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Leg 3-2010, Update 1
July 12, 2010, 0600 hrs, 19,23 S, 168.58 W, Log: 140,130 miles
Baro: 1012.9, Cabin Temp: 80 F, cockpit 80 F, sea water 82.2 F
Broad reaching at 7.5 kts in 21 kt NE winds, single reef in main, full genoa

Surfing Toward Niue – 52 miles to go!

What a sail we’ve been having. For just the second time of the passage we tucked single reefs in the main and genoa at 0400 this morning, and we’re still flying along with nearly flat seas. We saw our first land bird last night at sunset and are now watching for birds coming out from the land ahead over the horizon for their day’s fishing. These birds were one of the many signs early Polynesian navigators used for finding islands.

Our Leg 3 crew met us for safety orientation last Wednesday afternoon, and little did they know Amanda and I had had a real nail-biter of a night. It started with a very scary lightning show after dinner that just sat over the harbor and town area of Rarotonga for several hours. The lightning was striking land and buildings around us and the thunder was deafening, even with all the hatches closed. Then the wind was gusting to 38 kts but as it was from the stern of our med mooring and relatively calm in the harbour all was well. Amanda and I took turns to watch out the storm but around midnight the wind died and we both went to bed.

At 0200 the wind increased again and started to quickly shift to the north; the open direction of the harbor. For some reason we were now unusually close to the patrol vessel on our port side and Amanda went to take up on our starboard lines mid lines that I’d previously secured to an engine block on the harbor bottom. The line was slack, so much so that Amanda pulled it all aboard including the chain I’d used to fix it to the flywheel on an old engine. We then thought it best to take up on our second bow anchor, set in the middle of the harbor to starboard, making sure not to place too much pressure on our starboard stern line going ashore, least we pull out both bow anchors.

By now the wind had significantly increased with large waves rolling into the harbour and bouncing off the wall behind us. Upon setting our anchors last week I’d also checked that of the yacht beside us on starboard; a 50’ 45,000 lb home-built steel ketch. Noticing they anchored with a tiny 20 lb Danforth anchor and a used halyard rode secured by a knot to the anchor, no chain, I’d offered to set their main anchor, on  chain, using our dinghy. Now they were pitching violently and it appeared that their main anchor was dragging. Sure enough the skipper kept winching a chunk of chain in every 10 minutes until the anchor was on deck; all that was holding them was the tiny Danforth.

We envisioned that if the ketch continued to drag she’d slam into our stern line. This would then slam us into the patrol boat and them into the concrete harbor wall. As we both appeared doomed we started the engine (in case we also drug anchor) and in the midst of this heaving chaos we decided to launch our dinghy (it had been suspended amidships at rub strake level) and shift a couple of our stern lines, adding a second line on starboard. We were still not happy with our situation, especially as the bow thruster is still without battery power, and decided that our best option was to totally bail. After shouting our intentions to our neighbor we dropped our three stern lines into the water and motored forward, past the patrol boat that we were alongside. Amanda pulled in the second anchor line until we were swinging freely in the middle of the harbor.

By 0400 the wind started to drop and soon after dawn we re-anchored along the harbor wall in a large gap where three yachts that had departed the previous day. We went to work like crazy, cleaning and bleaching 700’ of anchor and stern lines that we’d been using for the previous couple weeks. We also needed to pay our harbor fees, check out with customs, purchase fruit and bread, plus return our bicycle. Phew….we were both pretty exhausted by the time crew arrived for orientation but at least the harbor was sunny and calm and MT was safe and ship shape.

Noon on Thursday crew arrived ready to head to sea and after lunch and unpacking we completed the balance of our safety orientation before raising anchor and sail and setting off for Niue. Little did we know that Geoff’s had asked his wife Mary Lou to take a picture of us leaving…so four hours later she was still waiting on the dock for us to depart……Ahh…true love!

leaving

The winds were a little light requiring some motoring the first night but then it filled in and we have been scooting along nicely ever since. Yesterday morning we had a big treat – a nearly total solar eclipse just after dawn! Rarotonga had been hopping as hundreds of eclipse-chasing tourists had just arrived from all over the world and were waiting for their charted flights (17 of them) on little Air Raro planes to Mangaia, one of the sparsely-populated Southern Cooks that was in the path of totality. We didn’t have any idea if the eclipse would be visible from our position at sea, but were very pleasantly surprised when soon after sunrise all but a tiny sliver of the sun disappeared.

