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Mahina Expeditions, Offshore Cruising Training

Leg 1-2011, Update 1

May 16, 2011, 1500 hrs, 32.27 S, 170.17 E, Log: 145,299 miles
Baro: 1014.6, Cabin Temp: 73 F cockpit 81 F, sea water 71 F
W winds 18-20 kts, 6' crossed swell
Broad reaching at 7.4 kts under full sail


The passage from New Zealand to Tahiti, even during the best weather weeks of the year normally provides the most difficult weather conditions we've encountered anywhere, including during our 1996 passage from Cape Horn to Antarctica. So...what a pleasant surprise we've had so far this year!

For the past two months I've been watching the Southern Ocean weather via GRIB files I've seen a couple of fairly potent late season tropical depressions pass just N of NZ. During the 2.5 weeks we were in Auckland preparing Mahina Tiare for departure a parade of powerful fronts crossed the country causing extensive flooding and damage.

Our original departure plan, following our expedition members joining us noon Tuesday, had been to clear outbound customs first thing Wednesday morning and set sail for Tahiti. However, the forecast of a powerful cold front scheduled to cross the Auckland area midnight Wednesday with sustained 45 kt winds, gusting 55 kts and very rough sea conditions caused us to delay departure until first thing Thursday morning. The extra day in Auckland gave us time to do a thorough safety and navigation briefing, practice docking plus allowed time for a detailed weather orientation with Bob McDavitt, MetService NZ's weather ambassador.

Crew gather around Bob McDavitt for weather oreintation

Departing Westhaven marina

By the time the friendly NZ Customs agent gave us our outbound clearance at 0745 Thursday, the front had passed, the sun was shining and our crew enjoyed a gorgeous view of Auckland's bustling waterfront as we headed offshore.

Motorsailing in light headwinds ensured that we cleared Colville Channel between Great Barrier Island and the Coromandel Peninsula before dark. Once clear, we shut the engine down, eased sheets and set off ENE on a beam reach in very sloppy and confused seas left over from the previous night's frontal passage. Slowly over the next 30 hours the seas moderated, our crew overcame seasickness and with fairly consistent winds since then we've managed daily runs of 144, 146, 120, 170 & 152 miles.

This crew is exceptionally interested in marine weather and storm avoidance and we spent several hours Friday morning on our overview of marine weather sources before tackling weather dynamics during class on Saturday. It's great to have a line-up of expedition members waiting for the weatherfax printouts and asking to see Met Service NZ and Commanders' Weather routing analysis. This morning it was mellow enough to go through the PowerPoint Storm Avoidance and Survival Tactics seminar that we teach at boat shows, and this afternoon our crew has asked to watch the Pacific Rescue DVD detailing the Queen's Birthday Storm that we encountered on this same passage in 1994.

We've had two active cold fronts pass over us that we'd been tracking for several days bringing winds pumping from 15 to 30 kts giving our crew lots reefing and unreefing experience. Yesterday Amanda taught a full rigging inspection class on deck with Mahina Tiare rocketing along at close to 9 kts.

Today all has changed; the heavy crossed swells have subsided, the air and water temperatures are rising steadily and we've enjoyed showers on the aft deck. We are looking forward to practicing Lifesling overboard retrieval and heaving-to for a mid-ocean swim once we get into lighter winds. Although we've flung out the fishing lines everyday since leaving we've yet to snag a tasty southern tuna and now with the warmer water we've now set our sights on a warmer water pelagic fish.

In preparing Mahina Tiare for this season Amanda and I had a very busy 16 days which started as soon as we landed by removing the full boat cover. We folded and packed away the large three-piece cover in the dark in the boat yard parking lot as the first of several cold fronts threatened. The following morning brought a howling gale and driving rains as we disassembled the Max Prop and removed the stern bearing to have a new cutlass bearing installed. Before relaunchng, we had two keel-cooler heat sinks for a new Frigoboat refrigeration and freezer systems installed. Our 14 year old sea water-cooled Frigoboat K-50 separate fridge and freezer compressors were working fine, but we'd learned that with keel coolers and the newer, smaller more efficient K-35 compressors we could cut 30% of our power drain, so last December we made the decision to order new components from Total Refrigeration in Auckland.

