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Day 2,126 - En Route to Apataki (15° 50.91S 147° 19.10W)
19:54hrs - March 26th 2013
Ten Knots to the Tuamotus

For five hours Catherine and I sat on the cargo dock and watched the Cobia 3 sink lower into Papeete harbour as the crew, with casual efficiency, loaded endless drums of fuel, skids of Hinano beer, crates of noodles, stacks of lumber, bags of concrete, a car, outrigger canoes, empty copra sacks, washing machines, and finally, and respectfully by hand rather than forklift truck, two heavy coffins - loved ones on a final passage returning to family in the Tuamotus.

We're back in French Polynesia, the South Pacific, and are en route to Dream Time, which for the last five months during cyclone season has been strapped down to a tiny island in Apataki. But rather than fly from Papeete to Apataki - a rather predictable and unexciting hour and a half flight with Air Tahiti, we decided to take a more fitting and memorable passage. So we booked ourselves onto a working cargo ship.

At first glance the Cobia 3 doesn't particularly stir any romantic notions of travel, most surfaces are dented, stained and held together by thick layers of paint or black grease. But she's a working vessel after-all, and one that while not particularly graceful to look at, is literally a lifeline between Tahiti and the small villages on a remote chain of islands that, without her weekly or bi-weekly visits, would find life unpleasant if not unbearable.

We loaded our precious boat supplies and provisions into an old crate marked for Apataki and climbed onboard to find our quarters. There are only three passenger cabins on the Cobia, small dormitory style rooms each with two bunk beds, we're sharing our cabin with an exhausted French couple, Dominique and Sophie, who have flown directly from Paris to be here. Other passengers, Polynesian locals, have also boarded, many more than the three small cabins can accommodate, but in a style that suggests they're frequent Cobia travelers, they've spread a blue tarp on the steel deck, loosely rigged another for shade, and have quietly settled in for the ride.

Our tickets for the Cobia cost just $70 each. For that, if you're lucky, you get a thick industrial plastic covered mattress, a shared passenger toilet (sans wash basin), and access to a picnic bench bolted down to the stern deck. Passengers on the Cobia are an afterthought and it seems that we are expected to fend for ourselves - toilet paper, towels, pillows, sheets, food, water and entertainment are definitely not provided. And there has been a troubling absence of any safely direction. We have had no briefing, there has been no mention of the nearest exit, the location of our personal floatation devise or abandon procedures. There is, however, a laminated notice outside our cabin that clearly states, in French, that a long blast of the ship's horn followed by three short blasts is an 'Alarme Abandon'.

We eventually cast off from the cargo dock six hours behind schedule, and at 21:30, under an almost full moon, slipped out of a quiet harbour, past Point Venus and are now steaming east at ten knots.

Despite the bright white hallway lights, the smell of oil, dirt and diesel that permeates everything onboard, and the cacophony of vibrations, rattling, metallic echoes, and the constant deep throbbing of the engines, we are resting easy, because we are on our way home.



 

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Day 2,121 - Long Island, New York (40° 39N 73° 39W)
20:01hrs - March 21st 2013
Thank You, America!

The last one hundred and thirty days, since we landed back in America, have been the most fantastically exhausting, diverse and enjoyable four months we've had in six years.

We've been on the road the whole time, ultimately driving 10,005 miles (almost half the distance we've sailed in Dream Time since 2007) in a total of five rental cars. We've stayed with friends and family all across the country, and in a variety of hotels, motels, resorts and RV parks spanning the entire spectrum of what the accommodation industry has to offer the weary traveler: From Conde Nast-rated resorts, to mining town nasty-rated motels, we've seen, heard and smelt it all.

Our maximum stay in any one place has not exceeded four nights. It feels like we've been on the run. And our credit card company has turned our card off, due to 'suspected fraudulent activity' no less than eight times!

This 'Cruise Across America' was not easy, but we've loved every single mile of it. It has given us an even greater appreciation and understanding of a country we have called home since 1995. From walking through the familiar concrete valleys of Manhattan, to hovering over the Grand Canyon; From driving across red-dirt deserts, sliding over white Rocky Mountains ridges, exploring national parks, to strolling down the Vegas Strip and Rodeo Drive. Even though we only crossed twenty-four states, it feels like we've seen and done it all, but we know we've barely scratched the surface.

But it's time for us to go. Cyclone season is winding down in the South Pacific and Dream Time is waiting for us, so we're packing and preparing to return to our life on the boat that could not be further removed from the life we've been living here.

Thank you America, we've had a great time!