Chapter 24: April 21st - July 4th, 2004-- Bad "Luck," Bad Weather, and More Mis-Adventures in Fiji
Wednesday, April 21st: Return to Fiji with an Unpleasant Surprise Awaiting Us
Our new cruising season has begun and already there are plenty of tales to tell. We arrived here in Fiji yesterday and by crossing the dateline, Joe and I managed to “miss” our anniversary. (We left on the 18th, arrived on the 20th, with our 6th wedding anniversary on the 19th. Maybe that means this year doesn’t count!) Anyway, we had a fairly pleasant flight (as pleasant as a 2 day travel can be, that is) and got all our 9 bags (mostly filled with spare boat parts) through customs without even a blink of an eye, although our eyes were half-open, with our 4:30 AM arrival! We had an airport pick up arranged that took us straight to a hotel/resort called “First Landing” that is attached to the marina where we had made reservations for a few nights stay on land until our boat is re-launched.
After a couple hours of much needed shut-eye, we walked from the resort over to the adjoining boatyard at Vuda Point Marina (home of Mi Gitana since last October). Our boat being still located in our hurricane hole-in-the-ground (see previous chapter), we climbed up a ladder to get in to see how she fared in our 5 ½ month absence. Unfortunately, we were in for quite a shock. Upon a cursory quick inspection, not only did our boat reek of mildew, we noticed right away that a lot of items had been stolen.... so far what we've written up amounts to about $15,000 worth of equipment... There will probably be more, the more we examine all the spaces. We are heartbroken. We know our insurance (homeowners insurance, actually) will cover most of the expense, but replacing the items will be the problem. Most of the items will NOT be available here in Fiji... and many of the items (electronics) will not be available in Australia, New Zealand, etc., as we need to replace with 110 voltage (which we cannot get anywhere) versus 240, as is available here.
A lot of the stolen items are what I call "quality of life" items... such as every ONE of our music CD's (about 200 of them), our brand new stereo system with a MP3 player, amplifier and 4 speakers... all of our new (only used 3 times) dive and snorkeling equipment, my Nikon camera and zoom lenses; then there is the other essential equipment... such as some of Joe's tools, including his special (electrical engineer type) electronic tools, his drills, about 30-40 rechargeable batteries (also not available here), every flashlight (about 10) on the boat... and of all things, all of Joe's clothes including all his boat shoes. They also took all of our wine and booze, canned meats and other food, perfume, and my German Henkle knives for the kitchen. The good news is they didn't take too many of our "essential" boating items except all of our 3 pairs of Binoculars.
Besides the invasion and missing things, our boat is such a mess, it's unbelievable. Besides stealing from us, the burglars left all the portholes and hatches open (during the rainy season), so our boat filled up with water. (I guess they must have been hot inside with all the hard work of stealing us blind!) Not only our beds were soaked, but our settees (“couches”), the navigation station, and the floors. We have never had mildew... (and we have previously locked up the boat for 6 months in Puerto Vallarta in the summer, which is just as wet and humid and hot as here) -- but so much rain got into the boat that our bilges were totally full almost to the engine. This resulted in mildew everywhere, covering all surfaces of the interior, plus resulting corrosion of almost anything that could be corroded, including a lot of our remaining built-in electronics.
The burglars also had on every light in the place, and left them on, so our batteries were dangerously low. Joe was afraid they might have been ruined, but it appears they may be okay as after several days of re-charging, they are holding a charge. We won't find out about the electronics and of course the engine and everything else until we get the boat re-launched in a couple of days.
So that's our tale of woe -- so far… Not a very good “home”-coming. It is ironic that Americans stereotype Mexico as a place to be robbed, and yet, there we never had a problem. On the other hand, we pictured the Fijians as gentle, soft-spoken, kind and extremely Christian people. And even though we ALWAYS tightly secure our boat, we never in a million years would have suspected a thing like this to happen to us in Fiji. We know though that they are a poor country and think of us “yacht” owners as rich, so according to the Fijian Marina manager, that is their “excuse” for robbing us.
Tuesday, May 4th: Sweltering Away in “Paradise”
We have gotten over most of our shock and anger about our break in. Daily we are finding and remembering other things that are missing/stolen, which is something I'm sure for years to come, will happen. We hired Abdul 2, the local marina Taxi driver (Abdul 1 is his older brother!), for 2 days to take us shopping so we could try and replace some of the essential items (tools, binoculars, and clothes for Joe) and were fairly successful. The rest will have to wait until we return this fall to the US. We ordered all new dive equipment from the dive shop here at the resort and they ordered from the USA. It will be flown in hopefully in a week. With it, they are throwing in a couple of dives for us so we can check out the equipment before we leave here. We’ve also managed to replace our stereo, but unfortunately can't find a place that sells US CD's and we're not about to listen to 6 months of Indian Hindu music (about the only thing sold locally)... but we'll somehow make out-- however of course I'll really miss my Jimmy Buffet!
Mostly now, we are too busy to think about the robbery, as we are working 10-14 hours a day on the boat with projects caused by the robbery (the water damage, corrosion, etc.)... so in 2 weeks with working 7 days a week, we are almost done correcting those problems and ready to make some forward progress on the original “when-we-return-to-Fiji TO DO " list. The robbery really set us back. So our hopes of working to get the boat ready and to be out sailing within 2 weeks of our return will be delayed by at least another 2 weeks.
The good news is our British crew person from the end of last season (She made the trip with us from Tonga to Fiji) has returned to sail with us for this season. Julie's a great help working with Joe. Joe is just so patient with her and talks a lot nicer to her than he does to me, so that decreases some of the stress. However, the 95-degree/80% humidity inside the boat though does not help the stress levels. We are usually in bed every night exhausted and sound asleep by 9PM! No afternoons off to lay and dunk in the resort hotel, no happy hour/card playing sessions. Hopefully by next week there will be an end in sight. We are now re-evaluating whether EVERYTHING on our “MUST DO BEFORE WE LEAVE” list... really is a "must do" -- I'm sure some things will end up waiting.
