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Leg 3 - 2003 Rarotonga - Pago Pago

Update 1
Surfing Through the Night
July 23, 2003 2200 hrs 18.25S, 161.41W Log: 69,187 Baro: 1014 Cabin Temp: 83F
Broad reaching at 7.6 kts in 25-28kt E winds. Double reefed main and headsail, 14' seas

Of all the islands that we visit in the South Pacific, Rarotonga is the hardest to leave. We really love the island, and her friendly and outgoing people. We enjoyed catching up with old friends and making new ones. The public market next to the harbor Saturday mornings is always jam packed with locals and sprinkled with a few tourists. Every type of fruit, vegetable, herb was available, as well as fresh fish, hot lunch plates and black pearls. It seems that half the island turns up to shop and visit while enjoying the live local music.

Since the annual Constitution Days celebration are just a week away, the outer island traditional dance groups have started arriving. Manihiki, in the Northern Cooks is the wealthiest of the outer islands thanks to their black pearl industry, and they chartered an inter-island ship to bring down half the population of 600 people who all wore smart matching polo shirts to the market where they organized dancing exhibitions. It was fun seeing the local boys from Manihiki walking around town in awe, their hair slicked back with coconut oil, dressed up with long pants and matching shirts but walking around barefoot with rugged feet more accustomed to climbing coconut trees and walking on coral than wearing shoes.

In contrast to Tahiti where the hotels were nearly empty and visitor counts have plummeted, Raro is bustling, with locals building new houses and small sets of bungalows for visitors.

Present Rarotonga Harbor
Finding a dinner reservation or an empty room in a bungalow or small hotel can be a challenge and we were told there is no longer an "off" season. Prices are still surprisingly reasonable. A simple waterfront bungalow costs $55 US a night, and an excellent dinner at Trader Jack's $15. It is great that everything is locally owned, small and within bicycle distance.

It was surprising and exciting to see the harbor extension that Harbourmaster John Fallon had

Rartonga Harbour extension
spoken about last year, nearly completed. Constructed entirely by a local contractor who had four diggers and several dump trucks working seven days a week, it will double the capacity for fishing boats and yachts in this tiny and often crowded port. The controlling depth is 4 meters and plans include a floating loading dock and hopefully (eventually) a Travelift and dry storage.

We're off to a flying start for Leg 3. We could have pushed our orientation and left Monday night after crew joined us, but instead we did a thorough job of orientation, enjoyed a fun dinner

William Marsters delivers supplies for Palmerston
ashore at Trader Jack's and left Tuesday after lunch. Just before we left, William Marsters, a direct descendent of the Englishman by the same name who settled Palmerston Atoll in 1868 with his three wives, brought down lots of supplies for us to carry to his relatives. Mahina Tiare's showers are jammed with pampers, eggs, papayas, rice, sugar, and who knows what else in the boxes we are carrying. William brought down three large stalks of bananas, one Palmerston, and two for us. We told him we could only use one, so he will sell the other stalk at the market.

Leaving Raro we had beam winds of 20-25 and we sought to gain some easting, as the winds were forecast to back around to the north. We sailed of the way to Aitutaki, located 130 miles north of Raro, before turning to broad reach on a direct course for Palmerston. The winds have hardly budged out of the east, so now we are broad reaching. With just 85 miles to go, we hope to make landfall in early afternoon. Since the winds are forecast to back to the N then W today, the normally tenuous anchorage may not be possible. I just hope we can at least unload their supplies safely, we will soon see.

July 28, 2003 2300 19.38S, 168.39W Log: 69,613 Baro: 1016 Cabin Temp: 80F Motorsailing toward Niue Island, 8kt SE wind, clear skies, millions of stars overhead


By the time we arrived at Palmerston, the winds had shifted to the north and with 15-18 knots of wind blowing parallel to the reef, there was a fair chop in the anchorage off the pass. Bill Marsters met us in his aluminum skiff, indicated where we should drop anchor, and Amanda jumped in with fins and goggles to guide us to the best possible spot. The bottom is 100% coral, and the trick is not to drop the anchor in a hole or wrap the chain around a coral head, making it difficult to retrieve. We have found that visually guiding the dropping of the anchor from someone in the water is a huge help in tricky anchorages like Palmerston.

