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17, 2003-front page
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Report Nine from the Otter: Ashore in
Tahiti, then to Bora Bora
Aboard the yacht Otter
Opua, New Zealand
Dear Friends and E-mail Family,
Itís evening and Iím below in the cabin of Otter, attempting to
put my notes and thoughts together concerning the last four-and-a-half months.
The last writings I sent to my brother John were in August and were through to
my arrival in Tahiti; now I am trying to catch up to my arrival in New
Zealand, which was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
The Sunday after my landfall here, my wife Sandy flew into Auckland at 6:00
a.m. We took two days to drive north to Opua, then south two days to Tauranga,
and then spent the rest of the time exploring Auckland. She left the following
Saturday evening. The visit was a precious holiday gift. We only squabbled two
or three times Ė mostly over my driving, (Amazing -- going 100 km/hour after
a year at only four knots!) Sandy says the worry lines in my face are
Back on Otter, digging into the journals and logbooks and scraps of
notes and guidebooks and charts, Iím slowly reassembling pieces of the last
few months. Itís cold outside now at night, 62į
, and I need a sweatshirt as I write, even though itís 67į
in the cabin. My blood has thinned out a lot, and after living since St.
Thomas last December in t-shirts, shorts, and 85į
weather, this feels cold.
Through the portholes I can see the dozens of other boats at anchor around
me and feel the cozy glow of their soft lights in the dark. I drift back. The
time line since the last Report from Otter is as follows:
Sunday, July 11 Ė arrive in Tahiti
Tuesday, July 13 Ė Sandy arrives and spends two weeks; we sail out to
Saturday, July 31 Ė my friend Todd arrives and
visits for three weeks. We explore and sail slowly back to Tahiti.
Friday, August 20 Ė Todd leaves. I stay in Papeete at the yacht quay for
Tuesday, September 20 Ė Depart Moorea Ė sail to Rarotonga. Itís 610
miles and takes seven days
Tuesday, October 5 Ė Arrive in Rarotonga and stay eight days
Wednesday, October 13 Ė Depart Rarotonga for Nive Ė 592 miles in six
Tuesday, October 19 Ė Arrive in Nive and stay six days
Monday, October 25 Ė Leave Nive for Vavaíu, Tonga Ė 250 miles in two
Wednesday, October 27, 1999 Ė The day that wasnít Ė It disappears as
I cross the date line
Thursday, October 28 Ė arrive in Tonga; stay 10 days
Saturday, November 6 Ė Depart Tonga for New Zealand Ė 1,262 miles in 17
days, two of which are spent anchored inside the "Kingdom of Brec"
(North Minverva reef)
Tuesday, November 23 Ė arrive in Opua, New Zealand
Sunday, November 28 Ė Sandy arrives for a one-week visit
The plan is to sit out the cyclone season here in New Zealand through April
before I continue on. Iíll be in Opua in the North of North Island into
February, then sail down to Auckland and spend a few weeks in a marina in the
city near the Americaís Cup Village. Then itís south to Tauranga, where
there is a new and inexpensive marina where Otter will be hauled out
for seasonal maintenance and repairs. And I hope to spend three weeks
traveling around South Island in March, then leave New Zealand by mid-April.
Sandy sent me some of your e-mails and letters in Rarotonga and brought
another batch with her here to New Zealand. It means a lot to hear from you
all. It keeps me in touch; it encourages me to continue, and even though my
replies may take a long time, each one is appreciated.
I hope you enjoy the next installments.
Weíre all on the journey,
Below are a few observations and thoughts about the islands I had sailed so
far to see . . .
"Otaheite," the land of dream and fantasy since its first discovery
by Europeans; "Tahiti," a name that has become synonymous with
Bougainville, the French explorer, wrote of Tahiti on his return to France in
1768, calling it "la Nouvelle Cythere," or the "New Cytheria,"
after the birthplace of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. He spoke in glowing
terms of its beauty and its warmth and ease of living, of the handsome,
welcoming people, their sexual openness -- the Islands of Love.
The year after Bougainville's return to France, Captain James Cook arrived in
the Endeavour to set up an observation point for viewing the transit of
Venus across the sun in the hopes that from this and simultaneous observations
in Norway and Canada, the distance to the sun could be measured.
The name "Otaheite" appears on a 1769 chart of the island by
then-lieutenant Cook, who was reported to have asked, "What island is
this?" and received the reply, "O Ė Taheite," or, "It is
Ė Taheite." Nautical charts of the area carried this name up through the
On his return to England, Cook also wrote an account of "Otaheite."
The matter-of-fact language of Cook's account confirmed those of the French and
fired the imagination of the English-speaking world.
Such accounts lent a romantic reality to the philosopher Rousseau's essays on
natural law and theories of mankind's "natural" state, furthering
images of "the noble savage" that persist to this day as part of the
Every new foreign contact has created change in the Tahitian culture, change
that has been bemoaned, even at the time, as unfortunate. For example, Cook
observed that the Tahitians' dependence on metal nails for fish hooks was
destroying their ability to make hooks from bone. He also saw their reliance on
the occasional European ship as regrettable, since they were thereby losing
their traditional skills.
The London Missionary Society arrived in 1797 and began converting Tahitians
to Protestantism while simultaneously replacing sexual openness and traditional
dress with 18th century English morality, social mores, and clothing.
The French arrived in force in 1842, establishing political and linguistic
control by 1846, and American whalers used Tahiti as a port-of-call for resupply,
repair, and, occasionally, the transfer of their cargoes of whale oil throughout
the height of South Pacific whaling in the early-to-mid-1800's.
Paul Gauguin, looking for the wild and noble savage side of his own nature,
felt he could find it here. His arrival coincided with the death of the last
Tahitian king, Pomare V, in 1891; Gauguin bemoaned the effect of French colonial
government on the traditional Polynesian culture.
In my short visit I witnessed what I believe signals great changes to the
existing culture with the arrival of the first of the giant Caribbean-type
cruise ships, the Renaissance 3. I, too, add my small voice to the long
list of the bemoaners of change.
Yet the Tahitian spirit and people are amazingly adaptable and retain strong
roots to their history and traditions despite the centuries of change.
Taking all of this in, Iím reminded of a conversation I had with a
photographer I met in Norwalk before I departed. She and her boyfriend had
trekked through Nepal, where they met American expatriates living in remote
villages wearing the traditional robes and clothing.
She said these transplants complained that the young Nepalese were losing
their culture because they all wanted to wear Nike sneakers, Gap clothing, and
Casio watches, all in an effort to look American. Are they any less Nepalese?
Are modern Tahitians any less Tahitian?