But the outside of our boat looks good again. We had our bottom (anti-fouling) painted (taking 5 days for the job instead of the hoped for 2 days... back on Fiji time!)-- just before re-launching it back in the water and now some local workers just finished refinishing and staining/varnishing our exterior teak so it's like new again... so at least that's done.
What we keep asking ourselves is “When is the fun going to begin???”
Friday, May 14th
All of our new dive equipment that we ordered arrived a few days ago, and Joe and I took a day off boat work and went out diving yesterday. It was a wonderful break. One of the dives we did was on a crashed B-26 WWII bomber. For me, it wasn't really very interesting as it was in a whole bunch of parts scattered all over, but we did see the wing, part of a prop, and a "radio." The second dive was over a beautiful coral garden. Joe did very well on the dives (he often gets claustrophobic) and mostly seemed to enjoy (as did I) getting out on the water (and IN the water) again. I was actually cold by the second dive... a good feeling after being so hot now for a month!)
Tuesday, May 19th: Finally Cruising Again: Musket Cove
We FINALLY after a month's hard labor (sounds like a prison camp!) got out of the sweltering hot marina and left to resume cruising 2 days ago. It seemed like we had one delay after another. The final delay was Joe's father died on the day we were to leave, so we stopped our departure plans for him to have some time to grieve. He made the decision to not fly home for the funeral and 2 days later we left. Joe seems to be doing fine, but he keeps so much internally, it is hard to tell.
We didn't get very far for our first stop-- just to an island 15 miles from where we started. Fiji has over 300 islands so they are dotted everywhere you look. We are in a beautiful anchorage off the Musket Cove Resort on Malololailai Island in one of the many islands in part of the Mamanuca Group of Fiji. (There are lots of vowels and repeat syllables in Fijian — reminding me a lot of Hawaiian.) The short 15-mile trip, however, was not without problems. (I guess Neptune wanted to be sure we were still in practice for quick actions at sea!) First the fan belt started squeaking so we stopped the engine as Joe tightened it. Then we got in a narrow passage between several reefs and it started squeaking again so the plan was for him to get everything ready and I could cut the engine and we'd be okay if he could change it in 2-3 minutes. (We had no sails up and there was very little wind so I thought we'd be safe.) He did a quick job and we thought everything was fine so we progressed a few miles further. Then at the worse possible moment, when we were in the narrowest passage between two very close reefs, we noticed the engine temperature going sky high. Joe did a quick assessment and found that a hose was leaking that puts cooling water into the engine. We again had to shut down the engine. This time I was a little more worried as the wind had kicked up, and I sat outside watching the boat drift slowly towards the close-by reef, having no control over the boat’s course, as Joe frantically tried to put on another hose clamp. Julie was downstairs handing Joe cupfuls of fresh water to replace the water and cool down the engine before it burned up. And success finally... although to me, watching us approach the reef, the minutes seemed like hours.
Then we continued and a mile or 2 later, Joe and I had a "communication problem" -- nicely put. I was at the wheel guiding us through the reefs and he and Julie were watching closely also giving me directions. We thought we were through the last channel marker and I heard Joe say, “Go straight towards the other boats” and the resort ahead at the island cove we were heading towards. He says he didn't say that... and NO one was watching below on our electronic charts that we had plotted our "safe" course. Anyway, I was NOT going in the right direction, and got us in a maze of shallow gullies between reefs... Then Joe started shouting "Go Left," of which I did and he said then "NOT NOW, Go straight and then left!" What a clusterf...! But we somehow got in safely and after a bit began to talk to each other again! Not so good of a premier first day out to sea again.
But the end result is we are now in a pretty anchorage. This place is a favorite of cruisers as it has a very active "Yacht Club" with over 5,000 worldwide members. The qualification for membership is you have to have sailed to here from some other country, and the lifetime dues are a whopping $1.00 (60 cents, US), hence the large number of members. They sponsor several long distance races/rallies every year, the big one being from here to Vanuatu (about 500 miles away) every September. They have a great palapa (thatched roof) style bar that is on a sandy spit overlooking the lagoon with picturesque sunsets and everything at the bar costs $3.00 ($1.80 US), hence it’s name, “The Three Dollar Bar.” They also have about 7-8 wood burning brick BBQ's going every night where you can bring your own meat/chicken, etc to BBQ, eat there (they provide plates and utensils), and socialize with other yachties. We went there last night with some marinated "jerk" chicken and a pasta salad I had made, consumed 3 of the local rum (Bounty)- Cuba Libras and had an enjoyable evening. Even though I had to prepare the meal to take, at least I didn't have to do dishes! Additionally, there is a nice 1st class resort here, which gives yachties privileges to use their pools and beach chairs, and a great beachfront restaurant. I'd be happy staying here the rest of our time in FIJI, but of course we will have to move on to more "adventures" to see the "real Fiji" at the more primitive islands. But at least we have a few days here to get used to being on the hook again, and to enjoy what cruising is supposed to be like.
I took Julie to shore this morning in the Dinghy and she had her backpack and mask/fins/snorkel and she plans to trek around the island in search of shells. She has worked really hard the last month on projects and this is the reward to now have some island fun and adventures. Joe, however, is now searching other boats and the island store in search of antifreeze for the engine (that all ran out in yesterday’s engine overheating adventure) and he will need to also try and find the source of the problem that caused the hose to burst. I'm doing some cleaning, getting food ready for the BBQ tonight and catching up on my journal and e-mails.
We plan to be on the hook at different anchorages for the next 6 weeks here and in the Yasawa Group in the Western part of Fiji before checking officially out of the country and heading to our next island nation. Hopefully now I’ll have more adventures to write about than problems and boat projects.
