French customs officers checked my passport in Papeete International Airport and eyed me curiously. My entry stamp was from Nuku Hiva, a Marquesan island, from almost three months prior, indicating I was not your average tourist. “You only have three days left on your visa,” the hunky tattooed officer informed me, “Yes, I know.” “Are you planning on coming back to French Polynesia anytime soon?” he inquired, “Yes, in a few weeks, I am sailing from here onwards to Tonga and New Zealand, with friends” I responded, calmly. After a few more questions he let me leave French Polynesia to board my flight to Rarotonga, the main island in the Cook Island group.
I gazed at Moorea outside the Air Tahiti airplane window. She looked surreal, an imagined paradise, her peaks jutted skyward like water jumping up in spires when you place an extra strong bass speaker nearby. Deep emerald green ringed with white sand, luminous turquoise shallow water and crashing waves on the outer reef, all surrounded by endless sea, in all directions, dimpled like a hammered copper pot.
It was surreal speaking English with peers from the US again. Eric and Morgan of SV Zephyr, a 55’ Outremer performance catamaran, welcomed me aboard with open arms and lots of good food. I first met the young couple when we were resting in La Paz, Baja Mexico after the Baja Ha-Ha rally. We were a few of the handful of younger sailors in the 150 boat race. We met up later in La Cruz, north of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico when we were getting ready to cross the Pacific. They invited me to help race Zephyr in a four day regatta, which we won! We had a ton of fun racing together, it was my first time on a large catamaran, it was an incredibly smooth ride even at high speeds and didn’t heel to one side like monohull sailboats do. I’d already committed to crossing the Pacific with SV Rapture, so Eric and Morgan said I could join them later in French Polynesia, if I wanted to, and continue on with them to New Zealand.
The rainbow boat felt like a music box without her ballerinas. We’d just returned to the Carenage shipyard after dropping off the boat’s owners and crew, the four French doctors, at the Arutua airport. So now I was captain of this ship. I climbed up the 12 foot tall ladder to my new home, a rainbow painted black steel sailboat resting on stilts in a remote atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
There was space to lay down now in the small cockpit, without the four beautiful guys lounging about, smoking cigarettes and joking. I tucked a pillow behind my back and stared out at my new backyard—a coconut grove and pond. Thankfully, Tahai came by after sunset and extended Tony’s invitation to join them for family dinner. My heavy ennui was softened by the tiny Carenage community’s kindness.
Tony’s grandparents and parents live in humble, airy, brightly painted homes along the waterfront next to the shipyard. Tahai and Tamatoa, the two young Carenage workers from other atolls, live above the big shared kitchen near the small office set back from the sea. A coral gravel path connects all the homes, office, kitchen and shipyard—everything is tidy, beautiful tropical plants are well cared for, the coconut copra drying area is organized.