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Mahina Expeditions, Offshore Cruising Training

Leg 4 - 2004 Papeete, Tahiti; Rarotonga, Cook Islands

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Update 1
August 21, 2004 1600 16.36S, 151.32W
Log: 81277 Baro: 1015, Temp: 84F cabin, 87F cockpit
At Anchor, Baie Tapuamu, Tahaa Island, 130 miles west of Tahiti


An hour ago we came back from the most incredible snorkeling experience either Amanda or I have had in 30 years of cruising the Society Islands. Sally Christine Rodgers-Repass from the cat-ketch Convergence told us about it two days ago on Raiatea, and so this morning found both Convergence and Mahina Tiare anchored off the west side of Tahaa on the precipitous edge of a little sand bank with very shallow water directly astern. We dinghied a half mile or so to a small chain of motus, tied the Avon to an overhanging coconut tree, and hiked across a tiny motu to the ocean side. Following SC's advice, we hopped into the fast-flowing current, trying to avoid getting impaled on shallow coral heads, and drifted a half mile through vibrant healthy coral surrounded by zillions of brightly colored tropical fish. It was so much fun we did the drift twice. When we would look up from our underwater vista, we would see white sand beaches backed by coconut palms with the mountains of either Bora Bora or Tahaa rising in the background. As the anchorage was kind of tenuous, we motored back to this more protected bay on Tahaa for lunch and a hike.

The beginning of our snorkel run, Bora Bora in the distance

Colorful coral

Sea anemone with resident black and blue fish

Stag horn coral with resident black and white fish

At six this morning when Amanda and I went ashore for a run we were remembered why we love this oft-overlooked gem of an island: every single person we passed called out, "Ia Ora Na!", hello in Tahitian. The houses are attractive accented with tropical print curtains and the yards and roadside are overflowing with brilliant flowers. With no tourist hotels (just Tahitian family pensions or guest houses) no airport, only small boat service and no busses, Tahaa vies with Maupiti in our mind as the most traditional and attractive of the Society Islands.

Well now to back up a bit, our week off between Legs 3 & 4 passed in a blur. We got plenty of jobs done and managed a fair amount of sanding to the starboard deck. The new sander and sandpaper are working great but it's rather slow going as the deck seam rubber is tougher than the teak deck requiring it to cut back before sanding. We had some wonderful walks and runs up the valleys of Moorea, met some really neat cruisers that we had met 10 and 25 years earlier in the same anchorage and attended a fun cruiser sunset beach potluck.

The north coast of Moorea

Mahina Tiare at are favorite reef anchorage on Moorea

Before we knew it, it was Thursday the 12th of August and we were underway at first light for Tahiti. We splurged and got a berth inside the new Marina Taina for the night, making provisioning, customs, boat wash down and generally everything much easier than when we are normally anchored way out by the reef.

That night a cold front passed with a strong southerly blow and we were doubly happy to be tied up safely inside. The night before expeditions start we often meet crew to pick up passports and airline tickets so I can be downtown at customs and immigration the following morning when they opened. That worked brilliantly and by 10:00 Friday morning I was back from customs, Amanda was back from her last shop at Carrefour and we were actually a half hour early anchoring off Maeva Beach Hotel to pick up our Leg 4 crew.

After lunch and a start on orientation we set sail for Moorea. We had light winds for the first part of the passage, but ended up short tacking in a fresh breeze through the reef pass and two miles up to the head of the Cooks Bay. Saturday we continued with orientation and while crew took a couple hours to explore ashore I started to replace the shattered masthead tricolor-anchor light assembly bombed by an crazy booby bird on Leg 3. Aqua Signal had changed (improved) the mounting system so I had to completely remove the old base and install the new one and transfer the wires over. I spent 2.5 hrs, 64' above the water but managed to get the job completed, although my legs and bum had fallen asleep by the time I came down. Later, Gary and I serviced the Max prop, pumping if full of grease and replacing the zinc underwater.

Sailing into Cooks Bay, Moorea

John and Gary service the max prop

We heard there was dancing scheduled for Saturday night at the Pearl Resort so we moved Mahina Tiare a few miles around the reef to anchor off the Resort. WOW, we had a treat! The band that was playing had just won "Best Band" award at the annual Tiurai Festival in Papeete; and they were just as hot as the dancers! We saw an incredible dance show, going non-stop for what seemed hours, with many costume changes.

The Band at the Pearl Resort

Dancing troupe at the Pearl Resort

The biggest news of the evening was that Taka had asked Tina out for dinner that night and when we met up with them, she was sporting a huge smile and a shiny new ROCK! This romantic guy proposed to her on the beach on Moorea! We all wish them many years of joy and happiness.

