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Leg 4

Leg 4-2011

August 7, 2011, 1610 hrs, 13.52 S, 177.00 W, Log: 149,370 miles
Baro: 1010.4, Cabin Temp: 84 F cockpit: 81.1F, sea water: 84.7 F
Broad reaching at 8.4 kts in 25-35 kt ESE winds with occasional squalls. Main and jib both triple reefed, substantial seas

Rockin’ and Rollin’ Our Way Toward Fiji!

Our Leg 4 met us aboard MT in Apia Marina on Sunday for safety briefing and joined Monday at noon after I’d cleared us out with immigration, customs and port authority. We set sail soon after, not for Savaii the next island as originally planned, but for Wallis Island.

Winds held and we had a great beam reach for the 280 miles, arriving at the pass (after passing the adjusted dateline) Thursday morning.

View from the second spreaders of the motu at the pass and our favourte Motu Faioa in the distance
We have modified Leg 4 this season to go over the rarely-traversed northern coast of Viti Levu to end in Lautoka instead of ending in Savusavu, our port of entry for Fiji. I’ve long been curious about the area above the north coast of Viti Levu labeled Bligh Waters, which Captain Bligh traversed in the Bounty’s longboat following the mutiny. Last year previous expedition members, Katie and Jim Thomson, made this passage and reported no problems although intense coral piloting, strong trade winds and absent navigational beacons. They also told of a neat little Fijian-owned dive resort off which they anchored about mid-way on the passage, so that was enough for us to start collecting the necessary charts for the passage. When I was working out our itinerary a few days before the start of Leg 4, I discovered that if we stopped everywhere we wanted to, we would need an extra week, so hence we decided to skip the islands of Savaii and Futuna and sail directly from Apia to Wallis then on to Fiji.

We had a brilliant passage last Monday after leaving Apia. With 17 kts of wind directly on our stern but Upolu Island shielding us from the southerly swell, we zoomed along the northern coast, wing and wing, so smoothly it was like sailing on a lake. The new moon set ahead of us, the night was warm and it was a magical start!

Normally the anchorage off Matu Uta, the main town of Wallis Island (pop. 9,000) is a windy and choppy and a lee shore, but this time it was flat with just light northerly winds, the precursor of a forecasted weak frontal passage.

We all trouped up to the Gendarmerie Nationale office to have our passports stamped, then to customs. Both offices kindly allowed us to check in and out at the same time, saving us another visit and saving them time as well.

Wallis Island is a bit odd. Many of the inhabitants have moved to New Caledonia to work in the nickel mining industry so there are lots of empty houses but those staying behind are all driving fancy 4WD trucks and enjoying a very nice lifestyle. No one speaks of wanting independence here!

Just after we left the customs office a very nicely dressed woman who looked different than the locals walked by an said, “BULA!” Amanda replied in Fijian and we learned that Rosie was a chef at a local restaurant not far from the wharf. She invited us to come for dinner, which our crew did, and enjoyed. Surprisingly the wait staff as well as the kitchen staff are all Fijian! She said the Wallisinians weren’t interested in restaurant jobs but the Fijians were well trained and enjoying it.

Friday some of us went for early morning runs and walks then after splicing class we went exploring some more even collecting four types of delicious French bread from the varies small shops.

Kate mastering the art of 3-strand splicing

Our Lady of Good Hope Cathedral
in the early morning
Jordan about to enjoy the local cuisine. She’d best not eat Andy’s too!
Jordan about to enjoy the local cuisine. She'd best not eat Andy's too!

After engine room orientation set sail for Lifesling overboard practice and Motu Faioa, one of our all-time favorite South Pacific anchorages.

John demonstrates to Deb how to load, ease and release the genoa sheets from the primary winches.

Imagine a mile long uninhabited islet, ringed by white sand beaches facing on the wild windward reef with crystal clear turquoise water, and you’ll understand our attraction!

We took turns working on removing and replacing the eroded zinc anodes on our new Frigoboat refrigeration keel coolers before snorkeling off to look at tropical fish and coral and study hermit crabs.

After swimming we tackled marine weather and started to get feel for the present conditions. Our navigator said that if we left at around 1500, we should arrive at the entrance of Nanuku Passage just before dusk on the second night. That was the plan but then the wind swung around to the SSE was soon piping up to 25-32 knots. We decided that we should wait for the winds to come more to the ESE so they would at least be on the beam making for a much more comfortable passage.

Crew gather around the computer for the latest GRIB files.

Uggh, the latest weather fax shows a rather disturbed weather pattern

Deciding to make the most of the day, even with stormy, conditions crew head ashore for a wander.

