Archive for November, 2013

Futuna Turnaround

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

It seems a silly thing to have to do, but boats sticking around Fiji have to leave the country every 18 months or pay 30% the value of the boat in duty. My 18 months was almost up, so it was time to get out. The nearest country to sail to is the French Island of Futuna a mere 230 miles the the northeast. I’d pressed hard from Vuda Point to make it to Savusavu during a break in the tradewinds caused by a high pressure system. When I got to Savusavu, the forecast was for one more day of northerly winds before the predominant easterlies filled back in. I had a couple of hard slogs against the trades to get east from Savusavu in the past that I didn’t want to relive, so I bought 5 pineapples and checked out of Fiji.

The forecast northerly ended up being a light southerly and I used it motorsail most of the way east to Taveuni. Then things started getting ugly. Sitting atop Somosomo Strait between Taveuni and Vanua Levu was the gnarliest looking bit of weather that I’ve ever seen. At first I thought there was even a waterspout in the middle, but it just turned out to be a particularly dense column of rain. Clouds that looked like a volcanic eruptions, lightning flashing throughout the system with deafening thunder following behind and then for a bit of a meteorlogic irony, a rainbow off to one side.

I dropped sail when I though there was enough wind in the system to form a waterspout and began tracking the cell on radar. I then noticed another, much less scary, lightning filled system coming up behind me. This is the first time that I’ve used my newly installed radar and it worked flawlessly. I threw all my portable electronics in the oven to protect them in case of a lightning stick and then used the radar to keep directly between the two passing systems. I ended up passing through Somosomo with just a little rain and a nice rainbow.

I only know a few boats that have been hit by lightning. I’ve heard of it blowing out through hulls and sinking boats before, but the people that I know just had their electronics fried. Either way, it’s one of the few things that really scares me out at sea. This trip treated me to lightning at sunset every evening.

Once through Somosome Strait, the wind filled in on the nose and stayed there the next two days to Futuna. The wind was light as I motorsailed against it. Unfortunately the seas were not. 2 meter waves greeted me as I cleared Rabi and made my way out into open water. The seas were much bigger then the 5-10 knot breeze should have created. Add to that a contrary current running at .5 to 1.5 knots the entire way up to Futuna. I averaged 3 knots motoring all but a few hours of the trip.

I pulled into Futuna at dawn on the third morning. The one anchorage on the island was well marked and easy to find. It was too early for customs, so I had a little swim, cleaned up and took care of a few boat projects that had come up on the passage. At 8am I rowed ashore to look for the Gendarmarie.

Futuna’s people are a mix of Tongan and Polynesian. The place felt very much like one of the outer islands in French Polynesia. After spending so much time in Fiji, it was hard to not greet everyone on the street with a hearty Bula! As it turned out it was hard to even get enough eye contact to say bonjour. I’m sure the people are very friendly, indeed one of the gendarmes gave me an enormous lei, but after Fiji, the place felt very cold. It also could do with the fact most visitors, like myself, just show up for a few hours and then are off again.

Checking in and out simultaneously with the gendarmes and customs was a breeze. I didn’t have to fill out a single form or pay any fees. It made me a bit sad to leave so quickly, but the wind was perfect for the return trip and the anchorage was notoriously rolly. I decided the prudent thing to do was to sail on.
Just 3 hours after arriving, I hauled up the hook and set off on one of the most pleasant sails that I’ve ever had.

That current that was against me going northbound, was like a turbo boost heading south. With 10-15 knots from the stern quarter, I was able sail at nearly 7 knots most of the way home. The wind finally failed me after getting back through Somosomo, but even then I was able to sail at 4 knots the rest of the way to Point Reef where I finally had to turn on the motor to make the 4 miles north up to Savusavu. Brilliant and uneventful, except for the squalls and lightning that I still had to deal with each evening.

I pulled into Savusavu at 9:30 this morning, just 9 days after leaving Vuda Point and 3 days before my old import permit would have expired. I was worried about getting a good weather window to leave Savusavu, but I doubt that I could have pulled off that turnaround any better. Now it’s time to start getting ready for cyclone season here in Fiji. I’ve identified a number of “hurricane holes” on the charts. I need to explore and lay down track lines into each of them so that I’ll have someplace to run if a cyclone does come along. However it goes down, I feel better about this than leaving my boat to be smashed in Vuda Point again.

Overly Long Maintenance Break at Vuda Point

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

I can’t believe that I was in Vuda Point for 3 and a half weeks! It’d actually be longer than that if I’d been able to get into the marina.

Christian and I sailed back from the Yasawas a month ago. When we got to Vuda Point we found 4 boats waiting outside to get in. On top of that there were boats rafted up 3 deep in places along the marina walls where I’d never seen a boat tied up before. We quickly diverted off to Saweni Bay 4 miles north. I’d been to Saweni many times over the years. I’d never seen more than 4 boats in there. When Irie and Bodhran dropped their hooks it made over 20. It was apparent that the peak season was here.

Every year about this time boats start worrying about cyclone season. The most popular options are to sail to New Zealand or leave your boat in Vuda Point. The less popular options are to sail on to Australia, Asia or north up to the Marshall Islands. My aim was to sail up to the Marshall Islands, but I had some work to do first.

My autopilot and windlass both crapped out on me back on Vanua Levu. I was able to order windlass parts from Scotland and have them shipped to Vuda. I looked all over the web for a suitable used autopilot but couldn’t find anything, or at least I couldn’t find anything that was a good deal. I ended up dipping into the kitty and ordering a brand new Raymarine EV400 autopilot. It was more than I wanted to spend, but only about 30% more than what people wanted for 15 year old used systems on ebay.

