Dec 252013
 

Mélanie and I took off from Dakuniba on a Saturday morning with light southerly winds. We’d delayed our departure by a couple of days while we waited for a trough of low pressure to pass. These lows are the price of sticking around during cyclone season. They’re filled with lots of rain and lightning, but so far haven’t been packing much wind. At least the water tanks are staying full.

We took the small boat pass out of Dakuniba towards Viani Bay and transited without problems. Our destination was Matei on Taveuni. The big northerly swell that we found once we rounded the eastern tip of Vanua Levu made us rethink our plans. So instead we scouted out the potential hurricane hole up Naqaiqai Creek and then settled into Buca Bay for the evening.

I’m sure that the village in Buca Bay would have been worth a visit, but the rumble of busses and trucks on the road turned us off. We didn’t even launch the skiff. Instead we got underway the next day and had a great sail north to Albert Cove on Rabi Island.

Riki and I visited Albert Cove last year and had an excellent time with Panea, Terry and Mariana. I was looking forward too seeing everyone again. I was surprised to an entirely new population to Albert Cove. I went to Panea’s house and found Keke sitting there. He lives on the other side of the island in Samale Bay. We’d met last year and we sat down and started catching up. Terry and Mariana were in the village for Christmas. No surprise there, but then Keke told us that Panea, at the age of 74, had gotten married and had a new born! He was still in his new bride’s village. Panea’s new brother-in-law, Peter, and family was staying in the house.

I brought in a couple hundred grams of kava, but that only filled two tanoas. They didn’t have any way to pound the kava at Albert Cove, so they made it up green instead. Basically you boil a bunch of newly harvested kava root. Once it’s nice and soft, you pour off the water and then pound that in a bowl with a piece of wood. With dry kava you normally pound it in a steel container with a long steel rod. Once the green kava was pounded, water was poured in until in formed a thick slurry. The slurry was then put in a cloth and water poured over it to create the final mix. The resulting drink was too strong for Mélanie and myself. We politely excused ourselves after two bilos and went back to the boat.

The next morning I noticed the overly ripe smell wafting down from the bananas. So it was time to make banana bread. I knew that you could use the pressure cooker to do it, but I’d never tried before and didn’t have a recipe. We just followed a normal recipe out of a cookbook and poured it all into a pot that we fit inside the pressure cooker on a trivet. We added a cup of water to the bottom of the pressure cooker and left the weight off. After 30 minutes cooking, the water was gone, so we added another cup. After an hour we had a perfectly cooked, moist loaf. I probably could have used the weight to make it cook faster, but I was afraid of it being too moist. Either way it sure came out better than using my temperature challenged oven.

While we were waiting for the banana bread to cook, a greatly overloaded boat of picnickers from Peter’s village 5 miles away showed up. The boat, Rise Again, was blaring music while they went by and hit the beach like an invading army. Rise Again beached herself at a sandy spot where the creek hits the beach and people piled off. A volleyball net was setup and the party started. Mélanie and I decided to go for a snorkel while we let the banana bread cool.


The snorkeling was great with warm water, medium visibility and lots of good fish. I spotted a lobster down underneath an overhang in the reef, but made sure not to tell anyone where he was. We ended up snorkeling all the way down to a beach at the south end of the bay, but the wind was up and it was too cold to stay out of the water for long, so we turned around and had another nice long snorkel back to the boat.

After enjoying a couple nice hunks of banana bread, we went for a walk down the beach and then joined the party. We brought in the guitar and uke. The battery for the stereo had gone flat. Peter used to be in a band that toured Fiji and was great on the guitar belting out boogie woogie rock and roll rhythms as well as singing a bunch of traditional Bonabin numbers.

I went out to the beach to take pics of the sunset as the party broke up and the boat left to go back to the village. Peter sat inside Panea’s house and provided the soundtrack as every left. I didn’t get any really good pics so I drained a couple of bilos and said goodnight. Peter hadn’t had a guitar to play in years, so I left him mine for the night.

The next morning, Mélanie and I were listening to the SSB radio when we heard about a tropical depression forming and heading our way just after Christmas. Albert Cove was no place to be during a cyclone, so we brought a bunch of Christmas presents in for Peter’s kids, picked up my guitar, said our goodbyes and took off.

As we sailed south past Nuka, we picked up internet and saw that the depression was going to pass right over the top of Vanua Levu. It was still a few days off, but I wanted to have time to get to a good cyclone hole. We intended to go back to Nasasobo, but the SE wind convinced me to stay on the other side of Kioa. We had a rockin good sail close reaching in 20 knots of wind, though Mélanie was a bit worried at times. We headed up the cyclone hole at Naqaiqai creek for the night.

