Supernumerary in the South Pacific – Tahiti

I feel like I’m reclaiming my past. This was a happy time for me, 1980, newly married and travelling the world. Really nothing to be unhappy about. Later, when that marriage was over and I was with my second husband, well, you can’t keep talking about ‘that time when I was happy with my first husband’. So I didn’t. But it was part of my life, and a privilege to be part of that world if only for a short time. It’s one of the things that’s made me who I am, and it’s nice to talk about it.

But thinking about it has also made me a little sad. Wistful, I guess. It’s all so long ago, and so, so far away. We were all so young, and the world literally was our oyster. Everyone on board had been everywhere (granted they’d mostly only been to the bars). It became normal. There was no urgency – you didn’t need to rush around like a tourist – you’d be back, another time, sometime soon. Until you finally paid off your last ship and realised you wouldn’t be.

My last blog post about being at sea saw us leaving Hull and the European coast and heading Deep Sea. We were heading for the Panama Canal.

That post was three weeks ago, and that’s about how long it took to cross the Atlantic. Every day a little warmer, the sea a little bluer. After nearly three weeks at sea we sailed through the Caribbean and began the approach to Panama. In those three weeks I’d suffered from seasickness, recovered from seasickness, honed my table tennis skills, learnt to play cribbage and discovered that I liked curry.

It was odd to be within sight of other ships, to see islands in the distance, and to realise that the world wasn’t just made of water. You could smell the land – this land smelt of moistness, a watery smell, rain forest.

From Colon to Balboa, north to south cutting through the country of Panama, through the Gatun Lake and out the other side. From the Atlantic to the Pacific in the time it takes to feed a mule. (Ships are guided through the canal by locomotives, called mules. It’s a trick that’s been played on generations of first trippers, to tell them to get carrots from the galley to feed the mules… Ha!!)

And then off, across the Pacific. We sailed quite close to the Galapagos Islands (you could, back then – there’s an exclusion zone these days and rightly so.)

Our first South Pacific Island was Tahiti, and the port of Papeete. Again, after a couple of weeks at sea, you could smell the land. Tahiti smells of coconut, like the inside of a Bounty Bar.

I’d done my research –  I knew about Captain Cook and the transit of Venus, I knew about Gauguin. I’d read ‘The Moon and Sixpence’.

So, what did she do – the young wide-eyed traveller, keen to see the world, six weeks out from Hull and arriving in her first South Pacific island??


Nothing at all.

We docked at 8 in the evening, and we sailed at 6 the next morning. The agent brought no money on board, and they worked cargo all night.

Never mind, plenty more islands ahead of us. And we’ll be back, sometime soon.

Next stop – Fiji.

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14 Comments Add yours

  1. oldhowie says:

    Lovely read sis


  2. graham s. says:

    Another great post. You’re so right about not fully appreciating stuff when you’re young. That’s what we often say.


    1. Thanks Graham.
      I think we did appreciate it – we knew we were privileged to be doing what we were doing. But at the same time we thought it would go on forever, there was always the thought of ‘we’ll be back’ never the idea of ‘this could be the last/only time I’m here’.
      And in fact, we did go back to Tahiti a couple of years later, and we did get off the ship!


  3. Shelagh. – you have captured the nostalgia and the special Pacific charm so well! Love the picture. Alan R


    1. Thanks Alan. Glad you enjoyed it.


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