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Leg 4 - 2003 Pago Pago, Samoa to Suva, Fiji

Update 1
Leg 4 - 2003 Pago Pago, Samoa to Suva, Fiji,
August 12, 2003 14.10S, 0930 hrs Log: 70,027 Baro: 1011+ Cabin Temp: 87F Closehauled under full main and 130% genoa, sailing at 6 knots in 11 knots of N wind

A New Landfall Ahead!

The island of Upolu, Western Samoa is 25 miles off our port bow, looking rugged, green and exotic. For the first time since we make landfall in Antigua, nearly two years ago, this will be a new country and island for us. While we were in Pago Pago between expeditions, I quizzed a cruising couple that had just arrived from Apia, Western Samoa, repeatedly, and yesterday they marked the entrance and best anchorage on our shiny, new harbor chart. I found a Western Samoan (the country is now officially called Independent Samoa) flag and managed to buy enough tala (local currency) from cruisers to cover customs and port fees. Amanda and I have been busy reading up on Apia in the excellent Lonely Planet Guide and pouring through the Jason's tourist brochure, co-produced by the government.

I think we have a first class crew aboard, eager to learn everything they can! We started orientation at noon yesterday (Monday) and by dinner time we had covered safety systems including bilge pump location and operation, liferaft orientation, engine room orientation, fire fighting, navigation, hoisting, reefing and dropping the mainsail and galley orientation. We had our second anchor (44lb Delta, an awesome anchor!) up and stowed and dinghy on deck by dusk, so that we were ready for an early start this morning.


Sunrise over American Samoa
With just over 82 miles from Pago Pago to Apia, we chose to leave at 0400, to arrive in Apia before sunset. With a full moon and carefully charted course we had no problem leaving this morning, and everyone has been delighted at the 10-15 kt northerly winds. We are just able to lay our course, close-hauled. A low-pressure cell is passing well to the south of us, causing the normal easterly tradewinds to do an anti-clockwise rotation over the next two days. The winds are forecast to be back around to the east by the time we will be ready to set sail for Wallis on Thursday afternoon, so maybe we'll get another great sail!

There is a real, tangible excitement about a new landfall. For nearly thirty years Amanda and I have sailed by Western Samoa, Amanda with her family lived in and cruised Tonga, just to the south, and I have passed Western Samoa on the way to Wallis and Futuna close to ten times, never stopping. Recently we had read articles in Pacific Business magazine and heard reports from cruisers on what a vibrant and thriving place Samoa is and that it's culture is intact.

August 16, 2003 0520 13.39S, 176.06W Log: 70,323 Baro 1013 Cabin Temp: 83F Broadreaching at 6.4 kts in 12 kts of SE wind, just 20 miles from Wallis Island

Our short stay in Apia was fantastic, and then winds and sea conditions for our 270 miles sail from Apia to Wallis have been amazing. This is the first time the winds have dropped below 18 kts. Mostly we have seen 20-25 kts of consistent SE tradewinds, giving us speeds of 7.5-8.3 with full sail on a broad reach.


Entering Apia Harbor


Apia Waterfront

Apia Harbor at sunset
Now back to Apia. We arrived well before dark (always our goal) but just after customs had closed (1630) so we spent the night on anchor, looking at the town front with anticipation! Several fatusi (Samoan longboat adapted from whale boat design) with 50 men rowing and a drummer and helmsman sped by the anchorage, as did three eight person outrigger canoes. Dominating the waterfront was Aggie Grey's Hotel, a famous South Pacific institution since before WWII. Aggie became famous for the great treatment she provided everyone from Queen Elizabeth to GI's on R & R during the war and James Michner wrote about her in at least one of his books. Aggie ran her hotel until she recently passed away, well into her 90's, but we had heard that her children continue her grand tradition of entertaining guests and promoting Samoan culture. Cruisers in Pago Pago had told us that every Wednesday night Aggie's puts on a fia fia (traditional Samoan feast and dance) not to be missed We couldn't wait!