This morning’s weather shows the depression strengthening into a full cyclone and passing north and east of Fiji. Nasasobo is still a better spot than this if we get any big seas from the north, so we’re making our way there for when the cyclone hits. We’ve still got a few days, so I think we’re going to hang out in Viani Bay where we can get some good snorkeling in and hopefully have internet so we can see how the storm progresses before we go into informational blackout in Nasasobo.

Dec 202013
 

Mélanie and I made it all the way from Nasasobo to Dakuniba (maybe half a mile). First we went out for some internet and a snorkel by the pass on the outer reef. The water was almost too warm to swim in. We had to refresh ourselves by constantly diving down below the top level thermocline. The anchorage was deep and we were a bit close to the coral. When the wind decided to shift around 180 degrees it was time to go.

Instead of heading back to Nasasobo, we anchored off the village in Dakuniba. The anchorage is much deeper and less protected, but we wanted to go in and have a kava session and didn’t feel like trying to negotiate the trail to the mangroves after dark.

Mélanie and I went in and met up and Sakini and Ruta’s house. We were a bit early for kava, so Ruta made us up some tea and a batch of panecakie. Afterwards we rolled out the woven mats on the grass outside and had a nice night drinking and playing music under a full moon.

The next morning we were all ready to take off for Kioa. We hauled up the hook, cleaned all the mud off the chain, and motored out past the reef. Then then engine died. We had just enough wind to sail back into Dakuniba topping out at 1.7 knots on the way in. Once the hook was down, I quickly diagnosed that the lift pump wasn’t working. Upon further inspection, it wasn’t an electrical problem, so I had to replace the pump with a spare.

I’d also noticed that I was leaking coolant. I had a pinhole leak in one of the heat exchanger hoses. Unfortunately I didn’t have any spare hose. I might have been able to make a patch, but instead I arranged for Mélanie and I to catch a ride into Taveuni with Sakini and Ruta the next day. Sakini is retiring as the principal of the secondary school there and had to go over for a meeting.

We took off at 7am and were pulling into the beach off the school around 8am. Right as we were getting off the boat, the bus came and we hopped on. We didn’t have time to get an orientation from Ruta, be we didn’t want to wait 90 minutes for another bus.

The bus dropped us off at Naqara where it promptly started to rain. We found the one little hole in the wall where we could have some coffee and roti while waiting for the heavy stuff to stop. The rain didn’t let off, so eventually we just hailed a cab to take us around to all the auto part stores to look for radiator hose. The cab took us 30 seconds up the road where we found the right size hose at the very first shop we tried. There were only 3 on this side of the island, but still it was impressive that I was able to find 1 3/8” hose on the first try.

The rain wasn’t letting up, so we went back for another round of Nescafé. Naqara had a number of fruit and veg stands on the side of the road, so we took advantage of a break in the weather to buy more pineapples and avocados which are pretty much the staples of Mélanie’s and my diet these days.

We still had hours to kill before it was time to meet up with Ruta and Sakini at the boat. The lady at the coffee and roti place recommended that we go to the slides. I knew that Taveuni had famous waterfalls that you could slide down in certain places, but I thought that they were on the other side of the island. In fact when I hired a cab, I still thought that we were going to the other side of the island. I was surprised when we were dropped off at a trailhead just 10 minutes out of town.

The trail to the falls wasn’t long. We passed a group from the Tui Tai who were just leaving when we arrived. One of them made an off-hand comment not to go down too far as they were leaving. We had the place to ourselves as we tried to find our way up to the top. The trail was treacherously slick. I’d busted up my knee the week before in Dakuniba and didn’t want to put in a repeat performance.

The lower parts of the slides indeed looked treacherous as we passed them by. If they were the fiberglass slides from back home, they’d be tame. Instead these were rock, polished smooth by countless gallons of water buy rough and jagged just off of the water’s normal path. The slides range from 5 – 40 feet long with deeper pools in between them. At the end of each slide, you had no idea what you’d find in the pool at the end. Indeed a couple of the slides ended abruptly with a submerged rock.

We eventually made our way to the very top. We had a swim and then worked up the courage to try a couple of the very tame slides. They were fun. We didn’t scrape our butts too much. So we gradually went bigger and bigger until we got to the two long slides at the end. We still had the nagging comment about not going too far down in our heads. It would have been easy enough if there was someone with us to tells what was safe. Not knowing added to the adventure. We pushed on through the last two slide, which were amazingly fun, though one had a little drop in it that bruised your butt pretty well.

