May 232014
 


What mixed feelings I have about this place. Halfway between American Samoa and Hawaii, it’s the only island within 1200 miles that has airline service. I thought that I had a length of wire long enough to replace my headstay, but it turns out that my spare was 16” too short. If I had run to any other island, I wouldn’t have been able get wire flown in and would have certainly had to come up with a less satisfactory, jury rigged solution. That’s the good.

The bad is that the passage to the lagoon has shoaled and it’s no longer possible to get inside the lagoon. Instead, I’m in a roadstead anchorage rolling away in the swell that wraps around the north side of the island. The motion of the ocean makes it difficult to work aloft and made for a trying ordeal when I took the headstay and furler down.

Additionally the beach along here is all coral. It’s a bit sharp to comfortably drag an inflatable up from the surf line. Oh yeah, that swell comes through and makes landing a dinghy that much more unpleasant. Fully doable, but the better option is to make the mile long trip through the pass to the old wharf on the inside of the lagoon. The pass is shallow and gets pretty good sized waves, especially when the wind is blowing against the tide.

The bright side of the long dinghy ride into town is that the water is absolutely beautiful and the sea life abundant. Large schools of fish dart away from your skiff as you pass through and I’ve yet to make the trip without seeing a sea turtle or a manta. The other day there were four mantas at once feeding off the point a few hundred yards from where I’m anchored.

Speaking of sea life. I came back to the boat the other day and was treated to a show as 40+ spinner dolphins were jumping and playing a few hundred meters from the boat. I went over and was able to get my little skiff up on a plane. The dolphins loved it. I had as many as 7 at once swimming in front of me, jumping and dodging back and forth.

Town itself isn’t much to write home about. Besides the weekly plane service, they get a few ships a year from Honolulu and Fiji. Even “fresh” food can be months old and prices are astronomical. Prices are in Aussie $. 1 egg = $1. 1 apple = $2.20. 30 pack of Budweiser = $105. Needless to say, I won’t be stocking up too much here. I did fill up 20 gallons of diesel to replace most of the 30 gallons that I burned on the trip here from Samoa. At $1.60 per liter, it wasn’t too expensive.

When it’s working, there is internet available and the local telecom run internet cafe. It seems to be down half the time and is pretty slow, but at $1 per hour at least it’s reasonably priced.

I was joined in the anchorage a few days ago by a Islander Freeport 41 named Journey (sailingissexy.com). Eric and Elizabeth are a young couple from San Francisco, 6 months into a 3-5 year cruise. They were good fun to hang out with, but only stayed for a few days before taking off for French Polynesia. They’d just come from the tropical paradise of Fanning Island and weren’t inclined to spend too much time here at Christmas.

Yesterday I scrubbed Bodhran’s hull so that I’ll be all ready to leave once I get my headstay fixed. I’d cleaned it in Pago Pago before I left. That was one of the most disgusting experiences of my life. The harbor water there is so foul and an amazing amount of growth had built up in the 4 weeks that I was there. Even though I was moving for most of the last month, I’d had a nice colony of gooseneck barnacles attach themselves to the hull while I was underway. It’s amazing how these little fellas float around in the middle of nowhere and then glom onto whatever happens along.

This morning was a bit of a heartbreaker. Criag Short up in Honolulu had tried to ship me a new length of wire to replace the headstay, but it was bumped from the flight. There’s only one flight a week, so I’m stuck here for at least one more week……sigh!

May 192014
 


May 5th
It’s been 12 days since I left Samoa for Oahu. I’ve left a serpentine trackline behind me as I’ve tried to navigate through the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ). Oh the first few days were fine. I wasn’t able to lay the course that I wanted, but the wind was consistent and I was making progress. Then 8 days ago that came to an end.

I’ve sailed upwind before on the ocean, but rarely for more than a few days at a time. Even my recent run from Fiji to Samoa was mostly about waiting for the wind to die and then motoring like hell. This passage was going to be in excess of 2600 miles and I wouldn’t be able to rely on my engine to make it all the way there. Besides, I’m still a little concerned with my little Suzie Diesel. She’s been acting up on me lately and I don’t like to push her so hard.

