Overly Long Maintenance Break at Vuda Point

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.

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2 Responses to “Overly Long Maintenance Break at Vuda Point”

  1. Adikabukeivuya Uluivuda says:

    awesome page friend,very interesting while reading through,love the pictures,goodluck on your sailing…may the almighty shower his blessing upon you

  2. selema Raboila Lulu says:

    love the pictures n captions……wishing you the best on your way back to seatle…….may god bless you Jason

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