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Leg 5, 2018, Update 1

October 5, 2018, 0515 hrs, 13.36 S, 175.39, W, Log: 219,087 miles
Baro: 1012.0, Cabin Temp: 83 F, Cockpit: 80 F, Sea Water: 82.5 F
Broad reaching at 6.2 kts in 5kt ENE winds under full sail with a sliver of a crescent moon
35 miles to Wallis Island

TOFA SAMOA, MALO WALLIS, AND NOA IA ROTUMA!

Somehow, we’ve not experienced any more than a very occasional brief shower since leaving Scotland 1.5 years ago but this changed as a fairly active cold front stalled over Samoa during our last two days there. The winds in Apia Marina would go from 15-25 with real tropical downpours just frequently enough to prevent us from drying our laundry or Amanda getting her final coats of varnish on the dodger uprights.

When our Leg 5 crew came for safety orientation Tuesday afternoon, most of them mentioned that gaining heavy weather experience was one of their learning goals so we didn’t hesitate in setting sail Wednesday noon even though www.windy.com called for easterlies 23 gusting 35 with occasional rain for our first 25 miles until we would be in the lee of Savaii Island.

Small Apia Harbour was busy with seven Oriental local long-line fishing vessels, two tugs, a barge, and one mega yacht sheltering from the rough offshore conditions, plus there was a cable laying vessel and a container ship tied to the wharf along with two more freighters hove-to off the entrance likely waiting for the limited wharf spaces.

Speaking of Apia Harbour, we were pleasantly surprised how helpful and responsive Trevor (trevor@arkmarine.ws), the young local commercial diver who is now the marina lessor and manager was, how inexpensive moorage rates have remained and how easy inbound and outbound clearance were compared to previous visits. It felt like the various offices (bio-security, health, customs, immigration and port authority) are doing a better job communicating with each other than in the past, plus, for the first time, they all came down to the marina to clear us in.

Sadly, the marina has fallen into further disrepair over the past four years with only a few serviceable berths for visiting yachts on the remaining inner dock. There is no longer a security guard although yachts are now issued a key for the gate, but it is also possible to gain access by walking around the end of the marina fence. However, Trevor said that the port has security cameras and there haven’t been any thefts from yachts reported in recent years. With three nightly night club and bars surrounding the marina and a strong surge at times the marina poses a few challenges, but we well remember the days of anchoring in the busy commercial harbor and are delighted to have a relatively secure place to moor.

We hit the ocean as soon as our crew joined at noon to clear Apolina Strait, the narrow gap between Upolu and Savaii Islands by dusk. Conditions were rough as we were on the windward coast with gust to 30 knots. I took us a few hours to work our way up the coast to the channel where we could gradually ease sheets until achieving a downwind run, surfing along at up to 9 kts in large following seas under triple-reefed main and a scrap of headsail. Thankfully conditions gradually started moderating and crew settled into shipboard life.

Yesterday we had brilliant sailing and were able to shake out the reefs and set the whisker pole as winds came deep astern. By morning the occasional rains had vanished, the sun came out and everyone had a smile. Amazingly even though some felt queasy no one was sick. Crew worked hard at getting the hang of steering and understanding sail trim and rigging the preventer so when Adam hit 10 kts surfing down the front of wave Amanda let out a loud congratulations cheer...then it was time to reef.

Wallis, which looks a little like a miniature Bora Bora should be visible soon after breakfast, and we’re hoping for landfall by noon.

October 8, 2018, 0500 hrs, 13.33 S, 177.57, W, Log: 219,235 miles
Baro: 1012.6, Cabin Temp: 83 F, Cockpit: 81 F, Sea Water: 83.7 F
Broad reaching at 5 kts in 11kt ENE winds under full sail and calm seas
289 miles to Rotuma Island

We had a spectacular early morning landfall at Wallis, a small French Island and minutes after anchoring off uninhabited Ile Faioa, a mile or so inside the pass we dived into the turquoise lagoon water and checked out the nearby coral heads. We’d temporarily lashed the large sun awning, with all the battens in it, on the rail for the passage so it took only 20 minutes to rig it, thus making the cockpit cooler than below.