A week ago the GRIB weather files started showing a frontal passage passing over Niue Island soon after we planned to arrive. It’s recently showed up on the NZ weather fax charts and may now change our sailing plans. A strong high pressure over NZ has caused the low to develop further north than usual, delaying its normal course toward Cape Horn.

Niue, with a population of around 900 on “The Rock” (another 30,000 have immigrated to NZ and Australia) is one of the smallest and most friendliest (towards yachts) nations in the world. The only problem is that the island’s only anchorage (it’s really not an anchorage with average depths of around 70’) and landing are totally exposed to winds from N to W to S. In normal ESE trades cruisers enjoy using the 22 sturdy moorings maintained by Niue Yacht Club. But when frontal passages occur with W winds the yacht club requests all yachts to leave the moorings and put to sea as at least one yacht has been lost on the reef when they tried to stick out westerly winds whilst hanging on a mooring.

So, we’ve been closely watching the GRIB and fax forecasts and hope to have at least tonight and maybe, hopefully tomorrow on a mooring before we either set sail directly into the headwinds of the cold front toward Tonga, or sail back and forth in the lee of the 8 x 12 mile island waiting for the winds to back around to their normal SE direction. In any case, it will be an interesting next several days.

 

July 15, 2010, 0700 hrs, 18.49 S, 171.46 W, Log: 140,298 miles
Baro: 1015.0, Cabin Temp: 78 F, cockpit 78 F, sea water 82 F
Broad reaching at 5 kts in 10 kt NE winds

Niue – Non-stop Adventures!
We made landfall at Niue Monday afternoon, in the end racing the clock to pick up a mooring, launch the dinghy and make it to customs before Peta, the customs guy, closed the office at 4pm. Keith Vial, Niue Yacht Club commodore, had overheard my conversation with Niue Radio when they had said that we couldn’t clear customs until the following day if we arrived after 4pm and surprised me by showing up on the dock to give me a ride to customs. We arrived with four minutes to spare and Peta welcomed us to Niue. I explained that because of the impending frontal passage we might have to leave by noon the next day and he said no problem. He also said (for some unknown reason) we didn’t have to worry about quarantine inspection and that there would be no exit fees for immigration if we stayed less than 24 hours.

Our crew was happy to know we could all go ashore and made good use of the new yacht club showers. Niue Yacht Club used to operate out of Keith’s car, but in recent years they have gained a club house which is a couple rooms in a snack bar operated by club members. This means ice cream, beer and panninis, plus internet, book exchange and a relaxing place to meet and visit with cruisers from all over the world.

We were surprised how few boats were on the moorings; a Danish family, two Kiwi couples and an older race boat from Newport, RI on its way to the Sydney-Hobart race. Everyone was concerned about the impending front. The race boat planned to sail in the morning and the other boats hoped to ride it out on moorings. We religiously checked the weatherfaxes and GRIB files closely as the strength of the forecasted westerlies was decreasing slightly with each forecast.

For some crazy reason Niue’s weekly produce market is held only Tuesday mornings from 5-8 AM. I offered anyone who wanted to join Amanda and me to be ready at 6 and was really surprised when ALL of our crew was in the cockpit, ready to roll before 6 am! The strangest things for sale at the open-air market were blue coconut crabs, a Niuean delicacy, still alive and tied up with rubber inner tube bands. You can take them home and keep them alive until you’re ready to boil them up. There were also bundles of taro, manioc, bananas, cabbage, and a few handicrafts. A woman with a giant pot of Niuean porridge encouraged us to give it a try. I was game and purchased half coconut shell of porridge. It was made of coconut, manioc and sugar and wasn’t really unpleasant just a little too sweet for my taste. We picked up some bananas and coconut bread, just out of the oven from the bakery across the street, and Amanda and I went for a run as our crew explored one of the beach chasm trails.

