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Sailors shipwrecked at remote Easter Island

Few have the courage to enter the world’s greatest oceans on a small boat to sail around the world. Young Swedes Melvin Svensson, 25, and Emil Wärme, 23, are among those who have what it takes. The goal was to take their boat Frivarv around the globe in three years. Eleven months after they left Sweden, at the opposite side of Earth, their boat was crushed against the hard volcanic rocks of a South Pacific island. This tiny island is of the most uncommon kind – it is one of the most remote and mysterious places on Earth – Easter Island.

World map with route of sail boat Frivarv marked
World map with route of sail boat Frivarv marked.

One year and 11 000 nautical miles ago, 150 people took farewell of the yacht Frivarv as it sailed off from Melvin’s and Emil’s hometown of Nynäshamn in Sweden. Melvin, the captain of the boat, was accompanied by three other friends, and Emil did not join in until the boat had crossed the Atlantic and reached the Caribbean. More friends flew then in from Sweden, and the crew of eight people sailed the Caribbean for seven weeks. Unfortunately they got too familiar with the health idiosyncrasy of the region when almost everyone of them was struck by the tropical dengue fever; infected wounds, strong pains and high fever.

Melvin Svensson holding tuna on sail boat Frivarv
Melvin Svensson with a freshly caught tuna.

In spite of the illness hardships in the Caribbean, as six of the crew ended their trip, Emil chose to change his plans; he wanted to accompany his friend Melvin sailing around the world. After crossing Panama, Melvin and Emil were helplessly alone in the world’s greatest ocean – the vast Pacific Ocean.

Preparing swordfish by Galapagos islands at sail boat.
Emil’s preparation of the 65 kg swordfish caught off the Galapagos coast satisfied hungry stomachs.

On their way to Galapagos Islands, the sailors had seen a movie called 180° South, in which a sail boat visits Easter Island and takes local singer and surf girl Alica “Makohe” Ika with them for their journey towards the south of Chile. Thrilled by the fascinating story of Easter Island told in this movie, Melvin and Emil decided to after Galapagos take a detour to Easter Island, instead of continuing straight into French Polynesia. They were not aware of that this detour would change many things.

Galapagos seal resting on bench with text "Let's preserve what we have!".
Galapagos seal resting on bench with text “Let’s preserve what we have!”.
Emil (left) and Melvin (right) discovering Galapagos Islands.
Emil (left) and Melvin (right) discovering Galapagos Islands.

After three solitary weeks of not seeing any sign of land or human life, on the 27th of July they finally reached Easter Island, known to locals by its true, Polynesian name – Rapa Nui. This island was named The Navel of the World by the ancient inhabitants, which is quite fitting, as around the horizon there is nothing else but ocean.

Easter Island moai statue in Rano Raraku.
Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, is known for its massive, mysterious moai statues, scattered in the hundreds all over the island.

They quickly got into the friendly, small-town atmosphere and soon got to know a Rapa Nui family that received them well. The Swedes learned about daily Easter Island life and gastronomy, trying out new foods such as barbequed cow head, heart and braided intestines. Suddenly they found themselves participating in a private ceremony. They held hands with the family, forming a big circle. Earth was uncovered from the ground in the center, where food had been cooking for hours. Melvin and Emil were not allowed to eat from this food, as they were “tapu” – forbidden, sacred. A small earth pit with food had been prepared especially for them. An infant that was born early had just died. The Swedish sailors had come from so far to get here, and this was seen as a sign. An elder prayed out loud in native Rapa Nui language. Melvin and Emil had come to take the bad energy of the latest occurrences away from the island when they leave. Little did they know that leaving wouldn’t be as easy as expected.

Alicia "Makohe" Ika singing at stage during event of 180° South.
Alicia “Makohe” Ika singing at stage during event of 180° South.

As strange coincidences is nothing rare at The Navel of the World, Melvin one day in the street spotted a familiar face – Alicia “Makohe” Ika from the movie 180° South. “You’re famous”, he said, and as soon as she found out that he is from Sweden, she responded in Swedish saying that she is married to the single Swede living at Easter Island (Marcus Edensky of Easter Island Traveling), and they all soon became good friends.

Melvin and Emil were enjoying newfound Easter Island friendships, but they still had their goal clear; to circumnavigate the world. As preparations were being done to continue their journey they would sleep in town and had left the boat in the bay Hanga Nui behind Ahu Tongariki where the water was calm. In the middle of the night of the 8th of August they suddenly received an unsettling phone call from the navy – the wind had turned and their boat had crashed into the rocks.