After brief naps we headed ashore to go beach-walking on the wild windward side of the islet, but found that with high tide we had to either bushwhack or wade through the coral to the beach. The reward was a rugged windward beach with tons of crabs, impressive breakers and a depressing amount of trash; mainly shoes and drink bottles.

That afternoon we covered Polynesian wayfinding, calculating tidal pass currents and our new international chart review session where we look at current charts from different countries, noting differences in notations and nav aids.

In the middle of the night a passing squall brought a substantial increase in wind resulting in one of the stainless pipe battens to re-poke through the awning fabric and start flailing around. We had quite a wild time in the resulting downpour getting it down but managed to do so without any further damage.

Saturday morning after covering engine room orientation, we motored the eight miles upwind through the well-marked coral heads but twisty route to Mata Uta, the capital and harbor of Wallis, and anchored off the pier. For clearance we all went ashore but discovered we’d miss the Gendarmerie’s Saturday morning opening hours by a few minutes, necessitating a two-hour wait. It also didn’t help that our clocks were two hours different.

Crew enjoyed cooling off in the island’s only hotel/restaurant until not one, but eight gendarmes showed up at 1400. I found this a bit surprising as generally all but one or two officers spend the day relaxing with their families. The young French officer who checked us in and out at the same time was super-efficient and not unfriendly. The next day on our early-morning run, we saw a large-spray painted banner decrying discrimination against local citizens. New Caledonia’s independence referendum is three weeks away, and perhaps some of the independence fervor is appearing on Wallis. Amanda taught provisioning upon our return and we enjoyed a pleasant, squall-free night.

Yesterday morning four of us headed ashore for runs, walks and a stop at the sole supermarket for freshly baked coconut bread and baguettes. We then raised anchor for reefing practice in the still lagoon before setting sail for Rotuma, Fiji’s northernmost island, and one of a handful of Polynesian outlier islands. The GRIB forecast predicted winds of between 10 and 13 kts for the 400-mile passage, and so far we’ve been able to broad reach very nicely under full main and poled-out genoa with very smooth sea conditions.

Our track takes us quite close to several mid-ocean seamounts, and we’re hoping for a daylight arrival so we can possibly enjoy a mid-ocean snorkel over what must be pristine reefs.

October 8, 2018, 0500 hrs, 13.19 S, 179.17, W, Log: 219,393 miles
Baro: 1011.4, Cabin Temp: 83 F, Cockpit: 81 F, Sea Water: 83.9 F
Broad reaching at 6.5 kts in 16kt ENE winds under full sail and calm seas
131 miles to Rotuma Island

Bugger! And Oops I forgot to celebrate Amanda’s birthday yesterday; I’d better make it up to her in our time off in Fiji...on another note...Hooray! We were able to drift snorkel over Rotumah Shoal, a 2 x 6 mile, 85’ deep mid-ocean seamount! It was exactly where charted: 13.30.440S, 179.10.475W and Adam calculated that altering course to pass over it added only 1.5 miles to our track to Rotuma. We saw soundings on the depth sounder and a change in water color at the same time. With winds of 10 kts, we drifted over the shoal, then turned and slowly motored across, and once it started dropping off again, shut down, deployed the Lifesling so we’d have something other than the swim ladder to hang onto, then jumped in.

Sharks were spotted even before Torrey and Amanda entered the water, although a little inquisitive, they were smallish, soon to lose interest and swim away. By the time I got a waterproof camera they were keeping enough distance off to be too difficult to photograph. The seafloor was a mixture of sand with waves and coral with some colorful smallish coral heads. Surprisingly we didn’t see any fish, but not long after we’d hoisted sail Amanda pulled a nice sized tuna aboard with one solid jerk – up and over the lifelines.
We’d needed to motor a bit yesterday as we had following winds in the 6-8 kt range, but early this morning the breeze picked up to 12-17 kts and we’ve been rocketing along very nicely.