Geographically, Tahiti lies on a latitude just south of La Paz, Bolivia, a
longitude over 500 miles east of Honolulu, and is a 750-mile sail to the SSW of
Tahiti is the largest island in the French Polynesian island group known as
the Society Islands, which are believed to have gotten their name from Captain
Cook in honor of his sponsor, the Royal Geographical Society.
The Society Islands contain two subgroups: the Iles du Vent, or Windward
Islands, and the Iles Sous de Vent ("islands under the wind"), or
Leeward Islands. The former includes Tahiti, Moorea, Tetiaroa, and Maiao; the
latter are about 80 miles northwest of Tahiti and include Huahine, Raiatea,
Tahaa, and Bora-Bora. Though to the northwest, the prevailing southwesterlies
put them downwind of Tahiti.
All of the Society Islands are of volcanic origin and all have fringing reefs
that are "spotted" with "motus," or small, low, sandy islets
with palm trees and postcard-white beaches. Between the reefs and the center's
volcanic main island are lagoons of aqua water.
Marlon Brando and Tarita, his Tahitian wife, own Tetiaroa, which is a coral
reef with small motus that lies about 40 miles north of Tahiti. After working on
the second film version of Mutiny on the Bounty, Brando married Tarita
and bought the island.
Tetiaroa has a small hotel, and there are boats in Papeete harbor that take
tourists on two-day excursions to see the birds and fish. There is no pass into
the lagoon and itís private property, so very few yachts go there.
Some of the most beautiful anchorages in the world exist within Society
Island's lagoons. I was fortunate enough to find a few --- a few perfect
locations, on perfect days, where Otter became the exact
center of an endless, perfect universe.
On reflection, I recognize there are multiple centers of the universe, and,
like green flashes at sunset, one encounters them under certain conditions that
almost always come together unexpectedly.
These centers can shift, and are personal: what is a center for me may not be
for the person two feet away in a different mental state.
Once, for a full five minutes one late afternoon outside a small,
neighborhood Italian deli surrounded by the smells of prosciutto, provolone, and
fresh bread, a street in Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn on a hill overlooking New
York harbor became a center of the universe.
Another center lies near Seaflower Reef, between New London, Connecticut and
Fishers Island, New York. There, on a summer afternoon, the waves, wind, clouds,
and sun converged around Aurora, my Pierson-30 sailboat, and suspended us
in its perfect center for a half-an-hour as we sailed in perfect rhythmic
Our images of those locations stay etched clearly in memory forever.
French Polynesia has its share of these centers.
Aboard the yacht Otter
Opua, New Zealand
Dear Friends and E-mail Family,
I arrived in Papeete, Tahiti, the capital and largest city in French
Polynesia, about 8:30 a.m. Sunday, July 11. The harbor has two areas for
yachts, one is along the yacht quay, which is right downtown and across from
the main shopping areas. Those aboard the yachts at the quay usually step
right off their boats or use a short plank to get ashore.
Just to the west of the quay is a long stretch of shoreline with a black
sand beach and trees behind the beach. Yachts drop their anchors and back in
to within 30 to 70 feet of shore and run two sternlines off at 45į
angles to trees, rocks, or the occasional bollards, then use their dinghy to
get on and off the boats.
I found an opening between boats on the end of the beach area closest to
the quay, tying lines ashore from Otterís stern, pointing her bow out
toward the sea we had just crossed.
Three blocks away is the only McDonaldís in French Polynesia, doing a
booming business. I am struck that the people who frequent the McDonaldís
here look exactly the same as the clientele in the States, just a bit more
tanned. It must be an effect of the food on physiognomy: soon the entire world
will all look like middle-class Americans!
Except for McDonaldís, there is surprisingly little American
commercialization here Ė no K-Marts, as in St. Croix and St. Thomas, no KFCís,
no TCBYís, no Wendyís or Burger Kings.
Not surprisingly, though, there is a strong French flavor to everything.
Not being a purist, later I will occasionally have an ice cream sundae at
McDonaldís in the late afternoons while I write in my journal.
The following are excerpts from the "Log of the Otter."
We are all on the journey,
Sunday, July 11 Ė
After calling Sandy and having a great and animated conversation, I visit
with Pepper and Jody aboard Lolita, their 63í wooden ketch. I havenít
seen them since we went through the Panama Canal together and anchored in
Balboa. Pepper is an ex-yacht-broker for Moorings in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
and Jody was a nurse. Their plan is to sail around the world in five or six
They are moored along the beach, too, a few boats closer to town. Lolita
is spacious and homey and their living room salon is huge -- I can stretch out
both arms to the fingertips and not touch walls!
We catch up on what weíve done and seen since Panama; they show me video
footage of storms and the volcanic craters they visited on horseback in the
Pepper barbecues big US-style hamburgers with lettuce, tomato, and onions.
His stainless-steel outboard barbecue grill recalls the omnipresent shrines
where male American householders continue to make burnt offerings to the Gods
of Suburbia. Within the cult of the American hamburger, Pepperís are some of
This first afternoon in Papeete is warm with sunlight sparkling on the
water. From Otter as the sun sets I can see the purple outline of
Moorea beyond the harbor. Iím living in a postcard world.
Later Pepper and Jody and I walk to the "roulottes" and get an
ice cream. A treat after seven days at sea!
The roulottes are a unique Tahitian experience. They are small custom vans
that pull into the public parking lot near the cruise ship wharf. There are 40
or 50 of them, and they arrive and park between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m.
They lift hinged sides and backs that become roofs, then set up stools
around the counters and fire up grills and hibachis. They are decorated with
small illuminated signs and flashing arrows; the centers of the vans hold the
cooks and servers.
One, the "Boulle Rouge," is a fancy crepe roulotte with a
rotating, internally-illuminated red plastic ball on top and a white-uniformed
French crepe chef, whose elan and style with the crepe batter tool on the hot
plate rivals the pizza-dough throwers of New York.
The food the roulottes serve runs from Chinese to fish, steaks, pizza,
crepes, and ice cream. Their prices are generally a third of the price of a
restaurant meal and they draw large crowds, which start arriving at dusk,
between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m.
The lights, the fires, the smoke, the smells, the movement of people in the
carnival-like atmosphere leaves a deep impression as the light fades to dark
-- all is bracketed by trees at the edge of the parking area and backdropped
by the purple mountains rising behind the trees.
Filled with talk and ice cream, and flooded with images of Papeete, on this
first day ashore I return to Otter and sleep.
Monday, July 12 Ė
7:00 a.m. Wake to heavy rain and close the ports, a little too
late. The rush hour traffic on Pomare Boulevard just behind the trees along
the shore is loud. Itís chilly. I donít want to get up.
Clean boat all morning and make space for Sandyís luggage.
11:30 a.m. I go to check in with immigration, customs, and the port
captain. All offices are in the same building by the cruise ship wharf.
