Sunday, June 9, 2013

Mopelia

We decided to take off for Mopelia before the next set of 5-meter high swells arrived, which would trap us on Maupiti for another week. We like it here, but we are officially checked out of the country, and are almost out of francs. We looked forward to visiting a more unspoiled and wild place as our last stop in Polynesia. We had a fairly easy passage, making the 100nm in 19 hours. We couldn't slow the boat down enough, because the winds were stronger than predicted, so we ended up arriving outside the pass at 4am; we would have to stand off until daylight. I started the engine so that we could lower the main and lie ahull, but the sail wouldn't come down, meaning that we would have to continue tacking back and forth as slowly as possible, luffing up but trying not to get too close to the reef. I tried to start the engine at the end of one tack, but it wouldn't start. I decided to wait until daylight to bleed the engine. Having two malfunctions at the same time, plus a difficult pass to negotiate, and knowing that we would be sailing into deteriorating weather if we were not able to enter the pass, all combined to increase my anxiety to an uncomfortable level. Soon after dawn, Andreas and Janet on Calusa motored through the pass and reported only 3 knots of current against them. I got the engine started but still could not lower the main, so we had to motorsail through the pass.
As we approached the pass, Vicki went forward to help guide me. I had been told to hug the left hand side in order to minimize the current against us. Unfortunately, I got too close, and did not see Vicki's signal to move right. The keel grated against the coral bottom, further heightening my anxiety. Luckily we weren't moving very fast, and the blow was only glancing. I moved the boat into the center of the channel and we made it into the lagoon. It took nearly another hour to reach the anchorage at the south end of the lagoon, and we were amazed to see 9 other boats. Besides Calusa, a German motorsailer named Freydis, and us, the rest of the fleet was French.
We got the hook down, then I went up the mast to free the sail. A screw had backed out of the track, just above the lower spreader. This had caused trouble once before, and I had replaced the screw. I tightened this one back up, and slid the cars past, lowering the sail. Next, I went over the side with mask and fins to check the anchor and the keel. The keel looked okay, except for a chip out of the putty at the leading edge of the bottom, exposing a small area of lead underneath. The hull to keel joint looked fine. As I swam back to the boarding ladder, 3 blacktip reef sharks swam quickly in my direction. They seemed a bit too curious, so I scooted out of the water. Reggie and Jeanne from Xe soon dinghied over to greet us (we had met them in the Marquesas last year, and again in Huahine this year). Jeanne had heard us on the radio with Calusa last night, and was worried that we had attempted the pass without an engine. After a nap, we went ashore, where Reggie and Jeanne introduced us to Hina, a Tahitian woman who has lived here for 10 years. We would have stayed longer, but for the swarming flies!
We next dinghied over to Calusa and met Hio, a good looking young Tahitian man whose mother, father, and two sisters also live on Mopelia. Andreas and Janet had brought packages for them from Maupiti.  The next day, the seas began to rise, as predicted. The wind kept blowing about 20 knots. Five of the ten boats pulled anchor. The Germans and one of the French boats left for their next passage; Calusa and two more French boats headed to the north anchorage. We thought we might follow in a day or so. But Saturday brought higher winds and higher seas. Now about 5 meters (16 feet), the seas were breaking over the top of the reef and sending waves into the lagoon. The water level rose about 4 feet and the beach disappeared. It was too rough to land the dinghy, so we were boat bound. Sunday the seas calmed a bit, and the beach re-appeared, so we took a long walk. We snorkeled afterward, but the visibility was only about 10 feet due to the turbulent water in the lagoon. Too bad, because this was some of the most healthy coral we have ever seen, including a lot of staghorn corals. Even though the weather was slightly better, I hit a low point today, stressing about the problems we had encountered so far, the long difficult passages that lie ahead, and wondering if the boat and the crew are up to it. Monday, Pierre from Kea came by to tell us that we were invited to come along with Hina on a fishing trip. We all hiked down to the southern tip of the atoll, where Hina tried to net fish in some shallow pools. After an hour or two, she had only six small fish, so we figured out there would probably not be a potluck afterwards. But it was interesting to talk to these highly experienced sailors. Jacque and Elisabeth are on their 4th passage through Polynesia and have done two circumnavigations. Pierre is a solo sailor based here in Polynesia. He sailed non-stop between the Marquesas and Victoria, BC on his way to Alaska, and then back the other way. Tuesday, we walked all the way to the north end of the atoll, which Hio told us was 8km one way. There were a surprising number of abandoned buildings along the way, one with a very large cistern from which we may get water if we stay here much longer. There were three areas that looked to be currently occupied, but we didn't see any people. We saw a bucket full of baby sea turtles, and a pack of dogs at Hio's family's main camp. We could see Hio's boat tied up behind one of the catamarans in the anchorage; apparently the whole family was with him. We looked around their camp and admired the comforts they had constructed from local materials and the occasional shipwreck. 
