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Leg 4, 2019

FULL-ON ADVENTURE!

August 20, 2019, 1400 hrs, 17.46 S, 177.16, W, Log: 226,634 miles
Baro: 1006.9, Cabin Temp: 83 F, Cockpit: 86F, Sea Water: 82 F
At anchor, Musket Cove, Malololailai Island, Fiji

Our time in Samoa between expeditions was enjoyed by Amanda and I, although when our Leg 4 crew arrived at noon Friday, August 2nd we were ready to set sail. The pervious afternoon we’d welcomed our crew aboard for our two-hour briefing after which they’d returned to their hotels to ensure they’d be rested, hydrated and ready for the 285-mile passage to Wallis Island.


Leg 4 Crew - LeeAnne, Jim, Michelle, Stuart, Sandy and Charles


Stuart as the daily weather briefer instructs crew as the weather situation

We left Apia with gusty of 18-22 kts winds from astern and boisterous coastal waves so our crew got a realistic introduction to reefing and running the preventer right off the bat!. Before the sun set behind the island of Savaii and we were plunged into darkness with no moon we made certain each expedition member received helm time and thankfully we experienced a mellow first night sea under a star-studded sky which allowed crew to quickly gain their sea legs.

Saturday we completed orientation and inventorying survival packs and by 1500 Sunday Charles had guided MT through Wallis’ narrow Passe Honikulu against an ebb current of up to 3kts. We tried a new anchorage off uninhabited Ile Faioa and were rewarded with some good snorkeling and even better, a clear dinghy passage through the coral to the wonderful white sand beach where we could then hike across the islet to the wild windward beach and reef.


Entering Passe Honikulu


Here’s our “gung ho” expedition members: aka “Save-a-Tackers”

Stuart, 44
I’m a firefighter from Melbourne, Australia who loves surfing, diving, fishing and sailing. Most of my sailing I’ve done with my father on his Catalina 309. In the next four years I hope to go sailing with my partner Beth and our 15-month old son, Marlin. We’re considering starting our downwind cruise in Europe.

Charles, 57
I learned to sail at a YMCA camp at Big Bear, California and sail out of Marina del Rey plus have enjoyed chartering in Turkey and the BVI’s. I work as a film and television lighting console programmer in Hollywood.

LeeAnne, 59
After 30 years of planning, my husband Charles and I are about to begin our own cruising life! As soon as I return from this expedition I am retiring and moving on to our Mason 44 and we’ll set sail for Mexico and points beyond. I came aboard Mahina without my husband so I can become a competent blue water cruiser in my own right, and fill in the gaps in my skills and knowledge so I will feel more self-sufficient “out there”. A mission to be accomplished!

Michelle, 51
As I approach my retirement years, this was perfect preparation for our future adventures! While I’m not quite ready to leave my catastrophic claims handling job, when I do, I know I’ll be more prepared for blue water cruising.

Jim, 54
After 31 years as an air traffic controller in Memphis, TN I wanted to take a step closer toward Michelle and my dream of cruising as a lifestyle. I wanted to see how I would handle offshore conditions, increase my knowledge and skillset on the water. My expectations are certainly being exceeded many times over and I’m excited for our future as cruisers!

Monday morning, we motorsailed along the lagoon through seven-miles of twisting courses amongst the reefs to anchor off the pier in Mata-Uta; the main town on Wallis. After walking up the hill to clear customs with the Gendarme then another wander to find customs (re-located to the wharf from up town) our crew then enjoyed lunch ashore at the islands only hotel.

Meanwhile Amanda and I moved MT to a nearby less-exposed anchorage where previous Leg 2-2014  expedition members Margy and Monty were anchored on Whistler; their very cool looking Antares 42 catamaran. www.svwhistler.com. For a couple weeks they’d had been relishing the excellent lone kite surfing locations and scuba diving and weren’t in any hurry to leave.


SV Whistler - Monty’s and Margy’s  Antares 42


Monty and Margy...aka Eye Candy and Poodle

In the late afternoon squalls abounded so thankfully Monty offered to accompany me in his dinghy to help collect our crew from the wharf. This saved us from having to re-anchor MT in a tenuous location. After guiding our crew on a tour of Whistler Monty and Margy joined us aboard MT for dinner.


