Inside the lagoon
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