Posts Tagged ‘Vuda Point’

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

Overly Long Maintenance Break at Vuda Point

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

I can’t believe that I was in Vuda Point for 3 and a half weeks! It’d actually be longer than that if I’d been able to get into the marina.

Christian and I sailed back from the Yasawas a month ago. When we got to Vuda Point we found 4 boats waiting outside to get in. On top of that there were boats rafted up 3 deep in places along the marina walls where I’d never seen a boat tied up before. We quickly diverted off to Saweni Bay 4 miles north. I’d been to Saweni many times over the years. I’d never seen more than 4 boats in there. When Irie and Bodhran dropped their hooks it made over 20. It was apparent that the peak season was here.

Every year about this time boats start worrying about cyclone season. The most popular options are to sail to New Zealand or leave your boat in Vuda Point. The less popular options are to sail on to Australia, Asia or north up to the Marshall Islands. My aim was to sail up to the Marshall Islands, but I had some work to do first.

My autopilot and windlass both crapped out on me back on Vanua Levu. I was able to order windlass parts from Scotland and have them shipped to Vuda. I looked all over the web for a suitable used autopilot but couldn’t find anything, or at least I couldn’t find anything that was a good deal. I ended up dipping into the kitty and ordering a brand new Raymarine EV400 autopilot. It was more than I wanted to spend, but only about 30% more than what people wanted for 15 year old used systems on ebay.

I ordered these parts from Saweni Bay and settled in to wait. Christian took a couple of days to provision and get some last minute boat projects in. Then he was off down to New Zealand. He had a good ride, making the passage in just under 9 days. A very respectable passage for Irie.

It took me a week before I was able to get into Vuda. The place was busting at the seams, but they squeezed me in and welcomed me like returning family. I spent the first night back playing music with the boys up in Navetau and then set to work on the windlass the next day.

One of the two idler springs had broken which prevented to double action on the windlass from working. You’d pull the lever, the chain would come in, you’d push the lever back and the chain would go out. Not very useful. Stripping the windlass turned out to be a bit of a chore. I spent a couple days trying to get the high speed gear spindle out before I took it up to Baobob Marine and had them punch it out with the hydraulic press. Once I had it apart, changing the springs was no problem and I’m happy to report that the windlass is now working like new.

Next I pulled the mast and hauled Bodhran to redo the bottom paint. I’d completely replaced the rig back in 2005, but 4 of my turnbuckles were galled and very difficult to undo. One actually snapped as I was taking it off. Thankfully Riki had donated a spare after I had to use my own spare on one that was bent during cyclone Evan. The mast came off without a hitch and I set to reglassing the mast step, running the radar wire and replacing the terminals for the tri-color and spreader lights.

I’d tried cheaping out on bottom paint by using the $40USD a gallon Apco anti-fouling paint instead of my usual International Ultra which goes for $300USD a gallon here. Alas the Apco was so ineffectual that I had to scrape my bottom a month after painting it. Normally you get at least 6 months to a year growth free with good paint. After 3 multiple hour bottom scraping sessions, I bit the bullet and re-did the bottom with Ultra. It was a record turn around. I sanded the bottom, got two coats of paint on and went back in the water in 24 hours.

When we went to put the mast back on, I ended up breaking another turnbuckle. I didn’t notice that the backstay buckle was lying on it’s side when we tried to straighten the mast to hook up the headstay. We kept moving the crane forward trying to get the headstay attached until Marika finally pointed out the bent over turnbuckle to me. So now I was shy 1 turnbuckle and had 3 galled turnbuckles that I really shouldn’t have been using. It was time to order a whole new set of 7 from the states. It’s a shame to have to replace them after only 8 years, but I definitely didn’t want to be worrying about my rig during the passages to come.