Oh, we passed the International Date Line very early this morning, and now we are in East longitude. We’ll have to double-check our navigator’s position plots today! Does that also mean I owe Amanda two birthday celebrations?

October 10, 2018, 0505 hrs, 12.37 S, 177.19, W, Log: 219,522 miles
Baro: 1011.2, Cabin Temp: 84 F, Cockpit: 82 F, Sea Water: 84.2 F
Broad reaching at 6.1 kts in 12kt ENE winds under full sail and calm seas
9.5, miles to Rotuma Island. Dragging our heels and waiting for first light!

LANDFALL EXCITEMENT!

We’ve had a good radar return from Rotuma Island for the past hour or so, but haven’t seen any lights. We’re steering a course to clear the island until first light which should occur in less than an hour. We’re also constantly scanning the MFD screen for the AIS signal from Barefoot, a boat whose owners, David and Roslyn, we’d previous previously met in New Caledonia. They emailed us a month ago saying they planned to make landfall at Rotuma, sailing north from Fiji, the same day as us.

We’ve had unbelievably fine sailing conditions with calm seas, reported at 1.5 meters on the GRIB forecasts, no rain or squalls and light, but steady winds which have us arriving a couple hours earlier than planned. I talked about heaving to yesterday afternoon for an extended swim, but then realized we’d have to stow and re-set the whisker pole so settled for showers on the aft deck instead. Sunset yesterday was spectacular, and MJ, our storyteller of the day wrote a song for a sing-along, followed by another sing-along song she’d previously printed the words off to, and then we pulled out our song sheets shad a great time singing in the cockpit under the stars – an event none of us will soon forget!

October 12, 2018, 0550 hrs, 13.55 S, 177.20, W, Log: 219,634 miles
Baro: 1011.9, Cabin Temp: 84 F, Cockpit: 82 F, Sea Water: 84.2 F
Sailing at 7 kts in 15kt ESE winds under single-reefed main and modest seas
167 miles to Yasawa Island.

ROTUMA - WHAT A NEAT ISLAND!

We altered course to catch up with Barefoot five miles south of Rotuma, sailing side-by-side the entire way to the anchorage while taking pictures of each other. We found the island substantially mischarted on both the latest Navionics and C-Map charts are were really pleased to have printed off Google Earth of the landfall and Oinafa Bay. I’d also downloaded Hans and Imma’s detailed cruising notes and satellite images from www.noonsite.com.

We found a sheltered anchorage in the lee of a broken down concrete wharf, where the monthly supply ship moors. with a coral-free white fine sand bottom.

At this latitude the sun is fierce so with Amanda’s help we’d rigged the awning in 15 minutes after everyone had dived in for a snorkel around the bay. Mid-breakfast Phillipe, who lives in the village directly ashore, and who has a reputation of helping yachties, hailed us from the wharf, informing us that it was Fiji Day, commemorating Fiji’s independence from Great Britain and that the health, bio-security and immigration officers would likely all be enjoying the festivities at Government Station located a 30-minute drive away at the other end of the island. I’d read in the clearance fee schedule that there was an optional charge for requesting clearance on holidays and weekends, and asked if Philippe could call the officials, letting them know we would be happy to pay it if we could get ashore that day.

A few hours later a policeman drove to the end of the pier and said all the officers would arrive at 0900 the following morning (yesterday) so we enjoyed a snooze then covered Clearing Customs, Dealing with Officials Worldwide and Leaving Your Boat in a Foreign Port classes.

Meanwhile, the cover of our whisker pole topping lift had chafed through on the deck light Amanda set to work pulling it out, stitching the cover back together and end-for-ending it. Placing it back in the mast proved to be more of a mission than Amanda had reckoned on so several of us helped get the line back in the mast which required a trip a loft for Amanda.

