Two days from Anse Amyot and we would be in Tahiti, pretty much half way across the Pacific. I remember thinking back to sailing in the UK when a two day passage was a big undertaking. Now it was a short haul, and we barely got into a watch pattern before we arrive in Pape’ete, capital of Tahiti and French Polynesia.[This post was written in September about being in Tahiti in late July – Early August]
This was the first city since Panama in March, and a shock to the system. As we approached the port, flanked by car-sized marker buoys towards a forgotten shoreline encased with concrete, there was no flotilla of scantily clad Tahitians canoeing out to welcome us as was promised by reading the Mutiny of the Bounty. But then, that was a couple of centuries ago.
In fact, outrigger canoes were everywhere – extremely fit looking men were paddling them about all over the place, but they were made of glass fibre rather than hollowed out trees. The landscape was industrial, with refineries, supermarkets and an airport on the seafront, which we had to call on the radio to make sure we didn’t get in the way of any planes taking off.
After mooring up we went ashore for our first supermarket fix since Panama. In time I will forget how nice it was to go into a large supermarket that had everything you could possibly want. Proper bread flour and good cheese were now things that excited me quite a bit.
We had timed our arrival for the Pacific Puddle Jump Rendezvous, a get together of all the cruisers crossing the Pacific from the Americas. It would be good to swap stories and catch up, but I also wanted to see if there were any other boats I could jump on to that would get me to Australia by the 4th September, which was when my girlfriend, Ell, and I would be driving down to Melbourne to start a new life together.
After some Tahitian dancing and a piss up, we all got so drunk that I apparently performed the haka and met many people that would say hi to my blank face for the next couple of months. The next day the fleet of 50 or so boats raced over to Moorea, the neighbouring island, but with the wind on the nose the race was abandoned and we all put our engines on.
A full out-of-the-box “Tahitian experience” was prepared for us involving canoe racing, Tahitian dance, palm weaving, rock lifting and banana racing. It felt nice to feel like a proper tourist after otherwise having been off the beaten track for a bit. I felt guilty to be more interested in the company of other cruisers than that of the locals. But as Ell has wisely pointed out, I was looking for connection, having put all my friendships on hold while I travel across the world. I shared context with the other cruisers and they were part of my tribe.
Much frivolity ensued. Jandamarra hosted a jam party with a record number of 17 people fitting in its cockpit.
But my priority was not to see Tahiti and its islands, but to secure my place in the music course at JMC Academy in Melbourne. They wanted two auditions, and I had just picked up the computer hardware to do a half decent job of it. As John and Harry explored Moorea I set up a boat studio in the saloon while anchored in the bay. I managed to borrow an electric guitar from Chris on SV Spill the Wine, and spent a full three days battling with technical issues, a noisy boat, a whirring wind generator, and other members of the crew who understandably wanted to be on the boat and make noise. It has a distinct amateur flavour to it but then I am going to this college to learn something:
With so many boats in one place, all heading West, this was my chance to jump on another boat for the rest of the journey. Keen to be clear and honest, I had already been frank with John about this. Wanting clarity himself and, I think, happy with me in the current crew, he asked me my plans. I told him I wanted to get to Brisbane for the 4th September. Most boats traverse the Pacific aiming to arrive in a cyclone-safe port in Australia or New Zealand by the beginning of the cyclone season in November, but few look to arrive as early as September.
John agreed to the timeline, which was quite a big ask. It is his boat, his experience of a lifetime, and his last stretch of freedom before returning to the hard slog. It was now obvious that this was the boat that was going to take me all the way. Crew dynamic was good, the boat itself was fast and spacious, and I had my own bed and bathroom, which is bloody rare.
The time came to pick up John’s girlfriend Sashi from the airport and give her a bit of a holiday. I wasn’t too fond of Tahiti and wouldn’t otherwise have spent two weeks there – it was either grimy city or cardboard cut-out touristy. After being on islands with just two inhabitants and snorkelling in a shark village, I would have much rather continue on and seen what the rest of the Pacific had to offer. But this was my ride and I wouldn’t find another skipper that would make such a commitment.
Having managed to download the huge backing track file from Paul, I spent another day recording a one-take “live” version of My Island to use as the second track for the audition. Undecided about whether to study Songwriting or Performance, singing an original song to a backing track satisfied the requirements of both. Apart from a prolonged scratch of my dubious beard, I figured it was good enough.
I had also been asked, out of the blue, to write a radio jingle for a restaurant in Mallorca, where I had spent a month looking for an Atlantic crossing. This turned out to be a much more prolonged process than I hoped – having started a couple of months earlier in Hiva Oa by sending them reggae, soul and funk ideas and now in Tahiti still refining the chosen reggae version into something by a white Englishman trying not to sound like a Pakistani. Anyone who has heard me try to cover No Woman No Cry will know what I am talking about. Although the hourly rate would probably put me under the minimum wage, I was lucky to have the opportunity so I put the hours in. As I write it is in the final stages of production and will hit Mallorcan radio by the end of the year. Bizarre.
We spent a little time down in Teahupoo, the famous surf break in Tahiti which holds a world championship every year. Sashi, a Fijian Indian, made us ring-stinging curries every night and we dinghied out to watch the surfers on a wall of water crashing into razor sharp reef.
Our last stop in Tahiti was outside a petanque field. Whilst provisioning we picked up some boules and joined in their Bastille Day tournament and got smashed out in the first round. These guys were serious. Theypicked up their boules with magnets and wore sweat-wicking technical T-shirts with petanque boules printed on them. Can you even work up a sweat playing petanque?
Sashi’s last night was also John’s birthday. I made John a killer chocolate cake and could see this made him quite emotional. Score.
In Tahiti we picked up Kat, a German girl looking to get to Bora Bora to work on a boat delivery to New Zealand. By now I had written up a full itinerary that we all agreed to keep to. On the day we were to leave, we also spoke with a Japanese girl, Mayo, who was looking to complete a flightless circumnavigation back to Japan and wanted to get a ride to Fiji. But she wanted to leave the next day. Begrudgingly we agreed – we wanted to help her out, and how could I impede someone which such a similar goal? The next day she said she was going to wait out for a direct boat to Japan. Needless to say I was very pissed off that we were now one day behind schedule before we had even left. Sometimes kindness is not rewarded. But most of the time it is.
Kat proved very useful in doing some boat jobs. I shall not forget the german voice shouting “I need a hammer” from the top of the mast. She was good company, and she made a tiramisu which was bloody nice.
Next stop Bora Bora. My friend Ollie Badcock came here around 15 years ago and returned with stories of lagoons, sharks and manta rays. It had filled me with envy but looked so remote on the map, I thought I would never reach it.