We put the mast back up on a Saturday and I was planning on leaving the following week, so Siteri had planned a going away lovo for me that Sunday. Of course now I had to wait around for 10 more days for the turnbuckles to arrive, but the party went on as scheduled. A lovo is a traditional Melanesian way of slow cooking food. You start out by getting a good hot coal base going. Then you bust up a banana stalk and spread it out over the coals. You put the food on top of the banana stalk and then cover it with banana leaves and palm fronds. You then cover the whole thing with dirt. Then a hour and a half later, you dig it out and lunch is served.

I came up early to watch a bit of the Rugby League World Cup and then went to Church with Nina. When I got back lunch was served. It’s always a bit uncomfortable to eat first, but it’s the Fijian way. I sat down and ate my fill along with the children while all the adults sat around a drank kava. After fending off attempts to fill me up beyond the bursting point, I finally was able to digest and settle into a nice long afternoon kava drinking session.

It took 10 days for the turnbuckles to arrive. In the meantime, I got the autopilot installed, got the radar/chartplotter up and running, did a little painting and took care of lots of lingering little projects around the boat. The main highlight of that time was taking a bunch of post Diwali sale priced fireworks up for the kids in Navetau to light off. Needless to say a good time was had by all.

During most of my time in Vuda, I’d made up my mind to sail up to the Marshall Islands and then make the long voyage back to Seattle from Majuro in May. It was a good plan. The Marshalls are north of the equator and safe from cyclones. They’re supposed to have amazing snorkeling in beautiful water. The only thing that kept me a bit queasy about this plan was the passage from Majuro to Seattle. It’s 5000 miles with no place to stop along the way. You have to sail well north of Hawaii to pick up the westerlies. It would entail me being alone at sea for 40-50 days. Then I got a message from a friend friend on facebook asking if I needed crew for sailing around Fiji for 3 months. I initially told her that I was heading up the Marshalls and that it was too expensive to fly in and out of there. I suggested that it’d be better to find a boat in New Zealand, Mexico or the Caribbean. Then I started thinking; I helped Greg on Willow sail back from Fiji to American Samoa in March 2009. The trade winds break down during cyclone season and it’s possible to make eastward passages. Why couldn’t I hang out in Fiji until March and then island hop back to Seattle via Samoa, Christmas Island and Hawaii? That’s the new plan. I’m still planning on sailing home for a few years, but I’m not done with Fiji yet.

My turnbuckles finally arrived. It took a day to get them all replaced and to get the rig tuned up. I went out for a test sail to fine tune the rig and test the new autopilot. I had one more Sunday going away party up at Navetau and then took off for Savusavu. The wind was on the nose the entire way, so I motored for four straight days to get here, but I arrived at Savusavu this afternoon. I’ll be taking off tomorrow for the French island of Futuna 250 miles NE of here. I’ll just do a quick check in/check out there to reset my visa and import status on Bodhran. From Futuna, I’ll sail back to Savusavu to check back in to Fiji.

The plan is to cruise around the Lau during cyclone season. I’ve scouted out a few good cyclone holes and have identified a few more on Google Earth. Here’s hoping I don’t get hit, but either way it’s going to be an adventure.

The Yasawas

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

The Yasawas are a chain of islands 20 miles northwest of Fiji’s main isalnd, Viti Levu. Much like the San Juan Islands back home, they’re in a rain shadow from Viti Levu’s high mountains and enjoy a drier climate than most of Fiji. The fine weather and beauty of the islands make it a natural spot in tourism. Resorts and backpackers lodges are sprinkled throughout the chain. Normally I shy away from “tourist” areas when I’m out cruising, but I’d done the passage along the north end of Viti Levu 3 times now and figured it’d be nice to sail across Bligh Water and down the Yasawa chain on my way back around to Vuda Point to do some work on the boat before cyclone season.

Christian and I anchored off Sawa-I-Lau after a roaring good sail across from Yandua. We went into the village and did our sevusevu. We learned about the caves on the island and asked about trails to the top of the mountain. Sawa-I-Lau has two water filled caves that they run tours through. To get from the first to the second, you have to swim underwater through a short passage. There aren’t any resorts in the bay, but lodges send pangas full of tourists up from the Blue Lagoon 10 miles south. We were told to get to the caves early to beat the crowds, but alas we didn’t listen and ended up in a group of about 40 people. Most of them were honeymooners and young backpackers and it was kinda nice to get away from the cruiser crowd for a bit.

