Good-bye French Polynesia

It is for a taste of this dream that voyagers go through hell and high
waters. [An apt metaphor.] We are sailing just off downwind, pulled by
the genoa, our lightest and largest sail, poled out to ensure it catches
the maximum volume of air. Ocean surrounds in all directions. We are
far, far, away from all commercial traffic. In this huge expanse of
ocean, only a handful of yachts are traveling from Bora Bora to Suvarow,
all going in the same direction so risk of collision is minimal. Puffs
of cotton candy cumulus indicate fair weather, backed up by forecasts
that predict optimal sailing conditions.

I don't believe it's possible, physically, to reach this place without
having been tested by drama. Except, perhaps, crew or passengers who can
choose to join for just one leg of a journey. I am happy for them; it
would be like only ever seeing New York in spring, or enjoyment of a
piece of music with no knowledge of the process and pains behind its

The soundtrack of the soothing sea is a lullaby, the side-to-side rock,
a hammock in paradise. We were right to leave: this passage is the
destination we've been seeking.

During the last two days before leaving Bora Bora, we were joined by yet
more boats we had met before. Nicolas and Marie-Laure from La Tortue
( who we first met in Tahiti in the final stages of a
massive refit of their gorgeous concrete boat, arrived full of smiles.
Built by his parents in the '70s, Nico spent the first ten years of his
life living and travelling aboard la Tortue, mostly in the Carribbean.
He has now taken ownership from his father, who is based in Tahiti, and
has spent the last year making the boat ready for sea. His ever-patient
girlfriend, Marie-Laure, left her engineering position in France and
arrived six months after Nico, with no sailing experience but ready to
leave immediately. Six monthe later, she was still covered in epoxy and
paint. Their story felt very familiar! So, we have always loved seeing
them not only because they're great fun people, but also in celebration
of wonderful sailing rewards earmed after a hard slog refit. They were
also our snorkelling guides in both Huahine and Taha'a, introducing me
to a world of beauty I would otherwise never have explored.

In addition, Jaimes and Nicole sailed in: our great French friends who
we left Chile in tandem with. It was this couple that we waited out a
storm off Chiloe, and departed at the exact same hour into the Great
Pacific Ocean. Such a scary and exciting moment! They arrived at Juan
Fernandez three days before us, having had the sense and experience to
initially head only west, far off the coast of Chile, and then motor for
thirty hours across the 'calm before the storm'. Us? We set our GPS on a
direct line for Robinson Crusoe Island and I had an ecological fit when
Andy started the engine. "What's the point? Why are we doing this? Do
you want to motor to New Zealand?! This journey, for me at least, is
about not burning fuel…" . How I regret that today.

Thus, for a day we drifted on a mirror and then got pummeled by a storm.
We arrived at Juan Fernandez bedraggled and beaten, welcomed by Jaimes'
laughter, a lobster dinner, and not a word mentioned of our naive
navigational choices.

Pupyca, their boat, had the good fortune to leave Juan Fernandez the day
before the tsunami hit. We left the day after. We met them again, this
time after a fortnight passage that was emotionally rather than
physically draining, in Easter Island, a place we once again were forced
to flee due to an approaching storm. We next met in the Gambier Islands
(we had made a detour to visit Pitcairn), but with time only to share a
sense of achievement and delight before they headed north. to the
Tuamotos. The last time they saw us we were still exhausted, and had a
rat on board.

Ask them, and us, and anyone else in this area, of their experience in
French Polynesia, and you'll get a different answer every time. They
will tell you of remote desert atolls with barely a soul around, and
spearfishing every day for dinner. For three months. Others will tell
you of the weeks and months they were waylaid in Tahiti due to necessary
maintenance of their boat, or waiting for a part or passenger to arrive.
Yet others will tell of diving with manta rays and swimming with sharks.
We haven't caught a single fish or seen a manta, but we have stories of
mountains, waterfalls, and Polynesian dancing. For every thing you see,
there are as many that you miss. The trick is to not regret the things
you didn't, but enjoy their stories vicariously and so double your

Many of our friends currently in Bora Bora are planning on visiting
Maupiti this week, when conditions are right for entry. That's the
island we passed last night and is meant to be a picture paradise.
Jaimes' main goal for this journey was to spend time in the Tuamotos and
Maupiti, and we missed out on both. He shakes his head in perplexion.
But, we had an amazing time in Pitcairn, sailed into a full eclipse, and
will have more time to explore Tonga. There is no 'right way'.

Our last night on Bora Bora was perfect. Sitting at the yacht club,
sharing a barbecue pot-luck with three other couples who were also
preparing to leave the next day, background music provided by a group of
locals jamming on ukuleles on the pier. Everyone had brought food but
Ellie's creations outshone the lot: prawn and pineapple skewers, tender
pieces of pork, and large slabs of Argentine steak from her freezer.
Just when I had almost reached Nirvana, she produced the most incredible
fresh apple cake, the apples from her garden in Norway last season,
served with Tahitian-vanilla cream! As our bodies digested, Fergus
played us a ballad on the accordion and John shared his songs,
self-accompanied by guitar that he hasn't been able to play for four
months due to an accident to his finger. Sounded pretty amazing to me.
The night drifted late with stories, songs, music, and poetry, and the
last thing we did was agree to repeat the experience in Tonga. Between
here and there, however, we each have chosen a different route.

Jon and Jennifer ( are taking the most
southerly route, via Rarotonga, the capital of the Cook Islands. Jan and
Ellie ( are headed for Palmerston Atoll, an island inhabited
by only three families, each with the surname: Palmer. Pylades
( are heading straight for Niue, the smallest
independent state in the world, possibly via Palmerston. And we are
headed further north within the Cooks, to Suvarow, an island occupied
for only eight months of the year, by a couple of park rangers, and
visited only by yachts.

It's not possible to visit everywhere, see everything, and also take
things suitably slowly, so I look forward to hearing their stories. We
all set off within a few hours of each other, but will likely arrive in
Tonga several days apart. In the mean-time, we check in each morning on
the freshly- baked 'apple tart net' using HF radio to provide positions,
conditions, and greetings. While the ocean feels vast, and we enjoy
feeling wonderfully isolated, there is also a sense of security in
hearing friendly voices once a day.