Return to Vaiatahu
We dodged a bullet leaving when we did.
Because of coronavirus concerns, the Fatu Hiva locals told the crews of all the boats in their anchorages to leave and to go to Hiva Oa; the vessels in Hiva Oa had to stay put, and some boats were told to go to Tahiti. Confusion mounted day by day.
After a couple of days parked in Vaiatahu, Clarice and John, our only boat neighbours in the bay, made us aware of the position in the village. They had just come back from the medical centre with some declaration forms to complete, covering health status and previous destinations. Thoughtfully, they got a copy of the forms for us. So. on the morning of 20th March, we went ashore with our completed forms to go to the medical centre and the shop. The local policeman was waiting on the quay.
Grabbed by the fuzz
After parking the dinghy and stepping onto the dock, the policeman shook my hand (I don’t think the message on social distancing had yet travelled) and he told us we were not allowed ashore. He gave us a print out of the new legislation and said to us that we need to anchor at Hapatoni, the bay to the south of Vaitahu. We told him that Hapatoni is too full and that we have been here for a few days already. He then said it’s OK to stay.
Then, using basic French from memory and more complex French from Google Translate, we explained that we need to take the forms to the medical centre and that we need to go to the shop. He said he would meet us at the shop. That man is nothing if not flexible.
Who’s on first base?
After a few minutes waiting outside the medical centre for the person inside to finish dispensing a prescription to a local man, we handed over the forms to the person on duty. After a cursory look at the details, she said we need to go to Hiva Oa for a check-up because there are no medical facilities here. We explained that we had been back in the Marquesas for over a month. She then said we need to wear a mask (she was wearing one dangling from her chin). We said we haven’t got a mask.
This could have carried on like a Marquesas version of The Three Stooges ‘Who’s on First Base?’ Fortunately, Jimmy of Chez Jimmy’s Restaurant came along to help her and us with some clarification. We were allowed to stay and go to the shop. We didn’t need a mask. Jimmy then headed off to the hills. We headed to the shop. The policeman had gone.
The shop had hastily rigged up some additional sanitation measures: a bottle of washing up liquid and a hose pipe. So, we washed our hands, went into the shop and kept our distance from the others. Distancing wasn’t too difficult, the only people there was the person on the checkout, another stacking the shelves and a French sailor who had heard that the shops were going to close at midnight. They weren’t. After stumping up the cash, we walked back to the quay where a local man helped us put the bags in the dinghy.
And that was the last time we set foot ashore for a month. And Lady Jane hasn’t moved for even longer.
What do you do for 4 weeks afloat?
What do you do when it isn’t possible to go ashore for a month? Quite a lot actually.
There is always something on the boat todo list and this presented an ideal opportunity to dig deeper into the “we will get round to it one-day” category. So, in no particular order, we have:
- Revarnished the interior of the boat
- Retuned the rigging with the Loos tension gauge we bought in the USA
- Redecorated (removed the frame full of postcards so that we can put other stuff on the wall
- Fixed the watermaker (low output caused by a broken valve in the low-pressure pump).
- Cleaned all the stainless steel
- Serviced all the winches
- Fitted new engine instruments
- Made a fabric cover for the engine instrument panel to prevent the new instruments being destroyed by the sun
- Made an exercise mat / loafing around cushion for the back of the boat that we can leave outside
- Wrote detailed procedures
- Restocked the grab bag and documented the inventory
- Taken care of the laundry
- Watched downloaded films and TV series
- Read the books that we haven’t until now got round to reading
- Continued to add to our French vocabulary
- Made a lot of bread
- Eaten our way through the old stocks of food – even the tinned fruit from Tenerife
- Practised playing the ukulele
- Regularly cleaned the waterline and hull (swimming might not be allowed – but this is boat maintenance, guv)
- Exercised as best we can. Although I suspect walking might be a bit challenging for a while.
- Watched the dolphins in the bay during the day and observed the sunsets at night
We haven’t been completely cut off from others. Our IridiumGo device has helped us keep in touch with others, with what’s happening elsewhere in French Polynesia and the rest of the world. We speak with Jean and Clarice on a regular basis. They have shared with us some mangos and pamplemousse, and fish caught on their spearfishing expeditions. We shared films, bananas, limes and bread. It’s a small but very civilised community we have here. Unfortunately (or maybe not so much) we haven’t had access to internet during this time so we haven’t been able to update our website.
