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Mahina Expeditions, Offshore Cruising Training

Leg 4-2010, Update 1
August 10, 2010, 0100 hrs, 15.03 S, 178.22 W, Log: 141,510 miles Baro: 1015.0, Cabin Temp: 84 F, cockpit 83 F, sea water 85.1 F Close reaching at 6.5 kts in 22-2 kt SE winds, triple reefed main and genoa

Savusavu, Fiji, Here we Come!

Savaii Island Anchorages, Samoa. A source for harbour and anchorage details is the Admiralty Sailing Directions, Pacific Islands Pilot, Volume II. Click Here

Just before dark, on the Thursday our crew joined, we set sail from Apia after spending considerable time in Apia Harbor practicing reefing. For the 50 mile passage to Matautu Bay, on the larger Samoan island of Savaii, we had two options. We could have either waited until first light Friday and then tried to cover the 50 miles with still enough daylight left for landfall at an unfamiliar island and bay, but instead chose the slower option of making it an overnight passage, heaving-to if necessary so as not to arrive before daylight.

Amanda demonstrating liferaft procedures

Once underway we tried everything to slow down; triple reefing the sails, steering high on course, dragging our feet over the side but Mahina Tiare was galloping along, happy to be underway again. We ended up heaving-to for a couple hours, then setting sail and making landfall around 0800. We had been able to purchase a NZ chart from Marine Resources office in Apia which included an excellent harbor chart of Matautu Bay. As we started to drop the anchor just inside to protective outer reef a local woman from Dive Savaii called us on VHF suggesting we follow her dive boat to a more protected anchorage. We did and found a very secure sandy spot with nice snorkeling shoreward.

Our crew was ready for a nap after breakfast, then a snorkel after which we spent the rest of the day teaching and relaxing.

The entrance into Asau Harbor, really the only other bay suitable for yachts, is 17 miles further west along the island of Savaii. Sadly it recently claimed Airwego, a Macintosh 47 from Seattle. She went aground on the western reef and sunk in the channel when the keel ripped out as the locals tried to pull her off the reef. I had tried repeatedly to learn more about this channel entrance in Apia but the most I found out from Marine Resources office and the Admiralty Pacific Pilot was that at one time the channel had been dredged for ships loading timber for export at wharf. Apparently it has since been silting up due to cyclone damage in the channel. When some cruisers returned to their boat in Apia, after spending five days traveling by car around Savaii, they raved about the 1.5 year Va-I-Moana Seaside Lodge and the owner Sale. They said Sale, a wonderful outgoing and cheerful chap, keenly offered to go out in his skiff to meet any arriving yacht and guide them safely in the channel.

Sale waiting for us whilst combing a fishing trip with German visitors
Amanda had the idea to Google Earth the entrance channel and we were able to snag and print a perfect aerial of the pass and bay. I also found an email address for Sale and contacted him from Apia. He replied that Saturday was their weekly island feast dinner. The crews of Jenny P and Roger Henry were planning on heading to Savaii after a direct overnight passage from Apia, so we all agreed to meet off the Asau Harbor entrance channel at 8 am so that Sale wouldn't have to come out multiple times.

That meant that we had to leave Matautu at 4am, but with some moonlight and the inward track on our Nobeltec electronic charting

Angela calls depths in the pass as John directs the helmsman
system, we had no problem. Once we were offshore we quickly picked up the nav lights of our two friend's boats, plus a third that had tagged along. We had a good sail along the coast and sure enough, Sale was fishing off the pass entrance with two of his hotel guests when we arrived at 8am.

We found the range markers mentioned in the Admiralty Pilot, lined up on them and all four boats started following Sale's skiff in. Just when we had breakers close abeam Angela, who was calling the depths, read 15', 9', 5', 2.7'. We were dead on the range turned slightly to port and suddenly, thankfully, we were instantly back to 28'depth readings.

