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Once inside the pass we headed south dropping anchor on the outer reef for breakfast and snorkeling. Our goal for the day was the southernmost bay on the island, Baie d’Avea, which has a long, crescent-shaped white sand beach. Amanda had never visited Huahine Iti, the southernmost of the two islands that make up Huahine, and I hadn’t been there for over 30 years. As we threaded our way through the frequently narrow coral channel our crew had their hands full identifying the many navigation marks and avoiding coral patches. Our treat was a superb sandy bay with lovely swimming and super walks ashore. Nearly everyone we passed had a broad smile and wave and it reminded us while we love these islands.
Saturday we briefly stopped in Fare, the main town of Huahine, and the subject of Jimmy Buffet’s song, “One Particular Harbor” to look around, buy some bananas and then set sail for the island of Raiatea and Marae Taputaputea, the most sacred and important site for navigators and canoe voyagers in all of Polynesia. Not long after we anchored off the maraes (temples) we saw rows of dancers practicing on the beach near the maraes. After their initiation to Tahitian dancing on Moorea a week earlier, our crew didn’t take long to pile into the dinghy to investigate what was going on. It turned out it to be the filming of “The Little Dancer” a Tahitian movie to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival next year. Amanda chatted with the grandmother of the featured young girl, who in the script is forbidden to dance.
Some of us walked around the many maraes as the sunset trying to absorb the excellent detailed signage explaining the temples,
Sunday we had a mellow sail and motor to Uturoa, the main town on Raiatea where we topped up on fuel before heading to Marina Apooiti, the Moorings and Sunsail base that always has room for visiting cruisers. My old friend Jean Michelle Nocuse, marina manager had built a second guest slip at the harbor entrance as well as a new shower block where our crew enjoyed made double use of the showers, washing their clothes in buckets at the same time. Early Monday morning we checked out Raiatea Marine and Raiatea Careenage, two boatyards where cruisers can leave their boats in duty-free storage for up to two years.
Matahi’s father started the operation several years ago and Matahi and his sister Sabrina have expanded it; put down moorings to encourage yachts and offer traditional Tahitian feasts and dancing, as long as you can round up a group of 20! When Arny asked if we could buy bananas we were loaded down with tons of bananas, avacados, oranges and end tasty dried bananas, none of which they would let us pay for. Arny and Sue G did some serious shopping, so most certainly balanced out in the end.
That afternoon we had a zooming sunny sail around the bottom of Tahaa under jib and anchored for the night in Baie Tapuamu which gave us a fabulous sunset view of Bora Bora.
We’d shared a couple anchorages with a tidy looking 40’ Swiss aluminum cutter trimmed in bright yellow so we invited George and Eva, the owners, over for dinner and enjoyed their tales of sailing in almost every lake in Switzerland, plus visiting the Cape Verde Islands, Gabon, Africa, and taking their boat 1,000 miles up the Amazon.
That just about brings us up to date. Yesterday we had a great sail, tacking to windward in winds gusting to 24 from Tahaa to Bora Bora.
We were surprised to find the anchorage off Hotel Bora Bora, in the southern end of the lagoon, devoid of yachts. This is one of our all-time favorite anchorages especially when the tourist newspaper states that there is Tahitian dancing. We chose to pick up a mooring off Bloody Mary’s; a zany restaurant-bar started in 1979 by a totally crazy guy who said he was a German count (absolutely no one believed that!) but he sure had the best dinners and parties on Bora Bora. We enjoyed cold drinks but after 30 minutes or so Amanda came back from a walk saying there was a squall about to hit. Always reluctant to hang off questionable moorings, we were keen to drop the mooring and anchor in the gorgeous white sand off the Hotel Bora Bora. Sadly we heard news is that the hotel has been closed for 1-2 years for “renovations” which means business was really slow, and the owners are saving money.
We experienced a windy, stormy night as a cold front passed to the south but the next morning was sunny and gorgeous. Our adventurous crew had arranged a Land Rover tour of the island including the mountains and WWII installations. Meanwhile Amanda and I headed to our favorite Chinese grocery store north of town for a final top-up on vegetables and groceries.
September 1, 2009, 1700 hrs, 16.47 S, 150.50 W, Log: 132,185 miles
Maupiti’s pass has always been notorious for standing breaking waves when a large southerly swell is present, and we were in for a shocker! As we approached the pass looked like a maelstrom, but with Blake’s steady hand at the wheel, a reefed main and plenty of RPM’s we worked our way through the confused seas into the narrow channel.
