At 0750 we dropped our mooring pennant and left the beautiful but overly touristy Bora Bora. Exiting the atoll’s only pass, large enough for cruise ships, we raised the singled-reefed main and mizzen. We set the staysail and double-reefed the main as it was a little windier then we first thought. The four-hour sail to Maupiti felt as if it took a lot longer because my sister, Molly, and I had to spend that time doing our schoolwork. At five miles away we could already see the prominent swells breaking against the outer coral reefs and motus. Approaching Maupiti’s south end, we could make out the narrow pass into what looked like the world’s largest, bluest, clearest swimming pool. I couldn’t wait! Going through the pass was a little nerve-wracking for my parents, but I didn’t realize that until later, as I was too busy thinking about everything I wanted to do.
Once anchored off the small town of Vaiea, we hurriedly threw the sail covers on. We lowered our dinghy Waka (Maori for small boat) and went ashore. At a combined fish/bakery shop, my sister and I convinced our parents that we should experience the local culture by trying a piece of cherry chocolate cake. While very delicious, one could taste a faint fishy flavor.
Walking down a quiet street, I wondered if this was the actual town. It was hard to tell. We were in search of ancient petroglyphs or rock engravings we had read about in a cruising guide. A small sign pointed to the start of the path leading to them. We started up the trail and, as is typical, my family walked right past them and up the path about 30 minutes too far. After deciding we had missed them, we turned around, but Molly and my dad had run ahead. They didn’t know that we had turned back; we had no clue how long they would be.
As it happens, the petroglyphs were only five minutes from the start of the path. We had missed a small arrow pointing down a side path. I’ve seen quite a few petroglyphs, but these were by far are the coolest. There was a very large turtle across one boulder and smaller Polynesian symbols of flowers and birds. I love old things! Standing there, I could imagine the carvers wearing lots of feathers and woven palm leaves chiseling stone tools against the rocks.
While we were waiting for my dad, my mom, our friend Di and I decided to walk further down the road. We came upon a gate constructed of large pieces of reef coral and stuck together with cement. It was very impressive. My mom immediately took out her camera to start taking pictures. She was about to take the first of many snaps when we heard a strongly accented voice saying “No photos ‘til I’m done, no photos ‘til I’m done.” The large gate opened, and a short man walked out. “Hello my name is Ah-ky Firuu, famous musician.” For a famous musician he was dressed pretty casually in swim shorts with a sarong around his dreadlocked head and no shoes.
He invited us in for a tour of his shell house, but repeated “no pictures” as it wasn’t finished. His whole house had shells, coral, and cement forming the walls, tables, and even the sink. It would not have been very child-friendly with sharp “sept droit,” French for seven finger conchs, sticking out of the walls. I tried not to touch anything because it looked quite fragile. He lead us out back to a bench at the edge of the lagoon and said he would play us some of his hit songs. We were captivated.
He began with a local Polynesian song, then surprised us with the Elvis song “Blue Suede Shoes.” My mom was trying to convince him to sing a song for the audio diaries we did for NPR Radio saying it would be heard in America. His face lit up, and when he got the mike, he didn’t want to let it go. It was pretty obvious by then that he had a small crush on my mom and even wrote a song for her. It went “mooloka ooka mooka Jesssssiiiicaaa mooloka ooka mooka Jesssssiiiicaaaa.” When he said, “I am all alone here,” I figured it was time to find my dad. It turns out that he was just outside the gate with Molly looking for us. We went back behind the house, heard one more Elvis impression, took a few pictures, and left.
The people of Vaiea were so friendly. We were given a bunch of bananas, some pamplemousse, a couple of mangos, and some other tropical fruits. My dad also got offered some drugs, from a nice elderly couple wearing their Sunday best, but he politely declined. The rest of our crew had taken a walk around the small island. We met up at the dinghy and motored back to Elcie. We picked up the anchor and moved over to the loveliest aquamarine-colored water and prepared to drop. Unsure of how deep it was, my mother jumped in with mask and snorkel to scout ahead. It turns out we could get right up in the middle. Thank goodness for our three-foot draft.
From some locals, we heard that it was possible to swim with giant manta rays at a certain spot in the lagoon. We were instructed to go around 1100 when the rays groom themselves on the coral heads. So the following day, at 1045, we hopped in the dinghy and headed over. Seeing nothing at first, we were somewhat dubious. All we could see were some fish and coral bommies about 30 feet down. Not giving up, we swam around for about 15 more minutes seeing nothing. I had a feeling this might turn out like another one of my family’s “adventures.” Then, from out of the darkness, what looked like six, huge black and white sheets came swimming toward us.
Molly dove until she was about two feet away from their gaping mouths. I was more cautious but still very curious. I mean, how many times do you get to swim with manta rays? They were amazing, gliding like giant prehistoric birds. Small remora hid under their massive wings. We probably swam with them for 30 minutes. They did not appear to have any fear of us. It was the most exciting snorkeling I had ever done.
After a big lunch we had to get underway so we could exit the pass at slack tide. Also, the wind was right to head for Rarotonga, 450 miles away where our crew was departing. It was so sad to leave our little island paradise, the Polynesian prince, all the manta rays, and every other treasure Maupiti offered. My parents were already planning a trip back and want to stay at least a week next time. Check out our website elcieexpeditions.com to see where our travels take us and join us for some adventures. There are always plenty in my family!
About the Author: Emma Johnson (13) sails on her family’s expedition sailing catamaran Elcie. When not doing her homeschool studies, she is a capable deckhand and keen adventurer. Emma did her first offshore passage at three months and is considering a career as a yacht captain. is currently spending her second season sailing in the South Pacific.