Charles enjoying the stiff sailing conditions

With clear skies on Tuesday morning we set off back through the channels on passage to Fiji, only to have a huge hour-long squall with driving rain and gusts to 32 kts descend on us when reached the pass. Fortunately, we’d double reefed the main, so after tucking in the third reef we jogging in place for an hour, keeping MT’s bow into the fierce rain, in an area between the inside end of the pass and a large islet. Finally, blue sky appeared, and we safely exited the pass and set sail 400-miles to Savusavu, Fiji’s closest port of entry.

ESE winds allowed us to stay slightly upwind of a rumbline to Welangilala, our first landfall and turning mark into the dangerous Nanuku Passage. Consistent winds between 22 & 25 kts, MT kept rocketing along with two reefs in both sails and at 2200 Wednesday night we passed Welangilala. Sadly, the lighthouse was not working – however the small atoll gives a fair radar return, confirming our position before we next changed course for Taveuni’s SW point. I always breathe easier after completing this turn as there are numerous and extensive reefs either side of our course leading in to Welangilala, plus unpredictable and sometimes strong currents.

“BANG!!! Clunk, clunk, clunk, whirrrr“ was what we heard at nearing the 0200 Thursday watch change. Several of us were instantly on deck, searching with headlights for the source. Amanda was first to spot that the port D-2 intermediate stay was adrift from its base and swirling about the rigging. In a flash she donned her climbing harness and Stuart and I winched her aloft. It took her 45 minutes to securing the rig with the staysail halyard then untangle and re-secure the errant stay. The bottom of the turnbuckle had snapped where the threaded barrel terminates at a pressed head. We’d replaced the rigging (for the second time in 22 years) three years ago in Sweden and will now be curious to learn if this turnbuckle had been replaced as part of the refit. Putting this in perspective, this is the first rigging wire failure aboard MT III in 226,377 miles, the equivalent of 9.5 world circumnavigations.


Amanda looking a little weary after completing the D2 stay repair


Jim and Stuart shake out the second reef


Stuart shakes out the first reef while crew work through their test books


Rig Check Class

By 1330 we’d tied to the quarantine dock at Savusavu’s Copra Shed Marina and by 1630 we’d cleared health, customs, immigration along with bio-security and we were delighted to again explore our favorite South Seas town. Surf & Turf, a riverside restaurant owned and run by Indian master chefs, was our watering and dinning venue and we weren’t disappointed.


MT at Copra Shed Marina

With four very keen divers aboard they eagerly piled into a cab Friday morning and set off down the peninsula to Jean-Michelle Cousteau dive resort: https://www.fijiresort.com/ on the off chance of getting to go out for a dive.

While our divers went in search of a dive Amanda went in search of a stainless steel welder to repair our broken turnbuckle and another fitting. She eventually tracked down Shane, a half-Norwegian, half-Chinese welder at his workshop Savusavu Marina, a short ride up Nakama Creek from where MT was moored. Not only could Shane make the repairs, he offered to deliver them to the boat within an hour, and his total bill was only the equivalent of US $47! His welding was flawless and Amanda worked up the rig late into the sunset to refit the diagonal while Stuart, Jim and I riveted the repaired staysail storage bracket back onto the mast base.


The broken D2 rigging screw


A delighted Amanda with "Welder Shane" and his apprecntice

Here’s LeeAnne’s account of striking gold in the dive department.

When we arrived at the dive shop, Andy, the manager looked totally non-plussed, explaining that they were preparing for a large group arriving the next day. Apparently we looked SO keen and desperate to dive that he took pity on us. If we could be ready and on the boat in 30 minutes, he could squeeze us in! Woohoo! In record time we whipped out our cert cards, completed forms, fitted up with rental gear and off we went by speed boat to a recently discovered new reef site.