After a few days of confinement, the local mayor arranged for the policeman to collect shopping for the sailors on the island and bring it to the quay. The process is simple enough: phone the Mayor’s office, ask if the policeman can go shopping, call the shop to order the provisions, call back to see how much it is. The policeman then collects the shopping and brings it to the quayside, you hand over the cash. And that’s it.
Unfortunately for us, our local SIM card isn’t working, so we can’t make any phone calls or send texts. Our workaround is to write out a list, wait until Victor the policeman appears on the quay, zoom over on the dinghy, ask him to go to the shop, hand him the list and some cash, off he goes and half an hour later he is back with the goods and the change. Of course we don’t get everything on the list, but we haven’t been suffering from malnutrition.
Another sailor who came into the anchorage to stock up took care of our shopping the first time round. We gave Martine our list, she took it over to Victor when he returned with her shopping – and she collected our provisions for us later. This is how we learned to give Victor the cash before he goes to the shop. To cut a long story short, we got our change in bananas, oranges, mangos, limes and pamplemousse from his garden.
Drama in the harbour
Here’s validation that I’m not being all Victor Meldrew on this ‘ere anchoring topic: Our two boats – Lady Jane and Exocet – had been peacefully bobbing about in the harbour for a couple of weeks before an invasion happened (actually three other boats).
The first boats to arrive were great: they parked far enough away, were conscious of our anchor locations, and were mindful of local wind conditions. The third boat to arrive was, to be frank, a tosser. First, he anchored in front of Lady Jane then immediately re-anchored to the side of us and in front of Exocet (Johnn and Clarice’s boat), far too close. The wind came up and, at some point overnight, he dragged and smashed into Exocet causing significant structural damage which will need to be put right before they can sail again. Then he attempted to blame Jean and Clarice for putting out too much anchor chain. Ridiculous. That’s never an acceptable argument. I countered that by writing a witness statement for their insurers.
This bay has enough room for the Aranui 5 to park up, so it cannot be described as a tight anchorage. In fact, the next day he anchored where he should have – at the back of us and a good distance away from Exocet. He came back again the week after though, this time attempting to wreck a local boat by anchoring too close.
Clarity from confusion
Over the last few weeks, the rumour mill turned out more tales than pulp fiction. We heard that boats have to leave to go to Tahiti; everyone has to go to Hiva Oa or Nuku Hiva; there is no room in Tahiti; there is plenty of room in Tahiti. We just kept our head down and waited until an official statement came along.
As time progressed, regulations emerged that seem sensible and a lot clearer. On-land restrictions are similar to many European countries, especially those of France of course (although I doubt France have banned the sale of alcohol.)
Guidance for mariners is broadcast by VHF radio to new arrivals explaining what they need to do prior to entering Marquesan waters, and the Pacific Puddlejump organisers have emailed their rally participants with telephone numbers and email addresses of the relevant authorities to contact. Our sailing friends shared this information with us via our satellite service.
The recent announcement to slacken some of the restrictions in French Polynesia is good news for us: it will give us the opportunity to learn to walk again and possibly to get internet. On 20th April we are allowed to go ashore and to go to the shops. We understand that restaurants cannot serve food for in-house consumption, but they can offer takeaways (update – dinner is served.) And alcohol sales are back on. That’s also good news as we are out of beer and with the restriction set at 10 litres of beer per person per day, I’m sure we will either be in good shape or completely bent out of shape.
Inter-island travel remains forbidden, however, for local people as well as sailors. And Tahiti and Moorea are still subject to tighter restrictions because they are the only two islands that have been affected by Covid-19.
We don’t know what is going to happen in the next few weeks. Our guess is that country borders will remain closed to sailors for months, so we are likely to remain in French Polynesia for another year. We will see. For the moment though we are happy to be here. And if I have been able to post this, it means that a) we have remembered to walk again and b) we have internet.