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Leg 5, 2018, Update 2

October 15, 2018, 1300 hrs, 17.41 S, 177.23, W, Log: 219,883 miles
Baro: 1017.2, Cabin Temp: 85 F, Cockpit: 89 F, Sea Water: 83.2 F
Moored bow to shore, Vuda Marina, Fiji


The weather goddess smiled on us for our 250-mile passage south from Rotuma to Yasawa Island. We raised anchor at 1730 on sundown and set out motorsailing continuing to do for 14 hours into chunky 10 knot winds as we couldn’t lay course under sail alone. By breakfast we’d unrolled 90% of the genoa and with one reef in the main found we were able to lay our course and keep 7 kts! We had remarkably fine weather and continued to sail until landfall when we threaded our way past several reefs and small islands to anchor in front of picturesque Yasawairara Village.

Sara and Torrey diligently work on the navigation to Yasawa Island

Shortly after we anchored, a fisherman paddled by in a plastic kayak, saying it was ok for us to anchor and go ashore to perform the sevusevu ceremony with their village chief. After breakfast Amanda and I went ashore and wandered about the sizable and quiet village. Eventually we found an older woman washing dishes in a cooking shed who directed us to, “Visit Captain Nelson, in the white house with the water tank, over there”.

Captain Nelson’s grandson led us into the house, and Captain Nelson, minus one lower leg (which was perched on a nearby chair), crawled out into the living room, welcoming us. He graciously accepted our gift of kava with a traditional ceremony and prayer and when Amanda mentioned we’d like to take a hike to hopefully see across the island to the waters we would be traversing on our way south the Viti Levu, he volunteered that his grandson, Josh would be happy to lead us. Captain Nelson explained that the village had about 150 inhabitants, but that many were away most of the year, working on the main island in Lautoka; about 80 miles away. Truly at the end of the line, the village receives a supply ship about once a month, and with the ship currently broken down, the nearest grocery store is 20 miles south near The Blue Lagoon.

We learned that Captain Nelson had been going to sea on local Ro-Ro (roll on, roll off drop ramp inter-island cargo vessels) since 1970, progressing from deck hand to captain, and even captaining South Sea Cruises local small cruise ships. Now close to 80 years of age he happily retired to his home village a few years ago. He said that he regularly took ships up to 160’ through the narrow and somewhat tortuous channels between the reefs that we would have to pass the following morning, saying not to worry about it.

Back aboard MT, we covered Diesel Engines class, had lunch and a nap, then all headed in to meet villagers and go for a hike at 4pm as arranged.

We had not one, but a host of village children leading us up the hill behind the village to a spectacular view not only west, but also south along the spine of Yasawa Island. There were no vehicles to be seen anywhere, but the deeply-rutted track that we were following looked to have been made by a large truck.

Hiking with our new friends.

View of SW Yasawa Island

We arrived back aboard MT on sundown and by the time we’d stowed the dinghy and gone for a swim it was dark and time to make dinner.

Yesterday we waited until 0600 to get underway, needing light to weave our way through the coral reefs at the N end of Yasawa Island before we could head south on the 62-mile passage through the Great Sea Reef and Bligh Waters to Viti Levu. As expected, we had a bit of a slog with winds gusting briefly to 35 kts as we motorsailed close on the wind for the first third of the passage until we passed Tivolei and Vatututolu Reefs and could ease sheets, turn off the motor and shake out reefs.

It’s all hands on deck for our last morning sail

We’d read that since our last visit, both Vuda and Denarau Marinas have become Customs Port of Entry facilities (as long as they are given 24-hour notice) eliminating the need to anchor off and spend hours waiting and taxiing around Lautoka to clear in or out. We’d completed health, bio-security and immigration clearance in Rotuma, but there currently isn’t a customs inspector there, so we were pleased to learn we could complete customs at Vuda Marina.

A rousing welcome from the Marina staff

Upon entering this morning, we tied up to the new customs dock and minutes later a group of marina employees came over and serenaded us with a couple of Fijian welcome songs, informing us their office had already called the customs inspector who should be arriving before long.

Amanda’s surprise chocolate birthday cake, from the crew, presented with song Fijian style.

The customs inspector was on the run with multiple vessels to clear in and out, and had requested I wait at the marina café next to the office to save her from having to come aboard. She was fast and efficient and before long we received notice that a space inside the basin had become available and we were soon safely moored bow-first in a convenient spot. As we were a day ahead of schedule, after completing our teaching schedule that afternoon we decided to celebrate with a graduation dinner next door at the amazing First Landing Resort.