As soon as we were anchored, Bill came alongside and we started emptying the showers (great storage places!) of Pampers, oranges, a large box of eggs, bananas and food staples. Crew and Amanda enjoyed a day ashore while I stood anchor watch, caught up on a few chores and went snorkeling, all the time keeping a close eye on the wind and anchorage, as the lee shore was just a few boat lengths astern. The water clarity was stunning, with well over 120' visibility. A young and inquisitive green sea turtle swam right up to me, and dozens of parrotfish cruised by, unafraid.

Amanda

Viewing the graves on Palmerston
Shore time on Palmerston is a rather surreal break from being at sea. We unloaded Bill's supplies on the sandy beach but he said not to bother carrying them to the house, he'd collect them with the tractor later. We wandered down the sandy coconut tree lined avenue and admired the new church and old weatherboard house of the founder of the island, William Marsters. Situated next to the church are the large white graves of the important island inhabitants and we took a moment to studied the elaborate headstones and wonder at a life lived on such a small island.


Palmerston Yacht Club

Bill opens cold green coconuts for us

Onegirl, Metua and 3 month old Nad


After a refreshing cold coconut drink the next order

Parrot fish
for crew was a swim in the lagoon and welcome showers. Once again Bill and Metua who run the Palmerston Yacht Club were very hospitable offering us everything from coffee and cookies to parrot fish and ice cream. We enjoyed an afternoon of chatting and socializing and I enjoyed baby-sitting their 3-month-old son Nad. In the afternoon Metua took us on and a wander around the

A friendly tour guide
island to the points of interest such as the satellite card phone and school. Kevin, the English school teacher whom we'd met last year had left the island and soon after him the 10 computers he'd established in the classroom. There is now only one forlorn computer sitting on a pile of books on the corner of the room, the new local teacher just shook her head at it.

We visited the four prominent island families on the island and greeted everyone with hand shakes and cheek kisses telling our names and commenting on their late afternoon activities of cleaning parrot fish for shipping to Rarotonga, cooking, home work and yard sweeping. Island life seemed the follow its old rhythmic dance as the sun began to mellow in the afternoon sky and the tiare bushes gained their second scent after the heat of the midday sun...it was time for our farewells and although our hours ashore were brief, the memories of a special place and it's friendship will linger.


Before I knew it, Amanda called on the handheld VHF radio, saying that they were loading up and would be back to the boat by 1630. We left the anchorage soon after and were under sail for Beveridge Reef, 290 miles WSW. The wind continued to shift to the NW, W, then SW, but the squalls in the front had less than 25 knots, no lightning, and only light rain. As we closed on

Yachties map of Beveridge Reef
Beveridge Reef, the winds dropped to 10kts and were directly on the bow, so we motorsailed the last miles in, arriving at 1530, in good daylight visibility for coral piloting. We hoped to see the mast of at least one other boat, but found ourselves alone in the pristine, mid-ocean reef. As it was near high tide, there were only breakers visible, no land, and not even any reef visible. We were using a hand-drawn chart supplied by John Fallon, the Rarotonga Harbourmaster and aimed across the lagoon for where the shipwreck we enjoyed exploring last year was located. There was nothing visible! This 90' fiberglass fishing boat from Seattle that had stood as the only landmark on Beverdige Reef for nearly 20 years had simply disappeared!

Yesterday we all piled in the dinghy with masks, fins and snorkels, and went looking for it. We found half the hull and the pilothouse in different places, and out on the reef found the compressors, ballast, shaft and lots of junk. Beveridge is the perfect place for covering lots of instruction - calm anchorage and few distractions, so we really covered a lot of teaching: coastal navigation, rig check, rebuilding three winches, three strand and double braid splicing and cruising medicine.

Today, as we were finishing with instruction, we sighted two sails in the distance, and spoke

Catamaran Alice approaching Beveridge Reef as we were leaving
with a Downeast 38 arriving from Rarotonga and a large catamaran arriving from Aitutaki. Just as we were getting ready to leave, Amanda was swimming laps and crew all decided to have a swim and shower. I tossed out the food scraps that Amanda had in the galley so I could wash the bowls, and the 3' shark that had been often around the boat, but on the bottom was joined by a 6' MUCH more curious shark. I have never seen everyone clear out of the water so quickly.

The 136-mile passage to Niue that we are now making started with some quiet broad reaching at 5-6 knots, but now the wind has died to 6-7 knots, so we are motorsailing. We are all hoping for the chance to use our new cruising spinnaker at first light, and to catch our third fish (it's wahoo time) as we make landfall at Niue.




