South Seas Adventures, Leg 3-98, Log 10
July 18,1998 0700
19.24S, 166.31W, Log 15,542, Baro 1015, Air 79F, Water 76
At Sea, Between Small Tropical Islands
Our Leg 3 crew joined us in Rarotonga at noon on Monday,
and after going through safety systems checkout, doing a last minute vegetable
shop we were ready to have a relaxing dinner at Trader Jack's and an early
Nearly every crew that join our expeditions put heavy weather ocean experience
high on their list of reasons for sailing with us, and they are rarely disappointed!
On this leg, they didn't have to wait long for that experience. But, I'm
getting ahead of myself. First, here's our intrepid crew:
David French, 34 is a naval architect at
the Bremerton Naval Shipyard, west
of Seattle. He designs systems for ships ranging from aircraft carriers
subs, and enjoys kayaking in Puget Sound and Alaska waters in his free time.
Heinz Brueckner, 69 is a retired Motorola mechanical
engineer from Phoenix
who loves navigation and passagemaking on all types of vessels. He has made
two passages on Ocean Star, is signed up on Alaska Eagle's Kiel Canal trip
and recently took a freighter from LA to Australia and from Houston to New
Ann Belson, 46 runs the largest retail seafood
business on the West Coast in
Redondo Beach and enjoys collecting American Indian baskets.
Jimmy Belson, 54 has a company called "Audio
Books" that sells and rents
books on tape (perfect for ocean passages!) and enjoys studying philosophy
and mythology in his free time.
Lois Crandall, 55 enjoys hiking and nature
photography when she isn't working
hard as CEO of a pioneering biotech company in San Diego. She and her husband
Gunter Hofman, 62 (a research physicist) live
on San Diego's Mission Bay where
they sail their Hobie Cat. They are considering purchasing a boat for a
circumnavigation in the near future.
Once clear of Rarotonga, the wind settled in at 25-30 out of the ENE,
us on a broad reach. I secretly hope for mellow conditions for our first
night at sea with a new crew, so everyone can get used to the motion and
routines aboard, but that wasn't to be. The wind freshened to 35 knots with
gusts to 43, and even with the main and headsail triple-reefed, steering
through the black, rainy squalls with MT charging along at 7.5 - 8 knots
challenging for our crew who, except for Heinz had never sailed at night,
steering only by compass.
The 270 mile passage went quickly and the squalls were only packing 25
by the time we spotted Palmerston's tiny islets, just six miles off.
Palmerston with only 48 people and very little land mass rivals Pitcairn
island for isolation and dangerous anchorage conditions. Like Pitcairn,
is no air service, no scheduled shipping, no safe anchorage and a very
Bill T Masters - Palmerston Island
Guides us through the reef.
The original masters home on Palmerston atoll.
Built from shipwreck timbers.
Palmerston was uninhabited when James Cook discovered the island in 1774,
in 1862, William Marsters, an Englishman who had made his fortune in the
California gold rush settled on the island to start a coconut plantation
his three wives (that's not a misprint!) from Penryhn Island in the Northern
Cooks. They had 26 children and now there are over 1500 Marsters in
Rarotonga, Penryhn and in New Zealand, but only 48 on Palmerston.
Soon after they arrived, a three-masted lumber schooner carrying 16"x16"
Douglas fir beams from Seattle to Australia was shipwrecked on the tiny
island, providing lumber for the original large house which still stands
today. The next year a replacement schooner set out for Australia, only
shipwrecked on tiny Palmerston. Marsters salvaged part of the timber which
sold to another passing ship. Every few years another yacht is lost on
Palmerston, and the masts are used by the locals as radio antennas. Twice
island has been washed over by hurricanes and the inhabitants survived by
tying themselves in tops of coconut trees.
It is always a welcome relief to hear a friendly voice answer our call
VHF when making landfall and Palmerston was no exception. An added help
to have Michael on the Canadian yacht Niska Four come up on the radio to
relay anchorage conditions which were passable, but not good. The channel
into the lagoon is less than 4' deep and full of coral, so anchoring off
pass is the only option.
A small aluminum skiff came out through the pass and directed
us where to anchor. With a 3 ft swell running and the wind blowing parallel
to the jagged reef, the anchorage didn't look very safe.
When I had previously visited Palemerston in 1980 aboard Mahina Tiare I,
the wind had been out of the east so it held the boat away from the reef,
instead of the northeast wind which held MTIII close to the breakers.
In two boat lengths the depth went from over 600' to 35' so I asked Amanda
to jump in the water with mask and snorkel to direct us exactly where to
On our first try we drifted off the edge of the shelf before the anchor
hit the bottom, so on second try we lowered the anchor down 20' and motored
very carefully in until Amanda pinpointed the best spot and we dropped the
anchor in 36'. We let out 150' of chain and I immediately snorkeled over
to make sure the chain wasn't wrapped around any coral heads. The visibility
underwater was over 150' and large black-tipped sharks and colorful parrot
fish patrolled the depths under Mahina Tiare.
As soon as the anchor was down, Bill Masters, his son, a friend and the
Health Inspector pulled alongside in their skiff. Since they had received
telegram from Rarotonga telling them that we were bringing supplies, all
formalities of passports, clearance, health inspection were forgotten as
struggled to move huge cartons of vegetables, supplies and a case of corned
beef that had filled both showers for the passage from Raro. "On
island only coconuts and fish are available, so any imported
foods are a real treat!"
