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Leg 4 - 2005 Rarotonga to Hilo

Our Itinerary

Leg 4-05, Update 1
July 26, 2005 1930, 20.45 S, 159.13 W, Log: 89.625 miles
Motorsailing in light SW winds, 2.5 m confused swell
Baro: 1013, Cabin Temp: Broken thermometer! Cockpit Temp: 79F

We are Bound for HILO!!!

The passage from Rarotonga to Hilo is a difficult one due to the constant challenge of getting enough easting before crossing the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone) around 8-9 degrees north before getting into the stronger NE trades. The best possible scenario for making this passage would be to depart Raro on a NW wind, just after a cold front had passed over the island. Ideally, the front would be relatively slow moving (10 kts) so one could benefit from the W, SW, S, SSE winds before the SE trades settled back in.

Hard to believe, that is what has unfolded for us over the past few days. We left Raro by 1330 on the day crew joined us, and we are enjoying following winds, although the winds are light right now. We were able to leave early because at 1430 yesterday (Monday, July 25) we had our crew come aboard for the afternoon to do safety orientation and start stowing their gear.

The only challenging part of this scenario is that to get the favorable winds, we had to endure another frontal passage with strong N winds and seas rolling into tiny Avatiu Harbour. This frontal passage wasn't nearly as active as the one during our stay last year when the harbour master ordered all the ships out to sea. Although it did get rough enough that three yachts drug anchors in the middle of the blow and chose to leave. We were able to get the patrol boat's spot in the corner of the harbor and by snorkeling down 10' and attaching a mooring line to one large concrete mooring block, then later hooking our primary 75lb CQR anchor on a large mass of concrete and steel, we were securely set.

One of the scariest things in a tight exposed anchoring situation is to have out-of-control yachts drag down on you. We had a particularly large, red steel German ketch anchor bow and stern upwind of us, beam on to the forecast 25-35 knot winds and possible seas to 2.5 meters. When I stopped by to ask if they had seen the forecast printed on the harbour masters door, they said no, but they had heard from a dive shop that the winds were supposed to be moderate SE. They tried to reanchor but then gave up and side tied to the huge black rubber tires on the main shipping wharf. This worked well for them until the wind came a little W of N and they were seriously getting slammed against the wharf.

Although the corner spot in Avatiu Harbour is somewhat protected from other yachts dragging, it is like a washing machine as the waves ricochet off the side and stern. It was so rough and noisy from the waves that Amanda slept in the forepeak two nights and I could only sleep by drowning out the racket by running a cabin fan at the foot our bunk through the night. As much as we have always loved Rarotonga and the amazing Cook Island people, little Avatiu Harbour can sure be a challenge.

We have decided this is one place we really want to visit without having to worry about the boat. Some day we will save up and fly to Raro for a couple week holiday, maybe getting Amanda's parents and brother to join us, and just have the time to visit our friends and really cycle up every road and trail exploring the island.

Well tonight we have light variable winds, currently 7 knots from directly astern, and still the roiling, confused sea. We will keep motor sailing as that is far more comfortable (and less damaging to the sails) that just sitting and rolling back and forth. There are occasional rain squalls, but without much wind.

Our first goal on this passage is to reach Maupiti (26 miles W of Bora Bora, and 516 miles ENE of Raro) to pick up some bananas and French bread. The four cyclones in two weeks that slammed Raro this past cyclone season destroyed all of the banana and most of the papaya trees. Although not a port of entry, Maupiti has no Gendarme, we hope to stop for a night and give our expedition members the opportunity to hike or bike around this island paradise before we set sail for Hilo.

Here's our Leg 4 crew:

Hugh Sutherland, 45 was also with us on Leg 3 and enjoyed a week with his lovely wife Kim, his 2.5 year old twins and his mom and Kim's mom at the Rarotongan Beach Resort. Hugh is a surfer, a sailor and a protea cut flower farmer and really wanted to experience a long ocean passage to see if he wants to venture offshore with his family aboard their Pacific Seacraft 40.

Mike Hartley, 53 is originally from Anchorage where he was a championship skier (as well as an engineer) but recently relocated to Seattle where his firm has an office. He jets all over the world designing marinas, cruise ship docks and roads on permafrost. Most interesting recent assignments have been to Moscow to help the Russians design permafrost roads to access new oil fields and to Panama to design a new container terminal. He just bought a Pacific Seacraft 34 and plans of having time to share sailing with his nine year old son, Taylor and wife Tina.

