Thursday, October 12, 2017

Things that Break in the Middle of the Night (Again)

We did the last of our reprovisioning, said goodbye to friends, and slipped our lines at Vuda Pt. Marina on Monday, Oct. 9th. We went over to the Customs Dock to clear out, along with three other boats. Since we were the outside (last boat to arrive) everyone had to wait for us to clear before they could leave. As we were getting ready to push off, the staff from Vuda Pt. came down to the dock and with a guitar accompaniment, sang us a beautiful Fiji good-bye song. We felt that many of the employees who we dealt with daily for over the last month truly will miss us, so we left with a very good feeling in our hearts. Fiji is simply one of those special places on earth.

A hearty send off from the staff of Vuda Pt. Marina to the three departing boats.
We motored into a 15-knot wind for about two hours to Mololo Pass (near the world famous Cloud Break surf break) where we hoisted the genoa and felt the boat get a bit in her teeth and settle into a steady 7 knots as the beam wind increased to around 18 to 20 knots. We had 446 nautical miles to go, but the weather looked perfect.

We had just run into some old friends that we’d last seen in the Galapagos, Geoff and Allison on Saroni, and discussed various cruising options for our trip to Australia. We’re tight on time and vacillated on whether to go to Vanuatu. Our fate was decided the night before when Meryl read s/v Georgia’s blog about their experiences touring an active volcano on Tanna Island in Vanuatu, so that’s where we set our course. It was pretty close to the rhumb line for New Caledonia anyway. It would just take a week out of our schedule, but it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The 446 nautical mile trip from Fiji to Port Resolution, Vanuatu crosses some very desolate water, but the good news is there are relatively few reefs along the route.
We quickly settled into our offshore mode, standing three-hour watches 24 x 7. Night watches were now much more enjoyable since we had the new dodger and bimini installed:  no more water dripping on our heads through the bimini or fabric ripping in the breeze. More importantly, we now had plastic roll-up side panels alongside the cockpit so when an errant wave came rushing up the beam of the boat, we stayed dry and toasty. I can’t tell you how nice a feature this is. I remember one night on our Tonga passage when I had to bathe (you are soaked in salt water from these waves) and put on new clothes three times during one night’s watch. I was not a happy camper. We could now also wear lighter clothing at night since the 20-knot winds were blocked by the panels. It was like we had our very own sundeck on the good ship Flying Cloud.

We had two boats ahead of us and one boat behind us (although we couldn’t see them) and we could talk to additional boats on the MagNet on 8122 at 8:00 am and 5:30 pm. Saroni was one day behind us but had lots of good information on Vanuatu and New Caledonia. We had thought of sneaking into the Loyalty Islands (part of New Caledonia) but we’d be taking a risk since you can only clear into Noumea, which was about 100 miles after the Loyalties. Saroni told us strong winds were predicted in one week, so we decided to continue to Tanna, see the volcano, then head to Port Villa on Efate Island in the Vanuatus to wait out the storm.

With a steady16 to 20 knots of wind on the beam, we enjoyed near perfect passage- making weather averaging 7.5 knots day after day with beautiful weather and 80 temperatuers.

When the boat is on a broad reach it stays fairly level so we could function down below with out getting covered in black and blue spots. We both looked forward to our 3-hour “naps” on the lee berth down below. It’s very quiet down below and I sleep like a baby, Meryl a little less so (she worries about everything).

During our last night’s watch at 2:00 am (remember, everything bad happens at 2:00 am), Meryl noticed our new Windows navigation computer was showing a warning message it was just about out of power. I checked the batteries and was shocked to see they were at about 16v instead of the normal 24 to 25 volts. On top of everything else, the charger/inverter (which provides power to the 220v Windows computer) had shut off. This is about when it would have been nice to have majored in Electrical Engineering instead of History.

We immediately started the engine but were flummoxed when the meter showed no amperage coming into the 24v battery bank. I got out my handy Fluke multimeter and saw no amps coming out of the 24v alternator. My assumption (and remember I’ve lately had a terrible track record with assumptions) was that somehow the alternator had gone bad (and I’d just installed new belts to be on the safe side) and also the inverter/charger had gone bad. We have a 110 v Honda generator buried in the Master Berth, but I figured it would do us no good if the charger was bad. 

To save what little precious battery we had left (remember we are running at night and we need our night lights, nav lights, etc. to be seen by other ships), we shut off the power hungry autopilot and began trading off each 30 minutes hand steering the boat. This is never easy on a big boat such as ours, but the wind was now a stead 20+ knots and we were surfing off the waves at 8.6 knots in the dark. A half hour of wrestling the wheel for us 70 year olds was about enough. During one of my 30-minute rest breaks I mentally walked through all the options. I felt our best bet was to get to New Caledonia as soon as possible since they had marine electricians and a good supply of parts if we had to replace the very expensive Mastervolt charger/inverter. I had Meryl change course, heading up about 20 degrees in an attempt to get to NC before the storm did.