We were down at the bottom very proud of our sliding when 4 local boys showed up. The ran down the entire sequence of pools, surfing down the slides standing up and then hopping across the slick rocks to get to the next one. We were thoroughly humbled by their performance. Then, instead of using the trail, they turned around and ran back up the slides to start all over again. These kids were Bad-Asses!

After an hour and a half, we left the slides and went down to the school to meet our boat. I ran into Ruven at the petrol station who I’d met in Qamea the year before. We caught up a little bit, but hopefully I’ll get back to Taveuni and see him sometime in the next few weeks.

The boat ride home was uneventful. The rain held off until the very end. The hose fit perfectly and now it’d be time to move on if there wasn’t a big low passing Fiji giving us some very dark weather. It’s never fun to navigate reefs under heavy clouds, so we’re sticking around until the sun comes out. I’m not sure where the next destination is, we’ll see which way the wind is blowing when we leave.

Dec 162013
 

Mélanie giving me her duck face

Mélanie giving me her duck face


Cyclone season is here. Bodhran has a new 18 month permit for Fiji as well as a new crew member. Back in September, I was planning on sticking around Fiji for all of cyclone season. Irie and Guava Jelly were taking off, so I thought that it might be nice to get a crew member to accompany me, especially if I were going to be in some of the more remote areas of the Lau Group like I had planned. To that end, I placed ads on FloatPlan, 7Knots and Couch Surfing. By October my mind had changed. I was planning to go up to the Marshalls and it wouldn’t be convenient to fly a crew member in and out. I turned down a number of responses apologizing for the fact that my plan had change. I hadn’t got a response in 3-4 weeks when I got a message from Mélanie from Montreal. At first I told her that I was heading north and that it wasn’t practical, but after a couple of days, I decided that the better route home was through Samoa and Hawaii and that it was actually a better idea to stay in Fiji until March. Coincidentally that was exactly how long Mélanie had off. Meeting a crew member over the internet is always risky business. It’d be horrible if she flew down here and we just didn’t get along. We skyped a few times. We seemed pretty compatible and Mélanie bought her tickets.

We spent a few days in Savusavu getting to know each other’s habits and tastes and letting Mélanie acclimatize with the help of lots of swimming in the 80 degree water. We got a test sail in, after which Mélanie began memorizing the names of everything on the boat. After a four days, it was time to get going. We were thinking of being gone for up to two months. So we loaded the lockers with as many groceries as Bodhran can carry. We then crammed in 5 cases of Fiji Gold and 2 cases of Broken Shackle Classic Red. We figured that we could last for a little while at least with all that.

Our forecast had been for two days of northerly winds. The plan was to head back to Fulanga. Then the forecast changed and our two days of wind became 6 hours. We figured that the weather would be best used by heading east. I wanted to check out the cyclone anchorage at Nasasobo 40 miles east of Savusavu so it worked out perfectly.

We got an early start on a dark and rainy morning. A tropical depression was passing to the south of Fiji and we were getting the effect on the fringe. We motored down to Point Reef where we were met by a large squall with south winds. I almost turned around in the face of winds 180 degrees opposite the forecast and a tropical depression off in the distance. Instead, we hove to under double reef main and waited for the wind to die. The decision was made to sail to Naidi bay a mere 9 miles to the east.

Coming into Naidi Bay

Coming into Naidi Bay


I hadn’t been to Naidi either. It’s a good idea to scout out all these anchorages and lay down track lines on the GPS in case of emergency. We tacked back and forth into a light headwind for 3 hours before we lost the wind completely and motored the last 3 miles into the bay. The entrance was wide and easily navigated even on such a gloomy day. After one soft grounding on a muddy bottom that looked nothing like the Navionic chart, we dropped the hook in 16 feet of water and settled in for the night. We still had the internet. Trucks bounced up and down a road right along the water’s edge. An incredibly fancy looking resort dominated one side of the bay while mangroves and a village took up the other. It was a good place to spend the night, but we might as well have still be in Savusavu.

We got a leisurely start the next morning, motoring for an hour or two before we caught the wind and sailed most of the remaining 25 miles to Nasasobo. Fish were boiling under flocks of sea birds, but our fridge was full and we didn’t trail a line. Instead we had sailing lessons, listened to podcasts and enjoyed the bright overcast day.