Paul Eichen, 50 hails from San Diego and started, a high tech toy company after selling his data projection company ten years ago. His wife Susan has cruised extensively and has encouraged Paul to join us for this expedition. They recently upgraded from the Tartan 3700 which they sailed to Mexico and back in the Baja Haha to a Farr 44. Paul and Susan have an eight month old son named Mateo who loves sailing. They met Reg and Rae Lyn on the Ha Ha, as they were sailing sisterships.

Reg Kelly, 64 hails from Edinburgh, Scotland but came to do graduate studies in molecular biology at Cal Tech and never left California. Presently he runs biotechnology research institute that includes scientists at Berekely, UCSF and UC Santa Cruz. He brings a lovely Scottish sense of humor to the group dreams of cruising to distant shores with his wife,

Rae Lyn Burke, 56. Together they enjoy hiking and sailing their Tartan 3700 out of the Sausalito area and sailed in the Baja Ha Ha three times, once with Rae Lyn's 79 year old ex-naval officer father as crew. They join us with the express purpose of gaining as much information, knowledge and experience to help them make an informed decision about retiring and going cruising, possibly on a larger boat than their Tartan. Rae Lyn is also a scientist whose expertise is in developing vaccines for infectious diseases.

Peggy Alvarez, 56 has lived all over the US as her husband Frank (who will be joining us in Hilo on Leg 5) has worked for Intel. Frank and Peggy came to Raro two weeks early and enjoyed exploring and relaxing before Peggy joined us. Peggy is also aboard to gain skills and experience as she and Frank plan to take off cruising next summer to Alaska and hopefully the South Pacific the following year on the new Passport 456 they took delivery of in August 2004.

It is interesting to have a crew where every single member is planning offshore voyaging with their families and is very serious about learning every possible aspect of ocean voyaging. We don't have to ask for volunteers to put in a reef on this leg, they are lined up and waiting!

Leg 4-05, Update 2

July 29, 2005 2330, 16.49 S, 152.00 W, Log: 90,091 miles
Broad reaching at 7.1 kts in 17 kt true WESTERLY winds!!!
Baro: 1010, Cockpit Temp: 81F

Who would ever believe that we are sailing nicely with a westerly wind (normal trades are ESE here) having already passed Maupiti without stopping?

When we plotted our position this afternoon we saw that we would arrive off Maupiti very early Saturday morning, and would have to heave-to to wait for dawn to enter the lagoon. Not wanting to waste this highly unusual and very valuable westerly wind (the further east we get, the easier our passage to Hilo will be!) we decided to keep sailing east. When we worked out the distance, it became apparent that if we sailed through the night, we could pass Bora Bora, Tahaa and Raiatea to be at Huahine's western pass not long after sunrise.

Coastal navigation including chart plotting, use of Nobeltec electronic navigation and setting waypoints proved so vital to this crew that we had to delay a fabulous dinner as Peggy set a new course to pass north of Bora Bora. Speaking of dinner, Amanda outdid herself tonight, fixing Cajun-style blackened mahi mahi that we caught yesterday, served with rice and green beans with dakka spice. After dinner our very happy crew took turns singing songs in the cockpit. How fortunate we are to have such a happy bunch of sailors eager to gain voyaging skills.Yesterday and today we covered marine weather and Bob McDavitt's NZ MetService Weather book and our RYA Weather books have been in high demand, so have our weather faxes as everyone is totally dedicated to understanding marine weather.

Peggy, Reg and Rae Lyn chart our course

Landfall at huahine

Rae Lyn, Peggy and Reg take a break from cycling

Reg and Rae Lyn visit a pearl farm

A local bathes his horse

Rae Lyn shows local kids pictures of tehm jumping off the bridge

August 1, 2005 0700, 15.05S, 150.58W, Log: 90,252
Close hauled at 7.0 kts in 15 kt ENE winds
Baro: 1012, Cockpit Temp: 79F

WHAT A GREAT STOP! Our fabulous westerly wind didn't quite hold the entire way to Huahine but a little motorsailing as we closed on the island meant that we arrived with fully charged batteries and full water tanks. By 0930 we had the anchor down off the village of Fare and knowing that shops and internet cafes would only be open until noon our crew was ready to hit the beach running! Well, cycling, actually.

After cheeseburgers in paradise at Jimmy Buffet's Huahine hang-out, they all rented bikes and cycled around Huahine. Paul, being a keen cyclist who sometimes commutes to work on his bike got Hugh to take him up on also circumnavigating Huahine Iti, the smaller island attached by bridge to Huahine Nui. After dinner ashore everyone returned full of stories of adventure. Amanda and I caught up on boat chores and, with the help of crew, I was able to purchase fuel to nearly top off the tanks.