During all these mental machinations, a distant thought popped in to my head. It was like deja’ vu all over again. We’d had this same scenario (before we increased the size of our battery bank). I remembered the computerized regulator attached to our 24v alternator had a safety feature so when the house bank voltage dropped below 21v, the regulator would stop charing the battery to protect it from damage. Bingo!

A very happy Captain Meryl after solving our electrical problems out in the middle of nowhere.
As the sun came up we religiously watched the incoming amps from our solar panels and the minute the banks hit 21v we turned on the engine and watched the incoming amperage change from 8, to 20, to 40, and finally to 98 volts! I can’t tell you the sigh of relief that washed over Meryl and I as we fell off 20 degrees and resumed our course to Tanna Island in Vanuatu.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Computer Armageddon

We were in a great mood the day after our haul out knowing we’d dodged yet another bullet and could finally start planning for our trip to Vanuatu. “Oh Grasshopper, your optimistic brain fool your pessimistic experience.”

I was on my faithful Apple MacBook computer researching the upcoming voyage when it crashed. It rarely crashes, so I tried to boot it up using the special key strokes that run the Disk Utility, which promptly told me I had a corrupt hard drive (my hard drive had been taking payoffs from the Trump Administration?). So I used all the tools I had to fix the problem, but nothing worked.  

Using Meryl’s computer I started researching computer repair shops in Nadi and Lautoka, but not many shops worked on Apples. I finally found a very nice guy, Imtiaz Mohammed, who owned Groundwire Computers. He checked around and found the very last Apple hard drive on the island and arranged to pick up the computer the next day. I wasn’t too worried since I was very religious about backing up the computer, but I still had enough experience to know anything could happen.

I can't imagine why this little guy died, sitting in 120 degree heat all day, bathed in corrosive salt air, bouncing up and down, and running Windows software.
Later the next day I wanted to continue my online research using my Windows 7 navigation computer. I went to turn it on and nothing happened. I ended up trying to dissemble it, but it’s a special solid-state computer that’s built like a hockey puck. I did get to the on/off switch but even when I jumped across the terminals (it’s push to start switch) still nothing. Since I couldn’t access the interior circuit board I knew I wasn’t going to get it fixed in Fiji, so Meryl and I hoped in a taxi and headed to Nadi (to fix yet another broken item: the regulator hose on her SCUBA gear) and to look for a new computer. Luckily Imtiaz called to say my Mac was ready, so we met at a local shopping center where Meryl was doing some last minute shopping. Imtiaz, hearing about the problem with the Windows machine, had stopped by Broadwell Computers and brought back a list of all the laptops they sell. Unfortunately none of them ran on 12v but he recommended a top rated HP 250 laptop. 

When I got back to the boat to install the computer I realized it was an Australian computer so it naturally had the 220v Chinese style plug (and it said Good Day, Mate! when I booted it up). Luckily I had an expensive “Swiss Army knife” type electrical plug adaptor that accepted the 220v plug and I plugged it into an outlet strip running off our inverter. Running a laptop (which internally runs on 19.6v) through a 220v power supply attached to a 110v 2500w ship’s inverter is probably the biggest waste of electricity possible on a boat, but it was our only option.

I hooked up my Windows backup drive and proceeded to search for my files. To my dismay, I found the Microsoft backup had only backed up certain files, so I had to manually try to find all the files I needed. The most important software was the navigation system, followed by the Airmail satellite email system. I luckily got the nav system restored and running, but had a hell of time getting the very expensive charts reinstalled since they were protected by a sophisticated licensing system and my licenses had been wiped out in the crash (my other backup of my licenses was on my Mac computer that had also crashed, so you can see the problem). After many emails to MaxSea in France (always having to wait until the next day because of the time difference) we finally got the nav system functioning. The sad thing was I lost hundreds of routes and marks I’d spent years installing and that gave all the history of our voyage.  When I get back to Bend, OR and settled in I’ll try to get the old nav computer fixed and restore those files for posterity’s sake.

I had an equal amount of trouble restoring other files on the Windows machine. And like the Mac, I was now dealing with a new operations system (Windows 10) with which I had no familiarity. It wasn’t so much the programs, many of which can be downloaded from the web these days, it was more the configuration programs with the hundreds of tweaks I’d done to get the nav system and our Airmail system to run efficiently. Double ugh!

As you might guess, I ran into the same problem on the Mac. Even though I had two different backups, but they only backed up certain programs. I was able to restore over 1 million files in my Documents section, which essentially is our whole life since we’ve been onboard. But for instance, we’d just switched from Quicken on the Windows machine to Quicken on the Mac. The new Mac version backs up the files in a hidden area of the computer, one that is not backed up by the Mac Timeline backup system. So three months worth of cash expenses, budgets, etc. were lost. I had also made an additional backup to a thumb drive but just hadn’t gotten around to setting it up on the Mac. 

I had also had two other navigation programs (backups) that were lost, but I’m hesitant to restore them. When the new hard drive was installed in the Mac the tech also upgraded the operating system to High Sierra. When upgrading to a new operation system, if the file structure needs to be change, the upgrade process normally takes card of it. In my case was I directly transferring the files, since a restore would only overwrite the new OS. What a mess! I had no “permissions” to my own files! Even though I’m fairly experienced in all this, I’m always amazed by how difficult and complicated it is to fix computer problems, even when you’re home in the States with access to resources, no less on a sailboat floating in the South Pacific Ocean.

