Tumultuous Uproar

A cruising boat with a racing problem...

Mopelia, day four, fixed Kevin's boat

22 October 2020
Russ Whitford | Weather is perfect today
Mopelia, day five, September 23.

Lisa, Magali, and Kaia went to shore for more shells today. Kjell and I dinghied about a mile to Kevin's homestead to fix his skiff. It had two holes in the bottom and he had no coli (glue) to fix it. I had epoxy and Kjell had some fiberglass.

Kevin was most pleased to see us. He had resurrected his piece of soggy fiberglass from the barrel and it was drying in the sun but we decided not to use it. Kjell and I set to work, cleaning out the holes and sanding the surrounding areas. We filled the holes with bunched up glass, soaked with epoxy, then filled them in smooth with thickened epoxy. We retired to the shade and drank from the coconuts Kevin cut for us.

Norma rode by on her bicycle and stopped to chat. I asked the names of the people we had met south, yesterday. She wrote them down on the flap of a cardboard box for me. We are beginning to know everyone here, who they are related to and other tidbits. Norma said she was cleaning the road. Imagine the major of a city, riding her bike to clear coconuts off the road.

The drunk lady we met the day before was named Hina. She lives near the community house, we haven't visited there yet. I asked if she had a husband and Norma said, “no.” I asked, “pourquoi pas Kevin?” Why not Kevin? They laughed and Kevin vehemently said no!

Kjell and I tested the previous patch work to see if it was hard. It was hardening and scalding hot. We laid three layers of glass cloth over with more epoxy resin. It looked pretty good and will certainly work until Kevin bashes another rock. Unfortunately his beach is rocky. But he has a boat lift that will keep his boat from harm.

That evening we all gathered on Le Pukeko for cocktails and Farkel, dice game. Pascal and Inez from Keli had sailed up from the south and joined us. We were shocked when Magli offered Pascal a beer. She said, “We have only one beer left but you may have it.” What a fiend for taking their last beer. They still have two months before they will visit a store! The next day, I gave Chris a six-pack.

Mopelia, day four, Mopelia Beer

21 October 2020
Russ Whitford | better than where you are.
Mopelia, Day 4, September 22

Slept well last night, weather settled. Spent all morning with Chris and Magali visiting Uproar. Chris and Magali are cruisers from Le Pukeko, French for Kiwi. They have two girls Anuk and Alize, 14 and 15 with them. Their plan is to sail soon to New Zealand. Chris is a Kiwi so will be allowed entrance with his family. Magali is French Canadian and they lived in Brittany where Chris worked building high performance racing boats.

I enjoyed talking with Chris about his boatbuilding career as well as his participation in Mini-Transat racing. Mini-Transat boats are 21 foot single handers that race long distance ocean races. Chris came in second in the prototype division (custom boat he built himself) in the 90's. That's some serious racing!

Magali and Lisa also talked for hours about...most everything. We plan to visit them tomorrow afternoon with 2K to play some games. Their daughters didn't visit as they were working on schoolwork.

Lisa suggested we take a dinghy ride south where there are some more homesteads. Our dinghy, Houdinky, is our little sport boat. It is quite fun to go skimming over shallow, turquoise water. About three miles down the coast, we saw a homestead with a boat on the beach and some small buildings. A lady on shore waved us in to visit. We did.

Rava and Terai welcomed us ashore. Lisa and I were shown to a small table where another lady, Hina, sat. I'm pretty sure she couldn't stand up, she was pretty drunk!

They were all drinking Mopelia beer and soon we were too. Mopelia beer is not from a bottle. They make with rain water, sugar and yeast. That's all. We had a taste of it at Norma and Harry's, aged three months. Reva was drinking some that was only aged three days. The beer has a little zing and definite sweetness. It packs a punch, probably 14% alcohol. Mana arrived on his bicycle with hugs all around. He heard we were in the atoll. I told him we were quite sure the Coconut Vini was working well. Vini is the cell phone carrier in the rest of FP (none in Mopelia). They laughed and said agreed, word gets around this small community.

We had the usual conversations (in French) about where we sailed from, how long we would be in Mopelia, children, mutual people we knew, etc. It was a very pleasant time with these gentle people. We joked about our stumbling French and they about their English (Reva was the only one with some English). They gave us coconuts to drink and kept filling our beer glass, over my half-heart-ed protests. They showed us fish they were grilling for dinner. On Mopelia, they more smoke than grill fish. There is a special wood they use for a sweet, smoky flavor. They offered us some fish but we told them we had chicken to grill for dinner. In spite of our protest, a large plate of fish appeared in front of us, wrapped in plastic wrap. Then a bag of fresh ginger roots appeared. We were offered some lobsters but declined for now. Next time we will take some!

