We had already been sailing for the last 18 days since we left the Galapagos Islands and judging from our plotter and GPS we were about 100 miles from Tahiti. The night was warm and the seas were calm, the last night of sailing before landfall always seems to drag on and on. I was on watch taking the 6 to 9 in the evening. Pam had already made dinner of what else, but mahi mahi, a fish I really used to love. After having fish almost every other day, I was dreaming of a nice French Restaurant in Papeete. During the daylight hours there was not much to do except read and maybe put in a DVD and watch a movie that we had seen numerous times before, or fish. Joel, who was an excellent fisherman having worked as a mate on a charter fishing catamaran in Papeete before joining us on our trip; would upon waking up walk the decks of our boat and pick up the flying fish that had been startled by our passing in the night and taken flight only to hit the sails or cabin sides and land on the deck to eventually die there and become bait for us in the morning. They were pretty hard when we got them, but we would put them in a pail of salt water and they would soften up, then Joel would rig them with a hook and leader and we were ready to troll for whatever the sea would deliver to us. Mostly we would catch mahi mahi, and occasionally we would get tuna, sometimes yellow fin other times albacore, tunny, or big eye; yellow fin being everyone’s favorite. Caroline, Joel’s girlfriend, made the best poison cru with the mahi mahi. But tonight I was dreaming of a French restaurant, though I was soon to be disillusioned with the dining scene or lack of it in Papeete. During my watch I noticed the crew, Joel, Caroline, and Pam just kind of hung around not too anxious to hit their bunks along with our two passage makers. Steve and Mike Mey, the sons of my fellow yacht club member that I used to crew for during the summer back in Winthrop Massachusetts; what seemed like a million years ago on this night, had joined our boat in the Galapagos Islands where their Dad, George, and his wife Gail got off the boat. George and Gail had made the passage from Panama to Galapagos, two very dear friends and a wonderful family. Yes, I would say that everyone that night had the passage blues with the anticipation of a landfall in the morning.
At about 530 in the morning we spotted in the false dawn, the Island of Tahiti. One of my earliest dreams was to come to this place in a magnificent sailboat as we were sailing now, a 96’ sloop, twin engine, just recently refit with the latest gear and equipment – this vessel was a real eye-opener. The crew was all up on deck now and we still had another 6 hours left before we came into the breakwater in Papeete harbor. As we sailed along the coast of Tahiti we could see the island come to life with more and more traffic on the roads as the night turned to day and the lights on the streets and in the houses started turning off. What a good day to be alive, living a dream. We sailed into the harbor and we did turn a few heads as we pulled up to the quay in the middle of the harbor right in the center of Papeete. I wondered if Paul Gauguin felt the same as he was sailing into this harbor close to 100 years ago. After we tied up the boat, the crew started the normal duties of washing the boat and cleaning and polishing after an 18 days passage, our longest yet. I on the other hand, had my legal duties of clearing into customs and immigration, upon which I found that I had to post a $2000.00 bond on myself and all of my crew. This was because in the past so many people had jumped ship in this idealistic and beautiful place. My wife Pam had her duties as well; being the chef after an 18-day passage leaves the cupboards and reefers bare, she was out to buy up the grocery markets. Steve and Mike were ready to head back to Massachusetts and their family, I think that was the longest they had ever been at sea and they were ready to head to the airport to get their tickets and an early departure the next day after a whirlwind tour of the island. When everyone was done with their assignments for the day Pam asked everyone what they would like to do about dinner, it was unanimous everyone wanted off the boat; Joel and Caroline to visit with Caroline’s sister on the Island, Mike and Steve to the local watering hole. That left Pam and I for that nice French restaurant. But that was not to be. We walked up to some of the restaurants and saw the prices of the meals. We really had sticker shock – steaks over $50. We must have had a sad face showing cause one of the local Polynesian girls came up to us and said in the most beautiful voice and smiling face, that these restaurants are for the wealthy tourist and we should try “Les Roulottes”, as she pointed toward a large parking lot along