When I went to restore the Quicken financial software I realized I had to have a special code from Wells Fargo bank (they’ve recently revamped all their security software) to access those accounts via Quicken. This code can only be sent via SMS to a US based cell phone, which I obviously don’t have. Last time it took my over two weeks and numerous calls to friends to use their US phones for the code. These US phones had to be first verified by Wells Fargo which meant even that process took three to four days per phone. And once the code is sent it’s only good for a few hours. I found a fairly inexperienced account rep at Wells Fargo (using Skype) who was about to give me the code (which she’s not supposed to do over the phone) when the Skype connection went dead. When I called back I found out the Customer Service Center just closed for the weekend. I have a million of these stories of “you can’t get there from here,” but I won’t bore you with them. It’s painful enough for me to experience them on a daily basis. As my old business partner John Sammons said “if it was easy everyone would be doing it.”

We now have the HP laptop running our nav software and sucking up precious electricity, and the Mac somewhat restored by still very sketchy because of the nature of the conversion. And still waiting to hear from Wells Fargo (have to log into their web site which we obviously can’t do in the middle of the ocean) for the special code. I do now have a Google Voice US phone number so we’ll see if that works. Last time Wells Fargo wouldn’t certify it for transmission of the code.

And so it goes. I promise we’ll have some nice posts coming up about us laying under a coconut palm sipping Pina Coladas.

Monday, October 2, 2017

It's Getting Trying

Our last blog found us in a relatively happy mood having just finished a minor refit at Vuda Pt. Marina in Fiji. As mentioned before, we've really enjoyed staying at the marina as the staff are super friendly and helpful. That doesn't sound like a lot but out here it's relatively rare and left us with a very good feeling. But after a month in the marina we are getting anxious to get out and see some of Fiji before we have to leave for Vanuatu.

We're still very reticent about sailing around Fiji since the yard is full of boats who've made mistakes and hit reefs. We are being super cautious with navigation and double checking everything on our iPad running Ovital. It's an app that shows our boat superimposed on a Google Earth image so we can actually see the reefs and compare that to where our charts say the reefs are located. Except sometime the Google Earth photo has a cloud right over the position of the reef. Makes it more sporting that way.

On Sept. 19th we left Vuda and motor sailed for about six hours west up to Manta Ray Bay and anchored on the northwest side with seven other boats. It's always more challenging  getting in later in the day when all the good anchor spots are taken. Our plan was to spend the night and then dingy about 1/3 mile north to swim with the Mantas near Drawaqa Island.

There was a lot of swell coming in (typical with all the Mamanacu and Yasawa Island anchorages) and also a strong current from the nearby pass. We spent a very uncomfortable night rolling around in our berth and listening to strange growling sounds from our anchor chain. The next morning we were laying in the strangest direction and I noticed the anchor chain was bar tight. Another cruiser had mentioned his anchor got wrapped around rocks 70 ft. down and it took two divers two hours to unwrap him. I suspected the same thing was happening to us so I had Meryl motor in various directions while I tried to get the anchor up without breaking it. You can't afford to lose an anchor and/or chain out here so I was glad when we finally got it lose.

We decided to bag the Mantas and on Sept 20th sailed 11 miles north to Naviti Island and Vunayawa Bay. We anchored just off a nice sandy beach with two other boats and enjoyed a relatively peaceful night, with swells but not as bad as Drawaqa. The snorkeling was actually pretty nice with healthy coral and lots of small fish. So wonderful to be in the clear water again after the stewing soup at Vuda Marina.
The very beautiful Blue Lagoon in the Yasawa Islands.
The next morning we kept heading north to our final destination, Blue Lagoon. Yes, the Blue Lagoon where Brooke Shields scampered about in her birthday suit.  We were a little concerned about the anchorage entrance but it was rather straightforward once we arrived. We anchored off the Nayuna Resort with about 30 other boats. Blue Lagoon is one of the few anchorages in the Yasawa Islands that is very well protected with virtually no swell coming in. We sat in the cockpit, had a beer, and enjoyed the relative peacefulness and surrounding beauty.

Photo Credit: Internet. I wouldn't get this close for a photo op.
Anxious to get off the boat, we donned our snorkeling gear and explored the reef just down the beach at Savuti Pt. The water was kind of cloudy and the reef uninteresting, but we did see our first black-banded krait, a black and white sea snake that is 10 times more venomous than a King Cobra. I was certainly giving it plenty of sea room but according to other cruisers they are unaggressive and have fangs at the back of their small mouths so getting bit takes a lot of effort. Still, we gave it lots of room. We then moved a bit west to what is called the Cruise Ship beach (they disgorge hundreds of passengers so they can get barbecued red on the beach on Tuesday and Wednesdays). The snorkeling there was much better with clear water and lots of tropical fish.

