One day, with my tattoo from Tavita mostly gone, I decide to swim around the boat. We’re anchored off Raiatea, in Fa‘aroa Bay, the deepest bay in Polynesia. I dive in off the back and immediately get vertigo—looking down, I see only clear blue dropping away to nothingness. I decide to swim with my head above water—perfect, really, since it gives me a whole new perspective on the ship, a fish-eye view. A paddler comes by on one of the small fiberglass outriggers that are as common in these islands as bicycles in Holland. I tread water and we chat in French, as naturally as if we’d just met on the street.
The paddler has come from Fa‘aroa River, which empties into this bay; earlier in the day, a group of us from the ship kayaked up it. The river is narrow, lush, slow-moving, but despite its quietude, it has a huge historical significance—it is the only navigable river in French Polynesia and it was from its mouth that many of the canoes that left Raiatea for Aotearoa and Hawaii were launched; when Captain James Cook arrived in Raiatea, he noted that logs destined to become canoes were floated down Fa‘aroa. As I say au revoir to the paddler and watch him head off toward the ocean, I think of all the others before who have headed out to sea here. I look down again, into the blue void, to give myself an inkling of how they must have felt. Then I climb out of the water and back onto the ship.