*Warning to Crystal and Kevin: You should probably just skip the next few posts.*
We were going to skip Maupiti. The pass from the ocean into the Maupiti lagoon is notoriously harrowing, especially in a Southerly swell. We were running out of time on our 90 day visa, and there still wasn’t much clarity from the Gendarmerie regarding whether we could check out of Bora Bora and then go to Maupiti or not. So, we were planning just to leave from Bora Bora and head to Roratonga in the Cook Islands. But, the weather answered this question for us.
The wind was forecasted to be from the East, with a minimal swell for the remainder of our day. Then, it was scheduled to increase to gale force winds the next day. The swell was going to grow and turn Southerly. The trip to Rorotonga is a four to five day passage, so if we left, we would be stuck in some nasty weather. We had just enough time to sail over to Maupiti and settle in.
We had a rainy sail over and we could tell the weather forecast was going to be accurate. Nonetheless, when we saw the Maupiti pass, we considered just carrying on anyway. The pass is only the width of maybe three Sonrisas, side by side. On the right and the left are shallow coral beds where even the minimal swell gathers up into mountains that roll over on top of themselves. We can see deep blue ocean transform to turquoise and white foam from a mile outside the pass.
I am not being neurotic here. There is nothing more dangerous to a fiberglass sailboat than the nasty combination of a breaking wave onto coral. If one those breaking waves catches Sonrisa in its curl, she could be thrown onto the coral and smashed to pieces. We circle at a safe distance and think: what could go wrong? Current could pull us to the right or to the left, the helmsman could lose attention for just a moment, or most concerning, the engine could fail. As we consider these possibilities, we look around. The pass between the breaking waves is calm and flat aside from little ripples that look like a river current. All of them are pointing straight out at us, so we feel reasonably certain the current won’t pull us away. Andrew will be posted on the bow as coral spotter, so I won’t have to look around. My only job will be to keep Sonrisa pointed straight and true unless Andrew instructs otherwise. The wind is from the east, and the pass is facing South. This means that if the engine cuts out, we would be able to pull out a sail and carry forward without too much trouble. We decide to do it.
(See how we did that, Dad? T-R-A-C-K)
Okay, enough; time to execute. As we go, I wonder if Sonrisa has been here before, or if her prior owners were too prudent to take her through this pass. The roar of breaking waves to both sides is deafening, but Sonrisa and I stay focused on where we want to go. The current is flowing at two knots against us, but her engine easily handles that push and we slide through at 4 knots. The process seemed to take forever, but I’m sure were through the sticky spot in less than 10 minutes. We were in. We will worry about getting out later.
Once in, red and green markers guide us through a twisting path around shallow spots and coral heads. Andrew is still posted at the bow, the sun is bright now and we can easily see where to turn. We snake through the channel and over to an anchorage filled with boats. We drop our anchor in white sand, play out as much “storm scope” as we can without swinging into other boats or coral and settle in.
We head to shore to explore and discover a cute little town. The island is small enough that you can walk around the entire thing in just a few hours. We walk far enough around the island to watch an amazing sunset. On our return trip, we push through a tide of locals. “Ia Orana, Ia Orana, Ia Orana, Ia Orana….” Every single passer by greets us. “Ia Orana, Ia Orana, Ia Orana.” As we pass the church, scooters, bikes and a few cars are congregating in the small parking lot.
We come upon the local hippie. His hair gray in Rasta dreads locks. His face creased with smile lines, and a small radio is strapped around his neck playing regge. His bare feet shuffle in the sand and shells on the side of the road. He smiles and offers to share his smoky religious exhalation. En Francais, he explains that “Everyone in the world is God’s children, and his smoky treat would let you see the face of God.” He waves his arms broadly toward the sky, blissfully kissing his two fingers and sending them skyward. “Merci, Mon Dieu, merci!” He smiles at us, but we decline. He can hardly believe we don’t want to see the face of God today, but then he shrugs as if to say “your loss!” Then he giggles and thanks us profusely for stopping to say hello.
