PAUL’S MOTU

Cruising World - - Under Way - —Amy Al­ton

It’s all too easy to be wary of a lo­cal ves­sel ap­proach­ing your boat as you set­tle into a new an­chor­age. Half­way around the world aboard our Foun­taine Pa­jot Helia 44 cata­ma­ran, Starry Hori­zons, we’ve had many boats ap­proach us, but one stands out among the rest.

My hus­band, David, and I had just dropped an­chor at Motu Muri­maora on the east side of Huahine, in French Poly­ne­sia, and we were ap­proached by a lone out­rig­ger ca­noe. The young man smiled and waved. We smiled and waved. Word­lessly, he held onto our tran­som and reached down be­tween his knees to bring out a wa­ter­proof box. I sat on the steps as he pre­sented us with a bound book, which he opened to the first page, point­ing at the name writ­ten and then at him­self: Paul.

Then he flipped through to show us pages and pages of a guest book. We saw boat cards, draw­ings and hand­writ­ten let­ters to Paul, thank­ing him for their ex­pe­ri­ence in his an­chor­age. Paul got to the first blank page and handed me a pen. I sat down to sign and tape in a boat card.

We were un­sure for a lit­tle while about Paul’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion method, but soon pieced to­gether that he is mute and prob­a­bly deaf. Us­ing grunts and hand sig­nals, he in­vited us to shore to look around and pointed out the best places for snor­kel­ing. I pan­tomimed a snorkel mask and pointed to my watch, set­ting our af­ter­noon plans. Be­fore pulling away, he reached farther into the well of his ca­noe and pulled out three young husked co­conuts as a gift.

The next morn­ing, Paul stopped by again with a gift of three pa­payas. I walked my fin­gers across the air, held up two fin­gers, and pointed to my watch. Paul en­thu­si­as­ti­cally nod­ded, and my af­ter­noon plans were set again.

Af­ter lunch, I took my dinghy over to the small dock, and Paul came out to meet me, greet­ing me with a hug and flow­ers. He started by walk­ing me across the motu, through a co­conut plan­ta­tion, to the ocean­side beach. When we hit the shore, we turned

right, walk­ing along the beach as Paul showed off his home is­land. He used a stick to draw in the sand to show me how the mo­tus are formed — the reef around a vol­cano build­ing up as the wa­ter level rises and even­tu­ally be­com­ing sand around the vol­cano. Over time, the ring is bro­ken into seg­ments by the flow­ing wa­ters.

Then, it was cha­rades time as Paul told me about his life. He stood on the beach and raised his hand to shade his eyes, look­ing out over the ocean. He pan­tomimed spot­ting a boat, and then run­ning to his out­rig­ger and pad­dling out to meet them.

As I am wont to do when walk­ing on a beach, I oc­ca­sion­ally stopped to look at or pick up a shell. Paul caught on, and as we walked, he found me in­ter­est­ing shells: shiny cowries, black-and-white cone shells, even an op­er­cu­lum as big as my hand! When I couldn’t hold any more seashells, Paul found a co­conut shell to hold my sou­venirs. I stopped to poke around the tide pools and watch snake­fish sea cu­cum­bers fil­ter the sand for their food. Paul even chased and caught a sand crab for me to touch.

The end of the is­land has a small tiki bar where the cruise ships bring their guests for an is­land ex­pe­ri­ence. Luck­ily, there was no cruise ship in sight, and Paul and I had the place to our­selves to look out over the vol­canic mass of Huahine’s main is­land.

On the walk back along the in­side of the motu, Paul pointed out his house and the main house of the plan­ta­tion. He mimed gar­den­ing and swept his hand over the land sur­round­ing the plan­ta­tion — I think he’s the groundskeeper. As we walked through the plan­ta­tion, he added to my keep­sakes by pick­ing me more flow­ers, plume­ria and hi­bis­cus.

Back on Starry Hori­zons, i laid out my good­ies, know­ing I had to pare down the num­ber of shells I was keep­ing and hunt through the flow­ers for bugs. Af­ter pick­ing out just a few of my fa­vorite shells, I put the rest back and pre­pared a gift for Paul of gar­den­ing gloves and a T-shirt. I stopped by Paul’s house with my gift, and af­ter a hug and a wave, we were off to our next des­ti­na­tion.

Not only did we get a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence with a lo­cal, but this an­chor­age was one of the most beau­ti­ful we have seen in our 25,000 nau­ti­cal miles of sail­ing. While a few boats came and went around us for a few days, we lucked out to have the clear wa­ter and pris­tine sand all to our­selves for one night.

David and I were loath to move on, but the rest of the So­ci­ety Is­lands were call­ing. We left Paul’s motu with the mem­o­ries of a kind man ea­ger to share his slice of par­adise.

The crew of Starry Hori­zons has the stun­ning an­chor­age at Huahine, French Poly­ne­sia, to it­self.

The au­thor takes a break from shell col­lect­ing to pose for a photo with her new friend, Paul (top), who gave her a tour of his home is­land.

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