The weather has gotten a LOT cooler (10 degrees-- only mid 80's instead of mid 90's-- plus a constant "cool" wind) since we left the marina and are at anchor, which improves moods a lot. And life has slowed down. We still have things left on the list to do, but now we are tackling them in small spurts instead of 12-hour days.
Thursday, May 21st
Nothing new here really, just a lot more peaceful days. For the last 2 days we have spent a few hours a day just sitting in the shade on the beach by the pool reading books. With the trade winds, it has been quite cool even. For the first time since we arrive in Fiji, we don't even have the boat fans running. Last night I made fresh hand-made tortellini with Pesto and sun dried tomatoes and sautéed chicken... with garlic bread and a cheesecake. Then all 3 of us played cards (our Baja Rummy) for 5 hours until the game was finished. So nice and easy, compared to the hectic last month.
Amazing to us is that within only a couple of days most of the waitresses and workers in the resort and restaurant are calling us “Joe” and “Michele.” Upon having initial contact with us, they ask us our names and somehow (even though we are not even guests at the hotel) remember them. I think it must be stressed as being part of their “job description” — but it is really a nice welcoming feeling. We have noticed that Fijians are amongst the friendliest of all of our South Pacific stops. BULA! (Hello!) is always shouted out to us by adults and children wherever we go in Fiji. There are very few Indians here, and we have been told they mostly live and work in the mainland cities (were we saw so many of them).
Saturday, May 23rd
After a week here at Musket Cove, we had planned to leave here today to begin our planned 6 week sail among some the Yasawa group of islands in Fiji (north west of Fiji’s main island.) They are very "Fiji" rich-cultural islands with just a few villages on each island, very little comforts of "civilization" and supposedly beautiful beaches and diving. But the wind really picked up and the skies are pretty black so we're sitting it out here another day instead. We may be being a little gun-shy, but after last year's memories still too vivid, and this being still the beginning of the season and us just getting sea legs back, I'm all for staying where we are. At least here we're more protected. The islands around here are all fairly close together but they are riddled with uncharted reefs. And speaking of charts, everywhere we've been we've had pretty good charts both on paper as well as electronically on our computer, but here the charts are very crude, and again many uncharted obstacles... and reefs everywhere. So to get from one place to another, we mostly have to use what we call "eyeball navigation" -- that means someone at all times on the bow of the boat looking ahead for discoloration in the water and any other signs of possible reefs and rocks or danger. So a clear day with lots of sun overhead is also essential to seeing the reefs.
But now we are stuck on the boat all day, as we already pulled the motor off the dinghy, tied the dinghy up, etc., to get ready for the 8- hour trip we had planned for today. No big deal for me, as I am happy reading and Joe and I will probably have the opportunity to play cards today... Julie though, gets pretty ancy being stuck aboard, so she hitchhiked a ride to shore and she will do her wandering around and return later tonight. As I've said before, she's very independent and can entertain herself... but when we need her for work, she's also very hard working and doesn't complain.
Julie, being British has also introduced a new language to us — and at times she has to do a lot of explaining for us to have any idea what she is talking about. “Smart” does not describe intelligence, but she uses to describe a fancy restaurant. The word “posh” she also uses to mean “smart.” (I’m not sure still of the difference.) Plus many words/ phrases are cut in half and we’re supposed to guess what they mean, such as “cupa” means “a cup of tea”. And then potato chips are “crisps” and French fries are “chips” and any kind of desert, from cakes to pies, to cookies she calls “pudding.” She’s even got Joe saying now, “I’ve got to go to the loo!”
Thursday, May 26th: Back to Where We Started…
2 days ago we did finally get out of Musket Cove, but now we are right back to where we started — back at Musket Cove. Surprise surprise (not really if you’ve been following our “mis-adventures” since the beginning!)-- we met with some more bad fortune. Upon reaching our first anchorage in Yalobi Bay on Waya Island (southern-most of the Yasawa group), and attempting to drop the anchor. Something was wrong! Our anchor wouldn't go down in the water-- something was holding up the chain, which usually races out of the chain locker following the anchor when it is released. While I was trying to hold the boat (windy and lots of swells) in position slightly off shore in shallow water, Joe was taking the top off the windlass to determine the problem; suddenly he was looking at a hole in the deck as the entire (very huge, very heavy) windlass dropped under the deck and into the chain locker below holding on only by a "thread" of wires. [For you non-boaters, a windlass is a motor that brings the anchor and chain up on deck and also controls the descent of a chain when it descends… and essential item for a boat our size in which the anchor/chain weighs over 300 pounds.] Evidently all but one of the bolts that held it to the deck and the aluminum ring that supported it up to the deck, totally disintegrated with corrosion. What this meant is we had no easy way of getting our very, very heavy 1/2" chain and huge anchor off the bottom if we dropped it in the water.
However it was approaching dusk and (as mentioned previously) the Yasawa islands are riddled with reefs, many of which are uncharted. It was difficult and somewhat stressful day (8 hour trip) just getting to this first destination in the light of the day doing "eyeball" navigation, and would have been foolhardy to try going anywhere in these waters in the dark. So we dropped the anchor and then spent the night tossing and turning trying to think of a way to get the anchor up the next day (and to return to Musket Cove… as we had to go somewhere where we wouldn’t need an anchor.) At sunrise the next day, we rigged up various lines, winches, and also used a bit of manpower to, foot by foot, pull the anchor back up. The process, with all 3 of us working on it, took about 45 minutes to raise 150 ft. of chain and anchor from the bottom, a process that usually takes the windlass just a few minutes. The good news was there was almost no wind and waves in the anchorage, so we did not have those forces working against us. We then followed exactly our plotted GPS track back (now in daylight) to where we had started to the day before, back to Musket Cove. As mentioned above, that place had mooring balls (so no need to anchor) and telephones, and transportation back to the mainland (i.e. some civilization), for our need to order or find parts or a new windlass.