Because there are so many yachts arriving just before the Bastille Day
celebrations on Wednesday, there is a line outside the immigration office.
The sun is out and hot and I wait sitting in the shade with dozens of other
cruisers. It takes 2 Ĺ hours to get in. During that time I talk to Carolyn
from Perky Senior. She and her husband are licensed captains and were
professional skippers on private yachts, mostly in the Bahamas.
She tells me of their three-day excursion by plane to Easter Island. It
sounds terribly exotic and if I can get the same inexpensive fare Iím
tempted to go as well. (When I find later the fares have gone up and I decide
not to go, I tell myself again there will be many places Iíll pass and not
be able to visit. Even if I had two lifetimes I couldnít see them all.)
Here, finally, I need to pay my bond, the one I explained earlier -- the
French want to be able to ship out any non-French citizens who may become
boatless or otherwise overstay their visa, at no expense to the local
I go to the Bank of Tahiti and pay $850 plus a $30 processing fee. They
give me a bank letter that says Iíve deposited the money with them. The $850
bond would cover my deportation airline ticket to Hawaii.
I then need to go to the post office to get a $30 stamp. More lines and
waiting at each stop. By the time I return to immigration itís too late to
get in again to complete formalities, and theyíre holding my passport.
I still have customs and the port captainís office to see yet. Itís
taken me all afternoon! I thought Panama had a Kafka-esque bureaucracy, but at
least there, with Rudyís help, it was done in two hours!
As Iím getting ready to leave the immigrations office area, an Italian
woman in her early 70ís joins our group of cruisers. Sexy and eccentric, she
tells us stories of her 30 years travelling through the South Pacific Islands
by small freighter and how she loves sunsets and tries never to miss one. She
leaves us to find a spot to watch the sun lower behind Moorea, a sunset even
more spectacular, with golden rays, than last night.
I buy flowers at the market for Sandyís arrival tomorrow Ė they fill
the boat with a tropical fragrance. A radio station is playing Tahitian songs.
The romantic haunting melodies reminding me of Polynesian-language
Tuesday, July 13 --
4:00 a.m. Up and take cold shower at the shower building on the
yacht quay. Nowhere in French Polynesia do I find hot showers. I get used to
it and numb my extremities slowly until I can stand, head and back, under
the chill water.
Itís dark. I find the "le Truck" stop and ride out to Faaía
(pronounced Fa-ah-ah) Airport. The signs say Sandyís 5:35 a.m. flight is
delayed 35 minutes.
6:30 a.m. Sandy comes through the arrivals doors dwarfed behind a
pushcart full of very large bags. I put a flower lei around her neck and we
both break down, in public, blocking traffic -- itís a mess.
At a small, round, white table next to the arrivals area we have coffee and
croissants and talk nonstop for two hours without moving. What a great feeling
to talk about home, get news and gossip, and start to catch up!
Finally we get a taxi into town. Sandy stands on the bank in the gray
morning as I struggle with the large bags, one at a time, into the dinghy onto
the boat. The largest and heaviest one is full of spare parts, boat equipment,
books, and mail.
As soon as weíre both aboard it gets dark and starts to rain hard. Sandy
takes some Sturgeron. I make tea and begin opening mail; Sandy falls asleep
exhausted and I read mail all afternoon.
The boat feels full.
Wednesday, July 14 --
"Quatorze Julliet" -- Bastille Day. First things first:
Sandy cuts off the beard that Iíve been growing since Panama.
Then to watch the parade with Pepper and Jody. What a dud. Itís over in
15-20 minutes and only has small contingents of the French military and civil
services Ė a few fire trucks and itís over. No floats, no Polynesians, no
dancing in the streets.
When Sandy and I visited France, the celebrations were day-long, the
parades magnificent, and in Seillans, a small mountain village in Provence,
there was music and dancing in the town square until 4:00 the next morning.
I find out later that Polynesia, being a French colonial territory and not
exactly independent, doesnít celebrate "French independence." Itís
celebrated as a month-long festival, usually on weekends, of Polynesian
culture with singing and dance exhibitions at large, temporary stadiums.
So Bastille Day passes almost unnoticed. What was our rush to be here?
Thursday, July 15 --
Sandy takes a shower with me. She hates the cold water! She never takes
another one. Instead she takes sponge baths in the cockpit in midday heat.
She explores and shops Papeete while I finish my check-in process with
immigration. It takes me almost the full day. I tell them that if the sped up
their entry process, I could be out pumping more money into the economy with
Friday, July 16 --
I spend another morning at the customs and port captainís offices. Then I
meet Sandy and walk around town and shop; Sandy looks at black pearls.
Saturday July 17 --
We rent a car with Pepper and Jody and drive around Tahiti. A road follows
the perimeter and our first stop is an overlook high above Matavai Bay where
Cookís Endeavour anchored on his first visit. Just to the right is
Point Venus, which is where part of Mel Gibsonís Mutiny on the Bounty
Iíve been reading my Lonely Planet Guide to French Polynesia since
the Galapagos, so I became the tour director, intoning in a deep voice the
historical highlights as we zip by.
We stop at a blowhole with surf spouting white spray, geyser-like, high
into the air, with deep thud and whoosh.
At a beach nearby I bottle some black sand for the grandchildren's
collection. Then to a legendary waterfall, which is a short walk from the
Tahiti is actually two almost circular islands connected by an isthmus.
Tahiti Nui, the large island, and Tahiti Iti, or little Tahiti. There is a
view from a mountaintop in Tahiti Iti that looks northwest toward the taller
mountains in the center of Tahiti Nui wreathed in cloud. To the left and right
below us are the lagoons that surround the isthmus. Another Kodak moment in
Travelling in groups has pluses and minuses. The pluses here are shared car
expenses and friends we enjoy being with. The minuses are the compromises. For
example, not everyone wanted to stop for four hours at the Gauguin museum! In
fact, Iím the only one. So, we compromise on an hour.
On this run through a quirky and unique museum, Iím struck by a number of
things. First, the objective of this museum is unique. Most of the guides pan
it because it has no Gauguins ("A Gauguin museum with no Gauguins? How
can that be?"). It has only one small original drawing, a few sketch book
pages, and some woodcut prints; all the rest are reproductions.
This museum doesnít present Gauguinís "Art" in the
sanctimoniously hushed-tone, "Shhh, and donít touch!" low-light,
white-walled, big-roomed, uniformed-guarded, highly-insured, multi-million
dollar, "Youíre in the presence of greatness," hallowed ground,
reverential Louis Kahn and Frank Lloyd Wright-spaced, impossible for us
commoners to fathom, atmosphere that reinforces any inner insecurities about ever
understanding or comprehending the greatness of these untouchable geniuses
while reminding us that our Ďoh-so-ordinary, pedestrian, gray lives without
song or spirití are unfit subjects for the Titans of Art. (Man, is that an
attitude or what!)
