Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore sailing seminars and boat purchase consultation.
We know from several past visits that the bottom is totally covered with coral, not having even the hint of sand, and that there are several deep anchor-swallowing chasms. Amanda dove in with her Seal mask and fins and swam around checking out the spot Bob had indicated, getting Roy to drop the anchor in one very specific spot that turned out to work well. Bob returned to shore promising to tell the customs and immigrations officers (that was a bit of a surprise on this tiny island!) of our arrival and to ask them to come out and check our clearance papers from Rarotonga. He promised to return after the officials to give our crew a ride ashore with a mention that most of the island was preparing for the 21st birthday party and feast at 3:30 that afternoon which we were all invited to.
In minutes our entire crew were in the water with masks and fins on, watching turtles, numerous huge parrot fish and a couple of totally uninterested white-tipped sharks cruise by in crystal-clear water where visibility was more than 150’. They also grabbed sponges and started cleaning off the light slime on the anti-fouling paint that had accumulated in Raro.
Molly wrote the following:
We all caught a ride through the reef toward the island and the pass was outlined by shattered pieces of a Korean fishing boat that had drug ashore and was subsequently blown up to clear the only pass to the lagoon. Our host, Simon, led us to his house and then gave us a tour of the tiny island. Our first stop was the school with 22 children where we met the two sisters who are the teachers.
The children were delighted to get a break from a test in order to play soccer and visit with the visitors. Having brought a plentiful amount of toys and learning tools for the kids, they very quickly became my friends. The school looked like a normal one room classroom filled with books and hand-drawn art.
After the school, we stopped by the minister’s house which seemed to be the nicest on the island. We were also taken by the phone booth located next to a satellite dish and solar panels that powered it. It cost $50 a minute to make a call which locals use to speak with family members in Raro or New Zealand.
William Marsters, the man who settled this formerly uninhabited island in 1863 with his three Cook Island wives had his grave amongst the others near the church.
It was to be the 21st birthday of a young man named Joshua. At this age they become adults in the eyes of their peers. We were welcomed like family to eat and join the festivities.
It was hard to say bye to the children with their playful energy, but we eventually did and Simon motored us back to Mahina Tiare. We all threw a flower in the water as we sailed away in hopes that someday we could find ourselves back on Palmerston again.
Here’s our Leg 4 crew, one of our youngest ever!
I am a business student at University of Washington in Seattle. Having grown enjoying many sorts of water sports, sailing is a naturally relaxing feeling for me. My father, Roy, being an avid sailor seriously introduced my siblings and me to the sport about two years ago, starting in the Straits of Juan de Fuca and recently we chartered a boat in the Caribbean. I was unsure whether I would choose sailing as a hobby for myself, but after a few days at sea, I see myself doing a lot of sailing in the future!
Roy Massena, 58
Jill Josselyn, 55, but young at heart!
Eric Larson, 39
Bill Tobin, 40
Elaine Bryson, 50
Buns, age unknown, but still a fluffy bunny!
September 24, 2009, 0530 hrs, 18.42 S, 171.20 W, Log: 133,254 miles
Keith Vial, the Commodore to the Niue Yacht club, met us at the wharf with an offer to take us and the crew of two other yachts on a tour of the island. Once we’d finished clearing in we met at the Yacht Club enjoying a nice fish sandwich lunch and ice creams before joining David and Marcie Lynn of Nine of Cups from Colorado, and Rob and Teresa Sicade of Yohela from Washington for the tour. In our drive around the island Keith shared the history of the island, particularly around the 1994 storm, whose 27 meter swell wiped out many windward buildings, including a resort hotel, on to of the cliffs. He’d also put together a guide to the island, which highlighted the caves and snorkel spots we should be able to visit on our own during the next few days.
In addition to showing us the natural beauty, Keith gave us a tour well beyond any commercial offering. He introduced us to local business people and artists. He arranged a tour of islands noni farm and juicing facility. The small, nobly fruit is picked, lightly fermented, then extracted and shipped off to be used in health drinks. Jill’s quick comment on tasting the pure juice was that “Anything that tastes like this must be good for you!” We also toured the studio of Mark Cross, a local but world renowned artist. Mark showed off his latest work in progress, as well as the photographic images that inspired it.
Later, Keith introduced crew member Molly to the island’s power engineer for a tour of the islands solar facilities. The local Hash House Harriers (a drinking club with a running problem) hosted a bush run Monday night which the crew joined with enthusiasm. We worked up some thirst running a several kilometers through the jungle, and rendezvoused bay at a hotel with the largely Kiwi crowd for drinks and stories. Our hosts were particularly concerned that the supply ship was several months overdue and the island was starting to run out of flower, rice, and, worse, beer! Calculating the exact hour or the ships arrival the following Sunday was a popular pastime.
