That morning, well before seven, I was hunched over my radio station with a microphone in my hand, waiting for the call of my friends from the Avatar sailboat. A couple of hours earlier, Mike and Shelly were supposed to have finally finished their long transoceanic journey and drop anchor in French Polynesia where many of their friends, me included, were impatiently awaiting their arrival. Since the first couple of minutes after every full hour are reserved for emergency calls, we had agreed to talk at fifteen past seven.
At exactly a quarter past seven, the short-wave radio came to life: “Calypso, Calypso, this is Avatar, do you copy?”
I heard her as clearly as if she were sitting in the next room.
“Avatar, Avatar, Calypso here, I copy you loud and clear.”
“Jasna!! We made it! We just dropped anchor in Hiva Oa!”
“Congratulations! Oh, I’m so happy that we’ll finally get to see each other!”
Two long years have passed since we last saw one another.
“I have some more exciting news ... Once we dropped anchor, Mike asked me to marry him!”
“What?! Wow! Double congratulations are in order, then! We’ll have a wedding, that’s so lovely!”
A couple of months later, a little group of festively dressed cruisers was standing on a sandy beach, listening to sweet Polynesian singing, and waiting for the bride and groom. I was there with a camera in my hand: in lieu of a wedding present, Shelly had asked me to make a video of the ceremony and the wedding.
My American friends had chosen to get married in the picturesque Cook’s Bay on the island of Moorea. Some of their relatives flew in from the United States to join them, while the rest of the wedding party was mostly composed of their fellow sailing friends. When we talk about the sailing community, we often use the term “sailing family”. In case of emergency, we know that we can always count on one another. All of us sailing the oceans are always very far away from our relatives, and maybe that’s why such strong bonds form between us. There was no doubt whatsoever that all of us would be sailing to the island of Moorea to participate in this important event.
A handsome young man lifted a large conch shell and blew into it in order to announce the beginning of the ceremony. All eyes were suddenly riveted on the lagoon, where we noticed a festively decorated outrigger canoe carrying the groom. And what a groom he was! In addition to his real tattoos, Mike was also given some new, temporary ones. Shirt and tie were nowhere to be seen, obviously: he had a traditional Polynesian wrap tied around his waist, and his head was covered with a ceremonial headdress made out of yellow feathers.
At the same time, the bride was walking down the meadow: barefoot like the groom, she was also wearing a simple white wrap.
The two guests of honour were then seated in front of the priest to listen to a long introduction on the topic of love, which was first pronounced in Tahitian and then summarised in English. The ceremony itself was rather long as well: while much had been said, the wedding party understood only little. But the Tahitian language has such a lovely ring to it that we weren’t all that bothered. There was a lot of dancing and singing between the speeches. An especially interesting sight was the dance of the Marquesan boys who appeared suddenly from the waves.
To begin the reception, the bride and groom were wrapped in a custom-made patchwork, created specifically for them. This colourful piece of fabric, hand-sewn by Tahitian “mums”, is called tifaifai and symbolises a warm hug, expressing respect, honour, and love. As the band launched into a romantic ballad, the bride and groom held each other tightly and danced their first dance.
Well before rings, the Tahitian couples used to plant leaves, split in two lengthwise and wrapped around the wrists of the newlyweds. Despite the fact that rings are now available, this tradition is still preserved. Then, the priest blessed their hands with coconut water. In addition to the vows and rings, the couple also exchanged the traditional lei (flower necklace) which symbolises zest for life according to the Polynesian tradition. After the wedding, they were each given a wedding crown made from white flowers, and the priest unfurled a tapa cloth, revealing their new Tahitian name. Mike and Shelly were to be called Mataihera, meaning “lover’s wind”.
The locals prepared a marvellous, heartfelt reception for the newlyweds; as for the wedding party, we forgot that we weren't born in Tahiti, even if just for a day. Happy, barefoot, and decorated with fragrant flowers, we all loved each other even more than usual. We spent the rest of the day dancing away to the sound of drums and ukulele, as befits real Polynesians. Once our feet finally gave in, we folded into our boats and sailed away in the night, towards our floating homes.
I have always had a connection to the sea. Born in the coastal village of Sistiana (near Trieste) in northern Italy, my earliest memories are of watching the heavy waves slam ashore when the local winds were blowing hard. As a teenager, the sailing club became my focus – not just for my love of water sports, but also for the handsome boys that sailed there. I went on to become an Optimist instructor for the club by summer and a junior school teacher by winter. However, ten years of focusing on the needs of children dampened my maternal instincts somewhat and I felt the need to travel. The sea was the obvious way to go…