In­side the la­goon

Yachting Monthly - - PILOTAGE UPDATE -

For a taste of the real South Pa­cific, you need to make time for Mopelia, says John Neal

Of all the is­lands in the South Pa­cific I’ve sailed to over the last 40 years, tiny Mopelia (Maupi­haa in Tahi­tian) has to be the most mem­o­rable.

Ly­ing 150 miles West of Bora Bora and 250 miles ENE of Tahiti, Mopelia is a cruiser’s dream come true, but it can also be a real chal­lenge. A clas­sic co­ral atoll, the is­land re­sem­bles a neck­lace of islets sur­round­ing a la­goon. The main is­land is on the wind­ward side and stud­ded with co­conut palms, while the rest of the la­goon is sur­rounded by un­bro­ken reef, apart from a 60ftwide, half-mile long pass.

On oc­ca­sion, the cur­rent ebbs from the pass at up to eight knots with a wall of break­ers across the en­trance, but at other times we’ve measured a one-knot flood and glassy calm con­di­tions. Once in­side the la­goon, there are sev­eral an­chor­ages to choose from de­pend­ing on the wind strength and di­rec­tion. In nor­mal trade winds (12-15 knot east-south­east­erly winds) we gen­er­ally head to the far south­east cor­ner of the la­goon where there is the least fetch and a fairly se­cure an­chor­age in 3-8m (12-30ft) depth.

This is­land is per­fect for cruis­ers, boast­ing clear 30°C wa­ter, a few friendly Tahi­tians liv­ing ashore, and, for those who have run out of time on their French Poly­ne­sia vis­i­tor’s visa, no gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives or ra­dio. There’s also plen­ti­ful fish in the sur­round­ing wa­ters, with lob­ster in­side.

My first visit to Mopelia was around 1980 when there were about 30 peo­ple liv­ing on the is­land. I spent an amaz­ing week get­ting to know a young just-mar­ried cou­ple, Adri­enne and Mar­cello, who had left their home is­land of Maupiti, 95 miles away, to have a grand ad­ven­ture and start a fam­ily. At night, fol­low­ing beach bon­fires and potlucks we went hunt­ing for lob­ster on the outer reef and dur­ing the day I helped them weave palm fronds to build their dream thatched huts on stilts over­look­ing the la­goon.

A few years later, a se­vere cy­clone lev­eled the is­land leav­ing noth­ing on Adri­enne and Mar­cello’s prop­erty but the crum­bled re­mains of their ce­ment cis­tern. But the cou­ple had sur­vived thanks to re­ceiv­ing a warn­ing that the cy­clone was on its way, giv­ing them time to pre­pare. First, they each climbed

Passe Vahine – the chan­nel link­ing Mopelia’s la­goon with the open ocean out­side

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