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High Seas, High Adventure and High Time

Mike Moore finds himself stranded in Polynesia. Gee shucks.

The good ship Nomad left Raiatea on the afternoon of April 30th and returned to Raiatea late on May 1st, after venturing approximately 80 miles off shore. We set off beating to windward, the first hard sailing we have done. (Wouldn't it be easier to be heading to Fiji or Tonga!) When I awoke in the morning after my watch there was seawater in the boat, about an inch above the floorboards.

Everybody got busy in a hurry, some of us to shorten sail as the wind and seas had been building and we were surfing down eight-foot swells and others to locate the source of the seawater. We weren't in danger of sinking as the water level was not rising rapidly, but everything on the floor including bags of clothes, etc were sopping.

Eventually we tracked the leak down to a crack between the keel and the hull. A crack that was getting worse in the sailing conditions. We turned the boat around and headed back to Raiatea where we knew that there was a boatyard where we could have the boat hauled out of the water. We made it safely back to Raiatea. The haulout was scheduled for the following week and work on the boat will take a number of weeks depending on the owner's insurance etc.

All of this caused a problem for the crew, we had all planned on a two month trip returning to Seattle by the end of June. The fact that we would not return now until the end of July at the earliest caused some serious logistical problems, not to mention our lack of faith in the boat and annoyance with the owner for not mentioning a structural problem like this.

We informed the owner of the boat (who had pulled out of the trip at the last moment) that we couldn't make the timetable. Some of the crew - dreaming of Big Macs and a land where people spoke English - were eager to return to the US. I think the exact words were that they wanted to get out of this two-bit hellhole. Some people do not adapt well to not being able to order in pizza and having to do everything through another language.

MaupitiI for one decided to stay on in French Polynesia for a while. I took a small local ferry to the island of Maupiti. Majestic Maupiti is the least known of the accessible Society Islands, it is eleven kilometres across with every available piece of land covered with breadfruit, mango and banana trees.

Maupiti does not have any hotels, only one road, one shop, three public phones, few people and fewer cars. On the ferry I talked to a French lady, Juliette who married a Tahitian man and has been living on the island for the last twenty years. I stayed with Juliette and Aeriti for the next ten days.

The pass into Maupiti is very narrow, so narrow in fact that the cargo ferry which supplies the island every two weeks must go through at an angle or go aground. Juliette and Aeriti live on a motu (reef island) facing the pass, with a beautiful white sand beach out front facing the lagoon and the sound of the crashing surf on the reef behind.

Either, my French is getting better or I am just more adventurous, I suspect a little of both. My hosts and the other people on the island were very friendly and we talked about all sorts of subjects from illegal turtle hunting (still widely practised on the outlying islands), local traditions (family spirits inhabit stones kept and consulted in marae (temples)), traditional family life, nuclear testing on Moruroa (where over 100 nuclear bombs have been tested since 1966, Aeriti's brother worked there and now suffers from blood disorders but considers it a small price to pay for France having a nuclear deterrent) as well as local and family politics (the elections were on while I was there, everyone including the mayor of the town appears to be related to Aeriti). This was a glimpse at some of the complex issues in this part of the world where families struggle to partake of the fruits of economic prosperity while maintaining a cultural identity.

It was also a chance to enjoy island life. Imagine lying in a hammock strung between two trees on the beach after a day of kayaking and snorkelling, listening to James Taylor on the walkman and watching a beautiful sunset, an explosion of red, violets and gold over the lagoon. Life is good!!

Mike Moore, 18 May, 2001

Mike's next instalment sees him getting to grips with P?anque, Spear fishing and, gulp, Dengue fever. Click here to read it all in Mike's June dispatch from Polynesia.


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