After the caves, all the boats cleared out and Christian and I were the only ones left. We wanted to hike the “trail” to the top of the mountain. We asked one of the locals about the way and he immediately offered to guide us. Generally Fijians figure that us soft cruisers can’t walk down the beach without a guide to keep us out of trouble. If we’re looking for company, we’ll accept the guide and then give them a present at the end for their trouble. On this day, we could tell the “Guide” didn’t really want to go, so we asked him to just show us where the trail started. We had to take our dinghy down the island 100 meters from the cave site, land on a small beach and were told to follow the crack all the way to the top.

Christian and I set out scrambling up the crack expecting to find a trail a short distance from the beach. The trail never did materialize. Instead we alternated between scrambling up loose rock through the bush and climbing up short rock pitches. The last hundred feet of elevation had a couple of pitches that I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to climb back down, but the view from the top made it worth the effort.

After watching the Seahawks come from behind to beat the Texans on the surprisingly good internet connection, we left the next day for the Blue Lagoon. Made famous by the very mediocre Brook Shields moving back in the 80s, the Blue Lagoon is the heart of the Yasawa tourist scene. We anchored off the Blue Lagoon Beach resort and decided to see what the place had to offer.

It turns out that the best thing it had to offer was good protection from the 20-25 knot winds blowing from the other side of the island. They run on a cashless system there and we weren’t allowed to buy drinks at the bar or to have dinner. Still there was some great snorkeling there. In fact a number of snorkelers from the lodge swung by to check out Bodhran. I had a number of them up on the boat, including a Kiwi fellow who swung by with his daughter then had to come again the next day with his son because his daughter was bragging about it too much.

We did have one good night in at the lodge. Christian I walked down the beach to take some sunset photos. On the way back we stopped in and drank kava with the band for a few hours. It was an interesting scene, sitting the floor with the boys under the bar while the guests all ate sitting at tables above us.

From the Blue Lagoon Beach resort, we made our way down to the very fancey Nanuya Lodge, but were unimpressed with the scene. We sailed further on down to Korovo Eco Lodge and spent a couple of days waiting for poor weather to pass and watching the Seahawks lose a heartbreaker to the Colts. Again we set sail and ended up anchoring in front of Octopus Lodge on Waya Island.

I’d heard good things about Octopus, but the anchorage out front was untennable. Coral covered most of the bottom with just a few small patches of sand to try and drop the hook into. The wind was forecast at 5 knots out of the southeast, but it still was kicking up a big swell causing the boats to pitch wildly. We went into the resort and were welcomed to come in and use the facilities. After a couple of Fiji Golds and a swim in the pool, we decided that we needed to move the boats before dark.

We pulled into the anchorage on the north end of Waya and anchored off a beach with a path across the ridge to Octopus Resort. We’d been out in remote Fiji and decided that it’d be nice to enjoy the hospitality of this beautiful resort. We settled in and spent a week splitting our time between the villagers and the resort. The highlight of which was Fiji Day.

Fiji Day celebrates the day they gained independence from Britain. The whole village was over at the resort celbrating with a joy that’s so typically Fijian. The volleyball tournement was surprisingly intense with teams fielded by each of the departments at the resort along with one for the villagers who don’t work at Octopus. The day ended with 3 kava circles and music late into the night.

From Waya, Irie and Bodhran set sail for Vuda Point. We had to motor most of the way, but had a nice, mellow sail for the last hour in, but alas the marina was full. It seems that the whole cruising fleet is backed up here in western Fiji getting ready to escape the coming cyclone season. We had to divert 5 miles north to Saweni Bay and wait. I’d never seen more than 3 boats in Saweni Bay. When we dropped our hooks there were close to 20. Very crowded, but it’s a good spot and there’s a good intnet connection.