As if that wasn’t enough of a problem, we also had a scary mishap en route back to Musket Cove yesterday. I am usually at the helm, where as Joe (now with Julie’s help) does most of the hard deck work (anchoring, raising main and mizzen sail, i.e. things OUT of the cockpit that usually require his strength.) Helming and navigating is my primary job while underway... So I take us in and out of anchorages, marinas/docks, etc, and as in this trip, the day through the reefs to the island we were going to. Although everyone was watching out for reefs and relaying information to me, I usually in these day trips am the one watching (along with Joe) the computer navigation charts, and at the helm. Anyway, going back yesterday after getting the anchor up, it was supposed to be easy. All we had to do was exactly follow our course (which was plotted on a computer chart) that we took to get TO Waya Island from Musket Cove BACK to Musket cove... as we hadn't hit any reefs on that course. Sounds simple. However, at one point, Joe and I argued about the route, as he didn't want to follow a portion of my course (where I had done a zigzag) and wanted to go straight. I protested and told him, then he could take the wheel then, and I would go down below and wait for us to hit a reef -- so I could watch the water pour in the hull of the boat. Well I did go below and 3-4 minutes later we DID hit a reef. Bang! We came to a dead stop as we hit full on a huge uncharted coral head that was near the surface of the water. What a scary noise and feeling! Fortunately it was just a single coral head (at the edge of a reef we couldn’t see) and we sort of bounced off it and Joe quickly backed the boat up and out of the reef area. All of our hearts were pounding from the adrenaline flow. We examined the boat for holes, water in the bilges, etc, but all seemed well. It really WAS NOT Joe's fault as he WAS clearly between 2 markers (which was supposed to indicate "clear" deep water). He felt bad and of course, I felt bad that I jinxed us... but if it had to happen, I WAS glad Joe was at the helm, as if it had been me, I would NEVER have heard the end of it from Joe. Joe will go dive on the boat's hull later today (after dealing with the parts ordering problem)-- we can see from the surface a black mark where we had just had the bottom painted... so it looks like our very heavy lead keel held up well. But it was still scary!
The saying about the definition of "cruising" being fixing and repairing the boat in exotic locations again holds true. It's just mostly frustrating and disappointing to not be able to be where we had planned to be. We had a really great itinerary planned going to about 12 different anchorages on 6 islands over a 6-week time. But we could be stuck in a lot worse places. Today the sun is shining, the bay is like glass, and a beautiful palm-tree lined beach is just a 2-minute dinghy ride away, along with cheap rum and smiling friendly Fijian people that work at the resort here. Life could be a lot worse. And speaking of jinxing as above in my statement before we hit the reef, You may also remember that I wrote previously above, regarding the location we left from and are now back at, Musket Cove: "I'd be happy staying here the rest of our time in FIJI, but of course we will have to move on to more "adventures" to see the "real Fiji" at the more primitive islands..." We may end up actually spending the rest of our Fiji days here! We sure have had our share of bad luck though here in Fiji... hopefully, the bad luck should almost have run its course.
So now we are in the process of trying to order a new Windlass from New Zealand (a $3,500 part). Joe went to shore a few minutes ago to try and call NZ directly. The old one could probably be repaired with a new mounting bracket fabricated, etc, but we would still need to order parts from NZ and we estimate it would be close to 1/3 the price to fix it. And ours is old and "tired" (it came with the boat so is probably 18 years old), and it had been our plan to replace it sometime in the next year. Of course, NEE (Nothing’s Ever Easy), unfortunately, the "new one" even though the same brand and model is not the same size, so Joe is trying to figure out how to make it fit and how and where to drill new holes in the 4-5 inch thick teak and fiberglass deck. Many other cruisers (knowing about our limited tools on board -- since the burglary) have offered to lend us tools and assistance, so I'm sure Joe will figure it all out.
In the meantime, we have moved from a mooring ball to dockside here at the tiny marina attached to the resort. They moved a few boats to accommodate us, as this is still their slow season. So now at least we have power and water again (instead of the generator running for 4 hours 2 times a day and the water maker). Plus we are now only about 10 yards away from the Yacht Club with their 1.50$ drinks (... not sure that is a good thing) and a few steps further to the grocery store, laundry, restaurant, beach, and pool! So on the bright side, we could certainly be stuck in a lot worse places!!!
I forgot to write above the one very positive thing that happened on our return trip to Musket... For the 2nd time in 2 1/2 years, we actually caught and LANDED a fish!!! After an almost sleepless night in Yaboli Bay (after the windlass broke) due to not only worried thoughts all night, but a very rolly anchorage, Joe and Julie were both napping as I was watching our path (this is BEFORE we hit the reef!), I heard the whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrr of the reel... and woke up Julie to grab the pole, then ran below to wake Joe. It was a lot easier than usual to bring in the fish, as we had no sails up so I could easily slow the motor to slow the boat. We pulled up what looked to be a skinny tuna, but Julie identified (from previous boat catches on other boats) as a Spanish mackerel. My fish book seemed to agree with it. It was about 3 1/2 feet. So Julie and Joe sat on the stern of the boat and cleaned it. (The burglars also stole a beautiful fish cleaning kit I gave Joe with several fillet knives, scaler, cutting board, etc... all in a nice case-- but I did still have one old fillet knife!) I made up a local style ceviche, called kokoda, (Similar but in addition to the lime juice, the locals marinate the raw fish in coconut milk, which I had canned on board), which we had for lunch (an hour after fishy was caught). Then when we returned to Musket Cove, we went ashore and barbecued half of the rest of the fillets. I made a hot lemon butter sauce to pour over them and they turned out to be very mild flavored and delicious. I have another bag of fillets (very fat ones) in the freezer for a future meal. So on the bright side or our unsuccessful trip, I guess we could say we went on a 2 day fishing trip.