When the wind left me, it didn’t leave all together. It’d come and go in spurts. Evaporation during the day would create huge squalls every afternoon that would creep across the sky like alien motherships dropping their lead gray payload on the sea below. These squalls would bring wind, often lots of it. So may day would be filled with trying to play the light air to get to the next squall. Then I’d hastily reef down the sails as the squall front hit while still trying to maintain the best sailing angle to get east.

It’s all about the easting. The wind predominately comes from the east. The currents flow from the east to west. The cards are all stacked against me. At least in the southern hemisphere, the winds are supposed to be from the southeast, not that they’ve done that for me. When I get to about 8 degrees north, I’ll pick up the northeast tradewinds. If I haven’t made it far enough east by then, these winds will push me west of the Hawaiian Islands. I’d have to beat right into the heart of these intense winds and waves. I’m not sure either Bodhran or myself are up to the task. So I try for my easting in the southern hemisphere.

For a whole week, I play the light airs. After 3 days the squalls dry up. I’m surrounded in the distance by puffy white clouds and bright blue overhead. The real problem is my tacking angles. Bodhran isn’t a very weatherly boat. At the best of times, she can barely hold a 50 degree angle to the wind. Now with the light airs and ocean swell, I’m not able to sail closer than 70 degrees to the wind. When the wind is out of the due east, that means that I can either sail north on a course of 20 degrees or south on a course of 160. Either way I’m not making much easting. So when the wind dies, I fire up the diesel and motor as due east as the waves allow.


May 8th-11th
I got 4 good days of sailing in. The east wind filled in 10-15 knots and I was finally making 100nm days towards my destination. I was just south of the equator when……………..

May 12th

Oh what a sickening feeling. I’m sailing downwind. I’d spent days trying to claw my way east against wind and tide. Now I’m giving it back running for Christmas Island. It’s hard to describe how disheartened I feel.

Last night, while beating into a 10-15kt east wind I came down hard off of one of the occasional 4-6′ swells that I was bashing into. I heard a telltale snap from up forward. My first indication that something was wrong was that the jib was flogging. The jib sheet having been loosened slightly. Upon further inspection forward, I noticed that the furling drum was swinging around inside the pulpit. Something was definitely wrong. Fortunately I was still able to furl the jib and take the load off the presumably broken headstay.

Once the sail was in, I hooked up the spinnaker halyard to the bow roller and winched it tight to make a temporary stay. Fortunately Bodhran is cutter rigged and the inner forestay kept the mast from breaking. I eased the jib halyard to see what would happen and the entire sail/furler started to come down. Obviously my headstay or some other component in the chain had failed. I re-tensioned the halyard to further support the mast and made the decision to fall off for Christmas Island 220 miles to the west.

I’d already been out for 18 days. It’d been a long hard slog, playing the squalls, light winds and currents the best I could to make nearly 1000nm of easting. I’ve never had to work so hard at a passage in my life. I’d expected ESE trade wind conditions, though the pilot charts said that I’d be as likely to get force 3 as force 4 winds. As it turned out, I had winds from north of east for most of the previous 18 days and only 4 days of fine force 4 sailing winds.

Still, I’d made my 1000 miles of easting and had turned north. I was just about ready to cross the equator when the headstay snapped. I had a bottle of champagne chilled and ready. Instead of celebrating my return to the northern hemisphere, I turned away in defeat.

Matters were made worse by the light of day. I can see where the headstay snapped at the mechanical fitting just below the masthead. If the water was calm, I could climb up there, replace the fitting and re-attach the stay. I could be back on my way. Instead there’s still a 4′ sea running making it impossible to do any delicate work aloft.


Hopefully I’ll find the refuge in Christmas Island to make the repairs I need. It should be straight forward, but it would be an immeasurable help to have a second pair of hands on board. The worst part will be when I leave Christmas and have to start working my way due East again to regain this 200+ miles before I pick up the northeast tradewinds.

May 16th
Sailing to Christmas was excruciating. Without a headstay I couldn’t fly the spinnaker or the jib. Instead I was limited to the staysail hanked onto the inner forestay. If I wasn’t a cutter, it would have been worse. I wouldn’t have been able to fly any headsail at all. I also kept a reef in the main sail. It probably would have been ok to fly the full thing. Going downwind, there wouldn’t have been much need for the headstay, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. So I limped along between 3-4 knots.