Another big decision was to replace all the batteries: four Group 31's that make up our 12 volt house and starting batteries and four monster 8D's, weighing in at 160 lbs each. Although they were still functioning fine, at five years we weren't sure how much longer they would last and knew we would never find gel batteries before reaching Australia or returning to NZ in November. We also replaced the engine raw water intake assembly (preventative maintenance) and had a boat builder friend cut the deck seams deeper with a tile saw in a 3' x 6' area on the aft deck.

Once launched, we motored to Rangitoto Island, six miles away and the place we'd sailed on our first date in 1994. We got a break in the wet weather allowing Amanda to get a "cheat coat" of varnish (no removal of hardware or taping) on the toerail and a start at reinstalling the mainsail battens and attending to some minor repairs on the sail while I prepped and taped the deck seams for caulking. We got one nice run in ashore the next morning before another active system crossed the area with gusts to 55 knots. Our secure anchorage in Islington Bay was ok, but with strong gusts and rain, we decided to head to Westhaven Marina in Auckland a day earlier than planned where we could work more easily. During the passage to Auckland it was frustrating to have 30-40 kt following winds but not be able to sail because the mainsail wasn't yet ready to hoist and we hadn't had a chance to bend the headsail on yet!

After arriving at Westhaven Marina we had the valves adjusted and engine aligned; I changed fuel filters and replaced the impeller in Reverso oil removal pump. After a couple days of waiting, the new Frigoboat fridge and freezer compressors were installed, utilizing the original evaporative plates in the boxes.

During a break in the rain Amanda and I completed caulking the deck seams, topped up fuel, bent on the main and genoa and Amanda replaced the main and spinnaker halyards. A couple of big dry goods provisioning runs filled up our evenings and left us rather brain drained in finding places to stow everything.

Upon discovering a bubble in our Suunto main steering compass we took it to Dave Schafer, the compass adjustor who had serviced MT II's compass in 1994, only to learn that Suunto in Finland had just ceased production and spare parts support. Dave had bought up the entire Suunto stock in NZ and Australia and two days later we had a gorgeous new replacement which we easily installed and had adjusted Saturday morning.

The special bonus for us was a mid-week overnight trip north to spend with Amanda's parents, Robert and Lesley, and a wonderful dinner and visit with Susan, Amanda's best friend and her ten year old twins, Rosie and Hugh. Best of all was a Swan mini-family reunion last weekend at Amanda's parents with Amanda's brother David, his wife Karen and two-year old daughter, Mary-Ann (the apple of the Swan family's eye) plus Amanda's aunty Glenda and cousin Kerry.

On our return to Auckland we stopped and again filled the rental car; this time with fresh and frozen goods. It was late Sunday night before Amanda had everything stowed. Monday we were busy with last minute errands and chores and before we knew it, Tuesday noon and our eager Leg 1 crew had arrived. Sometimes heading off to sea seams relaxing compared to all the busy days of preparation!



mahina expeditions

Leg 1 - 2011, Update 2

May 20, 2011, 1400 hrs, 28.41 S, 160.03 W, Log: 145,878 miles
Baro: 1014.6, Cabin Temp: 73 F cockpit 81 F, sea water 73 F
W winds 27 - 40 kts, seas 12' with swell
Close reaching at 7 kts under triple-reefed main and just 30% of genoa


Our weather appeared much too pleasant for the southern ocean with spinnaker flying, no foul weather gear needed on deck and a visit from two swallows so to make conditions more challenging the SPCZ (South Pacific Convergence Zone) has dropped in between us and Rurutu. It's covering a large area and the GRIB files and Commanders' Weather forecasts indicate winds of 25 to 35 gusts over 40 knots and seas to 16'. Fortunately the wind is not directly on our bow. We've slightly eased sheets and have been consistently averaging 150 to 170 miles per day even though the seas are rough and confused. For two days as wind speeds built crew received plenty mainsail reefing and unreefing experience until stronger winds dictated leaving the third reef in the main and using the furling headsail for further sail reductions.

