Posts Tagged ‘squalls’

Futuna Turnaround

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

It seems a silly thing to have to do, but boats sticking around Fiji have to leave the country every 18 months or pay 30% the value of the boat in duty. My 18 months was almost up, so it was time to get out. The nearest country to sail to is the French Island of Futuna a mere 230 miles the the northeast. I’d pressed hard from Vuda Point to make it to Savusavu during a break in the tradewinds caused by a high pressure system. When I got to Savusavu, the forecast was for one more day of northerly winds before the predominant easterlies filled back in. I had a couple of hard slogs against the trades to get east from Savusavu in the past that I didn’t want to relive, so I bought 5 pineapples and checked out of Fiji.

The forecast northerly ended up being a light southerly and I used it motorsail most of the way east to Taveuni. Then things started getting ugly. Sitting atop Somosomo Strait between Taveuni and Vanua Levu was the gnarliest looking bit of weather that I’ve ever seen. At first I thought there was even a waterspout in the middle, but it just turned out to be a particularly dense column of rain. Clouds that looked like a volcanic eruptions, lightning flashing throughout the system with deafening thunder following behind and then for a bit of a meteorlogic irony, a rainbow off to one side.

I dropped sail when I though there was enough wind in the system to form a waterspout and began tracking the cell on radar. I then noticed another, much less scary, lightning filled system coming up behind me. This is the first time that I’ve used my newly installed radar and it worked flawlessly. I threw all my portable electronics in the oven to protect them in case of a lightning stick and then used the radar to keep directly between the two passing systems. I ended up passing through Somosomo with just a little rain and a nice rainbow.

I only know a few boats that have been hit by lightning. I’ve heard of it blowing out through hulls and sinking boats before, but the people that I know just had their electronics fried. Either way, it’s one of the few things that really scares me out at sea. This trip treated me to lightning at sunset every evening.

Once through Somosome Strait, the wind filled in on the nose and stayed there the next two days to Futuna. The wind was light as I motorsailed against it. Unfortunately the seas were not. 2 meter waves greeted me as I cleared Rabi and made my way out into open water. The seas were much bigger then the 5-10 knot breeze should have created. Add to that a contrary current running at .5 to 1.5 knots the entire way up to Futuna. I averaged 3 knots motoring all but a few hours of the trip.

I pulled into Futuna at dawn on the third morning. The one anchorage on the island was well marked and easy to find. It was too early for customs, so I had a little swim, cleaned up and took care of a few boat projects that had come up on the passage. At 8am I rowed ashore to look for the Gendarmarie.

Futuna’s people are a mix of Tongan and Polynesian. The place felt very much like one of the outer islands in French Polynesia. After spending so much time in Fiji, it was hard to not greet everyone on the street with a hearty Bula! As it turned out it was hard to even get enough eye contact to say bonjour. I’m sure the people are very friendly, indeed one of the gendarmes gave me an enormous lei, but after Fiji, the place felt very cold. It also could do with the fact most visitors, like myself, just show up for a few hours and then are off again.

Checking in and out simultaneously with the gendarmes and customs was a breeze. I didn’t have to fill out a single form or pay any fees. It made me a bit sad to leave so quickly, but the wind was perfect for the return trip and the anchorage was notoriously rolly. I decided the prudent thing to do was to sail on.
Just 3 hours after arriving, I hauled up the hook and set off on one of the most pleasant sails that I’ve ever had.

That current that was against me going northbound, was like a turbo boost heading south. With 10-15 knots from the stern quarter, I was able sail at nearly 7 knots most of the way home. The wind finally failed me after getting back through Somosomo, but even then I was able to sail at 4 knots the rest of the way to Point Reef where I finally had to turn on the motor to make the 4 miles north up to Savusavu. Brilliant and uneventful, except for the squalls and lightning that I still had to deal with each evening.

I pulled into Savusavu at 9:30 this morning, just 9 days after leaving Vuda Point and 3 days before my old import permit would have expired. I was worried about getting a good weather window to leave Savusavu, but I doubt that I could have pulled off that turnaround any better. Now it’s time to start getting ready for cyclone season here in Fiji. I’ve identified a number of “hurricane holes” on the charts. I need to explore and lay down track lines into each of them so that I’ll have someplace to run if a cyclone does come along. However it goes down, I feel better about this than leaving my boat to be smashed in Vuda Point again.

First Day Back Out Cruising

Monday, October 8th, 2012

Our route from Savusavu to Matei

Wading through the ankle deep water, each step resulted in a laser light show and electrical impulses ran through whatever was living in the broken up coral. 24 hours earlier, I was motoring up to this reef trying to find a sandy patch to drop the hook. Guava Jelly and I took off from Savusavu at noon with no idea where we were going to end up that day. The trade winds were down and I wanted to test Bodhran’s motor after her 4 month vacation. We motored around Point Reef and headed East. A massive black squall moved off to the West behind us, but he had lots of friends still ahead of us. For the next 10 hours we punched through a seemingly endless progression of squalls. Each squall would bring slightly different wind conditions. None were particularly strong, but sometimes the wind would come south enough to roll out the jib and back the motor off a bit.