We hear there is a party scheduled for Friday night at the one local restaurant. Buffet, Tahiti Punch, “Polynesian show” and dancing into the wee hours. $25.00/pp. We can’t leave on a Friday anyway! This could be good, so we sign up and pay our fees.
Early the next morning, Jonas the Swede pokes his head over the life rails and inquires as to our intentions for snorkeling. It is calm, but a little overcast. There is a manta cleaning station inside the pass. This cleaning station is supposed to be even better than the one in Bora Bora because it is shallow and located in white sand. The mantas are easier to see and much closer. We couldn’t wait. We pile our gear into Grin, invite Jonas aboard and putter off.
At first, all we could find is this awesome Nudibranch.
But, soon, we find this:
Magic. These guys are so silent and calm, it slows your soul down just to watch them. They circle above little coral heads with their mouths open, letting little fish swim inside to clean them off. We float at the surface and watch, sometimes with Mantas coming so close to us that we could reach down and touch their wings. We don’t, though. We don’t want to scare them away.
Andrew wants a picture of himself with a manta, and this is the best we could do because he just couldn't get into position.
We could stay with the mantas all day long, but we can see dark skies approaching.
At 9:45 a.m. the wind suddenly shifts 180 degrees and begins blowing hard. Whitecaps start to form even inside the protected lagoon, smacking us in our goggled faces and splashing down our snorkels. We look toward the anchorage and all the boats are facing the exact opposite way they were when we left. This is a recipe for boats to drag. So, we decide it is time to head back and check our ground tackle (anchor/chain/springy snubbers/chafe protection).
In the anchorage, we find Sonrisa’s snubber (See FTN 1) has worked itself loose and she is hanging on the chain and anchor alone. This is fine for a minute, but if we leave it too long we run the risk of snapping our anchor chain. We were glad we came back to check. We fixed that little problem, then Andrew dove the anchor to make sure it isn’t sitting on top of the sand. Indeed, the fancy oversized anchor Andrew bought me for my 34th birthday had rotated all the way around and dug itself even deeper into the sand than it was before. Best. Birthday. Present. Ever.
No, this isn’t a vacuum.
Everyone spends the rest of the day on their boats. The wind is ripping. Our wind generator howls with delight. We make enough power to run the water maker, vacuum sealer, and my computer all day long. Every time we poke our head up to check the scene, we see sailors donning foul weather gear just to drive their dinghys. Every boat has a sailor posted on deck, watching to see if someone is going to drag or if they are dragging. Sailors pace their foredecks, making sure their chafe protection (FTN 2) is doing its job. Three boats radio in that they are going to try the pass. Two make it through, but the third is forced to turn back to Bora Bora. It’s just too rough. White capping waves move through the anchorage, and we can only imagine how big the seas are out there.
Warm and cozy inside Sonrisa with some slow but workable internet, I catch up on the blog. Andrew replaces the fuel filter, cleans the water maker filter, and checks Sonrisa’s oil and transmission fluids. It turned out to be quite a relaxing day.
FTN 1: Snubber: is a rubber spring that connects the chain to one of Sonrisa’s cleats. It gives little bounce to the chain so that when Sonrisa moves up and down in the waves, she doesn’t yank on the firm and unforgiving chain. If the snubber breaks or falls off, Sonrisa is still tightly held by her anchor and chain, but if you leave it like this for too long in rough weather you run a greater risk of snapping the chain.
FTN 2: Chafe Protection: We use ropes to tie the snubber to Sonrisa’s anchor chain. Those ropes are fed through a hole in Sonrisa’s bow (hauspipe), then they are tied onto a strong cleat. When Sonrisa bounces and moves in the waves, the rope rubs against the hauspipe. It does not take long for the edges of the hauspipe to start sawing through the rope, eventually causing it to break. To prevent this problem, we string the rope through the center of a rubber plumbing hose or a fire hose. This prevents the sharp edges from cutting the rope and all stays tight and secure.