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.
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.
One hour/day maintenance
13 September 2020 | Maupiti, FP
Russ Whitford | perfect
"I plan for one hour of maintenance per day." said Gavin when I dinghied up to Slingshot. Slingshot is a very cool Deerfoot 64 with unstayed, carbon fiber mast. Gavin explained that it was custom built for an owner who wanted the unusual rig. It has worked well for Gavin, Jen and their two children. Gavin explained he keeps up with the systems on this large and complicated boat, one hour every day.
He mentioned a French cruiser he met who spends three hours/day on maintenance. The Frenchman built his 80 foot ketch out of wood. I can't imagine keeping up an 80 foot, wooden boat. Oh, the boat had a tiny seaplane too! Well the French owner finally gave up and sold the boat. Three hours/day was just too much. I have met several owners who have quit cruising because maintaining a cruising boat becomes too burdensome.
We met a cruiser at last year's Tahiti Pearl Regatta who cruises with his family in the Med. They have a Nyack, high quality Swedish boat. He said, "I can't go a week without something breaking. Can you go a week without something breaking?" Lisa and I looked at each other and said we didn't remember the last time something broke. We have short memories but Uproar's systems work pretty well.
We work at it. After over five years of cruising, we now have a good routine for preventative maintenance. None of it is that difficult. And when things do break, we have a lot spare parts on board. For example, our propane system has a 12 volt solenoid that shuts off the propane when not in use. If that fails, you can't cook! We have always carried two spares. These we have occasionally loaned to fellow cruisers whose solenoid has failed. Then we order another one from Amazon to be brought by the next guest, $11.
I returned from Slingshot, feeling a bit guilty about my maintenance-as-necessary routine. A plumbing project came to mind. OK, a sanitary plumbing project. As previously reported all human waste gets flushed overboard. We have no choice. Uproar is equipped with holding tanks but there are no facilities in French Polynesia for pumping the tank out. The same is true for the Bahamas and Caribbean. If you fill up the holding tank (only a week or so) there is no way to empty it. Some boats have the ability to dump a holding tank. This is illegal in the Great Lakes.
But we are returning to the US and pump-out facilities are everywhere. The Y valves which switch the waste plumbing from overboard to holding tank were stuck from lack of use. We didn't want to return to the US and not use our holding tanks. I got out the tools and easily freed one of them. The second one was quite a challenge. I had to soak it in acid for hours. That brings up another cruising fact-of-life. Urine mixed with sea water produces Calcium deposits. These deposits can completely close off plumbing. I had to remove the hoses and beat them to break up the Calcium "rocks" lining the walls. Project creep. This took me the dreaded three hours.
Thanks Gavin for getting me inspired to perform this nasty task. Uproar is now ready for clean cruising in the US. But I'm still not going to punch that one-hour clock daily for maintenance.
The picture of me is sailing Slingshot's dinghy. Great fun and reward for completing a maintenance project.
Planning a Cargo Voyage
07 September 2020 | Maupiti, FP
Russ Whitford | perfect
“We are probably heading to Mopelia in a few weeks.”
We had just arrived in Maupiti and took a bike ride around the island (only five miles of road). We were admiring the scenery from a small hill and Tearii who lived there started a conversation with us. When we mentioned Mopelia, he asked if we could take a small package there for him. We readily agreed and gave him our boat card. We had been in Maupiti only two days and planned on enjoying this enchanted, small atoll at least for a few weeks.
Maupiti is only 30 miles west of Bora Bora. Bora Bora is the major tourist destination while Maupiti is relatively obscure. There is an airport with a few flights/week. They have small pensions or resorts but only two restaurants and a three tiny grocery stores. The pass into the Maupiti lagoon is renown for being treacherous. We entered in calm conditions and there was no problem at all.
Maupiti is a miniature Bora Bora. The mountains are stunning, surrounded by turquoise water and sandy motus or barrier islands. As typical of French Polynesia, the people are friendly everywhere, especially in the smaller atolls. One big draw of Maupiti are the Manta Rays. They visit the cleaning station in the morning for dental work. This is a series of coral rocks where Mantas hang out to let Wrasses swim in their mouth and clean debris. Late morning and afternoons the Mantas slowly circle some coral rocks near the pass where they filter feed for hours. Their open mouths look big enough to swim inside.
