Posts Tagged ‘Fiji sailing’

A Slow Boat to Suva

Friday, April 29th, 2011

After a week in the anchorage we thought it would be fun to take a little voyage across the Koro Sea on the overnight ferry to Suva. There’s nothing like a boat trip to break up the monotony of life on a mooring. The salt air, the romance of ancient maritime traditions, a sturdy German ferry built in 1970, how could we resist?

We splurged for the occasion and booked a cabin for the overnight passage.  Once aboard we began some immediate schooling in commercial marine practice, an area where K thought he had seen everything. We noticed right away that the Westerland had been re-fit with some interesting design details, like the plate glass bulkhead on our state room.


This feature helped to remind us that we are way richer than the other 500 passengers who travel as deck cargo, and much older than we used to be when we used to travel as deck cargo. It also provided the majority with a view of the good life, which made us feel rather obnoxious, really. Happily there was a retro-fit curtain, our air conditioner kept the window nice and frosty for privacy, and when we closed our eyes to sleep through the passage we were able to forget where we were, which helped salve our feelings of guilt.

The other side of the space had a sliding glass door that bisected an escape hatch.


This was just as well because throughout the night the deck cargo folks would dog and undog the hatch to check its function. S slept in her clothes and K was repeatedly teased by the expectation of feeding time.

We had a great view of the stern ramp and spent hours watching the deck department press-fit cargo trucks into the vehicle deck.


Then the last one was secured for sea with a 3 inch hawser on the mooring capstans.


In the morning the forwards trucks backed off and the backwards trucks drove forwards with their Ro-Ro cargos of lumber, goats, and straight-jacketed geese riding precariously in a cardboard box on top of it all.


This box of geese went for a bit of a road trip before the driver remembered to secure them. They could have been damaged in transit. Always check your load!


Our peculiar routing included a bonus 1.5-hour bus ride from a  ferry terminal in the jungle to the bustling port city of Suva. We heard a lot of great things about this bus trip from the ticket agent and our friend Aseri at the marina. Everyone agreed that the road was really good, paved even, and the rural scenery was pleasant.

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So we crammed into the very back seat of the 3rd bus, where we sat with some over-jolly young Fijian lads and took some snaps out the window.

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Eventually we got to the outskirts of Suva where a great many buses comingle in a hive of commuting Fijians.  A local young man sitting next to us on the bus took pity on us as we sat patiently waiting to see where we were being taken.  Unasked, he made some calls on his cell phone to find out where our hotel was and helpfully told us when we should get off.  Then he was gone in a cloud of diesel exhaust before we could learn his name.  We found our hotel just half a block away.

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18°05.00’S 178°39.00’E 29-Apr-11 10:30 UTC


Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

We’ve been really busy in Savusavu since we arrived a week ago. It all started because we accidently giggled at the biosecurity clearance agent as he stick-paddled back to the dock when his outboard motor died. It’s hard to say why this was funny, outboards are a ridiculous idea that we’ve all fallen victim to, but there is something charming about a federal official stick-paddling back to the office after clearing you into the country.

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But we violated the first rule of boat-folk: Never laugh at a sad guy in a dinghy (though he actually looked quite happy as he paddled). Five minutes later as we were sacked out on the settees under the cabin fans we heard our inflatable dinghy let out an incredibly loud, long, pathetic shriek:  EEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! The blazing tropical sun had overpressured the airfloor and burst a weak seam.  Soon after, another seam in the left tube went. Our trusty old blow up boat was exploding, seam by seam, in front of our eyes.

As usual, the first set of patches didn’t work, just as threatened in the glue directions, don’t use in temperatures over 80° F and humidity above 60% and apply only in an air conditioned environment.  In Savusavu that would mean gluing up the dinghy in the lobby of the WestPac Bank – if you cared to swim it in to the beach, carry it to town and test the limits of this very hospitable society. Perhaps they would have taken pity on us as the gringos who try their ATM cards every day only to get little slips of paper confirming the denial of their bank cards due, we found out through a very expensive phone call, to a new ATM services contractor at Capital One.  This was seriously affecting our shopping and there was lots of cool stuff in town that K could not play with unless he bought.


We accepted our humiliating punishment for dinghy pride and paddled back and forth barely afloat on one dinghy tube for several days while we waited for the temperature to dip below 95° in the shade and the monsoonal rains to give us a break.  In the meantime we found a plywood vendor and built a set of back-up dinghy floor boards in between downpours (out came the circular saw, the jig saw, the hole saw, the router, Great Grandpa’s plane).

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It took several days, this place generates some big rain.

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And the big rain generates high humidity, which settles on consumer electronics that are salty from 9 days of vigorous offshore work.  One by one they began to die. First to go was the LCD on a camera. The next morning it was the laptop keyboard, or to be exact, the keys on the keyboard that made up half of our login password. We enjoy field-stripping our electronics as much as anyone, but spending a couple of hours, or half a day, puzzling over the best way to yank apart microscopic ribbon cable connectors can wreak havoc with other fun things on the schedule, like breaking off half the bolts in the steering pedestal, fiberglassing in the cockpit locker and redesigning bits of the self-steering system in the far corners of a space the size of a sidewalk mailbox with the temperature of a sauna.

It’s really hard to explain what we’ve been doing in the stern of this boat and how unpleasant it can be. If you re-wrote the hotbox punishment scene from Cool Hand Luke to include some activities inside the hotbox like grinding itchy fiberglass and performing blindfolded watch repairs with your face pressed into a greasy steering cable while supporting your full weight on a single rib, you might be pretty close. All we wanted are a couple of alternate control line runs for the windvane. It always sounds so easy at the start.