Steve, Anne, Andrew and Michael visit M.T

Soon after the anchor was down we were all in the water, surprised at how clean the commercial harbor was. Just after first light Wednesday morning, a huge container shipped passed us, backing into the wharf. Harbor Control asked us to come alongside the wharf to clear customs, and over the next hour or so we were cleared by quarantine, health, immigration, customs and harbor control. As quickly as possible, we re-anchored and headed ashore to explore town. First stop was Aggie Grey's where Steve's wife Ann and son and nephew were staying. The hotel was like something out of an old movie, and crew enjoyed lunch there. Amanda and I had lunch at Sails, Robert Louis Stevenson's first home, an incredible 140-year-old colonial building where we dined on the veranda overlooking the harbor. It was easy to imagine the harbor filled with sailing ships from all over the Pacific, as in the photos on the wall.


Downtown Apia


Robert Louis Stevenson's Estate

The town of Apia was tidy, friendly and picturesque. We had heard tales from cruisers of the enormous public market, second only to Suva's, and before long had filled our bags with great bargains of fruit and vegetables.

Stopping by the visitor's center, we discovered that Robert Louis Stevenson's country estate, Vailima, was just a ten minute, $2 cab ride away, so we headed up the mountain in a taxi that was blowing steam everywhere and just managed to chug through the quiet manicured grounds. The house was built of California redwood and has been meticulously maintained. Many of Stevenson's books, furniture and belongings are still there and the young Samoan docents did a great job of making his time at Vailima come alive.

Crew all met at Aggie's for the fia fia, and had camped out in the front row tables, so the dancers were right in front of us, even asking Amanda to join in one of the dances. We expected 15 or 20 minutes of canned dancing, instead we were nearly bowled over by fiercely performed war dances, humorous dances; including one about slapping mosquitoes and lovely Samoan girls performing graceful and rhythmic dances. The fire dance by and in the pool was the finale, followed by an impressive feast of Samoan food including roast pig, octopus, taro leaves, fish, roasted breadfruit and tons of dessert.

Trish, Debbie and Anne share an Aggie Grey's special Samoan war dance
Samoan love dance Marina, Aggie Grey's daughter, introduces the dancers and dinner


We could barely keep our eyes open long enough to get back to Mahina Tiare, but our intrepid crew only needed a few hours sleep before starting on their own organized day ashore. Amanda and I usually go ashore at sunrise to run and four out of five of our crew asked if they could go ashore to run at the same time. After they all met for breakfast at Sails before piling into a cab to go exploring the far side of Upolu Island They had a blast, returning with lots of stories.

Amanda and I ran and walked the length of the shoreline facing the harbor, checking out the fish market, old parliament building and lots of monuments. It was surprising how little traffic there was, other than in the core of town, though waterfront was busy with canoes. On our way back we caught up with the sulu-skirted police marching band and on duty police force parading down main street, stopping rush hour traffic. This happens every morning at 0800, and the band tours the world, promoting Samoa and taking part in competitions as far away as the Edinburgh Tattoo.

We met at the dock at 1400, and by 1520 we had the anchor up and sails set and were underway for Wallis. Apolina Straits between the islands of Upolu and Savaii was choppy with fluky breezes but once we were clear of land, the seas flattened out and we have enjoyed great sailing with plenty of wind.

We now have Wallis on radar at 12 miles and as it is 0600, we should start getting some daylight shortly.

Apia was so interesting that we are now planning on revising our 2004 schedule so that Leg 3-2004 will end in Apia instead of Pago Pago and Leg 4-2004 will start in Apia instead of Pago. With Air NZ, Air Pacific and Polynesian all offering flights from Honolulu or Los Angeles, next year's crew will have many more flight options than in Pago where Hawaiian is the only carrier, having just two flights a week from Honolulu. Amanda and I are already making plans and looking forward to exploring this vibrant and exciting country between expedition legs next year.

Speaking of exciting and vibrant, we still have one berth available on our Leg 8-2003, from Noumea, New Caledonia, to Norfolk Island (home of the Bounty mutineer descendents) to New Zealand's spectacular Bay of Islands, and down the coast to Auckland. This is some of the most exciting and spectacular sailing in the South Pacific and provides and excellent mix of weather and landfalls for a first-time passage maker. Please contact Tracy in our office on sailing@mahina.com if you are interested.