With some crew still battling queasy stomachs abandon ship class in held in the cockpit

Hooray and up the spin rises!

Amanda makes the most of dry flat sailing conditions to explain liferaft procedures

The conditions in the cockpit are ok but every once in awhile a real duzey of wave comes over the top of the dodger to wake up the cockpit watch.

Here's our Leg 1 crew:

Lesley, 58, John 60
Two years ago my husband John and I decided to sail into the sunset. Only problem was we didn't know how to sail! We have had all sorts of river boats and speedboats on the River Thames in England, where we are originally from. In 1996 we immigrated to Ontario, Canada and were fortunate to find an excellent sailing school there two years ago, and our adventure began. Last year we did an intermediate course in the Caribbean and then when visiting the Annapolis Boat Show we ordered a new Discovery 55 ( As luck would have it, we met another Discovery owner who needed crew to sail his boat back home to the UK from Florida and we sailed to Bermuda and the Azores with him. What an experience. Now we are on the Pacific Ocean gaining the experience we'll need for our own boat.

Tom Welsch, 63
I am a lawyer trying to retire from my Butte, Montana practice. In 1981 I sold my airplane and bought a day sailor. I have been sailing ever since and recently bought a C & C 25 which I sail on Canyon Ferry Lake near Helena, MT. I joined this expedition for the adventure and to improve my sailing and navigation skills. I haven't been disappointed!

Tony Whittemore, 63

Bob, Lesley, Dan, Tony, John and Tom gather round the foredeck for a photo op
I am a neuroradiologist and have worked in Dallas for the past 11 years. After many years away, I'm getting back into the water sports I used to enjoy: sailing, surfing, free diving. Last year I took my son for a seven day cruise and learn course in the BVI and then sailed from Bermuda to Newport. I look forward to doing some bareboat charters over the next few years. I undertook this voyage to gain experience with weather and ocean passage making as well as to help me decide if I want to purchase a cruising boat.

Dan Rice, 46
I live St. Paul, MN and am taking a mid career break after recently selling the direct marketing and fundraising business I founded 20 years ago. After sailing the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior for the past decade, I am now preparing for several years of extended cruising with my family aboard Interlude, our 2007 Discover 55 that we just purchased in Croatia. Our plan is to cruise the Med, cross the Atlantic and enjoy the Caribbean and perhaps South America before returning home.

Bob Carlson, 49
I am from Marine, Minnesota and currently charter on Lake Superior. We owned a C & C 110 for six years which we cruised with family and friends and raced when I got the chance. This trip has allowed me to get hands-on experience in all phases of blue water sailing which will be a big help when I crew for Dan Rice on the 2012 ARC rally across the Atlantic. My future plans include more coastal sailing as we recently sold our metal fabrication business.

May 25, 2011, 0200 hrs, 22,58 S, 152.06 W, Log: 146,496 miles
Baro: 1015.4, Cabin Temp: 75 F cockpit 78 F, sea water 80 F
NNE winds @12 kts
Motorsailing @5.8 kts with a triple-reefed main


On Wednesday night, May 18th, our course took us at a very shallow angle into a 1000 mile long stationary front (also labeled the SPCZ, or South Pacific Convergence Zone) full of strong convection, winds continuously pumping from 20-41 kts, frequent heavy rains, very confused seas and generally seriously challenging conditions.

Crew study all weather sources to determine our upcoming weather

Rig check class on deck requires full foulies in the boisterous conditions

Oh Yeah! Brownies to celebrate half way!

The worst of it was early Sunday morning when, according to a very accurate forecast from Commanders' Weather and use of the GRIB files, we determined that if we headed any direction but N, we'd stay in the stationary front for several days. We ended up fore-reaching N with just the triple-reefed main and the engine ticking over to give us additional stability.

Around midnight I noticed that the headsail wasn't quite totally furled and the sheet would occasionally thump on the deck. I asked Dan if he would ease the sheet and completely furl the sail. Seconds after he started cranking on the furling winch I heard the line start to creak heavily in the turning block and I yelled to Dan to ease the sheet. A second later there was a tremendous flapping and the entire rig started to vibrate violently. While winching Dan hadn't realized the furling line had reached the end of its limit and hence he'd pulled the line out of its drum attachment. The result was the entire 130% genoa instantly unrolling in 28 knots, torrential rain and confused seas!

