Posts Tagged ‘Bodhran’

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.

Makogai, Ovalau and a Big Ole Yellowfin

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

We stuck around Namena a day longer than zee Germans. There was a northerly wind forecasted so they bugged out to get back up to Cousteau before they had to bash the whole way. We decided to go with the flow and head south to Makogai.

We had a forecast for 10 knots out of the north for our trip south, but it never materialized. Instead we motored in flat calm seas pulling two fishing lines behind us. Mélanie spotted a bunch of boobies going crazy over a bait ball and we abruptly changed course. The first hit came fast on the rod. Mélanie worked hard to try to get it in, but it was too strong and nearly spooled all the line off the reel before it shook the hook. It did create a knot which we didn’t get fully worked out before we got another strike. This one too through the hook as we didn’t have any drag setup because of the knotted line. I worked out the knot and got the reel ready to go again for the 3rd hit, but even with maximum drag, the fish spooled me. These guys were just too big for my rod and reel setup.

Instead we turned to the handline. We switched out the blue squid, which the tuna had been ignoring, for a blue rapalla. Fortunately the fish were still in a feeding frenzy as we circled around for another pass. The handline went taught and Mélanie started dragging it in. Unfortunately the fish spooked when he saw the boat and she wasn’t able to handle the line. We lost another one.

We came up with a new plan for fish number 5. When the handline went taught again, we kept motoring along for 5 minutes to tire the fish out. This tactic worked like a champ. Mélanie wrestled the fish alongside the boat and I hit it with the gaff. I don’t know how big the other fish were, but this beautiful yellowfin tuna was 30lbs and nearly destroyed my port visor above the nav desk during his death throws. It took us an hour, but we finally had our fish. We set off for Makogai.

We anchored off the old leper colony and took in the yellowfin carcass and ¼ of the meat for Camelli and the crew. It turns out that the Minister of Fisheries for the Eastern Division of Fiji was visiting the research station. Camelli didn’t have much time for us, but was appreciative of the tuna.

We went back out to the boat for a nice sashimi dinner including some ginger that we’d picked ourselves over a month ago for just this occasion. Afterward I went in for a music/kava session with the fellas at the research station. It was interesting chatting with the Minister of Fisheries. He was by far the most worldly, educated Fijian that I’d ever met.

Unfortunately the wind picked up out of the NW and gave us quite the rolly night. We had to bail on Makongai. The waves were wrapping around any protection, so we decided to take advantage of the northly to head down to Ovalau 25 miles to the south.

We had a great sail in 15-20 knots of wind. The highlight of the day was passing through a pod of pilot whales. They were holding on station and we got a good look at lots of them, but it was too rough and I didn’t have my camera out.

The pass into Ovalau was easy to navigate in the clouds and we continued our boisterous sail down the west side of the island to Wainaloka bay. Wainaloka is listed as a hurricane hole. It’s certainly a beautifully protected anchorage with great holding, but it’s a bit big to use as a hurricane hole. Still if you’re caught in the area, this is the place to go.

We were running a bit low on supplies, so we took the skiff in through the mangroves to the village and started walking towards Levuka, the old capitol of Fiji. Unfortunately we missed the 8:30am truck and there was no traffic of any kind on the road. After a couple of km we ran into a fisherman who’d also missed the truck, though he didn’t know it. Eventually we were able to call a taxi to take all 3 of us into town.

The cession of Fiji to the British took place in Levuka back in the 1860s and the town hasn’t changed much since. Walking the streets, you’d think you were in an old west town, as long as you didn’t look to the east towards the Koro Sea.

Mélanie and I walked around town and checked out the sites, poking our heads in and out of the various shops containing lots of things we didn’t need. We visited the small museum and saw a good shell collection and some of the history of the place. In the end Levuka was a poor provisioning stop. Fresh veggies are hard to come by except on Saturday. We ended up with some apples, carrots and beer from the MH and that’s about it.

