On our way out of French Polynesia, we stopped at the island
of Maupiti. Maupiti is arguably the most stunning of the Society Islands; given
the chance, I would return in a heartbeat. Although we had tried to arrange a
longer stay on this island, the weather did not cooperate; so we were only able
to make the briefest of stops. Our agent told us that most yachts call at
Maupiti on their way out of French Polynesia, but that we should only stay a
day or two if we chose to do that. As it turned out, our choice was to leave
Maupiti just 24 hours after our arrival or be trapped there for a week, unable
to exit the pass due to weather conditions. Personally, I would have loved to
get “stuck” in Maupiti’s dazzling sapphire lagoon for a week; but since our
visas were expired, we reluctantly hoisted the anchor and exited through the
What makes Maupiti such a difficult place to visit is its
narrow, reef-bracketed, south-facing pass (Onoiau Pass). When we finally did
get a weather window to leave Bora Bora and enter the pass, we had ideal
conditions: winds less than ten knots
blowing out of the east. Even with these ideal conditions, surf was breaking on
either side of the pass and we could see the coralline shelf of the reef it was
breaking on rising above the water. With any kind of wind or swell from the
south, it was easy to see that this pass could be treacherous. Although we’d
read much about the difficulty of the sinuous, winding channel into the lagoon
prior to our visit, we found the channel well marked and navigation
straightforward. Once you are past the entrance, the rest of the channel is not
difficult. However, it is essential to use the first two sets of range markers
to line up your entry into and through the pass.
|Maupiti's anchorage and entrance channel: Silhouette is at the far left|
Passing through the entrance channel at mid-day, we were led
into Maupiti’s breathtaking lagoon. We were awed by the variety of colors and
the dramatic basalt outcroppings looming above the anchorage. We anchored off
the town of Vaiea, a picturesque town with a tidy seawall running its entire
length. It looked as if every family must own their own small boat, because the
seawall was punctuated with boat slings and small craft.
|Basalt outcrop with sea wall and small craft at base|
In the late afternoon, we took a walk through town. We
immediately noticed the cleanliness of the village, along with the apparent
pride people took in their gardens and landscaping. Everyone in Maupiti seemed
happy and busy, and we were given a friendly greeting by all those we passed. I
truly would have loved to stay longer and gotten to know the local people here.
Since I was newly arrived and shy about asking people permission
to take their photos, I took more mental pictures than actual photos. I didn’t
take a photo of the six or so young men with big grins hanging off a fork lift that
was careening towards the dock, where a supply ship from Tahiti was being offloaded.
I also didn’t photograph the happy kids riding a bicycle in a totem of
three: the youngest child seated on the
handlebars; the oldest child pedaling the bike; and a child in between the ages
of the other two standing on the seat behind the pedaler. Of course, none of
them wore a helmet as they rode down the town’s main street shining with smiles.
|Offload complete: ready to cast off lines|
|Frangipani perfumes the air with a scent you can smell from the anchorage|
I also observed with pleasure some women who were selling
bread from the open bed of a pickup truck. They had about a dozen trays of
bread in rectangular baking pans instead of loaf pans. The bread looked like
some sort of sweet bread---possibly coconut bread. As one woman drove the truck
through town, she, another woman in the cab, and the woman riding in the truck
bed cried out to their neighbors. If a neighbor wanted to buy bread, she hurried
out when she heard the calls of the women in the truck. Sometimes, the bread
pan was simply turned over into waiting upheld palms; other times, the bread
was released onto a tray or platter a woman had carried out with her. The bread
pans remained with the bakers. I really wanted to buy some bread, but I had
brought nothing to carry it in. Since we were still touring the town, I decided
not to march around town with a loaf of bread in my upturned palms.
From time to time along the street, we noticed what appeared
to be communal fresh water taps. Reminiscent of a community well in the center
of town, these spigots were instead placed at intervals throughout the
neighborhood. We concluded that not all the homes had running water, although
the city itself was plumbed. We also noticed gravestones and memorial plaques
located in peoples’ front yards. Home burial is practiced in Maupiti, where family
members are buried on the land they grew up on, which is passed down from
generation to generation.
When we returned to the boat, I could no longer resist the
pull of the jade green water and headed off for a swim towards the motu.
top of the steep sand slope where the water changed from blue to jade, the
water was less than waist high. I could stand and rest whenever I wanted. As I
swam along this shallow area (I had brought my snorkeling mask), I could see
hundreds of hermit crabs scuttling along the sandy bottom.
Our friends from Oyaragh
had arrived in Maupiti one day before us. The next morning, we joined them
and two of the crew from Big Fish for
a hike up to Maupiti’s highest point, the summit of Mt. Teurafaatiu. We were
all looking forward to great views of the pass and lagoon. The hike was steep
and hot, but---although it contained some roped sections---it was much shorter
and less challenging than our climb of Mt. Pahia on Bora Bora.
|Here we are part way to the top|
|Feasting on a blue-green palette: the open ocean extending to the horizon, the barrier reef, and Maupiti's shallow lagoon|
|Cloud shadow over the lagoon|
Soon we were all
at the top enjoying the beautiful views.