Amanda was on deck in a flash - we sheeted the genoa in partially, eased the main and rocketed off downwind into the dark at 8.5 knots quickly losing precious miles we'd clawed upwind at 4 knots. My first thought was to lower the genoa, a maneuver I knew would be risky. Amanda figured she could disassemble the Furlex furler, reattach the line to the inside the drum, rewind the drum and thus allow us to re-furl the sail. I thought the chances of doing this successfully, even at the dock, much less while careening downwind would be less than minimal. Fortunately, Amanda had serviced the Fulex in 20 knots at the marina and able to disassemble the drum housing without losing any of the fasteners or parts although a steady helping hand from Dan was very welcome in holding parts. Once the line was attached by means of unscrewing the half inner drum casing, inserting the line though a hole then rescrewing the drum to bight down on the line we were able to wrap the furling line onto drum, before attaching the outer housing.

Nearly two hours later the sail furled according to plan but we'd wrapped the line the wrong way and the sun-protection is now on the inside. Never mind. The sail's sun cover needs restitching in a few places and the drum needs to be disassembled again and the screws secured with Loctite.

Later that morning we passed out of the most intense area of the front and had a dramatic decrease and switch in wind direction, allowing us to broad reach directly on course in 19 kts of wind. As I look back through the logbook of these difficult days, I'm noticing the pages are still damp, salt-stained and nearly falling out of the logbook.

John W. at the helm while Tony takes the lookout for ships and squalls

John N and Dan complete the third reef in the main

Tony taking his duty of the day, rig check, very seriously in challenging conditions

Monday was repair day! At 0800 when we turned the engine on to charge batteries, I noticed our main 24 volt Balmar alternator was not working. With over 8,000 hours, I've always known that eventually this amazing piece of machinery would someday quit working, but changing it out was the last thing I expected would be the problem. After shutting down momentarily, I switched the wiring harness to a standby voltage regulator to see if that could be the problem. It wasn't — still no output. I vaguely remembered a similar problem 12 years ago when we were in Tahiti, looked it up in the engine log and then fully recalled that when the light bulb in the charging error warning lamp had burned out it had caused the alternator to stop working. After a bit of digging around in the engine spares locker I located the unique 24 volt bayonet-type tiny light bulb. I installed it in the back of the instrument panel and HOORAY, the alternator functioned.

The smokin' GPS
Later in the morning while I cleaned up and put away tools Amanda was teaching the sail trim and design class in the main salon when suddenly, Dan said, “I SMELL SMOKE!!!”

John W sets to work on the GPS plug....with only a few breaks for stories

The resulting new connectors ready for insertion into John W's salvalged plug which was then heat shriked and siliconed.
I got a whiff of what smelled like an electrical fire, dashed below to check the engine room, the main switch panel, and the battery banks but found nothing amiss. Amanda had dashed for the cockpit and said, “Check the autopilot control, it feels warm!” In a jiffy I with the help of Bob I removed the compass, giving us quick access to the back of the pilot control and a look down at the area where I had just been working replacing the bulb. No smoke!

Then Bob shouted, “It's the cockpit GPS!” Sure enough, the white vinyl of the inside of the dodger above the GPS was smokey. The GPS case had slightly melted and its power plug connector had melted. Moisture had found its way inside the plug and two pins had shorted out, causing a circuit breaker at the panel to trip.

John W, originally trained as an electrical engineer, helped by carefully cutting open the melted muti-pronged plug and Amanda and I spent four hours delicately rebuilding it with pins from an unused spare cable.

We have a spare Garmin GPS ready to install but our present ten year old, smaller, simpler unit draws considerably less power and is more user friendly. Once all the connecters were sorted we were all pleased when it was worked again. What a busy day!

Tony with the waaaa hoooooo
Yesterday, as expected, the wind slowly came around to within 20-30 degrees of our course to Rurutu and our VMG (velocity made good) dropped to 3-4 kts. The good news was the sun was out, the seas moderating, and, WE CAUGHT A HUGE WAHOO, so big that it broke our gaff hook and filled the fridge and freezer! Amanda grilled the fish with some exotic Moroccan dukka spice and served it with couscous and Waldorf salad. What a hit!

