Mopelia, day one
18 October 2020
Russ Whitford | perfect
Mopelia Day one, Sept 19
The night passage here is best forgotten. We had wind dead astern and enough to sail at over 6 knots with just a genoa poled out. But rolly seas made it uncomfortable the entire way. We are still waiting for the fabled, Pacific swells, 12 feet high but with such a long period that one barely feels. OK, we have had a few passages like that but mostly we sail with these swells accompanied with wind chop that makes for an uncomfortable ride. We sailed with 2K, Kjell and Kaia the entire way. Their boat is a newer version of Uproar and we are quite compatible boat buddies as well as good friends.
Mopelia is the western-most atoll in French Polynesia. It was often a jumping off point for cruisers heading to Tonga, Fiji and on to New Zealand, the traditional Coconut Run in the South Pacific. But with Covid, there are few boats sailing west. Entry in all countries west but Fiji is prohibited. We made the 100 mile passage here from Maupiti where we heard stories about this enchanted atoll.
Before leaving Maupiti, also an island paradise, cruisers let it be known they are going to make the passage. Many people in Maupiti have relatives in Mopelia. We were asked initially to transport two couples here and readily agreed. But they found passage before we departed. Instead, we brought about 200 pounds of supplies for a local family.
As with many of the atolls, the entry through the surrounding, coral reef can be treacherous. The charts show channel buoys but reports confirmed that the most recent hurricane carried them away. Reports mentioned two white stakes to mark the entrance and orange floats where the channel makes a left turn. Cruising notes also mentioned a very strong current that may be encountered. If waves are crashing into the pass, this current creates standing waves that are ship killers. We chose our weather well and the pass, while frightfully narrow, was calm.
Another two miles of motoring brought us to the sandy motu where we spotted a few homes. We anchored in turquoise, flat water, glad to have arrived in Mopelia. The beautiful, sandy shores, lined with palm trees lived up to the atoll we were excited to visit.
It didn't take long, two dinghies came out to greet us. They were hoping we brought supplies and were most grateful that we had. 2K brought supplies for Norma and Harry, we brought supplies for Marcello and his family. Karina and Faimanu rowed to Uproar in an inflatable dinghy with a non-working outboard motor. They were bubbly and voluable in French with a few English words. We loaded the large, parcels into their sagging dinghy. I would have helped them ashore but Uproar's dinghy was still strapped to the foredeck. They were waiting for an aluminum skiff which was unloading supplies from 2K to tow them in but after awhile, they decided to just row ashore.
Before they departed, we were invited for dinner as a thank you. They invited 2K as well but 2K, via radio contact, mentioned they were invited to the other family for dinner that night. It was quickly decided that we would all go to Norma and Harry's that night and Marcello's the following night. Faimanu asked what we liked to eat. She mentioned fish and coconut crabs. Our response was we like everything local.
When we began the voyage on Uproar, I mentioned to my Dad that we wanted to visit remote areas in the South Pacific. He said, “If you are invited to dinner be sure you are invited TO dinner, not FOR dinner.” The fact that I am writing this confirms that we were not invited into a bubbling pot.
Instead, we were treated to an elaborate feast on the beach in front of Norma and Harry's home. In spite of Covid, we were greeted with the typical cheek kissing. What a welcome return to this delightful tradition. Harry then poured some Mopelia beer, a concoction they make with sugar, coconut water and yeast. It was sweet, like a strong wine and fairly potent. We acclimated to the taste and had several glasses throughout the evening. Dinner consisted of poisson cru (raw fish with vegetables), seasoned rice, lobster and grilled Mahi. Dessert was a parfait of mango and Papaya. We learned that Norma (also Mopelia mayor) studied three years at culinary school in Moorea. The sauces that accompanied the fish and lobster attested to her skill. We ate until we were stuffed as they told us more about Mopelia.
Mopelia is definitely a cooperative community. There are five kilometers of road and only one, community car. There is also a community satellite phone. That's probably how they knew we were bringing supplies. Their only commerce is copra, dried coconut meat, used to make coconut oil. This is picked up by the cargo ship once/year. They estimated that only 10 yachts have visited this year, including us. Norma mentioned that a week ago, a catamaran cruised back and forth outside the reef pass and sailed on, determining the pass too dangerous to attempt.
There must be an active coconut telegraph on the atoll. Norma knew we had offered to bring Angelique , Tearii, Mana and Maureen with us. She said both families had invited us to dinner. We would sail south and anchor in front of their homesteads in a few days. We departed with kisses and warnings about the coral heads that we needed to avoid on the dinghy ride back to our boats. Lisa and I sure slept well, even through a vicious night squall.