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Leg 1 - 2013, Update 1

May 9, 2013
1030 hrs, 36.49 S, 174.46 E, Log: 161,979 miles Baro: 1010.1, Cabin Temp: 65 F cockpit 67 F, sea water 65.8 F Westhaven Marina, Auckland

NEARLY READY TO START OUR 23RD SEASON OF SAIL-TRAINING!

Our Leg 1, Auckland to Tahiti crew came aboard from 4-6 PM yesterday so that we could start our safety briefing and collect passports and in just two hours they’ll be back to come aboard for the expedition.

We have a real bonus awaiting them at 2PM, when Bob McDavitt, recently retired from MetService NZ will come aboard and personally give us all a weather briefing for the generally always challenging passage to Tahiti. Bob literally wrote the book (Mariner’s MetPak, SW Pacific) on regional marine weather, and we always learn from his briefings.


Bob points the way north. “Quick time to go and catch the weather window!’

With break in the squally weather crew help with the last of our new seasons jobs of marking the chain lengths with colored wire ties.

We’ve just received our passage forecast from www.commandersweather.com and CLICK HERE to view that.

May 13, 2013, 2230 hrs, 31.02 S, 178. 15 W, Log: 162,504 miles
Baro: 990.0, Cabin Temp: 71F, cockpit: 65F, seawater: 71.8F
Close-reaching under triple-reefed main and headsail @ 6 kts in ESE winds 25-40 kts, confused seas

OFF TO A ROUGH START!

Leaving Auckland was a breeze. The friendly and efficient customs inspectors were aboard and cleared us out quickly at 0830 and we slipped our lines, hoisted sails and set a course down the Waitamata Harbour while Amanda covered hoisting and reefing the main. Bob P, our navigator had his hands full plotting courses and waypoints on the paper chart and then logging them into the GPS. The forecast called for moderate winds to start with, followed by a strong wind advisory for squally southerly winds in the afternoon. Sure enough, just before we reached Channel Island, between Great Barrier Island and the Coromandal Peninsula, we were overtaken by a squall with 47 knots and blinding rain.

The on watch crew must have missed the section in our previous day briefing on standing orders when we stressed the importance of alerting us if they observe ominous weather to windward. By the time they reported an approaching weather situation to us below, the rain and wind were nearly upon us. We tucked three reefs in the main and rolled half the headsail in quick succession as an ominous frontal squall struck and all seemed well under control. It was only later when starting to shake out a reef after the system passed that Geoff spotted a buckled section of our external Antal mainsail track, at head height above the gooseneck. Yikes! This would make reefing or unreefing the main impossible unless fixed.

Amanda tried unsuccessfully tapping the buckled section of track in with a hammer and mentioned that a screw in center of the now broken two sections of track had sheared off a few years back. We assume the loading and location of the slides on our new mainsail with its deeper third reef effectively caused the track to buckle at the sheared screw.

“We can’t make repairs in this seaway before dark so we can either return to Auckland or anchor at Great Barrier and see if we can make repairs with what’s onboard or ashore” was Amanda’s assessment. A quick look at the chart showed that Tryphena Harbour was seven miles away, and we’d be able to make the anchorage before dark. I got a relay from maritime radio to advise customs that we needed to stop for repairs, but did not plan on going ashore.

Out expeditious crew soon put on thinking caps. Geoff is a rigger and sailmaker from Hawaii and along with the help of Tom and Bill P we removed, drilled, tapped and screwed the two sections of track back in place. The anchorage was rolly and we were hit with numerous rain squalls. At times the repair zapped all my strength: sitting atop the mainsail, hanging on with my legs and forcing the drill through the thick mast section under headlight while shivering in the wind and rain.


Drilling the second section of broken track to fit large headed screws
It was midnight by the time the job was complete and dinner had eventually been made and served. We raised anchor with gale warnings posted for winds of 35, gusting 45 knots for the entire east coast of New Zealand. We very briefly considered waiting out the weather but remembered too many years past when departure windows often slam shut for weeks, so we held our breath for our repair, set a triple-reefed main and headed out.

That was Friday night. It’s now Monday night (Tuesday night if the dateline which we passed yesterday is counted) and we’ve been close hauled in gale to storm force winds much of the time. The most difficult time was the second night out when we spent 18 hours fore-reaching under triple-reefed mainsail alone in headwinds of 35-45 kt squally winds with closely spaced breaking seas on a dark and chilly night.

