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Leg 5-2009 - Update 1
October 9, 2009, 0200 hrs, 13,52 S, 172.49 W, Log: 133,720 miles
Broad reaching at 6.5 kts in 17 ENE winds, full main, double-reefed genoa
Baro: 1010.9, Cabin Temp: 84F, cockpit 82F, sea water 83.3F

Sailing on to a New Adventure!

Four days after the trauma and drama of the earthquake and tsunami plus numerous aftershocks, Amanda and I were sure ready for a quiet break that Vailele Bay, less than five miles from Apia Marina would provide. The only trouble was that we had to obtain written permission from the Prime Minister’s office before harbor control would allow us to leave Apia and the government offices seemed to be closed for the day after each aftershock or warning.

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Vailima – Robert Louis Stevenson House

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Robert Louis seated on the top veranda step with his wife to the right. His mother (Queen Victorian looking) is on the left while his brother is standing far left with a cockatoo on his shoulder

On Friday we found Nina, the PM’s secretary, in her office and were able to get the letter, clear out and head up the coast. We were rewarded with a quiet and clean, though slightly rolly anchorage. Our four day break passed quickly as we worked on final improvements to our new awning, getting a couple “cheat” coats of varnish on and doing some deck maintenance.

Tuesday morning we headed back to Apia, doing a big shop at the colorful and bustling public market and a supermarket run at the new Lucky Foodtown, one block from the market.

All of our crew had arrived a couple days early they organized at taxi van up to Robert Louis Stevenson’s home that has been turned into a museum. We has an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide and it was a treat to learn what an impact Stevenson had on Samoa during the last four years of his life that he spent here.

Wednesday we asked our Leg 5 crew to meet aboard at 3:30 PM to allow us to start our safety orientation, but at around noon the tsunami sirens went off again. The marina staff banged on the deck yelling that there had been an earthquake near Vanuatu and there was another tsunami warning. We must leave at once and run for the hills. On our way up the dock we met our Kiwi neighbor, who owns a local fishing company, he and his wife were returning from town to get their power catamaran underway. He briefly said that when he’d gotten the message in his office he’d quickly researched it on the internet and discovered that there was “a small probability” of a tsunami following the earthquake.

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Sunset motoring in calm seas

This time the sea water was not surging or receding in the marina but we still decided headed for the roof of Aggie Grey’s hotel, this time to be asked to go to the furthest back building of the hotel. We climbed up narrow stairs to the roof where an Australian television crew was filming. After an hour of waiting and visiting with other yachties harbor control issued an “All Clear” and we headed back to the marina to prepare for orientation with our new crew.

This morning I cleared out with immigration, customs and port control and by 1500 we had the awning down, dinghy on deck and mainsail hoisted. We have had excellent broad reaching conditions as we sailed the length of Upolu Island, entering Apolina Straits between Savaii Island and Upolu just at dusk. Our easterly trades picked up a bit once we were clear of Savaii, and it looks like we should have a smooth, 275 mile passage to Wallis.

October 14, 2009, 0 700 hrs, 16.31 S, 178.36 W, Log: 134,144 miles
Broad reaching at 7.3 kts in 25-35 ESE winds, triple-reefed main and genoa
Baro: 1010.9, Cabin Temp: 82F, cockpit 81 F, sea water 84.2F

Our passage turned out to be a little too smooth as we had to motorsail a fair amount of the remaining miles. This was the first time we’ve had to motor much this year and we haven’t filled our fuel tanks since Tahiti which seems like months ago. The bonus of nearly calm conditions was that the normally choppy anchorages at Wallis Island were glassy calm. Beth did an excellent job of calculating the tides (which can ebb at up to six knots!) and navigating us into the lagoon.

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Anchorage at Motu Faioa

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The waterfront and Catholic church as seen from our wharf anchorage

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Anchorage at Motu Faioa

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Beth strikes out in the lagoon

As it was Sunday (we’d jumped a day due to crossing the date line) we knew we wouldn’t be able to clear customs until Monday morning so we spent the day anchored off Motu Faioa, not far inside the pass. In true French tradition, many of the locals and several of the ex-pat French had built shelters or small houses on this and several other motus for “le weekend” of fishing and relaxing. Within minutes everyone had grabbed masks and fins to heading ashore for a walk on the windward beach of this small uninhabited motu.