We sure have had our share of bad luck though here in Fiji... hopefully, the bad luck should almost have run it's course.
Tuesday, June 1st: Stormy Days at Musket Cove
We have had quite a storm for the last 2 days (and still going on now), and even in our protected marina, the wind has been whistling at steady 18-20 knots with gusts above 30. I am glad we are tied up to a dock instead of on a lee shore of an anchorage somewhere, or even worse out to sea with the big waves that usually accompany the big winds. They have these weather systems here in the south pacific called "convergence zones" and "troughs" which are kind of like a battle between several storm fronts (with resulting crazy weather -- usually high winds, rain, and sometimes thunder storms) and sometimes they (as in this one) last for days. I don’t mind the weather, as it’s an excuse to do some writing (the book I’m working on), catching up with e-mails, and even doing some baking (usually it’s too hot, but the storm has brought some cooler weather.) Joe has been mostly piddling around with the chain locker trying to still in advance figure out how to make our new windlass work before it arrives. That's the engineer in him. I think he has read the spec sheet and info on it 100 times.
Speaking of which, it’s been a week now since our windlass disintegrated and despite our urgency and hurry, we still have been unable to order the replacement. We did make contact with the company/factory who makes it and a marine store (can't buy directly from factory)--both in New Zealand on Friday, but one question led to others and they weren't answered by the time they closed for the weekend at noon on Friday and then Monday was a holiday. So we planned to order first thing today, but again, there were more questions. (Each time Joe had to come back and make measurements on the boat, then re-calls them, then they would re-fax or re-email us things back... you know the drill-- Nothing's ever easy!) So you can imagine after all these calls, faxes and time of trying to get the order straight, and still no conclusions, Joe is pretty frustrated. Anyway, now we've finally found a unit that will work, but to make it work, Joe will have to take the new $3,500 windlass (once we get it) and saw off about 1/3 of it!!! Now all we're waiting for it the final price with shipping, and HOPEFULLY it will be ordered. Once it is ordered, it will still be about 2 weeks (even with air freight) before we get it. Oh well, such is life in "paradise."
Saturday, June 5th: Stormy Weather Continues
We finally had our convergence zone leave, so the sun came out yesterday for a few hours… just to tease us, At least we took advantage of the few hours of sunshine and I convinced Joe to go snorkeling with me. We only went for a short time, but went to a reef with really beautiful fish and enjoyed getting off the boat. But then, by nightfall, a "cold" front arrived and it has been pouring ever since. I guess I'd prefer all this bad weather get out of the way while we are tied up to a dock and not going anywhere. We are still not expecting our part to arrive for another week, and then it may take several days of installation process, so we'll be here for a while still.
Tuesday, June 8th: And it Continues More
I haven’t had much to write about in my journal lately as I keep thinking I'll have something more interesting to write about... but basically we are just mostly "relaxing" with each of us doing our own things. Joe piddles on some boat project then usually heads for the pool with a book in the afternoons (or since it's been stormy, sometimes just naps/reads aboard); Julie has been doing odd jobs on the boat in the morning also and then heads out snorkeling, to the pool or just "wandering around the resort". I have, as previously mentioned, when I'm not preparing a meal or baking, have been spending most of my daily hours working on my book- so in front of a computer screen. In the evenings we eat on board or BBQ at yacht club or occasionally grab a nice meal at the resort. Julie usually stays to socialize at the bar and Joe and I go back to either watch a DVD or read until we fall asleep... usually very early. So really ho-hum days...and nights. The storm front here continues to make the days dismal, as we continue to wait for our parts to arrive from New Zealand.
Friday, June 11th: Day 12 of the Battle of the Storm Fronts
We have only seen the sun for 4 hours in 12 days, and the satellite picture does not show any improvement. It looks like we have a huge cloud over us from here out for hundreds and hundreds of miles, i.e. one front after another. All I can say, is hopefully this means we are using up all the bad days now, so we will have nice weather from here on out. At first the cloudy yucky days were okay as it forced me to do some inside work, but we all are going a little stir crazy around here. We are getting a lot of odds and ends jobs done on the boat during this waiting period... the boat waxed, the stainless steel stanchions cleaned... Joe's installed an alarm system, etc., but what we really want to do is be out sailing. We are all getting on each other's nerves right now and a change of scenery and routine is what we need. I just pray that the installation goes smoothly or Joe will be hell to live with. I’ve already had thoughts about packing my bags and returning home a few days ago, but I'm still here.
Sunday, June 13th: Sun at Last
Finally the sun has come out after 14 days of gray skies, rain and high winds-- as we had one storm/frontal system after another come through here. Yesterday was the worse weather of the storm with winds up to around 30 knots and lots of rain. But all of a sudden it was over and the stars came out. Joe and I even ventured off the boat to the restaurant for a Mongolian BBQ meal at the resort. (I had been stuck cooking almost every night since the storm, as it had been too miserable to take the walk to the resort.) We had even been using our down blanket at night, but today the heat is back and the fans are all back on full force. Joe and Julie are out filling the boat's water and fuel tanks and I'm about to get some things ready for the Yacht Club out door BBQ for tonight (hoping the clear skies will continue).
Friday night we got an e-mail that the new windlass was on a flight to Fiji for a Saturday (yesterday) arrival. Joe spent most of the morning yesterday trying to track down the agent hired to get our part through customs and to us.
