Sunday, 30 July 2017

Out into the deep blue - Maupihaa and meeting Tuarae - eye clinic in Maupiti

Dinner Mopelia
I finally feel as though we can match Alex a bit for having met the locals and not just being a tourist trip passing through beautiful places.

We spent three nights on Maupihaa (the Polynesian name) or Mopelia in the francophone version. We dined one night with Tuarae, his Italian girl Friday Gianne, Opupu and others.

Dinner was langoustes, crabe de coco, red snapper, parrot fish, benitiers (the inside of clams), breadfruit and tapioca, poisson cru au lait de coco. Not a great meal for Nicky, but the
Opupu and Coconut Crab
rest of us found it delicious. We had gone ashore the night before and none of the above had been organised. Langoustes are caught at night on the windward side of the reef by torch light as they come in to shallow water to feed - so caught by hands which are best protected by gloves! Crabes de Coco are huge and are caught in the forest; fish is caught by spear gun in this case outside the passe in the ocean. This was the hippy night - music
and singing, smoking of the local Pakololo, drinking of home-made hooch. All food served off leaves and eaten with fingers. The hermit crabs tidy up any scraps or leftovers.

Then the following night we dined in style with Adrienne and her two daughters; a matriarchal society who very much are not hippies but are
making their part of paradise produce the maximum amount of food and copra - the cash crop made from dried coconut flesh. Adrienne and family (her
husband Marcelo heads the cooperative) are the most productive copra producers on the island and they manage to harvest about 3 tonnes every 3 months. You need 40 tonnes produced by the island cooperative to justify the supply ship coming to pick it up, so it only comes twice a year.

Adrienne and daughters have some English, good in the case of one of the
daughters, learnt from books and films and some at school. They were all on the island 22 years ago when the last cyclone flattened it. Adrienne then had a 5 year old, a 2 year old, and a baby. Husband was away and the water came into their house about waist high. Luckily all survived; they then had some time away from the island and came back 5 years ago, and with much hard
work have created a very well organised home. Food comes easily in paradise, but everything else, including staples such as rice and flour must come on the supply ship.

The supply ship also only takes 2 passengers by law, which is where sailing boats come in and why Calliope and its crew had such a wonderful welcome. We were anchored in Maupiti lagoon when Hio - the son of Adrienne and Marcelo - came across in his boat with Tuarae. Hio speaks excellent English and skippers yachts. He also builds radios from scratch, is starting pearl farming in Mopelia and is super bright and energetic. So Hio was there to ask if we would take Tuarae and "some" packages to Mopelia, which is 100NM downwind of Maupiti.
Tuarae and Dalia
We say yes - word gets around, so we then have two more passengers who ask, but who in the end don't make it although their parcels do. We then go for a walk to the top of Maupiti which is a steep climb up 300 metres with stunning views of the lagoon. Tuarae comes to guide us- helpful, though not
needed - but a good chat, and then leaves us to go collect his cargo. As he
is leaving, he asks "do you mind if I bring Gianne's dog with me". So we
say no problem. Dalia, a young German Shepherd, was impeccably behaved, sleeping in Tuarae's arms in the cockpit, her bladder holding out until we were an hour from our destination - though she left us a lot of dog hair as a souvenir!

When we reach Mopelia, which is an atoll with no mountain in the middle like the Tuamotus, unlike most of the Society islands like Tahiti where the
mountain is still there inside the reef, we are met by two of the local
craft and unload dog, bicycle, a dinghy full of bananas, assorted barrels, many bags of rice, sugar, and other packages which have filled both forward bunks and two jerricans of fuel, plus Tuarae.
Calliope discharging to lighters
So what for us had been a very simple helping hand over a 16 hour voyage was an important supply service for the island and rewarded way over the top by the hospitality we received. I should add that the total population of the island is 18! Most have relatives in Maupiti and spend time there as children. You are allowed to buy 200 metres of shoreline and the land going through the Motu from lagoon to ocean, maybe 3/400m deep, for $40 and that land is yours to harvest from the coconuts which are there. A ton of copra is worth about
$300, so that is the cash economy.

For eggs you go to bird island, where there are multitudes of frigate birds and a tern like bird which lays eggs on the sand in abundance. Pick up the eggs, take them to the shallows; if the eggs lie on the bottom horizontally, they have no embryo in and you can eat them. If they float or stand
vertically, put them back on the sand to hatch.

There are thousands of eggs. Tuarae told us his simple test to find out whether a fish has the potentially fatal toxin ciguatera: leave it out, wait till flies land on it and if they die, don't eat the fish. One of Adrienne's daughters said flies won't even come near poisonous fish. Either way, trust those flies... though we were also told there's no ciguatera or stone fish here.

So Tuarae and friends have fed us, provisioned us, and Tuarae on our last night went langouste hunting again giving us six cooked langoustes to take with us. In return, we have left them with our old but in very good  condition mainsail halyard, olive oil, various perfumes, spaghetti and tinned tomatoes in case Gianne feels homesick, some LED lights wired and ready to plug into their solar-powered battery (though one of the batteries is dead and we are not quite sure how Tuarae will source another car battery), reading glasses for Gianne. They think they are in our debt; we think quite the contrary. Adrienne has the old genoa sheet, a box of reading glasses for the island, olive oil and perfumes etc for her girls.