We departed with promises that we will sail south and join them for a meal soon. We told them we were going to share the fish with the other cruisers. There was one cruising boat we hadn't met yet. Anchored in the south bay was a 31 foot French boat. We dinghied over to them before heading back north to Uproar. Pascal (French) and his wife, Anise (Chilean) were delighted to receive the fish. We didn't visit for long but look forward to spending more time with them. They will probably sail north to our anchorage tomorrow, hearing about all the fun we are having.

More fish was delivered to 2K and Le Pukeko. We still had some to eat with our grilled chicken. The flavor of the smoked fish brought me back to Port Washington, WI where we savor the smoked trout from Ewig Brothers Fishery.

We sure enjoyed our boisterous visit but are a bit saddened seeing local people dead drunk in the middle of the afternoon. Chris told us the alcohol from their local beer is particularly damaging to the brain. We have now met 11 of the 20 residents on Mopelia. We look forward to meeting the rest.

Dinner tasted especially fine on Uproar. It was a peaceful evening. We spent most of the day just talking with people. But Lisa, struggling with French, said it was exhausting. We let others do the talking by watching three episodes of "The Crown" before bed.

Mopelia,day three

20 October 2020
Russ Whitford | Better today, squalls have subsided
Mopelia Day 3, September 21

“Working on other people's stuff is always more fun than working on your own.” This is a truism I coined after helping my friends work on cars, houses, motorcycles, etc. Other people's stuff is different from mine. It can be more interesting. It is fun working with other people and perhaps helping them out with a difficult project. And if the project doesn't go well, you can always walk away. You HAVE to fix your own stuff. With other people's, you just have to try.

As mentioned in Day 1, Faimanu and Karina's dinghy motor didn't run. I expressed that I might be able to fix it and they smiled. Kjell is a fellow motor-head and he agreed to tackle the project with me. We dinghied to shore and asked Marcello if we could take a look at the motor. He readily agreed and joined us in the task. The motor cover was already off, waiting for us. The more interesting and tragic story is the source of this dinghy and motor.

I'm short on details but an elderly, French sailor often visited Mopelia, bringing supplies and passengers. He was well known here and much revered. Well into his 80s, he made a trip here last year. There was a young, Polynesian lady as his passenger. He went below to navigate and fell asleep. His boat carried on right into the eastern reef. They were pulled off safely by his friends in Mopelia but the boat was destroyed. The French Polynesian officials insisted he remove it from the reef or pay to have it removed.

Mopelian's gathered together and helped him with this. They fired up an old tractor and dragged the wreck onto the beach. There, they cut it into manageable chunks with chain saws and sawzalls, powered by a generator. The remnants were dragged into the jungle where they now rest. He was able to salvage personal belongings and gave the dinghy and motor to Marcello. That's the boat that first approached us with his daughters.

The motor was an older, Mercury 15 HP. Kjell's motor was nearly the same model. We checked the spark and found it firing just fine. We removed the fuel line to check the fuel pump. Kjell squeezed the fuel bulb and a jet of stale fuel shot me in the chest. I dabbed some behind my ears much to the delight of Faimanu. It had that rank, old fuel smell.

Kjell's dinghy was on the beach about ½ mile away. Kaia and Lisa dinghied there to comb the beach for spent animal carcasses, shells. We dinghied there and pilfered their dinghy's tank of fresh fuel. My dinghy is four stroke and we needed Kjell's two stroke fuel with oil.

Fresh gas helped. We got the engine to run but it would die out after awhile and not idle. I won't go into much detail but we removed the carburetor and cleaned it thoroughly. Remind me to tell the blonde joke, “crap in the carburetor” sometime. With the clean carburetor the motor ran much better but still didn't idle. We fiddled with the idle screw and finally, the engine ran fine! Marcello offered us coffee but we had to return the tank to the ladies or they would have been stranded. Marcello and Faimanu were most grateful and thanked us profusely.

We returned the tank to the other dinghy, right in front of Norma and Harry's house. We sat and talked with them and they gave us coconuts to drink. Nothing is more refreshing than fresh coconut water on a warm day. The ladies appeared with a bucket-full of shells. We sat and had more coconuts and some of the sweetest bananas ever. Norma mentioned that the community car had a clutch problem. Kjell and I took the tools right over to it.

