Tahiti 1966

My uncle James on reading my account of swimming round Cape Trafalgar sent me these memorable accounts (and the mildewed photo) of two occasions in Tahiti back in the 1960’s where he felt his world slipping away. As he told me in his letter – “Somewhere I read the expression  ‘Donde nacen las viudas’ – it could refer as well to the Pass of Huahine as to Trafalgar Straits!!!”

My father and his twin brother James were born in Cape Town, raised on a ranch in Bechuanaland (Botswana today), spent their teenage years in the Highlands of my grandfathers’ native Scotland, went to university in Canada and then found their separate ways to Jamaica (my father) and French Polynesia (my uncle) where they lived for many years. Both were keen divers and spear fishermen.

My uncle James with his ‘Vau’ (Dogtooth Tuna) in Tahiti 1958

This is his story…

Twice in Tahiti-times I had the taste of fear in my throat. Both to do with misjudged tides ripping through passes in coral reefs. Once, spear fishing outside the reef of  a remote lagoon with a friend, a string of fish trailing on a line attached to my weight belt, the turning tide made re-entering  the lagoon a nightmare: ease up a moment, the bottom reverses direction, visions, feelings of being swept out and down the reef for miles. Shattered, ploughing on and on and on going nowhere, flippers turn to lead, fish abandoned, hold tight the spear-gun, the weight belt. Black out moments. Buddy gone… where? The blessed sand. Friend along the shore, beached.

Then there was the time on Huahine, a remote island near Bora Bora, trolling in a Zodiac with Nick Rutgers, keen fisherman friend, for Vau (Dogtooth Tuna) found – possibly – close to the pass that was boiling white that day  with crashing waves  where the ebb tide meets the rollers of the open sea. The outboard stalls, we have one paddle… an adventure ensued. Returning to the Val Rosa  with  unspoken vows of silence we face our wives who were sipping Mai Tais in joyful expectation of a charcoal-grilled tuna dinner…. Years later when at last we spoke of those moments, we confessed we’d learned the lesson- never tempt chance. You never know if it’s not your last!