The yawn of dawn stretched across port of Papeete. We’d been counting down to this day. Our rusty red frying pan was awake with the aroma of bacon and the sizzle of popping grease, which muffled the drone of morning traffic along Boulevard de la Reine Pomare IV. We scurried about the boat stowing this and straightening that. Readying Red Thread for guests.
Just past 6 o’clock am, Neil exclaimed, “I think that’s them!” In a breath, we were in the cockpit! In the distance were the silhouettes of two dancing stick people and a pile of bags. One of the figures was waving, the kind of wave that teeters your hips in a rhythmic counter movement. A whole-of-body kind of wave. That was Helen. I squealed like a little pig as I flipped the bacon, breakfast for our flight-weary friends who’d traveled nearly 15 hours from Seattle. Neil hurried to retrieve them from the street overlooking the marina.
As people, Mark and Helen are as good as it gets. Fun. Chill. Smart. Interesting. Up. For. Anything. This was the second leg they’d joined for during our South Pacific Stitch. The first was in Costa Rica, 14 months and 6,000 nautical miles ago.
If you come to crew aboard s/v The Red Thread, you must bring your “boarding pass.” That is, one checked bag chockablock full of boat parts that we will ship to your door. The lion’s share of their luggage was ours. Mark and Helen brought a couple pairs of shorts and bikinis, some cotton bits, and a bottle of rum and a box of wine (okay, I confess, my descriptions of those quantities may have been a bit modest…alcohol is expensive here, so it made the “wish list”). The rest of was ours. Literally. In their gallantly packed bags were a pile of electrical bits, a new Xantrex solar regulator, a new macerator pump (to repair the head [aka toilet]), oars for the dinghy, a new American flag, some hard drives, pasta shaped like the space needle, a new head lamp, paracord, couple tubs of peanut butter, and a litany of other boat parts and bobbles.For three days, we explored the streets and markets of Papeete, circumnavigated Tahiti by car, and ate a few piles of seafood at the seaside. We even managed to stumble into a karaoke bar, where we entertained a crowd of people ourselves, with “Dancing Queen” and a Bruce Springsteen song that I mistakenly believed I knew the words to. Good times.French Polynesia’s most iconic island is swaddled in a blanket of foliage, a mountainous paradise showered by tropical rains that bless the island with perpetual youthfulness. Among fledgling palms gush millennia-old waterfalls, such as Faarumai Falls, a stunning series of waterfalls on the island’s north coast that is accessible by a brief walk from a dirt lot.
The day we drove around the island, we were teased by rain most of the afternoon—drops tickling our skin with surprising chill—but the vistas were lovely. We stopped at Belvédère de Taravao, hoping to catch a glimpse of the grandeur of Mont Orohena. Alas, she was shrouded in fog that is characteristic of the climate that maintains the mountainous island’s beauty. Perhaps she shall show herself during a future visit…?The catch-up conversation among the four of us was superb, but for as beautiful as the island was, Neil and I couldn’t help but wonder whether Tahiti might be the most overrated island in the Pacific. It hardly held a candle to the Gambiers or Raivavae, where tourism and city bustle had yet to clench their greedy fists. Perhaps it was the unexpected island rush hour traffic that disenchanted us? Most likely, we were just growing spoiled by precious remoteness of the island’s distant sisters…Last night in Tahiti
Each year, a few hundred boats cross the world’s largest ocean—the Pacific—most traveling east-to-west. Roughly one hundred of them converge on the island of Moorea, a 15-nm sail from Tahiti, to celebrate the accomplishment of having completed the longest open-ocean passages of the voyage and to experience a taste of Polynesian culture. The dates of the Tahiti-Moorea Sailing Rendezvous had been a major factor in how we planned Mark and Helen’s visit—we wanted to share the celebration with them! Our final night in Papeete coincided with the crew briefing for the sail to Moorea the next day and the opening night of the Rendezvous. There, we got our first taste of Polynesian dancing, including an opportunity to see Mark and Neil demonstrate their skills in the male fertility dance, which involves a lot of grunting and hip gyrations.
We rounded out the night by a stop at the Roulettes, a parking lot of food trucks. What’s not to like about that!? We’d enjoyed Tahiti, but with boat repairs complete, a couple of new tattoos on our skin, and Mark and Helen aboard, we were ready to move on.