(In Fiji, most businesses are open half days on Saturday). Finally he spoke to someone who said -- so sorry, call back on Tuesday. The bad news was that the Customs agents don't work Saturday and Sunday, and of all things, Monday is another national holiday for "The Queen's Birthday"... not sure why Fiji celebrates her birthday as they haven't been under England's rule for 30+ years, but I guess, any excuse for a day off -- Julie, our British crew, says they don't even get it as a holiday in England! But anyway, that means despite us paying over $300 to have the windlass air-freighted here, it will be sitting in a terminal somewhere for 4 days before it has a chance of making it to us on Wednesday (assuming the agent we have hired to get our part out of customs, has no glitches)! Joe's anticipating at least a week and a half to get it installed... so we'll be sitting here dockside for quite a bit longer.
Tuesday, June 15th: Finally Our Long Awaited Part Arrives
Praise the Lord!! Joe just picked up our windlass (not literally as it weighs 100+ pounds) from the marina office from its delivery to here. He is now reading the instruction manual and will get to work on it soon.
Just to get off the boat, I did go shell hunting yesterday on a nearby island and found lots of pretty ones, plus a bunch of small sand dollars. Then in the afternoon, I got on one of the resort skiffs with some of the tourists and visited a local Fijian village on another island. They make money by selling shell gifts (necklaces, boxes, etc) and sarongs to the resort tourists from our island. I bought a couple of things (yes, need to help the economy here!) and then walked around looking at their church, meeting hall, and school. We met with their head schoolmaster who took pride in showing off their classrooms. From day one in school, all their classes are in English (even though the children only speak Fijian in their homes), so they grow up bilingual. They have classes up until 8th grade on the islands (all the outer islands), and then after that if they want to continue their education, they must go to "the mainland" (to Suva or Lautoka) to continue their schoolwork. So that means leaving home. If they don't have the money to do so or a relative to stay with on the main island, then they don't get further education.
Thursday, June 24th: Finally On our Way Again: Cuvu Bay, Naviti, Yasawas
The good news on our situation, is as I write this, we are in our first anchorage in the Yasawas, Cuvu Bay on the Naviti Island. 2 days ago we finally left the dock at Musket Cove. Joe worked hard on getting the new motor/windlass installed and, for a change (even though it took 5 days to do it), all went smooth. The project was done by Monday, and Tuesday, we had to clean the boat inside and out, get water in the tanks, and just tidy everything up and secure items for take off. (After a month tied to the marina, we had grown roots!!) And then yesterday, Wednesday we were on our way. And for a surprise, we had a real uneventful (that is GREAT!) trip here. (We DID catch one more Spanish mackerel, which, within a few hours was our dinner meal!)
Today, unlike yesterday when, of course we needed the wind, it is blowing like snot with white caps in the anchorage we are in, but the anchor appears to be holding well. It is a beautiful bay with white sandy beaches and presently, we are the only boat here, although there were 2 boats here when we arrived.
Sunday, June 27th: SoSo Bay, Naviti, Yasawas
“East to southeast winds 25 to 30 knots, gusting 40 knots; Rough to very rough seas. A heavy southeast swell.”
The above line above is copied from our latest weather download for today and tomorrow. We are having REALLY bad luck in Fiji. We’re both about ready to give up on Fiji and get the hell out of here, as we seem to have a black cloud, (now, literally) following us.
As I last wrote you on we were in a small anchorage (our first in the Yasawas) and the wind was blowing hard. However we managed to have 2 fun days there. Julie and I beach-walked and found lots of shells and we snorkeled for both days over beautiful coral reefs. The place we went was a little “indent” on the south of one island and just a short distance between another island. In between the 2 is a “pass” (where the water funnels through with quite a current) that is famous for having the large (5’+ wing span) manta rays that go through at slack tide. Boats come from all over to anchor and then people snorkel over the pass watching the mantas under them. Joe, Julie, and I tried twice to find them — the first day, Julie and I went (idea was to have one person in the dinghy following person in water as the current was too strong to do it any other way), but the wind was so strong that there were huge waves in the pass, giving us quite a saltwater bath. Plus a local Fijian boat came by us and told us “no mantas now” and told us to come back later. So we decided to stay at the anchorage another day so we could try the following day. The 3 of us went out again in the dingy, and followed a “local” boat that had a couple of tourists aboard as the local boat supposedly knew where the mantas would be. Julie went overboard a few times with a mask and snorkel looking also, but never found the “famous” mantas. Finally when the local boat gave up, so did we, and we just went back to our boat and snorkeled right off the back of the boat.
The next day, yesterday, (giving up on mantas) we decided to head up to the famous Blue Lagoon anchorage (only about 20 miles away)… where they filmed 2 versions of a movie by the same name, the most famous being with Brook Shields. Supposedly the lagoon is surrounded by 3 islands so is quite protected. I say “supposedly,” as in we never made it there. It was really blustery and windy in the anchorage we had been in for 2 days, but the winds seemed to be decreasing. However, as soon as we got going and peeked our bow around the corner of our somewhat protected anchorage, we got blasted with 25 knots of wind- and of course, right on the nose (blowing in the opposite direction of the “normal” direction). Since our planned passage up to Blue Lagoon was through some very narrow channels in lots of reefs (Uncharted, of course, to give us even more of an un-needed challenge!), our plan was to NOT put up sails and to motor. However with that much wind and waves with our revs on the engine up as high as we could go, we were making only 1.5-2 knots. We quickly changed our mind and just went right around the corner to another anchorage in a large bay (actually only about ½ mile as the crow flies from our previous anchorage, but about 4 miles via water). Our 4 mile route took over 2 hours… showing how slow were going. When we pulled into the bay (long and skinny) the waves stopped, the winds died down and we thought we were safely tucked in and out of the bad stuff. We decided it best to sit out the strong winds somewhere calm and then try again to get to Blue Lagoon in a day or two.
