Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore cruising seminars and boat purchase consultation.

Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore cruising seminars and boat purchase consultation.

SAILING THROUGH PARADISE, Log #8

Aug. 16, 1997 0300
Position: 21.04 S, 159.35 W Log: 7012 mi. Water: 77 F, Air: 76 F
Rarotonga, Cook Islands: 12 mi. @ 228M Winds: 10 kts ESE Close Rch @ 5 kts

Tahiti and Her Islands, Shipwrecks and Buried Treasure

Our Leg 3 crew that joined us in Tahiti are:

Earl Seagars, Marine Weather Instructor from USC and OCC in LA, who taught a condensed version of 9 week weather class during this leg.

Miro Benda, 52 ex-Univ. of Wash. Math. Prof., presently Boeing engineer.

George Deane, 45, ski patrolman and lawyer from Sonora, CA, owner of a Norseman 447 who plans to soon go cruising with his wife Nina who is on our Leg 6 expedition.

Bob Franke, 44, telecommunications engineer from Seattle area who sailed to Antarctica with us in 1996.

Bob Blaine, 52 manager-engineer and sailor from SF Bay area.

Carter Smith, 54, journalist and third world humanitarian development administrator who plans to cruising on his own soon.

From Tahiti we sailed to Moorea where crew enjoyed scuba diving with sharks on the outer reef, bicycling, hiking and exploring. An overnight 90 mile passage to Huahine was a fast intro to ocean sailing with broad reaching to 9 knots - so fast that we slowed down not to arrive before dawn. Sunrise over the island, winds blowing the spray off the reef breakers like drift snow off a mountain, row after row of lush green valleys each striped with its private rainbow.

We reefed main and jib and short-tacked at 7.8 knots between the reef pass, surf pounding on either side, through the few boats anchored off the village of Fare, to drop sails and anchor in the shadow of rugged green mountains. A morning's teaching of anchorage techniques and weather systems then an afternoon of exploring ancient marae sites on the north end of the island.

The following day we set sail for Raiatea, 3.5 hrs west, choosing Faaroa Bay for our anchorage. That afternoon taking our Avon RIB tender several miles up the only "navigatable" river in Tahiti we found ourselves bordered by lush tropical growth, with exotic birds screeching and dipping low overhead, feeling like we were in some deep dark jungle. After a couple of days exploring and practicing coral navigation we sailed north to Tahaa which shares the same fringing reef as Raiatea, planning on anchoring near the pass from which we would sail in the morning for Bora Bora. Halfway across the lagoon we spotted the unmistakable and huge Beowolf, Steve and Linda Dashew's new 78' ketch, screaming our way.

We had thought they would be in the Tuamotus and departing soon for LA, but they had decided they weren't quite ready to sail home yet and they asked if we wanted to anchor and have dinner together. We did, shared a fun evening together at a tiny restaurant started by some French ex-cruisers, and made plans to trade cameras and crew the following morning for a photo shoot of the two boats sailing to Bora Bora.

The following morning was grey and misty, and it actually drizzled for the first time in a month, so we decided the photo shoot must be off, said goodbyes and sailed through impressive swells in Tahaa's western pass toward Bora Bora's majestic peaks. We weren't more than a few miles out the pass when we turned to see Beowolf's unmistakable sails and shape coming up fast on our stern. Mahina Tiare was charging along at 8 to 9 knots, but Steve and Linda passed us doing 13 knots, filming, then gibed across and circled, passing us again. Wow-what power in 75' of waterline!

Once anchored at Bora, our crew nearly tripped over each other when Linda asked if they'd like to come over to see Beowolf.

Our days and nights on Bora Bora were jam-packed with sailing, windsurfing, helping pull a 54' steel ketch off a sandbank, scuba diving with sharks, bicycling around the island, studying weather and watching an amazing and uninhibited Tahitian dance on a moonlit beach.

With time up, we sailed 30 miles west to tiny Maupiti, a miniature of Bora Bora, here we met friendly people, enjoyed great hiking and a church service where the singing was so powerful and haunting it send goosebumps down our backs.