We spent the last two days hanging out at a sandbar between the anchorage and Moturiki. It’s completely covered at high tide, but has a wonderfully sandy beach that appears at mid tide. Of course we had another photo shoot, played crib and generally had a very mellow time. From here it looks like we’ll be heading south to Leluvia and eventually Suva. The wind is looking light for the rest of the time that Mélanie is going to be here, so there’s probably going to be lots of motoring in our future.

Diving Namena with Zeeee Germans (fine David is Austrian)

Thursday, February 13th, 2014
Bodhran , Odin and Suvarov

Bodhran , Odin and Suvarov


The first time Mélanie and I snorkeled out on Point Reef at Cousteau, David from Suvarov sailed by us in his little Walker Bay sailing dinghy. We figured that he was coming out to say hi, but instead he was just out for a day sail. On our way back from snorkeling, we stopped by Suvarov to introduce ourselves. Within a minute, David was asking if we’d been to Namena. I’d sailed through Namena en route from Makogai to Savusavu, but had never stopped. We tentatively made plans to head out there when the weather permitted.

Namena is a marine reserve, famous for it’s diving. Unfortunately there’s no protected anchorage. The water is deep and full of coral. It’s really only tenable in light winds. It took two weeks, but Suvarov, Odin and Bodhran all jumped on a good looking weather window and left Cousteau for the 25 mile sail down to Namena.

David from Suvarov is an Austrian married to an Argentinian. His family left for the cyclone season while David stayed back to tend the boat. Bertel on Odin is German and in much the same boat with his girlfriend gone for the season. They’d both been jumping back and forth between Savusavu and Cousteau and were ready for a break in the cyclone season monotony.

We had fantastic wind for the sail south close reaching in a 15 knot Southeasterly. I’d been through the pass before and had no problem pulling into the anchorage and picking up the one mooring. It was actually a dive mooring for a wreck, but upon inspection looked plenty strong enough for Bodhran. Odin and Suvarov came in an hour later and anchored in 70 feet of water. I was very happy to have picked up the mooring.

Mélanie and I then went to the resort on the island to pay our $30FJD fee for snorkeling/diving in the marine reserve. The resort folk were friendly, but wanted an additional $50FJD per person for each day you wanted to land on the island. We decided to forego land and go for a snorkel.

The snorkeling right off the resort dock was fantastic with 4 giant clams right there in 10 feet of water. We then snorkeled the mile or so back to Bodhran and were treated to white tipped reef sharks, a hawksbill turtle, a sting ray and the healthiest coral that I’d seen in Fiji. Namena was looking like a very good stop.

The next morning we went back to the resort for information on the different dive sites. We didn’t get too much, but found out that slack water in the passes was 1 hour later than the stated times on the tide table and that the south reef was better on an incoming tide and the north reef better on an outgoing tide.

Mélanie went for another snorkel off the dock and saw a huge grouper. She’s turning into quite the fish these days and on the way back I dropped her off at another coral head near the boats while I went back to make breakfast. About 2 minutes later I heard screaming and popped my head out of the boat to see Mélanie waving me down. I quickly hopped in the skiff and pulled her out of the water thinking that she’d been stung by one of the huge jellyfish (Grape Jellos) that we’d been seeing around the area. Instead she’d had an encounter with a particularly neurotic barracuda that we’ve nicknamed Barry. Barry started out by staring Mélanie down with his big menacing underbite. He then proceeded to nip at her fins testing to see if she was food or not. It was about then that Mélanie decided she needed to get out of the water. For the three days that we’ve been in Namena, Barry has been a regular fixture patrolling around the boat, waiting for Mélanie to get back in the water.

Odin has a dive compressor on board which was really the impetus for this trip. David and Bertel brought their skiff and dive gear over to Bodhran a bit after noon and we took off to find the mooring just inside the north pass of the reef. We had the waypoints for a number of dive moorings around Namena, but this proved to be the only one that actually existed. Once Bodhran was moored, we took to the skiffs and went to a dive site called Grand Canyon. It turned out that the current was too strong and I was forced to keep the skiff tied to me while Mélanie and I snorkeled. The visibility wasn’t great and we couldn’t stay in one place due to the strong current, but it was still a fantastic snorkel drifting along a drop-off into a seemingly endless abyss.

