A successful $27 million dredging and upgrade by the Ports Authority of the harbour and surrounding area transformed this part of the Avarua waterfront into an eye-catching, efficient and orderly hub of activity where fishing boats and cruise ship passenger movements operate away from the busy main harbour. It’s where there are regular arrivals of container ships and other visiting boats, and international yachts come and go with ease.
However, in the middle of this picture-perfect Avatiu Harbour bobbed an intruder, taking up valuable berthage: The scuffed, broken-down, rusting and debt-riddled Tiare Taporo, abandoned by its owners Pacific Schooners Ltd, despised, I would think, by the Ports Authority and jeered at by the people.
This is a far cry from the much-loved Tiare Taporo I knew.
The name Tiare Taporo, a Tahitian term for Tiare tiporo (lime flower) was given to a two-masted schooner that plied Cook Islands waters and Tahiti in the 1940s and 50s carrying cargo and deck passengers.
It was operated by the now defunct AB Donalds Ltd which had shops in all the islands including Tahiti.
It was captained by a very popular crusty old salt, American Andy Thompson. Tiare Taporo was the life-line to the northern and southern group of islands, maintaining a constant supply of goods from Rarotonga and returning with copra and tons of pearl shells, from Manihiki in particular.
The Tiare Taporo also transported selected able-bodied men from the Cook Islands to work in the guano fields (kokuana) of Makatea in the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia.
The return of the boys after their time with plenty of money meant a run on new bicycles, (no Hondas and Suzukis then) four-poster-beds (ro’i auri) and iron roofing to mark their sojourn in Makatea.
The words of this Tahitian song depicts the admiration they held for the Tiare Taporo:
Tiare Taporo te pahi
To o’e revaraa te moana
To o’e nehenehe, to o’e unauna
Mai te manu e ma’u e
I’a hi’o ra’a hia
Tiare Taporo, what a ship
As you glide across the ocean
Your beauty and gracefulness
Like a bird in motion
What a sight to behold
Please get rid of that junk in the Avatiu Harbour