Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore sailing seminars and boat purchase consultation.
The water was almost unreal turquoise color, and at 84.9 F (29.4C) the warmest we have ever recorded and we all enjoyed checking out the coral and colorful fish.
Wallis appears like a miniature Bora Bora but without the tourism and hotels. The lagoon is huge, largely navigatable, with an attractive mountainous island in the middle. The Wallisinian people are related in language and customs to Samoans and Tongans and couldn’t be friendlier. The French influence means that the island is much wealthier than their Polynesian cousins and sports a large hospital, nice schools, fancy 4WD trucks and even a modest supermarket. There are several empty houses, a testament to the many locals who have moved to New Caledonia to work in the nickel mines.
Sunday afternoon we moved over the wharf the main wharf and Monday morning Amanda taught rig check and spares plus splicing while I checked in with the Gendarme and immigration. Late morning crew took off exploring and to have lunch ashore.
We’d planned to spend a second night on Wallis until we heard that a large cruise ship was planned to arrive in Savusavu, our port of clearance in Fiji, on the same day. Knowing that Savusavu has a total population of 2,000 and that the cruise ship was setting 2,000 passengers ashore we decided to tweak our flexible schedule and set sail a day earlier for Fiji after first anchoring near the pass for a refreshing snorkel.
For a minute I considered waking up everyone, showing them the new weather info and letting them decide what the best course of action was. But I settled on taking the charts and computer with latest GRIB files to the cockpit and going over the options with Mel and Lore who were on watch. After a look at the info they agreed that that prudent thing to do was to change course immediately and head straight south thus skipping Futuna. When the strong SSE winds would arrive we would then be on a beam or broad reach rather than close-hauled.
24 hours later we went from sailing in light winds and occasionally motoring through calms and mixed squalls to 35 kts, gusting to 42, in a flash! When checking with the radar we noted a small squall, no different than the others that had a maximum of 18 kts of wind, but it hasn’t let up yet and from the GRIB forecast we don’t expect it to for nearly another 24 hours. Lore and I have just triple reefed the main whilst Norm reefed the headsail to a size no larger than a tea towel. Now it’s up to crew to test their skill of steering in heavy seas.
We should reach Welangilala, a small uninhabited coral atoll with a 90’ tall lighthouse equipped with a RACON (radar transponder,) around noon today. This marks the entrance to the treacherous Nanuku Passage, at approximately 15 miles wide and 80 mile long the strait is bordered by unmarked, frequently awash, poorly charted reefs. To make this even more exciting for the navigator the surface current does all kinds of interesting things when it hits the scattered islands situated to the south that make up the Lau group.
October 18, 2009, 0630 hrs, 17.26 S, 178.57 W, Log: 134,323 miles
At 0830 I chatted on the radio with Dolly Singh the friendly marina manager whom I’d earlier emailed. She’d already called health, quarantine and customs officers and advised me that they would be arriving to MT via the Copra Shed skiff. Minutes later two attractive young women from quarantine boarded and efficiently issued us health clearance before the other officers arrived. Surprisingly, Fiji has streamlined check in procedures! Now customs handles immigration thus eliminating one office cruisers had to visit and the friendly customs inspector offered to sign all of our crew off at that time. After we were cleared in and had breakfast our crew were excited about the free showers and very reasonable laundry service at Copra Shed; $9 Fijian ($5 US) for wash, dry & fold per load of laundry.
Savusavu (savusavufjij.com) is one our favorite towns in Fiji. Copra Shed (firstname.lastname@example.org) is very attractive with its laundry, two restaurants, garden bar, showers and two apartments, boutique, art gallery, travel and tour operator, wifi and office services, plus marine store. Their yacht moorings in are in close proximity to town with it’s large public market with handicraft stands,
On the dinghy dock we met up with Deb Cutting and Scott Harper who sailed on consecutive expeditions with us in 2004. Deb has since retired from teaching and Scott from his architectural firm and are they are now cruising aboard their Saga 43, Viva which absolutely glistened! Norm and Beth, who also own a Saga 43, were ecstatic to find two Saga 43’s in the anchorage. This provided them the perfect opportunity to ask many questions and they both took notes on the modifications and upgrades both owners had undertaken.
