Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore cruising seminars and boat purchase consultation.

Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore cruising seminars and boat purchase consultation.

SAILING THROUGH PARADISE, Log #11

Oct. 20, 1997 0730
Latitude: 18.07 South Longitude: 178.25 East Log: 9329 Water Temp: 77.2 F Air: 79 F
Nukulau Is., near Suva, Fiji,


Leg 5 -'97 crew in Pago Pago

Manihiki in the Northern Cooks was an enchanting stop. Our passage from Penrhyn was quick with MTIII covering nearly 200 miles in 24 hrs, safely arriving before dark. Due to the unprotected open ocean anchorage few yachts visit Manihiki, we set our 75 lb. CQR bow anchor in 30' and the reef sloped away to 120' under the stern. Here 24hr. anchor watches are required in case the wind or current set us towards the reef, then it would be a quick exit to sea.


John Neal covering common medical problems encountered while cruising.

Early the next morning John Williams, a local pearl farmer whom I had meet 20 years ago in the Tuamotus paddled out in a dugout canoe to visit. We explored the small village and then the following noon after church (the Cook Islanders are amazing singers, and their powerful harmonies comprised most of the service) John and his lovely Tuamotuan wife Kathy invited us, minus Diana and Neil who kept anchor watch, to their new lagoon front home for a feast and tour of the lagoon.

Amanda with Kathy and John Williams, Manihiki, Cook Islands.

Kathy proudly showed us her fish trap, full of tomorrow's dinner, and we spent a relaxing couple of hours on the family's man-made coral motu where their extensive pearl farm operations are based. John's father, Tekaki Williams started the farm, the first in the Cook's 17 years ago with John who had learned about pearl farming while working in the Tuamotus.


Preparing Oyster shells for pearl nucleus insertion.

The motu, complete with palm trees, satellites telephone and fax, solar-powered lights and freezers is surrounded by 87 degree turquoise water. Snorkeling, John's sons showed us the pearl farm's underwater operation, including pet fish that come when called to eat left-overs.

The following morning we said goodbye to Wolfgang who was handing out our toothbrushes to each of the school children while giving them physical examinations and set sail for Suwarrow, 190 miles west. Suwarrow Island was made famous by Tom Neale, a hermit who wrote "An Island to Myself" several years ago about the 20 years he spent alone on the island.

Margaret, the gracious and outgoing Cook Island caretaker loves meeting and entertaining the visiting yachties. She and her young boys and boyfriend take care of the island from March until November, asking each of the approximately 50 visiting yachts to make an entry in their colorful guest book. During hurricane season the island is uninhabited.


Margaret, Suwarrow Island caretaker with Tom Neale Memorial

Suwarrow's lagoon is famous for aggressive sharks, but we only saw a few during our snorkeling expedition through the pass and around the lagoon. After only a night at Suwarrow our crew were anxious for the bright lights of Pago Pago, so we set sail, arriving Saturday afternoon.
Our crew quickly arranged laundry, dinner and showers and ended up exploring the island together before flying out Monday morning. Pago Pago is a famous cruiser re-supply port with reasonable prices (especially since Costco opened up) two-day parts shipments from West Marine and U.S. mail at domestic rates. We made arrangements for $.87 per gallon fuel to be delivered to us at the dock and made a couple of trips to Costco. Amanda enjoyed shopping for fabric with her friend Carol Noel whom we met a year ago in Patagonia.

Yachties gather 1,500 lbs. of rubbish from Pago Pago shoreline on International Coastal Clean-up Day.

On Saturday all yachties in the harbor participated in a International Coastal Clean-Up Day, gathering over 1,500 lbs. of rubbish off the shoreline.

