A dramatic accident occurred on August 9, 2020 in Moorea. A young boy, living on a sailboat and swimming nearby, was killed by a speeding motorboat. In reaction, the authorities... decide to chase sailboats away from the most popular anchorage of the island! Explaining a heresy.
(August 23, 2020 - By William Wallace - Blog: William Wallace's blog - MEDIAPART BLOG)
Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, these names make you dream ? If you have the desire to stay there, then prepare yourself for a cruel disillusionment.
The reality, since a few years, is quite different from the image that everyone keeps of these once paradisiacal islands: frantic traffic, endless traffic jams during rush hour in Papeete, omnipresent beggars in the city center, pollution without equivalent from cruise ships, poor quality of imported food, exorbitant cost of living, delinquency and drug trafficking, sale of alcohol regulated on weekends due to innumerable brawls and violence, record rate of domestic violence, starving stray dogs on every street corner, such is the daily life of an ordinary Tahitian.
What happened to the wahines with their dreamy bodies and charming smiles who used to come and play the ukulele on the beach to welcome the newcomers? They disappeared a long time ago. 70% of the population is overweight and almost 50% is obese.
Who cares, say those who consider that the main attraction of these islands, precisely, lies in the fact that they are islands. You have to go there by boat and offer yourself a dream cruise, say those who still believe in the Polynesian myth.
But that was before... Before an incomprehensible wave of anti-sailing hatred swept the shores of Tahiti and the 117 other islands of the Polynesian archipelago. What happened to make sailboats undesirable everywhere, especially in the most popular anchorages? What explains this growing rejection of these atypical travelers, who, most often, have given up everything to live a life off the beaten track on their hull?
Back to the past...
2016-2017. French Polynesia covers a territory as vast as Europe. Yet, despite this vastness, the behaviors, in Fakarava in the Tuamotus, or in Bora-Bora in the Society Islands, are the same.
Fakarava: a huge atoll in the heart of the Tuamotu archipelago, classified as a "biosphere reserve" by UNESCO. It is a paradise for divers and sailboats, which usually anchor near the southern pass, at the "pink sands". Away from the houses, the divers, and the guesthouses that welcome tourists.
But the pink sands are "the" curiosity of Fakarava, which the tourist service providers make discover during their excursions. But, according to them, the sailboats are a nuisance, they spoil the view. They must be chased away. Has the question been asked whether tourists do not appreciate seeing a beautiful sailboat at anchor in this postcard setting? No... Was their opinion asked to those who were going to be dislodged? No...
So, with a bad faith that goes beyond understanding, and under the pretext of preserving the environment, anchoring on the pink sands is forbidden, and sailboats are forced to anchor on the other side of the pass, in the middle of the coral patches! A heresy.
A sailboat should indeed drop its anchor on a sandy bottom. It is more efficient there, so safety is assured. And above all, it does not damage anything. In the middle of the coral sponge, the anchor and the chain do considerable damage to the ecosystem. But tourists can now take their dream photos without a sailboat hanging around in the corner. The providers are satisfied. The corals much less. Unesco is not satisfied either.
2018-2019. Bora Bora. The name makes the whole planet dream. Celebrities flock there, the luxury hotel industry is flourishing. Well, in theory. In practice, the fierce competition between the big hotels is raging, and bankruptcies follow one another as quickly as takeovers and renovations. Bora Bora is the top of the line. The elite. The unattainable. For decades, sailboats have been dropping their anchors there without any problem, and without the slightest incident with local residents. A yachtsman testifies. "I had arrived a few days before, and I was at a cultural event. By chance, I met the mayor's wife, who was charming. We were talking, when I told her that I had come with my sailboat. Icy, she tells me that she hates boats. I ask her why. She answers that she lives by the water (obviously, on these tiny islands, everyone lives by the water) and that sailboats... spoil her view! I think it's a joke. It's not."
