Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore cruising seminars and boat purchase consultation.
We watched a quickly-deepening and very substantial 980 low track across New Zealand and as it passed several hundred miles south of us our winds and seas, still astern, slowly and continually built. By mid morning on Wednesday, May 16 while Amanda was below teaching emergency rigging repair I was on the helm watching the wind at 32 kts, gusting 36 and seas steadily building to the point that Mahina Tiare felt slightly overpowered, even with the triple reefed main.
I waited until Amanda was done teaching, then requested we get the trysail set ASAP, before lunch or anything else.
An hour later, for only the fourth time in 15 years and 154,000 miles and the first time in daylight, other than when teaching storm tactics, we'd hoisted the storm trysail.
This requires dropping the mainsail onto the boom, unfurling the bagged trysail onto the cabin top, rigging the trysail block and sheet aft, crew assisting Amanda (perched on the boom) in removing the top 5 mainsail sliders through a gate in the Antal tack, wrapping the mainsail head around the boom to secure it, feeding the 9 trysail slides onto the track whilst hoisting the sail.
We also considered replacing the deeply reefed genoa with the storm staysail, but with a maximum forecasted winds of only 39 kts, and seas of 5 - 7.8 meters (16' - 24') decided this would leave us undercanvased. As it turned out, the winds maxed out at 40-50 kts so our sail combination worked well except for a short period when the wind gusted to 61 kts and MT surfed off downwind like a locomotive at 12.5 kts for a brief period. Several of our crew who had chosen Leg 1 specifically for the challenging conditions were ecstatic.
Yesterday conditions moderated to the point that we had a couple hours motorsailing, allowing us to top up water and batteries and have on-deck showers, but since then we have had excellent broad-reaching conditions with clear skies until earlier this afternoon.
The NZ weatherfax charts show that we are sailing through a weak stationary front which has occasional rain squalls with winds peaking just under 35 kts, so Greg just tucked a second reef in to keep our boat speed under 8 kts and make steering a little easier. The amazing fact of this voyage to date is that we have always been able to steer within 20-30 degrees of course. In the past 14 or so times we've made this passage we've nearly always faced strong headwinds at some point.
Our teaching schedule called for Storm Tactics this morning, which was perfect. Instead of just discussing fore-reaching, heaving-to and setting the storm staysail with our PowerPoint presentation and Rescue South Pacific video of the Queen's Birthday Storm (encountered on Leg 1-1994), this crew had experienced the real thing!
As and added bonus our Leg 1 crew are taking class and duties with focused diligence and MT is running and looking like a champion. Our evening story telling duty is presented with a lot of preplanning and our stories are becoming extremely varied and enlightening. Don who hails from Edinburgh, Scotland has regaled us with excellent tales of growing up in Scotland along with exotic chartering vacations he's enjoyed with his wife.
Roxy and Carl from Boulder, Colorado are into extreme mountain sports and during dinner tonight Roxy had us spellbound with a story of being caught in a blizzard whilst at 12,000' on the continental divide in an avalanche-prone mountain pass. She and Carl were on a cross-country ski expedition to an isolated lodge and stumbled across a party of eight young lost snow-shoers who were totally unprepared for their outing and in the process of giving up all hope to just lie down in the deep snow to sleep.
May 19, 2012, 0730 hrs, 26 49 S, 160.10 W,
A welcome mid ocean swim
Our track was taking us fairly close to Rimatara, the smallest of the inhabited Austral Islands. Since we would have arrived off Rurutu in the dark and had to heave-to until dawn, we've decided, conditions permitting, to anchor off Rimatara. We're looking forward to a few hours of snorkeling and relaxing before setting sail for Rurutu just before sunset. The 90 mile passage should have us arriving around sunrise as long as we keep our speed down. Rimatara isn't a Port of Entry, so we won't be making any excursions ashore.
John works with David and Greg on the final approach navigation for Rurutu
The pesky convergence zone was still sitting squarely over all of the Austral Islands, so our landfall was a subdued and drizzly one, but we managed to sail right to the tiny harbor entrance.