As soon as we could launch the dinghy, we dressed in our sarongs and shirts and went to shore to get the chief’s permission to be in his bay. In Fiji, the village communally “owns” not just the land in and around it, but also the air above it, the sea, and reef that protect it, which includes all of the fish, animals, plants within that space. So permission to be in the village’s bay comes with customs and protocol. One of the most important of traditional Fijian customs is the presentation of yaqona (Kava) to the chief of a village. I spoke briefly of Kava in the chapter on Tonga. Kava comes from the root of the pepper tree, and after harvested, and dried, is then ground up into a powder. This powder is placed in cheesecloth and dunked several times into cool water until the water becomes like muddy-dishwater. It is drunk with ceremony amongst most Fijians, especially the men, and causes some numbness and a mild euphoria. Despite the protests of the missionaries over the decades, Kava is still a mainstay in the lives of Fijians today. Before taking off from the mainland, we bought quite a few ¾ pound bundles of Kava (yaqona) from the Fijian central market for our trip to these villages in the Yasawas. The protocol has us all dressing appropriately (although I could not get Joe to wear the men’s traditional sarong/skirt!), and to walk in the village upon arrival with our bundled kava and to locate the chief’s burre (hut). One of the chief’s relatives was waiting for us on the beach (having been alerted to our yacht’s arrival, we assume). He then escorted us to the chief’s burre and he directed us to sit on the floor at the edge of a mat where the chief was sitting cross-legged. The escort indicated we were to hand him the Kava roots and then in Fijian introduced us and told the chief our intentions of wanting to visit the village and to stay in his bay. Then he and the chief communicated with more words in sort of a chant followed by loudly saying “Naka” (a shortened version of “Vinaka” which means “Thank you”) and series of long loud hollow handed clapping, followed by more “Naka”‘s, and more clapping, and what seemed to be perhaps a blessing by the chief. Finally the dried kava roots were given to the chief, and the escort relayed to us in English that we had the chief’s permission to stay and visit.
Joe with Children of Soso Village
The chief’s 10- year old grand daughter, accompanied by a band of other children that soon joined us, escorted us around the village to show off their church and school. Everyone in the village we passed, greeted us with a “Bula.” The children were very curious about where we were from as we showed them on a map that was hanging in their classroom our countries of the USA and England. They also wanted to talk to us about Steven Segal, Mel Gibson, the movie, The Passion of Christ, which they had seen, George Bush, and of course their favorite sport Rugby. One of the children wanted us to see his house so we accepted the invitation. The huts/burres are usually one room with mats for sleeping and sitting and little, if any, furniture, as we know it. There is no privacy between family members. Cooking is usually done outside over fires and we didn’t see any electricity, so no lights nor refrigeration. However, we did notice a Xerox machine in the school’s office, and the children spoke of videos, so we assume the village has a generator to produce some power. From our boat, at night the village was mostly dark after nightfall, so it appears that electricity is not abundant, and perhaps just saved for certain activities or times. The pride and joy of the village was their church, which is known as the prettiest in the islands with intricately wooden carving throughout it. I think I mentioned earlier, the missionaries converted most of the Fijians to a Methodist type religion, and the church is foremost in the Fijian culture and way of life today.
Then Joe and I headed back to the boat taking with us 2 of the children for a quick “tour” of our boat. We left Julie ashore to “explore” and beach walk some more. By the time we went to pick up Julie ashore several hours later, the wind had begun to pick up. Because we are in this long skinny bay surrounded by high hills/mountains on each side, the wind seemed to go from 0-5 knots up to 20 knots in an instant. We could watch these wind lines on the water as they’d be funneled down the bay–and whoooosh, we’d be knocked with wind as soon as the line approached us. By dark time the wind had increased mostly 15-20 steady with gusts up to 30. The boat was swinging in 180 degree arcs as first the wind comes funneling down the bay off of one side of the hills and mountains, and then a few seconds later the wind comes off the other side of the mountains… so we were getting these wind gusts from 2 directions. Down below it felt as if we were underway out at sea with the jerky movements from pulling on the chain and the swaying… and it sounded as if a freight train was passing with the loud whooshing of the gusts. We continued to monitor and listen to the wind, had dinner, played cards and then when it was time to go to bed, Joe decided (much to my dismay, as I had suggested–even requested it–several times 4 hours earlier!!!) that in the pitch black we should put out a 2nd anchor. So we did. (I didn’t mention earlier but we are on a Lee shore… meaning the wind is coming from the ocean blowing us down on the land… and between us and the land are lots of hull crushing coral reefs that would sink our boat in minutes if we were to be pushed down on them… NOT a great situation!) Now the winds are frequently up over 30 knots so trying in the dark to figure out where our first anchor was (so as to not lay the 2nd anchor right over the first), we motor forward and drop a 2nd anchor. That took us 2 hours until about midnight, but it was done finally and we were all ready to fall into an exhausted sleep. (We felt with 2 anchors we’d be safe for a “good” night’s sleep).
I go to bed and within my head hitting the pillow am just about asleep. However, Joe decides to take one more look around the deck outside. He yells down inside to Julie to get on deck immediately (and of course, I jump up get dressed again and also go see what the alarm is about). Our dinghy (WITH the big motor on it) is now upside down in the water (motor submerged). Joe about went for a swim trying to hang off the ladder and flip it back over (I frightenly pictured him being washed quickly away towards the coral reefs ashore as the wind is still howling and waves are still breaking all around us.) Finally we rigged up some ropes over the tubes and through the handles of the inflatable dinghy and 1–2–3–heave ho and get it flipped over upright again. Then with flashlights, Joe and Julie get down in the dinghy (again the waves are quite big due to the high winds, so they were being jerked and bounced all around) to try and quickly rinse the outboard with fresh water and start it. After about 30 minutes of pulling on the starter cord, Joe finally gave up. We hauled the motor aboard (still pitch black outside), and then hauled the dinghy up. AND THEN finally went to bed. It is now 2AM…
We should have had a good night’s sleep, knowing that regardless of the high winds (and with the amplification of sounds below, sounding like hurricane force!) we were secure with the 2 anchors. But Joe had set an anchor alarm (which beeps if we move out of our pattern of swinging), and it’s suppose to alert us if our anchor(s) are dragging. Because of the coral reefs not too far from us on 3 sides, he was very conservative in the alarm limits, so between 10-12 times during what was left of the night (2-3 times an hour!), the alarm went off. Joe can’t hear that frequency, so I’d have to wake him up each time. Each time it was okay, but each time, he’d have to get up, get dressed and rush out to the navigation station to check on the monitor and look outside to see where we were in relation to the anchor, the reefs, etc. So we are both today quite exhausted.