Tina and Taka celebrate in style - its Tina birthday and Taka has just proposed marriage

Taka and Tina with Tahitian Dancers - Are you O.K Taka?

Soon it was time to set sail for Huahine, an 85 mile overnight passage. We had winds under 15 knots the entire way and one very weak frontal passage changing the wind by 120 degrees. Huahine is always a favorite of ours, and both Wayne and Mark had enjoyable visits the island for a few days before joining the expedition.

Our favorite anchorage at Huahine is between the two passes, in an area of poor holding and strong currents. This provided us with an excellent opportunity to set two bow anchors 30 degrees apart, off the bow. Gary and I dove down 10' and physically set the second anchor, a 44 lb. Delta, in a large hole in the coral. When it was time to leave, Gary dove down alone and unhooked the anchor.

The waterfront street of Fare, Huahine

Anne admired this locals manta ray tattoo..."Gary, how would this look on you?"

Gary looks about to get his bearings after studying the information board at the marae

A marae site with newly carved panels symbolizing birds and messengers of the Gods

A smiling face peaks out of a marae fare (house)

We enjoyed Fare town's traditional old South Seas ambiance and the new wood panel carvings at the extensive marae (temple) site at Lac Maeva and an excellent cycle around this very friendly and picturesque island. Anne and Gary explored one of many vanilla farms on their circumnavigation and even purchased some vanilla pods for M.T's galley.

The waterfront street of Fare, HuahineAnne discovers her first vanilla plant.

Fresh vanilla beans for sale outside a family house. $10 for five beans.

This season Amanda suggested that crew present the daily "Weather Briefing". The weather person for the day reviews all of the recently arrived weather faxes from our dedicated Furuno 207 weatherfax

Anne briefs the crew on the day's weather.
machine and then makes a presentation to the crew of the current and future weather. This has certainly gotten crew involved with weather reading and they are retaining the information much better. Appointing a daily weather briefer will be an ongoing tradition aboard Mahina Tiare.

Our passage to Raiatea was another light air one - the trades have been absent or light for the past few weeks, but we had lots of time to practice navigation enroute to the anchorage off Marae

Sunset at Marae Taputaputea
Taputaputea (holy, holy place) in the south of the island. We were ashore for sunset and the maraes have excellent new sign boards in Tahitian, French and English explaining the culture that inspires these incredible stone platforms.

Thursday was packed; we motored 18 miles north to Uturoa town, at 4500 population it's the second largest in the territory, but really just a fun little South Seas town, not a city at all. As water slowly filled our tanks, crew explored town and did laundry on the dock before gave MT a good scrub and motored around to Marina Apooiti, the Moorings base, for the night. We enjoyed checking out the expanded haul-out and long term storage nearby at Raiatea Marine and some shopping at the boutique run by ex-cruisers plus a fantastic dinner ashore.

M.T gets a scrub down in downtown Uturoa.

Three colorful Raiatea ladies walk past M.T on their way home from town

Raiatea Marine - haulout and dry storage

As several expedition members were planning on purchasing the excellent French chart reproductions from The Moorings, Amanda suggested everyone purchase a set so they could all navigate on their own

Crew get serious with their charting exercises
chart. It was a fantastic idea and we have been having navigation and plotting contests with ice cream for the winner (Anne).

Tomorrow morning we will set sail in what looks like fresh SE trades (hooray, they're back!) and hope to land some fresh fish on our way to Bora Bora.

We have a great crew on Leg 4:

Anne Reeckmann 51, grew up on a 1,000 acre sheep and wheat farm near Rutherglen in Victoria, Australia. She did not see the sea until she was 13 but her ancestors were German sailors and ship owners, many of whom drowned at sea rounding Cape Horn. She is a geologist and is currently Vice President of Geoscience Research with ExxonMobil in Houston, Texas. Having learned to sail after meeting her husband Gary she has since completed many sailing courses and joins Mahina Tiare to become a safe and competent sailor with plans to sail with Gary where ever their desires take them.

Gary Holmes 55, (Anne's Husband) is an expat Canadian who in his youth flirted with the sea while racing sailboats, working on research vessels, scuba diving and cruising. He is also a

Gary and Anne - all smiles as we sail along the island of Moorea
geologist but he strayed into computing and is currently Manager of Asia-Pacific Regional Services for UTeC, a computing infrastructure company within ExxonMobil. Gary hopes to enjoy many years of sailing with Anne, perhaps performing folk music for their supper. They're still deciding just how far away the horizon should be and on what vessel to chase it. Gary and Anne have been married seven years, but you'd never know it as they carry on like honeymooners!

