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Stranded Sailor Finally Makes Landfall in Fiji

During the coronavirus pandemic, borders around the world have been shut to cruising yachts with precious few exceptions. One recent deviation from this rule, however, was that of 59-year-old Singaporean solo sailor Wong Tetchoong. After setting sail from Singapore on February 2, Wong began what was supposed to be a three-year adventure with many stops along the way. The coronavirus, which had just begun to make international headlines, had other plans.

wong solo sailor aboard catamaran
Wong Tetchoong aboard his cruising catamaran.
© 2020 Fiji Navy

“I sailed to Papua New Guinea from Indonesia because the weather was okay. But when I reached the borders, they were closed. So I continued again to the Solomon Islands. It was also closed. Then I went to Tuvalu. They didn’t let me in, but the Tuvalu people provided me with food,” Wong told the Fiji Sun.

Six days and nights after departing the tiny South Pacific nation of Tuvalu — with a population of just 12,000 — Wong reached Fijian waters on April 28. Reporting damage to the engine, autopilot and steering of the cruising catamaran, Wong’s daughter had contacted the Fijian authorities. They granted him permission to enter. With just 18 cases of the coronavirus — almost all healed and resolved — and zero deaths in the entire nation, authorities had not let many sailors in, but made an exception for Wong.

Navy sailors approach cat
The Fiji Navy approaches Wong’s boat. Is it just us, or does that look like a yellow quarantine flag flying from a shroud?
© 2020 Fiji Navy

After authorities towed Wong’s disabled catamaran from the Navula Passage into Vuda Marina on the western side of Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, they boarded the boat in full protective gear and then transferred Wong to the nearest hospital for evaluation. “He’s been sailing for a while, so the risk [that he had coronavirus] was quite low, but all the protocols were followed,” said Timoci Natuva of Fiji Navy. Wong was treated in Lautoka hospital. It had coincidentally treated the nation’s first confirmed cases, which arrived into the country on a flight from San Francisco.

Earlier, Jose Miguel Castello arrived in Fiji on his San Francisco-based Beneteau.
© 2020 Fiji Navy

Coincidentally, one of the last cruising yachts that we know of that successfully cleared into Fiji also originated in San Francisco. Jose Miguel Castello’s San Francisco-based Beneteau 423 Carthago, a veteran of the 2015 Baja Ha-Ha, left New Zealand in late March, just before New Zealand went into lockdown. He had been granted prior approval to sail to Fiji. Fiji went into lockdown as Carthago was halfway there. Upon Castello’s arrival in Fiji, he was escorted to nearby Denarau Marina by the Fiji Navy, where he was allowed to clear in just before Cyclone Harold brought strong winds and heavy rains to the country.

1 Comment

  1. RDE 4 years ago

    In the US we’ve done almost everything wrong and too late in confronting this virus. But we are not alone!

    When I read accounts of cruisers held at anchor in Lareto for 42 days and not being allowed to leave their boat for a swim it makes you wonder if there is any sanity left in the world. But it is easy to understand how regulations grow and fester like the disease they pretend to control. In the case of the often-draconian regulations that cruisers face all over the word we can identify the early source of the panic. When CORVID-19 was first found on the Diamond Princess cruise liner back in late February, it was shuttled from port to port while authorities tried to figure out what to do. Finally the passengers were allowed to disembark in Japan, but not before the US “rescued” the 300 or so Americans on board and flew them back to an airbase in California. They were greeted by base staff who had no idea about how to quarantine a highly contagious viral disease, so they went out into the community to spread it into the general public. The failure was compounded as the “rescued” were soon released to their homes all over the country.* The opportunity to make use of effective quarantine procedures and to scientifically study this new disease was lost, and soon the entire country bore the results.

    Cruisers who find the entire Pacific Basin closed are being treated exactly as if they were individual cruise ships and are subject to regulations born of the human tendencies to follow blindly after leaders and build bureaucratic nets to ensnare and control others. Far more rational to test and quarantine newly arrived cruisers and then open the economies of Pacific Islands to the money and jobs they bring with them.

    * At the risk of infuriating 3/4 of the people in California I should point out that even Trump knew better than to release all the Americans who had been aboard the Princess, and was furious when he found out about it.

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