We didn't know how long they would be gone, so we started walking back to the southern end of the atoll. About this time, the large gray monohull (Pasha, with Maurice and Amelia) pulled anchor and headed down to the southern anchorage. Later in the afternoon, Chamalou and Calusa also moved back down to our anchorage. Apparently conditions are better here. Amelia, on Pasha, gave us some bananas. Hio, who hitched a ride from the north end with Calusa, gave us some seabird eggs. He assured us that he only harvests from species which will lay a new egg, and that he would not take more eggs than could be replaced. We did not want to be rude, but felt uncomfortable taking these eggs without knowing for sure that we are not harming the bird population. At any rate, there had been a shortage of eggs elsewhere in Polynesia, and these were delicious. I finally discovered the time and frequency for this year's radio network for English-speaking cruisers (such nets form and die each year as most English-speakers are only transiting the area). This has really helped us feel more connected. We know many other boats in the South Pacific, but they are all hundreds of miles to the east. We spoke with Bravo out of Seattle, and Estrellita out of Victoria. Estrellita agreed to send an email for us, and Bravo relayed weather information. Wednesday we dinghied about 2.5 miles north, where we had found an abandoned house with a large rainwater cistern. We did laundry, and I carried back 25 gallons of water, while Vicki walked back on the road. Returning against the 20-knot wind and chop, I got thoroughly soaked (the laundry was protected inside a plastic bag. Afterward, we invited Hio over for lunch, and had a very interesting visit. He is exceptionally kind and thoughtful for a 24 year old. He really enjoys meeting sailors from all over the world, and told us that he has a Russian girlfriend on a boat that called here last month. He's also quite intelligent and resourceful, and is completely confident about making his living in this isolated outpost, even with the threat of an occasional hurricane.
Janet and Andreas on Calusa invited us to dinner. She made a nice pie with leftover pork from the pig that Hio's family had roasted for the cruisers in the other anchorage a few days ago. We had fun doing a blind taste test with the two different brands of cheap boxed red wine we had. Andreas and I discovered that we had both been trekking near Pokhara in Nepal in the fall of 1978 - perhaps we had crossed paths or stayed in the same teahouse, who knows? Thursday: we've now been here one week, and from the weather forecast, it looks like we will be here another week at least. There is a low pressure system forming to the west, which will cause light and fluky winds, confused seas, and generally less favorable conditions for sailing. One of the French catamarans, Chamalou,  departed yesterday, hoping to sail to Samoa before the low forms (a good cat can sail 40-50% faster than we can). The other French cat, Tereva with Philippe and Michelle aboard, departed in the afternoon for Aitutaki, Cook Islands. Hio took Andreas, Janet, Vicki and me to shore in his skiff. Janet and Vicki set off on the road toward the north village, while Andreas and I helped Hio prepare for tonight's dinner. We swept out his large shed and brought in a table and some benches. Then we cleaned up the area, piling the palm leaves, old cocnuts and other plant debris for a bonfire later on. We then felled two small coconut palms and cut out the heart of palm. Later Hio showed us his garden: a breadfruit tree, noni, lemon, papaya, and banana, along with some vanilla vines and a few pots with pineapple plants. The afternoon wore on, and finally Andreas and Hio went to get the beef for tonight's dinner from Calusa's fridge. While they were gone, the island's sole functional auto, a double-cab pickup, drove up, with Hio's mother Adrienne, his two sisters Fiamano and Puaiti, and 5 French boaters in back.
The sisters  brought some banana cake for us, and told me that Vicki and Janet were walking back. They then piled into the truck and drove back to the north end. Hio got the fire going and put rice on to boil, and cut some drinking nuts. By the time Vicki and Janet arrived, tired both from walking and from helping Hio's family with the copra harvesting, dinner was nearly ready. Hina and Kevin (one of the other fishermen who lives here) came by, carrying a coconut crab and both high on "bush beer", but Hio sent them on their way. He warned us that the bush beer had made many cruisers quite ill. Vicki, Andreas and I had nice showers using Hio's water before sitting down to dinner. Afterward, we sat on the beach watching the sunset, then prepared to go hunting for kaveu (coconut crab). We found quite a few, but only brought back the two largest ones, which Hio said were about 15 years old.
We hung them up, alive, in the shed, to await a future meal. They will stay alive for a week in this manner. After such a long day, it was good to get back to our boat and to bed. Hio slept on Calusa for a second night in a row. Friday dawned sunny and with less wind than we have had since arriving, only about 15 knots. It is supposed to decrease further as the low pressure forms to the west. We helped Hio and Andreas with copra processing - gathering coconuts into a large pile, splitting them with an axe, then scraping out the meat - for a couple of hours, but we tired of working so hard in such heat, and retreated to the boat. Despite our small contribution of labor, we were still invited to join the crab feast on Calusa in the evening. Saturday, our tenth day here, the wind subsided to about 10kts as predicted, so we decided to move to the north anchorage for a change of scene. Just as we arrived, a catamaran approached the pass and entered the lagoon. This was Camini, with Nicolas, his wife Marie, and their two kids Titouan and Juliette, along with George, all of whom we had met at George's home in Maupiti 2 weeks ago. We also met another Andreas on his German catamaran Gemeos. He's an avid diver who already has 5 hours of underwater video of the Seeadler, a WWII-vintage shipwreck just outside the pass. I asked if I could accompany him on today's dive, but he declined. What a different season this has been from the last one, when I had so many great shared adventures with fellow cruisers! After 10 days at Mopelia, it finally appears that the weather is right for our next passage, which will be the longest one of the season.

1 comment:

featheredfibers said...

I visited Mopelia a few weeks after you did in June. Hina cooked us a very large coconut crab that was quite tasty. Hina also loved to share her special homemade coconut drink concoction, but it wasn't as tasty as the crab. One of our crew played chess with Hina, too.

We also visited the bird motu that is on the right side of the pass. There were thousands of eggs everywhere, so I wanted to reassure you that you did not endanger any local bird species by eating the eggs. LOL!

We were able to snorkel on the German shipwreck just beside the pass, it was an incredible experience! Saw blacktips and one large grey shark while closely inspecting the wreck. Memorable visit!

Love reading about your trip, hope to go back via PPJ in a few years myself.