One glace at our frequently-printing weatherfax charts instantly tells the story. There was (and still is) a 934 low to the SE of us and a 1034 high to the NW, just N of Cook Strait. The isobars are stacked up like cordwood, and this is the perfect example of a powerful squash zone.

We did have a sunny warm break yesterday, and when winds lightened and the sun shone we shook out all the reefs for a few hours. Three of us enjoyed showers on the aft deck and Amanda even got the fishing lines out. We also had an excellent marine weather class and a tasty lunch before conditions slowly worsened.

Back on Thursday Bob McDavitt mentioned a low that might come down from Fiji, crossing our course, but it seemed a long way off. Now that low is bearing down on us, and has elongated into an E-W orientation with strong E winds on the S side of it and 25-35 kt W and SW winds on the N side. Commanders Weather did a great job of calling this system and came to the same conclusion we did from looking at the GRIB charts: we need to get N of the trough line axis and into the favorable winds as quickly as possible.

Click HERE to read Commanders’ Weather forecast.

Sounds simple, right? Just turn N (instead of ENE, the course to Rurutu) and pick up the following winds. Only problem is, the Kermadec Islands, a chain of mostly-uninhabited rocks and islands, lies directly in our course. All day long we sailed as closehauled as possible to clear one rock, only to decide to fall off and pass to leeward of it once our clearance looked to be less than six miles.

We are now heading due North and should clear Maculey Island sometime around dawn. The great news is that the winds are forecasted to clock around to the SE, SW, and W starting around dawn tomorrow, and we are no longer close hauled, so life is a little easier aboard all be it in 30 knot squalls.

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Leg 1, 2013 Update 2

May 17, 2013, 0645 hrs, 29.29 S, 170.31 W, Log: 163,031 miles
Baro: 1001.4, Cabin Temp: 77F, cockpit: 75F, seawater: 77.0F
Close hauled under full main and headsail @ 6 kts in ESE winds 11 kt, still a large southerly swell

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A FEW DAYS CAN MAKE!


At dusk a pesky beep beep emanated from our Raymarine GPS display unit. Unable to resolve the problem of the readout displaying "No Fix" we tried to muffle the now-annoying beep with padding.
Once we spotted Raoul Island, the only inhabited island in the Kermadec group midway between NZ and Tonga, our winds gradually came around so that even though we were still close-hauled, we were headed E instead of N. Commanders’ Weather forecast (click HERE for the forecast) has proven very accurate as we’ve been following an elongated east-west oriented low and trough east, being careful not to sail the direct rhumbline to Rurutu which would have us experiencing headwinds.


After breakfast Tom and John searched for the cause of failure. Unable to locate the problem they resorted to disconnecting the GPS display from the daisy-chained display units. They later traced the problem to a wire that had pulled out in a spliced connection and fixed it.
We had the whisker pole up for nearly two days before the wind dropped into the 3-5 knot range for a few hours yesterday, providing the opportunity to fully charge the batteries for the first time since departing Auckland and to top up our water tanks using the watermaker.

The real bonus was Amanda landing a dinner-sized mahimahi yesterday afternoon. It was David’s first taste of mahi, which Amanda prepared grilled with Turkish dukah spices. What a treat!

As soon as the batteries were fully charged, the wind switched to the SE, and we’ve been sailing very sweetly close-reaching or close-hauled all night.

It’s been too rough until today to utilize our monitor and PowerPoint teaching modules, so this morning we are hoping to utilize our Storm Tactics, Cruising Medicine and Diesel Essentials PowerPoint PowerPoint modules as well as Rig Check and Provisioning. Sounds a bit optimistic for one morning’s classes, so maybe we’ll teach this afternoon as well.

It is a treat to have the air and water temps rising daily, and I’m really looking forward to when the swell is down enough for us to enjoy our first mid-ocean swim of the season!

May 20, 2013, 0245 hrs, 27.51 S, 163.28 W, Log: 163,433 miles
Baro: 1019.1, Cabin Temp: 77F, cockpit: 76F, seawater: 77.0F
Close reaching under full main and headsail @ 5.5 kts in 8.5 kt WNW winds, flat seas!