But in this wonderful little place I start to see, as if being introduced
to Gauguin by a close relative who lived with him, his history, his parentage,
his environment, his references, his direct copying from other art.
There is a small set of photographic reproductions of his work arranged on
a wall. One group is in chronological sequence, another set is grouped by
museum Ė who owned what pieces Ė fascinating!
The man starts to come through clearly Ė in his environment, in his
setting. A much deeper appreciation for who he was, and the profound influence
heís had comes into focus.
Gauguinís blending of the Polynesia he found with his personal quest for
paradise resulted in images that have defined, more than anything else, how we
view this part of the world. I see the thin-tailed dogs he painted, the
Polynesian womenís gestures and facial expressions. The landscapes: they are
around me still Ė his paintings are real!
Back to the car. After a few more Lonely Planet stops, we return the
That evening Sandy and I attend one of the dance exhibitions at the stadium
Ė an amazing blend of male and female energy in patterns of choreographed
Some of the sexual vitality that greeted Bougainville and Cook can still be
seen in the impossibly fast hip-shaking of the women and foot-slapping,
knee-knocking of the men in their bright-colored costumes that would put Las
Vegas to shame.
There is a large, mostly Polynesian, audience. Each dance group has its own
musical group. The musicians, singers, and drummers are also costumed and,
though off stage, can be a show by themselves, with flash drumming techniques.
This is what July celebrations are about in Tahiti.
Sunday, July 18 --
Attended church service at the Paofai temple, the Protestant L.M.S. church,
the "pink-one-on-the-beach" church.
This must be sober Sunday: the women are wearing blue dresses and white
blouses with white hats, the men, blue pants and white shirts.
The church divides into about four singing groups (there is no choir) and
each group in turn sings a hymn, with the men singing low strong harmony to
the womenís very high-pitched melody.
The building holds about 600 people, plus a balcony on three sides that
holds another 200 or so. Tourists in the balcony are taking videos and
photographs. This seems to be part of the experience; no one seems to notice.
Monday, July 19
Sandy and I sail the 12 miles to Moorea. We enter and anchor in Cookís
Bay, wondering why we didnít try to get here sooner: the bay is surrounded
by serrated mountains that rise up dramatically on three sides; the clouds fly
across their tops. I take deep breaths and repeat quietly, "Oh man . . .
Ohhh, maaan! . . ."
Sandy met a couple on the flight to Tahiti who were coming to stay for a
few weeks on their crewed yacht, a large schooner-rigged vessel named Mermaid.
The owners, Tom and Sylvia Collins, are from Chicago. Sheís an art teacher
and heís a real estate developer. As Otter motored past them before
anchoring, Sylvia called out and invited us for drinks later.
The drinks turned into a dinner ashore at a little Italian restaurant.
Besides Tom and Sylvia and their two guests, the crew came, too. The crew,
Captain Jack, his wife (the cook), their daughter (the first mate and
deckhand), and Chad (the engineer), brings the yacht to various destinations.
Tom and Sylvia fly in for as long as they can, then fly home until Mermaid
is in another location for them to meet up.
I tell them itís pretty much Sandyís and my story, though ours is on a
smaller scale. Captain Jack tells about a generator going out on the long, hot
passage to the Marquesas. They only had enough power to run either the freezer
for ice in their drinks or the autopilot to steer the boat. The crew decided
to stand watches and hand-steer rather than forgo the ice in their drinks.
Tom generously picks up the tab and surprised that Iíve no fishing gear
tells me to come by and heíll outfit me the next day from his stock.
Tuesday, July 20
A laid-back day. I do a watercolor for Mermaid, and Tom supplies me
with fishing gear and knot-tying instructions.
Wednesday, July 21
We walk to the Belvedere, a scenic overlook. A long, hot, sweaty, constant
uphill walk. We reach the top and the view is stunning: sacred Mount Rotui
directly ahead, Cookís bay to the right, and Opunohu Bay to the left. Joined
by all the other tourists whoíve driven up, we snap away and trade cameras.
"Here, can you take a picture of us with our ĎSay cheese!í grins at
yet another scenic spot?"
A young couple from San Diego who are on their honeymoon take pity on Sandy
and offer to drive us down again. Itís a good thing, because it starts to
Later, in town, Sandy shops and finds some beautiful black pearls at a good
price. We meet David and Jay on Jaga II out of Seattle, and the family
on Attitude, Charlie, Debbie and their children Colin (13) and Alicia
(10) and we go out to the Bali Hai Hotel for the Polynesian Dance night.
After a half-hour performance with the grass skirts moving so fast they
become a blur, the dancers go into the audience to pick partners. The
chicken-legged white guys get up with the extremely flexible young female
dancers and try to imitate the Polynesian male dancers.
Itís pretty funny, but Iím up there knocking my knees together as fast
as I can while moving my hand and face in the coordinated sunrise sunset
gestures Iíve watched them do. Itís like patting your head and rubbing
your stomach at the same time. I get by a first cut of the duds who are pulled
away, and though Iím not the white-guy winner, I make it to the semi-finals,
at least beating out the accountants on vacation from Minnesota.
The bay is dark and filled with reflected stars as we dinghy home. Iím
happy to be sharing it.
Thursday, July 22 Ė
We get underway for Huahine, the nearest island in the Leeward Group and an
87-mile overnight sail. The sky is clear and the wind is moderate at about 15
knots off the starboard quarter. At 8:00 p.m. I start to nap and Sandy stands
watch till 1:30 a.m. Iím glad she let me sleep.
Friday, July 23 --
I take the graveyard shift and read all night in the cockpit while Sandy
Iím reading Cape Horn Ė One Manís Dream, One Womanís Nightmare,
a fascinating story of a couple rounding the Horn, kind of. Iím interested
in how people write about their sailing experiences, as I intend to put my
thoughts and illustrations into a book on my return, and am studying how itís
The authorís husband in this book doesnít come off very well; I keep
saying out loud, "You idiot!" or, "Man, was that
dumb!" I also talked to the TV at home.
The wind is light and the motion is gentle. Sandy wakes and joins me at
9:00 a.m. The wind dies to nothing, so at 11:00 a.m. we turn on the engine and
motor around the north end of the island. We enter the pass through the reef a
few hours later, anchoring in 30í of aqua water just north of the town of
It is a bright, hot afternoon with the flat water riffled by a light
breeze. I do a few quick sketches and swim off the boat -- the first time
since the Galapagos.
After cockpit showers we go ashore in the dinghy. Sandy pokes around the
shops while I clear in with the Gendarmes. I get the impression Iím
interrupting them unnecessarily, like no one else bothers to clear in. So why
am I? Because my cruising guides say I should.