Tahitian dancers on a while sand moonlit beach, Bora Bora.

Mopelia was out last island in French Polynesia, and had the most difficult entrance. Before arriving we spoke on the radio with Reville, a Seattle-based cutter who told us over the radio that they had nearly crashed onto the reef when running huge surf in the pass two days earlier. We arrived soon after dawn, hove-to near the pass and after launching the Avon, Carter and I ran the pass, sounding the shallow looking spots with a sounding lead and observing the current which appeared to be less than 5 knots, compared to a maximum of 8 knots. With 95 hp, lots of lookouts perched in the rigging Mahina Tiare charged in the pass with George's steady hands on the wheel. Soon after anchoring we learned from Reville of a young girl suffering from an eye infection and a pearl farmer recovering from a serious case of ciguatera fish poisoning so gathered medical supplies and headed ashore. Ten years ago when I sailed to Mopelia there were only three inhabitants, collecting and drying copra (coconut shell meat). Once ashore we learned that with the introduction of pearl farming the population had swelled to 20 - 120 people from Maupiti, depending on the seasonal work on the pearl shells.

Mopelia has long been rumored to contain several tons of gold bullion, stashed (or lost) when Count Willem Von Luckner lost his square-rigged sailing ship on the reef by the pass in WWI.


Navigating Mopelia's treacherous coral pass

Luckner had been preying on Allied shipping in the Atlantic, had hidden in Chile's Patagonian channels, then had stopped at sparsely-populated Mopelia for water and meager fresh food when a squall set the ship on the reef. Eighty years later we snorkeled out the pass in 5 knots of current over remains of the ship, and once outside the pass near the breakers swam over Sea Adler's anchors, crankshaft, prop shaft and lots of unidentifiable rusted hunks of iron, guarded by numerous black-tipped sharks and hundred of vividly-colored tropical fish.

Gaining heavy weather experience is an important reason for many of our expedition members joining us. On this leg Miro Benda was especially interested in seeing how he would cope with heavy wind and sea conditions, and within hours of sailing from Mopelia for Rarotonga, 350 miles SW the winds built steadily to 36 knots and seas to over 15 feet. Miro was delighted, Mahina Tiare loved it, reeling off close to 200 miles per day, but a couple of the crew "tossed their cookies"! Slowly conditions moderated until at dawn this morning when we sighted Atiu Is. winds were down to 10 knots. Atiu is the third largest of the Cook Islands, has 1200 inhabitants, but no protected harbor or bays to anchor in. As we sailed close by the rugged coast we found a spot where there was 40' depths a few boat lengths off the reef and carefully anchored (but left the engine running) long enough to have a quick snorkel-swim and shower. The water was crystal clear and two huge humpback whales breached repeatedly near the boat.

It's now 0330 Aug. 16 and Rarotonga, our final destination is visible 15 miles ahead in the nearly full moonlight. I can't believe how fast these past three weeks have passed!

Our next expedition leg will be particularly interesting because Dr. Wolfgang Losacker of the Cook Is. Ministry of Health will be joining us in Penrhyn where he will conduct a medical survey of all the inhabitants, before sailing with us to Manihiki and Rakahanga for similar medical surveys. This will be the third time since 1981 that we have taken him to isolated islands in the Cooks to conduct medical surveys and deliver medical supplies. On our last visit we were able to deliver over 5,000 toothbrushes, enough for every child in the country as a follow-up to a program Wolfgang started 20 years ago of having each classroom brush their teeth in the lagoon after lunch.

Toothbrushes aren't available on all of the outlying islands, and the toothbrushes we have collected have made a difference! This year our Leg 4 crew are bringing 500 toothbrushes down next week, donated by Leg 6 member (and dentist), Dr. Cheryl Rice. We hope to do the same next year, so if you know of any sources of sample or surplus toothbrushes, please let us know!

To The Next Log Entry:
Log #9 - 8/18/97

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