Tuesday morning our taxi driver friend Abdul and one of his employees took us to Garden of the Sleeping Giant, founded by the late actor Raymond Burr. Orchids were his passion, but the large lily pond and quiet secluded garden areas were equally charming.

Here’s our Leg 5 crew pictured with our guide at Garden of the Sleeping Giant: MJ. Adam, Patti, Sara, Torrey and Deb.

MJ, 62
I’m a special ed professor Monday through Friday, but I’m a sailing fanatic on weekends, summers and sabbaticals. I’ve been living and racing in Honolulu since the 1980’s and did extensive South Pacific cruising in the ‘80’s & ‘90’s. Adam and I plan on retiring and going cruising in a few years.

Adam, 56
I’m a military physician looking forward to retirement in 5 years. MJ and I plan to cruise the North Atlantic and Pacific. This expedition was to confirm that the life was for me and to learn about different parts of sailing so I can be a good crew for my skipper, MJ.

Patti, 60
I work in fundraising for a Bay Area university. In a weak moment my husband who is crazy about sailing, boats and water, talked me into learning more about sailing by joining this expedition. My prior experience was island hopping charter trips and our local sailing school in the SF Bay, plus on our 14’ dinghy. I plan to continue learning about navigation, weather, boat systems and most of all, safe sailing.

Sara, 52
I am a family practice and ER physician and having grown up in Idaho, had never sailed until I met my husband. After many marvelous trips with my in-laws on their Beneteau through the San Juans and Broughtons, we bought our own boat and now have an Island Packet 40. I joined this expedition to gain competence and confidence. We plan to sail to Alaska next summer with our children, ages 6 & 9, eventually circumnavigate Vancouver Island with further adventures TBD!

Torrey, 44
I’m a music professor and university administrator. I’ve sailed with my parents in Puget Sound since age 5 and I’m delighted that my family enjoys adventures on our own boat.

Deb, 60
I’m a university professor in social work in Vancouver, BC. Although I come from a long line of mariners, I didn’t start sailing until 2000 when I took up dinghy racing. In 2004 I took my first keel boat training and I was hooked! I currently cruise the BC coastline in my C & C 33 and do winter charter in tropical waters.

We love Jacks!

Sara’s lofty view of her height helpers.

Too funny...Amanda caught up with into MJ and Sara to mention a fun clothing store she’d discovered in Lautoka only to discover...they’d found it too!...

Following the garden tour, Abdul showed us the sights of Lautoka which our crew enjoyed so much they kept extending our visit. Finally, we all met in Jack’s Handicrafts where our ladies all bought colorful dresses and sarongs and the guys went crazy buying bula (aloha) shirts at ridiculously-reasonable prices.

We returned to Vuda Marina for going aloft class and more teaching sessions then headed to the Boatshed Restaurant & Bar in time for Tuesday’s half-price pizza night which was packed. Ten yachts were departing for New Zealand in the morning and everyone was busy exchanging notes on weather predictions.

Wednesday morning, I completed my final class, Storm Survival Tactics, after breakfast and cabin cleaning. Our two couples left their bags in the cockpit and had such fun returning to Lautoka for further exploring and over lunch committed to sail together in Alaska and then possibly Scotland! It was long after dark before they returned to pick up their bags and check into that’s having fun!



Leg 5, 2018, Update 1

October 5, 2018, 0515 hrs, 13.36 S, 175.39, W, Log: 219,087 miles
Baro: 1012.0, Cabin Temp: 83 F, Cockpit: 80 F, Sea Water: 82.5 F
Broad reaching at 6.2 kts in 5kt ENE winds under full sail with a sliver of a crescent moon
35 miles to Wallis Island


Somehow we’ve not experienced any more than a very occasional brief shower since leaving Scotland 1.5 years ago, and this changed as a fairly active cold front stalled over Samoa during our last two days there. The winds in Apia Marina would go from 15-25 with real tropical downpours just frequently enough to prevent us from drying our laundry or Amanda getting her final coats of varnish on the dodger uprights.

When our Leg 5 crew came for safety orientation Tuesday afternoon, most of them mentioned that gaining heavy weather experience was one of their learning goals so we didn’t hesitate in setting sail Wednesday noon even though called for easterlies 23 gusting 35 with occasional rain for our first 25 miles until we would be in the lee of Savaii Island.

Apia Harbour was busy with 6-7 oriental long-line fishing boats plus two tugs and barges sheltering from the rough offshore conditions, a cable and container ships tied to the wharf plus two more freighters hove-to off the entrance likely waiting for space on the packed wharf.

