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Leg 4 - Update 1


September 13, 2018, 0540 hrs, 19.11 S, 162.14, W, Log: 217,971 miles
Baro: 1015.6, Cabin Temp: 79 F, Cockpit: 80 F, Sea Water: 78.1 F
Running downwind in 15kt SE winds, 94 miles to Palmerston Atoll

Between Legs 3 & 4 we had fairly good conditions in Rarotonga’s small Avatiu Harbour but the morning our crew joined the wind had come around to the NNE at 12 kts, straight into the harbor with swells began to build as the tide came in. It soon became a scramble and challenge to safely collect delivery boxes for Palmerston, load our new crew aboard with their gear plus complete a final provisioning run. We managed to get our four stern and breast lines aboard and both anchors up as a just-arriving English yacht repeatedly tried to moor next to us. When, on their second of three tries they came very close to running into us, we moved away from the harbor wall and re-anchored just inside the harbor entrance to give us time to get the dinghy aboard and lines stowed.

Here's our eager Leg 4 crew ready for sailing adventures Sue, KT (Kevin), Barry, Gerry, Kevin and Paul

We weren’t in a hurry to leave as our first planned anchorage to Winslow Reef was 80 miles and we planned to arrive in the morning. Kevin Christian, a Kiwi fisherman and charter captain who has lived in Raro many years first told me about Winslow Reef five years ago, explaining he’d taken several groups of divers to this 6-meter-deep, mid-ocean seamount for incredible snorkeling and diving so I’ve been keen to anchor and snorkel over it ever since.

On current charts it is just labeled as a 6-meter shoal, with the notation 1916, PA (first reported in 1916, position approximate) but on some older charts, it is labeled Winslow Reef.

Upon departing Raro we had a great reach with the 18 kt winds slightly abaft the beam, but during the night winds lightened and we ended up motoring in flat calm conditions for the last few hours.

Our target was the position on the charts, 20 37.800 S, 161 03.600 W but when we got there, we didn’t see any sign of the reef. After two hours of conducting a spiral search pattern, I called Rarotonga Harbourmaster, John Jessie on the satphone, asking if he knew the exact location. He emailed back the following, which I expect is from the British Admiralty South Pacific Pilot book:

Winslow Reef is a submerged coral reef of the southern Cook Islands, located 83 miles northwest of Rarotonga, at 20°38'S 160°56'W. It is a shallow platform reef.

This position is six miles directly east of the charted position, so we motored back to the east, nearly retracing our track and started searching. Amanda agreed to look from the second spreaders and ended up spending three hours aloft, fruitlessly scanning as we started another search pattern. I repeatedly tried calling Keith Christian without getting an answer, then called Skip Sims, a cruising friend in Hawaii, asking him to check on Google Earth. He did, finding several shoals, but none within 30 miles, so after six hours of searching, we altered course to Palmerston Atoll, 200 miles to the NW. If you check on our Google Earth track, located halfway down our homepage, you’ll see our search pattern.

Now we’re hoping to reach Palmerston’s tenuous anchorage before dark today so we can deliver many boxes of school books from the Ministry of Education and a dozen or so boxes of food and supplies for my distant cousin, Arthur Neale and friends from earlier visits, Bill and Metua Marsters.

Palmerston has a very colorful history and was uninhabited when Englishman William Masters settled ashore in 1863 with his three Cook Island wives. Each of the current 60 inhabitants (except for the school teacher) is a direct descendant from one of three of the wives and thousands more live in Rarotonga, NZ and Australia.

Palmerston’s government administrator is Arthur Neale, a very distant cousin of mine whose famous father, Tom Neale lived a hermit’s existence on nearby Suwarrow Island, many say searching for buried treasure. His book, Island to Myself is a classic of South Seas literature. I first met Arthur about 38 years ago when he was living on Manihiki Island in the Northern Cooks, and involved in the budding black pearl farming industry there and most recently about ten years ago when he spotted Mahina Tiare in Raro’s harbor. Arthur’s 92-year-old mother is a Marsters and still lives on Palmerston.