After dropping in, we were instantly awestruck by one of the most pristine coral reefs any of us had seen in the world. Our dive master led us down to 76’, circling enormous bommies rising off the sandy bottom, covered in lush, brilliant soft and hard coral and teeming with vividly-colored fish. We saw anemones cradling striped clown fish, staghorn coral protecting clouds of tiny fish moving in a harmonious dance and even a resting reef shark who didn’t much appreciate being disturbed by a bunch of enthusiastic bubble-blowers.

Our second dive was equally splendid at a dive site called Golden Nuggets. We quickly learned the source of the name when we spotted steep walls festooned with brilliant yellow soft corals, billowing with the swarms of tiny, bright orange gobies glittering like thousands of luminous golden coins. Our eagle-eyed dive master pointed out more treasures including an octopus, nudibranchs, a rather grumpy lionfish as well as a small bush he called “magical coral” which, when poked with a stick changed color.


Fishy, fishy, fishy!

We all agreed that the Cousteau Resort dive shop was one of the most organized, professional and top-notch dive ops any of us had ever worked with. After bending over backwards to accommodate us with no prenotification, they treated us like royalty and gave us one of the most memorable undersea adventures we’d ever experienced.

After that (and Stuart’s, Michelle’s and Jim’s rave reviews, in the future we’re planning on setting up a two-tank half-day dive far ahead of arrival if we have keen divers on the next Leg 4’s in 2020 on onwards. Dinner that night was dockside at Copra Shed’s incredible “Captain’s Table” after which Amanda invited the girls to go clubbing after she met some delightful staff (in the bathroom) from Cousteau’s who were prepping for a night on the town. Note: there are only two night clubs in Savusavu and as the “Aunties” discovered, they are rather interesting.


Local kids sailing team touring Maverick

Maverick www.maverick49.com a cutting edge race yacht from Spain complete with canting keel and Dynamic Stability System (DSS) foils arrived beside us to clear into Fiji. Maverick is the first boat of its size to combine this technology and the only 46 ft yacht to utilize twin foils. They offered the local sailing kids a tour and Amanda tagged along keen to learn about the latest technology in yacht design.

Saturday we focused on teaching, practicing Lifesling overboard rescue while sailing the six miles out to anchor off the reef past the Cousteau resort where we caught up on Sail Design, Diesel Engines and Clearing Customs Worldwide. LeeAnne had been coaxed into cooking daal soup. one her favorite potluck dishes and had shopped at the amazing Savusavu farmer’s market for Indian spices and local spinach leaves (instead of baby spinach). Her soup rated 12 out of 10, so here’s the recipe

Walu’s Lentils

2 cups lentils, rinsed
4 to 5 cups water (depending on how soupy you want it)
2 tbsp butter
1 onion - diced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/4 tsp cumin
1 1/4 tsp cumin
1 1/4 tsp mustard seed
2 tsp garam masala
1 can chopped tomatoes or fresh tomatoes
1 lb spinach, chopped
1 can coconut milk


LeeAnne at work in the Galley

In pressure cooker, melt butter and sauté onions with spices until fragrant. Add lentils, water and tomatoes. Seal pressure cooker and bring to temp, then cook for 12 minutes. Allow pressure to drop. Remove top, stir in spinach in batches until tender. Add coconut milk. Enjoy!

MT’s trusty and shiny Ultra anchor was raised first light Sunday morning and an absolutely brilliant and fast sail through Namena Reef’s historic Save-A-Tack Passage then occurred. It’s always a little scary blasting through here as the nav beacons are rarely in place.


Approaching Save-a-Tack Passage North and South

Upon sailing out the narrower, unmarked south passage, we hooked a walu, a very tasty type of Spanish mackerel. I had my hands full ensuring we avoided the reefs either side and hardened up a little to our new course, so without my usual hand to gaff the and help pull it aboard LeeAnne reeled in and Amanda deftly landed it on the deck.


LeeAnne with her walu fillet

Suddenly the walu did a death defying leap and its double-hook lure deeply slashed Amanda’s ankle. Thinking quickly, she wrapped a nearby sail tie around her wound while continuing her patter explaining to a keen LeeAnne the nuances of filleting a large fish. LeeAnne then promptly set to work executing perfect filets and from there after she was called Walu.