After breakfast aboard our gang decided to explore the island via the rental van Keith had offered them. Not to waste a sunny day they quickly grabbed masks and snorkels and picnic makings and took off for a day of adventuring in the numerous caves and chasms that open to the sea along with chance meetings with some eccentric locals.

Amanda had noticed a poster at Jenna’s, a little café next to the yacht club, announcing a buffet feast with local dancing for that night. We were really in for a treat! Timothy, a Niuean who had recently returned to the island after working in the States had expanded the small café by building a tarp-covered outdoor seating area and stage, and the place was totally packed with around 60 locals and visitors. The food was amazing – everything from marinated raw fish, taro, layered papaya, seafood fritters, salted beef in taro leaves to lasagna. Desert was the topper; cheesecake or sticky date pudding or both! We were stuffed, but then it was time for the dancing!

The young people that had been cooking and serving had changed into traditional dance outfits and did a great job, in the end getting most of the audience on stage to join them. Lots of fun!

When we returned to the concrete wharf breakers were rolling along its length before sweeping up the sides of the hoist area. There is no dinghy dock or beach landing on Niue. All boats including local fishing and dive boats plus yachties dinghies must be hoisted by crane 10’ and parked on the wharf, even in fine weather.

As Amanda operated the crane lowering the dinghy into the maelstrom, I stood waist deep in surges on the step while Peter stood the wharfs edge holding the dinghy painter. At the right moment I leapt into the dinghy. Getting the bridle unhooked and engine started was a challenge. To load crew I pinned the bow of the dinghy with the motor against the stainless steel ladder further down the wharf and could only watch as our crew successfully climbed into the bow between the surges. The wind had backed from NNE to NNW and although only blowing 15 kts, the rollers were now making the mooring field rough lee shore.

After getting everyone aboard it was all strong hands to help stow the motor and dinghy on deck in case we had to put to sea. In strong winds and rough seas it’s a real challenge to lift off the outboard and secure it to the stern rail, then hoist, flip and lower the dinghy inverted onto the foredeck. With winds averaging and not forecasted to pass 15 kts we decided to see if we could safely wait until morning to set sail although we ensured we were ready to get underway if need be. Peter and Sherry slept in the cockpit keeping an eye on the windspeed and direction until the rains started at 1:30. I was then on watch with helpers as the wind increased.

At 0500 winds peaked 27 kts, gusting to 32 and we had our hands full. The previous afternoon I had snorkeled down and inspected the substantial mooring blocks and line, so my main concern was our line from the bow through the mooring eye and back chafing through. In fact, a brass screw on the rub strake backed out underneath the mooring line, bent over 45 degrees, and was chafing the line in the hard-to-see-location. I removed the screw with pliers and posted a mooring watch person on the bow with a powerful light. In the driving rain and wind we rotated the bow watch every 30 minutes. We also started the engine and had someone standing by at the helm. Amanda was called to be on standby, suited up in full foulies, ready to set sail if needed. Setting sail to windward into the teeth of the front was one option, and another was to drop the mooring and sail around the island into the lee to wait for the wind to switch to the south. However, by 0540 the wind dropped to 13 kts and shifted quickly to SSW. We were left with large rollers on the beam but were no longer in danger so caught up on sleep before a late breakfast where we planned our next move. The rolling was a little hard to take so around noon we decided to set sail for Tonga even though we’d have to take it slowly to ensure a daylight landfall.

What a difference, once we set sail! Winds were modest, in the 10-16 kt range, and the westerly swell quickly died out as the clouds disappeared. With full sunshine all of our wet foulies found their way to the lifelines to dry and we were off on a great sail. Late afternoon we completed our marine weather course putting us nearly up to date with our teaching schedule.

Last night our strongest winds were 13 kts, seas were quite calm, the new moon was out, and all was well. With only 122 miles to our first landfall in Vava’u, Tonga, we don’t mind the modest winds as we don’t want to arrive before dawn. It’s been 30 years since I last visited Vava’u aboard Mahina Tiare I, and 33 years since Amanda sailed there with her family aboard Swanhaven, their Roberts 50 ketch. We know there have been many changes so we’re interested to see it for ourselves, including a Moorings yacht charter base and several small local businesses that cater to the 200-300 visiting yachts that pass through Vava’u annually on their way to Fiji or New Zealand.

