Friday, May 26, 2006
Chance visit to Maupilia
worth the risk
My voyage from French Polynesia
to Australia has officially begun. Cruisers call this westward shot
across the South Pacific the coconut milk run because the sailing is
downwind, the people are welcoming and the islands are beautiful.
For me, though, it's still
hard. I don't feel naturally brave, and sometimes need prodding to be
adventurous. But when one of my crew members, a fellow cruiser or even
the author of a guide suggests I do something that seems scary to me,
How do I decide what's courageous and what's reckless? Am I wisely
cautious or pitifully wimpy? Is the challenge of captaining a sailboat
this hard for everyone?
These are some questions I ponder as I sit at anchor in the lagoon of an
atoll called Maupilia, 130 miles west of Bora Bora.
I'd been busy days earlier as we prepared to leave Raiatea, and only
half listened to Steve and Scott reading aloud about Maupilia. Remote, I
heard, only 10 people live there, excellent wildlife viewing. It sounded
fine and off we went.
That's when I learned that sailing downwind is not so easy. When the
wind is behind the boat, the sails slap and flap, forward progress
becomes agonizingly slow and the boat rolls unmercifully in side-on
swells. We ended up using the motor, a blessing in its way but still,
hot, loud and this time smelly because it sprung a diesel leak.
It wasn't what I'd had in mind for our first passage.
When we spotted the distant palms of Maupilia, I opened the cruising
guide to read about the entrance. My jaw dropped.
"Why didn't you tell me this?" I said to Steve and Scott.
"We don't have to go in," they said. "We thought we'd look at it and
Here's what the guide said: "The pass is extremely narrow and the
current the swiftest we've ever seen in the Societies, up to 8 knots. To
make matters worse, it's unmarked.
"The pass will appear as a very narrow opening (the French Pilot says 98
feet, but it looked less to us). Look for the disturbed water where the
current exits the pass. When you are in the right position, you may take
one look and change your mind about entering."
Obviously, since I'm writing from inside the lagoon, I drove through
that caldron of boiling water they call a pass, but I would never have
done it without Steve's urging.
We anchored, snorkeled a little and then collapsed in our bunks,
exhausted from the passage.
And then the mother of all electrical storms struck. All night long.
Wind, rain, lightning and thunder clobbered us, dragging our anchor and
keeping us up. But we were safely inside a lagoon. Our repeated comment
that whole stormy night was how lucky we were not to be out in the open
The day dawned clear, and the lagoon lived up to its billing: abundant
seabirds, friendly locals, great beachcombing and good snorkeling.
I'm glad I drove the boat into Maupilia Atoll. It gave me confidence and
made this leg more of what I wanted it to be.
Still, for me such decisions will never be easy. Nor are they ever over.
Now, I have to drive the boat out.