BY TERI TICO – Raiatea, French Polynesia – The ocean is calm beside Taputapuatea, the religious and political center of Ancient Polynesia, just after the sun rose July 11, 2010. At 7:25 a.m., the ocean and land are deserted as the solar eclipse begins and the tip of the moon edges in front of the sun.
It would be an hour before the moon made its journey across the solar face, covering 98 percent of the sun for people in French Polynesia. Only on one island in the Tuamotus, and on Easter Island, can the full solar eclipse be viewed over the vast Pacific.
We were there in the Leeward Islands on a motor yacht, cruising through blue lagoons and past palm tree laden shorelines.
Visiting from Hawaii, we are at home in the balmy conditions, but we are surprised at the absence of visitors, especially for a cosmic event as auspicious as a solar eclipse.
Our captain, Teiva, says we must not step on land, but stay on our boat and chase the sun. His recommendation proves accurate as racing clouds play hide and seek with the sun. We have chosen the offshore waters of Taputapuatea for viewing because this archeological site faces directly East, and today, it is 180 degrees in front of the sunrise.
Within 15 minutes of the start of the eclipse, the sun appears as a Harvest Moon, deep orange, and looks as though someone has taken a large bite out of it. We don our dark glasses made especially for viewing an eclipse and make futile attempts to photograph it through the lenses.
As Teiva deftly maneuvers our boat away from the cloud cover, we watch in awe as the moon casts a black shadow over our sun.
What is amazing is that even with only 2 percent of the sun remaining in view, complete darkness does not descend upon us. The power of only this small fraction of sunlight still lights up the sky, leaving a silver trail on the sea.
Then, as suddenly as it began its path across the sun, the moon begins to move on. More and more daylight fills the day. And then, it is over.
We witnessed a rare event that sometimes, in Ancient days, heralded the end of time. But today, astronomers, photographers and observers are simply struck by one of nature’s most amazing celestial events, the solar eclipse.
Teri Tico is an attorney and photo journalist on Kauai