SKIRTING A HIGH PRESSURE CELL

For several days we kept up with a slow moving trough which provided us with good sailing conditions and occasional minor squalls, until yesterday when it moved past us. Our barometer started rising, the skies cleared but the winds dropped and we’ve able to sail off and on in gorgeous, tradewind like conditions. The calmer conditions have been great for teaching with Amanda teaching splicing and knots yesterday and our covering a ton of topics important to our crew on Saturday.


Calm conditions also gave us time to properly mount our new Ampair 24 volt towing generator (www.ampair.com), with Geoff, a rigger/sailmaker by trade, lashing the unique mounting to our stern rail and Amanda splicing eyes in both ends of the 100’ braided tow line.

I was holding my breath when we pitched the water turbine prop over the side and watched the generator in anticipation as it started quietly spinning. The real excitement came in viewing a positive 1-2 amps (24 volts) on our Xantrex LinkLite battery monitor. The 1-2 amps was on top of powering everything that happened to be running at the time. The fact that this simple device could meet all of our power needs and then some is monumental!

We were swamped with projects before relaunching in Auckland so I enlisted the help of Paul, a sparky from Half Moon Bay Electrical to wire up the new towing generator. Noting a free space the starboard stern pulpit, I had Paul drill a hole through the transom and start the wiring installation. It wasn’t until the wiring was complete that Amanda and I realized the generator would end up in the space normally occupied by the outboard motor storage mount that Amanda had removed and was varnishing. Paul had to return in the rain to remount the unit on port and we enlisted a boat builder to fill the hole. We’re thankful to Paul for his help and his foresight in testing the unit by machining a chuck that he mounted on his drill allowing him to spin the unit for output confirmation.

For nearly 20 years we used Hamilton Ferris 12 volt towing generators (www.hamiltonferris.com) on our last two boats, but I hadn’t been able to locate a 24 volt model (Mahina Tiare’s primary electrical system is 24 volts, much more practical than 12 volts for larger loads) until discovering that Ampair, a long-time maker of wind and towing generators in Britain offered one. The generator, regulator and shipping cost US$1300 but this cost should be recouped in fuel savings during the next 2-3 expeditions. Amanda hasn’t been keen on giving up one of her two fishing lines to the generator, but we’ve reached a compromise: fish during the day, make electricity during the night!

We’re now over half way and crew are well into the daily rhythm of shipboard life with showers every other day and the daily duty roster duty chores completed each morning after breakfast and before class. All duties that is except story teller. Last night we were rewarded with an amazing true shipwreck story of when Geoff set sail from NZ for Vanuatu with four friends mid-winter in 1979. The good weather window they set off from Tauranga slammed shut and unable to take celestial sights due to total overcast and horrendous conditions, they hit a rock off a small island off Great Barrier Island, sinking in 120’ and swimming ashore.

Here’s our Leg 1 crew:

Debbie, 57 from Maui, Hawaii
I am looking forward to cruising our J-105 which we moor in Lahaina more often and a goal down the road would be to sail south to Tahiti and back. I am also looking forward to getting back in my ceramic studio to put into clay some of my experiences on this great adventure we are having right now.

Geoffrey, 62
I’m a sailmaker from Maui and have been sailing since childhood and can’t seem to get enough. My wife and I joined this trip to have an adventure together, but my focus is on navigation and weather analysis. Debbie and Geoff are our first Hawaiian language speakers and are frequently teaching us the Hawaiian words for things. It will be interesting to see to what extent the language similarities will allow them to communicate on Rurutu.

Tom, 57 from Boulder, Colorado
Tom is Mr. Adventure, having crossed the Pacific four times on aircraft carriers before he was 21, having worked on an piloted the deep sea submersible vessel Alvin to 4,000 meters, designed and built and installed instrumentation on five spacecraft, twice paddled to the Arctic Ocean, guided rafts down the Grand Canyon 11 times, flown his Cessna 180 from SoCal to Alaska and very recently helped a friend sail his Dana 24 from Tonga to NZ. He is never short of amazing adventure stories!

Bill, 59
I am a surgeon at a large university teaching hospital in Tennessee. My sailing experiences started at Boy Scout camp 40 years ago and have included sailing the Chesapeake, Galveston Bay, several Caribbean charter vacations and now my current boat, a Mason 33 is located on an inland lake. My wife and I plan on sailing the boat to Florida or Annapolis and then on to the Caribbean and beyond. Getting this experience aboard MT has made those plans much more a reality than dream.