Thursday night was “Curry Nite” at a little local restaurant and there must have been 30 or more cruisers enjoying a tasty three course Indian meal for $10 Fijian ($5.50 US or 3 Euro). It was great to hear stories of cruisers coming from many different countries.
Friday morning Pacific Princess arrived at 0800 and shortly the Copra Shed dock (where they unloaded 1800 people via the ship’s launches) and town became a zoo so we slipped our lines, stopped by a dock to top off our water, then anchored four miles south off Jean Michelle Cousteau’s small dive resort. With only 22 bungalows and a total commitment to having a positive impact on the community and surrounding reefs and environment this award-winning resort truly showcases how tourism can benefit a small community. The gift shop had indigenous art from Fiji and other Pacific islands at very reasonable prices, and we enjoyed a sunset drink by the pool before heading back to MT for dinner.
Richard Marshall, 76
I am a retired hospital pharmacist living near Seattle with my wife Margaret. I have owned an Ericson 35 since 1976, sailing Pacific Northwest waters. Besides sailing, I love traveling, most recently to southern Africa and China. I am really enjoying my first ocean sailing experience.
Lore Haak-Voersmann, 56 from Germany:
I am a psychologist and a teacher and for more than ten years I have worked on a German-wide life skills program with the goal of preventing kids from taking drugs. I have been sailing for almost 50 years on all different types of boats including large square riggers and my husband Peter and I sail a 40’ Vilm II which is wintering on a mooring in the far north of Norway. Next summer we plan to sail to Spitsbergen. This is my fourth expediting aboard Mahina Tiare and I always enjoy the good atmosphere and excellent seamanship.
Mel Masllorens, 68 from Buenos Aries, Argentina
I am in the paper machine business and most of my sailing experience has been in the River Plate between Argentina and Uruguay with some chartering in the Caribbean, plus leg 7-07 out to Madeira aboard MT. I have always wanted to sail in the Pacific, so took this opportunity which has proven a good decision.
Beth Cooper, 52 from Vancouver, Canada
I am a consulting occupational therapist and will be working one more year. In August 2010 my husband Norm and I will be letting go of the dock lines in Vancouver and setting sail for Mexico and the South Pacific. We own a Saga 43 but have been dinghy racing and boating in the Pacific Northwest for 16 years, plus chartering in the BVI and Whitsundays. I am particularly interested in visiting remote villages like Makogai and getting to know the local people.
Norm Cooper, 55
I am a recently retired marketing executive from Vancouver, Canada. At the moment I’m working on final offshore passagemaking preparations to Sarah Jean our Saga 43 for. Our reason for joining this expedition was to simply add to our knowledge and skills so our own trip will be as safe and fun as possible and we have been achieving that daily.
Saturday morning several of us went for a long run along the beach followed by some very good snorkeling before we set sail for Makogai Island, an abandoned leper colony, 50 miles downwind. We had an exciting sail with double-reefed sails and MT charged along to windward to clear the first reef before we eased sheets. She then took off surfing like a freight train roaring down the tracks. We knew almost nothing about Makogai Island, which is only briefly mentioned in Calder’s Fiji Cruising Guide. It states that there is now a small fisheries department research station at the site of the old leper colony.
Upon visually navigating through the western reef pass (both electronic and charts were off) we crossed the deep lagoon to Dalice (da leth e) village on the NE of Makogai (mock o nai) island. The anchorage is nearly totally protected with a sandy bottom in 30’. I went ashore to ask permission for our crew explore and met with Kameli, head of the fisheries station. He was a little guarded at first but once he learned that we were interested in donating toothbrushes and school supplies as well as seeing the research projects along with joining them for church the following day he warmed up. Turns out he is from the island of Kadavu and is the cousin of Kata Ravono, one of my best Fijian friends.
We learned that Na Sau was another “new” village an hour walk away on the south end of the island and was where the children go to school. Na Sau consists of families that are squatting in the abandoned workers housing left over from the leper colony days and this was where church would be held the following day.
