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Leg 3, 2013 Rarotonga, Cook Islands, to Apia, Samoa - Update 1

July 12, 2013, 0630 hrs, 19.48 S, 164.43 W, Log: 165,741 miles, 170 miles to Beveridge Reef
Baro: 1016.5, Cabin Temp: 83F, cockpit: 81F, seawater: 84.2F
Surfing on a broad reach at 7-8.5 kts in 25-32 kt NE tradewinds and building seas under double-reefed main and poled out triple-reefed genoa

SURFING WITH THE WHALES!

We are surrounded by 30' long, black, torpedo shaped pilot whales that are catching the waves on either side of Mahina Tiare! They seem curious, surfacing to breathe first on one side, then the other. We're able to steer exactly on course for uninhabited Beveridge Reef which we should reach tomorrow morning. At these speeds our new Ampair towing generator is keeping our batteries at 90-95% without our ever having to run the engine. Yesterday we landed THREE mahi-mahi. We have a very keen expedition crew eager to learn everything they can. Life just couldn't get any better!

Our time in Rarotonga's tiny Avatiu Harbour between Legs 2 & 3 was challenging at times with 30+ kt SE winds making the harbor very choppy and causing us to set a second bow anchor and add additional lines ashore. For 2.5 days we were on watch as Olomana, a 382' freighter circled off the harbor entrance waiting for the 25-35 kt beam-on winds to subside enough so they could enter the tiny harbor and make a 180 degree turn to berth alongside the wharf. Finally on Monday morning the skillful Fijian captain and the crew of tiny Tug Toa managed to get Olomana safely to the wharf. We used MT's bow thruster to counter Tug Toa's prop wash. Raro's new local harbourmaster, Sau Rasmussen did an excellent job of juggling the needs of commercial vessels along with the few visiting yachts.

Picton Castle, a 180' square-rigged barque was between voyages and moored next to us and we were keep entertained with their daily activities and duties including the addition of a ships pig. When Amanda went to investigate further the second officer graciously took us on a full tour of this incredible sailing ship, www.picton-castle.com.


Picton Castle berthed alongside the wall in Rarotonga

Amanda checking out Picton Castle's new pet pig named Keiko

The enormous size of the cargo hold on Picton Castle rather swallows John and second officer Dirk

Monday afternoon we covered our safety briefing, collected passports before heading off to Hash House Harriers weekly fun run, this week through the taro patches and up on the mountainside, joined by Jason, one of our Leg 3 expedition members.

Tuesday morning was a blur, washing harbor dust and dirt off MT, filling tanks, clearing out with immigration and customs, provisioning with fresh bread and fruit and helping the catamaran Sophie that we'd earlier met on Bora Bora, med moor to the wall.

In past years we've generally set sail from Raro the same day crew has joined at noon, but they only get a few hours of steering and getting oriented in the large ocean swells before dark, so this year we tried something different. For our first time ever, we set sail then anchored off Arorangi School in the lee of the island. We found a slightly rolly anchorage (good for preventing seasickness the next day), 150' underwater visibility and an anchorage in 40' of water. Everyone went for a snorkel, we enjoyed a great sunset, dinner then night's sleep AND!! no one was seasick when we set sail Wednesday morning.

We've had amazingly perfect sailing conditions; first very mellow - under 20 kts with flat seas, and then building last night to a peak of 35 knots. Several of our gang had reefing practice last night and now our concern is not sailing so fast that we arrive off Beverdige Reef before dawn tomorrow.

Beveridge Reef is 130 miles ESE and owned by Niue, but at high tide, there is nothing visible. At low tide the nearly encircling reef is visible, but no land. Several times we've used the hand-drawn sketch chart made by SV Odyssey in 1996 to enter and anchor inside this magical lagoon, and conditions permitting, we hope to again tomorrow.

July 15, 2013, 2230 hrs, 19.33 S, 168.55 W, Log: 166,013 miles, 70 miles to Niue Island
Baro: 1016.5, Cabin Temp: 84F, cockpit: 80F, seawater: 80.2F
Surfing on a broad reach at 7-8.5 kts in 28-34 kt SE winds and 8-10' seas under triple-reefed main and 70% reefed genoa

BEVERIDGE REEF WAS AMAZING!

A forecasted frontal passage occurred as we made landfall bringing occasional squalls with reduced visibility and winds in the 20-25 kt range. The waypoints from the hand drawn chart sketch worked perfectly and as we lined up on the entrance, flanked by breakers on either side. We dropped the main as the 22 kt wind was directly on the bow and motored against a 2.5 kt current and overfalls into the considerably calmer lagoon. Once inside the pass, an object on the opposite side of the reef caught my attention. With nothing other than breakers visible, binoculars showed the object to be some type of shipwreck, and my interest was instantly piqued although first we decoded to motor to the NE corner of the lagoon where we found a little more protection from the lagoon chop.


