The Gambiers are very remote and only receive a supply ship once every 3-4 weeks. Over the holidays it becomes even more infrequent. The main village of Rikitea located on Mangareva received a supply ship in late November, then one in January and then the one we caught at the end of February. The ship in January had no gasoline so the entire archipelago was out of “sans plumb.” We were lucky in that the Nuku Hao supply ship was scheduled to arrive within a week after we arrived (the February ship). Great timing for us!
It is a big deal when the ship comes as the locals receive packages, supplies, parts, cars, scooters, building materials, and pretty much anything that is needed from Tahiti. The magasins (markets) get all of their fresh produce and goods to stock their shelves. So, the island life stops as we know it to greet the ships.
Nuku Hao Supply Ship #1
At 0600, the first of two ships arrived. You can see it coming down the channel (behind the sailboat), during sunrise.
The supply ship lowers two pangas to use as “bow thrusters” and help guide them to the dock. It is amazing to me that they lower these pangas, with people inside them while underway.
The pangas use their wooden bow with minimal protection to “ram” the supply ship and move her into place. The ships captain cannot see the pangas from his perch, so the drivers of the pangas have to have a lot of faith in their own skills – to not get squished.
We went to shore around 10:00 to witness the activity first hand. The supply ship had been docked for about 3 hours and the dock was bustling with movement. They have two cranes that lift and lower the containers from the ship to the dock.
Then forklifts move the containers and boxes away from the boat to make room for more. Dozens and dozens of containers were unloaded. Usually they have one fork lift on either end (one goes backwards while the other forward). Really amazing.
The island is fueled by propane (kitchens) and they were very low on supply in the islands. So, lots and lots and lots of propane bottles were delivered. Locals bring their empty bottles in exchange for full ones.
Anything and everything is delivered
The gasoline and diesel are delivered in 200-liter barrels. The locals bring their empty barrels in exchange for full ones. As an outsider, we can purchase one 200-liter barrel of diesel but not gasoline. Gasoline has to be pre-ordered or purchased directly from the local magasins (for about $50 per 5 gallons). Locals can purchase an open container (lower photo) have it filled and shipped to them. They meet with the foreman, provide payment and paperwork, and he tells them which numbered box is theirs.
I witnessed some funny things while on the dock. I am sure most of it would never be allowed in the States. A local purchased a 200-liter drum of fuel. He backed his hatchback to the dock and had a forklift deposit the heavy barrel into the back. What??? The bottom photo are the locals waiting for individual packages to be unpacked.
The fork lifts drive right inside the containers to remove pallets of beverages, food, and supplies. Of course, we found the pallets of Hinano (local beer).
I went around to the bow of the supply ship to see the damage caused by the pangas. I was surprised the metal ship had so many dents from the wooden pangas. But both the pangas and the supply ship had obvious damage.
Changing of the Guards / Ships
The Nuku Hao supply ship finished unloading and repacking the ship around 1800. By 1900 it left the dock and was out of the channel. By 2100 the Taporo Supply Ship was pulling into the harbor. What a lucky day! Both supply ships arrived. The Taporo carries more of the fresh produce and frozen goods. It was raining when she arrived so we did not go to the dock to witness this madness. We did however, go ashore several hours later to raid the magasins for fresh produce.
The Taporo brought all of the jet fuel for the airport
Although two ships came to deliver supplies, we realized that they still did not bring certain items like cabbage which is normally a staple. Odd. We will have to find a local who grows them. Because we are in the Gambiers, very fertile islands, the search will continue for fresh produce.