Yesterday morning was Sunday morning market in Fare, and the street and wharf area were overflowing with locals who had set up fruit and vegetable stalls and colorful strings of reef fish, all laced together and pegged on trees, as well as donuts and cakes. Several of our crew enjoyed admiring and photographing this early scene. The bonus for us was being able to purchase a dozen fresh baguettes, and a healthy supply of bananas and papayas that were unavailable in Raro due to previous cyclone damage.

Rae Lyn and Paul check out a market stall

A selection of breakfast dishes

We jerried water and rinsed out some clothes in preparation for our next two weeks at sea. For class, we did engine room orientation and systems design, followed by Rae Lyn and Peggy checking the raw water pump impeller. Good thing, as we replaced it after discovering four damaged vanes after 450 hours of use. Our theory is to try and anticipate the life cycle of each engine part and replace it before it wears out or fails, logging the number of hours of the part life in the engine log. This procedure is done on aircraft and it sure beats the typical cruiser's attitude of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

Hugh does laundry

Rae Lyn replacing water pump impeller

Damaged water pump impeller

For our final adventure we piled in the dinghy with masks and fins, motored halfway out the pass and jumped in the water. As the current carried us past the last navigation marker we spotted the wrecks of at least five previous marks pushed over by storms. We swam and drifted out to sea and everyone spotted a group of spotted rays gliding beneath us. The abundance of reef fish and colorful, healthy state of the coral were very encouraging.

Rae Lyn exploring the coral

Returning from the pass snorkel

Changing the burnt out compass light

Time to set sail for Hilo! At 1630 Rae Lyn, navigator of the day, recorded us clear of the pass and underway for Hilo, 2300 miles north. Our wind speed hovered around 20kts with higher gusts so we tucked a second reef in the main and a third in the headsail keeping our boat speed under 7kts and hoping to maintain an easier motion below. We are now close hauled! The weather faxes from NZ and Honolulu have shown a stationary front sitting over Tahiti and the Society Islands, so the quicker we sail north, the better the weather should be. That is proving true as this morning our overcast and drizzle is gone, the winds and seas are down and we are comfortably charging along.

August 4, 2005 0600, 07.44S, 149.50W, Log: 90,718
Beam reaching at 7.0 kts in 15 kt E winds
Baro: 1011, Cockpit Temp: 81F

Caroline Island, a Surprise Stop!
Click here for history of Caroline Island

When you chart a course from Huahine to the equator at 148 W (our planned crossing point) it will take you past Caroline Island, an uninhabited atoll belonging to Kiribati.

Many years ago on Moorea I got to know Omar Darr, the eccentric old sailor who owned the lease on Caroline, Flint and Vostok Islands, all located about 450 miles north of Tahiti. I spoke briefly a couple times via SSB radio with Ron, his Scottish caretaker on Caroline, and from time to time heard of yachts shipwrecked on this normally uninhabited island.

Fast forward to Moorea two months ago to the fabulous evening we had ashore at Alfredo's Italian restaurant on Cook's Bay with our Leg 2 crew. We were entertained by a Scotsman singing and playing the autoharp. When we thanked him for the great music, he told us that he had circumnavigated the world singlehanding his 30' sloop in the mid-80's, before spending three years as caretaker on Caroline Island. He told us the book of his experiences, living on an uninhabited island with the French wife he had married on Moorea and their three children, had just been published in Australia. I nearly bought his book (he said he had a copy in his car) but never thought we would be able to see Caroline Island.

As we gained so much easting at the start of this leg, sailing from Raro to Huahine, we were in the

Caroline Island

perfect position, but I didn't want to get hopes up. Yesterday morning at dawn, there it was! A gorgeous deserted tropical island! We knew there wasn't any easy pass into the lagoon, but nonetheless, we planned on sailing along the leeward shore, looking for an anchorage and a channel through the reef large enough for the dinghy.

As we approached the southern tip of the island, I saw one of our two fishing lines go very tight, then very deep, then totally loose. Must have been a huge fish as that was 250 lb. line it broke. A minute later the other line went tight and just after Amanda started pulling it in there was a huge pull on the line, that propelled her right to the stern pulpit, a tremendous splashing of water, and a shark that had snatched the fish. Seconds later we had a third strike and pulled a wahoo in smartly as a trail of sharks chased it.

