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Mahina Expeditions, Offshore Cruising Training

Leg 6 - 2004 Samoa to Fiji

Update 1
October 22, 2004 1400
18.06S, 178.23W, Log: 83,687, Baro: 1016, Temp: 81F
At anchor near Tradewinds Hotel, Suva, Fiji

The past two weeks passed so quickly that I didn't have a chance to share our adventures with you until now.

After Leg 5 ended in Apia, Samoa, Amanda and I set sail for Saluafata Bay ten miles east of Apia. Here, away from the bustling port, we found another world. A large quiet protected bay surrounded by dramatic mountains and a chain of small villages lining the coastal road to Apia. In four days we removed all toe rail hardware, sanded and varnished 4 coats without a hint of rain!

We enjoyed sharing the anchorage with weekend seminar graduates Courtney and Bob Cart on their Norseman 400, Althea and as a treat we all dinned ashore at tiny Thai restaurant, with private over-the-water dinning fales, run by a Swiss chef. On Friday after a quiet morning swim we sailed back to Apia to start provisioning. It's amazing how quickly our week between expedition scoots by!

Apia is charming its own way and it was fun for us to explore town. Colonial architecture, funky colorful wooden buses, and the police marching band coming down main street every morning are some memorable sights and experiences.

Apia Harbor - Samoa

Down town clock tower - Apia

Colorful local bus

Police band on morning parade

Amanda shops for local fabric

Amanda's interest in textile art had her checking out every fabric printing shop she could find in town, but the real bonus was finding an art studio high in the mountains. She was able to purchase yards of the local elei hand-printed cloth from an artist who uses carved pattered wooden boards passed down for generations in her husbands family, and originally used for tapa cloth rubbings. As break from the boat we rented a car for a day and drove across the island to the south shore, along the way admiring the traditional Samoan fales, rounded ended open-walled houses

Apia market

Fale - meeting house

Traditional family fale

We met our crew Sunday night (the expedition started Monday morning) at historic Aggie Grey's Hotel to start orientation so that we could set sail Monday noon after they joined us. Excellent tradewinds had us nearly to Apolina Strait between Upolu and Savaii Islands before dark and the following day perfect conditions allowed us to fly the cruising spinnaker. By 1500 the next day we had entered Wallis Island's dramatic and narrow pass through the fringing coral reef, and had the anchor down at an absolutely idyllic uninhabited tropical islet. Our crew enjoyed a walk on the beach before Amanda's birthday dinner and a quiet cool night at anchor.

Crew keep lookout as we approach Wallis

Kim briefs crew on the days weather

Bill tails the safety line as Holly goes aloft for rig check

Amanda resews the top slide on the main

The following morning, Friday, Amanda taught going aloft for rig check, hand stitching and three strand splicing before we sailed and motored 10 miles to the anchorage off the main town and wharf of Mata Uta. We were anchored in the shadow of the king's palace (no joke, this island has a king who traces his ancestry back for many generations!) and the huge cathedral. While crew set off to explore this rarely-visited French island I walked the 1.5 miles to the Customs office as fast as I could, arriving five minutes before I knew the office was due to close early (1330) for the weekend. I was out of luck, the local Wallisinian boys who were painting the outside of the building said in French, "The Customs people had left earlier and won't be back until Monday". A similar scenario was also to be found at the Gendarmerie so I had to give up on checking in and out of Wallis. No pretty stamps in our passports from Wallis this year!

The kings palace

Mata Utu Cathedral built of cut coral blocks

Amanda meets a tiki buddy on her morning rum

Saturday was supposed to be market morning, but we couldn't find anyone on our run, just a lone tiki. On returning to the boat we were about to set off down the wharf when a HUGE black tropical squall came charging. Winds gusting to 35 knots whipped through the anchorage, and we lost sight of Mahina Tiare in the torrential tropical rains. Fortunately our 75lb. CQR anchor didn't budge an inch, and once we made it back onboard, a peaceful rainbow appeared over town.

Caught out in an early morning squall

Squall passed over the waterfront

Kim returns form the store with a armload of French specialty cheeses

Kim, who is quite the gourmet cook was in seventh heaven at finding all sorts of fancy French cheeses at the local supermarket, goodies that he can't find in New Zealand. Boy did we enjoy some fantastic lunches for the next few days!

For years I have had an anchorage marked on my chart at Nukutapu, two miles north of the pass. After a tip-off from a young cruising couple from Seattle, we relished a fast sail down the lagoon and nearly to the anchorage. We swan ashore and climbed the stairs to the top of the island where we found an amazing view and a religious shrine.