David, 53
I am a soon-to-be retired police officer from Ontario, Canada and have owned several boats. Four years ago I purchased a 40’ Trident Warrior to fulfill my dream of long distance cruising. My cruising plans are to first explore Canada’s Eastern Seaboard then the Atlantic Circle and on from there. I joined this expedition to put all the pieces together and it is coming together very well.

Bill
I am a consultant from the San Francisco Bay area and joined this expedition to gain more practical experience in heavy weather tactics and weather analysis. I plan to continue to do some long distance sails and at some point to spend time cruising the Pacific.

 


 

Leg 1, 2013 Update 3

May 27, 2013, 0740 hrs, 20.29 S, 150.21 W, Log: 164,326 miles
Baro: 1017.2, Cabin Temp: 78F, cockpit: 78F, seawater: 82.8F
Close-reaching at 6-7 kts in 25-28 kt ESE winds, lumpy seas

PARADISE!

The pesky high pressure cell followed us east resulting in us having to do more motoring than sailing the last several days of our passage.

Several of our crew spotted Rurutu on the horizon by the light of the full moon yesterday and it was 0500, an hour before sunrise when we were lined up on the range lights into the small man-made harbor.

Normally we would wait for dawn, but since Amanda and I have snorkeled the channel entrance and harbor many times and since we had the light of the full moon and range lights, we slowly and cautiously entered the coral pass with breakers on either side.

Once into the basin Dave dropped the bow anchor and we backed toward the concrete ship wharf laying out anchor chain at a 60 degree angle to hold us off. When we were within three boat lengths we shut the engine off, launched the RIB and ran stern and bow lines in to warp MT slowly closer as we laid out more anchor chain. There were two locals on the wharf to take our line and by the time we’d run spring line the sun was just starting to peek over the eastern horizon. The surge was substantial so the two Bills freed and lowered our second bow anchor, a 44lb. Delta into the dinghy while Tom and I set it at 90 degrees to our stern just using two docklines and no chain as rode.

As nice as it would to have been able to be close enough to step ashore, we decided it would be safer to stay a few meters off the large black ship’s fenders and use the tethered dinghy to access the ladder.

It was fun watching our wide-eyed crew taking in the rugged, verdant mountain peaks, the few curious early risers on the wharf and the roosters.


Gendarmes arrive to return complete our easy check-in procedure
First priorities first! We could smell fresh bread baking at the nearby Chinese store and knowing it wouldn’t be a problem with the Gendarme, I slipped ashore returning with HOT very fresh baguettes and a surprising assortment of French and Tahitian pastries which were instantly hovered!

Not knowing what time the Gendarmerie opened on Saturday, I waited until just after eight and then headed off down the coastal road. Surprisingly they were open, but being busy taking a statement from a guy, the Frenchman accepted the copies of passports and ship’s document, but asked if he and his Tahitian partner could come by the harbor in a couple hours to complete the paperwork.

Meanwhile Amanda had organized going aloft for rig check and by the time I returned nearly everyone had been aloft, raving about the spectacular view down the reef. And, with that class completed, our adventurous gang took off exploring.


MT happily moored in the harbor
Deb and Geoff visited with a woman weaving lahalla baskets at the new public market building then chatted with the Marquean woman who with her local husband owns the only restaurant on the island that appeared to be open. After lunch, Suzanne, the restaurant owner told them she’d pick them up at the boat and show them the island. When she saw the very small pamplemousse (sweet grapefruit) that Amanda had nicked from a tree in the bush, she turned up her nose and took Deb and Geoff completely around the island, plus over the mountain road across the middle, stopping at every relative and friends house to ask for fruit for the yacht. By the time they returned to the boat hours later, her little jeep was totally loaded with fruit plus manioc and taro.

Our other four guys walked to the airport, looking forward to lunch and beers at the one hotel in the entire Austral Island group, only to see a sign on the door saying they are now only open the three months a year when the whale watching season is on. In the end everyone headed back to Suzanne’s restaurant for dinner.


Deb and Geoff with Suzanne after returning from an around the island excursion
Amanda and I had grand plans of running over the cross-island mountain road to the leeward side of the island, but the road was steep and after two weeks of not running or walking our legs felt like jelly so we enjoyed hiking across. There are no houses after leaving town but the the road side had been mown and is beautifully planted with fruit and ornamental trees – making it very scenic and park like.