When I emailed Arthur, asking if there were any supplies we could deliver to Palmerston, he had his sister Stella, who works as a nurse both in NZ and in the Cooks drop off several boxes including school books. Recently two large yachts have visited the island, each taking considerable supplies and several passengers, plus the Lady Moana, a local supply ship is due to be arriving today as well. Otherwise MT’s showers would have been stacked to the ceilings!

Leg 4, 2018, Update 2


September 16, 2018, 0640 hrs, 18.27 S, 167.39, W, Log: 218,146 miles
Baro: 1017.4, Cabin Temp: 79 F, Cockpit: 80 F, Sea Water: 79.3 F
Broad reaching at 7.5-8.1 kts in 25kt 30 kt ESE winds under triple-reefed main and genoa 200 miles to Beveridge Reef

Land Ho!

Our passage to Palmerston ended up being straight downwind in light trade winds so we motor sailed some to maintain speed. Thankfully we managed to reach the outside reef anchorage area 1.5 hrs before dark and, as we’ve always done for past visits, Amanda dove in the water wearing her Seal mask to direct us to anchorage site.

There’s not a speck of sand to be seen underwater on Palmerston reef and Amanda soon had us dropping anchor on a flat of hard coral between the giant chasms.

Arthur and John handling one of the many boxes for Palmerston

Island administrator (and distant cousin of mine) Arthur Neale arrived in a skiff stating he’d return in the morning with the health inspector (village nurse) and quarantine officer (the mayor). Right on schedule at 0900 they pulled alongside in our friend Bill Marster’s skiff. Clearance was quick and we were then able to offload supplies for Arthur and Bill plus the school books from Ministry of Education and Youth with a Mission’s courtesy of Rarotonga shell carver Tokerau Jim and his wife. Sue kindly volunteered to stand anchor watch so the seven of us piled into the already heavily-loaded skiff. Bill then very carefully, against the constant outflow of current, negotiated the narrow, shallow, twisted pass which is marked by an assorted collection of sticks and items mounted on the odd coral head. Note...local knowledge is paramount!

During our past 3 visits spanning 20 years and Amanda has been the one to go ashore with expedition members while I stood anchor watch so it’s been 38 years since I’d last visited ashore on Palmerston. With settled modest trade wind conditions, we decided it was safe to spend a night at anchor, for the first time ever. It was really interesting to see the same original buildings built from shipwrecked lumber schooners from 1870, plus a new church, school and a few new homes.

Mainstreet, Palmerston Island

Morning tea at the Country Club

Bill & Metua’s “yacht club” is in fine form, although they’ve outgrown it and have now extended the main house to allow easier entertaining. With the increase in global travelers the new homestead theme, complete with sign, is “Country Club” and its decorated with an eclectic collection of with flags, photos and paraphernalia from visitors, yachts and ships including the royal yacht Britannia which has made several visits.

After a cup of tea our next stop was the school, which was a hive of activity. The building where most of the students work is more a shelter as there’s no doors or major walls for windows only a 1/2 height wall that is lined with individual stalls for each student. We met with the totally enthusiastic Aussie principal, Sherrin and the two Palmerston teacher’s aides Maeva and Nano and enjoyed chatting with the kids who seemed surprisingly focused on their learning projects done through Australian home-school correspondence curriculum and although the island has internet computers don’t feature in their studies.

We all delighted in meeting Sherrin and admire her fresh approach to challenge teaching conditions

The teachers and students of Palmerston Lucky School

Joy is all smiles in showing us her arrival notice. She’s now 8 and proud of it.

Amanda on anchor watch

Arthur then keenly showed us the island’s two-year old solar power station, complete with AGM batteries, inverters and automatic standby diesel generator. All households now have continuous 220-volt service with minimal diesel fuel consumed instead of only a few hours of electricity per day. He also explained other sites on the small atoll including the refuge, or highest point (about 18’), located in middle of the island and created by the tailings from excavating pits for growing taro in the.

He said that to create the pits the school kids would take wheelbarrow loads of dirt from the pits to the refuge hill everyday day before and after school. He also mentioned that construction was due to start next month on a new three-story cyclone shelter, jointly financed by Japan and the Cook Islands government.

