My dream was to sail a forty-six foot sailboat from San Francisco to Tahiti and back. I kept putting it off until Elizabeth, my astute wife, realized it wasn’t going to happen unless she stepped up and made it happen. She had little interest in sailing to Tahiti, but she was excited about sailing the Tahitian Islands. Her solution was a surprise birthday gift of a two-week Tahitian cruise aboard the just launched, small cruise ship, the M/S Paul Gauguin.
In the summer of 1997, we boarded a plane in San Fransisco and flew into Papeete, the capital of the French Polynesian Islands. We took a launch to the small, nearby island of Bora Bora where we spent three days and nights in a unique thatched roof bungalow fifty yards off the beach. There was a hatch on the glass floor of the main room, that when opened, revealed stairs leading down to the water. The experience was mesmerizing and exhilarating. We felt like very special people. The sense of well being was quickly shattered when I got the breakfast bill for over one-hundred dollars, followed by a two-hundred dollars dinner bill for a modest meal of the local fish and a glass of wine.
About eleven of the third day, we took the resort’s launch back to Papeete. The Paul Gauguin had arrived and the crew was preparing her for her maiden voyage that afternoon. The accommodating purser accepted our luggage, but said, we will not be ready for passenger boarding until two o’clock.” He suggested we visit the open marketplace just down the street, and explore the village while we waited. We headed for the marketplace. The sights, smells and sounds of the bustling, stinky, dirty, fly infested place surprised me. I’d never seen anything quite like it. We did a quick walk through and left. I found a decent, clean cafe a few blocks away overlooking the harbor, where we had lunch.
We were treated like royalty when we boarded our ship. We settled into our spacious stateroom, unpacked, and got comfortable. There were fresh flowers, a chilled bottle of French champagne and a basket of fruit on the salon table. The most enjoyable aspect of the room for me was the small lanai on the other side of the sliding glass door. We took the elevator down to the main deck to join the departure festivities a little before five. As we got off the elevator, a pretty Polynesia wahine draped us in fresh leis and offered us an island drink. We made our way over to the crowded port side rail to watch the last minute hustle and bustle on the dock. The final baggage and provisions were competing for space on the conveyor belt leading into the ship’s side. Vendors and baggage handlers were spontaneous, yelling, singing, laughing and cursing at one another in French. It was exhilarating.
Leaving the port, we were treated like royalty with fresh island leis, Mai Tai’s and tasty pupu’s all around as the Polynesian dancers performed to Island music and the purser snapped all of our pictures.
The following morning we awoke anchored off of Marlon Brando’s private Island of Tetiaroa. This Island was settled by three of the mutineers from the ship featured in the true story ‘Mutiny on the. Bounty.’ Marlon played Fletcher Christian in the movie. Then it was off to Bora, Bora and the many lessor islands. We snorkeled, swam, jet-skied and toured the islands in three wheel motorbikes.
By the tenth day at sea, the opulent shipboard ambiance, beautiful scenery and attentive service had lulled us into believing we were special folks, possibly even ‘Sea Gods’ safe from any peril. However, as evening approached the sky darkened and a typhoon appeared in the distance. We were in open water when it closed in on us. The seas grew huge and rain came down in buckets. Thunder roared and lightning lit up the sky as we dressed for dinner at the captain’ table. Fifteen minutes into dinner service, the captain excused himself and disappeared. That was when I knew we were in for it. This five hundred foot long ship was starting to roll and pitch badly and Elizabeth was getting seasick. We too excused ourselves, as several other diners did.
We retuned to our stateroom and Elizabeth took to her berth moaning. I was ecstatic to be here. I had experienced a hurricane in Alabama, but this was way better, more dangerous and more exciting. We were sailing through a typhoon in the South Pacific, Man. It was a dream come true, what a story! I felt the ship make a dramatic course change, which nearly tumbled Elizabeth out of her berth. She grumbled loudly and sent me to sickbay for some pills. When I got there a half-dozen passenger were ahead of me.
I hurried back to our stateroom and tended to my now very seasick wife. While she was in the head, I picked up the phone and ordered a cheeseburger. The kitchen crewman told me that he was sorry, but because of the heavy seas, the galley was closed.
I found a can of peanuts, an apple, and a bottle of Tahitian rum in the cooler. I grabbed them and went out onto our small private deck to enjoy the storm. It was an incredible experience. The ships powerful floodlights lit up the ocean and bounced light off of the driving rain. The white capped seas reached up towards me and occasionally crashed onto the deck at my feet. The rum, I was sucking down enhanced the experience. I was soaking wet and a little tipsy when a massive lightning bolt lit up the sky, followed by a deafening clap of thunder. It was beautiful and surreal. For a moment I was lieutenant Dan aboard Forrest Gump’s shrimp boat. I shook my fist at the heavens and hollered, “Bring it on, God! I can handle it! Elizabeth must have heard me, because she slid the door open and hollered, “Get back in here, Jake!” I did so, but I shall never forget that night. Jake