Mahina cruises along to a quiet anchorage

The view from the top of a small island

Amanda places fresh flowers at the Sacred Heart oratory (shrine)

Our overnight passage to Futuna, a sister island to Wallis was another fast one and by 0945 we had the anchor down in the open roadstead of Sigave. After class, (diesel engine maintenance and anchoring) we took off hiking and exploring, then came back for a swim before setting sail at 1700 for Fiji. With winds gusting into the low to mid 20's we quickly tucked a reef in and on a beam reach with plenty of wind, Mahina Tiare just loves to fly, and fly she did, frequently touching 8.5 as we zoomed along toward Nanuka Passage.

Approaching Futuna

Mahina sheets in as the wind goes forward

Roberto going forward to reef

The furthest north of the three passages through the mass of reefs and islands between Tonga and Fiji, Nanuka Passage is the one used by commercial shipping and is the least dangerous. Still, reefs just below the surface most recently charted in the 1800's, one solitary lighthouse on Wailagilala Island that hasn't worked in years plus strong and shifty uncharted currents makes this a navigator's nightmare. Our tactic is to leave Futuna to time our arrival at Wailagilala with a visiual sighting before dark, thus getting through the first set of dangers. We then reach along the unlit and mountainous edge of Taveuni and Vanua Levu to arrive at the entrance of Savusavu Bay at dawn the following morning.

Well that was the plan, anyway! The winds continued to build until at 2300 they were gusting to 36 knots. The swells grew to 15' as they ricocheted off Taveuni, and even with the third reef in the main and third reef in the jib, we just couldn't slow MT down enough so we

Copra Shed Marina

Holly instructs Ed on workings of the sewing machine
wouldn't arrive at the turn into Savusavu Bay until dawn. I only very briefly considered heaving-to, knowing that it would be uncomfortable in the large and erratic seas.

We decided that IF the Point Reef light (visible 10 miles) WAS working, we would continue on around the corner into the lee and protection of Savusavu Bay in the dark. We would never have done this if we hadn't been through this passage many times before, but Kim with his eagle eyes spotted the light, Barbara was on the helm doing an excellent job and at 0245 with 28 knots of wind and lots of rain, we passed the light and turned into the shelter of Lesiaceva Point. There were a few lights of Cousteau's dive resort at the point to help us with orientation and we sailed the final 6 miles to the entrance of Nakama Creek in progressively lighter winds, rain and quiet seas.

At 0400 in a light drizzle we dropped anchor just off Copra Shed Marina dock and our exhausted crew headed below for a few hours of sleep.

Amanda and I had a secret; we knew her parents would be somewhere in the anchorage. They had just purchased a classic1958 41' Robb yawl in Brisbane, Australia, so they could sail up and meet us in Fiji! In the faint glow of the distant street lights we scanned the moored boats with binoculars, trying to pick out which might be Swanhaven III. I thought I spotted her; a low, sleek yacht with a nice spring of sheer. At first light, just an hour or so later, we were up launching the dinghy and were delighted that we had anchored nearly next to Swanhaven! Amanda slipped aboard, then stomped around the cabin top, calling out, "WAKE UP, WAKE UP!"

The next couple days passed quickly with customs and immigration clearance first, laundry and internet ashore, classes on storm tactics, voyage planning, provisioning, winch servicing, sail repair, splicing, and electrical power systems. Kim, an avid diver, signed up for dives at Cousteau's and all our crew explored ashore with a trip across to Labassa, hiking, running and snorkeling off the reef.

On Friday, October 15 we dropped the mooring at 0500 and set sail for Levuka, 55 miles west, with the hopes of clearing in with customs before they closed for the weekend. In Fiji, as in many countries we visit, yachts must clear in and out of every port of entry that they stop at.

Once again we had absolutely awesome sailing conditions with winds up to 25 knots. The passage was made exciting because we gave Swanhaven a head start, then chased her down, getting some fantastic shots of each other as we took turns passing and then dropping back. Roberto and Kim were really watching the fishing lines on this passage, especially after we told them we hooked a marlin on the same passage last year, but no luck!

Mahina rockets along

Swanhaven III keeps pace with M.T.

Barbara trims the main as we inch away form Swanhaven

Roberto and Kim - keen on catching another fish

Levuka is one of our favorite towns in Fiji. Founded in the early 1800's, and previously a whaling center and capital of Fiji, the town has preserved and maintained the historic wooden buildings, many dating from the late 1800's. There is a great old museum, the front street looks like an Old West town, and its inhabitants are proud of their town and as friendly as can be.

