I wake up early in the morning, prepare tea, go out on the deck of Milanto and sit at the bow. The island of Moorea is always in front of me, beyond the coral reef where the waves break in a long white line. It greets me every morning, free from the clouds which, as the day progresses, will begin to linger over its volcanic peaks – the same happens on our Mediterranean islands and we say that the mountains are wearing a hat.
For almost two weeks the days have been the same in this forced paradise. However, here in Tahiti the lockdown is more relaxed than in many European countries. We can freely walk on the quay, access the reef with the dinghy to swim among fish of a thousand colours, go out to shop, run on the hills opposite the marina, or take a taxi to go for a swim at a nearby beach.
Commercial activities are closed and excursions around the island are not allowed, but we cannot complain. The news we have from home is far more dramatic and we feel privileged to have ended up in this part of the world while the pandemic is ongoing. The people here stay mainly at home and follow the instructions from the local government, but in the evening I meet someone who, like us, takes advantage of the sunset to do outdoor exercise. We greet each other at a safe distance, with courtesy, but also with a certain diffidence: ‘Bonsoir’. ‘Bonsoir’.
It feels like living in a parallel reality, in a muffled atmosphere where time has stopped. And indeed our life has suddenly stopped, as if we are imprisoned in an enchanted garden: the same as Ulysses on the lush island of Ogygia, where Calypso, goddess of the sea, kept him with her. After all these months of sailing – where the watch system dictated our movements, and activities consisted of adjusting the sails, planning the routes, in short, the adventure of this round the world journey – now Milanto is at a standstill on the dock at Marina Taina, south of Papeete, and we await permission to leave.
We are in a place where nature gives gifts in abundance. A rich vegetation of coconut palms, banana and mango trees, brightly coloured flowers and other tropical fruits grow spontaneously on the wooded slopes and the sheer mountains that rise above the ocean. In addition, the island is protected by a deep coral reef populated by colourful tropical marine fauna. A marvel for those who dive and snorkel.
Every day Paolo and Cecilia – Italian sailing friends on their splendid Hallberg Rassy 53, Ariel – welcome me on their dinghy to go snorkel on the reef. I enjoy seeing these underwater cities of coral that look like turreted castles or buildings with strange shapes. A spotted manta ray passes close to the sandy bottom and suddenly a flock of small blue fish crosses my view. Cecilia also saw a 1.5 meter shark. ‘The ferry is leaving!’ Paolo jokes when we leave Ariel to cross the stretch of sea that leads us to the reef. Paolo is an expert sailor, but he is also a doctor and has made his services available to all the boats waiting in this marina. Not only does he provide advice on how to protect ourselves from contagion, but he also deals with minor health problems among the various crews. The crews of Milanto and Ariel have become firm friends and have decided to continue the journey together as soon as we can resume sailing.
But there are also other boats with which we share this stop: Sea Lover, a catamaran belonging to Daniel, an elegant Mexican who tells us jokes and offers us samples of top quality tequila; the Belgian family of Deo Juvante, with two cute children who invent games and ride their bicycles between the docks of the port; Pino, owner of a hotel in Rome, with his crew of Sardinian sailors, who hosted us for a dinner on his spacious catamaran. And then there is Rachael, an expert English skipper from Starling, one of the clippers belonging to her charter and sail training company. The crew on board have been repatriated and she is waiting for the cargo ship to bring the boat back to England.
Rachael studied literature at Cambridge and every afternoon we meet to translate Shakespeare’s sonnets into a new Italian version. The translations I know have never satisfied me and it’s nice to share a literary interest with someone. And here in Tahiti! We work every afternoon for two or three hours, analysing words, breaking down sentences, listening to the sound of verses and rhymes. For now it is only drafts, but some ideas seem really effective, and who knows if sooner or later we will not publish something! Then we go for a run in the hills to clear our minds. We struggle as we climb up the road that winds between the houses in the residential area that rise above the marina. Hens are left to forage freely on the side of the road and fly high into the branches of the trees when we get closer. They are almost wild, no one has clipped their wings to prevent them from flying. And to think that I had never seen a hen take to flight so high – I thought that they were not capable of it. When we descend, slowing down to catch our breath, the sun sets on Moorea, and it is the best moment of the day. When the whole horizon is filled with low clouds that ignite and the island responds with a strong scent from the flowers and fruit trees.
In the evening we recite our translations to fellow sailors in a small poetry show, along with one or two songs played on the guitar. As is happening all over the world in this suspended time, here too we rediscover the taste for simple things: reciting a poem in public or making music together. And in this unreal stay everyone turns to their own business. There are those who do boat maintenance, or strict fitness programs, or those who dedicate themselves to cooking. Like our Amancio who every day is committed to experimenting with traditional Spanish dishes. In the last few days Valerio and I have been the recipients of real culinary experiences: Russian salad, vegetable lasagna, zucchini and meat patties, eggplant stuffed with vegetables, pickled tuna, prawn stew, tuna with lemon sauce, capers and anchovies, roasted coconut flan and coffee flan.
In short, a world of sensations for our taste buds!
And the pandemic? Obviously it hangs over every conversation. Indeed, in this small international community made up of seafarers, all the conspiracy theories imaginable are present, but also many more measured reflections. We also read newspapers online and keep ourselves informed. We too are concerned about our charter business, because for now the flights are cancelled and many of our passengers have not been able to reach us. But we also wonder what will become of the world we knew. What dangers and what opportunities will we face in the future. And a thousand other questions that are difficult to answer.
For now we can only live day by day, trying to share in the beauty of the nature around us and what each of us carries inside. But our main goal remains to restart as soon as we can, continuing to sail westward on this long and increasingly incredible journey around the world.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Dovrei paragonarti a un giorno d’estate?
Il tuo essere è più amabile e moderato
Forti venti scuotono le delicate gemme di maggio
E il corso dell’estate finisce troppo presto
Talvolta l’occhio del cielo splende troppo forte
E spesso il suo aspetto dorato si riduce
E ogni cosa bella la bellezza talvolta declina
Per caso o per immutabile ciclo della natura
Ma la tua eterna estate non dovrà svanire
Né perder la bellezza che possiedi
Né dovrà la morte farsi vanto che tu vaghi nella sua ombra
Quando in eterni versi nel tempo tu crescerai
Finché uomo potrà respirare o occhio potrà vedere
Queste parole vivranno a lungo e ti daranno vita