Dressing Amanda's wound with helpful reassuring guidance from Stuart

When it was time to remove the sail tie, the wound needed serious attention – a through wash with Betadine, steri-strips to close it, then antibiotic ointment, dressings and bandages – all while charging along toward Makogai Island. Our spotters on the mast pulpits guided our helmsperson through the narrow entrance and before long we were anchored off Dalice settlement.

Makogai has a tragic and amazing history. It was a leper colony for much of the SW Pacific with over 4,500 people buried here. A group of nuns from France ministered to the patients and now their graves are maintained by the French government from New Caledonia. For several decades Dalice has been the site of a Department of Fisheries giant clam, turtle and coral nursery and soon after anchoring, we launched the dinghy and I went ashore to ask for permission to anchor and to present sevusevu (required gift of kava roots).

I quickly learned that after cyclone Winston (strongest storm ever recorded in the Southern hemisphere with winds of 175 mph (280 kph) had leveled the island in 2016 the fisheries staff had been relocated to Suva, only to recently return as new steel hurricane-proof houses have been built. Sadly, I also heard that our dear friend and former station manager Kelepi had passed away while living in Suva.

Waisaki and his wife Karalaini said we were welcome to swim and come ashore (not always allowed in Fiji villages on Sunday) and said 5 pm would be a good time for the sevusevu ceremony. It’s now school holidays in Fiji and many city children were visiting relatives so I brought six of the kids who had walked me back to the dinghy out to visit MT for a tour, letting the oldest run the dinghy out and back.

We all returned at 1630 and following a brief sevusevu, Waisaki led us on a tour to the remains of the leper colony buildings and graveyard. He also said his daughter Rosie would guide us on the 90-minute hike to the school located on the other side of the island at the island’s only other village following day morning and that he would ask the villagers if they and the children would be up for presenting a meke; a traditional Fijian dance.


Waisaki and our guides at the nun's grave site

The hike allowed us to meet Miss Meg, the only one of three teachers (for 27 students) who hadn’t left for vacation yet. Meg, an outgoing and lovely Fijian woman, said that the cyclone had flattened both school buildings and all of the teacher’s homes. Yachties came to the rescue, building two classrooms and the government has completed a third, larger, all-steel building plus four new all-steel teacher’s homes. Meg said that the students had been working all day, collecting flora and arranging costumes for the afternoon’s meke, and that a boat was coming from Dalice to pick up the entire village!

We hiked the 90 minutes back to the dinghy and all instantly jumped in the water, snorkeling out to the giant clam nursery before lunch. At 1600 we went ashore to find a well-organized scene with adults seated on mats and the kids running around and getting final costume adjustments and forming lines. There was a slit drum and Amanda’s ukulele was quickly pressed into service with a little boy running off to a home to quickly return with another ukulele. The music was incredibly intense, and the dancers were very tight knit and really enjoying themselves. They perform once a month for the liveaboard dive boat visit and the money given to the village goes towards the schooling.


The older girl's performance, with Rosie front right.


Boys performing the warrior dance


The younger girls teaching the "Sailing Aunties" a dance

After the 3 groups of children completed their dancing, one of the men thanked us for coming and Amanda introduced our crew. Following that, the head man said to Amanda, “I believe you have something to show us”. Amanda called up the young girls she’d been teaching the Hawaiian Hukilau dance too and they all performed the dance together much to everyone’s delight. In true form, Amanda then shocked everyone with her fierce Maori Haka war dance, which prompted one of the Fijian men to follow with a Fijian war dance which sent everyone howling with laughter! What an afternoon!

Once back aboard MT, our navigator for the following day carefully plotted our 50-mile course through multiple reefs to Volivoli Bay, first on a paper chart, then inserting all of the waypoints in both the Raymarine MFD and Garmin GPS.


Late night navigation


Early morning departure

Tuesday morning, we got another first light start and now with all our experience we relished the excellent downwind sailing to Volivoli, located on the NE corner of Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island.