So here I sit in Saweni, waiting to get into Vuda Marina. I’ve got part for my broken windlass on order as well as a new autopilot. I’ve been changing my mind on a daily basis, trying to figure out what I’m going to do next. I’ll probably change it 10 more times before I leave Fiji. I guess that I’ll let you all know where I’m going once I leave.

Vuda to Nananu-I-Ra

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

My intention was to take this blog in a bit of a different direction this year. As it turns out, I’ve just been too busy. I know, I know, stop laughing, but really I haven’t had much down time since I got to Fiji almost 2 months ago. Instead of trying to write more article like posts, I’m just going to go back to my good old travel blog style and get this thing caught up.

It took a month to fix the cyclone damage and get a new dinghy shipped to Vuda Point. Riki on Guava Jelly had been out in the Yasawas during that time, but came back to join me when I was ready to leave. I’d made lots of good friends with the yard workers at Vuda and had an amazing sendoff with 10 or so of the marina employees singing me “Isa Lei” the traditional Fijian farewell song.

Vuda treated me well, but it was high time to get back out cruising again. Guava Jelly and I set our sights on heading East. We were thinking Savusavu to meet up with another good buddy, Christian, on sv Irie. First Riki wanted to check out Nananu-I-Ra. He’d picked up some kite boarding gear back in Seattle and was eager to try in out. Nananu-I-Ra is on the NE corner of Viti Levu and gets consistent trade winds. It also has a kite boarding/dive lodge there to get some lessons from if needed.

We set off from Vuda and made it all the way to Seweni Bay the first day (about 5 miles). It was a great sail and a good test for some of the repairs made to Bodhran. From there we did the passage up to Nananu-I-Ra in 2 days of mostly motoring in flat calm conditions.

We got into Nananu-I-Ra and dropped the hook in a nice protected spot away from anybody. Riki had emailed Warren from the Safari Lodge for info on Kite boarding. Turns out that he’d spotted us coming in and came on over in a panga not long after we got there. Warren gave us the down low on kiting spots and the prices for lessons. He’s a very nice fella, but I decided that I’d forgo kiting and Riki decided to try and teach himself.

The next morning Riki and I took the skiff out to kite point and got down to business. I won’t describe the events, but needless to say Riki really needed lessons and had a good bump on his head to drive the message home. Warren and the lodge kite boarders showed up and we slunk away in the background while they got set up. Then came a couple of cruisers, Phillip and Teri on Blue Bie. Phillip took pity on Riki and gave him some lessons great improving our condition. By the end of the day Riki was flying his kite nicely and I was getting some great shots of Phillip and Teri jumping and doing flips on their boards.

The next day saw Riki out body dragging through the water learning kite control while I took more pics of Phillip, Teri and all the Safari kiters. We’d moved Guava Jelly, Bodhran and Blue Bie to the lee of kite point so that we’d be closer to the action. After another fine day on the point, the three boat’s crews settled in on the beach for a nice camp fire under an amazing starlit sky.

The third day found Riki up on his board for short spurts and then the ripping of his kite. Oops. So up came the hook and we decided to move anchor again and relocate closer to Safari to see if Warren could sew up Riki’s kite for him. I was able to give a bunch of kite boarding pics to the guests at the lodge. Warren is a busy man, so we set into a couple of days of snorkeling and hiking around the island while we waited for Riki’s kite to be repaired.

This post is going to get too long, so I’ll stop here. We’re in Savusavu now hoping to leave for the Lau Group today or tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll get caught up on the rest of the story before I leave.