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.

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Everyone master three-strand splicing

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Since when are ice creams lunch?

 

0 Beth, an avid quilter and Lore met a woman who hand printed her own Polynesian-design fabric and had fun trying to remember enough French to communicate and purchase some fabric.

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.

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Richard on morning watch in light conditions

Futuna the sister island of Wallis is 140 miles on the way to Fiji. It’s smaller island than Wallis and sadly does not have the encasing reef just an open roadstead anchorage generally only suitable for day stops. Futuna was our next scheduled stop for the following day however at 0100 the New Zealand weatherfax showed a new small low dropping in directly over Fiji. This meant we would then have strong headwinds for the 275 mile passage from Futuna, through Nanuka Passage and to Savusavu.

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.

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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 anchor, Makongai Island
Baro: 1011.8, Cabin Temp: 77F, cockpit 78 F, sea water 78.8F

Our landfall at Welangilala was a stormy one with plenty of wind and choppy seas. We zoomed along through Nanuku Passage all day Wednesday passing South Cape, Taveuni Island just after dark. The seas moderated a bit after that, and we strained to see Point Reef light marking the entrance to Savusavu Bay amidst rain showers. We sailed nearly to the entrance of Nakama Creek where Copra Shed Marina is located and then very cautiously motored between moored boats up to Copra Shed where the night watchman saw us and came out in a skiff and led us to an unoccupied mooring near their dock. It was 0400 when we tied up and I know we all were excited to be arriving in Fiji.

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MT getting water a Copra Shed Marina dock

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.

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Welcoming committee and Copra Shed – band, Dolly, policemen and office greeter.

Savusavu (savusavufjij.com) is one our favorite towns in Fiji. Copra Shed (coprashed@is.com.fj) 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,

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Beth shopping for quilt fabric

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The idyllic anchorage at Cousteau’s

two MH supermarkets, Hot Bread Kitchen as well as dozens of small Indian shops selling everything from saris to pots and pans. Tourism consists of the visiting yachties plus a few dive resort guests and a monthly cruise ship visit. Several of the shop owners and market veggie sellers told us they REALLY appreciate and value the yachties business which they said is important to the town. All and all it couldn’t be more convenient and it’s no wonder most yachties stay a while.

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Scott and Deb aboard Viva

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Cruisers out on the town enjoying “Curry Nite”

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.

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Our keen leg 5 crew – Richard, Lore, Mel, Beth and Norm

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.

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Charging towards Makogai

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.

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Dalice Village

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Lore, Amanda and village children watching the seahorse and leatherback turtle

The research project mainly consists of growing giant clams, the ones that reach up to 3’ across. The clam larvae is captured and sprouted in concrete pools and the station also raises turtles from eggs and propagates coral in the pools. There were seven guys working on project and their families lived in the village.

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The pathway to the church

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.

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Watson and the children gather for a picture after church

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Yes it’s a live iguana!

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All aboard for the boat ride back to the village

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.

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Mel exploring the colorful fan coral

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Giant calm nursery utilizing old leper hospital beds

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.

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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.

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After the meke Amanda performed a NZ Maori haka with the Fijian boys and then taught the girls how to sing and dance “hukilau”. She also did an Irish step dance to a drum beat but it somehow got lost in translation, especially when the boys hastened the beat.

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.

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The old whaling town of Levuka

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”

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John, Eminoni and Mariah

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.

October 22, 2009, 0530 hrs, 18.06 S, 178.23 W, Log: 134,410 miles
At anchor near Suva
Baro: 1011.8, Cabin Temp: 76F, cockpit 78 F, sea water 77.0F

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Mel, Lore and Beth throw their numerous welcoming flower leis into the sea in the hopes of returning to Fiji

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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