Sherrin mentioned she was a keen sailor, having cruised extensively as far as SE Asia, so we invited her and Arthur, also a keen sailor and sailing coach who had one of his Manihiki Island sailing team compete in the London Olympics, for breakfast and our planned Lifesling Overboard drill. What a hoot we had, sailing back and forth in the lee of the island with everyone practicing our unique procedure by rescuing a wad of newspapers. This was not realistic enough for Sherrin who insisted on jumping in (with winds gusting to 22 kts!) to be rescued.

Sherrin returns to the helm after deploying the Lifesling

Arthur, like John, makes overboard rescue look so easy

Afterwards Bill picked us all up (except for Barry, who volunteered to stand anchor watch) up for lunch at the Country Club. While we’d been sailing, Bill and his son Ngariki had successfully landed eight black trevallies while line fishing along the outside reef which was added to the feast of local free-range chicken, breadfruit cooked in the earth oven and pineapple pie.

KT helps Ngariki out with lunch prep

Caroline introduces Kevin to a rescued booby, there’s also terns, turtles and a frigate bird about the house.

Time for lunch

During lunch Arthur shared stories of growing up on Palmerston, Rarotonga and Manihiki, before moving to NZ for boarding school and his first year of university. He returned Raro to complete his studies at University of the South Pacific then worked for various government departments. At one point he was responsible for a detailed census of all 15 of the Cook Islands, during which he spent several months in the isolated Northern Cooks, meeting relatives from his mother’s side, the Marsters of Palmerston, on every island.

I feel a strong kinship with Arthur. We share so many friends, favorite islands, and experiences, plus a deeply ingrained love of the sea and sailing and I very much look forward to our next visit, hopefully next year.

Caroline and Julianna One Girl in a Palmerston song jam

After lunch we all washed the dishes, at Amanda’s request, in the hopes that Bill and Metua’s kids would then have finished their chores and would entertain us with songs of Palmerston. Yeah! Ngariki played guitar, Julianna One Girl sang and played ukulele, Tamatoa sang bass back up and Caroline sang and played guitar before she got up enough courage to dance. It was truly a magical time.

I made plans with Sherrin to return next year with more school supplies and an offer to take all the school kids out on a daysail aboard MT then present a PowerPoint program at school on how their relatives sailed 70’ ocean-going canoes from Taiwan to settle the Cook Islands. (Opps...I hope Amanda agrees as she has to create the show and I’m sure would rather learn hula and uke ashore than do more sailing).

Gerry grabs some Palmerston RnR

Once Bill dropped us back aboard Mahina Tiare, we all jumped in for a snorkel safari, swimming to and then along the edge of the reef outside the surf line. A large green sea turtle swam by very close, checking us out and schools of huge parrot fish, twice the size of any we’ve seen elsewhere, were feeding on coral. It was heartening to see such vibrant and healthy coral and sea life.

Reefed down and zipping along under sunny skies

With 280 miles to Beveridge Reef, we waited until just before sunset to hoist anchor and set sail. Two reefs in the main were marginal especially when the winds gusted to 39 kts, so this morning KT tucked in a third which has made steering and sleeping a little easier.

We’re hoping the winds and seas will drop a bit by the time we reach Beveridge Reef; a horseshoe-shaped mid ocean reef that is only slightly exposed at low tide.



September 24, 2018, 0000 hrs, 14.27 S, 171.06, W, Log: 218,787 miles
Baro: 1014.3, Cabin Temp: 82 F, Cockpit: 81 F, Sea Water: 82.6 F
Close reaching at 6.8 kts in 9 kt 30 kt EN
E winds under full sail
63 miles to Apia, Samoa

A rewarding lunchtime view after our arrival swim

Our hopes for a secure anchorage within Beveridge Reef were realized when we were able to anchor at the windward corner of the lagoon, just off the 20-year-old wreck of 90’ fishing boat in 20’ of water with a fine sand bottom. We’d arrived at mid-tide, and even with 22 kt steady trades, the chop was moderate. At high tide Mahina Tiare was jostled a bit for a couple hours, but it was totally manageable. On previous visits we’d been instantly surrounded by inquisitive and persistent black-tipped sharks, but this time, we were only checked out briefly by a small 4’ shark who left and didn’t return after a brief first visit.