I was hoping the “high pressure” that is causing these winds would be gone by now. (You’d think with the velocity of the winds, the “High” would have blown over us by now…) But I just downloaded the weather and the above quoted report is what we have to look forward to … i.e. our 30+ gusts increasing to 40+. So it looks like we’ll be here a while.
Joe and Julie were outside a few minutes ago working on trying to get the outboard started. I guess all his ideas didn’t work as he is now inside reading a book we had in our library on “outboard motor repairs”. There is a chapter on what to do if your outboard is dropped overboard in salt water… (I guess that’s a frequent problem with people rising and lowering motors from dinghies to their boat). Hopefully he will find a solution; otherwise we’ll be heading back to the mainland once again waiting for something to be repaired. Our dinghy and outboard is our “car”… and unlike a home, if your car is broken you can walk, take taxies, busses, etc., our only transportation is to swim!!! So it is essential to our cruising existence.
So that’s our latest tale of woe.
Thursday, July 1st: Nalauwaki Bay, Waya, Yasawas
2 days ago, Joe woke up and declared that it was a beautiful day. We had spent 3 days in Soso Bay (stuck on the boat, not going to shore due to the weather), and were sick of the rain and high winds — He said, “Let’s get out of here,” and unanimously we in an instant decided to take off again (2nd time) to try and go to Blue Lagoon, only 20 miles north of us. We were in the process of pulling the anchors (from above we had 2 of them out) and all of a sudden our partly cloudy skies turned black… and then blacker. We made a wise decision to abort the un-anchoring and to wait to see what would happen, and within minutes the sky erupted with torrential downpour… However our hopes that it would quickly blow over, never happened. It rained continually for the remainder of the day and night. The next morning (yesterday), the rain had stopped, however, we had a new change in the conditions… huge 3-4 foot breaking waves right in our anchorage. I voted that we give up on cruising the Yasawas and Fiji — nothing had gone right or as planned since our return 9 weeks ago. We discussed it and all decided to head back to the mainland, get checked out with customs/immigration, re-fuel and re-provision the boat and depart Fiji ASAP a couple of weeks prior to our planned departure on to our next Island group.
I should interject here to those of you wondering about vacationing in Fiji, I would highly recommend it, and would love to come back here for a multi-week vacation myself… just not on a sailboat! The people here are very gracious, loving, friendly, and want so much to please you. The islands are as tropical as one could picture. And the resorts are first class, giving you the island feeling, with thatched huts on the beach, tiki torches, waterfalls, etc. but yet treating you like royalty and with 5 star service. Plus all of the resorts offer diving, snorkeling, deep sea fishing, kayaking, windsurfing, hiking, etc in the most beautiful of surroundings. BUT for us, Fiji has been not good to us with the robberies, with mechanical problems, bad storm after bad storm, uncharted reefs, etc… so I think some higher forces are hinting loudly, that we should move on.
That said, yesterday we left Soso bay with an intended course back to Vuda Point Marina on the mainland so we could do our check-out duties and leave within a day or 2. However, again, the forces of nature were against us. Previously, I wrote above, we couldn’t go north as the winds and waves were too strong. Now that we were trying to get back south east, the winds had shifted and we were motor sailing into the 4-5 ft. seas and 25-30 knot winds, and again were having a problem going more than 2 knots. So we did not make it to the mainland. After 4 hours of beating into the weather, we pulled into another anchorage only 8 miles of south (Nalauwaki Bay on the island of Waya) and here we sit.
After 5 days of bad weather and not being able to get off the boat, (we haven’t put the dinghy back in the water due to the wind and waves), it seemed to calm down a bit today, and Julie feeling the need to touch land again, swam to shore. She is out exploring the village and shell hunting. Joe and I have been studying our crude charts plotting a way to try and get back to the mainland, as the winds seem to be pretty persistent in the wrong direction for us to get there. We will try and go again tomorrow.
Sunday, July 4th: Independence Day with no Picnics nor Fireworks
No big celebrations for us here today–just business as usual. Actually as Americans, we are finally becoming in the minority of cruisers. Most of the people we have met have been from New Zealand, with of course lots of international flags from England, Brazil, Spain, France, etc. and a few spattering of us from the US.
We DID make it back to the mainland (Vitu Levu Island) a couple of days ago, although we still ended up fighting the seas and winds for 9 hours to get here. So we’re now full circle back at Vuda Point Marina, where this tale began. We’ve been busy for 2 days cleaning up and re-fueling, re-supplying the boat getting ready for our 500-mile passage to our next island nation of Vanuatu (previous New Hebrides). Tomorrow we plan to check out with the port captain, customs, immigration and do our final provisioning, with hopes (obviously depending on the weather) of leaving here in 2-3 days on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Unfortunately we got some more bad news... Julie has decided to leave us to go to another boat; She broke the news to us 30 minutes ago and has already packed up and departed. So now we face doing the passages ahead (the MAIN reason we took on a crew person) with just the 2 of us. But Joe and I have handled it before, so I'm sure we'll be fine again.
So I will end this too long of a Chapter update for now… and you will next hear from us when we have new adventures and tales of a new country to write about.