From “La Stampa”, 22 March 17.30
And so, as was feared, the great adventure of crossing the Pacific has turned into an odyssey. A greater adventure, you will say. It is not like that.
Faced with the confused, contradictory, dramatically pressing diktats of the Polynesian authorities legitimately worried about seeing the Coronavirus land on their beautiful islands, Ariel and his crew have chosen to leave the Marquesas and Nuku Hiva islands, their original targets, and continue sailing another thousand miles to Tahiti and Papee’te, the largest and most equipped center of the Society Islands and where the international airport is located.
An obligatory choice and urged by the Polynesian authorities according to what the organization of the World Arc told us, also taken by surprise by what has hit the regatta they have been organizing for years.
Put simply, Polynesians don’t want foreigners on their islands. Of course, they cannot deny crews that have three weeks of sailing behind them, without galley and with diesel fuel running out, a berth. But this dock will be one and only one. Then away, out of bounds. And that only berth must be Papee’te where, according to the boatos circulating between the satellites and the radios of the thirty boats scattered in the South Pacific, they could not say seized but almost, if the crews were forced to return to their countries of origin by plane (with which flights, since they have all been canceled, it is not known).
Ariel and a few other boats have chosen this path, not because they are convinced but because they are obliged. By chance, that is to say from a satellite phone call from Italy, and not from the Arc or the Polynesian authorities, Paolo Casoni’s crew learned of the blocking of internal flights, those same flights that the writer and Maurizio Miele, another member of the crew led by the Parma vascular surgeon, was supposed to take March 28 to reach Papee’te and board an Air France flight to Europe.
The route was then immediately turned towards Tahiti, another thousand miles away, where Ariel plans to dock on Thursday. He was able to do it because the boat is super-equipped and has enough fuel – using it very sparingly – to reach Papee’te if the wind drops as the weather forecast suggests. Those same forecasts that announce lumps, violent and sudden rain showers like the one that hit the boat, with gusts of wind up to 45 knots, immediately after the decision to continue towards Tahiti.
That said, there are 12 eggs left in the galley, the vegetables are finished, the canned food is not a great food and the water from the desalinator forces everyone to take mineral salts.
For the other boats, the majority of the thirty who set sail at the beginning of March from the Galapagos, all tormented by the shortage of diesel if not by real breakdowns, it was a forced choice to focus on Nuku Hiva instead. The first arrived today (Sunday 22nd) and the surprise was bitter.
Moored at anchor, no one was able to go ashore and only in the morning they will be able to carry out the entry procedures. Everyone was informed that only one member of the crew will be able to disembark for supplies to the galley in the few open shops and, as mooring on the quay is prohibited, even the full tank of diesel can only be done with a coming and going of cans. Of the approximately 3,000 islanders, very few are seen, they are all locked in the house.
What the crews will be able to do after they have replenished supplies is unknown: if only one berth is allowed, where will they go? All the other archipelagos have closed their borders as well as Australia and New Zealand. The American crews theorize to focus on Hawaii which, however, are 2500 miles away and with a very challenging sea. According to the rules imposed by the Polynesians, everyone should leave the boat at anchor and return home – with which flights it is not known since they should be organized ad hoc – and then return who knows when to resume the vessel in who knows what conditions and always that there is still.
The same reality Ariel will be in on Thursday when she is expected to land in Papee’te. With the only difference that if he were to leave the boat, Captain Casoni would have more yards at his disposal to shelter the Hallberg Rassy 53. However, a solution that is not easy to adopt. The alternatives are all challenging and have the common denominator to leave Tahiti and travel as much sea as possible to shelter the boat in a safer place than Papee’te and return next year or in any case after the cyclone season.
Australia and New Zealand seem to be the most popular destinations but the blockade imposed by those governments must be overcome. What is theoretically possible if Ariel’s health situation remains the current one, that is, immune from the Coronavirus since he has been substantially in quarantine at sea for three weeks. But if the crew goes ashore at Papee’te, the coronavirus free status is lost.
Not exciting is the fate of those who disembark in Papee’te to be repatriated: when will there be the plane to go home? And once in Italy it seems we will have to undergo quarantine.