Long time lingering

What’s this near-obsession with the internet you might ask? Well, for sure, it’s a rare luxury to have internet access on the boat. Sometimes it’s nice to get information without having to spend hours sweating in the heat paying for over-priced internet while drinking over-priced drinks.

But at times it becomes more than a luxury, like recently.

To learn more of what I am talking about, take a look at this page.

And when you come back to this page, please note that any comments containing the words sorry, sympathy, loss or anything remotely similar will attract a mandatory minimum contribution of £20 to Cancer Research and Alzheimer’s Society.

Reasons to linger longer

So, if you have read our new Charity page, you may understand the main reason we have been staying around Fakarava for far longer than expected is so that Maria can use the internet to easily talk to her sister, from Lady Jane, for as long as she wants. Because it helps both of them.

And now, changing tack so that I don’t depress everyone – there are a few other reasons for us to hang around:

One – We are waiting for a replacement backstay adjuster to arrive from the US because the current one is leaking like an Ebola patient, and we don’t want to go too far with it. The package is already 3 weeks late. FedEx sent it to New Zealand, knowing there was an existing problem getting things out of there. That same blunder has resulted in some of our sailing buddies waiting months for parts to arrive.

This is stupid stuff from a company whose business is shifting packages worldwide. I can’t get hold of them by email, chat or twitter (where I accused them of taking my package hostage) but Steve, the person I bought the rigging gear from, understands that the package is back at Los Angeles airport. Even so, the FedEx person dishing up information to him is talking out of both sides of his face. His claim is that French Polynesia suddenly stopped air cargo flying out of New Zealand. That is a blatant lie. New Zealand is locked down tighter than a prisoner in Belmarsh.

Two – Fakarava is a convenient place to buy provisions, get diesel and petrol, and to get things done. Apart from the petrol station in Rotoava, there are another three shops nearby.

Three – Maria insists that Stephanie at Fakarava Yacht Services delivers the best laundry service in French Polynesia.

Four – Pakokota Yacht Services delivers internet to the boat. And it’s Polynesian broadband at over 1Mbs, which is very useful. We have dealt with a backlog of the administrative stuff.  And have managed to finalise our order for a new RIB to replace our dinghy because our existing one isn’t coping with the heat. The new RIB should arrive in the Marquesas in time for Christmas – from the UK via Singapore.

Five – We like it here, and there is plenty to do.

Also, we have opted not to move around too much because we are concerned about the spread of Coronavirus in French Polynesia. And this time it has reached the islands. Since the government opened up overseas travel, the number of cases has rocketed. Testing facilities are overstretched, and we don’t want to add to that burden.

The latest information is that most of the transmission is taking place between the local population rather than between visitors. On 15th September the number of reported cases, mostly in Tahiti, increased to 1099; more than double that of two weeks ago. That is very worrying. 

COVID dodging

Of course, we don’t want to catch Covid-19, but our concerns are elsewhere. We know from our experience in lockdown that the dynamic with local people changes. They are naturally predisposed to assume the worst when it comes to visitors arriving by sailboats – that’s a heritage that cuts deep – and we don’t want to contribute to the development of any ill-will. Nor do we want to contribute to the spread of the virus through the islands. So, we are going to give Tahiti and the Societies a miss this season.

So, instead of going to Tahiti to stock up at the supermarket, the supermarket is coming to us. The sailing community introduced us to someone who will shop at Carrefour in Papeete and put your purchases on a ship to Fakarava. Civilised? I should say so. And it probably works out cheaper than parking up at Papeete Marina for a couple of days.

Big shop

We took advantage of the shopping service and placed an order, not knowing exactly what we would get or how much it would be. The only thing we knew was that the price of provisions was likely to be between 30% and 50% less than on the islands. And, given that this was a ‘big shop’, those savings were going to be significant.

This isn’t like Tesco online or Ocado. The only reference we had was the Carrefour website in France, and that bears only a passing resemblance to the stores in Tahiti – especially in terms of price. But, after hours of translating what we wanted into French and checking our translations on the Carrefour site, we placed the order.

Just one week later, our stuff arrived at Pakokota Yacht Services after Matthieu collected it from the Cobia supply ship in Rotoava. On that ship, perishable food is kept in the refrigerated part, frozen stuff in the freezer, and the rest of it stored elsewhere. It’s as close to Tesco Home Delivery as it gets.

Big delivery

We ordered a lot. Although we couldn’t measure how much when placing the order, we had a hint of the volume when we received the invoice for over €1,500. And, when we clapped eyes on all the boxes waiting for us, we thought there would be no way it would fit on Lady Jane. But, after half a day of lugging boxes around and reorganising storage, it was all stashed away – and we have enough to last us until the end of cyclone season next year.

The remarkable thing is that the woman providing the service doesn’t request payment in advance. It’s based on trust. She does the shopping, pays for it, gets it loaded on the ship and doesn’t ask for the cash before you get the stuff. And that is where the similarity to Tesco ends: try that back home and you would get delivered, to the local police station.

It took three dinghy trips to get everything back to Lady Jane. The first two trips Maria and I did together. The final trip I did alone because Maria decided to go shopping for more fresh fruit and veg – just in case. That woman is smart. Not only did I have to get the boxes out of the dinghy alone, but I also had to unpack them and stash the contents on my own. 

