a coconut tree and chopped off the top to reduce windage. Then they emptied out the deep freezer, punched holes in the top, put their two small children inside and tied it securely to a tree. Finally, they each climbed back up their trees and tied themselves to the trunk. The island was completely washed over, and only a very few frondless palm tree trunks remained, but the family survived. The French government in Tahiti sent a landing craft to take the inhabitants back to their home island of Maupiti, located 30 miles west of Bora Bora. For many years after the cyclone, Mopelia’s only permanent inhabitants were Hina, a young Tahitian girl from Maupiti, plus a reclusive Frenchman and his family. Hina loves the diversion from working copra that yachties bring, especially when someone is a guitar or chess player. Every time we’ve visited in the past 20 years we always ask if we can have a potluck dinner on the beach at her place and she always says yes, reminding me to bake a huge batch of brownies. An open invitation goes out to all the yachts in the anchorage to bring themselves and any musical instruments, and on our last visit in 2015, Edgar, a recent arrival from Tahiti, who lives a little way down the beach, brought coconut crabs while Hina went free-diving on the reef for lobster.
I always ask Hina if she needs anything. Sometimes she’ll ask for cooking oil, onions or garlic, but inevitably, she’ll say, ‘Don’t forget to bring ice cream next year!’ As she has only a tiny Honda generator, which she uses for lights, anything cold must seem a real treat. Amanda always teases, saying we’ll bring taro and coconut flavour ice-cream, to which Hina turns up her nose, demanding ‘Chocolate!’
This year we brought ice cream bars from Bora Bora. Polynesians think it rude to eat while guests are present, so I had to repeatedly urge Hina to enjoy her ice cream before it turned into a puddle in the tropical heat.
After enjoying our recent visit with Hina a wind shift to the northwest caused by a passing cold front turned the normally protected anchorage into a choppy lee shore, so we motored three miles upwind, dodging occasional pearl floats, to anchor off Adrienne and Marcello’s compound. They’ve now built a couple of houses and own a backhoe, a speed boat and a truck, but they are as friendly and outgoing as ever. They’ve now been joined by two daughters and a son, and having seen us enter the pass they were planning a feast. Unfortunately the frontal passage meant that soon the wind would be out of the West, possibly making the exit from the lagoon impassable. We wanted to stay longer, and Adrienne even tried tying Amanda to a coconut tree to stop her leaving, but this time we had to settle for a short visit and sad goodbyes.
In fact, the pass was a true maelstrom and getting through without bouncing off the reef on either side required total concentration with quick helm inputs. Amanda gave the bowthruster control to one of our crew to give even more control at the narrowest part and we took two walls of standing green water over the bow before we were clear of the breakers. We were very thankful for our trusty 95hp engine and three-blade propeller!
If you plan on sailing to Mopelia, first stop by the mayor’s office on the island of Maupiti. Hina’s father works there and owns a little shop across the road. There will almost certainly be some supplies that need to be taken to Mopelia, and if you have a freezer aboard, try and squeeze in a container of chocolate ice cream to surprise Hina!
Adrien, Marcello and the current crew of Mahina Tiare