Leg 3-2010, Update 2
July 19, 2010, 0600 hrs, 17.36 S, 172.59 W, Log: 140,558 miles
Baro: 1014.9, Cabin Temp: 80 F, cockpit 80 F, sea water 84.2 F
Beam reaching at 7.5 kts in 25 kt SE winds, triple reefed main and genoa

Sad to say Goodbye to Tonga!

Our landfall in Vava’u was magical – sailing around the north coast of 500’ cliffs in the dark, watching more and more land details become clear as the sun rose, and finally entering Neiafu Harbor, the port of entry right at 8 am as planned. We were ready for customs, when they opened at 8:30, and hoped to get cleared in and out at the same time. After picking up an available mooring off the Vava’u Yacht Club, a very tropical looking place, within minutes an older Tongan man paddled up in a kayak and introduced himself as Alofi. He explained that as it was Saturday, not Friday and it wouldn’t be possible for us to clear customs until Monday. We had forgotten that Tonga makes the dateline jog around the country so that they are the nation in the world to greet the new day.


View of Neiafu Harbor and town


Vava’u Yacht Club

Alofi offered to try and find all four officials for us if we didn’t mind paying over time fees. Knowing that it might not be possible to find all four on a Saturday, we decided to have a think on the matter. We had two options; wait aboard in Neiafu Harbor until Monday morning, the day that we had planned to set sail for Samoa, or take down our yellow quarantine flag and quietly disappear. We chose the later and told Alofi we were leaving for Samoa. Alofi asked if we would like him to bring us some hot bread and fresh vegetables from the market so we took him up on his offer and shortly he returned from the public market with bread made by his sister and a watermelon.

We then called our Aussie friends aboard Grace, a sistership for some anchoring ideas. They’d found a secure and interesting anchorage about ten miles away, so we headed there. We read our cruising guides that Tapana Island is a small uninhabited island, protected from all directions, without any village but with two very unusual businesses, both run by ex-cruisers.

14m

The Ark Gallery is a tiny houseboat-art gallery combination, and when I took our crew aboard to check it out, Sheri, the artist said, “I know you – Tahiti, 1982 – you were doing sail repairs for other boats.” Her art (and the Ark) were amazing. When cyclones threatened, Sheri and her husband Larry simply winched the houseboat on rollers up whichever beach would be the most protected and waited it out. They also rented out several looked after several moorings, caretaking boats for absentee owners and had delivered 21 yachts from Tonga to the US. When I asked Sheri what La Paella Restaurant, across the bay was like, she said, “It’s just like the bar in Star Wars, and the food is great!” That was all the recommendation we needed and managed to get a booking for Sunday night.


Vickie ready to go aloft

For an afternoon exploration, after a visit from a Tongan lady and her family who came to sell us some baskets, crew grabbed masks and hit the beach running before taking afternoon naps and enjoying a quiet dinner aboard.

Rain showers windy conditions threaten punctuated for the next day so we decided to focus on class making the most of a quiet flat secure anchorage. Engine maintenance, going aloft, winches, sail and rig design & provisioning along with testing were enjoyed followed by a quick refreshing swim and the breaking out of clean party clothes.


Amanda and Maria with a paella

La Paella is perched on the side of a hill with a sweeping view of the bay. The building is very funky with a Tonga meets Spain theme. Flags of many yacht clubs and nations hang from the rafters; souvenirs of 20 years of visitors. Maria, her husband Edwardo, along with their Tongan worker, were hard at work preparing a four course dinner for 15. We invited Annette and Gerard from a 39’ Swedish yacht to join us while Linda, a lawyer and endurance horsewoman from Tasmania, asked if she could join us. That left a family of three, dairy farmers from Melbourne at the only other table.

What an evening! Plate after plate of Spanish tapas and delicacies kept coming out, each more tasty and exotic than the last. The piece de la resistance was several huge pans of paella, right off the open fire delivered to the tables.