Christina and Bob tuck in another mainsail reef as another rain squall hits on our approach to Beveridge Reef

Ben and crew keep a sharp lookout as we cross Beveridge Reef

We spotted an anchored sailboat and motored close by, hailing the Vancouver-registered boat and were met by a grumpy singlehander with a northern European accent. He said he'd been anchored in Beveridge five days and planned to stay a week or so more. He warned us not to come to close to his anchor, so we headed well away and dropped anchor, carefully managing to avoid the numerous coral heads. Amanda made soup and toast and everyone crashed for naps for a couple hours before we inventoried our survival packs and started our marine weather class.


The computer charting program displays a mischarted Beveridge Reef
We stood anchor watch all Saturday night and before dawn conditions had moderated with Sunday proving to be a much calmer and sunnier day. During breakfast we got a VHF call from Segwun, the Danish-flagged Island Packet 44 we had raced to Bora Bora, and moored next to in Raro. They were just arriving at Beveridge's entrance from Aitutaki and Palmerston and I told them about our plan to sail across to the E side of the lagoon to anchor near and hopefully explore the new shipwreck.

As soon as we completed our marine weather and winch maintenance classes we raised anchor, unrolled the genoa and had a peaceful, beautiful 2 mi. sail across to anchor as close as we could to the shipwreck and fairly near Segwun with only 2' under MT's keel in brilliant turquoise water.



Everyone was up for adventure, loading our RIB with masks, fins and cameras and we were off to explore the wreck. We had created our own tide tables by recording the depth hourly while standing anchor watch the previous night and although the tidal range only proved to be about 3', at high water we were just able to motor completely around the wreck of the FREEDOM, which looked to be about a 50' steel longline fishing boat.

With NZ radio call sign painted on the cabin side, we wonder if she could have been based in Niue or Raro. She didn't look to have been wrecked for too long, and when we anchored the dinghy and went snorkeling nearby, we found a few bits of wreckage, but mostly very healthy coral and some curious and friendly small fish. A couple of 5' black tipped sharks cruised by in the distance and then disappeared.

Just as forecasted, a trough passed over Beveridge last night bringing a NE to SE wind shift, gusts to 22 kts and some rain.


This morning Jens and Evelyn of Segwun whom we had challenged to a race to Niue announced their departure at 9am.
Jens had found a quick fix, prying on the new car, to the broken caps on one of their mainsail Harken bat cars which causes the ball bearings to drop out and the car jam on the track. We planned to give them a head start and covered our Anchoring PowerPoint class before setting sail at noon in light conditions. Just about the time our batteries were fully charged and the watermaker had helped top our tanks the wind filled in, and we shut off the engine and started picking up speed for the 135 mile passage.

Before sunset our crew who had been keen for reefing practice tucked in first one, then two, then three reefs as the wind steadily increased to 30-34kts. By 2100 another bit of trough (or possibly the same one we'd experienced last night) that had been forecasted on the GRIB files provided showers and the gusty winds we are still experiencing. Our barometer is zooming upwards, and on the NZ weatherfax charts we see a substantial ridge of high pressure building right across the Pacific at our latitude, so we should see fresh SE then ESE winds for several days, and clearing skies. No luck with fishing as something BIG stole the hook.

It's been very gratifying to watch our crew steadily improve their steering skills to the point they are all handling the fairly challenging conditions well. It looks like we are right on track with our goal of reaching Niue soon after dawn, which should hopefully see us picking up a mooring off Alofi by 0900. Wonder if Segwun will arrive there before us?


Leg 3, 2013 Rarotonga, Cook Islands, to Apia, Samoa - Update 2

July 19, 2013, 0630 hrs, 17.05 S, 169.48 W, Log: 166,205 miles, 240 miles to Apia, Samoa
Baro: 1016.5, Cabin Temp: 84F, cockpit: 82F, seawater: 83.3F
Beam-reaching at 7 kts in 25-36, gusting 45 kt ENE winds and 4.2 meter (18’) breaking seas under triple-reefed main and 30% of genoa

MORE HEAVY WEATHER!

Our visit to Niue Island was the best to date. We arrived at the south end of the island just at dawn and we had humpback whales breaching astern of MT as we were dropping sail and picking up a mooring in Alofi Bay at 0845.

We gained only one hour in 135 miles on Segwun, the Danish Island Packet 44 and when I called Niue radio to report our arrival, they asked if I could head ashore in ten minutes as quarantine, customs and immigration officers were currently clearing in Segwun on the wharf. Island Packets might be slower in real light winds, but we were all impressed with the excellent performance in strong winds and large seas.