Jordan, Deb and Kate focused on navigation. With squally conditions there is no room for error and crew set about to tackle the even the smallest details.

We stood anchor watches that night setting sail right after breakfast.

We were mildly concerned about the pass conditions (Wallis has a long, narrow passage into the lagoon where currents can reach 6 kts and seas can break heavily on either side) after the windy night, but once we lined up on the range we saw breakers either side, buy none mid-channel.

After exiting the pass Kate takes a break on the aft deck to find her sea legs where as Dr Jon and Sallyhamna, our pet polar bear from Spitsbergen put their trust in the latest anti seasick gadgetry.

Since then we’ve had quite a rough go, with stronger winds than forecast. This crew is doing an excellent job of helming in difficult conditions and we’ve frequently been making over 8kts VMG (velocity made good) toward Welangilala Island at the entrance of Nanuka Passage.

Jim focuses on the weather

whilst Andy lands a beauty of a mahi

August 9, 2011, 0220 hrs, 16.56 S, 179.41 W, Log: 149,613 miles
Baro: 1012.5, Cabin Temp: 82 F cockpit: 79F, sea water: 83.1 F
Broad reaching at 7.4 kts in 25 kt ESE winds with occasional squalls. Single reef in main and triple reef in poled out jib

Our squally conditions and confused seas continued until just before we reached Welangilala Island, but since our turn down Nanuku Passage, we’ve eased sheets, the clouds lifted, moon came out on our bow and Mahina Tiare has been charging along like a freight train, with Jon getting the highest boat speed of the year recorded on the GPS: 11.7 kts! Normally we would further reduce sail, but we have the incentive of trying to reach Savusavu in time to clear customs so we can go ashore and explore this afternoon and evening. With 94 miles miles to go we are currently thinking our ETA will be early afternoon.

Our course now takes us close by the southern tip of Taveuni Island, a long, high, mountainous island with very few lights.

August 15, 2011, 0545 hrs, 17.40 S, 177.23 W, Log: 149,832 miles
Moored at Vuda Point Marina, south of Lautoka

The squally conditions lifted, our winds held almost to Savusavu where we arrived at noon on Tuesday. Dolly Singh, the lovely manager of Copra Shed Marina ( health, quarantine, customs and immigrations come out to where we were moored. Once cleared in, we dropped our bow anchor and moored Med-style (stern-to) the Copra Shed dock. This is a real treat, allowing of water, electricity and easy access. No other visiting yachts were doing this, as it cost FJD$4 (US$2.50) extra per day more than renting a mooring!

Coming back to Fiji feels like coming home to me. The friendliness of Fijians is always amazing, as complete strangers smile and say, “BULA” while passing us on the street. Savusavu is one of our favorite towns anywhere in the world. It’s small – one can walk from the marina the length of town and back in 20 minutes, and you can actually land and tie up your dinghy almost anywhere along main street. There are always hundreds of immaculately-dressed Fijian and Indian children of all ages in their colorful school uniforms plus adults waiting for busses to take them back to their villages. The busses are a trip! Most are ancient, hand-made affairs, windowless and belching diesel smoke out the back

There are four small supermarkets(two of the same brand MH) but the main focus is the fairly large and always busy public market It’s located in the middle of town beside the waterfront and bus depot where both Indians and Fijians sell mounds of vegetables and fruit for shockingly low prices. A large pile of freshly-picked green beans or tomatoes or a pineapple cost the equivalent of US$1, and the vendors are always eager to chat and visit. Savusavu merchants love cruising sailors as many end up spending the hurricane season on the moorings which are truly hurricane-proof.

There are a couple dozen small restaurants along main street, but our favorites are Surf & Turf, a truly gourmet place with a tree to tie one’s dinghy to (Deb, Jim, Jordan and Andy tried it and raved about it) plus one that features Cruiser’s Indian Curry Night at least once a week.

We got lucky Wednesday night as Wai Tui Marina was having their monthly Fijian Dinner Night - all of the excellent Fijian food you could imagine, plus cake for US$6! The 30 or so cruisers were from many countries and we had a fun evening visiting.

Andy and Jordan and been looking for a dive and caught a taxi out to Jean-Michele Couteau’s Fiji Islands Resort,, an exclusive dive resort where they were able to sign up at the last minute for two-tank dive early Wednesday morning


After our long passage from Wallis to Savasava, it was nice to be on land again. It was such a cute little Fijian town with a nice little influx of cruisers, a tiny marine store, some obviously permanent expats, and some more traditional tourist facilities. The first thing we did we arrange for laundry and then take a 10 minute taxi across to the Jean-Michele Couteau’s Fiji dive resort.