Maria and Edwardo mid performance


The salsa dancing pet goat

After dinner was cleared hand painted curtains were pulled back to reveal a stage with a gold shimmering curtain backdrop and sound system. Edwardo entered the stage and played the guitar and harmonica whilst singing a few Spanish ballards. He was soon joined by Maria who played various percussion instruments along with singing, and their Tongan chef who played the drums. They entertained us with a mix of flamenco, Cuban and Brazilian music. In the midst of this their pet goat wandered in and started (I am not joking here!) dancing in the middle of the restaurant. When the goat dropped a load of goat pellets in the middle of the floor the Tongan chased her out with a broom. Edwardo finished the evening with a blues number in English. We were a little flummoxed as to the words until Lindi explained that Edwardo does not speak English he’d learnt the song from listening to a record years ago.

We made our way back to MT, stuffed and very relaxed!

At first light this morning Amanda and I went for a long run along Pangimotu, an island connected to Neiafu by a causeway. The view from the spine of the island was dramatic and included small islands as far as we could see in each direction. It seemed that much of the land was under serious cultivation with taro, manioc, sweet potatoes, pineapples, bananas, watermelon and sweet corn. The one village we found had churches on all four street corners, friendly inhabitants and a small sidewalk shops with hot fresh bread.

This morning our navigator set courses and waypoints to get us safely through the labyrinth of islands and reefs, to Swallow’s Cave and then Mariner’s Cave. We anchored fairly close to Swallow’s Cave for lunch, but when James and I checked it out by dinghy it proved too long of a ride to take with crew. So we raised anchor and James stood by off the cave entrance with MT while we slowly motored the dinghy in. It was almost like a cathedral inside, with huge stalagmites and stalactites, a few opening in the cave ceiling and even a trail leading up into the top of the cave.


Inside Swallows Cave

A ceiling opening

MT as seen through Swallow’s Cave opening


Not a lone palm tree in sight but some way cool trees full of fruit bats

Mariner’s Cave was just a mile and a bit away, but finding the unmarked entrance proved very difficult. We slowly motored the prescribed .5 to .75 mile past the NW tip of Nuapapu Island looking for a yellowish-whitish patch on the rock face with a lone palm tree directly overhead.

When we assumed we were at the right spot Geoff, Peter and Amanda hopped in with masks and fins and started searching along the coast for the underwater entrance. When they had swum what seemed like a quarter of a mile without finding it, diving in and out of dark chasms and caves I called on Ch 16, asking if anyone could relay the coordinates. Two replies instantly came back so with the latitude and longitude plugged into the GPS we quickly saw we had gone too far. We called our swimming scouts back aboard and motored to the coordinates.

As it was far too deep to anchor Vickie volunteered to watch the boat and away we swam! Amanda found what looked underwater to be a black hole and I swam in with a light. It’s a 6’ down, then about 16’ underwater before breaking the dark surface into a large and dramatic cave. The light filtering through the opening cast a turquoise hue on everything and when the waves surge the air quickly compressed resulting in a thick airless mist that filled the cave. It was very cool!


Swimmers at cliff face outside Mariners Cave

James’s tunnel view of John swimming down into the caves tunnel entrance

Ecstatic Cave Divers – James, Sherry, Peter, Geoff, J&A

Once back aboard we hoisted the dinghy and set sail for Samoa. As left the lee of the islands we kept tucking in more reefs until the main and headsail were both triple-reefed. We were still charging along at close to 8 kts and enjoying flat seas. The forecasted SSE winds, an unbelievably ideal wind direction for our passage, materialized and haven’t dropped below 20 kts yet. As the winds are forecasted to slowly back to E, we are steering 15 degrees upwind of course and still making excellent time.


Peter mastering tradewind sailing


Ah Mate….where’s me vegemite sandwich?

I had forgotten how very many islands there are in Vava’u and how friendly the people are. We are already planning a longer visit on our Leg 3 next year, when we will be certain to remember the dateline issue so that we can check in properly and explore Neiafu town!


Geoff at the wheel.

July 20, 2010,
2200 hrs, 13.47 S, 171.42 W, Log: 140,843 miles
Baro: 1014.9, Cabin Temp: 84 F, cockpit 86 F, sea water 86.0 F Broad reaching at 7.5 kts in 23 kt E winds, double reefed main and triple reefed genoa

Our passage up from Tonga has been excellent, with perfect wind angles allowing us to keep the wind abaft the beam for the entire passage. We rounded the far eastern end of Upolu just before dusk and have been surfing along the northern side of the island since then with increasingly smoother seas and now we have a gorgeous 2/3rds moon and the lights of Apia only four miles ahead. What an incredible ending to Leg 3!