the water that had a bunch of what looked like trucks and vans in it. So we walked toward the waterfront and what we saw really amazed us. These trucks were like children’s transformers, they had parts that slid out, folded down, folded up and were like instant rolling restaurants, each one serving a different type of and style of food, the most amazing thing I have ever seen! So much I thought for a romantic booth in a romantic restaurant, with a nice bottle of French wine, but fate does play tricks on the unsuspecting. We found one place that had a whole pig roasting on a spit over charcoal and the smell would drive any sailor fresh from 18 days at sea mad with desire, so we sat down to have a memorable meal! It became just that! Pam and I talking to each other were overheard by another couple sitting next to us. They turned to us and said “Are you Americans?” I really did not know how to answer that. Surely we were American, but we had been warned that in some countries we were about to go to it might be better to say we were Canadian and eliminate all political ramifications. But we did answer yes to the American question and that’s how we met Rose and Bruno! They soon became part of our family and vice versa. Rose was French and Tahitian and Bruno was Tahitian and Chinese. Rose said that she would like to show us her Island and also explained it would be good for her to practice her English. Rose was a schoolteacher, but school had let out for 2 months and she had plenty of time to show us around. We were taken aback, we really didn’t know these people but we soon learned the generosity and kindness of the people from Polynesia. It is no wonder the old whalers would land here for supplies and never get back on a ship again. So we made a date for the next day. Rose was going to pick us up at the boat and show us her island.
Mike and Paul were fortunate to get an early evenings flight back to the US, landing at San Francisco, and then on to Boston. Joel and Caroline were going to be busy with family and friends for the next three days so this left Pam and I free to explore this beautiful island of Tahiti. Rose was punctual and picked Pam and I up at the boat at 10:00 in the morning and took us to a museum on the south side of the island. I was amazed at the lush greenery and especially at the beaches with their black sand which was ground up lava from the dormant volcano that is the highest peak in the middle of the Island. Bruno’s family owned a small breakfast and lunch restaurant where Rose took us for lunch then showed us her modest apartment that they lived in with Roses’ son AriiNui. Rose and Bruno were not married and Bruno had an eight year old son named KanakaNui. At Bruno’s restaurant we met his mother who worked there. The restaurant was a thriving businessman’s luncheonette in the middle of Papeete.
Bruno told us about his getaway house on the island of Moorea, 6 miles away from Tahiti. Rose and Bruno would leave every Friday afternoon on the local ferry to head to Moorea and come back on Monday morning. After a couple of days with Rose and Bruno showing us around, they asked if we wanted to ride the ferry to Moorea with them. By this time the work, repairs and cleaning that we were doing on the boat were completed. We said if the anchorage is good, we could all sail there, as I had heard from Caroline that Moorea was one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Most recently Moorea was the site for the filming of Mutiny on the Bounty with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins (1984). Absolut Freedom was not your run of the mill sailboat, she was a 98’ luxury sailboat and not many boats of this size are even seen in this part of French Polynesia. Rose and Bruno must have felt like they were living the life of the rich and famous.
I was polishing some chrome on the stern of the boat while we were tied up at the quay in Papeete, when I noticed my crew, Joel, the engineer and Caroline, the stewardess walking down the dock towards the boat. Joel had been on the boat as engineer for about 8 months now since I flew him up to Bermuda to make the passage with us to the US Virgin Islands, and on that trip he decided to stay on the boat as full-time engineer. When we left St Thomas to head to South America and Trinidad, I knew that the current stewardess was going to be leaving in Trinidad, so Joel suggested that his girlfriend Caroline be considered for the job. I had worked with Joel on the sister ship to the one that I was running now and he was good crew. I had picked him up in Trinidad after a refit then heading North on sailing charter boat Titan, When I left Titan Joel got a job sailing on a boat over to the Med and I lost track of him till I found out he was back in St Thomas. I got in touch with him and flew him up to Bermuda.