During our week in Pago we heard that the owner of tiny Swains Island, 150 miles north had been looking for yachts to deliver food to his workers since the government boat was in dry-dock. A little asking around turned up Walter Thompson, a handsome and imposing man, dressed in white shirt and tie and dress lavalava. The House of Representatives was in session and he ducked out to let us know he would appreciate our taking some food up to his workers and would meet us on the dock the following morning. With only six people left on the island, the supplies were modest and all fit in our aft shower. Walter told us that his great X 4 grandfather was a whaling ship captain from New York who settled on the island with his Samoan wife in 1856.

Our plan had originally been to sail to Niuatoputapu, Tonga enroute to Wallis Island and Fiji, but Swains sounded far more interesting, although the anchorage sounded questionable. We tried, but the 25-30 kt reinforced trades meant that half of our crew were seasick, the seas were rough and were wrapping around the tiny 1.5 mile round island so there wasn't a safe anchorage. We just passed the food over to the thankful workers, accepted their gifts of coconut crabs and drinking nuts and set sail for Wallis Is., 335 mi WSW.


Larry Maher with coconut crabs off Swain's Island.

Our winds never dropped below 25 and gusted to 40 a few times, ensuring delighted faces when we cleared the pass and dropped anchor behind a gorgeous uninhabited motu (islet) just inside the pass.


Landfall Wallis Island

We were surprised to be anchoring near two New Zealand yachts in this rarely-visited island, and no sooner had the anchor touched the bottom than they invited us ashore for a barbecue!

After a day of splicing, snorkeling, hiking, and another barbecue we headed to the main town on Wallis, six miles away to check in with the authorities and do some more exploring. Four out of six of Leg 5 crew are runners, so two mornings in a row we got up early and did some exploring while running, with the occasional stop for cold drinks and fresh, hot French bread at some of the many small shops.


Amanda teaching splicing to Leg 5 - '97 crew.


Nancy and Tom learning to splice lines.

Wallis is a surprising island. There is no tourism, other than a few yachts per year who stop here, the inhabitants are Polynesians-they look like Tahitians, but their language is similar to Tongan. This is like Bora Bora many years ago - gorgeous lagoon, rugged island, but no tourists, just very friendly islanders!

The lagoon has LOTS of coral, so every move was charted out with courses, bearings and distances and waypoint for the GPS before moving. Our 123 mile passage to sister-island Futuna was faster than we expected, so we ended up reefed down so that we wouldn't arrive before dawn.

Our highest priority was getting expedition member Tom Freeborn to the hospital on this small French possession of 3,000 people. A mosquito bite from Wallis had become infected and wasn't responding to topical treatment and I thought it best to seek treatment ashore than self-diagnosing and using oral antibiotics we carry onboard. A young French doctor dressed Tom's arm and gave him cloxicillin, an oral antibiotic. I interpreted for Tom and asked the doctor if he planned to also give an injection as Tom's arm was quite swollen, but he declined. The next morning Tom's arm was noticeably worse, and the doctor said that it would be best if Tom stayed in the hospital with I.V.'s for 2-5 days. I researched the flights and Tom decided it would be best if stayed for treatment and got the first flight available back to Wallis, Tahiti and LA.

We were all sorry to leave Tom, but our weatherfax showed an impending cold front that would make the westerly-exposed anchorage dangerous, so we stocked Tom up with food, books and supplies, said goodbye and set sail for Fiji into 30-41 knot winds as the powerful cold front went roaring by. As soon as we reached Fiji we called Tom in Seattle. The infection had not improved on Wallis, so he caught the earliest flight back to LA, via Wallis and Tahiti and went to the Traveler's Clinic at University Hospital in Seattle where the doctor's said they had never seen anything quite like his infection and quickly got it under control.

Our Leg 5-'97 crew consisted of;
Tom Freeborn, 49, a retired sailor from Spokane and Seattle,

Nancy Wong, 41, a physical therapist from Tacoma,

Tom Decker, 45, Port of Portland's D.C. lobbyist,

Keith Primdahl a nuclear scientist from the Bay area who had his 42nd at Futuna,

Al Maher, 51 a commercial property manager from San Francisco who joins us each year,

Al's brother Larry Maher, a salesman from Santa Rosa.