We quickly launched the dinghy and I headed in to the challenging landing where it’s necessary to immediately hoist the dinghy with a crane 10’ up on the wharf because of the constant surge.

Keith Vial, Niue Yacht Club’s commodore gave me a hand with the dinghy hoist and proudly pointed out the new shelter with picnic table that had been built for customs clearance. No longer do yacht skippers have to find their way to the administrative building a mile or two away as now three officers come to the wharf.

Once cleared in, Keith dropped me up the hill in town where I rented bikes and checked out the grocery store. Olomana, the same ship that supplied Rarotonga had just departed and the store’s shelves were bulging - not that we needed anything. The great news was discovering that Jenna’s, a restaurant across from the yacht club was featuring their “Island Night”. Meanwhile aboard Amanda had made breakfast and our crew dove in the crystal clear 80 degree water before took naps, exhausted after the rugged night.


Mahina Tiare and other yachts on moorings at Niue

The town of Alofi

By noon they were ready to explore ashore, finding a commercial laundry, a great Indian restaurant and internet at the yacht club. Meanwhile Amanda and I accomplished chores aboard and we all met at Jenna’s along with Jens and Evelyn from Segwun for an incredible feast and dancing. Jenna’s is a total family operation, with many of the family’s ten adult children and their children involved.



The reigning Miss Niue, Nina, was one of the servers and certainly charmed us all with her Niuean dancing.


It proved to be quiet the show when Jason, Bob, Ben and John got called up on stage to “knock their knees together and turn about facing jungle, ocean north and south”. Bob (wearing cap) looks a little lost as to the requested heading but Jason helps lead the show with Nina
As we were walking back to the wharf in the moonlight we were all commenting, “How could this night be any better?” We were soon to learn that answer. As we came alongside MT with the dinghy, we startled a humpback whale, longer than MT that had been sleeping alongside! For the next 1.5 hours this gentle giant alternately surfaced on one side, then dove under the boat to the other side, then circling off the bow and stern every couple minutes. Sometimes she would roll over and in the moonlight we could only guess that she was looking at us.

The humpbacks come to Niue to mate, calve and nurse seem to be very fond of yachts, frequently spending the nights snuggled next to them. We found that by swimming or holding to the swim ladder just under the water, their five-minute long plaintive songs could easily be heard. Humpbacks can be identified by the design and color pattern of the underside of their tail flukes, similar to human finger printing and some of the whales that visit Niue have also visited Rarotonga and Tonga.

Wednesday was tour and potluck/BBQ day! Keith asked if we could have our gang ashore at 8:30 and he took them and Jens and Evelyn on a five hour tour of the island which included snorkeling in the chasms and caves along the rugged coastline.


Crew explore one of the many limestone chasms that make Niue so unique

Nancy, Ben, Christina, Bob, Jason, Evelyn and Jens strike a pose in a chasm

While crew went off exploring Amanda and I took care of boat projects and re-provisioning before heading off on bicycles on an adventure. We didn’t get too far past town before Amanda spotted lads working on hives at the Niue Honey facility. What followed was an informative hour of the life of bees which I’m sure you’ll read about in a future Galley Essentials column.


Cory and Matthew inspect the hives

Cory point out the drone bees


Ben and Dave sweat it out during a knot competition
When crew returned, Amanda taught splicing with while I baked a double batch of brownies and packed the goodies for the barbecue.

Traditionally the arrival of Mahina Tiare heralds the first yacht club barbecue of the season and this year topped all others with the crews of Segwun, plus a Canadian and two Swedish yachts all contributed to and enjoyed an amazing evening at the club. Dozens of locals joined us and I counted more than 60 people enjoying an overwhelming array of tasty dishes and visiting.

 


Commodore Keith welcomes everyone to dinner

Time to eat!


Computer GRIB view of forecasted weather
We had planned on Thursday being a day of sailing off Niue, practicing Lifesling retrieval and reefing, but a pesky low, that we had been watching for four days, showed up as a frontal sheer line with 45 kts on one side and 35 on the other, plus LARGE seas exactly on our route to Samoa if we departed Friday as planned.

Time for outside opinions, so I emailed both Bob McDavitt in Auckland and CommandersWeather.com. Click HERE to read Commanders’ forecast.


Crew discuss our options for departure
The result of analyzing the weatherfax charts, GRIB files and forecasts was that we decided to set sail on Thursday to avoid gale force headwinds. Thinking this might be the situation, I had cleared us out with customs and immigration so yesterday morning we set sail with our crew getting reefing practice as we left Niue.

Since then the winds have occasionally dropped to 22 kts, but have mostly been around 30-35 with gusts to 45. We had a band of fairly intense squalls before midnight, but then skies cleared and the nearly-full moon was a welcome help to the helmsmen seeing the large breaking seas.


