It’s the morning of 5thJune 2012. Dawn light teases the horizon, hinting at the possibility of land mass. It could be clouds, though. I squint. I relax my eyes. It’s the same.
I take a short, quick breath and exhale slowly. Over 3,000nm. We’ve done it. We have all but arrived.
Less than a day and half ago I was coming off of my night watch when the lights of Fakarava came into view, the first hint of civilisation. Early ideas had been to drop anchor in the lagoon and explore and snorkel and splash about for a few hours. It might have been a good, small-scale reintroduction to other people, to social niceties and some geographical normality, albeit in the form of a coral atoll. But a midnight stop-off would be wasting time, so on we sailed, Tahiti bound.
Accompanied by a speeding beat in my chest, we pushed through a burst of grey downpours into our twenty second day at sea, into a day of still oceans, glorious sunshine and puffy cumulus clouds above a horizon that felt even farther away than usual. I checked the catamaran’s computers regularly. We were well inside French Polynesia and the Galapagos islands felt like a lifetime ago.
And now, here, pushing on into Day 23 of our voyage, we’re sailing towards Tahiti. There’s a ship off our starboard quarter – a trading vessel – and I sense that the hustle and bustle of real life and people and interaction can only be a few hours away. I’ve got mixed feelings and all sorts of chemical reactions surging through my body. I feel a little sick, but I’m smiling.
Up ahead I see the peaks of Mt. Orohena and Mt. Aorai start to push through a morning cloud blanket, high, spiky crests with more solidity than I’ve seen for some time. They are the identifiable markers of Tahiti Nui, markers that have guided in many a sailor towards the port of Papeete.
The sun starts to touch the volcanic ridges and peaks and melts the cloud cover to reveal steep, emerald rock faces. We’re seeing it from the same angle that Captain Cook would have back in 1769, sailing on north-west past Venus Point towards the inhabited parts of this green island full of sharp ridges and dramatic peaks. Coincidentally, we arrive the day before the 2012 Transit of Venus, and the magic of turning up to this tropical paradise of the Society Islands after such a lengthy voyage is accentuated.
And then reality hits. We make contact with the port captain and secure a berth in the midst of town. A boy trails our boat, riding the wake in his kayak. We motor in towards exaggerated, colourful signs on the sides of blocky buildings and into a channel lined by bright green, mown lawns and palms planted at equal distances.
We pull up beside a super vessel – a boat bigger than many a house and hungrier than most trucks. Three uniformed, small framed guys with similarly styled crew cuts help to dismount some jet skis from off the side of the big boat.
It’s mid-morning of June 5th 2012 when I jump off the catamaran, switching carbon fibre and bright, white plastic for hard, hard concrete. I could kiss the ground, but I don’t. Instead, I run, arms out.
And then I turn around and run back to our boat.
- Tahiti 100 years ago & today [PICs] (matadornetwork.com)