We would have stayed longer but we suddenly realised we had Peter and Sue's return flight dates wrong by a week so we have to push on towards Tonga. We have just reached Aitutaki which is where Charlie Wood spent his gap year. The passe into the lagoon is too shallow for us so we have anchored outside the reef. We will go on to Palmerston and Niue, both of which have mooring
buoys on the lee side and no lagoon.
Maupiti lagoon and pass

Talking of reading glasses, we held our first eye clinic in Maupiti. Nicky was in charge and what a fabulous job she did of arranging and organising it. Over to her.

On a long voyage like this, we seldom stay anywhere very long, and we're usually ready to move on to the next exciting destination, but I must admit to feeling quite sad to leave Mopelia this morning: the people we have met,
spent time with and been able to help here and in Maupiti have been so welcoming and
Calliope in Maupiti lagoon
opened their lives to us. They're not particularly curious about where we come from, just eager to share their bit of paradise.

So, the eye clinic. We've had 500 pairs of reading glasses, in assorted strengths, on board since Antigua, and four dozen 'Eyejusters', very clever adjustable glasses for short sight, caught up with us in Moorea. We'd managed to use a few readers to barter with when we first arrived in Fatu Hiva and had no Polynesian currency, back in early May, but had begun to wonder whether we'd ever manage to find a market for all the others.
Eye clinic Maupiti
When we arrived in Maupiti we spoke to the mayor, who arranged a room we could use and sent out word that we would be running a clinic the following day. We had a queue outside already when we arrived at 3pm and Solange (troisieme maire adjointe) was fantastic at keeping them orderly, sending people in one
at a time to "read" the symbols (capital E facing up/down/left/right) on our chart. If they managed that, I passed them on to my incredibly efficient and capable assistants, Charles, Peter and Sue, who repeated the test at
close quarters to establish whether reading glasses were needed. It was very gratifying to watch individuals go from squinting and faltering over line 2 on the chart, to romping through to the very bottom line. One man, standing on the balcony outside, exclaimed 'there's a yacht out there!', not having been able to see it before. Although an opthamologist does visit the island every few months, those we were testing can't afford their services. They were surprised not to have to pay any money for their glasses.
Within half an hour, thank you presents began to arrive: shell necklaces, crowns of flowers, grapefruit, cucumbers, a cabbage, bananas, lemons, a little bag of pearls each for me and Sue, and fish: a huge piece of tuna fillet and a
yellow and black striped fish, both frozen. We shut up shop at 6pm and ran another small clinic the following morning before climbing the mountain.

Earlier that day, we'd hired bikes and ridden around Maupiti, which was impossibly pretty, with sandy beaches (you can wade across the lagoon in places), tall, leaning coconut palms and beautifully kept gardens, many with family graves in them (what happens, we wondered, when you move house?!) Even the dogs were friendly: one of them accompanied us on our ride. No shops at all, but a post office at the hub of the village with a wonderful congratulatory poster stuck up outside: in December last year, 30 Maupitians passed the first ever driving test administered here and there they were in a photo, solemnly lined up with their certificates which entitle them to drive the 10 miles round Maupiti's one and only road, but which are not valid on other islands.
Maupiti's first driving test!

We hear some news of other Oysters, mostly behind us for once after we have been tail-end Calliope from the Caribbean through to Tahiti. It was fun to spend yesterday (great snorkelling!) with Paulina and Mariusz of SunSuSea, who joined us in Mopelia lagoon.
Au revoir, French Polynesia - we will be back!

Navigating through passes - in the Tuamotus the passes we went through were generally wide, some shallow (Fakarava South), but, if you timed it near slack water, not too troublesome in navigating. Maupiti's passe is open to the south, quite narrow, very well marked, but, with any southerly in the wind, it can create quite some wind-on-tide as the water is always coming out from the lagoon, as the lagoon fills with water over the reef from the windward side, which has no way to get out except through the passe. Going in to Maupiti the winds had been 20 knots or so all day but from the East so we were worried, swallowed hard, looked at the smallish gap, judged the
waves small enough, and went in easily with 3 knots against, following the clear leading lines, accurate charts with just a little water over the bow. On exit, maybe over-confident and in the afternoon with stronger outgoing current, Peter and Nicky had gone forward to the bow, with cameras in hand. All appeared smooth until we met standing waves which were quite steep and
about 3 metres tall, although only about 150 metres in duration. Peter's iphone is now dead, Nicky's video has some interesting swooping movements in it, but all were safe!

Mopelia passe used to have red and green markers; it now has one white for port and one white for starboard side, is maybe 30 metres wide although very well defined coral to either side and deep right up to the marker. The Navionics charts gave good representation but we were about 20m left of where the chart plotter said.  Since it faces north-west much less risk of wind-on-tide against the easterlies, and we had softer winds around 10 knots, so we had no problem in or out. In stronger winds and waves I imagine it could become more emotional because it is so narrow and you would have much stronger outgoing current. All the water coming over the reef into the lagoon has to exit through the passe. Navigating coral heads inside the lagoon is done by sight as it is uncharted. Another one not for the faint-hearted and we had a local on board to help on the way in.
Manta Ray Maupiti

Nicky was absolutely brilliant with the eye clinic. She was the one to talk to the Mairie; she looked beautiful of course, particularly with the flower crown they made for her and Sue, gave the clearest instructions, and charmed the occasionally shy locals to do the eye tests, and organised the shy(ish)
Peter and Charles into doing the close-up tests. Being able to speak French here has been so useful, after feeling helpless in Spanish-speaking Colombia, Panama and Galapagos before Alex arrived.

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