Tuesday we spent snorkeling, spelunking, and whale watching. The Limu pools were full of beautiful fish, coral and sea snakes! While the snakes made us nervous at first (we had been assured there were poisonous), they were not aggressive in the least. Later we found a sea cave near Liku only accessibly by swimming in, after a steep climb down a coral cliff.
Keith hosted a wonderful barbeque at the yacht club Tuesday night in honor of Marcie for her work in helping Niue Yacht Club become the 130th Seven Seas Cruising Association cruising station.
SSCA (ssca.org) is an organization of cruisers founded in 1955 as a means of exchanging information through monthly bulletins which consists of timely information from cruisers “out there” all over the world. Their cruising stations around the world consist of ex-cruisers or locals who enjoy greeting arriving sailors and “showing them the ropes” of their port. They are some of the most generous and friendly people you could imagine.
The barbecue was a wonderful gathering of cruiser and ex-pats, with many familiar faces from the Hash House run. These people provided a wealth of information on other anchorages and cruising in general. An English cruiser shared that in the Marquesas, the propane station refuse to fill the newer fiberglass tanks, saving two of us future difficulties. We also received advice on diving equipment, routing, sewing machines and cruising with children.
Yesterday we had a very full and exciting day, ashore in the dark at 0530 at Molly’s urging to see the market and coconut crabs for sale, back aboard for breakfast and engine room orientation, then ashore by 0900 for crew to pick up the van they had rented for a full day’s adventure of exploring.
The humpbacks spend southern ocean winters in the waters around Niue calving and nursing the babies before heading south to feed. For some reason they seem fond of the moored yachts and often spend nights sleeping between the boats. Last time we were at Niue, I woke up startled, and told Amanda, “It’s raining, quick close hatches and ports!” She told me to go back to sleep, it was just moisture coming through the open port from a whale breathing next to the boat
Our passage from Niue to Niuatoputapu, Tonga was downwind and smooth, so smooth that we had to motor the last bit to ensure sufficient daylight for the tricky coral pass entrance. Long before we sighted Niuatoputapu we sighted the perfectly shaped volcanic cone of Tafahi; four miles north, 4,000’ high and rumored to be Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”. As we approached the islands in the distant we saw humpback whales breaching clear of the water and landing with huge splashes. Later I was steering while Amanda taught provisioning class below when a whale surfaced less than a boat length away with a huge “WHOOSH”, giving me quite a surprise!
We weren’t surprised to see seven other yachts, mostly European, anchored off this small island that has long been a favorite stop for cruisers sailing from Samoa to Vavau, Tonga. Bill and I dinghied over to an English yacht whose owner said that he doubted that we would be able to clear customs on a Saturday afternoon as one yacht had been calling customs all day on the radio without answer, so…we all piled in the dinghy and headed ashore to have a little look around.
Wharf and the bay at Falehau
A “very sacred coconut” is the Tongan meaning of the oval shaped small jungle island of Niuatoputapu. This island has about 400 residents, all seemingly eager to welcome the few yachts and even fewer supply ships that venture into this locale on of the northern reaches of Tonga.
From our anchorage we could see bonfires ashore and hear the rhythmic drums from the nearby village of Falehau. After attracting the attention of the local Customs official, he promised to attempt to round up health, immigration and quarantine inspectors so that we could possibly clear in that evening which would mean we would be able to go ashore for church the next morning. They surprised us by all turning up on the wharf and we had a good visit with lots of joking as we filled out forms and they stamped our passports.
Tongan hass a very religious culture so we had few options for activities on Sunday other than going to church along with nearly all ashore. Half our crew going to the Methodist church and half to the Catholic. Though we didn’t understand the Tongan sermon, we appreciated the energy and vibrancy of the melodic hymns. Dress is conservative here; not much skin is exposed though the climate is sultry. Women wear elaborate decorative belts over colorful long dresses and men wrap woven mats over their sulus or long pants.
On the northern coast we went swimming and chatted with the locals. The guys of our crew were invited to join a “kava circle” of local men enjoying a post-church drink, but we learned that in Tonga women don’t generally participate in this social ritual.
What’s not to love? The island looks idyllic, situated amidst turquoise reefs, white fluffy clouds and lots of blue sky.
At first light the following morning I was surprised to see all our crew up, and ready to lift the dinghy on board and get underway. Tafahi looked lush, green and steep, but as we approached the cut through the reef where we would have to land we understood why the books said this was a high tide-only landing.
At nearly low tide a wall of breaking water roared across the landing channel every minute or so forcing us to abandon the idea of landing so we set sail on the 180 miles to Samoa passing by the village the hillside at the north end of the island.
Fresh SE winds that enabled us to stay east of a direct line and make excellent time. ESE tradewinds normally blow here which would make a fairly bumpy close-hauled passage so we kept waiting for the winds to head us. Phew, they never did.