The smooth conditions proved an excellent opportunity for teaching with Amanda covering Provisioning, Sail repair and my offering Electrical Power Systems, Watermakers and Anchoring. In the late afternoon we anchored off Volivoli Beach Resort, a very attractive Kiwi-owned but locally run dive hotel and all appreciated a round of cold drinks and appetizers while admiring the sunset.


Three cheers for Volivoli!

Wednesday morning Amanda taught Going Aloft for Rig Inspection before we raised anchor for Sail handling practice which involved tacking, heaving-to and a surprise MOB drill. Margy and Monty had given us a tip of an awesome snorkeling spot, and with fairly calm sea conditions, we anchored off the windward side of Nananu-I-Thake island and dinghied well upwind and up current along the reef face. Next we all donned on masks & fins then hopped in the 83F water for a delightful true E-ticket power snorkeling experience as the current carried us past magnificent, healthy and vibrant soft and hard corals.


"Ready About?"

Amanda wisely was staying out of the water (definitely not easy for her!) and although we’d carefully cleaned and dressed her gash plus started her on Cipro (after consulting with past expedition member Dr Jon F.), her ankle and foot were swollen and tender. Our crew agreed that it was prudent to push on through the maze of coral reefs to reach Vuda Marina in Lautoka, a day earlier than planned, so she could visit a doctor in Lautoka so we raised anchor and motored 40 miles until 2200 anchoring in the middle of now where off Ba Roads and a massive sand dredge operation.

By 0900 Thursday we’d arrived at Vuda Marina, which thankfully had several open berths, and within minutes we were in our good friend Abdul’s taxi heading for a doctor both he and Vuda Marina had recommended. The doctor gave her the all clear but said is should have been stitched. Upon returning to MT our crew lent a hand washing down MT and rigging the much-need sun awning.

Charles, a lighting tech from Hollywood, had acquired a screeners copy of the just released Maiden documentary from Sony Pictures. Amanda (AKA Mandi Swan) was the rigger on Maiden; the first-ever Whitbread Race circumnavigation by an all-girl crew. With Charles and our crew interested in hearing the inside scoop we convinced Vuda’s Boathouse Restaurant into showing it that night during dinner on their outdoor movie screen. Everyone from the restaurant and bar gathered round, staying until the movie finished and a huge bonus was that Amanda’s parents, Lesley and Robert Swan were also present, having flown in from New Zealand to visit with us once the expedition was completed.

Friday morning, we signed crew off with immigration, Amanda taught Fishing Lure Construction and I taught Cruising Medicine. It was then time to play! We piled into two cars and drove to Lautoka. First stop was a tour of the huge public market where fruit, vegetables, curries and chutneys abound .Second was a peek at a couple or trendy vibrant shops then on to Pacific Islands Art www.pacificislandsaart.com where all the girls bought one of a kind hand-printed dresses and several guys bought Bula shirts.

We’d booked lunch at Tukuni, www.friendfiji.com, 15 minutes north of Lautoka, an organic restaurant, center of sustainable traditional agricultural practices and community health center. After an incredible lunch, locally sourced and extraordinarily fresh, we delighted in meeting Sashi Kiran, the tireless and humble organizer and director of the center do much so that we’re already looking at booking a garden tour next year for our Leg 4-2020 crew!


Amanda with Sashi (in red) and some of her lunch crew.


Grilled octopus with coconut milk, dalo and plantains


First Landing dancers with the “Sailor Aunties” in their new dresses from Pacific Islands Arts

Our final graduation dinner was that evening at First Landing Resort, next door to Vuda Marina, but we were still rather stuffed so ate sparingly while enjoying cocktails upon the scenic moonlit beach accompanied by wonderful traditional Fijian music and dancing.


Boat yard tour... ”be cautious with this keel”

All of our crew with the exception of LeeAnne, who is just in the process of moving aboard and setting off on her own cruise, are in the market for purchasing a cruising boat.

Saturday morning we made a boatyard tour, checking out 30 yachts both in the marina and in dry storage ashore, noting the good and the bad points of many.

And that was it! ...end of an extremely adventurous Leg 4.

 


Leg 4 Itinerary

 

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