Navigating the reef was easy enough, but would be difficult in adverse conditions. I tried to keep Bodhran square in the middle of the pass to create as favorable a gps track as possible in case we need to navigate here with a cyclone breathing down our necks. It was too dark to see the shoals in the bay, so instead of exploring, we picked a good spot in the back corner near the mangroves, dropped the hook and cracked some beers. We were then treated to one of the most spectacular spectacles that I’ve ever witnessed. It started with a flurry of fruit bats over the mangroves. As the sun set, the bats came out in force. So too did the colors in the sky. At it’s apex, we were surrounded by thousands of 3 foot wide fruit bats under as dramatic a sunset as you could hope for. We sat out for hours mesmerized by the grandeur of it all.


The next day Mélanie and I took the skiff around to the next bay to do our sevusevu at Dakuniba village. Malaki came out from under an ancient banyan tree to meet us. He took us in to see chief George, where we presented our yanqona and talked about the area. We’d heard of the waterfalls and prehistoric petroglyphs above the village. Chief George wanted $10 a head to go and visit. This wasn’t very Fijian, but he said that he wants to develop the area by digging around the stones and making them more presentable. Hopefully the money goes to this, but who knows. Either way, we didn’t have any money with us and said that we’d come back in the morning.


On the way out, we chatted with Malaki on the beach when Sakini and Rota came back from Savusavu. Going to Savusavu from this village entails taking a boat through the reef and 5 miles west early enough to catch the bus at 6am from the next bay. If you miss the bus, you might as well come back as there is only one per day. Apparently you can also walk 5 miles up the “road” until you get to the main road and catch a bus from there. Of course then you’d have to carry all your supplies 5 miles back over the road with you. We chatted with Sakini and Rota for a while and decided that we’d meet them in the morning for the trip up to the waterfall.

We went back to Nasasobo and decided to scout the mangroves. We found the bat roost in the morning, but now we’d been told that there was a small pass near the anchorage where we could leave the skiff and walk to the village saving us from making the long wet dingy ride. After we found the dinghy landing, we scouted up the creek on the opposite shore for a while until we found William’s copra drier. We took a quick look around and then went back to the boat just in time to catch the evening’s bat show.


In the morning, we tried out the dinghy landing. Unfortunately the tide was out and we had to drag the skiff through the thick mangrove mud over a couple of roots before we reached the rocky haulout. From there we had to follow the uncertain trail until we found the road and walked down into the Dakuniba. We met Malaki and Sakini while they were changing the blades out on a weed whacker. Then Sakini and his entourage of children, nieces and nephews took off with us for the waterfalls.

The trail up was wet, but easy enough to follow. We first went to the petroglyphs where Sakini pointed out the different shapes. No one knows how old they are or what they mean. They’re quite large and it looks like the carvings were once all on one large flat stone. Now they’re spread across many stone fragments and are obscured by lichen and time, but they’re still interesting.


After the petroglyphs, it was time for a dip in the falls. Instead of a single large drop, the falls was made up of a series of pools with the overflows cascading one down to the next over a 100 feet of elevation. The top pool had a great “hair washing” fall that you could sit under and still breath easily while your head was pummeled with water.

Coming to the falls was the height of fun for the kids. They’re not allowed to come on their own for fear that they might hurt themselves. Indeed I slipped on the rocks myself and heartily cracked my knee while simultaneously splitting my elbow. The kids entertained themselves by jumping off small drops into the shallow pools and by sliding down the slippery surfaces on large leaves. It took a few extra leaves, but I was able to make it down the waterslide a few times myself.


Afterwards it was time for tea and scones under the banyan tree. Later Sakini and Rota came out to Bodhran with the kids. Alas, I was too busy showing them how to raise and lower the sails to take any pics. I should have never had told Malaki’s son that he could climb the ratlines or showed him how the folding mast steps worked. Within seconds he was up to the spreaders. I finally stopped him at the inner forestay. He came back down and then commenced to doing laps jumping off the ratlines, climbing back up on board and then starting over again.


Yesterday we took a hike up to find a good viewpoint looking out over Nasasobo. It was hot and there was not trail. Instead we pushed through grass taller than Mélanie earning some nice grass cuts for our effort. In the end we were rewarded with a good view of the bay as well as some nice shots of the village on the other side of the ridge. We didn’t dare stay long in the heat and quickly made our way back down to the shade of a tamarind tree to drink a couple cold Fiji Golds and re-coup. We went down to the village to say hi, but the morning church session was delayed to 5pm and we got there just in time for everyone to go to church.


Right now we’ve taken Bodhran out to the reef to do some snorkeling and get some internet. We’ll probably stay at least one more day here at Nasasobo and then take off for Kioa Island. Malaki has invited us to his village and there’s going to be a big wedding on Friday. As long as the winds allow it, I sure don’t see any reason to skip a party.

Nov 272013
 

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.

Nov 212013
 

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.