Photos from Crew Member Steven Thompson, click on the thumbnail for larger image.




Update 2
August 25, 2003
18.06S, 178.23E 0710 hrs Log: 70,831 Baro: 1014 Cabin Temp: 74F CHILLY!
At anchor in Suva Harbour's Bay of Islands


Yikes! What a whirlwind this last week has been. Our passage from Apia to Wallis was FAST superb broad reaching in 20-24 knots. The skill level of helming steadily improved, and Trish steered us through the narrow pass at Wallis between squalls. With the strong trade winds blowing, we were happy to anchor in the protected lee of an uninhabited, white-sandy beach motu not far inside the pass. Beachcombing and exploring the beaches brought us to a local family that had come out to the uninhabited islet for a barbecue and to collect shells for necklaces.

Wallis Island Matu-Utu waterfront - meeting house, Kings palace and Catholic church


In the late afternoon we motored the five miles up the lagoon to anchor off Mata Utu town wharf. The view from the boat included the cathedral, the palace (Wallis has a king) and the fono or traditional meetinghouse of chiefs. Early Monday morning most of us went ashore for a sunrise run to the bakery for fresh croissants. How civilized! Near the bakery we stopped at the women's handicraft center where a dozen ladies were hard at work making traditional baskets, purses and shell leis. Wallis is one of the few islands in this part of the Pacific where local fisherman still use fast outrigger sailing canoes.

Ladies working on handicrafts Sailing canoe


Someone (we won't mention who!) forgot about crossing the Dateline on this leg, so we had only one night at Wallis, instead of the two we originally planned. Our overnight passage to Futuna started with us surfing while broadreaching in 20 knots and built until as we made landfall at Futuna the wind peaked at 42 knots. Trish and Debbie did an awesome job steering in very demanding conditions as an active frontal line passed over us just before we jibed and sailed along the coast to the one anchorage and town.

After clearing customs crew headed ashore for a tasty lunch at the same little café our 2002 crew visited, and then we all enjoyed snorkeling and swimming in the bay.

Our plan was to depart Futuna in late afternoon, sail the 155 miles to site uninhabited

Mark taking sextant shots
Wailangilala Island at the entrance of Nanuka Passage before sunset the following day. This is the safest of three passages through Fiji's Lau Island group, and Wailangilala has an 80' tall lighthouse that although it rarely works, is a good landmark. There are unmarked reefs, unpredictable currents and unsurveyed waters in this area, hence our super careful navigation planning. We even practiced taking and reducing sextant sun shots.

All went according to plan, and by dawn on Wednesday, August 20, we were at the entrance to Savusavu. It was a quiet and misty morning as we entered Savusavu, and Curly Caswell, owner of the new Wai Tui Marina called a greeting out as we ghosted by his houseboat. We were particularly surprised to see Jimmy and Gwenda Cornell's Aventura Trois Ovni 43 on one of Curly's moorings, as we hadn't expected to see them before Suva. They came on deck and said they decided to meet us in Savusavu, and would we like to join them for a lovo ashore that evening. What a treat for crew to meet the authors of two of the books we frequently had referred to in our teaching, World Cruising Routes and World Cruising Handbook. Jimmy and Gwenda founded the ARC (Atlantic Race for Cruisers) and led three around the world cruising rallies.

Copra Shed Marina Jimmy and Gwneda Cornell


Adventura III, Jimmy and Gwenda's yacht


We all had a great time that evening ashore at Wai Tui marina as their staff brought out tasty dishes cooked in the underground earth oven. After dinner the Fijian band played, drank kava, and our crew enjoyed meeting cruisers from different places.

Friday morning Trish and Debbie up bright and early to continue weaving their turk's heads before the expedition test,(they'd all been studying the day before). At ten, after every one passed with flying colors, they took off a 4 wheel and hiking expedition to a village and waterfall, returning for a birthday dinner for Scott at the local Bula Café.

