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Reach for the Stars

In more than three decades as a journalist covering this passion we share, I’ve spent time on boats of all flavors, all over the world. Those experiences comprise a catalog of great memories I tap into in good times or tough.

One early trip took me to the leeward islands of Tahiti in French Polynesia for a charter on a 72-foot sloop called Ninon. It was classic boat-Rx and always reminds me of the restorative power of a great week on the water.

That adventure began with a typical New York travel story: a stressed-out Friday rush-hour cab ride to the airport, arrival at a mad, chaotic check-in counter, and a vein-busting sprint to the gate. My wife and I flopped into our seats breathless and needing most of the flight to L.A. (and maybe a dram or two of chardonnay) to stabilize our vital signs.

The night flight to Tahiti was long and restful, but the pressure really dropped as we descended the stairs onto the tarmac in Pape’ete and filled our lungs with the humid, floral fragrances of the South Pacific. A short hop from there took us to the boat where we met the young captain, his wife and chef, and the mate. They’d prepared us a simple breakfast of fresh French bread, bacon, eggs and tropical fruit. I remember that moment best for being the first time I’d encountered the seedy, succulent interior of a passion fruit. It was a little thing that filled me with the anticipation of adventure.

And that’s the way it went. Our week aboard was a sybaritic feast of chattering palm trees, brilliant white sand and beguiling views of the dormant volcanic core that dominates the landscape of Bora Bora. We visited other islands in the chain and feasted on marine life harvested from the translucent waters inside the reefs. With light pollution in short supply, the view of the night sky was enthralling, unimaginably dense with stars from horizon to horizon.

I’m reading a book now about the explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. Author Andrea Wulf describes Humboldt’s first experience south of the equator, where the ship upon which he was sailing would not allow lamps or candles to be lit at night, because of conflict in Europe and its colonies. “So he observed the night sky, and, as many other explorers and sailors who had crossed the equator,” she writes, “Humboldt marveled at the new stars that appeared—constellations that only graced the southern sky and that were a nightly reminder of how far he had traveled. When he first saw the Southern Cross, Humboldt realized that he had achieved the dreams of his earliest youth.”

Growing up in Kentucky, I’d never dreamed about the Southern Cross, but seeing that diamond kite float across the sky each night in French Polynesia made me feel a bit like Humboldt, as if I were a long, long way from home and the harried workaday world. The emotional horsepower of the week was such that my wife burst into tears as the plane climbed away from Pape’ete. An experience on a boat can do that to you.

Writer Becca Guillote captures the unique flavor of French Polynesia in this issue with her story on the remote Gambier archipelago. Far off the tourist track, this island group is home to some of the finest black pearls in the world. If you fancy an out-there destination with a powerful payoff, you might add the Gambiers to your bucket list.

And switching from natural wonders to man-made marvels, Jill Bobrow writes in our Makers chapter about a California company that creates an astonishing variety of objets d’art fabricated out of metal, and now finding their way onto yachts.

In these crazy days, we’d all be wise to remember the restorative powers a faraway getaway on a boat can have. There’s never a bad time to stretch your sea legs and go long.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2020 issue.