Update 2
Leg 3-2003
Sailing Close-hauled on a Starlit Night
August 2, 2003 0130 hrs 17.55S, 170.19W Log: 69,772 Baro: 1010- Cabin Temp: 83F
Close-hauled on starboard tack at 6kts boat speed in 12 knots NNE wind.


"Whales, right over there", Marilyn shouted excitedly when we were in the middle of Lifesling overboard practice just after slipping our mooring at Niue. We had been awoken at 0200 two nights earlier by heavy breathing and splashing as a huge humpback surfaced right next to Mahina Tiare, and Kevin, the owner of Dive Niue said they had been regularly sighting humpbacks on dive trips, but we had pretty much given up hope on seeing one during our visit until Marilyn's sighting. Everyone, almost in unison said, "Can we sail over there?" after the sighting, so that was the end of Lifesling practice.


Mother whale at Niue Anchorage
We sighted a mother, longer than MT and a very small calf, perhaps 10' long close abeam, and tacked over to have a closer look. Whale watching guidelines ask for 100 meter separation which we tried to maintain, until mother and calf swum directly under us, with the calf surfacing just a boat length away. We could see the mother, directly under her baby. The calf was gray colored, unlike the black coloration of her mother, and her ribbed skin looked shiny and rubbery, without the barnacles of mature humpbacks. Amanda called Dive Niue and Kevin brought his large inflatable over, keeping a respectful distance. The crew of a South African catamaran that was preparing for a dive with Kevin got an excellent view, as did the crews of the six yachts on the moorings. What a great close to a wonderful three-night stay on Niue.


M.T approaching Niue

Spectacular Niue coastline

Niue landing and Alofi township


We were surprised to see only seven yachts on the 20 moorings when we arrived at Niue Tuesday morning, instead of the 23 or so boats that had been there last year. The friendly young Customs official that came out to clear us in confirmed that they are having considerably fewer yachts visit this year, but enthusiastically told us that the new Polynesian Airlines direct flights from Auckland and Apia had really helped their tiny tourist industry. Remember, Niue is the smallest nation on earth, with a resident population of under 1,000, compared to the 35,000 Niueans that have left for the brighter lights of Auckland and Sydney.

The Customs chap also told us that the owner of the Kiwi yacht Quintessa had been bitten by a shark while snorkeling at Beveridge, he laughing said that it was pretty funny as the shark got him on the butt. Amanda (still upset about her shark encounter) enquired further and discovered that he needed 75 stitches and that the shark also bit his torso.

Our first stop ashore was the tiny, one-woman run tourist office in the town square, where they have a white board listing what is going on, everything from sports events to tours. Wednesday night was Hakupu village tour, feast and children's dance, and Amanda got everyone to sign up. We were not disappointed!

Previously we had only seen Niuean dancing on the South Pacific Arts Festival video, so Amanda didn't want to miss the chance to see their dancing first hand. Mary Saunders, our friend who owns Alofi Rentals sent a van to pick us up at 5pm, and her driver Misa, drove us across the island and then turned out to be the tour guide as he told the three vanloads of mostly Kiwi visitors the history of his village where the feast was held. Misa told us that the women of the village started presenting the feasts and dancing ten years ago, and were eager to continue the tradition, as long as a minimum of ten visitors could be rounded up each Wednesday night.


Misa describing when and who beats the village drum

Niue's famous one and only stone house


After the tour of the village, we were shown into an abandoned school classroom (the schools have been centralized into one in town now, instead of in each village) that had been decorated with palm fronds and flowers. We were welcomed with flowers and chilled drinking coconuts, and then

Haupku village band

Ladies describing dinner, starting with coconut crab

Harry and Scott load up their leaf plates
the band (village young people and ladies on guitars, ukuleles and string bass) tuned up. Eight ladies had made dinner and it had taken them all day to gather, prepare and cook the food, wrapped in banana leaves, in underground ovens, heated with coals and hot rocks. This was the most extensive spread of traditional Polynesian food either Amanda or I have ever seen. There were tables lined end-to-end, 40' long and covered with fish, pork, chicken, coconut crab, shellfish, taro, papaya, taro leaves, plantain bananas, manioc, ferns, kumula (sweet potato) and pulsami (corned beef and taro leaves). Most dishes had been prepared in two ways, one plain and the other with coconut milk.

