job in Dallas, she finally set sail with her parents in January.”
So far so cliche.
But things got interesting, fast: “Now, along with hundreds of other sailors, they find themselves stranded in paradise. As they sailed west across the vast Pacific Ocean in March, the… pandemic spread its tentacles across the globe. They made it as far as Tahiti in remote French Polynesia, one of the last places in the region to offer refuge as borders slammed shut.”
Long story short, South Pacific countries, though they have smaller populations than other tourist hotspots in Europe, say, don’t have much infrastructure to cope with Pandemic Outbreaks. On that note: The French Polynesia, despite tourism usually employing 17% of its workforce, has so far been far more gun shy in welcoming back tourists.
The upshot for Those Stranded Sailors (there are currently some 550 sailboats sheltering in French Polynesia), is that there’s now no way home, unless they abandon their boats and jump on a repatriation flight.
This has resulted in a bittersweet situation where families like Kristen Pankratzs’ find themselves “in a strange limbo, hoping they can sail west again before the cyclone season hits in November” (Traveller), but also… experiencing French Polynesia as it hasn’t been seen for many years – without tourists.
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According to Traveller, “The Pankratzs say they’ve been treated extraordinarily well and have been able to see beautiful grottoes and black sand beaches without many other tourists around.” Others, however, “say they’ve encountered suspicion and sometimes hostility from local residents fearful they might be bringing in the virus from abroad,” Traveller reports.
As for how they came to be there, The Pankratzs set out on a 14-metre sailboat, Amazing Grace, from St. Lucia as part of a loose-knit group of sailors who also planned to sail the globe.
After sailing through the Panama Canal into the Pacific, they began getting updates about the deteriorating virus situation. They then spent a week longer at sea than planned to get to Tahiti, catching tuna along the way to keep their supplies going for longer.
On arrival, Traveller reports, “came four and a half weeks of lockdown at a marina, where they were allowed off the boat only for exercise and groceries. Pankratz settled into a routine with some of the other sailors: high-intensity exercise classes at 7:30am on the dock; cocktails at 5:30pm on the boats.”
“After the lockdown ended, they got to see more of Tahiti. And this week, they set sail for some new islands after authorities loosened restrictions to allow more travel between French Polynesia’s scattered archipelagos.”
As for their next move? Like the rest of the stuck sailors, it will all depend on The Virus situation and – of course – the weather.
In the meantime, black sandy beaches and beautiful grottos await.