Indeed, a few weeks later, the anchorage in front of her house, which had been popular until then, was definitively prohibited. A few months later, a private company will inherit the monopoly of managing dead bodies everywhere in the lagoon. It is forbidden to anchor, and paying for a mooring becomes mandatory, even though the lagoon is 78 km2...! The sailboats are indignant, because most of the lagoon is far from the houses, so they do not bother anyone, and do not create any nuisance. Worse, a few weeks after the installation of these dead bodies, one of them broke while an American catamaran was moored on it. The boat ended up embedded on a nearby hotel pontoon. The damage was considerable, for the hotel but especially for the boat. The company that manages, operates and maintains the dead bodies declines all responsibility. The town hall does not want to hear about it... In spite of this, the sailboats which, for safety reasons, refuse to moor on these unsuitable dead bodies are threatened!
2020. Moorea. An American drops the anchor of his catamaran on the west coast of the island. A kite surfing fan, he just wants to enjoy the place and kite a little. He is also handicapped. As soon as he arrived, a municipal police patrol asked him to leave. Not wanting to cause trouble, he complies. He still asks the reasons for this injunction. "It is X who called us, he is fed up with having sailboats in front of his house. Indeed X lives "very close": 800 meters away! What right does he have to demand the expulsion of the sailboat? A mystery... By virtue of what right does the municipal police interfere in this private dispute ? A mystery...
But the height of anti-sailboat hatred is reached these days. On August 9, 2020, a young boy from a family of English boaters living on a sailboat was mauled by a motorboat while snorkeling near Ta'ahiamanu beach, the island's most popular anchorage. The Public Prosecutor's Office opened an investigation.
The boaters, bereaved, are terribly saddened by this dramatic accident. For 4 years, the Association des Voiliers de Polynésie (AVP) had been asking the authorities to mark out a channel so that motorboats (most often service providers) could bypass the anchorage, instead of passing right through it at speeds that were often excessive.
Thus, the service providers could continue their activity, and the boaters, as well as the bathers of the nearby beach, were safe. Thanks to this tragedy, the AVP naively imagined that it would finally be heard.
A few days later, the authorities, under the impulse of the newly re-elected mayor of Moorea, decided... to forbid the anchorage to sailboats and to chase them away! A decree in this sense is expected soon. Unbelievable: it is the victims who are punished! The parents of the young deceased express their indignation.
Here it is... In a few years, sailboats have become undesirable almost everywhere in Polynesia. Theft, insults, altercations, they are not allowed any respite. Polynesia lives essentially from tourism. Sailboats are therefore an unexpected windfall for all the islands, especially during this period of turmoil caused by the Covid-19.
Until then, the temporary admission period (the period during which a French boat can stay in Polynesia without paying taxes) was three years. We imagined that if not a relaxation, at least a status quo, since tourists are kept away from the islands for sanitary reasons, which constitutes a considerable loss of revenue.
Nay! The duration of temporary admission has just been shortened to two years. Polynesia is reducing the length of stay for sailing tourists while this economic sector is in a state of disaster. A rather disconcerting logic...
What explains this hunt for sailboats? Criticism is rife:
- Sailing boats pollute. This is not true. The analysis, by certified and independent organizations, of the water in the areas where the sailboats drop their anchor shows that these areas are... cleaner than elsewhere. At the same time, we welcome gigantic cruise ships that pollute as much as a million vehicles, without any qualms. Pollution has a good back...
- Sailboats destroy corals with their anchors. This is not true. No sailboat would have the crazy idea of dropping its anchor in the middle of the corals. It is dangerous, noisy, and inefficient. Anchors are designed to be efficient in virgin sand. That's where the boats anchor.
- Sailboats do not earn anything, they take advantage of the infrastructure without paying anything. This is not true. Each sailboat spends considerable amounts of money during its stay in Polynesia (food, clothes, spare parts, repairs, restaurants, excursions with service providers...), in short, just like an "ordinary" tourist. Official data confirms it.
- Sailboats dump their excrement in the lagoons. This is not true. The vast majority of boats today are equipped with black water tanks, which store organic waste and are discharged into the sea. What's more, even if the idea offends, it is natural and perfectly biodegradable waste. At the same time, the sewage of the "landlubbers" are all dumped in the lagoons (except for Bora Bora).
