Posts Tagged ‘anchorage’

American Samoa or Bust

Friday, April 4th, 2014

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.

Cruising Fiji During Cyclone Season

Friday, March 14th, 2014
Cyclone Evan courtesy

Cyclone Evan courtesy

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.



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

Bats and Quebecois

Monday, December 16th, 2013

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.