The relatively calm anchorage and no chance of exploring ashore (at high tide, the only thing visible of Beveridge Reef are the breakers and brilliant turquoise-colored lagoon) gave us an excellent opportunity to catch up with our teaching schedule and we covered Diesel Engines, Storm Tactics and Sail Design.

Cruising along the inside reef at Beveridge

Barry, Sue and Gerry enjoy some smooth sailing

Tuesday morning, we sailed back and forth in front of Beveridge’s entrance pass, until we landed a nice trevally, before setting sail for Niue, 140 miles to the northwest. Throughout the passage trades lightened slightly, giving us an excellent broad reach and at sunrise Keith spotted the outline of Niue, the world’s largest raised coral atoll. We had an escort of resident winter humpback whales as we approached the anchorage and were surprised to see only five other yachts on the moorings.

With a constant swell, depths of 60’-120’ and many deep chasms and holes in the all-coral bottom, anchoring in Alofi Bay is difficult and problematic at best. Niue Yacht Club (basically just Keith Vial, a kind and generous non-sailor, ex-teacher from NZ) has positioned and maintains at considerable expense 16-22 moorings just for visiting yachts, charging a very minimal fee to use them and the club’s tidy restrooms with solar-heated showers above the landing pier.

Niue Radio called customs for us and in no time, customs, immigration, health and quarantine inspectors met all of us on the wharf and cleared us into this tiny country. How tiny? Last time the immigration lady said she thought there might be 900 Niueans still living on “The Rock”, but this time we were told the population now must be “at least 1,700, with all the folks who have returned”. We walked our crew around town (took about 10 minutes!) and to the very helpful and efficient tourism office before returning to MT for breakfast and planning.

This crew were very keen for adventure so they all rented mountain bikes to better explore this fascinating island. We met for dinner at Gil’s, for what we all agreed was one of the best and most reasonable Indian dinners any of us had ever had, so much so we returned the next night.

Thursday morning our crew had a serious plan, complete with maps and notes and landed just after breakfast with the goal of cycling to, exploring and snorkeling though as many of the sea caves as possible.

The landing wharf at Niue

Wheels sure come handy here along with a lifting bridle

Here’s what Keith says about their grand adventure:

What an amazing day! We had is all planned out for a cycle on the northwest coast touring the pools and caves along the way. With low tide at 11 am, we got an early start to catch the caves at their most accessible times. First stop was Avaiki Cave, with its beautiful, multi-colored pool set back within a large cave. Next was Palaha; not much for swimming, but the large cavern formations are punctuated with massive stalactites and stalagmites. Just up the road was Hio Beach, with its pristine sandy beach hidden away in a protected cove. Conveniently located at the cliff top road is Hio Beach Café serving delicious beverages (I had a papaya-lime smoothie) and plenty to eat. After lunch we found our way to Limu Pool; a maze of great snorkeling and for the brave, an underwater cavern swim. We finished the day at Matapa Chasm, accessible at any state of the tide, with a long channel surrounded by high walls leading out to a nice peek at the incoming surf. We made it back to town just in time to pick up our laundry, before they closed, and enjoyed another incomparable curry.

Such interesting sites for exploring

For unknown reasons, Niue’s Tuesday and Friday morning market starts at 4am so on Friday we planned a 6:30am landing to find that more than half of the farmers and artists had already sold out, packed up and headed home. I enjoyed chatting to very friendly ladies and bought papayas, bananas and a bundle of interesting wild greens (Amanda says they’re the tops of young fern leaves known as luku) which they said would go well in stir-fries or omelets. looks like I’m making eggs for breakfast.

John’s with his luku vender

Here’s our homework for next year

After Amanda had taught winch maintenance we set sail on a beam reach for Apia, Samoa 360 miles NNE with fresh trades gusting to 25. Friday night saw some squalls but the winds clocked to E, then gradually eased to below 20, giving us exhilarating broad-reaching conditions in gradually diminishing swells.