Unfortunately, the Manta Rays are quite the tourist attraction. The small numbers of tourists in Maupiti all jump in tour boats and swim with the Manta Rays. They chase the Mantas and cause them to swim away. We just lie quietly on the surface and watch them majestically circle. Our quiet presence does not seem to bother them. Lisa and I have watched four at a time circle only five to ten feet below us for about a half-hour.
The day after I met Tearii, a wood skiff pulled up to Uproar with two young ladies and two small boys. They mentioned Mopelia. I said we would be willing to take a package for them. One of the ladies asked if we would take her. Lisa wasn't onboard so I replied, “Maybe.” Angelique asked if I liked lobster and fresh fish. She said her family would give us all we wanted. I gave her a boat card and asked her to text us. The two girls had difficulty starting their outboard motor. Instead of getting angry, they just giggled and pulled like crazy. At last, I offered to help. I held the kill button out while Angelique gave it a pull. Started right up. They had rigged an unsuitable clip for the button. I fixed that for them.
Another two days and we thought we would stay two months in Maupiti. This is a truly lovely place and we were captured by her charms. I saw Tearii in the town and he greeted me, “Iorana, Popeye.” The Polynesians just can't say “Russ.” It comes out as a tortured, “ruse.” So I tell them my name is “Popeye.” It sounds Polynesian and they easily remember it. My grandson, Harlan, calls me “Popeye.”
Two more days and another skiff visited Uproar. They had four adults and five young boys. Mana asked me about going to Mopelia. I said perhaps we would go. Again, he mentioned the lobsters and fish there. Then all five boys climbed onto Uproar, followed by their parents. Lisa and I had been doing woodworking projects and the cockpit was cluttered with tools, wood shavings and dust. Lisa uttered, “I can't do this.” Too late. They all made themselves comfortable.
We apologized but no one seemed to mind the mess. The boys were delightful. Lisa made the little, toy airplanes for each of them, we often carry on shore. Mana asked if we could take him and his wife, Maureen to Mopelia. I said we were taking Angelique and that would make 3 people. Angelique's husband, Tearii (different one) was there and said he would like to go too. Suddenly we had four passengers. Lisa asked about the boys. We really didn't want to be responsible for sailing with children. Maureen explanied that the boys would stay with their grandparents.
Mana explained that he knows the pass to Mopelia well. He has gone there on several yachts in the past. He mentioned he traveled on Allora, our good friends Marcus and Dianne. We said depending on weather, yes we could take them. Then came discussions about how much gasoline we could take, lashed to our rail. They left us two large bags of fruit and vegetables.
Lisa and I took 1 ½ tons of hurricane relief supplies to Dominique along with a young Martinique couple. Sure, we could load Uproar again for the 80 mile journey. But I kept saying “maybe.” I kept saying it depends on weather and our plans are not firm. I also said we would most likely not be returning to Maupiti so couldn't bring them back. They said that wasn't a problem.
We are now quite popular in Maupiti. Just tell someone you are going to Mopelia and you will make friends. We are more than happy to bring supplies and passengers to this isolated atoll. Other cruisers have told us the local people will invite us for dinner every night and bring fish and lobsters daily to us.
Keep in mind that all of these conversations are in French. I'm sure we understand about 80% of each other. Stand by for a report on the cargo voyage of Uproar.
We are shipping our ship on a ship shipping ship
26 August 2020 | Taha'a
Russ Whitford | perfect
We have reached a cruising cul-de-sac in the South Pacific. We are in the middle of this vast ocean with no where else to go. The coconut milk run is the typical passage for cruisers circumnavigating. One leaves Panama in the spring when favorable winds and currents make for swift passages to Galapagos and then Marquesas, the first archipelago in French Polynesia. That's exactly what we sailed on Uproar in 2018.
Many cruisers spend only the three months allowed in FP, then sail to Tonga, Fiji and on to New Zealand. NZ is safe during the cyclone season which is from November to April. From NZ, cruisers sail back into the South Pacific islands of Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Papa New Guinea, etc. Then on to Australia and perhaps Indonesia and Thailand.
We knew we would love FP enough to stay more than the normal three months allowed. We applied for Carte De Sejours, long term visas at the French Consulate in Panama. It was a lot of paperwork but we achieved a visa that is renewable indefinitely. Essentially, we have permanent residency in FP should we pay the $90 per year to renew.
