While it may look like we are having a fantastic time during covid-19, looks can be deceiving. I will share our last month here in Tahiti.
As we prepared to leave for Fiji, the number of covid-19 cases in French Polynesia, mainly Tahiti had risen to over 1000 a day. The population in French Polynesia is about 280 000, so not particularly big. France has provided the Pfizer vaccine as well as JJ which is readily available, but only 30% of the population have chosen to do it. We did get the vaccine and do everything we can to keep everyone on board safe and also those that we spend time with, its part of being a community.
To go to Fiji we are required to get pre-approval which requires us all to have a covid test, get the results, get approval to visit Fiji from Fiji navy, check out of French Polynesia with immigration and sail away all within 72 hours of having the test, a very tough requirement. So we set off Monday morning to visit our agent in French Polynesia, Tahiti Crew to start the checkout process. After finally completing all of the paperwork, which took a long time we set off on the 5 km walk to a new testing centre which reopened that morning. The main covid testing clinic has been inundated with people getting tested, so much so that the queues were around the corner and down 3 blocks of the center. So the five of us set off and arrived just before 10 am only to discover they had already run out of test kits. We returned to our agent, Tahiti Crew and asked for a suggestion on what to do. Taheni tells us just call Sarah at the main center when you get there and she will take you to get it done. (That would have been useful to have told us prior to the 12 km walk)
The kids are tired and grumpy at this stage and the prospect of another 10 km walk does not thrill anybody. So we decided to catch a taxi which we have been avoiding for the past 18 months because of the covid risk. Arriving at the center we are met with a huge queue as was expected full of sick looking people. Sarah tells us to come straight to the front where we are led to an entrance for well people. It makes sense otherwise you would have covid after waiting 2 hours in a line. The test is done quickly and we return to the boat to wait. And wait. And wait.
Wednesday we had to return to Tahiti Crew to have the border police check us out of the country before returning to the boat to wait some more. Finally we got the results, all negative, back that afternoon (48 hours later after they were done) and sent them off to our Fiji agent. We prepared the boat for a Thursday morning departure while waiting for confirmation from our Fiji agent that it had all been approved and we could leave.
Thursday morning came and we still had not heard from Jo our agent. So we decided to head to Fiji. A couple of hours later we had a verbal confirmation we were good to come but as many of the staff had Covid the paperwork would take another day or two. Things were going great, we were headed on a track to Bora Bora, not to stop but to get a better wind angle. About 6 hours into our trip and Andrew and Tristan started opening and closing things in the cockpit and we all eventually headed upstairs to see what was going on.
Andrew explained to us all that the rudder was making a thumping noise. It was the first time that we had been on this particular tack since before we left Mexico, there was also quite a big swell which was not helping things. The problem being that we could change tack and continue on to Fiji and we might get there fine or the rudder could snap. There is nearly 2000 nm and 15 days ahead of us still and that’s a long way.
Andrew made a call to Tahiti Crew to see if we could possibly turn around and they said as we still had a two days left on our visa it would be fine. We deliberated for another half an hour and decided to turn back. Max and Ava were relieved. We stopped in Moorea at about 10 pm for the night as you can’t get into the Tahiti anchorage after 6 pm and got up at 5 am to go back.
And so starts the next round of paperwork at Tahiti Crew. Andrew had to get a marina to write a letter explaining we would need a month to get new rudder bearings made. We had to get passport photos and fill in paperwork for the high commission to ask for a month visa extension and then we had to go back to the boat to wait. At this stage Tahiti had implemented weekend lockdowns to try to curtail the rising covid infections.
Tuesday we were back to be checked in with the border police, who were not very happy with us. Tahiti Crew raced our paperwork down to the high commission and we were back in the waiting game. Nearly two weeks later we still don’t have a visa extension and official permission to be here in Tahiti.
Returning to the boat Andrew, Tristan and Max dropped the rudder to look at it. Andrew called a good friend Mark Edwards who built his own 50 foot boat who we cruised with in 2012/12 in Asia to ask for advice. Andrew also reached out to Greg Christie who is a shipwright and did the original work on our boat 12 years ago. Luckily New Zealand had just gone in to lockdown and Mark had plenty of time on his hands to help. He gave Andrew advice on things to test on the rudder to try to identify the problem.
Tristan with the rudder before the tests began.
Eventually it was decided after all the tests including Tristan bouncing on the end of the rudder when it was situated like a seesaw that the rudder stock had become detached from the inside of the rudder. Andrew went in search for someone trustworthy with experience in cutting open our rudder to repair it. Interestingly enough after an Australian boat gave them a name of a guy, Nicholas who a New Zealand boat had just used and who we were supposed to be going to Fiji with.
Andrew talked to Nicholas and took our rudder in to get a price to get it repaired. Nicholas said he could do it and it would take a week, so Andrew left it with him. Nicholas kindly sent us updates and photos as the work progressed.
Stage 1 of the rudder:
The rudder cut open.
Stage 2: rudder repairs
Fibre glassing to reinforce the inside of the rudder.
Stage 3: Making the rudder whole again
Fibre glassing the rudder back together again.
Image 1: filling the empty space inside the rudder with new foam. Image 2: Sanding back the new fibre glassing.
The finished rudder!!!!
On the day we took the rudder for repair French Polynesia announced a 17 day lockdown was to start . We spent 4 months in lockdown in Mexico last year where we could only move between our boat and 15 meters of beach. This time the rules in Tahiti said no beach, snorkelling or water sports allowed. If you want to leave the boat you have to complete the mandatory paperwork with one of four reasons as to why you are out and about. There moving your boat, no inter-island travel and you are allowed to exercise for one hour within 1 km of your home with the necessary paperwork. Lockdown is hard on anyone, on a 15 meter boat of which there is about 5 meters of walking space it can be miserable. We are about 5 nm from shore where we are anchored. Needless to say the kids have been off once to help bring the rudder back to the boat and Andrew and I have had to trips to the shops for food.
This morning 9 days later we got our rudder!!!!!!!! After a couple of hours of Tristan in the water getting the rudder back in its spot and Max & Andrew doing stuff to it we have it installed.
Max with the rudder after getting it back to the boat.
Getting the rudder back in the water.
The spot where the rudder post had to go back into the boat.
We are ready to go to Fiji! Unfortunately we are waiting on Tahiti Crew to find out if the police will allow us to go as they haven’t completed our inward paperwork yet and if Fiji will require us to go through the whole covid testing again. But we are ready and anxious to get out of here.