Winds lightened slightly so we set the whisker pole. In the calm conditions Amanda taught sail and rig design which I followed up with sextant sights and Lifesling overboard practice. At 1400 we entered Apia’s new 60 boat capacity marina and by 1600 we had been cleared by a host of officials including health, quarantine, immigration, customs and port authority. Now free to leave we all headed for the nearest ATM and then met at Aggie Grey’s Hotel for poolside drinks.
Aggie Grey was a part Samoan woman who in 1942 opened a hamburger stand for American GI’s which turned into the most famous hotel in the South Pacific. It was here that James Michener started writing “Tales of the South Pacific” and many people assumed that Bloody Mary in the book was modeled after Aggie Grey. Aggie died at 91 in 1988, but her gracious granddaughter, Marina Grey now runs the hotel.
We were all pretty pooped after an exciting day so I was surprised to see most of our crew awake and heading for the showers when Amanda and I left on a dawn run to re-explore Apia; a city that we visited five years earlier.
John and I had just left Farmer Joes supermarket with an armload of hot bread when the street started shaking. I looked around thinking a truck was passing by but saw no heavy equipment. I was a little behind John as I had been peering in a shop window so I ran to catch him as he was now standing in the middle of the street.
“Earthquake?!” we said to each other.
“Not a bad one” commented John as the ground continued to roll and shake.
“Hum” thought I, and then wondered how are crew are fairing back at the boat.
John and I quickly made the ten minute run back to Mahina Tiare, keeping clear of all tall buildings and power lines. My eyes were fixated on the harbour front watching for any signs of receding water. In 1977 I’d experienced a 7.7 earthquake whist in the small boat basin in Nukulofala, Tonga aboard our family cruising yacht Swanhaven. It was at 2am and all the cruisers had stood on deck in the dark discussing the possibility of a tsunami. I was now wondering the same as I ran back to the marina.
We arrived back at the boat to find our crew in good spirits. I chatted with Elaine who said as the quake struck she had awoken to a strange jiggling. After going to the cockpit she looked about as other cruisers appeared on deck. As the quick jiggling motion continued for several minutes every assumed it was an earthquake. I went off to collect my shower kit when suddenly loud civil defense sirens sounded. It took me a few moments to register what it meant, then only a few seconds to realize it was a tsunami alert.
“Grab your passports and run” I told our crew.
I set about shutting ports and hatches while John grabbed boat papers and our passports. I was still in my running gear and knew my sneakers were on deck. Marina staff was now yelling urgently for everyone to run for the hills and fire truck sirens were also joining in with the civil defense warning. John and I had to make a quick decision. Do we run or put to sea? We noticed the water in the marina had started to move about and had quickly dropped four feet. Sea water was surging up and down, dropping lower after each surge.
One of the ferries that goes to Pago Pago also cast lines and departed. On arriving the day before with knew that the marina entrance is very shallow, we only had a depth of 1.7 feet under the keel in places, plus there are also numerous large unmarked coral heads. Would we have enough depth to get out and what if we got stuck on a coral head? We decide to run. This meant running along the waterfront to reach the first road going inland.
The smart yachties headed for Aggie Grey's hotel, in the middle of the waterfront bay where hotel staff welcomed them and sent them to the top floors. Here they had a great view of the harbor going dry for several hundred yards out.
We soon joined a mass of people, cars and trucks all heading up the hills. Although the fire department kept directing everyone further inland John and I decided there was no way a tsunami would go further than where we were so we took shelter in the courtyard of a church. After half and hour we stopped a passing taxi heading back to the harbour to see if he had any news. He mentioned that the radio said a tsunami had struck the eastern end of the island and that a school had collapsed with at least three children dead and more were trapped in the wreckage. Little did we know that as the sirens went off an 18’ tsunami hit the south side of the island causing 130+ deaths and massive destruction. John and I concluded that a tsunami can’t hit both sides of an island and went back to Mahina Tiare.
Our crew had been offered rides inland and were not able to return until around noon due to police road blocks and no final all-clear given over the radio or sirens system. Relived to be safe we then spent a few hours calming our nerves while completing medical class, sewing and splicing.
The rest of us choose to stay put though at around 6 pm the sirens went off again and the police and fire trucks came roaring down the harbour front yelling that everyone must leave immediately. This time we headed to Aggie Gray's Hotel where the staff welcomed us and said hurry up the stairs to one of the top floors. We met a nice couple from Auckland who let us stay on their balcony which had an excellent view of the marina and harbor. We switched on the TV but the local coverage of the tsunami was amateurish and rather disturbing and so we turned it off. This time three yachts headed out to sea. Thankfully after an hour of nothing much going on in the harbor the word of the "All Clear" filtered up to us.