To add insult to injury, I had a 10 knot ESE wind with me the entire way. This is the perfect wind for Bodhran to be sailing upwind and making more easting. Instead I had to sail wing-on-wing dead downwind, one of the least comfortable points of sail know to man. Wing-on-wing sailing causes the boat to roll 10-20 degrees to either side as you go down the face of the following waves. The sails give almost no stability to the motion of the boat. I was already very depressed giving up all this easting, the rolling of the boat was just icing on the cake.

The best part of my 3 day sail to Christmas Island was the night sailing. I’d left Pago Pago just before the new moon. Now I was sailing under an almost full moon under a cloudless sky. The moon was far brighter than most compact florescents. I could have read by it’s light if my Kindle hadn’t crapped out on me the day before I lost the headstay.

I timed my arrival off Christmas, with a little judicious motoring, to ensure that I’d be 10 miles off the island at first light. It took most of the morning, but I’d made it around to the lee by 10:30 and dropped the anchor a few hundred meters south of the wharf on the leeward west side of the island. Alas the sandy patch that I picked was just a shallow layer of sand over rock and my bruce anchor found no purchase.


I dropped in deep water and had 200′ of chain out. The last thing I wanted to do was haul all that chain back up, but up it came. Exhausted after 20 days at sea and hauling 200′ of chain in the equatorial sun, I moved up to a shallower spot closer to the wharf and dropped the hook again.

This time the anchor skittered across the bottom as I backed down on it. Then it stuck. I put more power to my little Suzie Diesel and my heart sank as I broke the anchor free. This spot was also no good. Greg and Bonnie had anchored here before and told me it was the place to be, but I wasn’t having any luck. So up came the anchor again, except this time it was much heavier. When I finally got it up, the weight of my Bruce had been augmented by a nice hunk of rock that I’d broken off and taken with me.


As recently as 2007, you could get inside the lagoon here at Christmas Island, but the channel has gotten too shallow and you have to anchor off. The water is crystal clear and I noticed that there was a nice sandy patch just north of the wharf. Greg had told me that south was the place to be, but after getting the anchor free of the rock, I was just about spent. I motored north of the wharf, dropped the hook in a beautiful patch of sand and was set.

I put the skiff in the water, grabbed my documents and went in to deal with formalities. The wharf has a beautiful floating dock where I merrily hitched my dinghy and jumped up the rusty stairs enjoying my first steps on solid ground in 3 weeks. I made it as far as the security gate and then was told that I had to return to the boat and wait for a boarding party to come with all the officials. Dejected, I returned to Bodhran. After 2 hours of waiting in vain for the officials, I decided that it was time to get drunk…..so I did.

This morning I set to work on the headstay. I climbed the mast and took off the broken fitting. I could see that the headstay had unraveled and that I wouldn’t be able to replace the fitting in place. So I climbed down the mast and began the agonizingly sow process of trying to lower the whole roller furling/sail/headstay assembly while anchored in the ocean swell. Through a complex series of lines I was able to slowly lower the assembly down to the spreaders when a couple of guys I’d met on my way in yesterday swung by in their outrigger canoe. Mariga and the other fellow whose name I can’t remember made short work of getting the 40′ long furler/headstay assembly down onto the deck. I served up some coffee to the guys and we chatted in the cockpit for a while until they took off to continue their fishing.

The officials hadn’t been answering their radio all morning. Now I get a call from them. I need to move 500 meters to the south. I’m not allowed to anchor where I am. Siiiiiiiiiigh! So up comes the anchor, and I moved to a spot 500 meters south of the wharf. The holding isn’t good, but I’m too tired to do anything about it after all the exertion of yesterday and todays project of getting the headstay down. It should be good enough where I’m at to deal with customs at least.

Again there’s no response on the radio. I decide to make some lunch and wait. An hour later I get a call from the officials. They don’t want to walk the mile up to the wharf, can I please re-anchor a mile to the south down by the pass into the lagoon? Arrrrrrgh! Up comes the anchor for the 4th time in 24 hours. I’m fairly certain that I’m going to have to get an electric windlass when I get home.