Jenny P enters the pass
Before we could get to the radio to warn Jenny P we saw an extra large wave pick up their boat and scoot it sideways towards the leeward reef. We next heard a shaken Eric on Jenny P call to Alvah and Diana who followed them on Roger Henry that they had just seen 1.7' under their keel.

This so concerned us that it prompted Amanda and I, along with Alvah, to spend 1.5 hours at the pass. Amanda steered the dinghy and sounded with an old-fashioned sounding lead and as Alvah and I swam in and out, and back and forth along the pass with a hand held electronic depth sounder, trying to locate the shallow spot. We later took the dinghy in and out four times on the range again sounding with the handheld depth sounder but never found this illusive shoal. The following day we decided to plot three positions in the channel with two handheld GPS units and upon leaving never had depth under 25'. However Eric just emailed and said he saw 1.5' yesterday upon leaving. We now both think it may be swirling sand and current that gave us false readings. Yikes!

Paul and Tom taking sounding and GPS positions of the pass

Jenny P happily at anchor

The intrepid crew of Jenny P – Eric, Christine, Finn 6, Sophie 10 & Freya 5

Once inside Asau Harbor, we anchored off Sale's little resort and all headed ashore for an excellent half-day island tour that Scott, one of Sale's friends took us on. Savaii has very little development; the highlights were watching blow holes, climbing up into the forest canopy on a platform built around a 225 year old banyan tree, seeing a church that a 1915 lava flow had flowed through, traveling up alongside a river to a tropical waterfall where Tom and Patrick jumped in for a swim and seeing lots of pigs. Big pigs, little pigs, pigs on the road, pigs in the bushes. As it was a Saturday the road was a highway for young lads balancing hand woven baskets on long poles laden with taro root and leaves for the Sunday underground umu (earth oven)

Ron and Tom chat with a local at the blowholes

Forever fearless and adventuresome Freya strikes out across the swaying canopy swing bridge

Patrick takes a refreshing dip in the tropical waterfall pool

We did not have to wait for Sunday to experience our own umu as by the time we returned the umu at Vai-I-Moana was being opened. Umu pig, octopus, shellfish, chicken, taro, breadfruit, curried shrimp and pulsami (taro leaf in coconut milk) were only a fraction of what was arranged on the buffet table. After an excellent dinner, the music and dancing started. Sale and a few of his workers made up the string band and a couple of the waitresses demonstrated traditional Samoan dancing. When they then invited all of the audience (30 or so) to join them several of our crew headed up. Paul, a keen salsa and tango dancer followed one of the Samoan guys dance antics which involved aggressive break dancing combined with an action Samoan slap and a chase around the dinner tables that cumulated in the climbing a post to the high thatched ceiling. Pretty funny!

Beachfront at Va-I-Moana

Sale and the string band boys

Paul celebrating his pole climb

Asau SPA employee Sanele, in his canoe

One of the guitarists had invited us all to come to his church down the road the following (Sunday) morning and we did, eager to hear the powerful harmonious singing. We arrived very under-dressed as all of the locals were dressed in white; the men and boys in white lava lavas and suit coats, the girls in white frocks and the ladies in white hats and white dress and lava lava combinations as part of their traditional pulatasi dress. The singing was fantastic and after 1.5 hours our guitarist friend came by and said it was ok if we left at that point. Some of our gang went for a long walk, some went swimming and in the afternoon we covered rigging spares, splicing and engine room.

On Monday morning when Amanda and I returned from our sunrise run we saw a dugout canoe alongside. Thinking it must be someone trying to sell us something we were surprised when Tom, who had been speaking to the guy in the canoe, said he was from Samoa Ports Authority, checking to see if we had the permission paper from the Prime Minister's office to stop on Savaii. Sanele is a dedicated port employee. The impressive wharf that he care takes has only the shipwreck of the sailboat Airwego in the yard and no longer sees any ship traffic as the large rainforest trees have all been harvested and the sawmill closed.