Blue Lagoon was a perfect spot to pump up our Red Paddle SUP and paddle around the anchorage. When the water is this clear it's like snorkeling from above as you can see the coral and fish swimming around under you. Plus you get a great arm workout and cover a lot of distance without too much effort.

The next day we went for a hike across the island to a well known tea house on the other side. We naturally got lost in the first five minutes, neglecting to see the trail head hidden behind a huge water tank. But once we got going it was a beautiful hike along the ridge with vistas over the green hills to the blue Pacific Ocean overlooking both sides of the island.

We came to a fork in the trail and went left (folklore says always go right) and came down to a small village called Enedale. Took awhile to find someone who could point us in the right direction, but a nice older man who had been taking a nap under a tree told us to head down the beach. Went that direction and asked some Japanese backpackers where the tea house was (you'd think the Japanese would know about a tea house), but that was "lost in translation."

The elusive Mama Lo's tea house.
 Finally, we headed down the beach and around a headwall and lo, there it was:  Lo's Teahouse. Painted a bright green, it was hard to miss! We met sweet Lo, the owner who made us some wonderful chocolate donuts and tea. We sat and talked to her for some time learning about her history and family. After lunch she showed us the correct trail and the hike back seemed to take half the time as coming over.

The next day we went SCUBA diving with Blue Lagoon Divers. We hadn't dove in over a year so it took some time to get used to the equipment, hand signals, etc. The first dive was called Eagle Rock and for some reason my BC vest had air leaking in so I was rising instead of sinking. The dive master disconnected the hose and reconnected and that seemed to help. Meryl's regulator hose leaked, so she had to use one of their regulators and BCs that she wasn't used to. On top of everything I didn't have enough weight so I was constantly having to empty air out of my BC to stay down. Good thing we dove with a professional dive company!

Meryl got to see an eagle ray resting under a rock (while I was fiddling with my buoyancy adjustment trying not to shoot to the surface from 60 ft. down). I thought the dive was pretty but nothing exceptional. We went back to the resort for lunch and I grabbed some more weights. We then motored back towards Nayuna Resort to a dive called Cabbage Patch. With five pounds extra weight I was now staying down much easier and could relax and enjoy the dive. At about 40 feet we came around a corner of a big underwater mound and found ourselves in the middle of huge Cabbage corals, like big yellow ochre baskets around six-feet wide. Really enjoyed that dive and saw some large schools of fish around the Cabbage coral, but we didn't see many unusual fish.

We then left Blue Lagoon on Sept. 25th and sailed back down to Somosomo Bay on Naviti because Meryl wanted to do the sevusevu ceremony, required at many Fijian villages for permission to anchor and access the village. Meryl slipped her sula (long skirt) over her shorts, covered her shoulders, took her hat and sunglasses off, and took her pack off her back to be in proper attire. Walter decided that shorts would be just fine.  When we landed on the beach we were met by a woman called Lorriane, who with her baby in her arms, offered to take us on a tour of the village and to the Chief's house.

Meryl with Adi, the 100-year-old Chief of Somosomo Village.
Fijian villages are very rudimentary, but the people seem very happy and content. Turns out that Somosomo is one of only two Fijian villages with a female chief, and this Chief was 100 years old and in good shape. Her name was Adi and her granddaughter Litti translated for us. We presented Chief Aid our bundle of kava (pepper root) and in exchange she welcomed us to the village and granted us free access. It's a great system wherein everyone benefits. By tradition we should have conducted sevusevu, where we'd sit on the floor with the Chief and others and drink kava, but she had dispelled with that part of the ceremony. Much as we wanted the experience we have heard that kava is a horrible tasting concoction, so that's OK with us.
All the village kids go to school up to another village at the head of the bay each day.

The Fijians are some of the nicest and friendliest people we've ever met.
We bought some shell art from the local ladies and also some fresh fruit. In turn we gave them a packet of school supplies for the kids. Little did we know that there are over 60 kids in this village, and they take a workboat up to the head of the bay to attend school. Kind of fun watching them returning talking away like any kids on a school bus.

Back in the harbor we stopped by High Flight, a catamaran that had been moored next to us in Vuda Pt. Marina and talked with Wolfgang and Ilse, two Germans who lived near Stuttgart. I found out he was a structural engineer who had invented a new way to build concrete buildings by building each floor on the ground level and then hoisting it up to it's proper level, and the same for each subsequent floor. Very nice couple.

The next morning we sailed 44 miles south to Navadra Island, a deceptively beautiful pocket island with white sand beaches. Again, there were already about seven boats anchored so we had to anchor aways out from the shore. Little did we know this island had the worst swell of anywhere in our last six years of cruising. We spent an incredibly uncomfortable night slamming from one side of the bed to the other, finally in desperation sleeping sideways with our legs curled up to avoid hitting the sidewalls. We couldn't leave there fast enough in the morning.

Musket Cove is one of the most famous "cruisers hangouts" in the world and is always packed with boats.
So Sept.28th we motored 24 miles south to the famous Musket Cove. We sailed outside a large reef for quite a distance then entered through a small pass, still wary of many large reefs nearby. As we entered the mooring area we saw at least 40 boats  and set the anchor at the first available patch of open water.