Once inside the pass, we anchored in a quiet spot for a swim to the motu, lunch and Amanda’s new sail and rig design class. Late afternoon we wound our way in the twisting channel and anchored off the wharf and village to go ashore for a late afternoon walk.
Saturday morning Amanda and I were up at dawn for a one-hour run completely around Maupiti, except I walked up the one hill. Just before the wharf we stopped at the island’s one bakery/store to stock up on 15 French baguettes. The lovely proprietress instantly remembered us from our many previous visits and the fact that we always stock up on plenty of extra baguettes for the people living on Mopelia; our next landfall, 90 miles to the west.
After our morning class on communications we landed crew with picnic lunches and plans of them circumnavigating the island either by rented bikes or walking. Amanda and I planned on catching up on a few chores before also renting bikes but when I downloaded the GRIB file weather forecasts our plans changed due to a forecast of increased wind from 15 to 20 knots. (actual wind speeds tend to generally run 5 knots higher than predicted on the GRIB forecasts) We quickly decided that we had to set sail that afternoon, as there was a good chance that breakers across the pass could trap us in the lagoon for 4-5 days of predicted higher winds.
The sea conditions had been so rough and confused that morning that the 125’ mega-yacht schooner Kaori decided to turn around and returned to Bora Bora rather than attempt the pass. We knew that if the present conditions held we would be ok departing the pass the following day but with the extra 5 knots forecasted we didn’t feel the risk of staying another day was wise. So Amanda and I threw on our running gear and hit the dock at a sprint trying to find crew, with the news of departure, before they took off to explore the island. We caught most of our crew still strolling along town and Arny and Sue, who had rented bikes, just before they left town. We told everyone to meet us on the dock in two hours thus giving them some time explore the village and part of the island whilst we went in search of bananas. Amanda saw Lorena, a woman whom had been chatting with crew about renting bikes, and asked if she knew where we could find bananas. She eagerly called a friend and then drove us quite a distant to pick up a stalk of green bananas returning us all the way back to the wharf. When she refused our offer of money for gas Amanda promised we’d return next year with our crew and all rent bikes. We parted with a handshake, big smiles and the anticipation of a renewed friendship.
After a crew briefing our departure went well and the swells in the pass seemed a little smaller than the previous noon, although once clear of the pass, the sea was like a washing machine with waves refracting from several different directions.
We had a rough and windy night with three reefs in the main and finally, as we closed on Mopelia Sunday morning, we rolled the genoa up completely trying to keep the boat speed under 7 knots to ensure a daylight arrival.
It was just after first light when Sue and Arny spotted the fringe of palm trees on the horizon and not long after that that we could make out the huge crashing breakers on the windward coast of this tiny, nearly uninhabited, coral atoll. We sailed slowly along the coast awaiting better light. Our original plan was to anchor off the pass until the sun was higher for better visibility in the 90’ wide pass where continually ebbing currents often reach 6-7 knots. The problem with this plan was that the anchorage off the pass, which we have used in the past when snorkeling on the wreck of the Sea Addler, is in all coral and the wind was blasting at 30+ knots.
Five boats were anchored off the beach and not long after we anchored a nice young French couple, who have just purchased a Sunsail ex-charter boat and are sailing home to Noumea, dinghied over to invite us to a birthday celebration ashore at 5pm.
What a treat we were in for! Kalami, his wife Sophie and their son, plus a couple of friends are one of only two families, with a total of only ten people living on Mopelia now. Several of the yachties, Kalami and two of his Tahitian helpers had been out the previous night diving for lobsters, Kalami had slaughtered a pig and several fish had been caught. Cruisers brought many different dishes and salads and I think every boat baked banana cake.
It was a fascinating evening with conversations going on in French, Tahitian and a little English. Most of the boats were either French Canadian or French and everyone was certainly enjoying the celebration. When we left the dancing on the beach to boom box Tahitian music was in full swing.
Yesterday after the PowerPoint class on Storm Tactics most of us headed ashore. During a very blustery squally afternoon we took a long walk on the wild outer beach where waves crashed and broke high on the exposed coral reef.