The community car is an old Mahindra pick-up truck. It was thoroughly rusted with only springs showing for seats. But there was a new clutch master cylinder installed with clean fluid in the reservoir. Pushing on the clutch indicated that it wasn't moving enough to disengage. We bled the fluid and still not enough movement. It took some fiddling and adjusting the linkage rod to the cylinder and the clutch worked. Harry drove it around with quite a smile. Another mechanical success!

We sat and talked some more. Norma told us more about Mopelia and its history. Meteo France, the French weather service, set up a station on Mopelia in 1950. We saw the base for their radio station near the beach. They also put in the 8 km road on the main motu. A huge cyclone in 1998 wiped out all of the buildings. Keep in mind the motu is only a few meters above sea level. Surge from a cyclone will wash completely over the motu. There is a community house about 5 km south built by the French government after the cyclone. Norma and Harry used to live there but moved closer to the pass nine years ago. Harry said he was using too much gas in his dinghy going from their previous home to their present location. Imagine, moving your home and building a new one just to save a few gallons of gas/week.

There are currently only 20 people living in Mopelia, strung out along the main motu. They are families who live part-time here. They visit to harvest copra. Most live in Maupiti the rest of the year. Norma and Harry's compound consist of a large kitchen/bedroom that is entirely open air. There is a tiki roofed dining room with large table but we ate on that table on the beach. Harry has a large, corrugated tin workshop, big enough for about 3 cars. There is another two story building behind their main living quarters we haven't explored yet. There is also an outdoor sink, dish washing area. Water is only collected rain water. But if they run short, there is a large cistern at the community house. Now they have a working truck to fetch it. There is no electricity. A few solar panels provide only light at night. Hence, no refrigeration.

Norma and Harry showed us the huge, coconut crabs they caught the night before. With some reluctance, they offered one of them to us. Kjell and Kaia had caught coconut crabs before but found them not so tasty as the ones we had the night before. Harry and Norma were determined to show us just how to prepare these strange beasts.

Harry grabbed one, at least five pounds, and held it down in the sand. He inserted a long knife between its eyes and twisted it. The crab was instantly dead. Harry held it upside down and a stream of noxious fluid poured out of the head. We think it was urine! He explained the crab needed to be thoroughly drained to be sweet. Then he rinsed it in the ocean. Norma boiled it in a large pot until it turned red. She removed the butt bulb, the size of a small mango, and removed the intestines.

The claws, legs and body contained the pure, white meat. The butt piece contained a greasy, dark “fois gras” which became the sauce for the meat. We ate it on 2K later in the afternoon, just like that. Kaia had to hammer the thick shell into bits. Then it was easy to extract the meat and cover it with the natural sauce. This was our second coconut crab in two days and again, delicious!

We played a game of Mexican train dominos on 2K, shared a few bottles of wine and retired to Uproar. It was a bit of a work day but quite satisfying to fix stuff and help out our Mopelia friends.

Mopelia, day two

19 October 2020
Russ Whitford | bit stormy
Day Two, September 21

The night treated us to a nasty squall. Anchor held as usual but one always questions the ability of 40 pounds of steel to hold a 22,000 pound boat in a storm. We replaced the rusted chain in Raiatea a month ago and are enjoying the renewed faith in our ground tackle.

Norma, from last night's dinner, invited us to walk on the ocean reef and she would show us how to collect shells in the flat rocks of the reef. The morning was gray and rainy but we joined 2K in going ashore just after 9:00. Norma was waiting for us and we hiked through their jungle path to the reef. The sand flats before the reef were covered with low bushes and a thousand terns. They were squawking up a racket and flying overhead. This is hatching season. We observed their eggs just strewn on the gravel under the bushes. Norma said she and Harry eat the eggs in the early season before the embryos develop.

The reef was too rough to wade out for shells. Lisa went right to work and collected some worn specimens from the beach. We later walked back to the "road" along the motu. Norma explained the road was 8 km long and a nice bike ride. Someone must have brought in some heavy equipment at one time (French government spends a lot of money in FP!) The road was a hard packed gravel and fairly smooth.

We hiked a few km south, past some unused homesteads and came upon Kevin, who lives in a modest hut and harvests copra. Kevin's boat was upside down with two holes in the keel. He explained he didn't have any col (glue) to fix it. I explained we had some on Uproar and would help him patch up his boat. He said he had some fiberglass and showed me a water-logged piece in a bucket. Kjell mentioned he had some dry fiberglass. I think we can get Kevin back in the water.