We went back to Bodhran for water and snacks and then proceed to Kansas where David and Mélanie snorkeled while Bertel and I dove. The site is presumably named Kansas due to a great patch of soft coral on top that looked like a wheat field blowing in the wind. Kansas was very, very fishy. The highlight were two big trevally that kept swimming in circles around us, but down lower where 1000s of aquarium sized fish that stretched as far as the eye could see.

For the next 2 days we repeated this pattern. Everyone would come to Bodhran with their gear, then we’d head out to a different dive spot where we’d look for a mooring, not find one and then anchor the boat before taking to the skiffs. I dove on Chimneys and Fantasea and snorkeled Mushrooms (dive sites really do have colorful names.) After diving each day, we’d climb on Bodhran, crack some beers and head back to the “anchorage”.

This morning David and Bertel took off due to an impending northly wind. They didn’t want to get trapped down and forced to bash their way back to Savusavu. Mélanie and I are planning on heading down to Makogai 22 miles to the south, so a north wind would work nicely for us. We’ve made our way out to where we can pick up internet from Koro island. Hopefully the next blog post will find us having spent one more good day in Namena and then having a fantastic time down at Makogai.

Not so Superbowl and more Quebecois

Friday, February 7th, 2014

As I mentioned in the last blog post, Mélanie met Richard and Denyse along the beach by Cousteau Resort. They’d rented a house on the beach for 3 weeks as part of their year long trip around the world (flying not sailing). They left for Nadi this morning, but we’ve all been hanging out exploring the area together for the last few weeks.

I hadn’t spent any time in the interior of Vanua Levu, so when Richard and Denyse rented a car and offered to take us along, Mélanie and I jumped at the opportunity. Savusavu was a madhouse with a Princess cruise ship in town, so we figured that a trip up to the national park for a nature hike seemed like a good plan.

It only took 45 minutes to drive up to Waisali National Park with it’s one trail. We pulled into the parking lot right behind a bus from the cruise ship….Doh! We quickly scurried in front of them to the ranger station to pay our fee and get on the trail.

The trail was in good shape even after the recent rain. The signs pointing out various local flora and fauna were badly sun damaged and mostly illegible. The highlight of the trip was the creek at the valley floor with multiple waterfalls and a nice pool to go swimming in, after doing the obligatory cannonball of course.

After the park, we were supposed to meet up with Tia at the Copra Shed to go up to a waterfall. Tia never showed, but we all enjoyed all the cruise ship people watching and the band while we sat on the grass and played cribbage.

The next day we set out towards the western tip of Vanua Levu. After about an hour we ran into road construction. After 20km we saw a construction worked eating lunch and asked how much longer the road was torn up. He said that we had another 60km to go to the beach and that the road was under construction the entire way…..we turned around. We then tried going out the Hibiscus Highway towards Viani Bay to the East, but were again turned around by road construction. Oh well, some things just aren’t meant to be.

Then the big day finally came. Superbowl Monday. I’d been waiting around Savusavu ever since the 49er’s game to make sure I’d be able to watch. Richard and Denyse met us at the Yacht Club where we joined a spattering of other Seattle fans and one lone Bronco who had just quit her job and flown to Fiji. I remember mentioning during the pregame show how much more nervous I’d been about the San Francisco game 2 weeks earlier. As everyone now knows, I had nothing to worry about as Denver didn’t show up to play.

With the game being over and my life/schedule being my own again, I took Richard and Denyse out for a sail towards Koro island. It was a good opportunity to test my compression post reinforcement in a 15-20 knot breeze. The post didn’t flex a bit as we bashed into 3-5 seas with a reef in the main. It definitely gives me confidence as I start making my way back home.

We got one good strike on the fishing line while we were out past the point. Mélanie wore herself down to the nub reeling it in, but the fish spat out the hook when it caught sight of the boat. Our fishing record during cyclone season continues to be abysmal.

After our day sail, we anchored off Richard and Denyse’s house where we’ve spent a few days snorkeling and enjoying being out of town. Yesterday we borrowed a couple of kayaks and paddled out to Cousteau Resort’s private island a half mile past the point. It was a beautiful sunny day and I had my camera along, so we spent a lot of time playing in the water and doing some gymnastics on the beach. Fun, but my back is killing me from a pretty good tumble. I think I need to practice a bit more.