Greg is all smiles as posted lookout as we prepare to line up the harbor entrance range through the reef
When asked a guy from public works when Tuhaa Pae II, the monthly supply ship was due, he not-surprisingly said, "Demain” (tomorrow). It seems like we always arrive the day before the ship, so we are well used to clearing out to give her room to do a 180 degree turn within the tiny harbor so that she can unload from her stern ramp.
As quickly as possible I headed down the road to clear in with the new gendarmes. As they had yet to clear in a yacht during their posting at Rurutu, they simply handed the papers to me to fill in, said they would drop by at 1500 to do a head count and that was it!
On my way back to the wharf I stopped at one of the three Chinese stores to pick up some French bread, but the owner (who loves to vacation in Hawaii annually) said they were sold out - but hold on, let me look in back! She found one delicious baguette and welcomed us back with a smile.
When I returned to MT there were two bikes on the wharf and piles of fruit. Amanda explained that two local girls from the house across from the wharf had stopped by to loan us their bikes and greet us with fruit. Rurutu is like old-time Polynesia.
Greg and David took off exploring on the loaned bikes and the rest of our crew gang headed off to visit the ATM, post office and look for a restaurant for lunch and dinner and to hike to the grottos while I changed the oil and Amanda cleaned out and rearranged the fridge and freezer.
When Greg was dropping the main just before we entered the harbor, the mainsail leech line came down, having chafed through at the headboard block.
Amanda said we would damage the sail if we waited until Tahiti to re-reeve the leech line, so as she completed the fridge and started to organize the repair, I couldn't resist going for a run along the coastal road.
It felt so good to be running, even in the misty, cloudy weather. As I rounded the cliffside cantilevered lookout on the headland north of the harbor, I could see two fishermen, struggling against headwinds while fishing from their dugout outrigger canoes. Looking down at them, I thought that except for a little bit of paint, nylon fishing line and metal hooks, they were fishing exactly as their ancestors had in the same spots, 1500 years earlier.
I had a flood of very fond memories of the Austral Islands, going back to my first visit in 1979. I had been standing in line at the Poste Restante (general delivery) counter at the harborfront main Papeete post office when a Jimmy Buffet-looking guy said, "You look like a yachtie!” In short order Don Travers had invited me to sail 300 miles south to Tubuai, the capital of the Austral Islands to visit him. Don explained that after getting out of the Navy, he took his savings and built a 31' plywood Jim Brown Searunner trimaran, sailed to Tubual where he met and married Miss Tubuai. Their daughters Henari and Hinano were now school age and his wife worked at the local clinic.
Not in a hurry to go anywhere, I took Don up on his offer, and that was the first of 33 years of returning to and exploring all of the Austal Islands, except for Rapa. At one point I prepared to lease land and built a house on the side of a mountain on Tubuai, but that never quite worked out.
As the Australs are far off the cruiser and tourist routes these islands are really like a dream of Old Polynesia, where the people have a simple but good life and welcome the occasional visitor.
We knew we'd need to leave Rurutu's only wharf early the following morning to make room for Tuhaa Pae, the monthly supply ship. We were on visual look out for her approach but when AIS signal appeared on the radar we were given a very accurate ETA, allowing us to be off the dock and anchored outside the tiny harbor.
Carl scouts a suitable spot for us to place the anchor as Tuhaa Pae lines up the range to the harbor
I had hoped that we could enjoy several days at Rurutu, but as always, weather and sailing conditions take first priority and this time the GRIB files forecasted the normal SE winds swinging around to NE then NNE, the exact direction of Tahiti!
Not wanting to have to tack against rough seas and headwinds, our crew decided that a 30 hr visit would be enough, so we set sail yesterday, for Moorea, instead of Tahiti. As much as we love Marina Taina in Tahiti, Moorea's call in even stronger so we set sail at 1400 yesterday.
