Update from Spaceship Leela
24 March 2020 | The Gambiers, French Polynesia
I have been trying to write something for several days now but things have been changing so fast that it did not make sense. There appears to be some temporary stability at the moment so I can take a deep breath and document our status.
For a short time we felt quite disconnected from the craziness elsewhere but, unsurprisingly, things have now become distinctly weirder here. There are a number of cases in Papeete (Tahiti), probably because they were slow to clamp down on tourist arrivals. We don't think there are any cases in the Gambiers at the moment but information is sparse and a lot of people were repatriated from Papeete recently so there is definitely some risk. At this point French Polynesia is on two weeks of total lock down. No travel into the region, no inter-island travel, no local movement without a special permit. For cruisers (and locals) it is absolutely no movement of vessels, no going ashore, no use of dinghies, no water sports, no swimming, all designed to discourage community gatherings. Hopefully this will allow them to find and isolate any new cases. They are clearly taking it very seriously, given the total absence of medical facilities, the mortality risk in these remote islands will be very high if it does get here.
We had the good fortune to have provisioned up and left town before the lockdown edict came down so we, and our friends, Birgit and Christian on Pitufa are ‘locked down' in a well sheltered and isolated bay on an almost uninhabited island. We have been traveling with Pitufa for several weeks now and have practiced the same care with isolation so we are happy to socialize together, a great boon. We have plenty of fuel, water and food so we will sit out the lockdown right here. We both have books and some TV series to watch so I guess we are as well off as we can be in the circumstances. We are also completely used to, and happily so, being in one another's company 24/7 in a VERY confined space, so no stress there. There was a time when the first thing we did when we arrived somewhere was get the dinghy ready and head ashore but, for a couple of months now, we have sometimes gone several days at anchor before we were even inclined to venture off the boat.
Leela has been a little temperamental recently so we seem to have a constant list of boat projects. A solar panel failed last week. This would have been a big deal but we managed to fix it with Christian's help. Then part of the water-maker stopped working, fortunately a good strip and clean seems to have revived it. Yesterday was cleaning out and disinfecting the aft water tank to deal with an algae problem. This morning was ‘hunt the cockroach', unsuccessful so far but traps are set. It appears to be a single roach and no sign of eggs so we suspect it came home in a backpack and is not a breeding risk. Anyway, We seem to be staying on top of things but we are essentially in an orbiting spaceship at this point. There are no marine services and no supply lines so we will have to manage with whatever we have onboard and hope that nothing serious goes wrong with either the boat or us. I had a chunk fall off a tooth the other day. The nearest dentist who could fix it is about 800 miles away but it might as well be a million miles at this point.
One recent project has been decanting liquid Butane from a rented French cylinder to our smaller boat cylinders (see pic). It is a pretty safe operation if care is taken, gloves, safety glasses, no naked flames, and I was pleased to find that the transfer hose worked well. We have enough propane to last about six months now. This is actually very important for us because the bulk of our provisions are in dried form and would be inedible without cooking. We are being very conservative with use of equipment, collecting rainwater to minimize water maker use and the like. We are also being super careful moving around to minimize the risk of injury.
We have absolutely no idea what happens next. The French authorities could decide we are too much trouble and tell us to leave. In any event our visas expire in August with no likelihood that they will be renewed so we would have to head west fairly soon after the cyclone season ends in May. To where? Pretty much the whole western Pacific has closed its doors. At the moment Fiji, 1,800 nautical miles (3,600km) from Tahiti, is the only open port but that might change. We would need to go on from there directly to Australia, another 1,500 nautical miles and, frankly not an attractive destination at the moment as they appear to have shed all pretense of social responsibility, something they will pay a heavy price for. It is troubling that all of the countries that we have a right of abode are currently being ‘run' by complete imbeciles. Makes one wonder about this democracy idea. Anyway, a LOT of long distance sailing in our future, something we thought was largely behind us, oh well.... We are just going to keep our heads down for the next few weeks, practice extreme social distancing and see if anything improves, much like many of you I suspect.
Our hearts go out to all our families and friends in more difficult circumstances. Please stay safe.
We don't have any phone service or real Internet out here so it will be email only for a while. We would love to hear from you at mail(at)janakilennie.com if you have the time. One saving grace of our complete isolation is that we don't have enough internet access to watch our retirement savings evaporating. Life post CV is going to be different.....
Please take care and stay safe.
Graham & Janaki