Taka and Tina - with Japanese treats
Tina Higgens 30, originally from the East Coast is a currently a teacher in Japan. She loves travel and adventure, has lived in 6 countries, backpacked around 40 and speaks 4 languages. Tina has recently found a soul mate, Taka, and their dream is to take their adventurous spirit to sea. They have recently purchased a Morgan 38 appropriately named "Dream Catcher" which they will outfit next year in Florida. They join M.T with the passion to learn everything!

Takayuki Fukase "Taka" 32, grew up boxing in Aormori, NE Japan. In university he turned pro, rising to 6th in Japan in his weight class, but realizing there was more to life he moved away from his family across country to the hot surfing spot of Kamakura. In between catching the waves he studied as a chef but decided to switch to construction. After meeting Tina he embraced the idea of sailing around the world and has since traded his bachelor life of fast cars and surfing to co-purchasing "Dream Catcher" with Tina and learning how to sail.

Mark and Tahitian dancers
Mark Bell 57, is a dentist from Davenport, Iowa. He owns a 19' O'Day which he sails from his holiday home on Lake Michigan. He joins Mahina for a personal voyage of discovery and to take the time to make sure he can navigate his way home.

Wayne and Tahitian dancers - no Wayne you can't take her home!
Wayne Hullet 63, is a retired systems engineer from Jet Propulsion Labs. He took up sailing in his 40's,has owned a Cape Dory 27 and a Alberg 37 on which he did a more than a year of east coast and Bahamas cruising. After reading the short story by "The 200 Millionaire", written by Weston Martyr in 1932, he now has dreams of cruising the canal's of Europe with his girlfriend K.J. His goal on this expedition is to get some hands on instruction and experience dealing with heavy weather conditions.

Leg 4, Update 2
September 4, 2004 1630 21.12S, 159.47W,
Log: 81,910 miles, Temp: Cabin: 84F, Cockpit: 87F
Moored stern-to, Avatiu Harbour, Rarotonga, Cook Islands


Our Leg 4 expedition ended at noon yesterday, and now we have time after the whirlwind of landfall, clearing customs, finishing up our teaching schedule and lots of visits by islander friends to bring you up-to-date on a very busy second half of Leg 4.

On Sunday, August 22 we tacked our way south from our anchorage at Tapuamu Bay, Tahaa until we could lay a straight course out Passe Papai and toward Bora Bora. This passage provided an excellent opportunity for everyone to practice coastal navigation and plotting our position on their nifty new charts purchased from The Moorings.

We chose an old favourite anchorage of ours at the far south side of the lagoon, midway between Motu Toopua and Hotel Bora Bora. Anchoring with just a foot of crystal clear water under the keel, our snorkelers were soon yelling excitedly about the spotted rays that were zooming around the anchorage. Just before sunset we headed to Hotel Bora Bora's dock, not knowing what to expect. Some years, if cruisers visiting before us have made a poor impression, there has been a guard on the end of the dock saying, "sorry, this is a private dock, you are not allowed to tie here". This year there was no guard, and all dressed in our finest aloha shirts and tropical dresses, we sauntered up to the gorgeous sandy beach bar to enjoy drinks and watch the sunset.

Hotel Bora Bora has long been the domain of the rich, famous, and nobility, and this time was no exception. At the next table sat Pierce Bronson (James Bond) and his wife and friends. After a fabulous sunset and a look in the art gallery-gift shop, we enjoyed a much less expensive dinner aboard Mahina Tiare.

007 cruises by Wayne and Anne

007 up close

I spent much of the following morning at the Gendarmerie, clearing into Bora Bora and out of French Polynesia. Meanwhile our crew explored the island, with Gary and Anne circumnavigating the island by bicycle. (Way to go Gary and Anne!)

Mountain view from Bora Bora towards Tahaa
In order to arrive at Maupiti's treacherous and narrow pass at noon for high slack water, we all got up at 0540 and were underway from Bora Bora before 0600. With winds up to 18 knots we were off on a great sail, but didn't land a single fish!

Anne Reeckmann:
We entered the pass at Maupiti with trepidation after passing the ferry boat Aremeti 2 that had

The Aremeti 2 aground on the reef at Maupiti
run aground on the reef a week before. We took special note of the range marks and came flawlessly through the channel into the lagoon. The island of dark volcanic rock stood in the middle of a picture perfect lagoon of blue, aqua and light green water. We just beat a passing front which blew in behind us, with blustery winds and some rain. After a group snorkel to check the anchor followed by a rigging check lesson with Amanda the crew spent a lazy afternoon snoozing. The highlight of the evening's entertainment was a video on diesel engine maintenance where we learnt how to cover your engine with fuel while bleeding the fuel lines -not a practice recommended by John.