Despite us being smelly yachties, the 5-star resort welcomed us with delightful gin-and-tonics. Even though the dive shop was closed, we scheduled a last-minute dive for the next day. After a short presentation on the local sustainable pearl harvesting operation, we headed back to have a landman’s dinner at Surf-and-Turf.

The dive the next morning was awesome. After a 45-minute boat ride to the Namena Marine Reserve and our two dives were incredible. We saw well-behaved reef sharks, huge spotted rays, placid turtles, all sorts of colorful fish, and tons of healthy hard and soft coral. The day before, the group had run into some humpback whales. One of my best dives ever! While we were on the surface, the resort threw in a free lunch for us party crashers. I spent most of my surface interval day dreaming about how cool it would be to return here in a sailboat and anchor out.

When we got back to the resort, Jordan got a deluxe massage in a sea-side bure while I chilled out on the white sand beach. The dive team invited us back to go diving with hammerhead sharks the next day, but we had different plans.

After our lazy afternoon, we made it back to Mahina Tiare just in time to make it to the monthly Fijian dinner night at the Wai Tui Marina. It was tasty! Not only was it tasty, it was great to talk with other cruisers. We even learned that it was possible to anchor off Namena Island the next night. Luckily, Jordan and I had already checked out the reef.

Part of the dinner involved arranging a kayak rental for early the next morning. Jordan and I got up before dawn, lowered the kayak into the water, and headed out to watch the sunrise over the mangroves. We saw two types of herons, a kingfisher, and a local woman fishing. It was sweet-as.

We headed back in time for John’s special warm coconut rolls and a mid-morning exit to our next stop- the island where we had just gone diving. It was time to sail away, put out the fishing lines, and look for humpback whales.

Thursday morning we ran errands, topped up water and set sail for the first time for isolated Namena Island which we’ve passed many times enroute to Makogai or Levuka. Surrounded by a very large 5 x 12 mile barrier reef, we had always heard that Namena was a very private island but at the Wednesday night dinner we met the crew of a NZ boat that was heading there and said they had heard it was possible to anchor off the island.

The markers at the entrance of North Save-A-Tack Passage were missing, but we carefully navigated to an anchorage just inside where we swam against the current to check out the reef. Two dive boats from the Namena Island run by Fijians stopped by to inform us that the lagoon was a marine sanctuary and that we would need to stop by and pay FJ$25 per person for each of us that were snorkeling - which we agreed to.

Wanting to get safely anchored before dusk, we soon raised anchor and motored two miles further to a spot off the west end of the island where Equamanity, the Kiwi boat had picked up a mooring. We found a fairly good anchorage and with Jim in the water with a mask on managed to avoid most of the coral.

On the beach was a sign saying, “Private Island, please come to our dock to pay marine reserve fees”, so we all hopped in the dinghy and motored a mile or two along the coast to a tiny man-made harbor where the two dive boats we had seen earlier were moored. One of the dive guides took us up 300’ of stairs and introduced us to Tom Moody, the 70+ year old owner of the island to visit and pay our fees. He explained that he had worked for over 15 years to establish the no-fishing marine reserve, and that the funds collected purchased school supplies for the children of the traditional land owners on Vanua Levu who had agreed to give up fishing rights in exchange for this. As a result of stopping fishing in the lagoon, the reef fish population has exploded, as we were to discover when snorkeling the following morning.

Tom Moody was a true visionary. His dream in 1983 was to establish a very small dive resort (only six very private bures accommodating a total of only 12 guests) on a very isolated island (12 miles from the nearest island) without being tied to running a diesel generator. Every bure has solar panels, composting toilets, rain catchment off the roofs and water storage tanks under the bure. The designs are traditional and we heard that the main dining hall building was exceptionally attractive. With the cost and difficulty of getting diesel fuel to the island, it turns out that Tom’s plan was a wise one.

When I asked him what he was going to do next after realizing his dream, Tom said that now he just wants to move back to Pittsburgh, PA, live with his daughter and watch television!

Tom and his wife Joan had spent a few years working at island resorts in the Caribbean before moving to and purchasing the uninhabited Namena Island in 1979. Namena was and still is covered by nesting sea birds - thousand of them! We saw boobies performing their bizarre mating rituals, fluffy baby booby birds in their nests and trying to learn how to fly, tropic birds, terns, frigate birds, noddies and more birds than we could identify.