The rest of the afternoon was just reading and relaxing for me. However, Lisa was hard at work in the galley. She baked one of her loafs of sourdough bread for tonight's dinner party and made about eight pounds of granola. Lisa's granola is not much oatmeal but mostly nuts and seeds. I opened and shredded two coconuts to add to the mix. She bakes four batches of her mix in the oven, taking all afternoon. We mix this granola with yogurt (either bought or made onboard) for most of our breakfasts. This batch will last until we depart in December.

We met another boat in the anchorage, Le Pekeko, the day before. We had talked with them on the SSB radio weeks before. They are a New Zealand family waiting to sail to NZ for the November cyclone season. Chris and Magalie and their two girls, Alise and Anok had been in Mopelia for several weeks. Magalie is from Quebec and they are all fluent in French. Anok and Alise are 14 and 15yo. They are great friends with Karina and Faimanu, daughters of Marcello and Adrian, the family for whom we brought supplies. The four girls camped for a night on a nearby motu and hunted coconut crabs at night. That was to be the main dish for tonight's thank you dinner.

We had cocktails on Le Pekeko and all dinghied ashore for another fabulous dinner. A large table was beautifully set near the beach. The open-air kitchen and grill were abuzz with activity. Marcello gave a little speech thanking us and welcoming us to Mopelia. We were made to feel like honored guests. Everyone dug in family style to poison cru, rice, grilled Mahi (again from the monster 2K caught) and large bowls of crab de coco. The coconut crabs are quite large, often several pounds. Their powerful claws taste like most, sweet crab meet. But their plum-shaped body is a mushy meat most often described as fois gras. The crabs were crushed up into chunks and the fois gras was mixed with spices, covering all. This gave the crab meat a rich, earthy sauce. It was a struggle to get the bits of meat out but well worth it. No napkins are used and we were up to our elbows in the meal. Lisa is often reluctant to tackle food she has to dissect but ate more crab than anyone. All enjoyed her loaf of sourdough bread, delicious as always.

We had fun talking and enjoying their three puppies when the meal was over. We had met Marcello and Adrian's son, Hero, a year ago in Raiatea and Huahine. Last summer, I was visiting home and Lisa was alone on Uproar in Huahine. A poorly anchored charter catamaran dragged anchor and bumped into Uproar. Lisa was on shore bike riding and no one was on the catamaran. Hero and Silke put Uproar's fenders between the two boats and helped shove the catamaran away. When Lisa returned, the Catamaran captain was profusely sorry and offered to pay for damages. Luckily, there were just a few scratches on Uproar but our anchor bow casting gouged the entire side of the cat. Served him right. Hero then told Lisa about a sunken mooring that would be quite safe in the strong winds. He helped her move Uproar and dove for the strong mooring. He truly was a hero.

I met Hero in Raiatea when I had Uproar in the yard for bottom paint. Hero was hanging out there doing odd jobs on boats. I thanked him for helping Lisa and he was all smiles. We shared a few sundowners and dinners on Uproar and enjoyed the camaraderie of the boatyard. Hero has an old IOR boat painted yellow, Ugly Duckling. It truly is. I had a spare #4 jib that was brand new but not something I anticipated needing. I gave it to Hero for UD. He couldn't have been happier. Marcello was pleased to hear about the kind assistance his son gave us. What a small place is the large archipelago of French Polynesia.

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.

Mopelia, introduction

17 October 2020
Russ Whitford | perfect
There is quite a selection of books written by cruisers. Let's face it, we have a lot of time on our hands. They mostly chronicle their voyages, telling stories about unique experiences along route. I was determined not to make my writing a travel log. Instead, I decided to share just the special stories about our experiences. Embedded in these stories is a rough outline of where we traveled and when. That can't be helped and it is part of the story.

Mopelia is going to be an exception. The following mini-series gives a daily summary of our activities and experiences here. There are several reasons I am taking this diversion from my typical style. First of all, there is no internet here and I now have a reason to keep my fingers busy. Secondly and most importantly, this is a unique place. Mopelia is sort of the holy grail for cruising in FP. The dangerous pass through the reef and isolated location make it seldom visited by yachties. The hospitality of Mopelians is legendary. Yachts provide important transportation for these people and the supplies they rely on. In return, they show their gratitude profusely. As you can imagine, living in this pristine environment, these people have a special outlook on life. I will attempt to capture the beauty of this special place and the special people who live here.
Vessel Name: Tumultuous Uproar
Vessel Make/Model: Beneteau 42s7
Hailing Port: Milwaukee, WI
Crew: Russ Whitford & Lisa Alberte plus Sophie our Jack Russell Terrier
Tumultuous Uproar's Photos - Main
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Uproar FULL ON in the North Channel! Picture by Rick Pask.
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