The south headland of the island

Amanda shows Taka how to check the traveler fittings

The next day was sunny and we spent a fun morning learning about provisioning and trying a braided eye splices with a variety of outcomes. Taka translated his instructions into Japanese but at first his splice didn't quite translate.

Taka's Japanese slicing instructions

Taka and Mark tug it out during the final stages of braid splicing

After lunch we went ashore to explore the island. The first stop was a visit to one of the local pigs with our galley scraps. He thoroughly enjoyed our leftovers and could hardly contain himself as his owner hand fed him the stale French bread and watermelon rinds. We met several of the local children who were interested in new visitors and showed us their pets, their basket ball prowess and ability to ride bikes with at least two passengers. The local houses and gardens were colourful, many decorated with a variety of fabrics, bright coloured paint and surrounded by gardens of bougainvillea, tiare bushes, hibiscus and tropical fruit trees. One had a 8ft high wall built from shells and large coral heads designed to look like a reef. Local artisans sold their creations from their houses and we saw some beautiful shell necklaces, black pearls, wood carvings and hand dyed fabrics. Gary and Mark bought pendants of carved fish hooks out of black pearl shell.

One happy pig

A young local lad proudly holds his puppy

A local garden

Coral reef garden wall

A local artist making middle canoes and poi pounders

On the northern side of the island we followed signs that took us up a valley where we found a number of large basalt boulders in a creek. These were covered with ancient petroglyphs of turtles and other decorative carvings. A view point high above the southern end of the island gave us panoramic views of the lagoon and its scattered coral heads, the fringing reef with breakers and the towering volcanic rock core in the centre of the island. We all met up at the dock and helped dissect and wash a large banana bunch to add to our provisions and fill 5 gallon containers with water to top up our water tanks before leaving for the island of Mopelia tomorrow afternoon.

Turtle petroglyph
On Thursday, August 26. we set sail from Maupiti at 1700 so that we wouldn't arrive at Mopelia, distance of 104 miles, before high slack water at noon the following day. With winds ranging from 20-25 knots and a confused sea, half the crew succumbed to seasickness quickly, but with some encouragement, continued to stand their watches. We have learned from 30 years of sailing with nearly 1,000 people that the best possible way to get over seasickness is to continue standing watches no matter how you feel, and do everything possible to stay hydrated. When people stay in their bunks and don't face responsibilities it takes them much longer to conquer seasickness and they slip into dehydration and depression. Learning how you are affected by seasickness and what helps you recover quickly is a critically important reason for joining a passage expedition.

Many, many sailors who have never experienced severe seasickness while sailing in sheltered waters are stunned when they find they are not immune to mal de mer! In this case, one expedition member even wanted to get off the boat ASAP, or at least stay in his bunk until we reached land. In an expedition one quickly learns the importance of all the crew working together and taking responsibilities, no matter how they feel.

We went through the drug options and various crew were using acupressure wrist bands, Compazine suppositories, Scopalamine patches and Stugeron drops (thanks to Goffredo, leg 3) and before we reached Mopelia everyone had conquered their seasickness.

Mopelia's pass is so narrow that it looks like you could hop off your boat onto the reef on either side, and as we steered through the maelstrom, we measured the current at over five knots. There are many instances when we really appreciate the fact that HR installs oversize diesel engines (ours is 95hp) in their designs, and this was one of those times.

Taka's curry diner
We were surprised to find only one other boat, Peaquod from Vancouver anchored off the small settlement. After visiting friends ashore and delivering a massive sack of French bread from Maupiti, we learned that there were only nine people presently on the tiny atoll. We talked Lionel, our fisherman friend from many previous visits into hosting a beach barbecue the following night.

Aboard Mahina Tiare that evening, Taka turned out an excellent Japanese curry. That guy really knows how to cook!

The following morning we really concentrated on teaching, then spent the afternoon beachcombing and exploring. It is always sad how much plastic washes ashore on these pristine islands. Our efforts at beach clean-up seem totally trivial here.

