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Easter Island – Off the Beaten Track

By Sue Richards last modified Jul 02, 2008 12:43 PM

Published: 2008-07-02 12:43:06
Countries: Easter Island

April 2008

As Underveis dropped anchor, the bells tolled from the shoreside. It was Easter at Easter island.

Easter Island is well known for most people through countless scientific articles and books about the enormous stone statues that were carved from lava stone, erected and transported manually across distances of many miles by the inhabitants. Not forgetting the Norwegian scientist Thor Heyerdahl, who contributed to making Easter Island a household name across the world, even though most people have never been there. For us on Underveis, Easter Island was one of the few places during our circumnavigation, that we really, really wanted to visit. This was our ticket to visiting a place off the beaten track! (Even though a commercial airport was built on the island as far back as the 1960s, and the island relies heavily on tourism…)

Most yachtsmen sail directly from the Galapagos to the Marqueses in French Polynesia. We chose to set our course south-southwest towards Easter island, 2000 miles away from almost anything, including Chile, Galapagos and Tahiti. After 16 days at sea, with very good winds, a tough case of the flu and some electrical and mechanical problems, we could finally raise Easter Island on the horizon.

Anchoring at Easter Island
One of the most prominent features of Easter Island, is the absence of a proper harbour. Two very narrow and shallow coves, cut into a stony and wild coastline, is everything the locals have. As we arrived, we could see that the military supply vessel from Chile had arrived. That, and another civilian freight vessel, arrive every three or four months.

We were the only sailboat, and could use the buoy that has been put out there for us. We were happy to use it, because during the three weeks or so that we spent here, we had gales with swell up to 12-15 feet, pounding in straight from the high seas, completely unchallenged. We stitched our boat to the buoy with chains and thick rope. The foundation for the buoy is an old tractor sitting on the seabed, so we were very confident in the buoy, and rightfully so.

According to the Chilean Navy, we are supposed to have one hand onboard at all times, to tend to the vessel. But many days, the weather was simply too rough for us to get out there, and Underveis had to spend more than one night all by herself. The sight of our anchor light, swinging several metres from side to side, and back and forth, while the swell came thundering in along the coast, making all conversation impossible, is unforgettable. We didn’t sleep well every night. But, as always, Underveis handled it, and didn’t seem to have any problems tackling the weather at all. We are constantly reminded of what a sturdy and good ship she is. More faithful travel companion can hardly be found.

Once you have arrived at Easter Island, there is basically around 4,500 kilometers to the next inhabited place in all directions (except for Pitcairn). So even today, with its daily flight, the island is literally situated in the middle of nowhere. We enjoyed ourselves together with our parents who flew out to spend Easter with us and spent some time in a hotel with a swimming pool and hot water in the shower. We went exploring, seeing all the statues and the quarry where they were made. Places we had previously only seen in b/w pictures of poor quality in Thor Heyerdahls books.

Master Card not Visa
One of the problems we encountered, was that both the ATMs on the island only accepted Master Card, not VISA. Even though many restaurants and shops accepted VISA, we had a cash problem. We tried wiring money from our Norwegian bank. They said the transaction would take one day. A week and a half later, still no money had arrived in the local Chilean bank. And the employees there didn’t really seem to have a clue what to do. The solution presented itself with the owner of a local restaurant, the Kaimana Pub. He offers to help tourists in our position by disbursing cash in USD, Euro or pesos via his VISA system in the restaurant. The currency conversion rate he uses is the official one, and he didn’t charge anything for the service. We were so relieved when we finally had some cash in our hands again!

The police, customs, immigration and health authorities were very friendly and professional, though, with four persons coming onboard upon our arrival and departure. They checked our radio equipment, controlled manually that we had drinking water for the voyage to Pitcairn, as well as canned food and general provisions.

Cruising around Easter Island
One day we had such good weather that we could take Underveis and go to the island’s only beach, Anakena. We swam, barbecued and enjoyed ourselves drinking Cuba Libre until nightfall.

A few other sailboats came visiting during our stay, and altogether Easter Island is being visited by around 30 sailboats a year. Considering that e.g. Trinidad has approximately 2,700 visiting boats a year, we still consider Easter Island to be far off the beaten track, and still relatively untouched by the yachting community.

We noticed, both through the weather, the sea state and temperature, winter is approaching in the Southern hemisphere. April in Easter Island equals October in the Northern hemisphere. Both the tourist season and other activities on the island were thus coming to a seasonal end, something we really appreciated.

Rune Ellingsen
SV Underveis