At 8:30, the next morning Etecca, an attractive health inspector from Sigatoka came aboard followed by Bio-Security and Immigration officers who eagerly accepted my offer of multi-grain porridge. Although we’d received confirmation from Fiji that our 13-page Customs pre-notification of arrival document with crew list, image of the vessel and copy of captain’s passport had been received, it hadn’t been forwarded to the appropriate offices on Rotuma Thankfully this didn’t seem to concern them.
They told us Mahina Tiare was the seventh yacht of the year to visit, although 36 yachts visited last year. Fees of F$172.50 for health and $85 for bio-security need to be paid in cash and I was pleased to have purchased Fiji dollars in Apia as there isn’t a bank or ATM on Rotuma.

With clearance procedures complete, I asked the bio-security officer if he might know of a driver and truck that we could hire for the day to take us on a tour around the island. He had a recommendation and said he could take me on the 30-minute ride to Government Station. This would also save him having to return with our change and receipts. I soon convinced him to take all eight of us so we quickly scrambled our kit together and jammed in the double-cab Toyata pickup.

Government Station is where the small hospital, airfield and store are located overlooking an idyllic but shallow bay. After some searching we were introduced us to Mua Taukave (email: mua.taukave@gmail.com), a retired Air Pacific employee who now owned a B & B and agreed to take us on a tour.

We managed to negotiate ourselves into Mua’s super ancient double-cab Toyata truck and as we began a slow bone-jarring journey down the single road we also began to wonder what we’d gotten ourselves into. Our tour proved to be charming. Rotuma of this very dramatic, lush and picturesque island. There are small villages with homes and churches the entire way around the 2 by 6-mile island all with absolutely spectacular white-sand beaches. Quite a few of the houses were empty as the owners have moved to Fiji or Australia for work, some are neglected but the majority have neat lawns and attractive plantings.

A highlight was stopping at Mua’s mother-in-law’s home on the windward (eastern) shore where Mua cut drinking coconuts for us and Amanda discovered a young woman weaving who along with her aunt and uncle were able to explain its process and significance.

Amanda had hoped we’d be able to hear some Rotuman singing and dancing, and right on cue she spied a group of 15 school kids, in tidy pink uniforms, seated under a shelter between their school and the road, practicing songs and dancing while they waited for the school truck.

Originally our plan was to spend a second night on Rotuma, but a powerful cold front is scheduled to sweep over our 350-mile track to Lautoka on the main island of Viti Levu, bringing 25+ kt headwinds and heavy rains. By running different departure/arrival scenarios on the GRIB forecast charts, it became obvious that by leaving 24 hrs earlier than planned we’d have a much easier passage south. From the very first time I considered stopping at Rotuma 30 years ago, the hindrance was this passage straight south in an area where the trades normally blow between ESE and SSE at 25-30 kts. It looks like we got lucky with our weather window this time, and although we’d rather be sailing than motorsailing, our goal is to get into the lee of Viti Levu before the winds increase and visibility diminishes in these poorly charted (and partly uncharted) waters of The Great Sea Reef and Bligh Waters.

In the final few minutes before setting sail from Rotuma, David and Ros, who have decades of experience in Fiji waters and had just sailed the reciprocal of our passage to Yasawa Island come aboard to review the route MJ had laid out on our Raymarine MFD.

The bonus of stopping at the very first possible anchorage, Yasawairara is not just that it is 50 miles closer than our previously intended first anchorage at Toba Laloma, but we’ve learned there is a friendly traditional village we can visit and perform the required sevusevu ceremony; asking the village elders for permission to anchor and visit. Dave and Ros happened to have a spare bundle of nicely wrapped kava roots, which they wouldn’t need in Vanuatu, their next country, and graciously gave it to us.

 


Leg 5 Crew - Amanda, Torrey, Sara, MJ, Adam, Patti and Deb, plus Captain John taking photo.

 

 

 


Leg 5 Itinerary

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