After class and lunch on Monday we carefully motored out the pass, never seeing less than 25' under the keel, and set sail for Niuafo'ou; the smallest and most northwesterly island in Tonga. We had good winds for the start of the 220 mile passage but then had to motor for quite a few hours, for the first time in months.

Niuafo'ou is a volcanic cone with a thermally-heated crater lake and only a few hundred inhabitants. We anchored in black volcanic sand, 25' depths off a little well-worn concrete wharf and hiked for an hour hoping to find a trail the crater rim. In that entire time we only saw an old man clearing his taro patch and a young guy on a motor bike who said he didn't speak English. We never made it to the small village where we had read the school and clinic are located and never saw a single house. We followed one side road for awhile but when it started going downhill we turned around not realizing that this was the trail to the crater rim. We all enjoyed snorkeling in the crystal-clear water before setting sail for Wallis Island, a miniature version of Bora Bora (but without any tourism) 140 miles NW.

The concrete wharf landing at Niuafo'ou

Crew in search of the crater lake

Elderly Niufo'ouan tending his taro patch

Crew enjoying a leisurely sail in the lagoon to Ile Faioa

We had some great sailing and made our goal of arriving before noon, remembering that customs offices close early at most French islands on Friday afternoon. We did get cleared in and out, and our crew headed off in search of a bank to change money (there is only one) and a restaurant for dinner.

Saturday we all trooped to the Gendarmerie together to get our exit stamps and then set sail seven miles down the lagoon to Ile Faioa, which has to be one of the most idyllic anchorages in the South Pacific. Amanda taught sail trim and design, I taught diesel engine maintenance and then our gang hit the uninhabited islet with masks and snorkels and sandals for beach walking.

Yesterday morning it was calmer than it had been since our arrival with the wind down to 14 knots and Amanda decided it would be best to teach going aloft for rig inspection before the trades piped up. About that time someone spotted a sail on the horizon

Two leaky raw water pumps and associated notes on servicing
and my hunch was confirmed when Alvah Simon from the Roger Henry replied to my call on channel 16. I invited Alvah and Diana for breakfast and started the engine to charge the batteries. On my normal post-engine start routine I opened the engine room doors to check everything over and quickly discovered a leaky raw water pump.

Great timing, I thought. I should be able to replace the pump before Amanda was done sending our gang up the mast. I worked as quickly as I could, started the engine and was happy to see water flow out the exhaust. I wasn't pleased, however, to see water dripping from the newly installed pump. It only had 1100 hours total time on it but the seals around the shaft must have become brittle and were not keeping the saltwater in. I then installed my second spare which I had noted had been rebuilt in Auckland in 2002. It worked perfectly and Amanda and our rig check crew only had to wait a few minutes (perfect time to practice the rolling hitch) while I completed switching impellers and tested the engine. Whew, no leaks.

Angela securing the preventer to boom, with a bowline, as we leave Wallis
Meanwhile Diana and Alvah had anchored next to us, so I zipped over to pick them up for banana pancake brunch. We then covered storm tactics with a PowerPoint show and after a swim and lunch set sail for Futuna, the little sister island of Wallis, with a population of only 5,000.

We had a brilliant sail ever since clearing the pass and with winds never less than 20 and never over 30 we surfed along at up to 8 kts with a double-reefed main and poled out triple reefed genoa.

As we entered the quite exposed bay on Futuna, we were disappointed to see the winds and swells wrapping around the southern end of the island and into the bay. I checked the latest GRIB forecast and learned that the winds were predicted to swing around more to the SE and increase to 25-30 knots within 24 hours. Consulting with our crew, we decided it would be prudent to only anchor for the day, and get sailing SSW on our course toward Fiji before the winds shifted more to the south and increased. Once ashore, our crew found the only restaurant on the island for lunch as Amanda and I went in search of fresh bread and the Gendarme to clear in with. Everyone enjoyed a swim and nap before we set sail just before sunset.