We’ll be off to Namena tomorrow, hopefully with a couple of German boats that we’ve also been hanging out with in tow. It should prove for some epic snorkeling and diving as long as the weather cooperates.

Maintenance and the Mumps

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

The last update to this blog had Mélanie and I running for the safety of Nagaigai Creek as Cyclone Ian was heading our way. The forecast held true and Ian turned back towards Tonga sparing us, but hitting the Ha’apai group with 185mph winds.

While we were hiding out from Ian, Mélanie’s throat started hurting. She stayed on the boat while I explored the abandoned houses and copra drier back up behind the mangroves. Then, the day Ian started heading back towards Tonga, the left side of her throat was so swollen that she was having a hard time swallowing. We immediately pulled up the hook and took off for Taveuni 8 miles away.

There was still a big swell running up Somosomo strait being powered by Ian now 100 miles to the Southeast. We managed to find a marginal anchorage off Somosomo village, where we landed the dinghy and took a cab to the doctor. Fortunately we chose the private doctor over going to the hospital. We were in and out in 15 minutes flat. Turns out Mélanie had come down with the Mumps. They gave her antibiotics, but said that it was caused by a virus and that there was nothing they could do. All said and done for the doctors visit, antibiotics, and pain killers it came out to $75FJD ($40USD). Not bad for the private doctor without an appointment.

We got back to Bodhran and the wind was honking up the strait. We’d wanted to go back to Viani Bay, but instead were forced by the wind back to Nagaigai. We woke up early the next morning to make Viani and it’s good internet connection to watch the Seahawks take out the Saints in the NFC Divisional round of the playoffs.

We hung around Viani Bay for a few days, but Mélanie couldn’t go swimming or do anything fun, so we figured it was a good idea to head back to Savusavu. Mélanie could be close to a doctor if need be and I could take care of a nagging problem with my compression post under the mast. We took two days to get back motoring in the morning and then sailing as the wind picked up by mid day. We stopped over for the night at Fawn Harbor, but didn’t check the place out much.

Back in Savusavu, I went to work trying to find angle iron to shore up my compression post. The Downeast 32 was built with a pretty significant flaw. The compression post that supports the mast underneath the deck is half the width of the mast. Not a big deal if it was centered, but it’s located underneath the aft half of the mast. When the mast is loaded up, it compresses the deck in front of the post and causes the post to bend. The post had dealt with this for 34 years, but has been getting tired since I crossed the pacific back in 2008. I’ve tried various fixes since then trying to zero in on the problem, but now I believe that it’s the post itself that needs to be replaced and moved 5 inches foreward.

Instead of pulling the mast and replacing the post with an unseasoned piece of timber that I would find here in Savusavu, I decided to reinforce it with steel. I found two pieces of 5/16” thick 3×3” angle iron. Of course they were rusty as hell sitting in a yard by the beach. So I took 4 days to cut, clean, drill and paint the steel while I was waiting for the Seahawks/49er’s game.

Gameday came. I got a last coat of paint on the steel before the Broncos beat the Patriots. Then went to the yacht club to watch the big game on the big screen with a bunch of Seattle fans and one SF fan. It’s been great being able to follow the Seahawks on the internet all year, but it’s really special watching a big game like that at a bar with other people. I wish that I’d been at home to feel the energy in Seattle, but all the Facebook posts gave me a good idea of what it was like.

Once Seattle had secured their spot in the Super Bowl, it was time to get the angle iron installed. I got the rig loaded up, put the sails back on and everything looks good.

Mélanie and I got Bodhran provisioned up and decided it was time to go. We left Savusavu and made it all the way down to Cousteau Resort a whopping 4 miles down the peninsula. Mélanie has to be in internet range to skype and do some work right now, so we’re hanging out, anchored off Cousteau with 5 German and Austrian boats, getting some snorkeling in and waiting for the big game on February 2nd (3rd over here). Thought the big game doesn’t seem as big as the one against SF.