Back to Fiji

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

After a 7 month hiatus, I’m back in Fiji. I left Bodhran in November in the care of the good folk at Vuda Point Marina. Vuda Point has specialized cyclone pits dug that they line with tires. Boat’s keels sit below ground and the hull rests, fully supported on the tires. It’s a great system, alas the pits were all reserved by July. I was having such an amazing time in Fiji with Riki last year that I decided on a whim to leave Bodhran here and go home for cyclone season so that I could return in June and sail Fiji in the proper season. Of course that was November and the pits were all full, so I left Bodhran in the water and rolled the dice.

Vuda Point hadn’t been hit by a cyclone in 4 years. They have systems in place to break waves coming in from outside the marina. I backed into my spot, attached my anchor chain to the mooring in the middle of the marina, borrowed fenders to supplement my own, and ran my stoutest lines to the seawall. It was the best that I could do. I got on an airplane and left my boat to face what might come on her own.

Cyclone Evan hit on December 17th. A category 4 storm which plowed right over the top of Vuda Point. Huge trees were toppled. The trees that did remain had all their leaves stripped off. Waves came in over the reef, through the dogleg in the passage, through the chain/airplane tire surge gate and were still breaking over the bows of the boats inside the marina. My neighbor Grant off Lochiel did his best to make sure Bodhran was prepared, but he had to motor for hours to keep his boat off the seawall. Amazingly Bodhran would probably have been fine if not for the huge 65 foot ketch that the put next to me. Our freeboards were such a mismatch and the fenders were all blown out from between the boats by the wind. Bodhran got caught under the neighbors rub rail bending two turnbuckles, two chainplates, a boarding ladder, a stanchion and ripping up 12 feet of cap rail. Additionally the larger boat drove Bodhran down on the stub dock buckling the stern rail, snapping off a vhf antenna, breaking up more caprail and damaging the fiberglass on the corner of the stern. Great was kind enough to send pictures so I could see the damage, but I had to wait for another 5 months to return and care for my poor boat.

I landed in Nadi International Airport on June 5th. Almost 6 months after Evan hit. I expected to see cyclone damage everywhere. I asked my cab driver about it. He said that everything was pretty much back to normal after 3 months. Cyclones are a fact of life in the tropics. People know how to deal with them when they hit.

I got into Bodhran at 3 o’clock in the morning, too tired to survey the damage. The mildew was overpowering, but sleep would not be denied. I awoke to the birds chirping as the sun came up. Amazingly all the trees had regrown their leaves. Vuda Point looked much as it did when I’d left it. The only sign of Evan were a few missing trees that had been replaced by some new planting.

It took a week to get hauled out. Progress was slow. I’d spent my first winter in the US in 7 years and my body took time to re-acclimate to the tropical sun. I hired Baobob marine to repair the damaged stern rail, had a couple of local fellas wax the hull and do the bottom job while got to work repairing the cap rail and replacing the cutlass bearing.

There wasn’t any damage that I couldn’t repair except for my dinghy. I’d left my year old Aakron Beachmaster dinghy rolled up and in it’s storage back during cyclone season. When I took it out of it’s bag, the tubes had separated from the transom and the handles and bow roller fell off. When I began to pump it up, the tubes went too. The glue had softened up during the heat of the southern Summer. I contacted Aakron, but got no response. Apparently their warranty is voided if you take their product into the tropics. I contacted Tim and Alison at Northland Inflatables down in New Zealand where I’d purchased the dinghy.

Tim and Alison were great. They went back and forth with Aakron for me for a week. In the end Aakron said that I could pay to send my dingy to New Zealand to be repaired and then pay to have it shipped back to me in Fiji. The whole process would have taken months and I still might have ended up constantly chasing leaks in a sub-par product. Tim and Alison proposed an alternative to me. They’d sell me a new slightly smaller dinghy from a different manufacturer at cost and they’d replace the oarlocks for free so that I could use my 7.5 foot wood oars. They also found an air freight option to send it up to me for a quarter of the price that I was being quoted in Fiji.

It too me 4 weeks to get out Vuda Point. Bodhran is back in shape. I’ve got a way to get to the beach. My outboard isn’t running as of yet and I’ve spent way too much money, but it could have been a lot worse.