Mid February 2020 was a moment in history when everything was about to change forever, but we didn’t know it yet.
Or at least I didn’t.
I had been sailing with Bryan and Auriane, chasing swells and fish round the remote atolls of the Tuamotus, while Dawn was away in Europe.
Dawn returned to the boat and our crew flew away.
We had some good reasons to get home, so we shaped a course back toward the relative civilisation of the Society Islands.
We planned to leave Escapade on a well protected mooring while we spent a few months in Guernsey.
Anchored off Raiatea, we started to put her to bed for the season, storing sails, pulling halyards out of the sun and clearing the decks.
We were online intermittently while we did our leisurely packing-up.
I had been dismissing my occasional brushes with the news-cycle as media sensationalism.
One morning a phone call with a well-informed friend in Guernsey changed everything. “If you want to get home do it now”.
Within a few hours we were racing to book tickets home as borders were closing around the world.
We scrambled to finish cleaning and packing the boat, and flew home through an unbelievable new world, finally arriving at our house in Guernsey 17th March 2020.
We would not leave for 18 months.
Escapade swung to her mooring in Baie d’Apu off the island of Taha’a, while the pandemic surged around the world.
We got to grips with life at home, rebuilt our house, tended our chickens and hosted extended visits from first my daughter and then my mother.
Our first full Guernsey winter was a pleasant surprise, plenty of wind, swell and not too cold. I kept busy surfing, windsurfing and took up the new sport of wing foiling. Guernsey closed her borders and remained largely Covid free. Life was close to normal on the island, as long as you didn’t want to leave.
We were able to take quarantine-free holidays on our neighbouring islands, and the pubs stayed open while half the world was in lock down.
Escapade was due to leave French Polynesia in June 2021 at the end of her 3 year permit to remain in Tahiti waters, but the borders were closed.
The customs authorities in Papeete granted an extension to remain until end December 2021. But that deadline was in the middle of the cyclone season, so we negotiated a further extension until end March 2022. We were told that it would be easy to extend that again, I was hoping to wait until some more borders re-opened in the South Pacific, but then in February we were informed very clearly by Tahiti customs that the boat must leave French Polynesia by end March, no further extensions!
We happened to be in Mexico at the time, so we cut short the Baja surf trip and travelled back to Tahiti, toute suite.
Back on board
Sometimes I get a bit daunted by the complexity of our boat. So many details that all need to work! Sails, rigging, engines, electronics, plumbing, fridges, instruments, the list is long enough to keep me awake at night. Well never more so than now, after two years without use. Now we have hornets nesting in our cockpit! Actually our friend Fred had done a great job of keeping everything tidy on board, regularly cleaning and airing the boat and running the engines. But now we faced the re-instatement of all the other stuff. We worked our way around the boat turning things on with fingers firmly crossed.
Lights…Yes! Fridges…Yes! Instruments…Yes! Autopilot…Yes! Dinghy outboard…started first time!
It was all going so well, until we tried the watermaker, which had been left in sterilised mode. It made lots of unfamiliar noises so we turned it off quick. Fred diagnosed the problem and we had to wait two weeks for spare parts to arrive from France. Meanwhile I had to hoist Dawn up the mast to bring down all our halyards which we had stored out of the sunlight.
Then we started ticking jobs off a very long to-do list. We replaced toilet pumps, valves, solenoids, engine oil and filters, engine batteries, the stack-pack sail cover, EPIRB, fire extinguishers, Dawn ran a major IT re-set with expired satellite phones and woke up the computer. I re-ran all the deck lines and running rigging. We replaced our original daggerboard lines and traveller. Then we hauled out in Raiatea and cleaned the hulls and props. Checked saildrives, oil, checked diesel tanks for signs of bacterial growth (Not much, our bio-cide was working.) Fit new adodes, re-launch, play with new Code D sail (to replace our very tired gennaker). A thousand things to do and each day closer to our deadline to depart. It was a very busy, sweaty couple of weeks. Then the watermaker parts arrived and with Fred’s help we fitted new membranes, high-pressure hoses, seals and put it all back together again. Fingers crossed, turn it on…Yes!
Now it really feels like the boat is ready for sea again.
But where to?
The classic sailing route across the Pacific from Tahiti is an exercise in joining the dots as you waft generally westward, because that’s the way the tradewinds blow.
I had planned to stop in Suvarow, Aitutaki and a few other of the Cook Islands, then perhaps a few days in the tiny nation of Niue before arriving in the Kingdom of Tonga to explore some of those 300 islands, perhaps freediving with the calving humpback whales in July.
But having waited two years for those countries to re-open their borders, they are still closed.
So we now have to sail straight past all of them, to Fiji. it’s the only country open down here, about 1800 nautical miles from Taha’a.
Remembering the dream.
A cruising yacht is a wonderful toy to have. She can take you to places and experiences that cannot be reached any other way.
The romantic notion of sailing away on my dream boat sustained me through years of working away in London.
But you have to be living and sailing on the boat for that dream to come true.
A cruising yacht stuck on the other side of the world is no fun.
And there were times in the boatyard this month when I wondered why on earth I need all this complication in my life.
Head down in a tight bilge space fixing a seawater toilet pump, for example.
But sailing away on Escapade was always my dream.
That adventure is still over the westward horizon, just like it always was, and I’m nearly ready to go again.
Fixing the boat and remembering why this was all such a great idea, and still is.
Dawn is not coming with me on this trip but don’t panic! I have a plan.
I had hoped to sail this leg with my daughter Jemima and her cousin Daisy, but they’re not available.
Monty is usually easy to press-gang, but he’s at the Winter Olympics.
So to replace Dawn on this trip, I would really need to assemble a crack team of hardened trans-ocean yachtsmen.
Well they were not available either, so Bryan’s coming! With a couple of friends from Baja, we will be a crew of 4.
I may even get some sleep.