Happy Magic in Hao 

Happy Magic in Hao 

At a time when people could use some cheering up, here is a story about happy magic in Hao, an atoll in the French Polynesian archipelago of the Tuamotus.

By - 15/06/2020

Shortly after Polynesia had ended its local lockdown but was still closed to foreign travellers, a 40-foot catamaran named Savita arrived in Hao with three sailors aboard. They left Cuba before the Covid-19 shutdowns were in high gear but arrived in Panama after the world had closed.

In Panama, they barely set foot on land while confined to their boat for several weeks waiting for a slot to transit the Canal. Once in the Pacific, they sailed past the Galapagos because they knew they would not be allowed entry, and set sail direct for Hao, roughly 4,000 miles, where they tied up at the public dock.

The catamaran’s crew dutifully registered with the Gendarmes, French national police responsible for enforcing immigration rules. The officials informed the sailors they had entered in violation of confinement edicts, which would require them to leave . . . but the Gendarmes reacted with head and heart. They offered to contact high authorities in Tahiti and request special consideration, recognizing that after some twelve weeks aboard a boat without symptoms the chance of virus infection was essentially zero.

Word came back that the crew of Savita would be allowed to stay for the price of a small fine but were instructed to quarantine aboard for an additional fourteen days. A victory, but one with an ugh, since the new arrivals were starved for some human interaction other than themselves.

The four cruising boats already tied inside the public basin, Sugar Shack, Hoo Doo, Queen B, and Sea Jay had planned a barbecue for that evening. So we moved the barbecue to the dock in front of Savita. Her crew could stay aboard, follow the rules, and be part of the fun.

As the lamb, and chicken came off the grill, and sausages and cupcakes circulated, Asier from Basque Country and Ganesh from Hamburg produced guitars and began to play Basque and Spanish songs and an occasional pop tune. Javier from the Canary Islands demonstrated that under the right conditions, a paddleboard tied to the deck of a Nautitech 40 is a perfect percussion instrument. They were terrific.

Word spread. We suspect Ellen, a French woman stranded in Hao because of the virus lockdown, living aboard and taking care of Captain Georges, a local boat, had something to do with it.

Before long, two twenty-something Polynesian fellows, William and Taps appeared, guitar and ukulele in tow. Heuni, hibiscus flower adorning her left ear, above her heart indicating she is spoken for, accompanied them. (A flower on the right side means a lady is searching). They began to sing Polynesian tunes. They too were terrific. The two sets of musicians alternated songs. Smiles and laughter filled the dockside, everyone taking pleasure in the common bond of music, and for that matter the bond of our common humanity. At the irresistible insistence of the Savita crew, the less musically talented cruisers offered an enthusiastic if unmelodic rendition of “What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor.” The magic went on for hours.

The audience of perhaps twenty-five people included Polynesians, Spaniards, Germans, French, Dutch, and Americans from California and Texas, Alaska and Connecticut, and New York. The harmony and joy we all experienced seems too rare these days. It is a nice reminder that it is still out there for people possessed of the right spirit.

Ed. Note:

New OCC members Chris McNickle and Fred Walters have been cruising in French Polynesia since January 2020 aboard their St Francis 50 catamaran, Sea Jay. Welcome aboard Chris and Fred, and thanks for sending in your story. 

Photo: Around the table from left to right: Hao locals Taps, William, and Heuni played and sang with the crew of Savita. Sitting behind them, Ellen, who made it happen. (c) Chris McNickle

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