My first question to the officer behind the desk is "Bon jour,
monsieur. Parlez vous Anglais?" He replies, "Non. Il est Polynesia
Francais! Parlez Francaise ici!"
So I struggle along, letting him know that I spent 3 Ĺ weeks in
preparation for this, listening to my French tapes while crossing the Pacific.
In rapid order I tell him to close the window, open the door, and sell me a
ticket for the next train to Paris. Then I count from one to ten and ask
directions to the toilet. I can tell heís impressed, and amused! He stamps a
few things and waves me out, smiling.
Sandy later tells me that at a meeting at her French-Canadian paper companyís
sales office in Montreal, she referred to their head office as the "tete
bureau." Evidently thatís not the real phrase, and her French-Canadian
coworkers looked blank until her meaning came through; then they all collapsed
I meet Joe Pirro at a small souvenir and gift shop in town. Joe is American
from New Jersey. His wife is French and they have lived in Polynesia since the
When they first came to Huahine they lived by collecting fruit and fishing
a few hours a day, just like Gauguin dreamed of doing. Then the first child
came and they set up a little street stand a couple of days a week to sell
crafts they made to the few tourists. Things kept going and they have come to
have a real business.
Joe looks thin and dark and like he hasnít worn much more than a pair of
shorts and flip-flops since he arrived.
I show him my sketches and he tells me Iíve drawn "the woman."
"Huahine," he says, means "pregnant woman."
We go outside his shop, he points to the hills, and there she is, almost
alive: the hills to the southwest of the harbor appear exactly as a womanís
head, a raised breast, and a pregnant belly with protruding navel. Iím
amazed I didnít see it when I was drawing it.
A freighter comes into the main dock where weíve tied our dinghy. Weíre
asked to move it over to the beach area while they unload the freighter.
Sandy has heard a lot of local theft stories, mostly about dinghies and
motors going missing, and she doesnít like the way the local men hanging out
on the waterfront are eyeing us.
I tell her that my poor 12-year-old battered and duct-taped two-horse motor
is not a real prize and that Runcible Spoon, our trusty conveyance, is
not really on the list of desirable items either -- almost all other
inflatables are bigger and sturdier than Runcible. We find a secluded
spot to tie up and have dinner ashore; on our return, Runcible is right
where we left her.
In early Tahitian religion, the second-highest god was Hiro, the god of
thieves, and stealing things was once considered a test of skill, like a sport
or game. In fact, on Captain Cookís first visits he "lost"
sextants and scientific instruments that had to be tracked down and
During these visits, the crew found that the women were particularly open
to receiving nails in trade for their favors: Cook had to post sentries to
prevent the rest of the crew from prying nails out of the shipís hull and
decks to use as trade items.
Saturday, July 24 --
Weíre up early. We motor through the pass and set sail for Nao Nao
Island, a motu on the reef off the south end of Raiatea. Itís a full dayís
sail downwind in sunshine. The day is long and hot. Sandy reads her novels in
the shade on the foredeck.; I sketch Tahaa, a smaller island to the north of
As I am sketching I notice that from here, a few hours out of Huahine, the
outline of Tahaa looks exactly the same as the Easter Island heads,
only lying face up.
A theory comes to me -- I get excited and tell Sandy, who isnít quite as
enthused. But the "Brec Morgan Theory of Easter Island Iconography"
The theory stems from this: Most art is derived from nature -- Iíve seen
papaya tree stalks that have patterns that look like Marquesan designs on war
clubs. The outline of Tahaa suggests a nature-based explanation for the unique
shape of the Easter Island heads: they were copying the profile of the island
of their ancestors.
Tahitian legends claim that there were great migrations from Faaroa Bay in
Raiatea to many other parts of Polynesia, and there is proof, archeologically
and linguistically, for this.
The legends also state that Hawaii, the Marquesas, Tuamotus, the Australs,
and New Zealand were settled by voyagers on large canoes from Raiatea. Even
today some canoe replicas have been built and sailed in the old ways and made
surprisingly fast passages, faster in some cases than Otter.
The ancient, large double-canoes with planks between them and houses built
on the planking could carry up to 100 people with supplies Ė dogs, chickens,
pigs, fruits, vegetables, potted trees Ė enough to start a village on a
I believe a canoe set sail from Raiatea headed east, filled with people
from a community in Tahaa. After they arrived on Easter Island, miraculously
or through skill, each generation gave thanks and paid homage by sculpting and
erecting images of their "home-island" god, which took the form of a
profile of their islandís image Ė the broad brow, long nose and pursed
lips, the bump of chin, then the chest that went into the sea.
The history of Easter Island was lost after 1862 when the Peruvians
captured and took away the adult male population of Easter Island, forcing
them to dig guano in Peru. The oral tradition from one generation of the next
of "rongo-rongo," or "wise men," was broken and the
history forever lost. That is, until the "Brec Morgan Theory of Easter
Island Iconography" came along!
Itís 4:30 p.m. as we approach the pass between the reef and to the right
of Nao Nao Island. There are no buoys of any kind; Iím on high alert as I
steer Otter through the center of a calmish patch between large
breakers dashing on the reefs to the left and right. Around behind the island
in its lee we set our anchor in 27í of clear water. There are only two other
boats anchored down aways.
This is our most secluded and lovely spot so far -- a flat sand atoll with
coconut palms and scrub brush. I fire up the stove and cook a dinner of
spaghetti with clam sauce as the moon rises behind the island.
These are the evenings when it seems most worthwhile Ė the evenings I
will remember and would like to return for and attempt to repeat. Deeply
peaceful. Soft moonlight. Hot tea in the cockpit. No one nearby. A world for
two alone. The soft splash of fish on dark water. A center of the universe.
Sunday, July 25 --
Up early and underway by 7:30 a.m. Itís 47 miles to Bora Bora and Sandy
steers as we motor in a flat calm. I set up a sun awning over the cockpit.
Glad not to have to steer, I make a pancake breakfast and super-clean-up
below. We take sun-warmed water showers in the cockpit.
Because itís Sunday I break out the Hymnal and we sing. Some are real
tear-jerkers. We have a real connection as we sing together, not always in
Motoring most of the way, we are at the only pass through the circling reef
into Bora Bora by late afternoon. The twin peaks of the central mountains are
a beautiful sight as we motor into the lagoon, small green islets to left and
right. We bear to the left and pick up a mooring off of the Bora Bora Yacht
Next to us is Comet, a 57í Sparkman Stevens wooden yawl from
Stonington, Connecticut, sailed by Howard and Rita Parks. I originally met
them in Panama at a dinner on Violet while waiting to transit the
Canal. Itís good to see them again.