After dinner 30 school kids, aged 4-12 danced in, ornately dressed in local costume of tropical cloth and palm fronds. The kids performed a dozen dances with amazing intensity, and then at least one child invited each visitor to dance with them. It was a magical evening, and the pride in their culture and tradition radiated powerfully.


Let the dancing begin

Full tilt dancing

Ladies gather for a farewell photo
The daytimes were busy with class only the first day, then plenty of time for exploring the many limestone caves, snorkeling in the crystal-clear water and cycling. Tom rented a motorcycle and met a local artist, Scott rented a bike, cycled across the island then went on a cave tour and Randy, Marilyn and Harry rented a car and circumnavigated the island. It was nice to have a little break so people could do their own exploring.

The more we get to know about Niue, the more we admire the 1000 people who have not left, and are eager to maintain their language, culture and art. It is always poignant and a little sad leaving

Togo chasm
the special islands of Polynesia.

This morning we were up at 0540 to launch the dinghy and head into the weekly Friday morning public market. We were told that it now starts in the dark at 0430! Things were starting to wind down by 0630, but we found freshly picked lettuce, great scones and Scott bought a pineapple pie for the boat. The excitement and sense of community was unmistakable as everyone was laughing and

Market shopping
talking as 1950's Australian Bing Crosby summer beach type music blared over speakers.

We are all ready looking forward to our visit next year on Leg 5-2004.

Now we're sailing close-hauled with a NNE wind, and just over 200 miles to Pago Pago, American Samoa. With just 12 knots of wind seas are fairly calm and we are making good progress. There are a million stars out tonight and Scott saw a falling star that exploded into a burst of light when hitting the horizon.

Here's our Leg 3-2003 crew:


Tom on the lookout during Samoa landfall
Tom Gant, 56 is a retired plastic surgeon, originally from Canada, now living in the Seattle area. He recently sold his J-24 and is considering purchasing a Nauticat motorsailer.


Scott enjoying the village feast
Scott Harkey, 47 is an architect from Seattle who sold his practice and took a year off to cruise from Seattle to Cartagena, Columbia, then to Mississippi with his wife, Debbie aboard their Saga 43. Scott is checking out the Pacific as he and Debbie hope to cruise here one day. Debbie will be joining us on the next leg.


Randy ready to go aloft

Marilyn keeps M.T shipshape
Randy Witt, 38 and Marilyn Bailey, 42 have a new Hallberg-Rassy 43 that will soon be on its way from Sweden and will be displayed in the Annapolis Boat Show this August. They have sold their home in New Jersey and are looking forward to a one-year sabbatical cruise to the Caribbean and Med. Randy is an executive recruiter and Marilyn specializes in finding homes for employees being relocated to New Jersey. Their previous boat was an Ericson 38.


Harry takes a shot
Harry Witt, 63 recently retired from Deloitte Touche and often sails and skis with Randy and Marilyn. He has already volunteered for the ocean passages of their cruise and joins us to gain offshore experience. A long-time sailor and boat owner, Harry recently sold his Ericson 38 (matching boats with Randy and Marilyn) and now has a Hobie Cat in Naples, Florida and a lobster boat on Buzzard's Bay near Boston. Oh, and he also rides a Harley Road King!




Update 3
August 3, 2003 1430 14.16S, 170.41W Log: 69,923 Baro: 1010 Cabin Temp: 93F
Side-tied to 100' 3 masted schooner Alvie, Pago Pago Customs Dock


This morning we practiced taking sextant sights and covered onboard communications. Our last miles were calm ones, with less than 7 knots of wind we motorsailed into Pago harbor under clear skies. Amanda's carver-sculptor friend Louie the Fish (yep, that's really his name!) was out fishing and called us on the radio, and his wife stopped by soon after we docked to say hello and to take some of the huge mahi mahi we landed earlier this morning. We haven't had any luck rounding up customs and immigration officials, but I keep trying them on the radio and will take another hike up to their offices.

It is clear, nearly calm and VERY sunny here, in the shadow of Rainmaker Mountain.

We will have a busy week with writing and boat projects and will look forward to greeting our Leg 4, Pago to Suva crew a week from Monday.

There are still berths available on our Legs 5 (inter-island Fiji) Leg 7 (Vanuatu to Noumea, New Caledonia) and for those of you that would like a challenge, we have one berth open on Leg 8, from Noumea to Auckland. For more details, call or email Tracy in our office, 360-378-6131, sailing@mahina.com.

Read the log updates from Leg 1 and Leg 2 or sail on to Leg 4.




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