Musket Cove was built in the 60s by an Australian named Dick Smith who bought up 600 acres on Malolo Island (along with two other men). Musket Cove is famous for being cruiser friendly and we totally enjoyed our stay. However, that first night a very strong wind came through at about 2:00 am (everything bad always happens at 2:00 am), so we spent an hour watching a French boat next to us drag and try to reset his anchor. He passed about twenty feet ahead of us during one of his anchor attempts, which really got our attention.

The next morning we went in and applied for our $10 membership in the Musket Cove Yacht Club, which offers cheap membership to overseas yachts and currently boasts over 16,000 members. That gave us rights to use the pool and other facilities. We went for a walk along the ridge behind the resort amongst the million dollar homes with spectacular views, and then had a nice dinner at the snack bar. The next day we came in an did a very rare thing:  enjoyed the entire day relaxing by the pool, including a nice pool side lunch of fish and chips. Felt so relaxed after that day.

Oct. 1st we headed back to Vuda Pt. As we were motoring along, our boat speed dropped to zero. We had heard a strange clunking noise when we had motored north a week earlier, but it went away and everything was OK. I had Meryl check the propeller shaft and it was turning, so my assumption was something went wrong with our very expensive MaxProp, which has complicated internal gears to feather the blades. By putting the transmission in reverse and then forward it seemed to engage again and we motored at a very modest speed all the way back to Vuda.

The mechanics there could not check or remove a MaxProp underwater (it essentially needs to be disassembled with lots of small parts to remove it from the shaft) so we scheduled a haul out for the next day. After all we'd been through with the various repairs and refit we were highly disappointed, knowing if anything was wrong with the prop that we would have to fly back to Seattle to have it repaired (we couldn't wait for the month + to have it shipped with our schedule to arrive in Australia before cyclone season started). That would set us back about $5,000 at the least.

We anchored outside the marina and waited the next morning for a call to come into the turning basin. They had said we'd be hauled out around 7:00 am. Well, by 3:00 pm we entered the harbor and tied to the center ball with a huge Oyster 53. We'd finally given up any chance of being hauled out that day and Meryl started cooking dinner. The minute we started eating dinner the yard guy came by in the dingy and said, hurry, we need to haul you out now! I resisted since it was pitch black, but they persisted, so with our hot food on the table we untied and I tried to back into a narrow slipway, in reverse, in the dark. It wasn't pretty, but they got us in and hauled out. We ended up spending the night hanging in the slings of the Travel Lift, which gave us the feeling of being in the water again, but not quite.

Early the next morning they got us on the hard and I immediately began preparations for taking the prop apart. Tony, who is a marine engineer, wandered over and I told him of my suspicions. He grabbed the prop and turned it this way and that and said, "there's nothing wrong with that prop." Timo, the wild Italian guy who runs the yard checked it and concurred with Tony. I'd spent the last day reading everything I could about disassembling the very complicated MaxProp, watched several videos on YouTube, and even went from boat to boat looking for a 7 mm Allen wrench for the disassembly. I ended up calling the MaxSea factory in Seattle and talking with Jerome, who had rebuilt our prop once before and telling him what we'd discovered. He mentioned when other customers had this problem it was because of a misadjusted transmission linkage. Eureka! I called Baobab Marine who'd installed our new transmission and described the problem to Magnus, who immediately sent down Anil the mechanic and his assistant. They readjusted the transmission and said we were good to go. So after all that planning, checking flight schedules to Seattle, arranging to stay with friends, checking on rental cars, it turned out to be a simple transmission adjustment. Thank goodness.

Ironically while I was waiting for our boat to go back in the water I talked with a young woman (age 28) whose boat had just been hauled out. She was from the Sammamish Plateau area in Issaquah and went to the same high school as our daughter. They had been in the yard at Vuda for over a month getting a bunch of repair work done and had splashed yesterday and went over to Musket Cove for some R & R. It was getting late in the day and visibility wasn't the best and they managed to hit the reef going six knots with her on the bow. They split open their rudder and had cosmetic damage to the keel. She was in shell shock from the experience, so I tried to console her and let her know that stuff like this happens to all cruisers at some point no mater how careful they are. It turns out her Russian boyfriend was one of the original programmers at Twitter and had retired at 30, so I'm sure they'll be able to afford the repair.

With a huge amount of relief (and wishing I'd trained as a diesel mechanic like my Dad), we put the boat back in the water, got a slip, and sighed with relief that at least we had that big issue resolved. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

The End is Near

The reason we were hustling to arrive at Vuda Point Marina was that we had several major projects to accomplish, and Vuda Point was the only place with both the skilled labor and a reasonable supply of parts to get these things accomplished. Another advantage is the average hourly wage in Fiji is around US$ 2.00 an hour for unskilled labor. Obviously the guys working on the boat would be paid more, but it was a marked difference from the labor rates in French Polynesia.

For six years we've lived with our sagging headliner.  Our feeling was there are enough things that sag at this age, your headliner shouldn't be added to the list.