Yesterday afternoon and last night was some of the best sailing we’ve had all year – zooming along on a broad reach with puffy trade wind clouds abounding with Barry and KT marveling out how comfortable they were just wearing running shorts and safety harnesses. Before sunrise our watch standers had sighted the lights of Tutuilla, American Samoa and now we’re looking at arriving in Apia Harbour early afternoon.

September 28, 2018, 0800 hrs, 13.49 S, 171.45, W, Log: 218,843 miles
Baro: 1013.3, Cabin Temp: 82 F, Cockpit: 84 F, Sea Water: 83.8 F
Securely Moored in Apia Marina

Approaching Apia

And arrive, we did! We emailed then started calling Apia Port Control the prescribed two hours before entering port, only to finally receive a sleepy answer as we passed through the channel into the harbor. Port Control instructed us to tie up in the marina and promised they would contact health, bio-security, customs and immigration so we were shocked when they all showed up in short order!

Trevor, the young diver/marina manager briefly dropped by, warmly welcoming us and giving us keys for the gate and nearby showers.

Dahl sharing his uke and song skills

Clearance was quick and surprisingly painless (it can take days, according to two other boats on the dock) and the final official aboard (from immigration) was quite chatty about what was happening around town. As he patiently waited for us to complete our passenger arrival forms he gathered we had a ukulele aboard.

His eyes lit up when Amanda pulled out our sweet new Kala baritone uke and he eagerly played several tunes which we all sang along to, followed by a hauntingly beautiful Samoan goodbye song. Never, ever, have we had such a lovely customs clearance experience!

The next day, I rented a van and we headed ten minutes up the hill to Robert Louis Stevenson’s home, Vailima – truly one of the most peaceful and beautiful places in the world.

Striking a pose with the lovely staff at Vailima - Vai means water and lima means hand in Samoan

What a magical time Leg 4 was! Our crew had to be one of our keenest ever – always eager to learn and lend a hand. Here they are:

Barry, 49
I live in Anchorage, AK with my wife and two kids where we enjoy exploring Prince William Sound on our 36’ trawler. I started my career as a US Coast Guard officer, transitioning to the oil transportation business in 2000. My sailing experience is rooted in racing small boats and offshore, but the past 20 years we have enjoyed bareboating in different countries. I joined this expedition to build passage-making skills and explore some new areas of the South Pacific.

Sue, 62
I live, sail and work as a radiographer in Esperance, Western Australia. My father was in the Royal Navy before transferring to the NZ Navy and I grew up in Auckland. My family had a 50’ ketch which we raced up to Fiji twice. I can’t imagine not living by the sea and not sailing and own a 31’ Swanson Carmen wooden sloop, built in 1965. I joined this expedition to gain experience and confidence plus to go to Beveridge Reef, a lifelong dream of mine!

Kevin, 35
Although growing up canoeing in the Midwest, I hadn’t had much sailing experience when I bought a Newport 30 several years ago in the SF Bay area. A few months of repairs and the dreams of long distance cruising were growing. After the trials and tribulations of a novice, I joined Mahina to build a more structured knowledge base and gain some heavy weather experience. My long-term goals include high latitude cruising, particularly in the Drake Passage. (Although currently living and working as a cardiac anesthesiologist in Chicago, Kevin has just applied for a teaching and clinical job at UCLA and we wish him success with his job interview this week!)

Kevin, aka KT, 59
Having enjoyed several years of coastal cruising around Vancouver Island in my 20’s, I’ve always dreamed of sailing the world. Now within a few years of retirement, the possibility is getting closer. I joined MT to experience the offshore cruising life and to see if my dream is still alive. After two weeks of South Pacific sailing, I can enthusiastically attest that it is!

Gerry Heinz, 56
I live in Vancouver, BC and owned a bookbinding company for 30 years. I’ve recently retired and my wife and I have been sailing for five years and own a Beneteau 35 which we cruise the Gulf Islands and up to Desolation Sound.

Paul, 68
I import and distribute Mexican avocados and enjoy racing on SF Bay aboard my Ranger 33 most weekends. I’m enjoying being on a learning expedition and gaining bluewater experience.

Leg 4 Itinerary

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

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