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Around the World with Captain Mercer: Easter Island

Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012

Landfall at 0600, Easter Island, illuminated by the light of an almost full moon, not a light ashore to be seen. I had heard from the island’s agent that Hanga Roa would not be suitable for tender operations, the swell there was too big. There are only 3 possible landing points, Hanga Roa in the south-west corner, Anekana on the north side and another on the east side. The swell was affecting all of them to some degree, however Anekana held the best possibility and so, that is where we were drifting.

Hanga Roa Harbour.

Sunrise was not until 7:57, however we prepared our tenders and opened our tender platform ready for enough light to commence. It was not until around 6:45 that we saw signs of life ashore, car headlights, bouncing up and down as it negotiated what was obviously a rough track.

Around 7:15, dawn was breaking and there was sufficient light to send a tender ashore and embark the island’s officials, they would have to give us clearance before we could land guests or crew. They came out in a small boat, fishing nets and buoys lying around under the thwarts, jeans and T-shirts seemed to be the rig of the day.

The landing place itself leaves much to be desired, basically a small concrete platform, wedged amongst the volcanic rock; a short headland providing some protection from swell. Adjacent to it is one of the 2 sandy beaches on the island.

Preparing for disembarkation involves placing one of our paint rafts against the concrete pier, insufficient water and the proximity of gnarly volcanic rock prevents us putting a tender directly alongside. Once the paint raft is prepared, complete with a cover and ramps to ‘beautify’ it, a tender is then tied up alongside it. Guests will have to disembark from their tender, step into this ‘fixed’ tender, cross it and then out via the other door to the platform; complicated but necessary, if this doesn’t work then the call will be canceled (and the Captain’s mortal remains will be seen hanging from the yard-arm).

All goes swimmingly well, not literally of course, no-one has to swim, however the disembarkation is smooth. The hillside adjacent to the pier is full of vehicles, every vehicle on the island must have been pulled into service. The ground here is reddish brown, mixed with small volcanic dust and rocks, there is no road other than a track, 4-wheel drive would obviously be an advantage here.

Rano Raraku quarry.

The moai at Ahu Tongariki.

By mid-morning, the majority of our guests are off, however the swell is building and the tenders are having difficulty with operations. The paint raft has taken a battering and has to be exchanged for another, operations having to cease until the replacement arrives. Later in the afternoon, even the replacement is showing signs of stress and that too has to be taken away. As a consequence, the ‘moored’ tender has to be removed and plan B has to go into action. Tours are arriving back late and we still have a number of guests ashore. It is decided that putting a tender bow-on, against the pier is feasible, however, guests will have to enter the tender through one of the large forward hatches/windows; they are treating it like a great ‘adventure’, (these are hardy sailors after all) and the process, although slow, runs relatively smoothly.

We eventually sail, albeit 3 hours later than scheduled, heading for Papeete, Tahiti, which lies 2,300 miles away to the west-north-west. The day’s events are the talk of the ship, guests full of praise for not only the operational aspect, but the wondrous sights that greeted them as they toured the island, this was definitely an item on the ‘bucket list.’

Captain Mercer is at the helm of Amsterdam’s 112-day Grand World Voyage.

1 Comment
  • Dr. Sven Wagner

    Dear Capt. Mercer,
    Even time passed by and I just saw this blog now … I would like to thank you and your crew of the MS Amsterdam for the sponaneously assistence provided when I was ship-wrecked on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in 2012/2013 for nine months. My particular gratitude extends to your Culinary Operations Manager Paul K. at that time. Sailing for 30 days from Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela, Galapagos, Ecuador short-handed with one crew and myself to Easter Island in the Southern Hemisphere winter, we got caught in bad weather and cornered in Anakena Bay on 14. July 2012 in a lee shore. I had to order to abandon SY Gen Osten and we both arrived swimming on Easter Island, probably an infamous record. We set a second, being probably the first record of a sizeable boat carried across Easter Island (12 tons) from Anakena to Hanga Roa. Easter Island has its limits with qualified supply, as it took us 4 months receiving our marine plywood per the Chilean Navy for building a new rudder. However, this could be told as a longer story too short here. Nevertheless, we gained in 9 months deep insights into Te Pito O Te Henua (The navel of the world as Easter Island is also called by the Rapa Nui). From the Chilean Navy, to the Governor, Mayor, and all Rapa Nui and Chilean people we received outstanding hospitality. Actually, a year later I went with the Chilean Navy to Antarctica. The organisation I founded, Sails-For-Science Foundation http://www.sailsforscience.com, conducts sustainable development projects on islands, so also on King George Island in the South Shetlands, besides in the Aegean Sea and other places. If I understand right, you had a similar experience on Asuncion Island as us on Easter Island years ago. I believe Asuncion is even a bit more remote then Easter Island. I would be glad sending you interesting impressions about what happened before and after the shipreck in Anakena as on the long stay on Easter Island, Galapagos (2.5 months) or Antarctica … (I ran even across the descendants of Jakob Roggeveen on Rapa Nui).
    Wishing you and your ship always good winds and a pleasant swell, Dr. Sven Wagner

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