Speaking of Apia Marina, we were pleasantly surprised how helpful and responsive Trevor (, the young local commercial diver who is now the marina lessor and manager was, how inexpensive moorage rates have remained and how easy inbound and outbound clearance were compared to previous visits. It felt like the various offices (bio-security, health, customs, immigration and port authority) are doing a better job communicating with each other than in the past, plus, for the first time, they all came down to the marina.

Once we were clear of the harbor entrance channel we could gradually ease sheets until we were on a downwind run, surfing along at up to 9 kts in gusts to 29 kts in large following seas under triple-reefed main and a scrap of headsail. We had cleared Apolina Strait, the narrow gap between Upolu and Savaii Islands by dusk and conditions gradually started moderating.

Adam hits 10 knots...time to reef

Torrey and Adam successfully complete their first reef

Yesterday we had brilliant sailing with practice reefing and unreefing and setting and taking down the whisker pole as winds came deep astern. By morning the occasional rains had vanished, the sun was out and everyone was all smiles! Amazingly no one had been seasick and everyone was getting the hang of steering in large, sloppy rollers. Everyone cheered when Adam hit 10 kts surfing down the front of wave.

Wallis, which looks a little like a miniature Bora Bora should be visible soon after breakfast, and we’re hoping for landfall by noon.

October 8, 2018, 0500 hrs, 13.33 S, 177.57, W, Log: 219,235 miles
Baro: 1012.6, Cabin Temp: 83 F, Cockpit: 81 F, Sea Water: 83.7 F
Broad reaching at 5 kts in 11kt ENE winds under full sail and calm seas
289 miles to Rotuma Island

Fun exploring on the motus windward beach

We had a spectacular early morning landfall at Wallis, a small French Island and minutes after anchoring off uninhabited Ile Faioa, a mile or so inside the pass we all dived into the turquoise lagoon water with Amanda swimming the considerable distance to shore while our crew checked out a nearby coral reef. We’d stowed our sun awning on deck with all the battens in it, so it took only a few minutes to rig it, making life in the cockpit much more comfortable.

After brief naps we headed ashore to go beach-walking on the wild windward side of the islet, but found with an exceptionally high tide we had to either bushwhack or wade through the coral to get past some trees. The reward was a rugged windward beach with tons of crabs and impressive breakers.

That afternoon we covered Polynesian Navigation, calculating tidal pass currents and our new international chart review where we look at current charts from different countries, noting differences in notations and nav aids.

John points the way to the helmsman as we raise anchor

In the middle of the night a passing squall brought a substantial increase in wind causing one of the stainless pipe battens to poke through the fabric and start flailing around. We had quite a wild time getting the awning down and stowed but managed to do so without any more damage.

Saturday morning after covering engine room orientation, we motored the remaining eight miles upwind through the well-marked but twisting channels to Mata Uta, the capital and harbor of Wallis, anchoring off the pier and all going ashore with passports only to find we’d miss the Gendarmerie’s Saturday opening hours by a few minutes, necessitating a two-hour wait.

Our crew enjoyed cooling off in the island’s only hotel/restaurant while Amanda and I returned to MT for a swim.

Crew strike a pose on the waterfront at Wallis

Not one, but eight gendarmes showed up at 1400 which I found a bit surprising as generally all but one or two officers spend the day relaxing with their families. The young French officer who checked us in and out at the same time was super-efficient and not unfriendly. On our early-morning run the next day, we saw a large-spray painted banner decrying discrimination against local citizens.

New Caledonia’s independence referendum is only three weeks away, and perhaps some of the independence fervor is appearing on Wallis. Amanda taught provisioning upon our return and we enjoyed a pleasant, squall-free night.

Yesterday morning four of us headed ashore for runs, walks and a stop at the sole supermarket for freshly baked coconut bread and baguettes before raising anchor for reefing practice and setting sail for Rotuma, Fiji’s northernmost island, and one of a handful of Polynesian outlier islands.

The GRIB forecast predicted winds of between 10 and 13 kts for our 400-mile passage, and so far we’ve been able to broad reach very nicely under full main and poled-out genoa with very smooth sea conditions.

Our track takes us quite close to several mid-ocean seamounts, and we’re hoping for daylight arrival so we can possibly enjoy a mid-ocean snorkel over what must be pristine reefs.

