By Richard Carroll
Viewed from the streets of downtown Papeete, gateway to French Polynesia, the towering four masts of the 148-guest Wind Spirit sailing yacht loom skyward, gleaming white in the dappled light, reaching toward low-hanging fickle clouds that debate whether to shower the city with a cooling tropical squall or tussle with the sun.
The gorgeous four-decked yacht, built in 1988 in Le Havre, France, and her crew of 95 are anxious to share the joys of French Polynesia: the world-renowned splendor of the Society Islands, the deep-blue sky and ever-changing sea, the colorful life teeming below the surface of the mighty South Pacific, and unsurpassed, the Polynesian people, blessed with the softer side of life, whose faces are flushed by the fresh Tahitian air.
For seven memorable days the Wind Spirit sails on ancient sea trails where once Polynesians navigated by following the stars. While the lights of Papeete fade in the mist, she eases across the waves toward Moorea with her sails unfurled to catch a strong breeze under a slow-arching sun as large-winged sea birds wheel by, skimming the surface of the rippling ocean.
Cook's Bay is engulfed by a stunning display of 20 shades of brilliant tints covering a crazy circular Moorean landscape, making it seem as if the Polynesian Volcanic King in one of his humorous, carefree moods placed jagged steep-sided peaks, ridges and large boulder outcroppings helter-skelter in a jigsaw design to confuse the ever-drifting clouds looking for a peak on which to drape themselves.
A few buildings are scattered along the bayfront as the sun casts long dark shadow on the peaks and ridges beyond. The turquoise-hued bay blends with the surrounding emerald-green volcanic landscape like the palette of a capricious master painter who is deep into his cups. At anchor in the center of a blown-out volcano, the yacht drifts with the current as an islander and his lady paddle by in a low-slung canoe. Muscles are flexing since canoeing is a key competition sport between the Tahitian islands and Hawaii.
The Wind Spirit promises a casual dress code, a creative chef, an ocean view in all staterooms and no annoying cabin announcements — creating an absolutely stress-free experience. Anywhere on deck the view makes a new, vivid memory. Guests are encouraged to get their feet wet and experience a wonderland via drift snorkeling and diving among spectacular coral gardens. On land, there is pleasure in the lilt of the Polynesian language, where the word "hurry" is never heard and "Polynesian time" means "whenever."
Taha'a, the second port of call, encircled by a reef and numerous islets or motus, is home to 6,000 Polynesians. Here the sweet smell of vanilla permeates the breeze because the island proudly produces 80 percent of all French Polynesian vanilla.
Guests travel the island in an open-air jeep/truck on a beautifully maintained cement road through palm groves and past coves where small boats lie at anchor and islanders are preparing coconuts for market.
The island is sparkling clean with no graffiti and little traffic, the ocean changes colors in tandem with the clouds and the welcome bouquet of vanilla scents the air. With little tourism, the world shrinks to the island's sensibility and the everyday glory of nature in all its grandeur. The only caveat offered, "Watch for falling coconuts."
Raiatea, the spiritual center of Polynesia, is devoid of nightclubs (the mayor is Mormon). With 45 churches, a dearth of beaches and a safe distance from the tourist trail, the island has a profoundly easygoing rhythm enhanced by the dramatic volcanic slopes, lagoons and greenery, and the resonance of crowing roosters.
A serious competition between the east and west coasts of the island over which is the most attractive is ongoing. No trash is found on either, weeds are not allowed and flowers are held in high esteem. Regardless, the folks on both coasts of this 65-square-mile island say, "We teach our kids to fish with bamboo poles and if they get lost, follow the rainbow to find your way home."
The captain pulls anchor in a choppy sea and turns the bow toward Bora Bora while dinner is served on deck under the stars. The crew's spontaneous line-dancing follows, while the huge sails catch a robust wind. The night's sail brings the Wind Star to the trendy island of Bora Bora, almost entirely encircled by a reef and dotted with large upscale hotels along with slow-moving traffic. The renowned Bloody Mary's restaurant/bar favored by wide-ranging celebrities offers guests the chance to check their sandals and shoes at the door and let the sand tickle their toes. Later in the day a catamaran carries cruisers to a small Bora Bora motu appearing on the horizon like a green gumdrop for a Polynesian dinner bordered by tall lava peaks and coral gardens.
Huahine, the last port of call, undeveloped and left alone in time, offers cultural walks to sacred sites. The one-street town of Fare has a single small market and one or two residents with portable stands selling fruit, shell necklaces and bracelets. A lady in a clothing boutique said, "When the French arrived we were naked. Now we go to the beach wearing clothes and the French are naked!"
Back in Papeete a guest departing the Wind Star whispers with a soft sigh, "The cruise and islands are far better than any postcard."
WHEN YOU GO
For more information: www.windstarcruises.com
Richard Carroll is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.