But it helps to be in a beautiful place when you stagger out of the hot-box, mourning your loss of longevity at a rate of 500:1 for each minute you spent in the extreme physical stress of the cockpit locker in the tropics. Waitui Marina is actually not very beautiful in a stylish sense but we love the tin roof with its 20 year old pink paint job that matches the sunset.



We also like the collection of tenants. There’s a meat packer, a laundry, a dive shop, a yacht club, and a curry shop where you can eat lunch for 4 USD and meet Gigi the owner’s granddaughter who greets you with a big smile, plays in the rain, eats curry with her hands and skips wherever she goes.


The Waitui mooring field is managed by Americans Michael and Kendra, famous for their years in the Pacific on a Downeast 38 and the founders of Bebi Electronics, purveyors of LED replacement lights. Michael has a cool nesting aluminum dinghy.


Savusavu rates near the top of our list for scenic populated anchorages.


On one side we have a palmy island with mangroves and a view across Savusavu Bay.



The other side is a moving picture of amphibious Fijians and geothermal steam rising from the black beaches.



The sun sets among thunderstorms every night behind the ferry Suliven, as a parade of bats migrate silently overhead.


After a week of sweaty heroics, the camera is fixed, the laptop has an external keyboard, there’s a dinghy on order from NZ, the old one has held air for 3 days, the steering pedestal has been dismantled, examined, oiled, and drilled and tapped with new bolts, the heads have been caulked, we have new fiberglass foundations for a redundant set of self-steering blocks, and the new ATM cards are in the mail. Time to have some fun.

16°46.69’S 179°19.84’E 26-Apr-11 10:30 UTC

NZ to Fiji

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

We made landfall tonight at 0200 and now we motor into the Koro Sea with Great Astrolabe Reef 55 nm to port and Matuku Island just visible to starboard in the blue light of a full moon. The entry to these waters is also guarded by an uncharted reef south of Matuku which S carefully noted on the chart plotter with a liberal sprinkling of sinking ship symbols.

It’s a relief to be across the last 1000 nm with its notorious threatening tropical lows and the sloppy seas of its boisterous sub-tropical highs.  These high pressure systems are really the way in and out of New Zealand though, and so it was that we set out toward a monstrous system of rain and squalls and one big swirling storm, flying down like a red-eyed dragon from the northwest to intercept our course.

It’s not clear to us where Tropical Disturbance falls in the hierarchy of tropical trouble but we did find it disturbing when the forecast began to include this term after we had been sailing north for a day. Our cunning plan on departure was to aim for the tail of this beast and “hit ’em where they ain’t”  but we slowed down for a day or two just to make sure that this thing would not turn on us.

Two days out of NZ the beast had crossed our track several hundred miles to the north and was slithering off the southeast leaving us to deal with a rearguard of squalls and a running head-sea.


Up went the staysail, out came the 3nd reef on the jib and we sailed at great speed through the sort of uncomfortable sea that only Albatrosses enjoy.


We love these big birds with their six foot wingspans and their determined but seemingly purposeless soaring through the troughs. S wants to know where they keep their feet. K is pretty sure they don’t have any.


There was very little else to see. Several hundred miles north of NZ, a small swallow stopped and took a breather under the dodger for about 5 minutes before setting off again heading upwind against 20 knots.  We put out a saucer of water for him in case he came back, but though we saw him again the next day, he didn’t stop in.  The flying fish reappeared, flying through the night at alarming altitudes to ricochet off the rig, leaving blue scales and the strong smell of impacted flying fish in hidden places.

One day S saw a stick.

Khamseen thrives in these conditions. We’ve seen more than a few waves roll under the keel but it’s still fun to see this boat sail up to a wave the size of a house, crawl up the steep side, slide down the backside on her belly and still keep all the tea in your mug. In this heavy-ish weather, life revolves around sleeping and eating. We left with two whole legs of lamb. K brothed the bones in the pressure cooker and then made lamb curry every day for about a week. There was lamb butter curry, lamb korma, banana coconut lamb curry, lamb vindaloo and a Jordanian lamb maklouba (just for variety). The sea state was at “No Baking” so we did without our naan.

Our final days in Opua were delightful. First there was the discounted legs of lamb. Then our friends Michele and Bernie, who live with their two girls Lola and Jana on Momo, let us borrow their car for an expedition to the big supermarket in the town of Kerikeri. It was a great day out with lots of shopping and a nice shawarma lunch in an Israeli cafe.  Then we kept the kids up too late at the boring old yacht club where adults talked on and on about boats after a hard day of school.


The next day we met up again with the Momo crew and the local syndicate of the Bubblegum Mafia for crepes and coffee.


Some of us were on high alert with the impending visit of a dental nurse and were carrying a toothbrush and toothpaste in our shirt pockets at all times.

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Others of us were just pleased to have a whole locker converted into a single occupancy aviary.

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We’ll miss our Opua friends.  We’ll also miss our anchor spot next to Hawke of Tuonela with front row seats on an endless parade of vessels in this bay.


Like the chick magnet Glyn Bird with its lusty ancient diesel on the daily social outing of young locals.


and the folks from Zephyrus launching their sweet nesting two-part dinghy.


19°46.12’S 179°29.07’E 17-Apr-11 07:00 UTC