October 8, 2018, 0500 hrs, 13.19 S, 179.17, W, Log: 219,393 miles
Baro: 1011.4, Cabin Temp: 83 F, Cockpit: 81 F, Sea Water: 83.9 F
Broad reaching at 6.5 kts in 16kt ENE winds under full sail and calm seas
131 miles to Rotuma Island

Hooray! We were able to drift snorkel over Rotumah Shoal, a 2 x 6 mile, 85’ deep mid-ocean seamount! It was exactly where charted: 13.30.440S, 179.10.475W and Adam calculated that altering course to pass over it added only 1.5 miles to our track to Rotuma.

We saw soundings on the depth sounder and a change in water color at the same time. With winds of only 10 kts, we drifted over the shoal, then turned and slowly motored across, and once it started dropping off again, shut down, deployed the Lifesling so we’d have something other than the swim ladder to hang onto, then jumped in.

Sharks! Don’t go swimming off now!

Our lookouts spotted small sharks even before Torrey and Amanda entered the water, but the sharks, although a little inquisitive, were only 1-2’ long and soon lost interest and swam away. By the time I got a waterproof camera out and in the water, the sharks were keeping just enough distance to be difficult to photograph.

Gybe Ho! John sets the  whisher pole

The seafloor was a mixture of sand with waves and coral with some colorful smallish coral heads. Surprisingly we didn’t see any fish, but not long after we’d hoisted sail Amanda pulled a nice sized tuna aboard with one solid jerk – up and over the lifelines!

We’d needed to motor a bit yesterday with following winds in the 6-8 kt range, but very early this morning the breeze picked up to 12-17 kts and we’ve been rocketing along very nicely.

Oh, we passed the International Date Line very early this morning, and now we are in East longitude. We’ll have to double-check our navigator’s position plots today!

October 10, 2018, 0505 hrs, 12.37 S, 177.19, W, Log: 219,522 miles
Baro: 1011.2, Cabin Temp: 84 F, Cockpit: 82 F, Sea Water: 84.2 F
Broad reaching at 6.1 kts in 12kt ENE winds under full sail and calm seas
9.5, miles to Rotuma Island. Dragging our heels and waiting for first light!


We’ve had a good radar return from Rotuma Island for the past hour or so, but haven’t seen any lights. We’re steering a course to clear the island until first light which should occur in less than an hour. We are also constantly scanning the MFD screen for the AIS signal from BAREFOOT, a boat whose owners, David and Roslyn, we’d previous previously met in New Caledonia. They emailed us a month ago and said they were planning on making landfall at Rotuma, sailing north from Fiji, the same day we’d planned.

It’s always exciting to see another cruising yacht underway in a seaway.

Barefoot rocketing along

MT not looking bad either

Sara and MJ adjust the preventer so we can buddy sail with Barefoot

We’ve had unbelievably fine sailing conditions with calm seas, reported at 1.5 meters on the GRIB forecasts, no rain or squalls and light, but steady winds which have us arriving a couple hours earlier than planned. We talked about heaving to yesterday afternoon for an extended swim, but then realized we’d have to stow and re-set the whisker pole and settled for showers on the aft deck instead. Sunset yesterday was spectacular, and MJ, our storyteller of the day wrote a song for a sing-along, followed by another sing-along song she’d previously printed the words off to, and then Amanda pulled out our song sheets and put on a CD with the same songs and we had a great time singing in the cockpit under the stars – an event none of us will soon forget!

October 12, 2018, 0550 hrs, 13.55 S, 177.20, W, Log: 219,634 miles
Baro: 1011.9, Cabin Temp: 84 F, Cockpit: 82 F, Sea Water: 84.2 F
Motorsailing at 7 kts in 15kt ESE winds under single-reefed main and modest seas
167 miles to Yasawa Island.


We altered course to catch up with David and Roslyn aboard Barefoot five miles south of Rotuma, and sailed side-by-side the entire way to the anchorage taking pictures of each other. We found the island substantially mischarted on both the latest Navionics and C-Map charts are were pleased to have printed off Google Earth of the landfall and Oinafa Bay. We found a sheltered anchorage in the lee of a broken down concrete wharf where the monthly supply ship moors with a coral-free white sand bottom.

How deep is it up to the reef?

At this latitude the sun is fierce, so we had our large awning up minutes after the anchor went down and everyone dived in for a snorkel around the bay before breakfast.

Mid-breakfast Phillipe, who lives in the village directly ashore and who has a reputation of helping yachties hailed us from the wharf, informing us that it was Fiji Day, commemorating Fiji’s independence from Great Britain and that the health, bio-security and immigration officers would likely all be enjoying the festivities at Government Station located a 30-minute drive away at the other end of the island.