Trying to get easting "in the bank” before the wind changes to NE, we've had a bit of a rough ride to date, but within about 80 miles we should be able to ease sheets a bit and hopefully sail on a close reach to Moorea.
John gives Don squall avoidance helming tactics as yet another lashing of rain descends from above
Friday brought occasional squalls with winds peaking at 27 knots, so everyone got lots of practice tucking in and shaking out reefs. After dinner we eased sheets to sail a more direct course toward Moorea, the clouds parted, stars came out and life was fine!
Saturday's weather kept us all on our toes and with intermittent squalls gusting to 30 kts we worked hard to keep our boat speed under 8 kts for the comfort of those below decks.
At 1355 a shout of "Land ho!” went up from the watch crew and we could just make out the outline of Tahiti amid clouds and squalls.
Greg worked hard that afternoon plotting a safe course into Cooks Bay on Moorea, rechecking everything and then entering the waypoints in the GPS. Normally we do everything possible to avoid entering harbors in the dark, but since Amanda and I have sailed in and out of Cooks Bay dozens of times over the past 35 years and snorkeled both sides of the channel entrance, we decided to try entering very slowly.
Greg's waypoints and courses were flawless and with everyone alert and watching (we noted that one of the channel buoys was missing a light) watching we motor sailed in on the range, unfortunately just as a real soaker of a squall blew in from seaward.
At 2215 we dropped anchor in 50', mud bottom, letting out all 80 m of chain and minutes later the downpour ceased. We'd ended up directly off the Hotel Bali Hai and after deck duties we headed below for drinks and ginger cake to celebrate our landfall.
Martin displaying the beginnings of our Sunday breakfast
Our keen crew booked a jeep tour into Moorea's mountainous jungles the following morning, and as soon as they returned at noon, we set sail for Opunohu Bay where everyone practiced Lifesling overboard retrieval before anchoring and snorkeling. With just a few feet of crystal clear water beneath MT's keel, the underwater world came alive with leopard and sting rays, plus some very friendly large puffer fish.
With our first true tropical pink sunset we all contemplated our eventful day, and as the day breeze faded with the light Moorea's rugged peaks became bathed in moonlight under a clear tranquil star studded sky.
|Early morning start from Moorea|
Don was navigator for Tuesday, our final run to Tahiti, and had all courses plotted and all waypoints entered Monday night. With a 05:00 start in the dark our goal was to reach Marina Taina, 22 miles away on Tahiti in time to allow me to clear customs before offices closed for lunch. This would also give our crew the afternoon off to explore Papeete. Roxy was captain of the day and did an excellent job calling the shots along with ensuring everything got done correctly. Upon arrival at the marina Philippe, the effervescent marina manager, found us a vacant Med-moor berth surrounded by 100' - 175' mega yachts. I then quickly grabbed a taxi and headed to Papeete, a 15 minute cab ride away.
Clearing into Papeete normally takes about 30 minutes at the customs and immigration office located on the Papeete waterfront. But I was surprised to find their offices totally empty with not even a chair or desk just papers littering the floor. I asked at the nearby port captain's office if they'd moved but he ensured that they were still located in the next building. It was only after he made a couple of phone calls that he then determined they'd moved (the previous day which was holiday and all offices were closed) to the airport and he drew me a map. After taxiing to the airport I eventually found the new office, located in a hallway under the airport, and got us checked in.
Greg descending from aloft
The rigger turned out to be Amanda's old work mate from Southern Spars, Richard Hulston who is now the owner of Doyle Rigging in NZ and also the rigger for our mast when we are in NZ. Crew had a number of questions as to what Richard was doing so he came aboard to explain that mega yachts need and annual rig and spar survey. Unfortunately the inspection aboard Ethereal was as yet not going to plan as in order to complete the inspection they had to turn off the air conditioning at the mast base. But, if they were to shut down the air-con the entire yachts computer system would go down.