Much of the headliner was attached to removal panels that made the job a lot easier.
Our first project was to have the headliner in our boat replaced. Taswell’s are high end boats and the interior roofs are covered with an expensive foam-backed leather/vinyl headliner. The headliner was still in good shape, but the foam backing had disintegrated in the tropical heat so our ceiling was hanging like bunting at a political convention. The design of the ceiling consisted of mostly removable panels to which the headliner was (or used to be) glued. On the rest of the interior the headliner was glued directly to the interior surfaces. We had about 10 of the panels removed and recovered in Florida by a guy who did upholstery for Corvettes (and did an excellent job) but he wouldn’t touch any of the headliner held up by teak trim pieces. He said all the interior teak would have to be removed (I can’t imagine what the cost of that would be, but $10,000 wouldn’t surprise me). The guys at Marshall Sails said they could work around the existing teak, so that sounded good to us.

Our faithful installers, Sandeep and Bakesh, worked very heard to ensure the headliner job went as smooth as possible.
In the end a couple of pieces of teak got cracked a little, but considering this was almost an impossible job to begin with, we were very happy. Each day Brakesh and Sandeep from Marshall Sails would come and remove a little more headliner, sand the remaining glue from the boat interior surfaces, and then go back to their shop to cut the new pieces from a 25-yard bolt of Majilite headliner that we had air freighted from the US (don’t even ask how much that cost). Over a very arduous three-week period they completed the job and the interior now looks brand new.

The next project was to replace the dodger and bimini. The dodger was already covered with so many patches that we looked like the sea-going Clampetts with Jed and Jethro on the helm, and was so threadbare that merely touching it would cause the fabric to part like the Red Sea. We contracted with Marshall Sails again, with whom we’d been in contact with for several months, but naturally they only start your project once you arrive and they are finished with their previous jobs. The price quote was very reasonable, but they figured around a month and one/half to complete the project. Ugh.

Tuks with a big smile as this difficult project comes to an end.
A very mild mannered Fijian named Tuks was the project lead and did a great job of replicating our old dodger. Once that was completed he started on the bimini, adding some extras like plastic side zip panels so we wouldn’t get drenched by big waves breaking over the side of the boat during passages. The bimini took about two and one-half weeks, much quicker than we anticipated, but still putting us way behind on our schedule.

The major project, however, the one we hadn’t anticipated and the one that would break the bank was getting a new transmission installed. If you remember, we buggered up our old transmission when we helped out another cruiser in distress and towed them into port in Tonga. While the transmission was still working, you could tell something wasn’t right as I shifted gears and motored along there was a slight thumping felt in the floor of the cockpit. Given all the narrow passes, lined by treacherous reefs and beset by strong currents, it just wasn’t worth taking the risk of sailing all the way to Australia with a wonky transmission.  
Timo, the crazy Italian who runs the yard, supervises the haul out of Flying Cloud.

As much as we hate being on the hard at a boat yard, this one wasn't too bad.
 We arranged with Baobab Marine in Vuda Point to install a new transmission. Our old transmission, a Kansaki KBW20, was no longer made nor were parts available. The only transmission that would fit was a rather expensive ZF 30 M from Germany. We ordered one from Australia and planned to have it shipped by sea, but that would take too long so they air freighted it. Despite the fact we were paying a fortune to have the 100 lb transmission send by air, the airline was nice enough to off load it two days in a row to make room for passenger’s bags. Wonderful.

How Anil manhandled this heavy transmission down the companionway steps and into the engine compartment is beyond me.
The other snag was we had to have the boat hauled out of the water since Baobab didn’t want to assume the liability of the boat sinking at the dock if something went wrong. If you hear the clink, clink, clink of money departing our already meager bank account, you understand how we felt as we were informed of each new glitch in the process. 
Once out of the water we discovered a heavy support structure in the engine compartment would have to be removed, along with our complex refrigeration system that rested on the structure. Clink, clink, clink. We came to a compromise where they cut the shelf in half with a grinder and would bolt it back together, saving us the considerable cost of removing the refrigeration unit.

Once that was done thing everything proceeded fairly smoothly. We hauled the heavy transmission up from the ground using our outboard motor hoist, which helped tremendously. Once it was wrestled down below, it actually fit in the space fairly well. We had to saw off the end of a fiberglass oil pan beneath the engine, but that was the only modification we had to make. Because this transmission is water-cooled (our old one wasn't) we had to run water lines between the engine and the transmission. Naturally the water lines were of two different diameters, sending one of the Babobab guys to town to try and find a reducer bushing. With none to be found in Fiji he returned with a cylinder of 1 1/2" bronze, which they took to their machine shop to make a bushing. Amazing.
Our shiny new ZF 30 M transmission in its new home. You can see how we had to saw off the end of the fiberglass oil drip pan to get the transmission to fit.
The problems came when they hooked up the linkage and no one could figure out if the boat would go forward when the shift lever at the helm was moved to the forward position, or in reverse?  This is a fairly frequent issue when replacing one brand of transmission with another. So the plan was I’d turn the ignition switch (called a bump) to see which way the shaft would move. Unfortunately I didn’t realize someone had left the gear in forward and moved the throttle to the wide open position, and the engine took off like a screaming banshee (remember, we’re not in the water). I hit the red stop button immediately but nothing happened. I’m sure the guy on the ground watching the prop turn like a buzzsaw was scared as hell. The mechanic and I ran down below and I remembered something another mechanic had told me about a “runaway” engine situation. I quickly grabbed a thin red cord and yanked it, and the engine stopped immediately. I remember the mechanic (Martin, the crazy Austrian) who rigged the cord saying “Someday when it happens to you you’ll remember me saving your butt.” Thank you Martin.
Fiji is located in the middle of the cyclone belt and gets hit every year. Vuda Pt. engineered a neat solution where it digs pits in the ground for the sailboats keels, greatly lessening the chance of damage during cyclones (hurricanes).