When Amanda and I were quite a way down the island a mega-squall bore down on us with winds we estimated at 35 knots. We searched in vain for a path the jungle so we could check on MT. Not finding one we walked back to windward, for about 15 minutes, struggling against the wind to the last cut-through we’d seen. We then ran along the jungle path back to the lagoon anxious to see if MT was still safely anchored. We had left Sue G with instructions to start the engine and slowly motor forward if the anchor dragged.
We saw each of the yachts in the anchorage rapidly swinging back and forth in the strong winds and each of the crew on deck checking anchors. As quickly as we could we zipped back to MT and with three of us in the dinghy plus three crew on deck we set our second anchor at a 30 degree angle from the first, out from the bow. We watched carefully to ensure that we didn’t wrap the nylon rode around any coral heads.
Once the anchor was down and set I donned mask and fins and snorkeled out and down to find, happily, that we had avoided all coral and that the Delta had done its job; totally burying itself in the gorgeous white coral sand.
The second anchor really tamed down our swinging and Amanda and I always sleep better in strong winds once it is set. At 0200 this morning the wind stopped though picked up again this morning although throughout the day there were many long sunny breaks and only a few scattered drops of rain. It is now 1800, and in an hour, the nice young French couple from Noumea, Celine and Sebastian, are joining us for dinner.
Then entire anchorage is studying the weather closely now as a cold front with northerly gale is predicted to sweep past Rarotonga on Friday or Saturday. The strong northerlies make Raro’s tiny harbor, wide open to the north, almost untenable so we don’t want to arrive until it has passed. Each day we find another source of weather info from the yachties we share the anchorage with. Yesterday David from Incantation gave us the software and showed us how to decode Fleet Weather numbers from Fiji. Today we found the frequencies for a Honolulu weatherfax that extends to 30 S. Even so, with all this weather info, we have just requested a custom forecast from our friend Bob McDavitt and MetService NZ in Auckland.
Mopelia became quite familiar over the next few days as we waited a for 25-39 kt winds and squalls to subside. We were rather hoping for a smother passage to Rarotonga. At dawn every morning Amanda and I went go for long runs and hikes on the beach along the island’s only trail/road. After breakfast we would have a few hours of class with the afternoons free for hiking across the island to the windy windward beach, exploring the lagoon and chats with the locals.
Wednesday afternoon Blake, Toshiko and David took off on a long beach hike, planning to meet me back on the beach where I dropped them off at 2 hours later at 5:30. There was no sign of them at 5:30 and at dusk around 6:30, I went ashore again and asked Kalami and Stefan, the French-Canadian off a catamaran if they had seen our gang. They had seen them head up the beach after they came ashore but not since. Stefan said that if they didn’t return by 9pm we would gather all the crews off the yachts to start searching for them. Even though the island was totally flattened by the hurricane five years ago the newly populated coconut trees and shrubbery have since created a thick jungle over rocky coral. Stefan also kindly agreed to run them out to boat if they showed up.
I returned to MT and we started serving dinner with quests Celine and Sebastian. Not long after we heard a dinghy astern and our missing threesome arrived bringing tales of a lost trail and adventures in bush whacking.
Boy, was Sue C glad to see Blake! Funny thing was that Blake, a former member of Canadian Forces ambulance squadron, had just regaled us that morning with accounts of his Arctic survival maneuvers. Did he ever get a ribbing about getting lost on a tiny sandy atoll!
Blake’s duty Thursday was the weather. In the morning after he reviewed the GRIB files and weatherfaxes, plus a custom forecast from
We’ve known for several days that a very active series of cold fronts will be passing us on the passage and it looks like that should happen this morning between 0800 and 1400. Complicating this is the fact that we are now only 20 miles from Mitiaro Island and four other southern Cook Islands are scattered on either side. We have increased our boat speed by unrolling more headsail to hopefully be past Mitiaro and at least 20 miles off the other islands before the worst conditions arrive.
Before sunset Sue C and I rigged to cutter stay ready for the storm staysail which I pulled out from the forepeak and placed in our shower. I hope we don’t need it but it’s sure easier to get it out in calm conditions than rough.
ELECTRICITY IS IN THE AIR!
At first light this morning the rugged outline of Rarotonga was on the bow. There is nothing as thrilling as a tropical dawn landfall, even after 35 years. Half the crew is in the cockpit taking pictures and taking in the view as we sail ever closer. The sun is out, weather stable and this wind direction means the harbor will be calm. I just heard a local fishing boat calling Rarotonga Radio, announcing their departure. That really brought back memories. Now, after four years, Mahina Tiare will be making landfall in her own homeport!
