The Reading Room

Rahui by Colin Iles

Review of Rahui by Colin Iles

In 1966, Colin Iles, an ex British paratrooper and motorcycle racer paid a thousand pounds for a seventy year old, twenty-nine foot gaff cutter named Clarinda with the intention of leaving his bored state of life in Britain and setting sail for New Zealand, and in Rahui, first published in 1975, we learn about his fascinating journey.

I am always intrigued by what compels a person to embark on such an adventure and in the case of Iles, he had two clear objectives, to reach New Zealand and second, to find the girl of his dreams and at the age of twenty eight, finally settle down. But there was more to him than that, an avid lover of wildlife, he railed against Britain’s  industrial policies and the effect it was having on the landscape and its wild inhabitants. He felt confined in what he considered an over-populated country and wanted to reach new lands in possibly the least practical way possible.

The author provides us with maps of his route, he and his sailing partner, Martin  crossed the Atlantic, took in the sights of Cuba, Haiti, Panama and the Dominican Republic before cruising the South Seas  and the stunning  Pacific Islands and atolls.  His descriptions of Polynesia as a beautiful tropical paradise with ‘unforgettable evenings spent in the scented night air’ must have struck a chord when the book was published in Britain in the middle of the 1970s.  It is a book full of his charming and innocent encounters with girls and his desire to find ‘the one’. We learn of his remarkably speedy but short-lived engagement to a Polynesian girl called Kaia before meeting the girl whose name is the title of this book and whom he promptly married in 1969. He strikes me as a young, somewhat naïve romantic whose lust for adventure and love absorbed any fears of sailing such a vast distance.

But he, and the book, are all the more engaging for it. It is a book which should be read in the context of the period in which it was written, it was a journey filled with sights and accounts as far removed from those he had left behind in Britain as it was likely to get, Sailing alongside giant turtles, finding flying fish on the deck as they approached the South Seas, it’s a lovely, innocent read.

Many of my posts are about those less well-known, Iles was not a remarkable adventurer, explorer or author by any means, There are books and stories of far greater historical importance but that would miss the point. I write this during the fourth nationwide lockdown in Britain due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Every day the news states figures for those who have caught the virus and those who have sadly died. The deaths are compared in numbers, not lives and these figures are disputed for accuracy of recording. For me, however, each digit represents a life lived and lost and each will have had their own life story, some more remarkable than others and many, particularly those who died in old age will have known many an adventure of their own. Colin Iles reminds me of those people, for a few years in his younger age he did something  quite remarkable before returning to a more normal way of life and he decided to write about it. Like this awful pandemic, he reminds us of the fragility and shortness of life and the urgency to grasp hold of it and live it for all it’s worth.

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