When we started this trip we had planned a year traveling from Barcelona, where we got Happy Days, to French Polynesia. In all the planning and scenarios we never consider a pandemic. And believe me as engineers, project manger we did consider a lot situations and risks. The whole world stopped and changed in a way nobody had predicted and we were no exception. Even with all the obstacles, changes, restrictions, ups and downs, we are happy and grateful that we achieved our goal.
Navigating with COVID, was very challenging but worthwhile. If we look back, we definitely have a favourable balance in our account. We have been traveling for 18 months in amazing places, we met great people, we ate delicious food, we dove, we kite, we hike, we had an unique experience that will last for a lifetime in our minds and hearts. In addition, most important these days we stayed healthy all the way. Probably the only negative is that we would have love to share these adventures with a lot more people, we did have a couple excellent visitors that against all the odds came to highlight the trip, but we were expecting to have plenty more.
Now is time for Happy Days to take a break. It is still not clear for us if we will sell it or keep it, maybe in a year or two when COVID is over we will be able to sail with more family and friends for some short vacations. For us, it is time to find our way back to Australia and go back to work on land. My original sabbatical year was extended due to COVID so I’m now due to start working at the end of August, Cedric will start looking when we get there as he finished his contract before we left.
We can’t get direct flights, which it is a bit strange, because we are closer to Australia by plane. But instead we need to get to France and then to Australia. Not a bad plan as we can visit the family in France before we go back.
Getting Happy Days out of the water was and extremely nerve-wracking experience for me. The “tractor” that pulls the boats out of the water can handle boats with a maximum of 2.3m draft. Guess what, Happy Days have exactly 2.3m draft plus a ball keel which makes it a lot more complicated. And to make it all more interesting we had time constrains as well. I’ll explain.
On Monday July 19, we arrived to Hiva Oa, where the only shipyard in the area is located. We were scheduled to get the boat out on Tuesday. So we actually had to come with a strong wind and the anchorage was rolling plenty. We thought we had plenty time to prepared and be ready for our flights on Saturday. To get to France from Marquises we had to go to Papeete first and then to Paris. The flights to leave Hiva Oa were all booked from July 25 to August 11. So our only option was to leave on Saturday 24th to Papeete and July 29th to France. We were told at this time of the year we didn’t need to worry about getting flights, but this year was special, Emmanuel Macron-french president was visiting French Polynesia for the first time ever, the same week we were going out of the Marquesas. His tour included Hiva Oa and Papeete, so his obviously everything around us was not usual.
There is only one shipyard in Marquises and because of COVID lots of people had not been able to come to get their boats out, so places are limited. The yard is so full, it is a careful Tetris game to get boats in and out. Vincent, the shipyard manager told us, -recently there has been some movement-, apparently it was worst they had boat all the way to the entrance. On Tuesday, they had problems with the boat going into the water, so Tuesday became Wednesday and then moved to Thursday. I was worry because there is a lot to do before leaving the boat for a year or two and we were not going to have a lot of time on land. So we were preparing as much as possible with the boat in the rolling anchorage and a crazy hot weather, one of those days that the paradise everyone beleive we are enjoying feels much more like hell. I went to the airline offices to see if we could move our flights but it was impossible. Everything was fully booked because of the visit.
Things got worst when Vincent came and told us, Thursday was not going to be possible. The big supplies boat “Tapporo” comes once a month and it was there. The Aranui which is half cargo half passengers was also there and one of his lines was tided to the other side of the bay blocking the entrance to the shipyard. Against all the odds what really saved us was the the inter islands ferry, which also was in the bay needing to leave and was bock by the lines of the Aranui. Both boats are from the same company so the Aranui had to lift his line so the ferry could leave. So we only had an hour to make the manoeuvre and it had to be at 1:30pm with the highest tie otherwise there was not enough room for the keel.
It all worked out perfectly, everybody was in place at the perfect time. Couple of guys on land getting the lines, Vincent driving the tractor, Maria on the radio, etc. The manoeuvre was very well executed and we were on land in 45min in a very tide spot. Might be temporary because we were on the second line, if they need to move other boats probably they will have to move Happy Days.
They asked us to stay on board which was kind of strange because most places they ask the opposite. We were at the limit of the tractor, so the whole movement had to be done very slowly and with extreme care. It is a very strange feeling when the boat starts coming out of the water and it gets more scary when everybody on shore gathered around to see it. There was plenty people because of the three big boats in the bay the aranui, the tapporo, the ferry. I could read their faces looking at how small was the gap between the keel and the floor. As we keep moving they starting making better faces. At the end everything went smoothly and as soon as we were in, the Aranui tied its line back again and the Tapporo came in to the bay to tie side to the Aranui. It was all because of Macron’s visit, they never had all those boats in the port at the same time, just our luck!
We kept working hard, preparing the bags, sails down, bimini and dogger down, checked all lockers to make sure no food is left, all windows closed, cleaning everything, donating all food leftover, throwing away stuff we will not be using and won’t las for a year and many more.
We were exhausted but confident that now with the boat on land and half a day more we would finish all the preparations. So we decided to go to Autona for a walk. They were crazy with all the preparations for the visit. It was the rehearsal for the welcoming dances for Macron. More than a 1000 dancers, it would have been so nice to stay couple of days and see that. But we couldn’t so we watch a bit of the rehearsal.
On Saturday, July 24 we made it to the airport in time for our flight Autona-Papeete.
We landed in Pappeete where we spend 4 days. Our friend from SV Nudi who we met back in Dominica where we spend 3 months last year was there in the marina. We had 4 wonderful days catching up with her and visiting Papeete.
We wanted to make a tour to the other side of Tahiti but all 4×4 cars were rented. Why? Because Macron was coming!!.
We still found a car for one day and did a tour in Tahiti. It is stunning indeed, I understand why it is so famous, the market is full of flowers, vanilla, Tahitian pearls, fresh produce, archeological sites and more. The scenery with high flush mountains and nice beaches.
Four days went really quickly specially the first day we slept so much as we were exhausted. We will need to come back one day and explore more.
We left French Polynesia on July 31st, 2021 direction Paris. Now time to get back Australia.
This is all my friends!!!! From Barcelona to French Polinesia! I’ll keep you posted when we get back to Australia and also come back to the blog, I will post more about Marquesas and our crossing from Gambier to Marquesas. Internet is challenging this days. Thanks for following us.