The four of us, plus Rob, Ritaís brother who is visiting, have dinner at
the yacht club. We catch up on passages since Panama and swap stories. Howard
speaks fluent French, which helps in ordering dinner. His father was a Marine
Corps liaison to the U.N. and when Howard was growing up, the family spoke
French at dinner each evening.
Howard managed a boat yard in Noank, Connecticut and was a yacht surveyor;
he tells interesting stories of Halsey Herreshoff, a grandson of the legendary
Captain Nat Herreshoff of the Bristol, Rhode Island, Herreshoff boatbuilding
company, for which my great-grandfather John Brechin was the shop foreman.
Rita and he are both artists. Her work is mostly floral and decorative; his
are small oils of sailboats, simple and moody. I show him my sketchbooks and
heís encouraged to sketch more.
Monday, July 26 --
Today is cool and rainy; all the tropical colors are lost in the gray mist.
Howard says to remember that this is like a good day in New England.
Sandy doesnít feel well and stays aboard all day sleeping and reading.
Tomorrow is our eighth wedding anniversary, and I dinghy to town to see if I
can get hotel accommodations so we can spend the night ashore in a large room
with a real bed and hot showers. (The showers at the yacht club are cold water
The first place I stop is the Top Dive Resort and I get the tour. The rooms
are beautiful and brand new, but at $325 per night itís a little steep.
I assume that any other place will be less expensive, so I dinghy across
the lagoon to a separate island to investigate the Bora Bora Lagoon Resort and
Hotel. They are extremely nice, and give me a tour of the facilities: sailfish
and sailing dinghies, snorkel and scuba centers, heated pools, restaurants,
bars, and walking trails. There are individual units on stilts over the water,
complete with glass coffee tables that look down into the water on the coral
and the fish, all illuminated by underwater lights, plus private stairs to
private swim platforms.
Itís another world from Otter and would be a memorable anniversary
event, but at $500 to $850 per night, itís a bit out of range. I could buy a
dinghy and outboard motor for the same price!
Back on Otter we decide to rent a car the next day and tour the
island, hoping to find an economy unit on the other side of the island.
Tuesday, July 27 --
I walk into town to rent a car. They have all been reserved so I get a
"fun car," the second-to-last one available.
Itís a little egg on wheels, with a small lawnmower engine pushing one
rear wheel with trainer wheels on each side. It has no reverse and no roof:
you have to push it backwards out of parking spots and bring an umbrella for
I pick up Sandy at the yacht club and we set off with our Lonely Planet
guide. The U.S. military established the first airport in French Polynesia in
Bora Bora during the Second World War and had a large presence here. But old
concrete pillboxes stuck in scrub brush on the sides of mountains are not
Sandyís thing, so no gun emplacements or World War II stuff.
We have lunch at a small restaurant overlooking the lagoon; I sketch while
she reads. It reminds me of being at home except the view is exotic, the menu
is in French, and the waitresses are young, Polynesian, and beautiful.
The rest of the day we ride and explore and take photos and check out the
beaches. In the evening we trade the "fun" car for a small passenger
van and pick up Sandyís luggage from Otter, so we can leave from the
hotel to catch a 5:00 a.m. ferry to the airport.
We have a romantic dinner at a small restaurant over the water facing the
sunset and then go back to the last motel room available in Bora Bora. Itís
still double what a room in the U.S. would be, but I negotiated the rate down
somewhat because the hot water heater is broken. So again, we have cold
But the view from the picture window at the foot of the bed looks across
moonlit water framed by waving palm trees with the sound of small waves on the
Wednesday, July 28 --
On the ferry ride to the airport as the sun comes up we watch a video of
Polynesia made by the Tourism Bureau. Weíve seen much of whatís on the
video but these filmmakers are expert at getting the right lighting and the
It all looks bigger than life. As its sound track plays, I feel our
experiences have been less intense and colorful, with our time between the
perfect moments filled with the sweat of hot days and the dust from unpaved
roads and the dried salt on skin from spray over the bow and stretches of
daily boat-keeping chores.
I remind myself that TV is not life, itís an abstract from life. I
remember that Robert Frost said the job of art is to "clean the dirt off
The video is art. I feel, as Sandyís small plane leaves for Tahiti, that
Iím left with a dull potato.
Thursday, July 29 --
Clean boat and rearrange the forepeak so I can sleep there when Todd
arrives on Saturday.
I talk to Guy (pronounced "Gee," with a hard
"g"), the owner of the Bora Bora Yacht Club, about painting him a
new sign---at no charge. His ex-son-in-law and a helper have finished putting
on a new roof and have made a sign I know I can improve on. Guy agrees.
Friday, July 30 --
Bernard, the carpenter, takes down the sign, cuts the ends, and repaints
the background, then makes two more boards for the signs Iíll letter.
More boat chores and provisioning.
I set up the folding bicycle to make my trips to town easier (town is about
a mile and a half away).
Saturday, July 31 --
The airport is on a separate large motu about six miles from the main town
of Vaitape. The town has a large ferry dock and the ferries ply back and forth
following the airplane schedules. Iím at the airport by 6:15 a.m. and Toddís
airplane lands, finally, at 8:15.
Todd and I have been close friends since 7th grade in Guilford,
Connecticut. My family had just moved into town and on my first day in a
classroom full of new faces, Todd sat next to me and leaned over to say,
"Hi, Iím Todd Peterson. Iím new here, too."
Through the 40 following years weíve stayed in touch. And each time we
meet or speak itís like no time at all has passed. Iím always surprised to
see a few more wrinkles on a face that remains in memory as, at most, 16 years
I remind Todd that we were the same height when we met. He grew to 6í6"
over the next six years while I stayed at 5í6". Itís hard for me to
think of our height difference until I see photos of us standing next to each
other. Again, my image was fixed when we were young.
In the phone calls that preceded his arrival, he asked how large my bunk
was in the main cabin. I told him it was big enough, I was sure. He wanted me
to measure it. I did and told him it was 8í2" Ė more than enough,
unless heíd grown some.
Unsure still, he talked to my brother John by e-mail just to get another
opinion. John e-mailed back, "Todd Ė you have to remember that Brec is
a small man on a small boat who has been trying to impress tall women since
his teens -- may your luck be better than theirs!"
A great line, but I do know how to read a tape measure, and Todd did
find the bunk on my tiny boat to be more than adequate.
Todd had taught English in the school systems in American Samoa for two
years after graduating from Dartmouth in 1969, and had played basketball on
the Samoan team. Heíd traveled to Tahiti and Moorea for some inter-island
games and was looking forward to returning there.
I spotted him immediately as he loped into the airport. Big grins and a lot
of back-slapping later, weíre on the ferry ride to town.