Fruit and Veg. And if you look closely, you can see the transfer rates for a few banks

Boxes to the left

Boxes to the right

And boxes and beer on the side

Model of the Empire State Building

Maria’s shopping trip

Money transfer madness

Transferring money to French Polynesian banks isn’t so straightforward. When we first tried it, over a year ago, we didn’t know it’s impossible to transfer money from overseas in local currency. Only after days of frustration did we blunder upon the knowledge that Euros are accepted –  and pegged to the French Polynesian franc. If we had known that at outset, my hair would have retained at least a hint of grey rather than snowy white.

This time, we had a unique situation where one of our banks would not recognise the IBAN of the local bank where I wanted to transfer the money. We chose this bank as it promised a transfer using SWIFT. It resulted in the customer service conversation below; this is the abridged version:  

Transcript

(Bank): Unfortunately, we do not support Tahiti transfer at the moment.

(Me): That’s odd. I have transferred money to French Polynesia with you previously. Has something changed?

(Bank): Thanks. Please click the link to see the full list of countries we do support https://www.starlingbank.com/send-money-abroad/country-fees/

(Me): Right. France is on there and French Polynesia is an overseas collective of France, so I still don’t understand what the problem is. As I said, I have transferred money to French Polynesia with you before.

(Bank): I understand. Could you please give me the date and amount and I’ll check the details.

(Me): Sure. It was yesterday and I am trying to transfer 1552.95 Eur

(Bank): I can’t see any international payment to Tahiti?

(Me): I appreciate that. I couldn’t make the transaction to the French bank because your system said that it doesn’t recognise the IBAN number. And that is the problem. Monzo and TransferWise recognise it.

(Bank): I am sorry, this means it’s a country we do not support.

(Me) : But, again, I have transferred money to the same country before with you

(Bank): This is why I have asked to give me the date of the transfer so I could check the details.

(Bank): You told me yesterday but I couldn’t see this. The list of country we do currently support international transfer is on our website and you can check the full list by clicking on the link.

(Me): Can I speak with someone else please. We seem to be going around in circles. You can’t see a transfer because I couldn’t make the transfer. The reason I couldn’t make the transfer is that your system doesn’t recognise the IBAN number.

That’s just an excerpt from the whole customer service conversation – Starling Bank style – I never did get resolved. I paid using Transferwise instead.

Bonfires and abandoned pearl farm

A few other long-term sailors are hanging around here. More than a couple of them are waiting for parts to arrive so that they can move on again. We got the chance to meet them loosely-arranged gathering at a nearby beach. They’ve been here for so long that they make us seem like we are just passing through.

Sundowners

Just to the south of this beach is an old deserted pearl farm. This must have been an impressive sight when it was in full operation. The place is enormous. Most of the buildings are either dormitories or shower and toilet blocks. The rest seem to be full of rows of grafting stations. 

A caretaker looks after the site. So, before blundering onto the property, we thought it prudent to check with him that it is OK to take a walk around. This camera-shy man lives on his own with a couple of dogs and a pig for company. And he couldn’t have been any more charming. We asked him about the fruit growing on the ground, the yellow thing in the photograph below. Not only did he tell us what it is (and we were a little embarrassed to find out it was a melon), he cut one up and shared it with us. Then he gave us some Papaya. 

We wanted to give him something in return, so asked him if he would like some fresh bread. His answer was to go back into his house and share with us some coconut flatbread he had just made. He said he has everything that he needs – he didn’t want anything — what a great example of warm Tahitian hospitality. We have experienced this many times in places where there is little tourist commerce.

Dog walking and beach clearing

We’ve inherited a dog. 

Well, not really. The truth is that the dog follows us each time we go ashore to go for a walk. Kiera, the dog, has walked miles with us: north towards Rotoava, south towards Hirifa and along the beach in both directions. And it’s great to borrow her for a while, without the feeding and watering responsibilities that come with dog ownership. Mattieu and Agnes at Pakokota Yacht Services take care of that. 

The beach is pretty wild but wildly beautiful. It is also littered with a lot of debris that has been washed ashore. Most of this rubbish appears to be from offshore fishing vessels. It’s a difficult problem here. Some of the garbage makes its way to Tahiti, and onwards for recycling, most of it is dealt with locally by landfill or burning. So, all we could think of doing was to move what we could beyond the high water mark so that it doesn’t get washed out to sea again. 

What is particularly noticeable is the bamboo fishing rafts. One is pictured below, but there are several of these along the coastline. Each has several drain pipes for buoyancy and has a net and several hooks attached to it. The tubes are made in Ecuador, but that means nothing. Many people suspect these are from the Chinese fishing fleet that has been hoovering up fish in the Pacific. Tracking devices, used by the fleet, have been seen on the beach – so that could be correct. But really, we have no idea where these have come from.

Other days we have spent paddleboarding in the protected waters on the atoll side where even if the wind gets up it is sheltered enough to paddle safely when close to land. And we have found a way of using the paddleboard as a two-person kayak. We might get some strange looks, but it is good fun.

 

View from Pakakota Yacht Services

 

Inside the atoll from Pakokota

That brings us up to date as of 15th September. And we have just heard that the part we are waiting for has arrived in Tahiti. FedEx must have put it on a direct flight. So, as soon as we get that and fit it, we are free to be on our way again.

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