We enjoyed the hour hike Sunday morning, following an overgrown road that used to connect the settlements. Church was Methodist, with an older woman as lay minister speaking in Fijian for an hour whilst several people also took part in read from the bible. The singing was true Fijian, shaking the rafters of the old building. The chief asked us to introduce ourselves and sincerely welcomed us to their island. After the service everyone shook our hands and said they were looking forward to coming across to Dalice for the meke the following day.
In the afternoon we snorkeled the black rock reef and its fan garden and checked the giant clam nursery. What an unusual use of old hospital beds – using them as holding pens for the giant clams!
We had learned the island’s sole source of income comes from the meke (traditional Fijian dance) performed by the school kids for the Fiji Aggressor live aboard dive boats weekly visits. Guest pay $15 Fijian for the dancing and traditional underground oven feast which the community divides between households. We asked if it would be possible for them to perform the meke for us, even though we had fewer people than they were used to, and the answer was a resounding, YES! It turned out that Monday was Diwali, a national religious holiday on which there wouldn’t be school.
Before the meke Watson, the island chief, took us on a tour of the abandoned leper settlement showing us the foundations of the huge cinema, the generator and the grave of Mother Mary Agnes; the nun who was instrumental in caring for the inhabitants. With 5,000 leper residents coming from all over the South Pacific, Makogai was totally supported by donations organized by an American man.
Watson at the grave of Mother Mary Agnes
The meke was great fun, but according to Watson it’s also culturally very important to for the island to maintain their language and oral history.
It was a smooth 15 mile sail to Levuka, the old capital of Fiji that was once a very busy whaling port. Town was totally quiet on a holiday evening but we enjoyed a tasty dinner ashore at Whale’s Tale restaurant.
When I landed on the wharf to see if Customs was open I was met by a friendly Fijian who introduced himself as Eminoni. It turned out that I’d met him and his wife Mariah twenty years ago. Just after Fiji’s first military coup. Eminoni was a Fijian soldier tasked with boarding and checking all arriving vessels for guns. Instead of searching Mahina Tiare, he invited Barbara and I up the hill to his home to meet his wife Mariah and share a bowl of kava. Today Mariah must have had some kind of second sight because when she saw us anchor MT III off Levuka she said to Eminoni, “That looks like Mahina Tiare, go down and invite them home for kava”
After dinner we climbed the steps to again share a bowl of kava. Joni, who was then just a toddler, did the honors by passing around bilos of kava. Now he is a fourth grade teacher at the local public school, and his brothers and sisters are all in college in Suva.
After a busy morning of classes on Tuesday covering diesel engine maintenance, electrical power systems and watermakers we headed back ashore to check out the local museum and pick up some more fruit and veggies before setting sail for Leleuvia; a tiny idyllic island 15 miles south. Amanda covered sail repair and splicing before Dick, Lore and Beth worked on the serious navigation challenges of today’s 50 mile passage to Suva.
We left at 0530 with minimal light to ensure getting around the SE corner of Viti Levu, which would be to windward, in light morning winds leaving a glorious broad reach along the coast to Suva in the heavier afternoon breeze.
Our final sail to Suva yesterday was perfect especially when Mel landed his first mahi mahi (a large one at that) which Amanda turned part of into Tahitian poisson cru for lunch. We had the anchor down off the Royal Suva Yacht Club by 1300 and while I took a taxi to the commercial wharf downtown to clear us in Amanda taught splicing and sail design. Our gang enjoyed showers and relaxing ashore before a dinner at the yacht club. We had a lot to be thankful for; new friendships, great sailing, and some exceptional island visits.
Richard calculated that high tide Thursday morning was at 0920 which allowed us to bring MT right into the club’s fuel dock. We fueled for the first time in five countries and two months and Norm did a great job of cleaning the topsides while crew filled the water tanks and carried off our rubbish.
All too soon the expedition was over with everyone heading off en masse to the Tradewinds (now Novotel) Hotel in nearby Lami. Beth and Norm are flying to Kadavu for a week of diving off a remote village, Richard is off to First Landing next to Vuda Pt. Marina where he’ll be able to visit with cruisers and Lore and Mel are headed home to busy lives in Germany and Argentina.
We will set sail in a few minutes for tiny Daku Village in Kadavu, 50 miles south, to visit the Ravono family then off to Musket Cove, Malololailai Island where we got married on the beach 11 years ago. What a treat!
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