Maupiti and our passage to Palmerstone reef

SV Jenny
Alan Franklin/Lynne Gane
Fri 31 Jul 2015 21:47
Dear Family and Friends,
29th July 2015
Maupiti western French Polynesia is almost the last outpost of the country, a quiet island and with its palm lined encircling motus. Life here for its 1200 inhabitants is blessed by its connection to France. Without this I can not imagine it would have a La Poste office, a bank that opens once a month (on a Friday late in the month), an infirmary, a school, pompiers, (firemen), a marie (town hall), and a gendarmerie, a road perched on the islands edge, a gas station, a dock for the all important supply boat deliveries, and not least a small airstrip  straddling the outer motu and lagoon.
We landed our dingy in the main town of Pauma on the island of Tiriano beside the post office. A daily market with fresh locally grown fruit and vegetables and locally caught fish takes place beside it, although you couldn’t really hope to do last minute provisioning here. There are a couple of food shops, a bakery that runs out of bread before 8 am and a closed hardware shop that said it no longer took credit. Perhaps it was closed down, its hard to see how you could make a living here and we supposed it must be a ‘on tic’ economy. There are plenty of young people here and like the Pied Piper, they followed the pompiers truck to a gathering by the school at the end of the mayor’s clean up our island day, today. Nice to see civic pride, although it seemed to be the older folks doing the clean up!
There are a few pick up trucks here, its small size not withstanding, but most transport is by bicycle and scooter. If a circumnavigation of Bora Bora takes 45 minutes by car, this is be even quicker. On foot it is a 3 hour walk. The island is just 3.9 sq. miles.The houses cling mainly to the edges of the steep inclines and on land reclaimed from the lagoon, either side of the road. Like many places we have seen, the house are low constructions of block and boarding topped with a corrugated roof. The island was entirely devastated by a cyclone in 1997, all the present buildings have been rebuilt. There are telecommunications here, some Wi-Fi and a few satellite dishes. Like much of French Polynesia there are probably more boats per family than any other form of transport.
Life on the motu must be very different, with no running water and electricity, in the main a shanty town of shacks and an occasional ‘house’. I get the feeling these are simply erected when a new shelter is needed. Locals fish from the lagoon, discarded shellfish litter the foreshores. I am not sure whether they have any problems with ciguatera poisoning. This is caused by an algae which grows on damaged coral in the Tropics. This is eaten by the reef fish who in turn are eaten by fish higher up the food chain, concentrating the poison. Symptoms of the ciguatera poisoning are like food poisoning, can last for many weeks with neurological symptoms lasting longer. All very unpleasant and best avoided.
Our guides relate that the island was among the first settled around 850 AD during the Polynesian migration from the west, towards the east. The oldest marea is on a Maupiti motu, but we are all marea’ed out so with Anne and Jonathan from Sofia, we decided to climb the highest peak, Mt Te’urafa’atiu at 1250’ because of the views across the lagoon. Boy was it some climb! The concrete steps were easy to find, a short distance from the dingy dock, but very quickly this gave out to a steep dirt trail, with loose soil and rocks and short near vertical sections. We were soon using all 4 limbs, holding onto the stout saplings, tree roots and rock edges. We came to an opening in the tree cover a third of the way up and the view was good but for some reason the rest of the climb beckoned, we couldn’t just give up there! After another hour or so we emerged just under an immense overhanging outcrop with a rope to help you up the next section. The view from here was good enough for me, I didn’t need to start using a rope! With all the tension in the knees for the descent, we made it back down carefully without mishap. Great pictures though!
There is a Manta Ray protected zone just inside the lagoon so with reported sightings of 10’+ rays we dingyed over there. Sadly we only saw a small Stingray but it was a nice swim. We were lucky enough to have caught sight of these graceful creatures in Fatu Hiva.
Thursday 30th July
We slipped our mooring and made for the entrance to the lagoon, in daylight twice as stressful as in the dark! Some of the channels were very narrow. The idea was to transit the pass at solar high water, 12 noon. There is very little lunar tidal effect. However the swell in the pass was 3+m and horrible, much like a washing machine, we had had an easier time at dusk on entry. Mercifully it is only a short section before the open water. With confused seas and something of a quartering swell, my favourite, we rolled from side to side in wide swings. Before long my lack of sleep and the motion had me reaching for the stugeron. You would think after all these sea miles, I would have gained ‘sea legs’ but no. Barely awake sitting up I was completely comatose in the horizontal!
We watched the shape of Maupiti disappear below the horizon before finally vanishing at sunset. For a brief while we could see the outline of Boar Bora some 50+ miles away at the time, before it too disappeared into the cloud. A full moon rose just before a fiery orange sunset, beautiful against the deepening pinks, and palest gold and blue.
Our course took us past the last atoll, Maupihaa. Residents in Maupiti ask visiting yachtsmen to drop off food supplies to their relatives living on this atoll, now this really must be the edge of life. We didn’t get to see it as we past it at around 4 am. And now it is open ocean for about 780 miles west to Palmerstone reef, an isolated atoll. Our path takes us between the widely dispersed North and South Cook islands and from whose authorities we have asked permission to stop on a mooring at Palmerstone. The tales of Palmerstone to come!
There is another atoll, Suwarrow, on the northerly route to Samoa. A report from an OCC cruiser in the last few days suggests it is not a good place to stop. With an all coral seabed, the cruisers anchor became stuck fast and it took him 2 hours to free it, including having to dive in shark territory. Apparently he always had half a dozen sharks around his boat which don’t usually bother humans but the lagoon was also home to Tiger sharks which do, must have been nerve racking for him.
Friday 31st July
Who says it is always blue skies in the tropics? The sun barely made a pale yellow glow under the low blanket of cloud, its quite chilly (relatively speaking), but we are making good progress 15 knots of SE winds. A modest 24 hour run of 130 NM with light winds over night. It looks to be a 3-4 day run to Palmerstone.
On the food front I am greatly enjoying growing our own sprouting salads, makes a nice change to the usual.
We are settling down to on board routine again, all our best,
Lynne and Alan