Jason performing his one handed steering and balancing ac
The forecasts all predict winds to back from ENE to NNE then N which will be directly on our bow so we’ve consistently steered higher than course, so much so that our bearing to Samoa is now 10 degrees higher than when we departed Niue.

July 25, 2013, 0600 hrs, 13.49 S, 169.48 W, Log: 166,480 miles, Side-tied in Apia Marina, Samoa

HAPPILY IN APIA MARINA!

We managed to consistently steer a more easterly course than necessary and at dawn on Saturday (Sunday Apia time) sighted the easternmost tip of Tututilla Island, American Samoa. The forecasts had suggested headwinds and seas if we sailed directly through the channel between American and Western Samoa, and we found staying upwind of Tutuilla gave us protection from the larger seas and provided us with an excellent broad reach nearly all the remaining 75 miles to Apia.



Dave and Ben enjoy the perfect sailing conditions as we sail into the lee of American Samoa

Our last day was sailing in glorious conditions - the windy, rainy squally weather was gone and replaced by classic tradewind sailing conditions. It was 0000 Monday when we reached the leading lights into Apia Harbour which is a positive control zone. The sleepy harbour control guy gave us permission to enter the harbour and marina directly, and by 0100 we had quietly tied up on the end of the only remaining pier.

At first light crew all turned-to to help us move into a smaller slip, leaving the pier end available for a large catamaran and by 1000 hrs we had amazingly been cleared by health, quarantine, immigration and customs.

Although we had arrived a day earlier than planned, our serious-about-learning Leg 3 crew set the teaching agenda. In the following day and a half, we covered sail repair, electrical power systems, water makers, cruising medicine, clearing customs, leaving a boat in a foreign country and communications options. We covered all but going aloft and which we knocked off before breakfast Tuesday morning.


Amanda inventories the necessary sail repair items for offshore cruising

Crew take a break from hauling me aloft...while all the freshly rinsed foulies and harness scatter the deck to dry

Shoreside our crew treated us to an absolutely incredible Italian seafood dinner Monday night at Paddles and Tuesday night we all went across the street to an ice cream parlor that features the best fire and knife dancers in Samoa.

Amanda, who had attended their free afternoon workshop was invited on stage to demonstrate her new skill, followed by the rest of our crew.


Four buff lads work hard in tight unison during their fire/knife dance

Crew take a break from hauling me aloft……while all the freshly rinsed foulies and harness scatter the deck to dry

Crew with the talented dance troupe


Mahina Crew - Ben, Jason, Dave, Nance, Christina and Bob
Wednesday morning was pack and clean time, but even after that our keen crew wanted to learn double braid splicing and helped Amanda end-for-end and resplice the main halyard.

Keen right to the end - that was our excellent Leg 3 crew. In fact, let’s let them introduce themselves:

Christina, 51
I live in Alice Springs, Australia with my husband Bob and we recently purchased a Gozzard 37 which is now being refitted and we plan to start cruising when we retire in 1.5 years. I used this expedition as of way to decide if I am up to the challenge of cruising and now at the end of the expedition I feel more prepared and ready to go! (Christina manages airport security and staff)

Bob, 53
I’m currently working as a software engineer in Alice Springs and am looking forward to retirement and plan to cruise wherever the winds take us!

Ben, 54
I’m a vet in Gacon, Georgia and have a daysailor on a lake but hope to buy a larger boat within two years and cruise the Caribbean with my wife. My ultimate pleasure will be to teach my grandchildren how to sail.

Dr. Jason, 61
Laughter may be the best medicine, but sailing soothes the soul. My goal is to live fully, every day and my plan is to sail into retirement in a few years with my Sceptre 41, first to the San Juan Islands of Washington, then to Hawaii and perhaps NZ. This expedition with Amanda and John gave me the know-how and confidence to live my dreams today, in the now.

David, 58 from Utah
To what do I compare the exhilaration of hand steering a beautiful yacht at 2 am on a moonless night in 30 kts of wind in the South Pacific? Well the closest experience I can think of is the rush of flying an F15 fighter jet! This has given Nancy and I the confidence to launch out as a couple on our own sailing adventure.

Nancy, 52
I’m a college lecturer and a mom of two young adults who have spent most holidays exploring different parts of the world via bare boat chartering. We’ve owned and sailed a 25’ sailboat for the past eight years and I joined this expedition to evaluate whether blue water, long passage cruising is appealing to me. It is!

We’re now sailing down the coast to a quiet bay for a few days to catch our breath and prepare Mahina Tiare for Leg 4, sailing to Fiji!

 


 

Leg 3 - 2013, Sailing Itinerary

leg 1 | leg 2 | leg 3 | leg 4 | leg 5 | leg 6 | leg 7


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