Todd snaps away with his camera and tells me how strange it is that only a
few hours ago heíd left chilly, damp, and gray Seattle and is now stepping
into another world -- French, flowered, hot, and surrounded with rich, deep
color. I tell him todayís a good day, and that a few days ago it looked like
Like Sandy, heís tired from the trip and spends the afternoon sleeping
while I work on the sign and rent an extra bike for him.
That evening we go to the last event of the July Festival. In Bora Bora
they have constructed a large stadium, but the bleacher seats are on one side
only. The other three sides are roped off and people can stand, without
paying, to watch the performances.
The performance area is soft, light-tan sand and as the dancers perform,
especially the men with their strong kicking gestures, the sand goes flying,
adding a dramatic element to the dance that wasnít present in Papeete.
The one group that performs changes costumes three times. There are about
30 male and 30 female dancers weaving rhythmically through each otherís
lines to the unique singing and drumming of the offstage musicians.
Each dance group has its star performers and this groupís stars are
spectacular. The male dancer is like a rooster, kicking and spraying sand
everywhere. The female dancer, truly the most beautiful of all the dancers,
shakes her hips so fast her grass skirt blurs, yet her upper body stays
motionless except for slow and graceful arm gestures.
When the thunder of drums and movement subsides, the emcee says we can have
our photo taken with the dancers. I feel very shy and donít have the courage
to break into the group forming around the star dancers. So, a photo-op
passes, along with the lifetime of stories I would have invented around it.
Todd and I bicycle back to the yacht club in the dark.
Sunday, August 1 --
The yacht club has its ĎTaneí and ĎVahineí shower stalls right next
to each other just beyond the restaurant. As weíre showering, I tell Todd
about the "Under the Boardwalk" song I sang across the Pacific. He
remembers it, too, and we belt out the two verses and chorus a few times
around -- singing always sounds good in enclosed spaces. Itís the Sixties
In town we attend a Protestant church service Ė the visitors are all
ushered into a set of pews on the right side of the church. The local women
all wear brilliantly flowered dresses and elaborate woven hats. The minister
speaks in Tahitian-French and a little English, welcoming his visitors -- the
first church in French Polynesia to do so.
The singing is divided into groups, including some distinctive Tahitian
songs. One song that the entire church sings is "Onward Christian
Soldiers," in French. I sing along in English, not loud enough to be
interrupting the French.
Some of the children who are in the rows near us see me and think that itís
funny to watch me sing in English. I canít remember the second or third
verses, so I sing the first one over and over Ė the children are amused
through the whole song.
The minister gives a sermon in French about the Loaves and Fishes. I try to
follow it and catch a few phrases.
We have ice cream at the small patisserie across from the church after the
I work on the layout of the sign in the afternoon while Todd and I talk and
Monday, August 2 --
I continue working on the sign; Todd writes postcards.
A number of boats I know come in: Attitude, Jaga II, Comet,
Typhoon Princess, and Lolita. Itís hard to get any work done
with the constant flow of boat acquaintances going by.
Todd and I have lunch with John from Breakiní Even, a red 28ísloop,
very simply outfitted. Johnís a single-hander from Freemantle, Australia,
who is on his last legs to home and completion of a solo circumnavigation.
John says he canít believe heís in Bora Bora, the island heís dreamed
of since childhood. He says he keeps pinching himself to be sure itís real.
We discover we have both run five marathons, so we decide to form the
"Solo Circumnavigator and Five-time Marathoner Club." We are the
charter members, and may be the only two eligible for membership. We both
drink to our new club.
John says he was in the Australian Army and served in Vietnam -- he
considers himself to be a good soldier. We talk about the war.
Iím reminded how deep the impressions of Vietnam are on our generation:
John is still angry at the demonstrators who threw red paint on him when he
returned from Vietnam Ė with friends of his dead, "for nothing,"
I hear myself telling him my story, as if it were about someone I knew in
the past. I never demonstrated, but I was strongly against the war. I softened
my stance toward the soldiers who went as they returned and their stories were
told -- I feel weíre brothers separated by circumstance.
It feels odd somehow to be discussing the war as the sun sets gold and
lavender across a beautiful lagoon in Bora Bora. Paradise, paradise . . . yet,
as has been said, wherever you go, there you are.
Tuesday, August 3 --
Todd goes snorkeling with Pepper and Jody from Lolita; they take a
dinghy out to the reefs while I continue working on the sign.
(Later, when I meet Pepper again in Opua, New Zealand, he shows me a
photograph of a yacht club sign that a yachtie signwriter made Ė he says
this guy only took six hours to make the sign, and "you took three
days!" I remind him that I had a lot of company and had to keep up my end
of numerous conversations, so my on-task time is distorted and I should be
given a handicap!)
I talk to Francis, a young Polynesian workman installing the thatched roof
on the yacht club. Because Iím American, he opens up and tells me how bad
the French are, how they are prejudiced against the Polynesians, about their
nuclear testing, how they control the politics and the money, and how some
Polynesians would prefer America to come in and run things. He sees Hawaiians
as rich cousins through their connection to the U.S.
Later on I hear the French side, which is that the Polynesians have lived
for centuries without having to do any real work. There is a French expression
that describes their attitude about the work ethic of Polynesians: "For
them the ground is too far."
Both of these are extremes, and I see many situations where the working
relationship between the two cultures is warm and convivial.
Later I show Guy a sketch of a Polynesian war canoe that I want to cut out
of plywood and paint as the top for the signs. His response is that this is a yacht
club and heíd prefer to see a yacht.
Even though I think the crab-claw sailing canoe will fit his thatched-roof,
Polynesian-theme restaurant better, I acquiesce and make a cutout of Otter,
a 27í Pacific Seacraft Ďyachtí, instead. Guy is happy.
Otter now tops the Bora Bora Yacht Club sign.
Wednesday, August 4 --
A group of us install the completed signs and I take a lot of photographs.
Guyís daughter and grandchildren, who are visiting from France, join in the
photos. I think I might be able to write an article for a sign magazine:
"Sign Painter Leaves Company to Daughter to Sail the World; Winds up
Making Signs in Bora Bora."
Todd and I slip the mooring and motor west, then south, around the island.
In the early sunny afternoon we thread our way in shallow water between coral
heads, Todd in the bow yelling "Left!" or "Right!" as we
We find an area of clear water 30í deep behind the small Islet of Topua
and drop anchor in what is to be the most beautiful location of all.
Todd goes for a swim and I make some sketches and clean the boat. While on
deck, I see a swimmer, only the snorkel and fins showing, heading straight for
He doesnít lift his head up, and I watch as the snorkel finally reaches
the anchor chain dropping off the bowsprit. A hand reaches up and holds the
chain Ė Iím curious about whatís happening and Iíve walked forward to
Finally a head bobs up. The swimmer says, "We have a lot to talk
about; I had a Pacific Seacraft just like this one. Why donít you come over
at sundown for a rum punch? My name is Douglas."
