Thursday, August 13, 2009

Traveling French Polynesia by Supply Ship Part 1

Even though I lived on Ahe Atoll for five years I had never taken a supply ship all the way out to the Tuamotus from Papeete, so two Christmases ago my then 11 year old daughter and I decided to take the adventurous three-day voyage on the good-ship Dory (which unfortunately no longer takes passengers - for a list of boats that do see my other post How To: Travel French Polynesia by Supply Ship) from Papeete to Ahe via Tikehau, Rangiroa and Manihi.

First, take note that I am the most seasick person in the world. I get sick in cars, on airplanes and even, embarrassingly enough, on the Moorea ferry. But I love the idea of boat travel and if it weren't for my terrible tummy I would have probably sailed away long ago. My daughter fortunately has her father's steel Viking gut so I knew, in the worst case, the tables would turn and my little girl could stroke my back while I dry heaved over the side.

Making matters worse, the supply ships stink. Diesel fumes linger even if the boat has been at dock for several days, black grease coats the railings and pools in corners and a all-encompassing layer of accumulated salt makes everything permanently sticky and damp. We bunked in an empty container with windows and doors cut into it, along with two other Tahitian guys on their way to work on a pearl farm. The ship's crew didn't really pay us much attention over the three days but they did let us into their quarters so we could use their toilets and once (and this was a truly decadent moment), the shower. Meals were up to us although we had no cooking facilities. We brought fruit, crackers, pate, peanut butter and granola bars, which ended up being plenty.

Well-armed with Bonine we set sail late afternoon and spent the first night sleeping, or sort of sleeping, while being hurdled back and forth within our beds by the rolling sea. It started to rain and a slight stream of water began to leak onto my head. I moved around so my head was at the other end of the bed which was much better even though I had cold wet feet all night. My daughter was luckily on the bottom bunk and stayed nice and dry. Maybe it was the fact that I had something else to worry about besides being sick, but the next morning, even though I was cold and sleepy, I actually felt OK. It was a full day at sea, not as rough as the night and I found if I just stayed in bed I didn't get too sick. My daughter read and played checkers with the other two guys in our room. Night came and we slept again, more peacefully this night till we felt the boat stop and the anchor drop into the Tikehau lagoon.

Note: photos this blog by Celeste Brash


  1. I will never forget my trip aboard the Dory!! First of all, someone from the Kamoka office (not going to mention names, ha!) made the transaction at the dock for me. Considering I do not speak a lick of French I had no clue what was actually being said. Second, I had no idea the voyage was a total of three days!! I thought it would take ohhh... maybe a day! Third, all the bunks were booked but since I didn't know I would be traveling overnight I was convinced to buy a ticket anyway. The only thing I had with me was my pack and a bag of grapes, so the lovely man that was shuffling me along gave me a sheet so I could have something to sit on.

    So!! let the adventure begin!! I befriended an amazing Polynesian family and the first night we slept on the deck beneath a sky that I will never forget for the rest of my life. There were so many stars I could barely make out any constellations! Wow, I can still see it now. The second day I woke up to a cup of coffee from the captain and at every island I'd ask, "Ahe?" He'd laugh and shake his head "no". Still feeling jet lagged from the flight from New York the day before, I was entirely confused but loving every minute. For the rest of the afternoon I hung out with the family and a girl my age that I had met, Bertie. I laid down on the deck for the second night in a row but was awakened by a torrential downpour, thunder, lightning, and seas that were rolling over the sides of boat and rushing down the deck. We tried hiding out in several spots around the Dory, but wherever we went the waves would find us. The family managed to squeeze into the room with the bunks, which was actually a container if my memory is correct, but for one reason or another I did not feel like I had any business being in there. Being the gentleman that he was, the boy took me under his wing and brought me down to the cargo room. The seas were so rough the containers were shifting and banging, and I could see the terror in the boy's eyes. So there I was, aboard a ship in the middle of the Pacific, with no idea where I was headed. I remember thinking, "How in the world did I get here??" Just two days before I was with my family, convincing them not to worry because I had it all figured out. ha!! With nowhere else to go, the boy shoved me under an old beat up Pinto that was being delivered to one of the islands. Thinking back to that moment makes me wonder how I actually fell asleep under there!!

    The next day we stopped at another island and the boy insisted that I follow him to his house, which was little more than a shack. Upon arriving, his mother cooked so much food that I swore it must have been everything they had. I persistently told her that it was unnecessary, but she went right on cooking. I still feel disbelief when I think back to that experience.. there I was, a complete stranger, and this woman was cooking me enough food to last a month. After a teary-eyed goodbye, I was back on the boat. In the afternoon the Captain found me, pointed ahead and said, "Ahe". I ran to the front of the boat and as we went through the pass a pod of dolphins joyfully jumped over the bow's waves. I felt a sense of sheer excitement and happiness, but I was also nervous about what was to come... where was I going again? A little island that's not three hours from Tahiti, but three days? Needless to say my worries vanished when Bertie pointed at the tall bronzed man with sun bleached hair that was walking down the dock and said, "That's your boss."

  2. Haha! Well the Dory's changed a lot since you went - you can't sleep on deck anymore - but that blond bronzed man is still out there! Thanks so much for this story. Polynesia just gives out these experiences like they were fliers from a street corner.



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