When you want to kill your dog, you say it has rabies. When you want to chase away sailboats, you make them responsible for all possible and imaginable evils.
A discriminatory attitude, not to say racist, which obviously goes against the interests of Polynesia as well as those of the sailors.
A very rare fact is observed: for the first time, the international nautical press recommends to sailors not to go to Polynesia! Cruising Word, the prestigious American magazine, recommends that sailors with the star-spangled banner avoid these islands, specifying that they "send a strong message that the presence of yachtsmen is no longer desired", recalling moreover incidents that occurred in Huahine and a local demonstration hostile to yachts. The same recommendation is made by Voiles & Voiliers to yachtsmen.
The needs of the latter are however plethoric, they are waiting for marinas, landing docks for dinghies, shipyards, repairers, mechanics, sailmakers, spare parts, as many jobs that can generate an important economic activity, jobs that Polynesia cruelly needs.
A yachtsman testifies: "I have been trying for years to open a shipyard in Tahiti or Moorea. Each time I find a site and propose solutions, I am systematically refused. I don't understand."
Yet Tahiti-Infos wrote in 2018 about super yachts: "300 to 400 visitors, 1 billion XPF to the local economy, 3 million XPF average economic impact per visitor." That is a total of 2.5 billion XPF. For sailors, it is 1.5 billion XPF that falls into the pocket of Polynesia. In spite of a crying lack of reception infrastructures. The French Polynesian Nautical Activities Union declares that work is in progress "to better welcome local and international users of the lagoons".
This is undoubtedly the reason why sailboats will be forbidden to anchor at Ta'ahiamanu...!
Concerning the lack of means and services for yachts, which would generate considerable economic activity, the union indicates: "some have been realized, others will be in the next few years. It seems important to us to encourage the creation of micro-services for yachts in the other islands, in order to limit the stay of these boats on Tahiti."
A nice theoretical speech, but in practice, yachts are facing increasing hostility, measures that tend to prevent them from anchoring in suitable places, and worse, they will soon be sanctioned while they have just lost one of their own in dramatic circumstances.
An accident occurred precisely because the precautionary measures recommended for years by the sailboats themselves were superbly ignored by those responsible.
In short, almost everywhere in Polynesia, sailboats are now considered undesirable. This astonishing withdrawal of these islands, traditionally portrayed as hospitable and welcoming, is questionable.
Indirect effects of the Covid-19 crisis? Resurgence of an ordinary racism as unfounded as condemnable? A reawakening of pro-independence tendencies?
Whatever the motivations of the ever-increasing number of opponents of sailboats, and their ecological and security justifications, it is distressing to note that human beings are incapable of living in harmony in places that nevertheless have all the assets to be true paradises on earth.
The landlubbers intend to impose perfectly unjustified constraints on the sailors. And the seafarers should suffer them without batting an eyelid? Let's imagine for a moment that, caught up in a brutal frenzy to have all their aspirations satisfied, the sailors, suddenly invested with the power to regulate, decide to have the houses in front of the place where they have dropped their anchor razed to the ground, under the pretext that it spoils their view, and that they prefer a nature untouched by any occupant... We would laugh at them, of course...
And yet, the opposite should be accepted ?
A passing tourist, a sailor on occasion, sums up the situation well: "Polynesia is so far away, so expensive, if it is to be welcomed in this way, never again... there are many other countries in the world, just as beautiful and much less expensive, where I will not have the feeling of being unwanted as I do here. It's detestable..."
In short, by ostracizing sailboats, Polynesia is dutifully sawing off the branch on which it is sitting. Its image around the world is being tarnished, its reputation as a welcoming land is being damaged, and it is depriving itself of considerable resources that it badly needs given the impact of the health crisis.
Sailboats are not the enemy of landlubbers, and they only aspire to peace and tranquility, just as landlubbers should not make enemies of sailboats under false pretences.
To hunt sailboats like the McCarthyites hunted witches in the past is futile and will not help anyone.
Will the political leaders continue on this dead-end path, or will they correct their course and finally understand that there is room for everyone in the lagoons, provided that everyone shows a little tolerance, understanding and humanity?
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