I ordered these parts from Saweni Bay and settled in to wait. Christian took a couple of days to provision and get some last minute boat projects in. Then he was off down to New Zealand. He had a good ride, making the passage in just under 9 days. A very respectable passage for Irie.

It took me a week before I was able to get into Vuda. The place was busting at the seams, but they squeezed me in and welcomed me like returning family. I spent the first night back playing music with the boys up in Navetau and then set to work on the windlass the next day.

One of the two idler springs had broken which prevented to double action on the windlass from working. You’d pull the lever, the chain would come in, you’d push the lever back and the chain would go out. Not very useful. Stripping the windlass turned out to be a bit of a chore. I spent a couple days trying to get the high speed gear spindle out before I took it up to Baobob Marine and had them punch it out with the hydraulic press. Once I had it apart, changing the springs was no problem and I’m happy to report that the windlass is now working like new.

Next I pulled the mast and hauled Bodhran to redo the bottom paint. I’d completely replaced the rig back in 2005, but 4 of my turnbuckles were galled and very difficult to undo. One actually snapped as I was taking it off. Thankfully Riki had donated a spare after I had to use my own spare on one that was bent during cyclone Evan. The mast came off without a hitch and I set to reglassing the mast step, running the radar wire and replacing the terminals for the tri-color and spreader lights.

I’d tried cheaping out on bottom paint by using the $40USD a gallon Apco anti-fouling paint instead of my usual International Ultra which goes for $300USD a gallon here. Alas the Apco was so ineffectual that I had to scrape my bottom a month after painting it. Normally you get at least 6 months to a year growth free with good paint. After 3 multiple hour bottom scraping sessions, I bit the bullet and re-did the bottom with Ultra. It was a record turn around. I sanded the bottom, got two coats of paint on and went back in the water in 24 hours.

When we went to put the mast back on, I ended up breaking another turnbuckle. I didn’t notice that the backstay buckle was lying on it’s side when we tried to straighten the mast to hook up the headstay. We kept moving the crane forward trying to get the headstay attached until Marika finally pointed out the bent over turnbuckle to me. So now I was shy 1 turnbuckle and had 3 galled turnbuckles that I really shouldn’t have been using. It was time to order a whole new set of 7 from the states. It’s a shame to have to replace them after only 8 years, but I definitely didn’t want to be worrying about my rig during the passages to come.

We put the mast back up on a Saturday and I was planning on leaving the following week, so Siteri had planned a going away lovo for me that Sunday. Of course now I had to wait around for 10 more days for the turnbuckles to arrive, but the party went on as scheduled. A lovo is a traditional Melanesian way of slow cooking food. You start out by getting a good hot coal base going. Then you bust up a banana stalk and spread it out over the coals. You put the food on top of the banana stalk and then cover it with banana leaves and palm fronds. You then cover the whole thing with dirt. Then a hour and a half later, you dig it out and lunch is served.

I came up early to watch a bit of the Rugby League World Cup and then went to Church with Nina. When I got back lunch was served. It’s always a bit uncomfortable to eat first, but it’s the Fijian way. I sat down and ate my fill along with the children while all the adults sat around a drank kava. After fending off attempts to fill me up beyond the bursting point, I finally was able to digest and settle into a nice long afternoon kava drinking session.

It took 10 days for the turnbuckles to arrive. In the meantime, I got the autopilot installed, got the radar/chartplotter up and running, did a little painting and took care of lots of lingering little projects around the boat. The main highlight of that time was taking a bunch of post Diwali sale priced fireworks up for the kids in Navetau to light off. Needless to say a good time was had by all.

During most of my time in Vuda, I’d made up my mind to sail up to the Marshall Islands and then make the long voyage back to Seattle from Majuro in May. It was a good plan. The Marshalls are north of the equator and safe from cyclones. They’re supposed to have amazing snorkeling in beautiful water. The only thing that kept me a bit queasy about this plan was the passage from Majuro to Seattle. It’s 5000 miles with no place to stop along the way. You have to sail well north of Hawaii to pick up the westerlies. It would entail me being alone at sea for 40-50 days. Then I got a message from a friend friend on facebook asking if I needed crew for sailing around Fiji for 3 months. I initially told her that I was heading up the Marshalls and that it was too expensive to fly in and out of there. I suggested that it’d be better to find a boat in New Zealand, Mexico or the Caribbean. Then I started thinking; I helped Greg on Willow sail back from Fiji to American Samoa in March 2009. The trade winds break down during cyclone season and it’s possible to make eastward passages. Why couldn’t I hang out in Fiji until March and then island hop back to Seattle via Samoa, Christmas Island and Hawaii? That’s the new plan. I’m still planning on sailing home for a few years, but I’m not done with Fiji yet.

My turnbuckles finally arrived. It took a day to get them all replaced and to get the rig tuned up. I went out for a test sail to fine tune the rig and test the new autopilot. I had one more Sunday going away party up at Navetau and then took off for Savusavu. The wind was on the nose the entire way, so I motored for four straight days to get here, but I arrived at Savusavu this afternoon. I’ll be taking off tomorrow for the French island of Futuna 250 miles NE of here. I’ll just do a quick check in/check out there to reset my visa and import status on Bodhran. From Futuna, I’ll sail back to Savusavu to check back in to Fiji.

The plan is to cruise around the Lau during cyclone season. I’ve scouted out a few good cyclone holes and have identified a few more on Google Earth. Here’s hoping I don’t get hit, but either way it’s going to be an adventure.