As we returned to the marina Ernie on the catamaran Laura Grace said that he had just overheard the RNZ Air Force P-3 Orion aircraft that had been searching for bodies saying that another tsunami was expected in 20 minutes. We quickly returned to MT to grab some more things and overheard the NZAF pilot on the VHF asking Apia Port Control for an update on the now imminent tsunami. Port Control said that the last warning was for high waves on the village on the south side of the island that has been devastated and the alarm should not have been sounded again for this side. Whew! That night we slept with our knapsacks and running shoes in the cockpit ready to sprint back to Aggie Grey's Room 313 where our Kiwi friends have invited us to return if necessary.
Here’s Molly’s account of volunteering at Red Cross:
It’s Thursday night and it’s not easy to find the right words to describe what has happened here in Samoa. The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the earthquake and tsunami is that I forever will be thankful to have survived the incident.
When the tsunami sirens sounded I fled Mahina Tiare along with Roy and Jill. We headed along the waterfront and soon hitched a ride on a truck that took us inland on the cross country road where waited out our time at a now rather busy neighborhood convenience store. They translated radio updates on the events that were unfolding on the south side of the island. When we heard that the south coast had been devastated by a tsunami we decided to help in any way possible. When the all clear was announced two hours later on the radio we returned to Mahina Tiare renting a large new van on the way.
All seemed quiet back in Apia Marina so Roy, Jill and I went to Red Cross in Apia to see how we could assist. They welcomed our offer to help and we loaded the van with water, blankets and relief supplies before taping a Red Cross flag on the front and back of the van. We then proceeded across the island with two local guys to the small hospital at the village of Lalomanu, the worst affected area.
When we reached the south coast it was instantly apparent that the situation was serious. The guys who were guiding us had a hard time determining where we were. There were no recognizable buildings, villages, resorts or even signs of life. Everyone had taken refuge on higher ground fearing another catastrophic wave. The 20 miles of coast road to the hospital was slow going and although it had be semi cleared, with many detours where parts had washed away we often just drove over debris including power lines. Nearly everything except the churches had been flattened with cars tumbled upside down and small fishing boats washed high up onto land. The round trip took four hours and we finished up with the evening with a thankful hot dinner at 11pm at Aggie Grey’s.
We reported to Red Cross at 6am the next morning for another day of ferrying supplies and aid workers. The morning Samoan Observer newspaper reported the death toll at 47, with the number of people missing still a critical concern. The Samoans were doing a phenomenal job in providing aid and I was impressed by the deep rooted bond that showed between each and every fellow Samoan, even though they may have never set eyes upon each other before. While traveling to and from the hospital I witnessed and amazing display of community and teamwork as everyone worked together. As the blistering sun beat down teams were hard at work sorting through the wreckage in the hopes of finding people alive while others gathered up the pieces of destroyed homes, hauling them up the hill to those who were constructing on temporary shelters.
Today was another early start with a Red Cross supply drive to Lalomanu. NZ and Australian relief workers have arrived and as Red Cross now has a surplus of local volunteers they informed us that they are no longer in need of our assistance. Donations to the communities and families affected by the tsunami will be appreciated.
John and Amanda happy and thankfully safe in Apia Marina
Friday in Apia everything seemed rather normal, but fairly quiet with as there were no government offices open on Wednesday or Thursday. Other than the small local morning paper and radio news rebroadcast from Radio New Zealand once a day getting local news is difficult. It’s hard to know what is happening if one doesn’t speak Samoan so it’s best to search the internet. The airport and flights are normal and there aren’t any shortages of supplies. Outside aid is arriving on military flights, the Samoan prime mister has returned from overseas, and the New Zealand prime minister arrived aboard a RNAF 757 containing a portable desalinization plant, Samoan-speaking medical personnel, emergency supplies and rescue sniffer dogs.
Kalalau, a sloop from Seattle, left Thursday morning loaded to the gunnels with supplies for Niuatoputapu as the island was also hit badly and several other yachts plan on making the 180 mile passage there once it’s learned what supplies are needed. The Tongan government patrol boat arrived there Friday with medical personnel and a French naval ship from Noumea should arrive tomorrow. We’ve been listening in on the morning SSB cruisers net to see how everyone fared especially the yachts anchored in Pago Pago and Niuatoputapu.
John and I are now anchored in small bay to the east of Apia for a few quiet days to work on Mahina Tiare. We’ve talked a lot about Tuesday’s events and know we made the right decision to run although perhaps it should have been sooner and we learnt from Lauren Grace that you need to go to sea to a depth of 100 ft to be safe.
We’re certainly on schedule for our Thursday October 8th, Leg 5 departure for Fiji via Wallis and Futuna although we may adjust our course for a quick stop to deliver supplies to Niuatoputapu.
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