I anchor again near the pass and go ashore to pick up the officials. Instead of having a nice floating dock, I have to pick them up through the surf on the beach. It wasn’t a problem, but it took some doing to not swamp the boat while the less than nimble officials were clambering on board, simultaneously keeping off the sharp coral beach that was just waiting to punch a hole in my skiff.

Clearing in was no problem. There were no fees which was great after being gouged for a $165 to clear in and out of American Samoa. I had to handwrite my forms in quadruplicate, but the officials were cheerful and never even bothered to come below. I just dropped them off on the beach. It’s too late to go in and find internet, so hopefully I’ll get this posted tomorrow.

I’m here to fix my headstay. I have spare wire and fittings. I think that I’ll be able to get it done in another couple of days, especially if I can enlist a couple of helpers to wrestle the thing in place as I raise it up again. Christmas looks like a beautiful island. I was met by two huge green sea turtles on the way in yesterday. The water is amazingly clear. Hopefully I’ll get my repairs done, take a couple of days to tour the island and then be on my way early next week. Keep your fingers crossed!

May 18th
A couple of problems here. First, my spare length of wire is 16” too short. I’ve tried to figure out a good way to MacGyver it together, but I wouldn’t feel good setting out for Hawaii 1200nm to windward without a well functioning headstay/jib. The second problem is that I bent the furler extrusion when I was taking it down. I should be able to beat it back into shape, but I’m going to have to take it apart. It’s riveted together and I don’t have any rivets, so they’re going to have to be sent in as well.


On the bright side, the pass into the lagoon is teeming with life. On one trip in, I saw 2 green sea turtles and 4 mantas. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to do some snorkeling there. The folks in town are friendly. There’s a brewery here. It was Sunday when I passed by it yesterday, but I’ll definitely be heading back to check that out.

Apr 202014
 

So maybe I’m not giving American Samoa a fair break. If I’d pulled into this place on my way down from Hawaii, it might not be that bad. As it is I’ve been cruising through some truly beautiful parts of the Pacific for the last 8 years and Pago Pago just doesn’t hold up.

I’m anchored between the Starkist Tuna cannery on one side and a dilapidated wharf on the other. Big diesel generators run 24 hours a day. They’re right beside the anchorage of course. The harbor in Pago Pago is a stunning geographical formation. Imagine a lush volcanic crater stretching up 1000ft out of the crystal blue South Pacific. Now imagine that a quarter mile wide section of that crater fell away to allow boats in and out. That’s Pago Pago harbor. It’s beautifully protected. That’s why the US Navy came in here and took over the island. Then the tuna fleet came in when the Navy left. There’s no vestige of quaint Polynesia here. It’s American industry through and through.

The real problem is that I’m on a mission. I’m trying to make it 6000 miles back upwind to get to Seattle. I knocked out the leg with the worst contrary winds when I made it here from Fiji, but I was ready to keep on going. Eager to make my easting and the nudge my way back up into the northern hemisphere. Instead I had to deal with a faulty alternator that went out the night before I made it to Pago Pago.

American Samoa is just a bit too American. The fix for my alternator would have probably taken a few days at any sizable port in Fiji or Tonga. In American Samoa, there’s no one to fix it. It’s cheaper to order new parts from the states via USPS. I ordered a replacement alternator the day after I got in.

Through neglect from the company that I ordered my alternator from combined with the USPS sitting on my package for 5 days in Florida before it got trucked west, my alternator has been on it’s way for 20 days now and it’s still not here. I ordered it express and it should have been here in 3-5 days.

So instead of making a quick stop in Pago Pago and continuing on my way back home, my momentum has been broken. I spend my days doing little projects around the boat, playing guitar, going to McDonalds for internet and drinking sundowners with Phil, a young singlehander from Victoria who’ll be on his way down to Tonga soon. I want nothing more than to leave, but I’m stuck here in possibly the dirtiest harbor in the Pacific. Fetid water that I’m unwilling to swim in, daily rain that keeps my solar panels from keeping my batteries full, no shower facilities, and a sprawling un-walkable community that’s difficult to explore combine to make Pago Pago one of the least pleasant ports I’ve ever been to.