A colorful booby nesting in the trees.

A fruit bat surveys the scenery - to the left, straight ahead, to the right

Andy captures the elusive green flash at sunset

MT at anchor off Dragon’s Head

We anchored off the ferry dock and at village store I asked about the chief. The shop owner pointed to a woman standing behind us and said, “She will take you to meet our chief”.
Early Friday morning four of us went ashore for an hour of hiking and exploring and we found the pre-historic stone ring fortifications mentioned in Lonely Planet Fiji guide book, plus gorgeous white sand beaches.

Saturday we had two choices, a long 60 mile run to Nananu-i-ra or a shorter passage through extensive Vanua Levu Barrier Reef to Nabouwalu, a village we learned about from Katie and Jim Thomsen, Leg 1-2008 expedition members who visited there last season. We chose the second option and enjoyed some spectacular snorkeling along the coastline of Namena, before setting sail.

All we had learned from Katie and Jim was that Nabouwalu was a small village with a 93 year old woman chief.

Lydia, a study and gracious looking middle-aged Fijian woman just said, “Let’s go!” and we followed her down the road. When I mentioned that I had neglected to purchase a waka (bundle of kava roots) to present the chief in the sevu-sevu ceremony which would give us permission to anchor in their waters and visit ashore Lydia said that we could stop at the next shop along so that I could purchase the kava. Nabouwalu was just a few minutes walk along the road and then up a hill in a location that was cooled by the prevailing trade winds. Lydia first introduced to the turaga-ni-koro (village mayor), then the chief’s nephew, and we followed up the hill to a small frame house


We were invited into the chief’s home and after removing our shoes, backpacks, and sunglasses found ourselves in a simple two-room home made of planks and decorated with tapa cloth. We were ushered into a large circle with the mayor, the chief, her nephew and  our “ambassador” Lydia. The nephew introduced the chief, Adi Salote, and told us that she was 97 years old and then spoke to her, presumably introducing us and explaining who we were. Adi Salote was beautiful with silver hair, pale brown skin, and a soft smile. It appeared that she preferred her native tongue but her gaze followed us as we spoke with her son. John then presented her with the gift a kava, wrapped in newspaper like fresh-cut flowers. The son and nephew accepted the kava, blessed it in their native language in a ceremony that we were prompted to clap with them at the appropriate times. After accepting the kava, we were invited to personally meet Adi Salote and in turn shook her hand.

MT at anchor off Dragon’s Head

Jordan and Jim swim ashore to explore
When it was my turn, I asked if Andy could take a picture of me with her (her nephew translated and she accepted). After the photo, her nephew asked if we could mail a copy to the village. John said we could print the photos on the boat and bring them back in the morning, which prompted more photos, more handshakes, and many vinaka’s (thank you’s).

Following an early morning run and visit with Lydia to give her the pictures Amanda had printed off, we set off for the 40 mile run from Vanua Levu toward Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island. I wish we could say we set sail, but we set motor — as the winds never topped 4 kts in this normally windy channel between the main islands.

The Nananu Passage channel through the extensive and mostly unmarked and partly uncharted reef area was tricky, but with good light, didn’t prove problematic. We found two islands, Nananu - I - Ra and Nananu - I - Cake which offered very protected anchorages.

On further wandering we found lots of trails and three small backpacker/B&B’s catering to divers and kite boarders. As a yachtie wanting a meal you need to book ahead, so we enjoyed dinner aboard.

Early Sunday morning Jordan & Kate joined us for a sunrise run/walk, and Kate had an interesting experience:

Jon Fawcett’s birthday brownies. Happy Birthday Jon!

Spliced Leg 4 crew - John, Jordan, Jim, Kate, Deb and Andy


The dawn trip ashore for a to walk/jog/take photographs lead to a fortuitous chance encounter. Calling out a soft “Bula”, Alowesi Naicaranawa introduced himself as he emerged from his home just beyond  Ellington wharf. We chatted about the village and it emerged that he coordinates health services at the local hospital. With the help of the Fijian government and charities such as the Rotary Club of Australia he tries to meet the health needs of the villagers. Recognizing that they are shy of western style medicine he keeps it low key and local. Interested in such a project, I asked what particular resources are still needed. It seems that basics such as immunizations would be very welcome and Alowesi is well versed in assisting medical teams import such goods. Exchanging contact details I am hopeful that I may become involved in this initiative. As a Brisbane general practitioner it should be quite feasible to plan a visit to offer primary care services at one of the monthly Saturday clinics at Ellington Wharf. Take it from there and see what grows! Definitely an exciting opportunity.

