Piroque Sailing in Baie d’Upi

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Over the years of our numerous visits to Ile des Pins, our friend Cleo has been encouraging us to sail aboard a traditional outrigger canoe in the Baie d'Upi, which is otherwise off limits to tourists. During past visits, we have not had such an extended period of fine weather as we are experiencing this year.

Cleo booked the four of us on a piroque owned, built and skippered by a local Kunie man named Momo. On a Saturday, after a quick trip to the Marché, Cleo delivered us to Saint Joseph Bay, where the local fishermen have anchored their outrigger canoes. Just ashore, there were several piroques under construction. We watched Momo as he hoisted his lateen sail and then used a long pole to position the stern of the boat so that we could board without having to wade in water more than about two feet deep.

Momo motored our vessel through a long, shallow, sandy channel to where the bay opened up to reveal a beautiful native forest-lined shoreline surrounding stunning blue water, sparkling in the sunshine. We passed native Heron sitting on its nest that had been built on top of a large rock, surrounded by the clear water. Off in the distance were dozens of large coral islets, that had been undercut by the sea to form mushroom-shapes on the tops of which native shrubbery was luxuriating. The wind filled in from astern and we glided along, with a few other piroques in the distance. The mast and boom of the piroque were made of long, flexible poles from a native tree. The lower end of the boom formed a fork which hooked onto the base of the mast so that it could rotate freely with the sail. The sail was professionally made of modern sail cloth. The sails were lashed to the spars with orange polypropylene line.

Momo steered the boat with a long pole rudder, while he played the sail with a two part tackle resting across his lap. Mount Pic N'ga was visible on the horizon, above the Columnaris pine trees. We sailed close enough to the Mushroom-shaped coral islets to see how perfectly level the seas had carved the bases, presently a few meters above the water level. It was a perfect, fine day with cumulus clouds scattered above and good lighting for our photographs.

After three hours, we returned to St. Joseph Bay, where we boarded our reserved taxi for a quick trip back to Cleo's house to collect our purchases from the Marché, including two fat crabs that Tony was storing for us, during which time one had escaped from its bag and Brigitte had to chase it across her garden.


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