The reason to come here is supplies. If I were continuing on through the Pacific, this would be an amazing opportunity to stock up on American products at back home prices. The local hardware store is stocked with high quality tools that I couldn’t find and certainly couldn’t afford down in New Zealand. It was so beautiful that I almost cried when I walked into that store the first day.

The other big store here is the Cost-U-Less. A scaled down version of Costco, it’s gigantic by Pacific Island standards. I’m heading north and only need to stock up on snacks, meat and cheese. If I’d been heading back to Fiji, it’d have been a wonderful place to refresh my long term stores, but I’ve got a 30 day passage to make up to Hawaii. After that I won’t have to worry about provisions again, so the Cost-U-Less is a bit overkill for me.


Every evening since I arrived, the Samoans practice racing their Fautasis. A Fautasi is the largest racing canoe that I’ve seen in the Pacific. They vary in number of rowers. The largest have nearly fifty rowers, while the smallest sport closer to thirty. There’s are a total of 12 Fautasi representing different villages on the island.

Flag Day was on the 17th and the big Fautasi Race was the day before. The 12 gigantic canoes lined up out in the Pacific swell 7 miles away from the finish line which happened to be right off Bodhran. The crowd was lined up on the beach and listening to the action on the radio. I’d hear them erupt with applause. I’d then look around and couldn’t see anything. Then the crowd went wild as the the first Fautasi rounded the point escorted by two tugs, a fishing boat, a police boat and various official jet skis. It all came down to a photo finish with the home town Aeto team losing out by a nose.

The fautasi race is a big deal here. Here’s the prize payouts as listed by Samoa News: Total cash for the fautasi race was $74,000: with $20,000 to Manulele Tausala #1 – the winner; 2nd place $15,000 to Aeto; and 3rd place $10,000 to Paepaeulupo’o. Other prizes: $7,000 4th place; 5th place $6,000; 6th place $5,000; 7th place $4,000; 8th place $3,000; 9th place $2,000 and 10th place $2,000. I don’t know where all that money comes from, but a total of $202,000 was handed out in the various Flag Day events.

On Flag Day proper, Phil and I took a little hike up to some waterfalls we’d heard about. There was a series of 12 falls in all, but it was too slick to go beyond the second. It was glorious to get into the water after being trapped in Pago Pago harbor for so long. On the way back down we stumbled across some Flag Day BBQ action down on the beach where we finally got a little Samoan culture, hanging out until we took a late bus back to the boats.

There’s still no word on my alternator. I’m anxious to get a move on, but it may still not be for a while. Hopefully my part made it on Friday’s flight and will be sorted through the post office on Saturday, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

Apr 042014
 

Gopro off the bow as I motored away from the setting sun

Gopro off the bow as I motored away from the setting sun


A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In my case a journey of 6000 miles from Fiji to Seattle, began with a 4 mile trip out to Cousteau Resort. After waiting nearly a month in Savusavu for a decent weather window, I checked out and was ready to leave. The weather didn’t look great, but there were no cyclones or dangerous looking lows out there and I was ready. I hoisted sail and took off all the way down to point reef, 4 miles away where I broke off the clutch handle for the windvane.

This passage was going to entail sailing east against the prevailing winds. I could use the autopilot to steer the boat, but it uses lots of power and will only hold a compass course. The windvane, on the other hand, uses no power and will adjust to any shifts in wind direction to ensure that I’m always making as much easting as possible. The prospect of sailing to American Samoa without this tool filled my heart with dread, so I pulled a u-turn, sailed a mile back to the anchorage off Cousteau Resort and dropped the hook. I slapped a liberal coat of JB Weld around the broken windvane clutch handle, scrubbed the hull and prop, and took care of a few other projects that I should have done before I left.

The next morning I left in earnest. I was able to sail a little bit, but I motored most of the way out to Taveuni. I was thankful that the SE wind hadn’t filled it, it made this first leg a much easier trip. A pod of pilot whales came by to check me out a couple hours after I left. I also spotted my first everpygmy sperm whale a little before sunset.