David Foster, 66
My interest is coastal sailing and advancing into passagemaking. I don’t currently own a boat but we have been chartering to build experience. I greatly enjoy sailing. (David has lived and worked in Japan, Jamaica, Panama and now he and Toshiko live on a farm in southern Oregon. David worked overseas for various corporations before returning to his home town to become a college business instructor.)
Sue Connolly, 55 from Powell River, British Columbia, Canada
I own an O’Day 20 and love to race but I also enjoy cruising as well as exploring on land. (Sue works in the Powell River hospital.
Blake Hoffert, 59 also from Powell River, Canada
I own and actively race a J 109 and am interested in offshore sailing part time and more extensive coastal sailing on the west coast of North America once I scale back my work schedule. (Blake is a doctor and hospital administrator in a small coastal BC mill town, bordering Desolation Sound.)
Sue Grimm, 51
I’m an orthodontist from Wooster, Ohio and enjoy sailing my Beneteau 37 on Lake Erie with friends and family. I have sailed two legs in the South Pacific, plus two in Europe aboard Mahina Tiare so this makes my fifth sailing trip. These trips combine my love of sailing with love of photography and different cultures.
Arnold Schwanz, 64 lives near Portland, OR
I learned to sail while attending college and have owned a variety of boats since then. I currently own a Yankee 26 which I sail on Puget Sound. I plan to retire from my present position as a maintenance supervisor and devote more time to my art studio, fly fishing and cruising the NW coast. (Arny set the record, losing 50 (that is not a typo!) pounds between the time he signed up and joined us for the expedition.)
Before long we had a hose on board and MT’s topsides were free of salt and glistening. As it was Sunday customs was closed but a port security guy said it would be fine for us to go ashore as long as we cleared in first thing Monday morning.
Monday morning I checked in with John Fallon who wears immigration, port and customs hats all at once. John mentioned that bids had just been let for the new NZ$30 million harbor alignment, dredging and extension. The larger harbor will allow ships to turn around and thus be more practical for cruise ships who at present must anchor off the reef. Sadly there will no room in the harbor for yachts when the project is completed. John’s hope is to dredge Aitutaki’s 6’ channel deep enough for inter-island freighters (and yachts) and build a marina, Travelift and dry storage facility. Whether or not this ever happens remains to be seen but the loan has been secured for the Raro harbor enlargement and next year when we return construction should be in full swing. John also mentioned that starting next year yachts visiting Suwarrow, the uninhabited (except for a caretaker during yachting season) island to the west, must first clear into the Cooks at Raro or Aitutaki.
Soon after crew departed for their hotels Amanda and I scanned the daily newspaper for news of Hash House Harriers. We were in luck it was their 29th birthday run starting at the Edgewater Resort. Our new Leg 4 expedition members Jill and Roy had just flown in and stopped by the boat an hour before the run was due to start. Both keen adventurers, they too were thrilled to join in. Amanda also invited Jacques from Yo-You as she’d seen his rental bike and thought he might like to meet some interesting locals. The birthday theme was “wild pareus” and about 60 runners of all ages turned out wearing face paint, costume character wigs and wicked pareus. What a hoot to tear through the resort, up the veach, through neighborhoods, back road plantations, farms and dry creek beds in search of a paper trail. A fab Raro BBQ with snarlers and salads followed and the grub was so good Amanda already has a galley column in mind.
This is the week of Raro’s main running events; the annual around island run (marathon distance) was held on Saturday and the team relay island run was yesterday. But today all eyes are focused on the Nutter’s Cross Island Run. Amanda and I will join other equally nutty runners in an attempt to be the first person across the island. With major downpours over the past 24 hours the bush trail over the central mountains, basically a scramble up rock and slide down waterfalls, is going to be a muddy one. Let the fun slip and slide - all the way from one side of Raro to the other!
MT is now in tip top shape and as Raro has always been an enjoyable stop over for us both we are so looking forward to the next week. There are far too many things on our agenda to list here (or even for us to consider completing) so check in later next week to read the highlights. Of special interest to Amanda is “Te Maeva Nui” - the week long Cook Island inter-island dance competition held at the indoor cultural stadium. For me it’s catching up with long term friendships and morning runs and cycles with Amanda up the scenic taro valleys to feed many of her favorite pigs (she even gives them all names).
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