Bill asked if we would like to go ashore to visit and explore - our eager
crew jumped in the skiff and were off while Amanda and I tidied the boat
In an hour or so Bill was back to pick up Amanda and I stayed aboard on
anchor watch. It was interesting to see the white sand beach, rustling palm
trees and thatch houses only a mile away, but not to be able to go ashore.
Amanda and I had talked only briefly about launching our Avon RIB, but with
the large swell running and having watched Bill threading his way through
the shallow and tortuous channel, we decided it unwise.
Stepping ashore I felt I was taken back in time to the South Pacific of my childhood.
The small 6 by 7 mile island is beautiful with white sand,
coconut trees and tiare flower bushes lining the main street with thatched
bures (houses) and shelters leading to a centre square containing a new
church, graveyard and the original Masters house with its massive shipwreck
beams. A peek inside reveals timbers with burnt patches where the kerosene
lanterns caught fire when sailors came to visit and the ukuleles played all
If you listen carefully you can still hear
the singing and laughter.
With tradition of welcome similar to Pitcairn Island, the family that greets
you on your yacht becomes your host family and the crew were whisked away
to Bill T. Marsters home.
Here true island hospitality abounds and friendships, though short are
and genuine. Arriving in the second boat trip I found our crew sprawled
dozing in the shade on one of the many hammocks, their bellies full of crepes
and bodies freshly showered. I was greeted by Metua, Bill's girlfriend and
we formed a quick friendship. Pulling me aside we discussed island life,
was shown Bill's mother's tivaevae and we quickly established what items
needed. After a small tour of the island that included the renovation of
school house, (to lure a new teacher) and a greeting of Kia Orana, handshake
and kiss to the resident mamas it was time for farewells. David donated
toothbrushes and a medical kit and we quickly bought yacht club t-shirts,
swapped address and promised to return.
Moment of Bliss on Palmerston.
Gliding over the reef into the sheltered lagoon was a good omen for entering
a friendly place. Bill Masters, 5th generation descendent of the founder
the Palmerston community, led us to his place and put us down in his living
room which was also his office and the family bedroom. "Sit down, lie
make yourself comfortable". Surrounding the house was an odd assembly
sheds and huts full of mysterious machinery and bits and pieces of ships
wrecked on the reef. A basic West Marine supply - just no catalog and, of
course, no clerks.
"And then, there it was; a hammock
a group of coconut palms surrounded by flower beds."
I felt coming closer to my dream of what a landfall on a tropical atoll
about. Bill gave me pillows and I climbed into the hammock. And then -
transcendence began. I could feel my soul coming to rest, I could feel the
friendliness and good will in the air around me and I could smell the fragrance
of the flowers and sense the beauty in the bluest sky between the crowns
palms with a subdued murmur of the breakers on the reef in the distance.
And then it came to me, a moment of bliss, where
the world outside and inside is in complete harmony
for a fleeting time.
July 24,1998 0430
South Seas Adventures, Leg 3-98, Log 11
14.53S, 170.30W, Log: 16,004 Baro: 1012, Air: 79F, Water: 79
Broad reaching at 8 knots in 15kt SE tradewinds
Samoan Landfall Ahead!!
The lights of Tutuila Island are on the bow, we're having a smooth ride
sliding down the tradewinds toward what will hopefully be around a noon
arrival at the Pago Pago customs dock.
We just left Niue Island a couple mornings ago and have had a great passage,
with just a few hours of motorsailing yesterday when the winds lightened
Our fishing luck took a major shift yesterday afternoon when David spotted
huge mahi mahi on one of Amanda's lines astern.
"This fish was a fighter - it took two of us and a couple cups
Tahitian rum down the gills to subdue it enough to hoist it's
rainbow-hued 40lb bulk aboard. We had mahi sashimi, poisson cru (tahitian-style,
uncooked, marinated in lime & coconut sauce)
and poached mahi for dinner."
Niue was a delightful stop. A large, upraised coral island with less
2000 inhabitants, it is one of the smallest self-governing countries in
world. The lack of a safe harbor or shallow anchorages have discouraged
cruisers from visiting. When I stopped in 1980 aboard Mahina Tiare I, I
stayed just one night, and anchored in 70' in the open roadstead.
Niue Yacht Club (no boats, just 3 super-friendly folk) has recently
installed 15 HUGE concrete moorings, dropped into holes in the coral,
and virtually unmovable. When we called on VHF channel 16, Kevin Fawcett
owns the dive shop welcomed us to Niue, inviting us to pick up a mooring.
Here we hung with sharks, turtles, and humpback whales checking us out.
sights that greeted us ashore were equally spectacular, with a day tour
the island being only enough time for us the view what we wanted to explore.
After recharging our batteries at the Niue Hotel, whose bar host the Niue
Yacht Club, we set of the next day on bikes to discover the secrets of the
"Rock of Polynesia" as Niue is affectionaly called. We weren't
"The coral makeup of the island creates an exciting rugged coastline and we spent time relishing in intimate swimming coves,
with a myriad of caves and chasms to investigate."
Some hiked with Misa, a local who not only is
extremely informative on the rainforest flora and fauna but also instructs
bushcraft survival. With a super last feed at Emnanuela's Italian restaurant
it was farewell to a slice of Paradise and onward to Pago Pago!
To the next log entry Leg 4:
At anchor, Musket Cove, Malololailai Island, Fiji