Pilot whales leaving Fiji

Pilot whales leaving Fiji

Once I passed Taveuni, I began to encounter a contrary current that stuck me all the way to Pago Pago. Sometimes it was down below half a knot, but for the most part I had to fight a 1+ knot current 620 miles against the wind. Bodhran doesn’t motor particularly well into the waves, nor does she sail particularly well hard on the wind. This combination made this passage the hardest leg of my proposed trip home.

The weather was all over the place during the passage. When I got wind, it was normally out of the southeast and I was able to sail into in fairly well. I had blue skies about half the time with the rest being filled in by squalls, and lightning. I ran into one cell in the middle of the night that brought gale force winds from the east, so I hove to for 7 hours and let it pass. In between the stints of sailing, I fired up the motor and made as much easting as possible.

On the 6th night out, I’d been motoring for 48 hours strait. The constant vibration shook a wire loose from my alternator. Of course it happened in the middle of the night. I spent 3 hours doing everything I could to fix it. But it looks like something shorted when the wire came loose and blew out the diodes.

I was worried about running the engine with a faulty alternator. Fortunately the wind filled in out of the SE and I had a great sail to within 10 miles of Pago Pago. The the wind died down leaving me along a very rough coastline with a 7-10ft swell running. I nervously ran the engine the rest of the way in, hand steering to conserve power.

I dropped the hook at the head of the bay, up past the Starkist tuna cannery on one side and McDonalds on the other. It was too late to clear into customs, so I put the boat to bed. Drank a couple of Fiji Golds as the sun went down and then put myself to bed. It took me 7 days to make 620 miles. Not my best average ever, but I was pretty happy with it. I ran the engine for exactly 100 hours. So I burned lots of diesel, but I made it. This was the passage I’ve been worrying about for the last few months. I’m glad to have it in the books.

Tuna boats in Pago Pago Harbor.

Tuna boats in Pago Pago Harbor.

Yup, that's a McDonalds.  They've got two here.

Yup, that’s a McDonalds. They’ve got two here.

Settled into Pago Pago with the Q flag up.

Settled into Pago Pago with the Q flag up.

Mar 142014
 
Cyclone Evan courtesy NASA.gov

Cyclone Evan courtesy NASA.gov

As I’m writing this, Cyclone Lusi has just passed south of Fiji. The 19th tropical depression of the season is gathering power over Samoa and is supposed to form into a cyclone early next week. All these tropical lows send people running from Fiji down to New Zealand and Australia for the Summer. I myself spent 4 Summers in New Zealand following the prevailing wisdom. These notes are for those who aren’t wise, in the prevailing sense.

I’d unsuccessfully looked around online for advice on cruising Fiji during cruising season. I’ve know a few people in the past that have cruised the Mamanucas and Yasawas while keeping a reserved spot at Vuda Point Marina to fall back to in case of bad weather. There were also a good contingent of cruisers this year who kept moorings in Savusavu, but escaped out to Cousteau Resort for weeks at a time between lows.

Neither of these options really sounded good to me. I’d been to the Yasawas, and while they’re nice, I tend to stick to the less touristy spots. Instead I decided that I’d range out from Savusavu, coming back every 4-6 weeks to resupply.

I was worried about the heat. My buddy Grant on Lochiel had spent the 2012/2013 season in Vuda and cruising in the Yasawas. He assured me that the heat wasn’t that bad. As a point of fact, the weather was generally much nicer during cyclone season than during the cruising season. Average temperatures were in the low 30s as opposed to the high 20s in the Winter. It actually rained less between lows during cyclone season than during the cruising season. The water was still cool enough to be refreshing. My crew did rely pretty heavily on a spray bottle filled with water to keep her cooled off, but I generally found that ample fans and the occasional swim was enough to stay cool.

Mélanie regularly spraying herself down to cool off

Mélanie regularly spraying herself down to cool off

There was an amazing amount of lightning all season long. I always felt a bit exposed when I was the tallest point in the anchorage. I did see lightning hit a boat in Vuda a few years back, but didn’t hear of any boats getting hit this year. Just in case, I kept most of my electronics disconnected when I wasn’t using them. I don’t know if this would have helped in the event of a lightning strike, but it made me feel better.