|Patrick leads the way on a roped section of the hike|
|Crews from Oyaragh, Big Fish, and Silhouette on top of Mt. Teurafaatiu|
Plastics in the environment: On both Bora Bora and Maupiti, we saw interesting uses of plastic on hiking trails. Clusters of empty plastic bottles were used as trail markers on Mt. Pahia, while on Mt. Teurafaatiu, plastics were incorporated into an informal summit flag:
|View from the summit |
|One man's garbage is another man's art? Plastics are a known endocrine disruptor. |
|View from the summit 2|
|A close-up of Onoiau Pass: the blue gap between the white surf at the end of the snaky entrance channel. |
|Colors to die for: reef patterns in the lagoon|
The starting point for this hike is on the left side of the
main road, a quarter mile or less from the church. Look for some wide cement
steps that lead to the beginning of the trail. The trail basically follows the
ridge, and there is cover from vegetation most of the way.
|Of course our last day in French Polynesia had to include a hibiscus!|
After we returned from the hike, Patrick and I stowed the
boat and got ready to get under way. We had hoped to stay one more day and
visit the manta ray “cleaning station” in the lagoon, where small fish swim in
and out of the manta’s great basket strainer feeding apparatus, picking off
bits of food. I had also wanted to walk around the entire island, a trip which
reportedly takes only three hours. However, the latest weather report showed
the wind both increasing and shifting to the southeast, which would make it
dangerous or impossible to exit the pass. Winds in the 20-25 knot range were
forecast, and the pass would not be navigable for close to another week. As we
exited the pass at 3:00 p.m., the winds had already begun to shift to the southeast.
The picture below shows the surf breaking to port as we exited the pass. The opening is just 150' wide at this point, and the surf was breaking the same to starboard. There is zero room for error here even during the "ideal" weather conditions.
|Surf breaking over the reef as we exit the 150' wide pass|
Passage to Niue
We had a gentle start to the next leg of our journey, the
1,034 mile passage from Maupiti to Niue. This was to be our longest passage
since the voyage from the Galápagos
to the Marquesas in late May/early June. We watched the lovely isle of
Maupiti fade in our wake and enjoyed a sunset supper in the cockpit. The
weather was so calm, we even allowed ourselves a glass of wine.
By the wee hours of the next morning, the forecasted winds
had arrived. When I awoke to replace Patrick on watch, I found him hand
steering in winds between 25 and 30 knots. We continued to hand steer while we
reduced sail. The wind blew a steady 25 to 30 knots for the next 24 hours and
we ran under stays’l alone. When the wind fell below 25 knots, we put up a
double-reefed main with the stays’l, and when it fell below 20 knots, we
dropped the stays’l and raised the headsail.
|Leaving Maupiti behind|
|Big swells rushing off for an appointment with other latitudes|
I had taken an unexpected dip in the salt water when I slipped getting into the dinghy prior to leaving Maupiti. After two days at sea in high winds, my salt-filled hair was so matted, it was "almost dreadlocked."
|A much better day: the wind is down to 20 knots|
I find it amazing that after twelve years, my face still shows the residual effects of a Bell's palsy---particularly when I'm tired, as during interrupted sleep patterns created by watches. If you first cover the left side of my face with a piece of paper, and then cover the right side, it's like seeing two different people. The right half of my face still has a dead expression and a lopsided smile. I guess we have to embrace who we are though; thus, the self-portrait: paralyzed features, dreadlocks, and all.
|Self-portrait with almost dreadlocks|
Most of the remaining passage was spent alternating between
a beam or broad reach and running wing and wing downwind. The wind made
frequent shifts back and forth from the east to the southeast. With the
exception of one day of light air (which we took advantage of to take showers
and bake bread), the wind was generally in the 15 to 20 knot range, and we made
a fairly speedy passage. We were happy about our good progress because the
weather was overcast, dreary, and drizzly---or downright rainy. We even
experienced some lightening at night, though luckily, not at close range. The
boat and our clothes constantly felt damp, and it was chilly enough that we had
to break out our foul weather gear (which we thought we wouldn’t see again until
our passage to New Zealand!) With the exception of the warmer daytime
temperatures, I felt like I was back home in the North Pacific instead of on a
dream cruise in the South Pacific.
We didn’t even attempt to fish on this passage because we were
rolling in a beam swell much of the time, and neither of us felt like cleaning
the fish (or the cockpit afterwards) once we’d caught it. We were also trying
to start using up some of our canned food, which may or may not be confiscated
in New Zealand. (At first we thought only fresh meats and produce were
quarantined, but lately we’ve heard reports that they take canned meat and
vegetables too---even their own canned meats and butter!---along with anything
that has the potential for sprouting like dried legumes and grains.) Thus,
meals on this passage took on the tone of comfort food staples such as tuna
casserole, canned New Zealand corned beef and cabbage, and split pea soup with
canned pork, as I made a game of trying to see how many canned foods I could
work into one meal.
The wind came in fits between calms during the last 36 hours
of the passage, and we did whatever it took---sailing, motoring, or motor
sailing---to keep the boat moving along. We picked up a mooring buoy outside
the harbor of Alofi on the island of Niue between squalls as we were nearing
the end of our ninth day on passage.
|Niue's limestone cliffs represent the boundaries of an upthrust former coral atoll|
Alofi is not a “harbor” in the true sense of the word. It’s
merely an indentation in the coastline of the island. When you are moored
outside Alofi, you are basically moored at the edge of the ocean on the outside of an upthrust coral atoll. There
is no sheltering barrier reef or protected lagoon. That’s why boats here have
to take a mooring: because the water next
to the island is so deep. Silhouette is currently moored in 139 feet of water
on a mooring provided and maintained by the Niue Yacht Club.
|Rainbow over Silhouette with Niue in the distance (left)|
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