Before getting underway we covered Cruising Medicine with great input from Andy, an ER doc who conducts wilderness medical seminars. Our passage Sunday through the twisting coral channels led us past an extensive, now abandoned gold mine’s wharf to anchor off just pass the River Ba’s roadstead.

Knowing that clearing customs in Lautoka can often be a many-hour affair, our eager crew was up at 0500 and underway in the dark minutes later. Jon and Andy had carefully laid out courses and bearings and by sunrise we could start picking up reef markers. By 0700 we had anchored off the Port of Lautoka where four ships and several yachts were flying yellow quarantine flags and waiting to check in.

Jordan and Andy ran me ashore in the dinghy at 0720 so I was first in line and all checked in and crew signed off with immigration by 0930. Meanwhile, Amanda had completed a second braid splicing class - all of our crew completing the challenging double braid eye splice for one of the first times ever!

Before I forget it, here is our most excellent Leg 4 crew:


Jim Brainard, 62 from Golden, Colorado
I grew up sailing dinghies on Lake Michigan and have sailed actively for 54 years. Sailing offshore aboard Mahina Tiare with my wife Deb has been in my plans for preparing to cruise together on our Je5C, Brainwave. Having our son Andy and daughter-in-law Jordan join us for this expedition was a great and unexpected bonus. (Jim and Andy and Andy’s brother are preparing for their second Pacific Cup Race from San Francisco to Hawaii next summer). Jim and his wife Deb Ehler are both scientists at Las Alamos National Lab. Well actually, lucky Deb just retired!

Deb Ehler, 59
I love my life. I live in gorgeous Golden Gate Canyon near Blackhawk, Colorado where I hike, ski, snowshoe and fight invasive weeds and spend time with my grandkids. I’m loving retirement so I have time for all these adventures.

Andrew Brainard, 35.
My wife Jordan and I are hoping to do many more adventures together and I’m sailing with John and Amanda to improve our sailing and traveling skills. I hope to learn how NOT to run around, puke my guts out, or get kicked out of paradise. Maybe even we will get inspired to do some more offshore sailing someday.
PS: Don’t let the name or facial similarity between me and Jim Brainard fool you, our relationship has never been forensically verified! (Andy oversees doctors in training in an Auckland hospital)

Jordan Vaughn, 32
Hi! I grew up in the States but now live and work as a geologist in New Zealand. I was introduced to sailing about seven years ago when I met Andy, who grew up in a sailing family. I’ve always loved outdoor activities - running, climbing, hiking and travel, and have enjoyed discovering a new way to experience the outdoors.

Jon Fawcett, 52 and Kate Fawcett, 51 from Brisbane, Australia
As I write this we are close to the end of a horribly good two week run from Samoa to Fiji. It has been even better than Leg 6-2010 when we sailed from Vanuatu to New Caledonia. It will be hard to go back to liver transplant surgery next week. A few more years, maybe Kate and I will be lucky enough to be here on our own boat!

While underway from Lautoka to Vuda Point Marina, about six miles south, our crew practiced two storm survival tactics: towing warp and setting a drogue.

Vuda Point Marina is one of our favorite places to end and start expeditions because it is so convenient. The marina was formerly a WWII rock quarry used by the Americans to build the runway that is now the nearby Nadi International Airport. Tony Philip, a brilliant local yachtsman came up with the idea of plastering the sides of the quarry, dredging a channel and creating a marina! It really worked, and is the busiest marina in the South Pacific with long term dry storage ashore for folks who need to fly back home, plus self-service laundry, a little grocery store, a marine store, fuel dock and the very cool First Landing Resort just next door.

Since Jon was the birthday guy, we let him choose the restaurant; either the yacht club at the marina or the First Landing - he chose the second as they had an amazing offering of fresh fish, and...

The always beaming Fijian staff dimmed the lights and walked in a lighted slice of large chocolate cake whilst singing a jovial Happy Birthday in Fijian.

What an excellent time we had on Leg 4. Tuesday morning several expedition members mentioned how this had been exactly what they had been looking for. We won’t be one bit surprised if some of them join us for the west coasts of Ireland and Scotland in 2014!

We would like to give a special thanks to Jordan and Andy for their excellent images that they contributed to this update.

Between expeditions we’ll head for Musket Cove on Malololailai Island, anchoring MT in the same spot she was when we got married on the beach there in 1998. This for us, is paradise; no cars ashore, great running trails, free barbecues on the beach every night with cruisers from all over the world and best of all, the lovely Fijian people ashore.


Leg 4 Itinerary

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