I used a number “hurricane holes” in northern and eastern Fiji and have heard of a few more. Here’s my run down on the ones that I’ve actually been to.

Savusavu (16 46.6677 S 179 20.0401 E):
I normally pick up a Waitui mooring whenever I’m in Savusavu. Unfortunately none of the moorings West of the Copra Shed are really suitable as cyclone moorings. Their ground tackle might be fine, but the spot is too exposed. I was able to pick up one of Curly’s moorings for a 30 gusting 50 knot low that passed through. The winds started from the north, but then switched to the west blowing right up the anchorage. My spot right off the Surf and Turf was nice and calm while all hell was breaking loose further out, especially for the two boats in front of Waitui. Waitui Marina’s float was destroyed and much of the dock was wrecked as well.

Waves picking up, I didn't get any pics when it was really bad

Waves picking up, I didn’t get any pics when it was really bad

Asari and what remains of Waitui's dock

Asari and what remains of Waitui’s dock

One boat broke their mooring lines at Savusavu Marina and ended up on the beach. Fortunately it landed on a muddy spot and didn’t suffer much damage. The rest of the boats on Savusavu Marina moorings rocked and rolled a bit, but it wasn’t bad. By far the best moorings are the ones between Copra Shed and the end of town.

Mooring line fail

Mooring line fail

Unfortunately these moorings were all reserved by the beginning of cyclone season. In order to rely on Savusavu as a hurricane hole, you have to reserve and pay for a mooring for the whole season. For this reason, I only came to Savusavu for the one low and only because Deviant had left his mooring and gone to Vuda for a haul out, so I knew I’d have a spot.

There were two boats that anchored in the mangroves between town and Savusavu Marina. It’s a tough spot to get into, there’s no wind and there’s lots of bugs. That being said, both boats stayed there for free all through cyclone season.

Nasasobo (16 44.9492 S 179 51.1202 E):
Nasasobo is a fine spot, capable of handling more than a few boats. The entrance is small and is protected by a reef. Holding is fantastic in thick mud. Along the western side, it’s deep very close to the mangroves. William (one of the locals in Nasosobo) mentioned that one shoal draft cruising boat was able to make it up one of the creeks into the mangroves on a high tide, but scouting it in the dinghy I wasn’t able to find any areas deep enough to get Bodhran anywhere close to the creeks in the north east corner of the bay. For my money the best spot is tucked into the northwest corner, tied to the mangroves with a couple anchors out.

Nasasobo

Nasasobo

The problem with Nasosobo is that it’s reasonably big. Some good waves could build up inside the bay during a blow. It also doesn’t have an internet signal, so you can’t track what the storm is doing once you get set. You can pick up a signal from Taveuni out by the reef if the weather is good enough to take your dinghy.

Naiqaiqai Creek (16 43.3945 S 179 53.3833 E):
I used Naqaiqai when cyclone Ian was approaching from the southeast. Naqaiqai has a narrow entrance. It’s exposed to the north, but Kioa would break up some of the really big stuff coming down. The bay gets shallow pretty quickly, but I was able to make it more than half way up the bay anchoring in 10 feet of water over thick mud. It turned out that Ian did a 180 and hit Tonga instead, so I didn’t get hit by anything more than 25 knots. It looked deep enough close to the mangroves to get in and tie off, but I didn’t do it myself.

An added bonus to Naqaiqai is a weak internet signal. It wasn’t enough to surf the net, but it was just enough to download gribs and check email.

Nice tight entrance at Naqaiqai Creek

Nice tight entrance at Naqaiqai Creek

Qamea (16 45.8276 S 179 46.8308 W):
I didn’t actually go to Qamea during cyclone season, but I’d been there last year and it looks like a good anchorage. I’d like to get in and scout the creek going back to George’s house, but never got the chance. Still it’s a protected little spot with great holding. It’s open the west, but Taveuni would knock down anything really bad from that direction.