Oops, before I forget, I must introduce our intrepid Leg 3 crew:


Vickie, Geoff, James, Peter, Sherry, J&A

Vickie, 49+
I work as an RN in the intensive care nursery in Spokane, Washington. I joined this expedition to learn as much as possible and to experience offshore cruising as my partner Roy and I plan to spend some time in the future cruising and exploring.

Geoff Watkins, 53 and from Sydney, Australia
The sun is setting as we make our final approach to Apia after a two week voyage from Raro. To pay for these adventures I work as an IT consultant, but anyone reading this should give it a bash – you never know, you might find yourself. (Geoff found Amanda’s stash of Vegemite, a vile Australian invention, that he proceeded to slather on many pieces of toast).

James, 57
I have enjoyed several ocean passages including a delivery from Maui to Canada and I chose this leg for its mix of ocean sailing and South Pacific Island hopping. What a great break from the office!

Peter Lythall, 35
I am an executive in an IT services company in northern BC, Canada, and we keep our Islander 36 in the Gulf Islands. We learned a tremendous amount and met some great people along the way. Definitely a great adventure!  

Sherry Lythall, 41
I live way up north in the NE corner of British Columbia. My background is in marketing and finance but I have spent the last several years raising my children Jake, Callie and Hunter. My husband and I joined this expedition to see if blue water cruising is something we would like to do ourselves. The expedition was amazing, from swimming in the clear waters of Niue to making friends with “pukey” my friendly seasick bucket.

July 25, 2010 1800 hrs, 13.52 S, 171.37 W, Log: 140, 860
At anchor, Saluafata Bay, 9 miles E of Apia

We rarely enter harbors in the dark but as Amanda and I have been in and out of Apia many times and our conditions were perfect, with lots of moonlight, we decided to risk it. We totally furled the headsail and triple reefed the main and when lined up on the range lights we slowly and carefully motorsailed into the harbor at around 4 knots. After we had the main down and fenders and lines ready we called Apia Port Control a call around midnight expecting them to tell us to anchor off the marina entrance until dawn. We were pleasantly surprised when they said they would send a boat out to guide us into the marina, which they did, allowing us to tie up in a very secure berth we used last year following the tsunami.

By 1000 we had been cleared by health, quarantine, customs, and immigration so it was time to hit the showers ashore before completing our teaching with Amanda sail repair and sewing machine. A real bonus was learning that Aggie Grey’s Hotel (made famous by James Michener’s story, Bloody Mary) was hosting their once a week fiafia dance and feast that evening!

Mid-morning Amanda shouted, “A yacht is arriving, let’s give them a hand with docklines!” We headed to the next dock surprised to see Alvah and Diana Simon, sailors extraordinaire, arrive aboard Roger Henry; their 36’ steel cutter they had overwintered in, frozen in ice, surrounded by polar bears. We had all just completed reading their amazing story of sailing the length of Japan in the most recent issue of Cruising World and were thrilled when they joined us for the fiafia.


Impressive dancing at Aggie’s


“Birthday Girl” Vickie on stage with the Patrick the MC and Jack, a kiwi lass celebrating her 21st.

The following morning there was another surprise arrival, Jenny P, a sturdy looking Hans Christian 33 with Eric and Christine Larsen and their three children, ages 5-10. Eric had completed the Raro-Apia leg with us last year and Christine had sailed from Fiji to NZ with us. Just this summer they set sail from Seattle, stopping only in San Francisco then Hilo before arriving in Apia. They’re on their way to Australia and we certainly look forward to sharing some anchorages with them. In fact Amanda has already offered to babysit.

Our crew departed safely and Amanda and I are now enjoying a very quiet bay just down the coast but many years removed from bustling Apia town. We’re catching up with chores and are looking forward to pumping up the Walker Bay kayak for some paddling and snorkeling before returning to Apia on Tuesday. I’m really excited about our next leg and hope to visit isolated Savaii Island, for the first time, plus Niuafo’ou; an unusual volcanic crater island in Tonga.

itinerary


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