Once Amanda had filleted the fish, she hung the carcass over the side, suspended from a sail tie. The sharks that had been trailing behind leapt into action, repeatedly attacking the carcass, even when Amanda pulled it clear of the water. In minutes all that was left was the tail! The sharks followed us for six miles as we sailed north along the coast spotting clouds of birds ashore, a gorgeous turquoise lagoon and many tree-clad islets around the atoll's perimeter.


Remains of the shark feed's tail

Normally when anchoring in an exposed deep offshore anchorage one of us will get in the water with mask and fins on to ensure that we don't drop the anchor into a coral chasm or wrap the chain around huge coral heads, but with 4 - 6 sharks continually circling MT, I couldn't find any volunteers. Ron had said something about sharks, but this was ridiculous! Usually they lose interest and go away after a few minutes. I slowly climbed down our swim ladder with a mask on, keeping my back to the ladder and feet on the bottom rung. The sharks were small, 3' - 5', but they just kept circling, not going away when I slapped the water or yelled at them. I couldn't see the anchor, but I could see that the bottom was free of large coral heads or chasms, so that had to suffice. Nearly all of our crew took turns climbing down the ladder and looking around, but Amanda stuck with a bucket shower on the aft deck.

Hugh takes a plunge in shark infested water

A group moment

paul and Rae Lun take a minute to enjoy a last view of land

We would have loved to go ashore and look around, but landing on the exposed reef presented a higher risk than we thought appropriate, so after enjoying a few hours relaxing, we set sail for Hilo.

Our winds have averaged 16-23 knots out of the east, so we are on a beam reach, clicking off the miles easily. We have two reefs in the main and jib, our forecasts via the grib files look favorable for at least the next week, so we will concentrate on teaching and enjoying our last miles in the South Pacific for several years to come.

August 9, 2005 0700, 05.04N, 148.24W, Log: 91,566
Running downwind, wing and wing at at 7.5 kts in 15 kt S winds
Baro: 1013, Cockpit Temp: 78F, Light drizzle

We're in the ITCZ Now!

The inter-tropical convergence zone, aka the ITCZ used to be called the doldrums. It is the area between the northeast and southeast trades, often located between 5 and 9 degrees north. Typical conditions are overcast, squally weather with occasional thunderstorms. Last year we crossed the ITCZ twice, on our way from to Tahiti to Hilo and back, and on each occasion it was very quiet. This year there is more convective activity, according to our weatherfax charts from Honolulu, so we should get a real workout with sail changes. We are just delighted to have good sailing winds and finally, a helpful current. The past four days the current has been setting west at up to 1.5 knots as we struggled to gain easting while we sailed north. We always expect ENE or NE trades once we break through the ITCZ, so gaining easting before reaching 9 North is always a good policy.

Peggy - our ITCZ Pirate!

Paul experiencing yet another ITCZ soggy moment

GPS equator display

Paul prepares to eat green oats coffee rum spread on a cracker

Reg belts out a Scottish Tune

We crossed the equator Sunday morning and as usual, Amanda had quite an initiation party planned for turning pollywogs into shellbacks. Funny noses and flower leis for everyone, paper Burger King crowns for King Neptune and the Royal Scribe, and of course, some gross looking (and smelling!) green concoction that all pollywogs had to eat. Then, they all had to sing a song before we all drank a toast (with green-colored tropical juice) to entering the northern hemisphere.

We haven't experienced the blazing heat that we sometimes find crossing the equator, and now with the total overcast it will probably stay relatively cool for the rest of the passage.

Our Leg 4 crew is one of the best in recent memory. Excellent at the helm, quick to lend a hand and always ready with a joke or song, what a pleasant group!

We are right on track with our teaching schedule. Yesterday Amanda taught deck rig check and rigging

Rae Lyn practicing knot shortcuts
spares and repairs, and today she plans on teaching three strand and double braid splicing. We will need to wait to Hilo to practice going aloft for rig check and possibly sail repair, but other than that, we hope to have all of our teaching complete by the time we drop anchor in Hilo's Radio Bay.

August 12, 2005 0615, 12.26N, 150.32W, Log: 92,025
Beam reaching at 8.3 kts in 14-21kt E wind, single reef in main, two reefs in headsail Baro: 1015, Cockpit Temp: 80F, Squalls to leeward

It looks like we may be just passing through the last bit of squally weather associated with the ITCZ now. It has been slow getting through the squalls and windless areas with more motoring than we have had to do in years, but we're hoping the E wind hold and that we are now just into the NE trades.