After a few hours off for exploring Amanda taught winch servicing and rebuilding completing our teaching schedule. Greg (chef of the day) chose Quay de les Iles, one of three excellent restaurants in Marina Taina with a killer sunset view of Moorea for our graduation dinner. An added bonus was that David's wife Eileen, Greg's wife Pam and his aunt Lesley could join us for what turned out to be an excellent evening.
(Note to future expedition members: if friends or family are meeting you at the end of your expedition, by all means invite them to join you for our final-night graduation dinner!)
Yesterday morning everyone turned to with a will and in short order bags were packed and all cabins and surfaces had been sprayed and wiped down with Windex, and our gang was off to new adventures.
David and Eileen were excited about a ten-day Moorings charter at Raiatea, 120 miles WNW and eight of Martin's brothers, sisters and spouses were arriving for a seven day Moorings charter so we pulled out our charts and cruising guide for Iles Sous le Vent and shared our favorite anchorages with them.
Leg 1 Crew - Greg, Carl, Roxy, Don, Martin and David
I am a supply chain manager for a sporting goods retailer. Living and working in Seattle has afforded me the opportunity to sail on Puget Sound. I've chartered in the Caribbean and sailed from San Diego to Acapulco aboard MT six years ago but really wanted to experience a long ocean passage so that I could better understand what I need to consider when purchasing my own cruising boat.
I'm from Boulder, CO and ever since I was a kid I've wanted to sail. I used to make sailboats out of scrap wood and sail them on the reflecting pond by the Washington Monument. As time went by, I took sailing lessons and sailed a dinghy with a friend. At the same time my interest in exploring the world grew. Eventually both concepts merged and now my wife Roxy and I are intent on sailing around the world, probably on a catamaran. This training was essential in helping that dream to come true.
We live in Boulder and enjoy cycling, running, rock climbing and back country skiing. We have been sailing for seven years and have chartered in several countries. We plan to retire on a catamaran and sail about the world.
I am retired and living in Newcastle, Britain and would like to buy a boat to cruise the Med. I've previously chartered in Greece, Croatia, BVI and Tahiti but only daysailing.
I live in suburban Atlanta, GA and sail a Hunter 41 out of St. Augustine, FL. I plan to sail further afield once my sons graduate from college. This extended offshore experience has provided me with real-life example of life at sea during a substantial ocean crossings.
I am a professional forester for the US Forest Service living in a small mountain town in California. My father-in-law owns a C & C 31' sloop which we sail on Monterey Bay. He would really like to sail it to Hawaii, and I bet this expedition would be the perfect opportunity for me to determine if passage making is something I could do.
No sooner had our gang taken off than Laurent, who had flown with his wife Nicole and sons from Moorea to take our Oakland seminar in April dropped by the boat. He was hoping not to miss us and was stopping by to let us know that we were most welcome to visit him on Moorea. With his afternoon free he generously offered us a ride to the nearby giant Carrefour grocery store. We couldn't resist and for the first time we weren't struggling a half hour trying to roll an overloaded shopping trolley down the rough sidewalk back to the marina. Upon helping us unload Laurent jokingly suggested that he love to sail with us to Moorea that afternoon and as soon we said sure we'd enjoy having him aboard he lit up with a big grin.
While he returned the borrowed car back to Papeete, we filled with water and stowed groceries, then set off to Moorea upon Laurent's return. Sadly and very unusually there was no wind but Laurent was still happy to helm the entire way. Before we'd dropped anchor we spotted Laurent's son Jules swimming out across the reef and soon Nicole and younger son Max were paddling out in their kayak. What a treat to hear their stories of moving from France to Moorea, building their lagoon-front home, plus a business in Papeete and Nicole's dental practice on Moorea. Now their plan is to buy a catamaran and take off cruising while their sons are still young.
Over the next 12 days we have plenty of projects, but are looking forward to trail running up the valleys, hopefully some kayaking and certainly some snorkeling plus, once they start showing up, meeting this year's crop of cruisers!
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