Scott prepares to slice his birthday cake at Bula Café Trish and Debbie weaving Turks heads


Saturday morning Debbie had to return for the first day of class in Seattle (booo!, we all missed her!) and we made an early start for Levuka, 65 miles away on Ovalau Island. Enroute we hooked a huge 8' Pacific Blue Marlin, way to beautiful and large to land, so we practiced catch and release, letting this amazing fish go back to her element.

Clearing customs is something that cruisers must do inward and outbound at every customs port in Fiji, and it took several hours as a key officer was out fishing. We were just surprised to be able to clear on Saturday afternoon at all. The immigration officer had not been in town in Savusavu, but we managed to connect with Jo, Levuka's friendly and efficient immigration officer. Jo offered to fill out and sign the Crew Disembarkation papers in Levuka, saving us a lengthy line and visit to the main office in Suva.


A section of downtown Levuka
While I was working on the clearances (it took from 3PM until 7 PM) crew enjoyed a great evening at Whale's Tale, a very cool local restaurant started by an Australian girl nine years ago. I made it there for desert!

Sunday morning we went for an early run along the waterfront and on our way back to the wharf, Jo called out from his house. He brought us a huge papaya and invited us to bring our entire crew over to his house next year to drink kava. We will be looking forward to that! The friendly, outgoing nature of most Fijians is contagious. We really love Fiji.

Generally the 55 mile passage from Levuka to Suva starts out close-hauled, then we get to ease sheets and broad reach along the southern coast of Viti Levu to the entrance of Suva harbor. Not this time! We had 20-30 knot headwinds, and motorsailed until we turned the corner into the pass, then went on a screaming reach, all the way to the bay where the Tradewinds Hotel is located. All afternoon we had been listening to yachts dragging anchor at the Royal Suva Yacht Club, whose normally sheltered anchorage had turned into a choppy and dangerous lee shore. Instead of anchoring at the club, where we are members, we anchored a few miles away in front of the Tradewinds Hotel, tidied up, and took taxis to the yacht club for long showers, cold drinks at the bar, and an excellent last night dinner together.

Scott relays navigation information to the cockpit crew Trish keeps lookout for helmsman Steve as we enter Suva
Monday morning we re-anchored, Med-style, with our stern lines tied to coconut trees in front of the Tradewinds, where crew will join us next Wednesday.

Leg 4 had been a whirlwind, but with the very special extra treat of Apia, it will be one of the highlights of this season for us. Next year we will start from Apia, instead of Pago Pago, and that will give us another two days for exploring.

Here's our Leg 4 crew:

The Crew - John, Trish, Scott, Mark, Debbie and Steve


Trish Rantos, 50 is a nurse practioner full of energy from Seattle who just sold her Flicka 20 and is seriously looking for a boat and man to sail off into the sunset with.

Scott Crosby, 39 is an architect from Portland that shares an Ericson 26 with two great friends, Don and Roger. They have only missed 6 or 7 Tuesday afternoon-evening sails in the past 3.5 years. Scott has started dreaming of sailing into the sunset aboard a Hallberg-Rassy 36.

Mark Preston, 50 is a retired real estate attorney from Atlanta who enjoys racing his Porches around the track.

Debbie Cutting, 51 is a fourth grade school teacher from the Seattle area who sailed her Saga 43 from Seattle to Cartagena, Columbia with her husband Scott Harkey (Leg 3). She is a real organizer, always getting crew geared up for hikes and exploring!

Steven Thompson, 42 works for FNMA bank, lives in Atlanta, but works in Washington, DC and keeps his Catalina 30 in Florida. Steve's wife Anne and son Andrew and nephew Michael flew down with him to Samoa and met us at Aggie's for the fia fia.

If you like to join us for an expedition this year, we only have berths available on Leg 7, an outrageous sail from Vila, Vanuatu to Noumea, New Caledonia, October 15-25. Leg 8, Noumea to Auckland is now filled. For more details, contact Tracy in our office, sailing@mahina.com, 360-378-6131.




Sail on to Leg 5 or read the log updates from Leg 1, Leg 2, and Leg 3.




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