Squall behind me as I was rounding Point Reef

The sunset wasn’t particularly dramatic. The thick overcast grew dim and then faded to black. I was motoring along in Fiji’s notoriously reef strewn waters. Guava Jelly’s stern light dim in the distance a mile ahead. I probably should have been nervous, but there was plenty of sea room to the South. I could always fore-reach off towards open water and wait for the sun to come up. Instead we motored off towards Somosomo Pass between Vanua Levu and Taveuni. The pass is about a mile wide, and I had gotten GPS coordinates from Ricki. The current was with us in flat calm water until we reached the narrowest part of the pass when all hell broke loose. Tide rips tossed Bodhran like a rag doll. The biggest squall of the night inundated the scuppers, flooding the deck with tossing water. I was right on my course line and after 30 minutes the rip subsided and so did the rain. I motored another 90 minutes up to the roadstead anchorage off Matei at the north end of Taveuni. Guava was there ahead of me as I blindly nosed my way into shallower water. When the depth sounder read 40 feet, I dropped the hook. Matei’s lack of protection meant that it was easy to approach at night and I didn’t mind the roll much as I fell back into my bunk and passed out.

Cloudy morning in the anchorage and my first view of Taveuni

The next morning began with the swell rocking me awake way too early. I tried to bury my head under my pillow and brace myself against the roll, but I couldn’t get back to sleep. Instead, I swung out of bed and made a cup of coffee and watched the morning slowly pass by. Ricki and I took off for a pre-lunch snorkel along the reef a half mile north of the boats. The reef was good, but not great. Being back in the water in the tropics after 4 months was spectacular. Rick and I both had new underwater housings for out cameras which we were eager to try out and many mediocre pictures were taken before we called it quits.

Ricki and I about ready to hop in the water

Ricki trying out his new GoPro houseing

Nice hunk of coral at Matei:

Me snorkeling at Matei

Good pic of Ricki’s skiff at our snorkeling spot

There’s a resort at Matei, which brings with it a cell tower and internet. So after cleaning up, I went over to Guava Jelly where Ricki was streaming the UW/Stanford game. The snorkeling was good, but sitting in the sun, swaying at anchor, drinking ice cold Fiji Bitters and listening to football was sublime. Made all the more so with the Huskies late game comeback to beat the #4 ranked Cardinals.

Rick with his Husky beer coozy after the game

Rick had been exchanging emails with an Italian girl who was working at the dive shop at Matei. So after the game we made our way into the beach to meet up with Alice and share some more beers a restaurant on the hill overlooking our boats. Alice is a fashion photographer from Milan who’s been traveling through SE Asia, Australia and the Pacific. After a few rounds, Alice suggested it’d be fun to sit in at a kava circle at a backpackers hotel on the other side of the island. So we went back out to the boats to get our guitars and some kava packets and hit the road.

We started hiking up the hill from the dive shop, but a pickup soon came along and gave us a ride to the backpackers 2 miles away. They gave us the phone number in case we needed a ride later on. Too bad we forgot it. Alice knew all the employees at the hotel and introduced us around. All the men were out on the deck by the water sitting around a large kava bowl. One fella had an old classical guitar which was only missing one string. Not bad by Fijian standards. The three of us sat down, and offered up a few $1 packets of kava. We then fell into a beautiful evening of laughing, playing music and drinking that bitter, muddy brew so favored by the Fijians until a violent squall forced us to scramble inside lest we get swept into the sea. We set back up in the the common room and kept going until I was near comatose.

It’d been a long couple of days and I’d imbibed more than my fair share of mind altering beverages. It was 10:30 on a Friday night. We didn’t figure that it’d be too hard to find a cab. Of course we were wrong. None of the hotel staff had a vehicle. We couldn’t remember the number of the guy who had given us a ride earlier and none of the taxis were answering their phones. The rain had subsided, but was coming and going. I didn’t really want to walk home, but I really did want to go to bed, so we set out into the dark hoping to flag down a passing car. We had vague directions to find a guy named Choni at the village who had a car. We asked at a kava circle we saw and also inquired a couple of young passers by if they knew Choni, but nobody did. Neither did we see a single car on the road. Taveuni isn’t that rural. It has roads, but it seems that no one strays too far from home once the sun goes down.

We almost made it back before the clouds opened back up for business. As luck would have it there was a little shop not too far up the road and we ducked under it’s awning for 20 minutes as the clouds wrung themselves dry. The rain didn’t stop, but it let up to a drizzle and we took our chances. We left Alice at the dive shop and went down to the beach where we’d left Ricki’s skiff. Taveuni has surprisingly big tides and we hit it right at the low. We had to carry the skiff a good 100 feet down to the waterline. Once we launched the skiff, we thought that we were home free. Alas it wasn’t meant to be. Cyclones over the years had piled up a berm of broken coral 50 feet off the beach covered at low tide by only a couple of inches of water. We transited our little lagoon to the north and back to the south looking for a way out, but found no success. We got out and drug the empty skiff over the pile of shifting coral.

So here we are where I began this day’s account. Electric impulses firing from whatever creatures were living in the broken heap sending little bolts of lightning out in a radial pattern from each of our steps. Yes it sucked that we had to walk all the way back to the boats. Tiptoeing across broken coral trying not to slice open my un-protected toes was a bit challenging, but what a magical experience and what a way to re-start my cruising life after a 4 month absence.