Trapped In Tahiti! 23rd April 2020
We Didn't Mean to Move to Tahiti!
Here we are living on board our sailing boat in the Marina at Papeete, looking across at Moorea island and a French cruise liner which had a full crew and no guests! You can just see the 3 stern decks midway up the photo on the right! The officers kept the crew busy with repair duties and fire drills and general maintenance. There appeared to be enough crew on board to play basketball, volley ball and have table tennis tournaments in the evening, confined to the concrete dock that is behind railings. We also realised they probably have a staff restaurant, bar and use of the swimming pool plus other fabulous on board facilities. I wouldn't want you think that we are jealous but when you have limited entertainment, a 20.00hrs curfew and your world is restricted to one kilometre from base, then everything within that kilometre becomes intensely interesting! However, as of the repatriation flight on 19th April things over there seem a little quieter and I suspect that half the crew have now gone home.
When we arrived in Papeete on the evening of 30th March we were thankful to be allowed into the port and relieved to set foot on land after 4 weeks. Some of our World ARC fleet stopped for repairs in Nuka Hiva, Marquesas, but restrictions were enforced there as well. Only one of the crew were allowed off the boat once a week, and they were not allowed to swim around the boat. This all seemed a bit severe as when the fleet set off on 4th March we had not been exposed to Corona virus. Even if we had been we were at sea in self quarantine for between 2 and 3 weeks. However, school children and students from the island of Tahiti had been sent home to the Marquesas and so that caused concern, but no disease developed in The Marquesas. Some of these boats have now arrived in Papeete and the marina is getting busier. To date only 57 cases of Corona Virus have occurred in French Polynesia, all on Tahiti and Moorea, thankfully with no deaths.
Daily walks through a deserted town to the supermarket or other essential shops are strange and I think we will be totally disorientated when (or if ) the shops do open again. The alcohol ban was lifted on the 20th April but with restrictions. Only wine and beer can be purchased and in restricted daily amounts for four days only. The situation will be reviewed next week along with the "confinement" end date of 29th April. Prohibition always leads to a black market and we found a take away pizza outlet that supplied beer at twice the retail price. A small bottle of Leffe cost $10 US, Desperados $8, but as in the name we were indeed Desperados! The reason for this ban apparently, is that domestic violence is problematic here! We have seen quite a few homeless people who sleep in and around the cathedral, made more obvious due to the lack of normal activity. We have also been told there is a problem with a drug called ICE, which explained the NO ICE HERE signs we saw on some roads to housing areas. It might look like paradise but with the same sting as the garden of Eden.
After a week of shock at the unexpected change of events and curtailment of our plans we have settled into a rhythm of daily life. Lack of onshore facilities was sweetened with the continuation of low season prices for the marina, and I found treading the washing in a bucket did a great job on laundry day!
Our two crew members were not allowed to disembark to find accommodation ashore but eventually Jackie managed to get home to the UK on the first repatriation flight (8th April) to Paris since the confinement began in March. Our other crew member, David from the U.S. celebrated his 70th birthday with us, before he moved onto a US boat that was allowed to leave to sail to Hawaii, which will take them 2-3 weeks. Tahiti is affiliated to France and we found a fabulous Boulangerie that has remained open selling wonderful macarons, cakes, bread and ice cream. Who isn't going to be a stone heavier by the end of this?
Access into town is limited to once daily and we need to carry a permit and passport, but today Richard was asked to wear a mask before entering a shop. On the pontoons we are in fairly close contact with other crews, figuring we are in the same family group. We socialise by walking past boats and talking to those on board from the pontoon, thereby adhering to social distancing. At Easter we had a "NOT" dock party and a few crews took their drinks onto the pontoons beside their boat for shared sun-downers. Inevitably, the distance between us became smaller but the gathering grew larger and has now become a daily event, sometimes small sometimes large, culminating in a 35th wedding anniversary celebration on Monday 20th April.
We have also been lucky enough to have a yoga instructor and a fitness leader happy to instruct those who want to keep fit, so I have been able to practice both. Concentration and focus are vastly enhanced when standing on one leg with your head tipped down on a wobbling pontoon! One day we were joined by a junior Manta Ray, the first I had ever seen. A totally amazing addition to class. Sorry for the poor quality photo and reflection, I was lucky to have my phone with me that day!
Filling up free time requires a plan and a job list as I expect many of you have found at home! We have now completed so much essential and plenty of non essential maintenance and on the boat; full rig check, rudder bearing and gooseneck bearings replaced, seat covers washed, bilges and under floorboards scrubbed, cupboards emptied out and cleaned! Cleaning under the back bench seat was prompted by a search for the last bottle of wine. A good result was achieved, a sparkly clean locker plus, not 1 but 4 bottles of wine! Social interaction, group support and some fun has also been maintained by a daily VHF radio net in the morning , a VHF trivia quiz 3 X week, plus cards and other games limited to 3 people visiting another boat.
After 2 weeks we obtained permission to take the boat to the fuel dock at the next Marina 4 miles away. We took a few mates with us for a much needed day out. Laughably, we arrived 30 minutes before lunch time and were asked to drop anchor while waiting for the fuel station to re-open after lunch (they must be rushed off their feet with all the boats not coming and going! ) Anyway, that gave us an opportunity to "fall off the boat" being very clumsy and unsteady, and perform some more essential maintenance, mainly keeping cool! Water sports and swimming have been banned as well, I presume to keep people away from the beaches! Though we sometimes sneak a swim off our pontoon, and did inflate the canoe for a secret paddle around the marina.
The next day we helped crew another boat for a Groundhog Day out. It was brilliant ! That set a trend for other boats to have an outing to get fuel, so maybe the fuel dock is now busy enough to have a lunch break after all! Yesterday 2 boats went to get fuel but only one boat was successful as the fuel station ran out until next week! So some boats must be going somewhere!
After 3 weeks, I realised that institutionalisation was setting in. Would we ever sail away again? Did we even want to? We have met a few young adults with French or European passports who stay and live here permanently following a holiday or visit as they enjoy the lifestyle here and the climate. For us the enforced regulations and reduced choices were shocking at first but as the days pass, one become accustomed to the routine like being at sea but with no end point. It becomes the new normal, we are adapting mentally and the days slip by as we wait with the rest of the world to see what will happen next. Where in the world will we end up?