Navatu (16 55.4526 S 179 00.7386 E):
Navatu looked on the chart to be a sweet little spot. I tucked back in here when Cyclone Kofi was approaching. Unfortunately there are shoals everywhere in this bay. The only really usable areas are behind the island and the northeast corner. I chose to anchor behind the island. In order to get suitable cyclone scope, I had to tie off a line to a tree on the island to limit my swing. As the storm changed tacks, I ended up putting two more anchors out so that I didn’t end up caught beam to the wind. It turns out that when Kofi passed, I had southerly winds. My big anchors were out to the north and west where the earlier forecasts had the worst wind coming from. I rode out the 35 knot winds on a 25lb Danforth. It did have 100′ of chain on it and held like a champ, but it was discouraging to prepare so much and have the wind do the complete opposite.

Navatu has a strong 2G signal that you can browse the web with as well as track weather and emails. It worked well for me, but it couldn’t accommodate more than 2 cruising boats.

Wainaloka (17 44.1331 S 178 46.0009 E):
I ran to Wainaloka after being hit by a fresh northerly while I was anchored in Makogai. I’d heard that it was a hurricane hole and after a lively sail I anchored in the northeast corner of the bay in flat calm water. The holding is good and it’s possible to get fairly close the the mangroves, but Wainaloka is far too big for me to be comfortable using it as a hurricane hole. Moturiki would prevent any real big waves from coming it, but theres still more fetch to the west than I’d find acceptable.

An added bonus to Wainaloka was the ability to catch a truck into Levuka. We did a quick resupply here. There’s not much fresh stuff available during the week, but apparently theres more on Saturday. The truck comes by the village around 8:30am. If you miss it, there’s not another one. There’s also no traffic for hitching.

Another problem with Wainaloka is it’s lack of internet signal. Additionally you can’t get a signal by water until you get to the north end of Ovalau. You can get a signal in Levuka if you take a shore trip, but I don’t like being in the dark with a storm approaching.

Tivi (16 16.9973 S 179 28.7380 E):
I didn’t visit Tivi this year, but I anchored there last year and kept it in mind as a hurricane hole if I was on the north side of Vanua Levu. The entrance dog legs and is protected by a reef. Tuck into the little notch along the eastern side. The holding is thick mud and it’s deep right up to the mangroves.

Vuda (17 40.8718 S 177 23.1560 E):
I left my boat in Vuda for the 2012/2013 cyclone season. Vuda took a direct hit from Cyclone Evan which was a category 4 storm at the time. Boats in the pits suffered little to no damage. Boats in the water with their owners on board also fared quite well, generally suffering only minor damage. A 65′ ketch was put next to my 32 footer the day before Evan came through. The storm passed right over Vuda and the wind came from multiple directions. I didn’t suffer any damage from the 40′ boat on my port side, but the 65 footer blew down on me tearing up 15′ of cap rail, destroying 3 turnbuckles and bending my chainplates. He had also put a chain behind me to keep him off when the wind was blowing the other direction. When the wind shifted, he drove me down into that chain bending my stern pulpit and 2 stanchions.

Vuda Marina

Vuda Marina

My takeaway from Vuda is that it’s a good cyclone hole if you can get a pit or if you’re going to stay on the boat. The pits were all reserved this year in June a full 6 months before cyclone season. I wouldn’t leave my boat unattended in Vuda during cyclone season again.

Boats tucked nicely into their pits at Vuda

Boats tucked nicely into their pits at Vuda

In addition to the spots that I mentioned above, there are supposedly very good cyclone holes at the north end of Vanua Belavu, up the rivers in Denerau and Lautoka, and by the Tradewinds Hotel in Suva. I’ve never been to any of these spots, so I can’t comment on them, but I kept them in mind as I sailed around Fiji this season.

Cruising during cyclone season turned out pretty well for me. I only saw 2 other cruising boats outside of the Savusavu area. Vodafone’s coverage in Fiji is good enough that I rarely went without grib files. When I didn’t have internet access, I was still able to listen to the Rag of the Air most mornings. There are definitely risks to staying in the tropics during cyclone season, but it’s very possible to keep cruising and not bail down to New Zealand.

Here’s a gpx file with most of my tracks from Fiji: JasonsFiji.gpx