We now have sailed in FP for over two years....and still love being here. FP covers an area the size of Europe but with only 280,000 people. There are 120 islands or atoll groups. We have sailed to all five archipelagos but not nearly seen it all. While the entire Eastern Caribbean cruising ground fits inside Lake Michigan. We have sailed 1,000 miles between island groups in FP! And again, loved all of it. The Polynesian people are a definite bonus. Just two days ago, Lisa and I were biking in a remote area of Raiatea and passed a group of people having a Sunday BBQ. They readily asked us to "mangez," share their meal. Keep in mind that recently FP has opened up to tourists. Covid has definietly accompanied the tourists. We are white people and look like tourists. Yet, these people welcomed us to join them in a meal. OK, they did keep their distance but engaged us in conversation. We quickly tell them we are not tourists. "Nous habite ici." We live here! That helps break the ice. I'll never forget the 4 year old girl who was enthralled with Lisa. She coyly sneaked behind Lisa and shiffed her pony tail. That girl had the most beautiful, huge eyes and eye lashes that would put a camel to shame!
OK, back to the Coconut Milk run. Fiji is the only island nation west that now accepts cruisers. They require a lot of testing and quarantine. But cruisers who have sailed there have found them most welcoming. Bula! Fiji is unfortunately right in the cyclone path. If you sail to Fiji and can't sail out of there for cyclone season, you are at risk! Fiji does have a boat yard that digs cyclone pits to drop your keel in, support your boat on tires and strap it down hard. This is good protection in case of cyclones. But it costs $4,000 to reserve a pit, whether you use it or not!
New Zealand has proven to be very disappointing. They don't have much Covid and like FP, aim to keep it that way. They will, however accept cruising yachts.....if you have contracts with local boat yards to spend $50,000!!! So it's not as much about Covid as it is money. We have joined OCC (Ocean Cruising Club) who is lobbying heavily to let cruisers enter NZ. But NZ stands firm.....unless you have deep pockets.
That brings me to the cul-de-sac we are in. No where safe to go during cyclone season. Since we have been in FP for more than two years, we don't see that staying here further is of much interest. Also, FP just changed their laws which will mandate that we either leave for six months, when our three years here are up, or pay duty to import our boat! They just changed it to two years but we were here before the change, grandfathered (in more than one way, our second grandchild was born on August 25th, Sylvia Violet Helin).
This is a long way to getting to the ship shipping ship. We have decided to ship Uproar back to the US. Yacht Express is a specifically built vessel to ship yachts. We saw it or a similar ship in Martinique. It sinks down far enough to allow sailboats and powerboats to drive right into the boat. Divers put braces in place to support the hull and keel. Then they close the transom gate and pump the water out. The boats ride dry until the next flooding to load and unload. It is pretty slick. And pretty expensive!!!! We could buy a nice sports car for what it costs to ship our ship.
They will be in Tahiti right after Christmas. We just drive Uproar into the boat and they do the rest. Lisa and I will remove all sails and canvas and stow below. We will take just clothes and valuables and fly back to Milwaukee. Uproar will arrive in Fort Lauderdale mid March. We will be ready to drive Uproar to a local marina and replace sails and canvas.
So what's next for the Uproar cruise? Well, March, April, May and June are great months to cruise the Bahamas. That's where we will go. Hurricane season comes in June so we will sail back to Florida and pull Uproar out of the water. We will return to Milwaukee for a nice summer. In November 2021, we will return to Florida and launch Uproar. From then we will follow cruiser's plans...which are written in sand at low tide. Perhaps 2021 will find us sailing across the Atlantic to the Med?
We don't look upon this as a setback or failure. Sure, there are other places we would have liked to visit in the South Pacific. But after 2 ½ years in FP, we have absorbed a lifetime of adventure and memories. We love the Bahamas and Caribbean. The Med remains a place we have not cruised. Best of all, this tack gives us a chance to spend extended time with family and friends whom we have missed dearly these past five years. We so look forward to reconnecting and whatever cruising adventures await Team Uproar.
I would like to say that for these past five years, we have felt the support and encouragement of our family and friends. We are so fortunate that quite a few have joined us to sail and explore on Uproar. We just could not do it without you. Being closer to home, we hope more will join us. Lisa has rebuild the pump in the guest cabin head so that works better now.