Now with just 55 miles to go, we have the option of tacking to windward and arriving near dusk or motorsailing and arriving early afternoon. We've chosen the motorsailing option, and hope to see the island soon after first light.

May 26, 2011, 1500 hrs, 22.27.012 S, 151 20.485 W, Log: 146,557 miles
Baro: 1017.1, Cabin Temp: 73 F cockpit 73 F, sea water 80.1 F
Moored in Moerai Harbor, Rurutu Island, Iles Australes

The motorsailing trick worked and at 1030 we had the mainsail furled and Lesley had us lined up on the range to enter the tiny harbor. Once inside we could see that the wind would be pushing Mahina Tiare against the rough concrete wharf so we dropped our main anchor 150' off and slowly backed toward the dock. Many hands on the wharf offered to take our lines as we eased alongside. The bow anchor at an angle kept the bow off nicely, but our stern fenders were taking a beating so we quickly launched the RIB and set our second anchor on line only directly off our beam. That did the job, and with numerous spring lines we were fairly comfortable and ready for the deluge and wind that followed.

Our first chore was to clear customs and when the Gendarmes sped by in their Land Rover, headed toward the airport, we waved and they waved back. When we hadn't seen them again by 1330 I gathered ship's papers and passports and hiked 20 minutes down the road to clear in. The Gendarme mentioned that Tuhaa Pae II, the 195' local supply ship would be arriving to tie alongside at first light.

Tony, a very keen free diver offered to survey the harbor for an anchorage that would be out of the way of the ship's maneuvering. With a nifty handheld West Marine depth sounder I further checked and after some exploring ashore our crew returned to give us a hand retrieving the beam anchor, dropping the dock lines, reanchoring in the far corner of the harbor and taking a line from shore to our stern.

The next morning at first light we could see Tuhaa Pae's lights in the entrance and with some very skilled ship handling her master turned her 180 degrees and backed her into the wharf.

Amanda looking rather nervous and Tuhaa Pae swing across our bow and anchor.

Our harbour med moor haven

The coastline looking north with the harbor in the the center of the image

At dinner ashore the previous night our crew had met an ex-pat French math teacher. He told them of a very cool over the mountain and around the island hike that, according to him, only took 2.5 hrs. We ended up with major tropical downpours for the day but crew made it around the northern end of the island and is keen for more adventures before we set sail for Tahiti in the morning!


May 28, 2011, 0100 hrs, 21.07 S, 150.51 W, Log: 146,648 miles
Baro: 1018.3, Cabin Temp: 80 F cockpit 73 F, sea water 81.3 F
Close-hauled at 6.9 kts with 11 kt E winds and calm seas


It feels like Mahina Tiare is zooming across the ocean, surrounded by a million stars overhead and the best sailing conditions we've had so far on Leg 1.

Amanda collecting our hot morning bauguettes from the local store
This morning dawned clear without any rain showers or squalls on the horizon and it's just gotten better since then! When Amanda and I popped by the baker on our dawn coastal run to pick up hot French baguettes for the 300 mile, two day passage to Tahiti, Amanda asked if we could purchase some pamplemouse (sweet Tahitian grapefruit). The baker, a robust young Tahitian shook his head and said, “Pas achte le pamplemouse dans Rurutu” and proceeded to vault his neighbor's stone wall and, with the help of the neighbor and Amanda pulled more than 50 pamplemouse from the overburdened trees.

Last minute fruit delivery!
Once we had finished breakfast and morning swims and were bringing our stern line aboard, the owner of the little café where our crew had dined our first night in port showed up on the harbor wall, calling out in French, “If you're leaving now, I'll bring your fruit!” He returned with a large box overflowing with papaya, bananas and oranges.

We had a very careful and relaxed departure, raising sail and anchor, slowly circling the inner harbor while crew rigged the high lifelines before heading out through the narrow gap blasted in the reef that forms the harbor entrance. When we were just at the narrowest part, a HUGE roller started to break - by far the largest we'd seen. Tony, on the helm, opened the throttle and we shot through the wave and into the ocean. We found just 6 kts of wind and sloppy seas left over from yesterday's squally weather, but pressed on, motorsailing.