I’d read in the clearance fee schedule that there was an optional charge for requesting clearance on holidays and weekends, and asked if Philippe could call the officials, letting them know we would be happy to pay it if we could get ashore that day.

MT at anchor

MT and Barefoot at anchor

A few hours later a policeman drove to the end of the pier and said all the officers would arrive at 0900 the following morning (yesterday) so we enjoyed snorkeling, snoozing and covered Clearing Customs, Dealing with Officials Worldwide and Leaving Your Boat in a Foreign Port classes.

The cover of our whisker pole topping lift had chafed through, so Amanda pulled it down, stitched the cover back together and several helped getting the line back in the mast.

At 8:30, Etecca, the attractive health inspector from Sigatoka came aboard followed by Bio-Security and Immigration officers who eagerly accepted my offer of multi-grain porridge for breakfast. Although we’d received confirmation that our 13-page Customs pre-notification of arrival document with crew list, image of the vessel and copy of captain’s passport had been received, it apparently hadn’t been forwarded to the appropriate offices on Rotuma which didn’t seem to concern the officers. They told us Mahina Tiare was the seventh yacht of the year to visit, although 36 yachts visited last year. Fees of F$172.50 for health and $85 for bio-security must be paid in cash and I was pleased to have purchased Fiji dollars in Apia as there isn’t a bank or ATM on Rotuma.

When the clearance procedures were complete, I asked the bio-security officer if he might know of a driver and truck that we could hire for the day to take us on a tour around Rotuma. Not only did he have a recommendation, he said all eight of us were welcome to jam in the double-cab and back of the government Toyata pickup for the 30-minute ride to Government Station. He said this would save him having to return with our change and receipts and upon arrival, introduced us to Mua Taukave (email:, a retired Air Pacific employee who owned a B & B and agreed to take us on a tour.

Government Station was where the high school, small hospital, airfield and store were located overlooking an idyllic but shallow bay.

Ooops...pays to put fuel in the tank before heading off around an island with no gas stations.

It’s all beaches and coconuts on this island

We squeezed into Mua’s ancient double-cab Toyata truck and enjoyed a bone-jarring tour of this very dramatic and picturesque island.

There were small villages with homes and churches the entire way around the 2 by 6-mile island with several absolutely spectacular white-sand beaches.

Quite a few of the houses were empty, owners having moved to Fiji or Australia for work.

A highlight was stopping at Mua’s mother-in-law’s home on the windward (eastern) shore where Mua cut drinking coconuts for our crew and then where we watched as a cousin wove a large floor mat for her auntie who sat by supervising.

Coconut delight

A tutorial in mat weaving

Amanda had hoped we’d be able to hear some Rotuman school kids singing, and right on cue we spied a group of 30 school kids in tidy uniforms seated under a shelter between their school and the road, practicing songs and dancing.

Amanda is quick to join in with the kids jamming and dancing session

Originally our plan was to spend a second night on Rotuma, but a fairly powerful cold front is scheduled to sweep over our 350-mile track to Lautoka on the main island of Viti Levu, bringing 25+ kt headwinds and heavy rains. By running different departure/arrival scenarios on the GRIB forecast charts, it became obvious that leaving 24 hrs earlier than planned we’d have a much easier passage south. From the very first time I considered stopping at Rotuma 30 years ago, the hindrance was this passage straight south in an area where the trades normally blow between ESE and SSE at 25-30 kts.

It looks like we got lucky with our weather window this time, and although we’d rather be sailing than motorsailing, our goal is to get into the lee of Viti Levu before the winds increase and visibility in the poorly charted (and partly uncharted) waters of The Great Sea Reef and Bligh Waters.

Just before setting sail from Rotuma, we had David and Ros who have decades of experience in Fiji waters and who had just sailed the reciprocal of the passage we are making to Yasawa Island come aboard and review the route that MJ had laid out on our Raymarine MFD.

The bonus of stopping at the very first possible anchorage, Yasawairara is not just that it is 50 miles closer than our previously intended first anchorage at Toba Laloma, but that we’ve learned there is a friendly traditional village where we can visit ashore and perform the required sevusevu ceremony, asking the village elders for permission to anchor and visit ashore. Dave and Ros happened to have a spare bundle of kava roots nicely wrapped which they wouldn’t need in Vanuatu, their next country, and graciously gave us.

Leg 5 Crew - Amanda, Torrey, Sara, MJ, Adam, Patti and Deb, plus Captain John taking photo.




Leg 5 Itinerary

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