The sailors immediately went to the other side of the island where the yacht had crashed. The miserable sight of the vessel sitting on top of the rocks was heartbreaking. They had come this far, but now, their boat and home had been destroyed.

Melvin and Emil were shipwrecked at one of the world's most remote places.
Melvin and Emil were shipwrecked at one of the world’s most remote places.
Emil in the crashed boat Frivarv.
Emil in the crashed boat Frivarv.

In the darkness of the night they took what personal belongings they could find and carry, and returned to town. In the morning, when they were back at the boat to continue bringing belongings to town, they had a shocking surprise; any and all items of value had been stolen. In the moment when they had believed things couldn’t go any worse, they learned that this was not the case. Everything was gone. Computers, iPhones, iPads, sailor jackets, ropes, clothes, climbing equipment, 50 bottles of Caribbean rum, radar, radio, GPS, motor, solar panels and much more, to a total value of 25000 USD.

The next days were spent depressingly removing boat parts, often with a chainsaw, that can be reused or sold, such as mast, sail and secondary motor. They would often encounter with locals that were under the impression of that the boat had no owners, trying to break off reusable pieces of the boat.

When everything goes wrong, that’s when adventure starts.
Yvon Chouinard, 180° South

 

Rapa Nui locals broke off pieces of the boat that can be reused.
Rapa Nui locals broke off pieces of the boat that can be reused.

gifts-to-shipwrecked-swedes-gathered-by-alicia-ika

The Easter Island community with a population of 6000 is like a family, and when something like this happens, everyone feel bad for the victims. Alicia Ika let shop owners know of the tragic events. To help restore Melvin’s and Emil’s faith in Rapa Nui, they contributed with many generous gifts – mainly food and clothes. The Swedes were overwhelmed with the generosity of the community, which helped them look positively towards the future.

Marcus and Alicia have been helping out with errands that language barriers otherwise would have made complicated, such as dealing with police and navy, with the hope of one day retrieving the stolen goods. The family that the sailors got to know has been giving a place to stay. Melvin and Emil have the support of new-found family and friends every day.

“This is the only place that has felt as a home to us”, Emil says. “People are so nice. Many approach us and say they are sorry and embarrassed of what has happened. Wherever we go, we are invited to eat.”

The current plan is to buy a new boat in the vicinity to continue their adventure.

“Our dream is to continue sailing westward and complete our round-the-world trip”, Melvin says. “We will do everything we can to fulfill that dream”.

Marcus Edensky

Marcus is owner of local Rapa Nui travel agency Easter Island Travel. He is one of the few foreigners that has learnt to speak Rapa Nui fluently. He is founder of local Easter Island newspaper Tāpura Re'o - the only newspaper written entirely in Rapa Nui language.

11 thoughts on “Sailors shipwrecked at remote Easter Island

  1. What an exiting adventure! Thankyou for taking so good care of Melvin and Emil at Easter Island! Lot´s of love from Melvin´s mother and father/ Gunnel and Glenn Svensson

    1. Very fascinating story, thanks for sharing your adventure! I would have loved to see more photos of the island from that time. You didn’t take more photos of Ahu Tongariki? It’s the big monument with 15 statues. At that time it was still unrestored.

  2. I honestly can not think of a more perfect place in all the world to be ship wrecked or stranded than beautiful Rapa Nui. I have been there numerous times, and cry each time I have to leave. The Islanders are the BEST people in the world. Go tell those at Hotel Otai hello for me. And make sure to get a tattoo from Mokomae:} God Bless and safe journeys.

    1. That was actually the initial comment of the sailors when this accident happened – “I’m glad it was here we were shipwrecked!”.

  3. Rapa Nui not a place to sleep and forget your boat. I got shipwrecked in 2013 in Anakena, also wintertime , last days of June, came swimming to Rapa Nui in a storm. We saved the boat, only because of the immense help of all, Rapa Nui & Chileans. I believe our boat was the first in history on Easter Island to be transported across pretty much the overall triangle , from Anakena to Hanga Roa , 12 tons. We stayed 9 months on Te Pito O Te Henua. At the end we would have needed another nine months to rebuild the boat completely as not much is there and everything to get at great expense. I sold the boat. Sergio should have made the final repairs by now, at Tongariki’s restaurant in Hanga Roa. Now it is christened TeaKoaMiru, home port Rapa Nui, before Gen Osten. It was a very special experience living there under the circumstances and with the friendships. We arrived as two, left as three. One dog, Muta lives now in Quebec. We traveled to Valparaiso with the Aquiles, the Chilean Armada were not just very helpful, but also friends. I traveled a year ago with the Aquiles to Antarctica …

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