Originally we planned to clear customs in Levuka, Fiji, but while in Pago Pago I read that Savusavu, 50 miles closer had just been made a Port of Entry and was welcoming yachts at the new Copra Shed Marina, so we changed plans! This also meant that we would be in port and not at sea for Amanda's birthday.

Imagine Amanda's surprise when her parents whom we had hoped to meet in Suva rowed over minutes after we dropped anchor. It had been two years since Amanda had seen them and we had hoped to meet them in Suva, but they had guessed that we might clear into Savusavu and sailed up for her birthday on their classic Herrshoff 36' gaff topsail ketch, Taitoa.


Taitoa, Amanda's parents 36' Hershoff gaff ketch hitting 8 knots on a reach in Fiji with Larry and Tom aboard.

We had a wonderful barbecue birthday party with MTIII and Taitoa rafted together on the dock. Being able to tie up meant that crew could just step ashore for hiking, running, exploring and going scuba diving with the local dive operator. Some delightful days were spent there!

A smart-looking Norseman 447 cutter named Makanai Kai arrived a day after us and Bill and Judy Pontius explained they had taken and really benefited from my Weekend Offshore Cruising Seminar which they took in 1991. They have been out cruising ever since, but plan on sailing back to Seattle in 1998 to spend more time around their grown children. They have been very happy with the Norseman and said they seem to have fewer boat-related problems than most cruisers they meet. It is exciting and gratifying to me to meet sailors who have taken the weekend seminar and are now out enjoying cruising adventures!

Places that catered to yachts with moorings, dinghy docks, inexpensive laundry and meals, phones, fax, DHL, chart sales, dive operators, etc. were non-existant in the South Pacific a few years ago - now they are springing up as retired cruisers, enterprising business people and governments have decided that today's cruisers aren't a bunch of freeloading ne're-do-wells, but are travelers who appreciate the services which make cruising easier and create jobs for locals. There are three additional new marinas on the west side of Viti Levu, Fiji which we plan on checking out and letting you know about.

These hopefully hurricane-proof marinas are encouraging people to leave their boats here for the hurricane season instead of making the passage to New Zealand or Australia.

Well, I digressed. After a great time at Savusavu we had a rough sail to Levuka, the old capital of Fiji and an ex-whaling port where many of the immaculately-maintained buildings date to 1850-1900. Larry and Tom sailed on Taitoa, landing a big mahimahi and wahoo.


Larry Maher holding Mahi-mahi aboard Taitoa with Robert Swan and Tom Decker

We then followed Robert and Lesley (Amanda's folks) through an intricate reef passage to Leluvia (island of love in Fijian) a tiny offshore resort islet. That night the local radio station started broadcasting hurricane warnings of Tropical Cyclone Luci, center barometric pressure of 985 millibars and deepening, and heading straight for Fiji.


New Zealand Weatherfax

The anchorage so protected in prevailing ESE winds would become a death trap in gale or hurricane force westerly winds, so at first light we backtracked 20 miles to a true hurricane hole, surrounded by mangroves just south of Levuka. Our winds never topped 40 knots and we enjoyed a couple of days of reading, resting and hiking before sailing onto Suva in time for crew to catch their flights. This tropical cyclone 1.5 months before the start of the cyclone season was our first sign of El Nino. After a few busy days in Suva we were ready for a quiet anchorage and are now nine miles away, anchored and stern-tied to a small uninhabited island that the Fijians use for picnics. Taitoa is just a boat length away and we are enjoying barbecues together every night.


Kanaloa of Berllin near Suva. After circumnavigating on a 38' cutter. Heidi and Wolfgang choose a Nordhaven 46 for the second time around.

Leg 6 starts on Oct. 27 and is our first-ever Women's Expedition. Amanda will be doing much of the teaching and I am looking forward to being "in the background" and sleeping ashore when possible.

To The Next Log Entry: Log #12 - 11/01/97

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