Everyone took turns shooting the sun latitude by noonsite and when we worked out the computations we were only 1/10th mile off the GPS position!

Soon after lunch the winds filled in and this provided an excellent opportunity for reefing and sail-trim practice. Since then the winds have been incredibly steady, never below 9 or over 11kts. With full sail, a long waterline and substantial displacement Mahina Tiare easily pushes through the slight swells and our speed has varied from 6.5 to 7.6 kts in effortless sailing.

Team Lesley and Dan go for gold in the afternoon reefing competition

After 2,100 miles of helming practice and lots of recent focus on sail trim, we haven't once luffed up or veered off course. This crew is totally into enjoying every minute and not a word has been mentioned about what they plan to do once we reach Tahiti Sunday afternoon. We are living in the moment!




mahina expeditions

Leg 1-2011, Update 3

May 30, 2011, 1800 hrs, 17.30 S, 149.49 W, Log: 146,905 miles
Baro: 1013.5, Cabin Temp: 80 F cockpit 73 F, sea water 82.8 F
At anchor, Cook's Bay, Moorea


Saturday our winds started at 12 kts out of the east, giving us a good close reaching conditions and steadily increased until by 2100 they were a steady 18 kts. Seas gradually subsided and we kept Mahina Tiare on pace with Lesley hitting 8.6 kts several times. For perhaps the first time ever, Amanda conducted winch servicing class while under sail and managed to disassemble, clean, lube and reassemble the mainsheet and primary winches without losing any parts.

This crew was really focused on sail trim, so resulting on feedback from Leg 1 crew, Amanda took and printed off images of the sails draft before and after adjusting halyard tension, backstay, sheet leads for a later quiz. Our new goal is for each expedition member to be able to look at a sail and instinctively know what adjustments need to be made. Following that, and lunch crew drew partners for impromptu reefing and unreefing time trails. Everyone was pretty pooped by dinner time!

Team Lesley and Dan go for gold in the afternoon reefing competition
Early Sunday morning the wind increased to the low 20's and even with two reefs in each sail we were flying along smoothly and comfortably. With a cloudless, star-filled sky and a sliver of a moon, it was a magical night. First light was around 6am and it was unforgettable with Tahiti to starboard and the rugged outline of Moorea to port.

By 1030 we were in the lee of Tahiti lined up on Taapuna Pass and headed into Tahiti's turquoise-colored lagoon.

We were delighted when Marina Taina manager Philippe pointed us to the berth he had saved for us and in just minutes MT was secure. As the huge Carrefour supermarket was still open for another hour our crew set out up the road to check it out. Upon returning, they were looking for cold beers and a light lunch but found the only option available at the three marina restaurants were the HUGE Mother's Day buffets. Lesely was given two bottles of French champagne for being a mum. We enjoyed a fun evening pizza snack at another marina restaurant and then our crew hit the racks.

Monday morning I took the bus north to Papeete, 30 minutes away, to officially clear into French Polynesia and sign off crew. By the time I returned to MT she was glistening with crew bags packed as our crew was ready to head off on new adventures. According to crew it had certainly been a very rewarding trip, and Amanda and I both felt that they had all given 100% progressing from slalom snake steering on shaky footing to trimmed light touch helming with a strong stance.

Amanda and I walked up to Carrefour, totally filled a shopping trolley and wheeled it back to Marina Taina before setting sail for Moorea. We were exhausted and hot hoping for a nice quiet sail the 18 miles to Moorea. Instead we got VICTORY AT SEA with 30 kts aft of the beam and huge confused seas that caused all the groceries, we'd hastily stashed below, to start sliding back and forth across the main salon floor.

Now we're anchored out by the outer reef in one of our two favorite anchorages in the world. We can hear the roar of the surf and the Tahiti drumming for tamure dance practice; see the sting rays feeding on the white sandy bottom 15' below and occasionally the odd fishermen paddles by and waves and a calls a “Iorana” greeting.

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