When countries locked down because of COVID-19, thousands of cruisers were stranded. We hear some of their stories
Trapped in Tahiti
by Dan Bower
The World ARC fleet is now reunited. Apart from a USA boat that made for Hawaii, the crews who made pitstops in the Marquesas Islands are now together with us in Tahiti. On Skyelark we were lucky.
We were one of the first boats to arrive into Tahiti, were given a coveted secure berth inside the marina and were just in time to put the boat to bed and get our crew on the last scheduled flight to Europe. Later arrivals have had various opportunities to return home on repatriation flights – with Air Tahiti making a direct 18-hour flight to Paris once a fortnight – tourists one way, medical equipment by return.
Some crews from the World ARC who, like us, are in Tahiti, have decided to remain with the boats and wait and see what happens. Tahiti had a very low number of cases and has started a return to normality. The yacht crews are now having social gatherings, diving, swimming and exploring the islands. Life is close to normal although we are not yet able to up anchor and navigate with freedom.
But the pressing question is: what comes next? There are three main options for us. We can either sit it out in French Polynesia and wait here out of the way of the cyclone zone or make a break for home.
The World ARC is currently suspended and organisers World Cruising has said it’s extremely unlikely they’ll be able to run the second half of the rally from Darwin to St Lucia in September, so yachts wishing to proceed around the world need to wait somewhere. The cyclone season starts in November and there are limited safe havens in the Pacific, which makes owners and some insurers uncomfortable, although Tahiti is only just on the edge of the zone and has been safe historically.
In theory, it is possible to push on and circumnavigate immediately, but not in the sense anyone had in mind when they set off. There’d be no sightseeing, no exploring – it would really be just a delivery trip. Some are contemplating the sailing that transport company Sevenstar have scheduled for later this month, shipping yachts back to Europe at around £40,000 for a 50ft monohull.
The third, default option, is to remain in Tahiti and rejoin the rally when it starts again next year: there is sufficient safe storage for the fleet should it be necessary, and insurance is available.
So what will people do? Over half the fleet plan to make a break for New Zealand; others are considering Fiji and Australia. For us, New Zealand makes the most sense. If we go, next season we could return to the South Pacific – the highlight of any circumnavigation – or head straight to Darwin and finish the loop.
Dan and his wife Emily flew back to the UK in early April and spent the lockdown restoring a camper van. You can follow their adventures on the Skyelark Charters Facebook page.
To track the rest of the World ARC fleet, visit the World Cruising website.