Leg 4-2010, Update 2
August 13, 2010, 1200 hrs, 15.03 S, 178.22 W, Log: 141,510 miles
Baro: 1016.0, Cabin Temp: 84 F cockpit 83 F, sea water 82.0 F
On a mooring off Copra Shed Marina, Savusavu, Fiji

Departing Futuna we had solid 22-24 kt winds that held to the forecasted E instead of normal SE direction, making it easier for us to lay Welangilala island, 154 miles SSW and our checkpoint for entering the reef-sided and tricky Nanuku Passage. Just before we spotted Welangilala the wind shifted to the SE and as that was about the time we were ready to ease sheets it worked out well. At dusk spotted the distant outline of Welangilala but didn't see the lighthouse working, however it was giving a consistent RACON (radar transponder) signal.

MT anchored at Futuna

Squally weather prevailed Tuesday night and on through Wednesday morning as we surged down the length of Taveuni Island and across the mouth of Somo Somo Strait with winds gusting to 37 knots. The squalls were short lived, didn't have that much rain, and it was a gorgeous night. We passed a couple of small fishing boats throughout the night and at 0930 rounded Point Reef; the entrance to Savusavu Bay on the island of Vanua Levu.

We were able to pick up the last available mooring off Copra Shed Marina located in Nakama Creek and not long after the health inspector, customs and quarantine officers came aboard to clear us into Fiji. It was lunchtime when customs and Quarantine officers showed up and they eagerly accepted my offer of lunch, with limited provisions left Amanda did a wonderful tuna pasta salad for the lads. I was interesting to hear them say this was the first time they had ever been offered lunch aboard a yacht.

After a quick tidy up, our crew headed ashore to find Copra Sheds showers, excellent and inexpensive laundry service, and of course the yacht club bar & restaurant on the dock.

We met ashore for a superb dinner at the Surf and Turf, a creekside restaurant and deli run by a very conscientious Fijian-Indian family. Over dinner Paul told of meeting a dynamic Fijian woman named Olivia at the vibrant public market. She'd offered to take our entire crew on the bus to her village where she would arrange the sevusevu welcoming ceremony (kava with the chief and elders), a Fijian-style lunch along with exploring and snorkeling. What and adventure they had!

Thursday we joined 30 or more cruisers from all over the world for "Cruisers Curry Night" and the nearby Seaview Cafè and Friday morning we worked hard of completing our final teaching topics before crew headed home.

Leg 4 Crew Crew
Pat, Paul, Tom, Christina, Angela, Ron & Amanda

Here's are our Leg 4 crew:

Pat Harrison, 57
I live in Astoria, on the Oregon coast where I surf and sail my Bristol Channel Cutter when not practicing orthodontics. I always wanted to sail the South Pacific – and now I'm here!

Paul Prusakowski, 40
I am a prostheticst from Gainesville, Florida and I sail an 0'Day 25 in the Gulf of Mexico. I have been learning a lot about navigation through my local power squadron and have been looking forward to sailing on Mahina Tiare for many years. I have dreams of combining my passion for sailing with humanitarian work in the Caribbean as well as gaining more offshore experience to travel more of the world under sail.

Ron Welch, 66
I am a professor at the University of Alabama teaching atmospheric and environmental science. Recently with John's help I purchased an Island Packet 350 and plan to start full-time voyaging in December. This has been a time of gaining confidence.

Christina Calvin, 59
I'm a physical therapist from Albuquerque, New Mexico. My husband John and I own Casa Rodena, a beautiful winery in the village of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. We just sold our HR 46 which we sailed in San Diego and Mexico and are looking forward to the completion of our new steel Waterline 54 which we plan to sail around the world.

Tom, 54
Taxes are going up, so time off is getting cheaper. Let's go sailing!
Tom is a neurologist living in the Great Lakes area.

Angela, 44
I'm a physician in the Great Lakes area interested in sailing adventures in Europe and Great Lakes waters.




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