Waterfront Beach Street - Levuka

Jovesa, Joshua, Mere and Daniel

Mere, Lesley and Amanda groove to a Fijian song

Daniel and Joshua are all smiles

The charming architecture of Levuka -->

Beach St morning market

Joseva Drega, the immigration officer that we met last year invited all our crew and Amanda's parents over to his house where they performed a sevusevu welcoming ceremony around the tanoa (kava bowl). What a neat way for our crew to get to know a little about the Fijian culture! Mere, Joe's wife put on her favorite Fijian dance music and Amanda and her mum danced with Mere while Joshua and Daniel, Mere's boys looked on wide-eyed. We enjoyed sharing dinner at a Fijian-Chinese-Thai restaurant (one of only two restaurants in town) with Joe and Mere and their boys.

Holly and Barbara navigate our 60 mile passage to Suva

Holly launches the drogue

Abandoned fishing boats
The following morning we covered cruising medicine before setting sail for Leluvia, a small island on the way toward Suva. Sunday we continued our blistering pace with winds that allowed us to sail the entire way to the anchorage off the Royal Suva Yacht Club. We launched the Galerider storm drouge, took sun sights and only had a quick rest before taking the Expedition Test.

Monday morning we completed class with SSB programming and operation and then we had crew get their hands dirty (literally) replacing the raw water pump that had a leaky seal. We then got underway to practice Lifesling overboard recovery and then motored to the fuel dock with just inches of clearance on a falling tide. Our crew helped us fill fuel and water quickly, we said goodbyes as they tossed gear bags ashore and then pushing a little mud with the keel, we headed toward deeper water and a quiet anchorage off the Tradewinds Hotel away from the abandoned fishing boats that now fill the bay.

Wow, what an intense and busy two weeks that was: nine anchorages and islands, six Pacific cultures and 850 nautical miles over which we've never had more consistent sailing winds. Looking in the engine log I noticed that even though we have sailed 4,000 miles more so far this season compared with last season, we have used the engine 100 hours less! That's the way we like it!

Here's our Leg 6 crew:

Barbara Evanish, 56 is a nurse from San Luis Obisbo, California who loves sailing and joined the expedition to learn to function more independently on her own boat. If we gave out an award for most effort, dedication and determination to mastering cruising, Barb would take it! She and her husband

Ed Evanish, 57 have their Island Packet 380 up for sale and are excited about the Spring '05 arrival of their new Tayana 48. They are considering taking delivery in Seattle instead of San Francisco after enthusiastic stories of Northwest cruising from Holly and Bill. Ed has been a pilot for 30 years and he and Barbara have owned and operated a bowling alley and three golf courses.

Holly Dietrich, 51 enjoys sailing in the San Juan Islands aboard a Beneteau First 37.5 with her husband Bill and daughters. This is her first ocean passage and she was delighted to find that she only gets mildly seasick and get over it pretty quickly. Also excited about learning, Holly goes back home to Anacortes, WA with a new enthusiasm and a lot of new cruising skills. She is an elementary school teacher.

Bill Dietrich, 53, is an author and journalist who enjoys sailing the inland waters of Washington and British Columbia and who wanted to experience warm water and Pacific Island culture.(sounds like a true Northwesterner, which he is!) He also wanted to see what it was like to sail on a Hallberg-Rassy. He says if his next book is a bestseller, he and Holly may fly to Sweden and pick up a new HR to explore European waters aboard.

Kim Korkman, 40 calls Auckland, New Zealand his home since three years ago, having left the crazy London financial markets and is starting to enjoy life in one of the world's best sailing grounds. He owns a Najad 331 and has also become the Najad agent for Australasia recently. His parents spent five months in NZ last year, escaping the cold Scandanavian winter in Helsinki, Finland. His father, having sailed most of his life, didn't like all the new gadgets on Kim's boat and said that in his days all they had was the wind and the sails and no instruments. Sail trimming was looking at the sails instead of at instruments. Kim wishes all the best to his family, wife Sylvie and 4.5 year old son Paolo, in Auckland. Life is better at sea!

Roberto Pedreira, 42 is from Argentina, but recently moved to Auckland following his dream of sailing offshore. With a great crew that consists of his wife Fabiana and sons Lucas, Juan Blas and Alejo he plans a next trip to Fiji in 2006 aboard their Jenneau 43.

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