When we went back into the water we carefully tested the forward and reverse positions of the transmission and thank God they were correct. Makes my life much easier especially when we’re trying to sell the boat in two months.

As long as we’re talking about replacing things, our second to last project was replacing 
two of our sailing instruments, Raymarine ST60 Speed and Depth display units. They have LED displays, and like everything in the tropics, the heat slowly kills the displays so the gray goes all black, making it impossible to read the numbers. Since a Depth display is super important, we had to find a solution. 

Naturally the Raymarine ST60 series of instruments had been discontinued and the company no longer repaired them. Thanks to a website called The Boat Galley, we learned of a guy in Colorado who replaces the LED displays. We contacted him and on our first day at Vuda.  Meryl shipped the two instruments back for repair. He did a great job restoring them and thanks to help from our good friend Anni in Frisco, CO got them shipped back to us in Fiji. The only other alternative would be to order two new instruments, at about $400 each, and then buy adaptors for the wiring network since Raymarine had changed all that with the new models.

Our last project was replacing our dead 2 hp Yamaha with a new outboard we had purchased in New Zealand over the Internet. The purchase went very smoothly and the NZ shop put it on a ship bound for Fiji. Since we were still very busy we didn’t worry about the engine until several days after it’s planned arrival date and we hadn’t heard anything from the shipping company. With the help of the very smart Nikki at the front office of Vuda Point we tracked down the shipping agent and thought we’d made arrangements to have the outboard delivered to the marina. 

After several days and no outboard we contacted the shipping agent again who politely told us Customs would release the motor as soon as we gave them our Tax Identification Number, something used by Fijian businesses. It took three days to convince them that we were 1) not Fijian citizens, 2) not a Fijian business, and 3) had provided all the proper documentation for it to be imported. The long and short is we finally got the motor delivered, along with a highly creative bill from the shipping company whose fees exceed the shipping costs from New Zealand. As they say, they got you by the short hairs. 
To say the five weeks in the marina working on all these projects has been stressful is an understatement. Yesterday we walked around the corner and went to the neighboring resort and gave ourselves a relaxation day.
The difficult thing during all these travails is that Fijians are incredibly polite. They strongly dislike confrontation and will go to great lengths to keep everyone happy. If it makes you feel better to hear that the part will arrive tomorrow, they will tell you that although it’s relevance to the truth may be stretched. It’s kind of hard to lose your temper, however, and yell at them under those circumstances. They are also very honest and many times when you think you’re getting screwed it’s just the way the system works. You learn to go with the flow in the South Pacific, or go completely nuts. It’s your choice.
With all the projects completed, we’re now getting ready for an early morning departure up to Waya Island where huge manta rays gather in the pass between islands. We’ll next sail north to the famous Blue Lagoon, spend a few days there, then make our way back down island ending up a the equally famous Musket Cove, a mecca of sorts for itinerant sailors from around the world.

We’ll then head back to Vuda Pt. Marina to get ice cream bars and clear out with Fijian Customs, and begin the 500-mile sail northwest to the fabled islands of Vanuatu. If you like eclectic books, I’d highly recommend the book Getting Stoned with Savages by J. Maarten Troost  According to our friends already in Vanuatu, the book fairly accurately describes the crazy ambience of Vanuatu compete with highly active volcanoes, aging cannibals, frequent earthquakes, major hurricanes, and a third world country with a high cost of living and 58 banks.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Day to Day Life at Vuda

The only negative we’ve found about Vuda Point Marina is that the constant coming and going of boats keeps us up at times as a neighboring boat leaves and a new one arrives. You need to carefully monitor your fenders, lines, and in our case, our large solar panel array as new boat shoehorn their way into place. You go bow into the shore and use very long lines off the back tied to a central anchor to keep the boat in place. As the tide goes up and down the distance of the bow to shore changes, making for some tricky late night jumps to get back on the boat.

To escape the work being done on the boat we hang out at The Boat Shed
In between repair jobs, we do get to relax and socialize. Our first night in Vuda we ran into Florian and Martina, an Austrian couple on Esperanza who we’d met via the Mag Neg SSB network. We attended 1/2 pizza night at The Boat Shed Restaurant, the local hangout at the marina.