I agree and he turns and snorkels away. An odd introduction, but many of us
singlehanders are odd in our ways.
Just before sunset, Todd and I dinghy over. Douglas has a 28í Bristol
Channel cutter, Calliste. She is a beautiful, small, blue-water
cruiser; he keeps her in immaculate condition.
Iíve brought some crackers and cheese to add to the drinks and as he
serves up the drinks from below, I bite into a cracker and some cheese Iíve
sliced. The cracker makes crumbs, which I sweep off my lap into the scuppers
in the cockpit. I look, and to my horror realize that the scuppers are
immaculate -- not a hair not a spec of dust; it looks like it just came out of
I hastily try to brush the crumbs out of sight before Douglas comes up from
below. The rum punches that he serves are extraordinarily potent, and we wind
up talking for hours. Douglas was a finish carpenter near Bug Sur, California
and would do the interiors of very up-scale homes. Heís a master of detail
and it shows.
He speaks highly of the Pacific Seacraft 27-footers, Otterís line,
but felt the Bristol Channel cutter was just that much sturdier. After a tour,
I agree. I also remember that in the Soundings "Boats for
Sale" listings they were double the price of Otter for one foot
more boat, so I may have gotten a Buick while he got a Rolls Royce.
Our conversation drifts into adhesives, construction techniques, and
lightning protection and Todd drifts up into the cockpit to contemplate the
stars, leaving us to our interminable technical talk.
Thursday, August 5 --
The boat is still, on glass-calm water, as we wake: a perfect day.
To the west, about an eighth of a mile off, is the fringing reef with its
rushing sound and a thin white line of surf separating the aqua lagoon from
the cobalt-blue ocean beyond.
To the east a few hundred feet is the dark green Islet of Topua with
coconut palms rising behind a white-sand beach and hills behind the palm
trees. And behind Topua are the bluing mountain peaks of Bora Bora.
There is no wind this morning, or all day. Itís hot. The surface of the
water is so unblemished it seems to disappear.
As the sun rises higher, I look over the rail and catch my breath: 30í
below I can see the ridges in the sand bottom. I can see the chain go forward
then turn under and behind us to the anchor -- there isnít enough wind to
move the boat on its chain.
I see Otterís shadow below on the sand, slightly off to one side
-- a perfect cutout with a dark thread that connects it to the chain and keeps
it from drifting away. I feel like the boat is floating in air, 30í above
Todd, when he jumps in for a swim, says that he had no idea how far heíd
drop before he would enter the water.
On this perfect day there is a Zen quality to all activity, and my cleaning
chores are held to higher standards this morning after the visit to Calliste.
Transfer 16 gallons of water from jugs to the tank. Run engine to top
batteries. Clean the water line. Put out water and towels for showers. Prepare
lunch of tuna fish salad and lemonade from the last of the lemons from Fatu
Hiva six weeks ago.
In the afternoon I swim and make three water-scene watercolors. Todd and I
talk about changes in our lives and how we both desire to bring creativity to
a central position, he in his writing and story-telling, me in my artwork.
The day passes, effortlessly encapsulated, out of time, like a scene in a
Friday, August 6 --
Raise anchor and motor around the north of Bora Bora, then down the eastern
side and inside the lagoon following the channel markers. The day is sunny and
bright, the colors more intense than Iíve ever seen. I take dozens of
photos, hoping for those Ďpostcardí shots.
(Later, though, when I develop the shots in Papeete at "Photo Gauguin"
(naturally), they are all washed out. I was using an 800-speed film Iíd
bought on special. Too late I find 800 film is for very low light levels and
indoor use. I still have a lot to learn about basic photography!)
After threading our way through narrow channels and around coral patches,
we finally anchor at Piti uu Tai, a small islet just off Matira Point on the
southern tip of Bora Bora. In the Cruising Guide to Tahitia and the French
Society Islands, written by Marcia Davock and published in 1985, she
describes this location as her favorite spot.
She and her husband spent up to two weeks there in the eighties and never
saw another boat. The anchorage is just as beautiful as she says, but now
there are Polynesian-village-over-the-water-hotel-huts jutting way out into
the lagoon on the neighboring islet, and there are two other boats nearby.
Marcia also says she saw only a few other yachts cruising the lagoons
around Bora Bora. During the season now, there are many hundreds; there is
almost no place one can go without seeing another yacht, or ten.
Weíre anchored by mid-afternoon. Todd puts on his fins and mask, then
snorkels ashore. He finds a clearing behind the beach, and in the center of
some discarded coconut husks he discovers a coconut husking-stick, a sapling
about 2-Ĺ" in diameter cut off about 3í above the ground and sharpened
to a point.
I would not have recognized this tool, but Todd, having lived in American
Samoa for two years, does. The coconut that he swam back with from Topua
Island the day before swims ashore again.
He holds the coconut in both hands and brings it down hard on the point of
the stick, piercing the husk. More thumping on the stick pries the husk into
sections that can be torn away from the inner shell.
Todd pierces one of the coconutís brown, depressed eyes and we drink the
milk. Then we crack the coconut shell in half with rocks to get at the meat.
All very primitive, but it provides a tasty afternoon snack.
Pepper from Lolita shows up as Todd and I are swimming back to Otter.
Earlier in the day I had spoken with him on the radio and told him we were low
on bottled water, which Todd is drinking to avoid any bugs. Pepper offered to
run us down a few bottles, saying heíd wanted to see the south end of the
He has a large inflatable with a powerful outboard, and has bumped his way
over a few coral patches on the way here, just avoiding serious damage.
Heís proudly wearing his new flowered pareu, a wrap-around cloth skirt
that the locals wear. And, though Pepperís Polish-American, he sounds like
all good kilt-wearing Scotsmen when he brags thereís nothing beneath it.
He stays for a soda and then tools off at 30 knots to Lolita.
Lolita, despite the common expectation, is not named after Vladimir
Nabokovís novel of the same name.
Rather, when Pepper originally formed a partnership with a friend to buy
the boat in Ft. Lauderdale, the friend put up the $500, which was all the
money they had between them, and Pepper said, "OK -- weíre partners,
but Iím the captain," to which his friend said, "OK but I want to
name the boat --- after my mother."
Pepper groaned, thinking, "Itís going to be christened the Dorothy
Hildegarde Rosenblatt or something!" But his friend said, "Lolita."
Pepper, relieved, said, "Deal!" He later bought out his partner but
the name stayed.
I make a drawing of the islet. It has the iconic palm trees growing
horizontally over the sand beach, the sun setting behind clouds beyond.
Dinner and a calm night. More conversation of past and future, the moon
smiling across the water.
End of Report Nine