I could tell that there was something wrong with Caroline and Joel as they approached the boat, then they told me about Caroline needing a knee surgery. Her family convinced her to fly back to Paris where she would have all her medical bills taken care of and Joel was going to go with her as he was madly in love with her and could not possibly be without her. I was now crew-less in a foreign port where the prospects of getting a crew were not that good, or so I thought. I was wrong. Two days after Joel and Caroline left a young man came up to the boat and asked “Do you know where I can get some work?” That is how I met Nick Sherman. Nick came from Huntington Beach California and he was your typical surfing nut. He lived to surf, and had traveled to Tahiti because he heard the surf was up. I explained what the job entailed and he agreed to work hard for the opportunity to travel with us. We were still 1 person short for a 4-person crew; Nick came through with a recommendation of a friend named Erik Anderson. When I met Erik I knew this was a person that could and would do anything asked of him so I hired him on the spot, but he had to leave Tahiti to head back home to San Diego for at least a month. That was OK because we would be there for 2 more months, with the owners of the boat coming down once, and the boat manager coming twice. We got the boat shipshape and sparkling and then we would do our weekly Friday to Monday in Moorea. Bruno and Rose and sometimes AriiNui, Roses son, would join us on the trip over to Moorea. We would get there around 6 at night and dingy our guests to Bruno’s place and make arrangements for Saturday, which always was a full day. Bruno’s place was right on the water and he would come over to the boat in his dingy. Nick, Bruno and I would go hunting on the reefs for food. We would get giant sea clams, spearfish, sea urchins and anything edible for a Saturday luau that would last till late in the night or early in the morning Sunday. I remember swimming alongside Bruno when I noticed 4 or 5 sharks swimming right alongside us. When I told him about the shark he would say, “Kick them out of the way. They are just like dogs and they want to play and eat what we miss.”. Some fun! After we had loads of seafood we would all go to Bruno’s house. Living at Bruno’s house was his Auntie Tati and his cousin Coco, a local schoolteacher on Moorea. I have learned that the Polynesian people love music. Coco would play a Ukulele and Bruno would play a type of Bongos, Rose and Tati would take 2 spoons and put them in a bottle and make a musical instrument out of that. Some of the best memories I have ever had. I soon realized that our Tahitian family had adopted Pam and I and Nick.
We kept on meeting with Rose and Bruno and were welcomed as being one of their family, getting invited to many social and family events, cookouts, dinners, parties, etc. We had heard from the owner of the yacht and he said he was going to make the trip to Tahiti, but this time he was going to be bringing someone new, his new wife. Whenever the owner traveled, he traveled with his personal assistant and her husband, the yacht manager.
So now the boss was going to be coming to Tahiti with someone very special to him and I wanted to plan some great things for them to do. I mentioned this to Bruno, and he said (which he said many times) “We have no problems, we only have solutions” (I smile as I write this just remembering his Polynesian accents saying this!) Bruno told me about “Heiva” which is the biggest competition in Polynesia. It happens once per year and all of the islands in the archipelago send their best dancers and singers to Papeete for this week-long competition.
Being born in Polynesia, a lot of the families travel throughout the various islands in search of work, wives and so on. It ends up that a Polynesian can travel to any island here and have relatives, and when they meet up, it is the cause for a celebration or party or as they call it a luau. Bruno and Rose had relatives throughout the islands and in some of the most prestigious occupations in and out of government. I think you see where we are going with this! One of the main people in charge of Heiva was a cousin of Bruno and was more than happy to help out with front row seats sitting with all the dignitaries and notables of the Islands, for Pam and I, Rose and Bruno and our boss and his entourage.
This was one of the most memorable experiences of my life, watching the dancers male and female and the singing brought me back to when I was a child dreaming of the South Pacific, (actually South Pacific was filmed in Opanohu Bay, Moorea, right where Bruno holiday house is) with the music, the unbelievable beauty of the Tahitian woman and the smells of the flowers that adorned their costumes.
The name of the beer that is served in Polynesia is called Hinano and was sitting right in front of Miss Hinano, who represented the beer in all their ads and had to be one of the gorgeous women ever.
Needless to say, the owner and his friends enjoyed the competition immensely. The owner’s schedule did not allow his staying on the boat much more than a long weekend, and that time flew by. It was soon time to take them to the airport, place shell necklaces around their neck and wish them a safe journey home. We would be seeing them when we reached Australia in 2 to 3 months.