French Polynesia – Gambiers: Covid19 Field Report

Austrians Birgit, Christian and ship’s cat Leeloo set out from the Med on their S&S 41 in 2011 and have been cruising in and around French Polynesia for 7 years. They are currently self-isolating in the Gambiers.

Published 4 years ago

March 16 – Coronavirus

Unlike most people who live ashore we are not constantly surrounded by radio and television with hourly news updates. Sometimes we don’t look at news for long periods of time as it’s usually just frustrating to read what’s going on in the world without being able to change anything, so quite often we focus on the big and small worries of our little world here…

We first read about the coronavirus on the BBC newsfeed we get via SSB radio and pactor modem–just headlines no articles. We were confused, asked friends via emails for explanations and started reading the headlines on a daily basis. The speed of the escalation around the world quickly had us worrying badly, we found another source of info, an Austrian news broadcast on the SSB radio (most other countries have stopped those old-fashioned broadcasts in the times of modern communication, but good old Austria still booms out with waltz music followed by news on 6155 AM at 6:00 UTC).

For us out here the world still looks the same and it seems impossible to imagine the locked-down cities, closed schools and shops and empty streets in Europe (and many other parts of the world).

Last week the virus arrived in Tahiti on an Air France plane, nobody knows how many people got infected on that flight and afterwards, but the first case was reported from Fakarava (an atoll in the Tuamotus). Most of the little islands have just a medical centre with a nurse and no means of dealing with an epidemic. The big hospital in Tahiti is far away (e.g. 900 nm from the Gambier where we are). There are rumours that Air Tahiti will stop inter-island flights, but the supply ships are supposed to keep on bringing goods to the outer islands–if they should stay away panic will rise quickly.

While most cruisers we know don’t worry too much we have stocked up on provisioning in the main village here (disinfecting everything and ourselves back home on the boat) and are preparing to go into quarantine. ‘Better safe than sorry’ is a motto that has been working nicely for us before, so we hope that our friends and family ashore stay safe and await further news.

March 19 – Uncertainties

Measures and restrictions are changing hourly now, nobody quite knows what’s going on between rumours and info. Yesterday we heard that the island nations further west had closed their ports for sailboats (Cook Islands, Tonga). This morning we got an email from a friend that French Polynesia automatically extends visas for those who need them and that sailboats need to stay in quarantine for 14 days after arrival (time at sea counted). This afternoon we heard that no foreign vessels are allowed anymore here.

I got a text message from the policeman in Rapa Iti (Austral Islands) that he’s sorry, but that they won’t allow sailboats in their bay and friends in Raivavae sent the same info. A charter catamaran brought the virus to Fakarava (Tuamotus), so that explains why people now see sailboats with fear and anger…

We’ll see what tomorrow’s news will bring.

March 24 – Covid19

French Polynesia has been in a lock-down for three days now. The rules are very strict: people must stay in their homes except for very urgent errands, cruisers are not allowed to go ashore, all water activities are banned, etc.

We were able to get some diesel and petrol from the supply ship two days ago, now we are provisioned for several months and won’t be a liability for French Polynesia–no additional mouths to feed and as safe as possible in our self-isolation.

Unfortunately international flights were coming in for a long time, so there are several cases already in Tahiti and even on outer islands. The last flight arrived here in the Gambier two days ago–now we have to wait for 2 weeks and hope that the archipelago will stay covid-19-free…

Despite this serious situation we couldn’t help but smiling when we read on the Austrian news that there are help-hotlines for people who have to cope with working from home, home-schooling their kids, being self-sufficient with long-term provisioning–all things that remind us of the cruising life.

March 28 – Latest Situation in Gambiers

Things have become stricter in the Gambier. Cruisers can only go ashore for urgent shopping with a form (one person at a time) and newly arrived boats have not been able to check in yet.
When strong winds were predicted we were allowed to move to a bay with better protection and that’s where we are now (see photo).

Christian and Birgit
SY Pitufa
https://www.pitufa.at/ – blog has some area guides as well as weather, etc. info about the Pacific.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Please share your current experience with COVID-19 restrictions and how it has affected your cruising plans. Contact Sue at [email protected] with your field report.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of Noonsite.com or World Cruising Club.

Read and Post Related Comments

Related to following destinations: ,

Related to the following Cruising Resources:


You must Login or Register to submit comments.

  1. April 8, 2020 at 11:45 AM
    profile photo
    sue-richards says:

    Update from Sailors for Sustainability – also in the Gambiers:
    We haven’t been able to check it on the website yet, as our internet possibilities are limited to mail and what’s app, once a day for a few minutes.
    In the meantime a few boats that arrived after 21 March have completed their 14-day quarantine. They were allowed to go on shore only to be told that the rule still stands that they must leave after the next supply ship arrives (around 15 April). We’ll let you know if there are new developments.

  2. April 7, 2020 at 2:35 PM
    profile photo
    sue-richards says:

    Update 07 April, 2020

    Not much change here, still in lock-down. Good news is that we still have no covid19 cases in the Gambiers 16 days after the last plane arrived. There are 41 cases in Tahiti + Moorea.

    Two or 3 new sailboats arrived, but still not clear whether they are allowed to stay here or are sent on to Tahiti. they can re-provision and refuel, so are allowed to stay at least until the next supply ship comes in. But they have to remain aboard for 2 weeks after their arrival.

    stay safe!
    Christian and Birgit

  3. April 1, 2020 at 9:14 PM
    profile photo
    sue-richards says:

    Received 29 March:

    Here’s an update about the Gambier – The same rules apply as in the rest of French Polynesia, meaning that its borders are closed. Arriving boats have to inform the authorities in Papeete (JRCC) about their arrival. They are only allowed to go to Papeete. Still, five boats arrived in the last two weeks from outside FP (from Panama, Galapagos and Easter Island). All were told to stay on board for a 14-day quarantine. Their fate is in Papeete’s hands, as they need an exception to the official rules.

    Crews of boats that were already here on 21 March 2020 may go to shore for groceries only and then immediately back to the boat. One person per boat. Face masks are obligatory. These crews buy the groceries for the quarantined boats. These measures stay in place until 6 or even 15 April. The situation is getting somewhat tense here as there are some 30 boats in a very small area. Some of the locals are not too fond of the sailing community. Diesel, gasoline, and cooking gas is very difficult to get. The last supply ship didn’t have any for the sailors. The next one is due in three weeks. Similarly difficult are fresh fruit and vegetables, as the shops rarely sell them.

    Finally, we hardly have internet here, hence the lack of info. from Gambier.

    Floris & Ivar – Sailors for Sustainability