Venus Rising over Tahiti

Day 51, 26.11.2018 , Pape’ete, Tahiti

We arrived in Pape’ete a day earlier than planned. The weather was steamy and tropical with low cloud over the mountain tops.

H had recently been attempting to arrange an event for the ship’s crew in the Tahiti Pearl Beach Resort  but misjudged how much interest hotel and catering staff have in hotel and food events. Anyway, the event was turned into something else but much of the planning was too good to waste. Quite a few crew, including us, trekked to the resort anyway for an evening out.

Here are some historical notes about Tahiti.

These days most ships crossing the South Pacific call in at Tahiti. It’s that kind of place, but the first British sighting of Tahiti was by Captain Samuel Wallis in HMS Dolphin 18th June 1767. He took possession of the place and named it King George Island. This seemed to annoy the natives a bit but a few cannonballs kept them quiet.

Just two years later, on 12th April 1769, HMS Endeavour arrived in Tahiti with Captain James Cook and others to measure the transit of Venus across the disk of the Sun which would occur on 3rd June 1769. They anchored in Matavai Bay and set up an astronomical observatory in a fortified camp near Pape’ete at a place which became known as Venus Point. Along with other observation sites around the world they were able to calculate that the Sun was 93,726,900 miles away. Today, everyone knows that it is really 92,955,000 miles but 10 out of 10 for effort.

On 26th October 1788, HMS Bounty arrived with Captain William Bligh who was looking to load up with  breadfruit plants. Most of the crew lived it up for five months on Tahiti and were not at all happy to leave. There are many movies on the subject. On our night out at the Pearl Beach Resort in Matavai Bay we even had breadfruit fries with our fish. Not great but OK.

Through the late 18th and early 19th centuries most ships visiting were usually whalers or were carrying missionaries. The missionaries are particularly to blame for  an 1819 law that banned nudity, dances and chants, tattoos and costumes made of flowers. Fortunately they don’t take too much notice of missionaries these days.

Cruise ship visits sort of started on 15th November 1835 when HMS Beagle with Captain Robert FitzRoy and his naturalist passenger, Charles Darwin, stopped off in Tahiti fresh from the Galapagos Islands on their way to New Zealand. Later, civil wars, the usual diseases, missionaries and French sneakiness combined to turn Tahiti into a French colony by 1847.

Also on a historical note: Heike and I were last in Pape’ete early May 2008. We had arrived in SY Graptolite a couple of weeks earlier from the Panama Canal via the Marquesas and the atolls of  the Tuamotu Archpelago. It’s a completely different experience this time in a big ship where other people cook your dinner, make your bed, wash your clothes and watch out for uncharted islands and passing ships through the night. Not complaining though.

Apart from Heike, the one other crew-person onboard Graptolite was Colin Laidlaw. He was an excellent fellow to have along for a long journey. Sadly, Colin died of a brain tumor February last year. One small legacy that Colin left behind is the Polynesian wave design that appears on some pages of this blog. It is a copy of a tattoo that Colin had done on his leg in Pape’ete Marché Municipal. Some of you may have seen it under his kilt at our wedding in 2015. I think I may still have some sheets with the design on where the new ink leaked out while he was sleeping. We’ve used the design a lot as a boat logo on towels, cutlery etc. ever since. Belinda, Colin’s then girlfriend, later wife, who also crewed with us from time to time, has the same design tattooed on her arm as a memorial.


Day 52, 27.11.2018 , Pape’ete, Tahiti

We had a look around the market with H buying all the tiare-flower lei and black pearls she could get her hands on. I tried to find the tattooist that Colin used in the Marché but with no success.

I took a taxi ride this afternoon to Venus Point just to say I have been there but it was actually a nice little park with its beaches and Thomas Stephenson designed lighthouse.