Cruise Feeds the Soul and the Stomach

<i> Jack Smith's column is published Mondays. </i>

My wife and I have just returned by Air France from a South Seas cruise in French Polynesia aboard the power and sailing ship Wind Song, a four-master that looks very pretty with its sails full of wind.

We went with a Music Center group. They were congenial and hardy, and a lot better company, I’m sure, than the men who sailed with Captain Cook 200 years ago.

The main rewards of a tropical cruise, I discovered, are not the weather or the scenery, but the food, the relaxation and the company. I spent most of my time dozing in our cabin, although I never missed breakfast, lunch or dinner. We never missed our daily fix--a vodka tonic before dinner--although I usually had two because they were not as strong as those my wife mixes at home.


Knocked out by the long overnight plane ride from Los Angeles International Airport to Tahiti, we didn’t leave the ship the first day, but the second day being Sunday, we went ashore on Huahine for church. I am not a churchgoer, but the idea of a service in Polynesian appealed to me.

The church was within easy walking distance from the ship. “Go to the gas station and turn left,” we were told. There it was. The Catholic Church. A low oblong stucco building with large open windows.

We could hear the singing from outside, mostly children’s voices, loud, sweet and right on key.

The services were about to begin. The priest arrived. A Polynesian in a bright green robe with a stripe of gold medallions down the front. He wore a white pikake blossom over one ear. He said his blessings in the island Polynesian and then a young woman took over to direct the singing. The church was full of children in brightly colored cotton clothing. They sang like angels, in French and Polynesian, knowing the words by heart.

E te hatu, a hio na.

Some of them grew restless between songs; they were disciplined by a stout gray-haired woman in a white satin dress and pancake straw hat encircled with white flowers.


At communion, the children crowded forward, the sacerdotal wafers being the only food in sight, opening their mouths as the priest popped in the wafers. During one song we all held hands with our neighbors, and then the collection box was passed.

We sailed for Raiatea in the afternoon and went ashore the next morning to explore the tiny town, dodging motor scooters and bicycles. My wife bought a pareu--the native skirt--and, using her French, found a pharmacy where she bought me a package of cough drops for $8.75.

I went back to the ship to rest, but my wife climbed almost to the top of the island mountain, encountering cows, dogs, chickens and an occasional farmer. That evening, there was a get-together for honeymooners, but we were 54 years too late.

At Bora Bora, my wife circled the island in an open helicopter, a foolhardy adventure I eschewed. We went ashore to have dinner at the famous Bloody Mary’s. The names of celebrities who had visited Bloody Mary’s are carved on a large varnished board out in front, among them Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.

The floor of Bloody Mary’s is covered with white sand. Dinner was uneventful, except for a crab that crawled across the sand toward our table. We held our breaths until it scurried away.

The next morning we toured Bora Bora on what is called “Le Truck.” That is a flatbed truck fitted with hard seats. The roads are not good; the ride was rough, but the scenery was indescribably beautiful. Stark volcanic mountains; thick vegetation; pink, red, white and yellow flowers, and a translucent blue lagoon.


“Look at that bird!” my wife exclaimed at one point. It was just a chicken. That is the spell of the islands. Everything seems exotic.

After we got under way that afternoon on the Wind Song, my wife watched the island scudding by through the porthole and said, “I think we’re going the wrong way.”

I said: “You’d better tell the captain.”

That was the end of it. The next morning, we anchored in Cook’s Bay on Moorea, an island of striking ruggedness and beauty. We toured it on another truck, stopping for a lecture in the jungle. My wife got several insect bites, but I got none, which proves something, I suppose.

That evening was Polynesian night on board. My wife wore her new pareu, which she tied precariously around her torso with two borrowed safety pins and a crown of creamy white blossoms.

Civilization has left its mark on the islands. The Polynesians historically engaged in war and human sacrifice, but the white man brought firearms, alcohol and syphilis. The missionaries brought Christian morality, teaching women to cover their breasts. And none too soon.