The welcome of coolness of an afternoons salt water bucket shower

Arrgh... we be true clean shellbacks now!

Peggy studying the ITCZ weather patterns

As the water gets cooler we start catching fish again

Our Leg 4 crew have been patient, and into fully enjoying every moment of the passage. Amanda has been seriously working with them on double-braid splicing the past three mornings, and this morning they will finish up splicing by learning Amanda's little trick of making a soft-eye on the bitter ends of sheets and halyards.

Splicing Lessons

Hugh's birthday brownies

We had a great swim stop on Thursday where everyone grabbed sponges and scrubbers and gave MT's hull a good tidy-up. We spotted two small pilot fish hanging out near the propeller, and expect they may be with us all the way to Hilo. Speaking of Hilo, it's just 490 miles ahead, so we are hoping for a Monday noon arrival. The GRIB files are showing 10-13 kt ENE winds for the last day, so I doubt if we will be able to hold the 8kt averages that we have been making the last few hours.

Paul takes a breather from scubbing

Amanda and Rae Lyn just keep on swimming

Leg 4-05, Update 5

August 16, 2005 1615, 19.43N, 155.03W, Log: 92,514
At anchor, stern-to, Radio Bay, Hilo, Hawaii
Baro: 1016, Cockpit Temp: 94F, one gorgeous day!

Wow, what a flying finish we had to Leg 4!

After crossing 10N, our winds became more predictable, moved more to the E, giving us daily runs of 150, 172, 192 and 172. The 192 miles in 24 was the best day's run we have had since our string of 200+ mile days, including a 209 mile day, coming from Panama to Hilo three years ago. Amanda and I have decided that this was the best crew we have seen in ages, with everyone staying right on track through to landfall. Sometimes on a long (this one was 2950 miles!) passage people lose the plot toward the end of the expedition, but not this crew!

Downtown hilo

Arial View of Radio Bay

We sighted land just before sunset on Sunday night, and at 0300 Monday morning, Mahina Tiare's anchor went down into the soft mud of Hilo's Radio Bay. Silently, as to not wake the sleeping crews of the four other yachts in the harbor, we launched the dinghy, ferried stern lines ashore and snugged up next to the coast guard cutter, Kiska. After an hour or two of sleep I was off to Customs, which opens at 0600, after which I checked in with the harbormaster. Amanda had a visit from Agriculture who took away all our rubbish, our last remaining fresh fruit and veg (a couple of limes) our last three eggs, and frozen chicken and ham as it was not in it's original packaging. All cheese and yogurt were fine.

The biggest surprise of the day for Peggy was that her romantic husband Frank totally surprised her by showing up at the dock! Minutes earlier she had called him, excitedly telling him of our arrival, but never suspecting he was at the Naniloa Hotel, just a ten minute walk away!

Now with some crews, as soon as we hit port, they scatter to the winds, but this crew focused on completing our instruction that included rebuilding two winches, going aloft on a rig check and learning how to run a sailmaker sewing machine. With instruction completed, in no time flat MT was scrubbed, water line to mast, the entire interior sprayed with Windex and wiped down, water tanks filled, head cleaned, carpet vacuumed and bags packed. Wow!

After crew had showered, done laundry across the street and others checked into hotel rooms, we

Fuel Truck & M.T.
rendezvoused in the afternoon and with the help of Frank and his rental car, all headed to Kiluea Volcano National Park. Were we in for a treat! We timed it just right as by the time we got to where the lava has flowed blocking the road, the sun was setting behind the mountain. We quickly followed Reg's blistering hiking pace to a site he chose that afforded a spectacular view of billowing steam caused by red-hot lava flowing in an underground river to the ocean. As it got dark, the mountainside lit up with red pinpoints, places where the lava tunnels break open to the surface.

We had stopped at Island Naturals, our favorite health food store and all gotten picnic dinners to go
Lava flow entering the ocean
and Rae Lyn surprised us by pulling a chilled bottle of champagne and glasses out of her backpack to celebrate the end of a very special passage and the start of some wonderful new friendships.

I don't think this will be the last we'll see of this crew. We are hoping to see Hugh when we stop in at Santa Barbara with Leg 1-2006, and Paul when we arrive in San Diego at the end of that leg. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Reg and Rae Lyn join us in Ireland and Scotland and we'll be also visit them when we sail into Sausalito. Who knows, maybe Mike will sail with us in Norway!

Bonus Photos

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