Milanto’s unreal journey to the Society Islands

I am writing this from Taina Marina, in Papeete, Tahiti. We are moored on the dock and touching our feet on the land for the first time after more than a month spent at sea. After arriving from the Galapagos, we spent ten days in quarantine at anchor in Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands, before we were given a permit from the Polynesian authorities to be able to sail to Tahiti.

The volcanic stone cliffs of Hiva Oa
The volcanic stone cliffs of Hiva Oa

We have sailed for a week through a deserted ocean, without meeting any other boat, or ship, not even a freighter. It was as if the world had stopped. The lockdown is in force throughout French Polynesia: all ports are closed, anchorages are prohibited, and imprisonment measures have been implemented in the islands to avoid contagion of the virus. We sailed through the Tuamotus archipelago, which is made up of circular atolls of very white sand, crowned with coconut trees which act as a gateway to inland lagoons of turquoise water, rich in marine flora and fauna: a deserted and abandoned paradise. Approaching them they seemed uninhabited – lonely beaches and houses with no signs of life. They must have looked the same to James Cook, the great explorer of the southern seas, on his three famous voyages, before finding death in Hawaii during a conflict with the local natives. Appearing to him out of nowhere in the middle of the ocean, whilst sailing westward, driven by the trade winds that in this part of the Pacific, flow lightly and allow for a gentle and relaxed passage. It happened to us in the afternoon, when the sun began to descend to the bow, Cook too must have noticed tiny dark ridges, low on the horizon, like small tufts filtering though the glimmering light above the waves. Appearing like a mirage created from the reflections of the sea, until you can finally decipher the palm trees growing above the circular strips of land, delimited by a deep coral reef protecting them from the waves of the ocean.

One of the Tuamotu's atolls
One of the Tuamotu’s atolls

We did not go ashore, instead following the recommendations of the local authorities in order to avoid spreading the infection. Obviously, we are very disappointed, but if we look at it from another point of view, I am increasingly aware that the unreal experience we are living, navigating in this part of the world during this pandemic, is in itself, unique and unrepeatable. Certainly seeing the nature of these places is – the curious sea birds that circle around our boat giving us a greeting before continuing on their journey; the fish darting in the waves; but above everything else, is this ocean, so full of life and gifting us with different landscapes every day. In these surroundings it is difficult to think of a virus that has paralysed the whole world, while here nature is in constant movement, so powerful and large that it takes your breath away. We feel safe in this sea. At night I enjoy learning new constellations or seeing the alignment of the planets: Venus, the first evening star, then Jupiter, large and bright; Saturn, the planet of artists; and Mars, small and red.

Even when approaching Tahiti we do not encounter boats; only when we are just near the coast, on a sunny afternoon with a sky full of cumulus clouds, and where swarms of rain and radiant rainbows alternate, do we see the lance of a lone fisherman tending to his lobster pots.

Tahiti is the largest of the Society Islands, the highest elevation reaches an altitude of over 2,000 meters. We therefore begin to glimpse it from several miles away and gradually we can define the green hills and the forested slopes. The island is rich in water and nature and as a result appears as an explosion of blooms and plants. You almost reach the land before you realise you are pervaded by the intense scent of flowers carried by the wind.

Tahiti
Tahiti

Arriving from the north east we skirted the northern part of Tahiti Nui – the larger of the two islands joined by an isthmus of land – reaching Papeete at sunset and entering the passage through the coral reef in darkness, illuminated only by a full moon rising from the hills.

Traversing through the barrier reef at night was exciting: the waves crashing loudly just a few meters away from our boat as we slowly crept into the access channel delimited by the usual green and red lights. Once entering the lagoon, the sea immediately became a table, so much so, that the moon was reflected on the water as if in a well. We dropped the anchor in 15 meters of water, toasting our last crossing, so unreal that it seemed to us as if we have been living in a dream.

Moorea
Moorea

In the morning we wake up with the volcanic island of Moorea in front of us, wonderful with its peaks rising from the ocean waters. We reach the marina and stop at the entrance dock awaiting our instructions. Now that we are back on land we will have to follow the local rules. We can walk freely inside the marina and go out to shop using a certified taxi, also from 20:00 to 05:00 there is a curfew and we cannot leave the boat. We do not know how long we will have to stay here, certainly until movement between the islands is reopened and we are allowed to continue our journey. We take this opportunity to carry out work on Milanto, but also to meet up with other sailor friends who, like us, are waiting to make decisions. We meet on their respective boats, we share meals together and talk about the sea, adventures, the wind and future prospects, trying to leave aside the problems related to the pandemic that still loom and condition our movements and thoughts, as it does for everyone now. But we are sure that soon we will take to the sea again and continue our adventure, every day that passes the beauty that surrounds us gives us a new hope.