Yesterday morning we got up early, as the bakery opens at 0530 on Sundays and picked up our 15 ordered baguettes. The shop keeper remembered Amanda loves pamplemousse and had a huge sack waiting by the door for her. We each grabbed a corner of the bag and started struggling down the road, but the shop keeper would have none of that! She grabbed the next customer in line at the counter and in Tahitian said something like, “Take these people to the harbor!” and in an instant a woman grabbed the 80lb bag of fruit, gently heaved it into the back of her jeep and motioned for us to hop in the back. She insisted on lowering the heavy sack to us in the dinghy, and then with smiles and waves, was off back to the shop.


Our crew enjoying Tahitian and French pastries for brekky.
Where to store all the goodies? We set up a passing chain from the dinghy to down below where Amanda sorted fruit by ripeness and then somehow made it all disappear. We will never forget the generosity of the people of Rurutu.

Geoff, as captain of the day formulated a plan with our crew of how to retrieve four lines, two anchors and the dinghy while not getting blown across the harbor onto the rocks in the 20-25 kt gusty winds. All went as planned and our keen crew even managed to hoist the double-reefed main before we exited the narrow entrance now with serious waves breaking on either side.


David enjoying some thrilling helming
What a change from the last few days of very light winds, to be right into 25-35 kt trade winds! Fortunately we’ve been able to keep sheets eased slightly on a close reach but it’s still been choppy.

May 30, 2013, 1210 hrs, 17.28 S, 149.48 W, Log: 164,543 miles
Baro: 1014.2, Cabin Temp: 84F, cockpit: 85F, seawater: 85.8F (I think this is an all-time record!)
At Anchor, Maharepa Bay, Moorea

Our 310 mile passage from Rurutu to Tahiti was FAST, with 20-20 kt close-reaching to start with, then as we approached Tahiti we were able to ease sheets and really start flying. Bill F hit 9.3 kts on one surf, setting the top boat speed record of the expedition.


Geoff and Deb prepare for their watch

Tom enjoying our flat reaching conditions as we sail up Tahiti’s coast

Tahiti was on the horizon at sunrise, and Moorea’s rugged peaks, 15 miles to the west showed up soon after.

We held the excellent sailing angle until hitting the wind shadow line just three miles from Taapuna Pass and by the time we arrived at Marina Taina, Mahina Tiare was looking shipshape and tidy. Constance, Marina Taina’s lovely assistant manager found an alongside berth for us and in no time Amanda and I caught a cab to the airport to complete check-in while our crew washed MT and their foulies down. Once we returned we got everyone set up for doing their laundry at one of only two self-service laundromats in the South Pacific and made plans for dinner.


Fun dining at Pink Coconut – Bill, Bob, Karyn, A&J, Tom, David, Bill Geoff and Deb
We dined at the Pink Coconut, a fun waterfront restaurant in the marina with a stunning view of Moorea and the gaggle of 140’+ mega yachts moored on the face of the marina.

Karyn and Bob Packard who joined us on our 2010 Tahiti-Raro leg had just arrived from Mexico aboard their Norseman 447, Real Time, and joined us for dinner and invited our crew to see their boat. It’s always a treat to catch up with previous expedition members out cruising the world aboard their own boats!

Yesterday morning everyone packed up and headed in different directions. Bill P is the only one who needs to immediately return to work (poor guy!) while Tom is heading off to Fakarava in the Tuamotus for what we expect will be some awesome diving, David to Papeete for a few days and Deb, Geoff and Bill F catching the ferry to Moorea for several days of fun in the sun.

Amanda and I filled a shopping trolley to overflowing at Carrefor, the excellent neighboring mega-store and rolled it back to MT, getting a head start on our Leg 2 provisioning. By the time we said goodbyes and set sail for Moorea we were down to the wire for a daylight arrival, but with a fresh following breeze we arrived here in Maharepa off the Moorea Pearl Beach Hotel and got the anchor set with just seven minutes of daylight left. We are as delighted as ever to return to Moorea and a minute after the anchor was down we were in the water. This morning we enjoyed one of our all-time favorite runs up a neighboring valley and met up with an old Tahitian guy whom we’ve met in previous visits. He has rented his private beach out to someone who has labeled it a yacht club - snack bar and invited us to pull our dinghy up on his beach and use the free wi-fi! Sounds like a good plan for a local poisson-cru lunch.

 


 

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