Paradise found as we explore the remote motu

A true tropical hideaway home

Paradise lost as we discover the realties of our disposable plastic society

The great news for our beach barbecue was that a very cool looking Joubert-designed French aluminum cutter showed up with seven more people, and they eagerly joined the barbecue, bringing some very tasty French treats as well as spaghetti. Lionel tossed gutted reef fish on a grill over a coconut husks fire without any preparation and they were delicious. We really missed music though, as Peaquod's crew had over indulged in coconut homebrew that afternoon and were too zonked to bring their guitar and join us.

Reef fish on the grill

Amanda enjoys a quiet coconut drink and seat in a hammock

Lionel show Amanda the choicest fish to choose

Sunday morning we practiced reefing and sail handling inside the lagoon before anchoring just inside the pass, on the lee shore, to dive on the wreck of the WWI German raiding-sailing ship, Seeadler. After Gary dived to check our anchor and assured us that MT was securely anchored we piled into the RIB with snorkeling gear, before kitting up and hopping out once in the pass to hang on to the dinghy as the current whooshed us over incredible coral gardens and past patrolling sharks into the open ocean.

Once out the pass, we all swam hard, towing the tender a few hundred meters south until we started spotting wreckage of this incredible ship. First someone spotted the huge antique anchor, and Taka snorkeled down to inspect it. Gary sighted the chain that had broken when a westerly squall blew up and caused the huge sailing ship to drag ashore. The crankshaft, pistons and prop and prop shaft are all still attached, and Gary noted and photographed the rudder pintles and gudgeons. And there were sharks, tightly circling around and around in one chasm, totally unafraid when I swam after them, in fact, I think they were a bit annoyed!

Taka dives to inspect the shipwrecked Seeadlers anchor

John dives to annoy the sharks?

The wildest thing was to swim underwater, towards where the surf was breaking heavily on the reef, the show of power and beauty as you looked through the waves was awesome! Oh, and as if that wasn't enough, we were constantly serenaded by the songs of humpback whales. We never saw the whales, but their songs were so different from each other, and hauntingly beautiful.

Before long it was time to fight the current (thank goodness for back eddies!) back into the lagoon, enjoy a fantastic lunch (thanks Amanda!) hoist the dinghy and wiz out the pass. As we set sail for

Bringing the marlin alongside to cut away the hook
Rarotonga, we caught a 9' striped marlin, which we set free, (Sorry Hunter, Leg 3, your gifted lure just caught a fish too big for us)and were rewarded with an incredible sunset, great sailing wind and a full moon. Life just can't get any better than that!

We had been watching fax charts, grib files and weather routing reports dealing with a very active cold front with winds to 45 knots that was forecast to pass over us the following day. The French yacht had decided to delay their departure for five days in favor of better winds. The next day we had a 250 degree wind shift, winds in the low 20's and some rain, but thankfully nothing like what

Rarotonga Ho!
was forecast. Our crew really gained a lot of experience in sail trim as the wind kept backing as the front moved eastward. We got headed as we passed Mauke Island which forced us to motorsail and tack into lumpy seas until we reached Rarotonga Wednesday afternoon.

We had heard that Raro harbor had been so full that the harbormaster had been turning boats away, so we were glad to find that several had just left and there was plenty of room for us. We spent several hours adjusting anchors, mooring lines and stern shore lines, then cleared in with John Fallon, the friendly harbormaster, customs and immigration officer, all in one!

Thursday we really concentrated on our final teaching objectives, taking and reducing sun sights, learning sail repair, sewing machine operation and covering electrical power systems and watermakers, AND taking the test, AND heading ashore to Trader Jack's for an awesome seafood dinner.

Crew wave farewell after successfully sewing their tropical ditty bags.

John hard at work fueling up M.T

Friday as crew were packing up a fuel tanker truck arrived to fuel the Little Harbor 60 "Integrity" and agreed to top our tanks as well. Normally we don't require anywhere near their minimum quantity

Anne and Gary happy snap from Leg 4 with their Sony pocket cameras
and fuel by taking jerry jugs to the nearest gas station. What a treat to have the fueling all completed in just 10 minutes!

Well, that's it folks, another successful expedition in our 15th season! If this leg sounds like what you are looking for, don't wait long to send in an application as we have just 2 berths left for Leg 3-2005 which will be identical. This will be the last time we offer the Tahiti to Raro leg until 2008 at the earliest, as we are off to Europe in 2006!

Amanda and I would also like to give special thanks to Anne and Gary for the use of their images for this update. They both use spiffy pocket Sony Cyber-Shot U digital camera's, with Anne's being good for 5 feet underwater. They (and us) were pleased with the results and the fact the camera lightly hung around their neck and slipped away into a top pocket meant that it was ALWAYS at the ready.
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