From L to R:  Kathi, Wolfgang, Maria, Maurice.
Next Plastik Plankton, another Austrian boat with Dr. Kathi and Wolfgang arrived. We treated them to a nice dinner at the Boat Shed in thanks for everything they’ve helped us with over the last year. The next day we took the bus into nearby Nadi with them to explore and get some groceries and fresh meats from South Pacific Meats. It’s great fun being around younger people (they are both younger than our kids!) for their positive attitude and energy levels.

Exploring downtown Nadi.
The Nadi Market had a great selection of fruits and vegetables.
If you've ever shopped with Meryl you know what this woman is thinking.
These peppers are so hot you could cook with them without using the stove.
These ladies were wonderful to talk with.
I loved this booth since the lady in pink actually balances the tomatoes upon each other -- no toothpicks where used to hold them in place. Plus she taught me how to say "thank you" in Hindi.
Next came Maurice and Maria from Toronto on Captiva. We went next door to the First Landing Resort (actually the location of the first settlers to arrive in Fiji) for a great dinner and dance show. 

We enjoyed the meke dance show at the First Landing Resort with Maurice and Maria.

We also had a great dinner at the Eshaa Restaurant at the high end Nila Resort just down the beach. We were going to walk down but a local guy didn't want us walking at night so he gave us a ride. Then we found they were shooting a "Bollywood" movie which was fun to watch. Finally the restaurant served some of the best Indian food I've ever had. Excellent.

At Eshaa Restaurant we had excellent Butter Chicken, Lamb Curry, and naan and riata.
I was photographing this and the guy invited me down to explain this was to celebrate Ganesh, a large festival that takes place in Bombay. At the end they put the seashell lamps in the ocean and watch them float away.
They were filming a Bollywood production at the resort and had over 300 cars lined up for a scene. Someone said that was basically all the rental cars in Fiji!
Today our friends from Oklahoma, Charlie and Jenni, arrived on their Catalina 47 called Lady. We had lunch with them yesterday and will go to 1/2 pizza night at the Boat Shed (do you see a trend here?).

All in all we’re enjoying our stay in Vuda and hoping we have a penny left in our bank accounts when this is all over.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Who Do Vuda? We Do Vuda!

After our brief one-day stay at Port Denarau, we motored five miles due north to our new home for the next one and one/half months at Vuda Point Marina.  The bad news is we have to stay here a long time to get much needed work done on the boat. The good news is it’s a great place to be stuck.

View of Vuda Point Marina from atop our masthead.
The very popular Boatshed Restaurant is on the point at the top of the photo.
Vuda Point Marina is essentially a big circular pond, but very well protected from wind and waves. It is normally full, so we had to wait outside for several hours until a slip became available. You then enter a narrow, but well-marked channel and follow a chase boat to your “slip.”  It is interesting to note that your “slip” won’t appear as a slip, but usually as a slightly wide crack between two boats that you slowly motor into as your beam wedges the adjacent boats out of the way. The whole thing, as Meryl describes, is like a giant accordion that expands and contracts as boat come and go.

Our first slip was a bit away from the bathrooms and stores so we moved closer in the next day, and were delighted when our Austrian friends Kathi and Wolfgang on Plastik Plankton pulled in right next to us. A day later new friends Maurice (French Canadian) and Maria (Italian) on Captiva pulled in on the other side. It was like old home week all over again.

Our reason for coming to Vuda was to take advantage of the relatively low labor rate in Fiji and the number of well skilled (compared to the rest of the South Pacific) workers to get projects done. A short list (but not complete) of what we had to accomplish included:
  • Repair Speed and Depth instruments
  • Replace sagging headliner in boat
  • Repair Yamaha 15 outboard
  • Replace Yamaha 2 outboard
  • Replace high water alarm
  • Replace engine room light
  • Replace Command Mic at helm
  • Replace hose and repair aft head
  • Replace transmission
  • Replace bimini and dodger
As you can see, it’s not going to be a fun or inexpensive month here. So first things first:  Meryl took a cab out to the airport to FedEx to ship our Speed and Depth instruments whose LED screens were too clouded to read. It’s common for anything with a LED display to fail in the tropical heat. Luckily we had found a guy in the US who repairs them (the Raymarine ST60 instruments are no long made, sold, or repaired) so we’re looking at a two-week turn around. And you can’t have a boat here without a depth meter.

Next we contacted Baobob Marine to see about repairing our transmission. It took them a couple of days to respond but they said parts for our transmission are no longer available (is this sounding like a trend?) so we’d have to buy a new transmission, but first they’d have to see if someone actually makes a transmission that will fit our engine. Luckily they found a ZF model that will work and we ordered it out of Australia. They were supposed to ship it via ship but that would take too long, so we decided to air freight it, only to find out that it got bumped off the flight (sounds like us when we fly) to put on additional passengers. And so it goes.

Next problem was the outboard motors. Our little Yamaha 2 hp engine (30 years old) had been the best engine we’d ever owned. It always started on the first pull, but when we took it to an outboard guy in Suva (Frances) he found the impeller and housing were severely corroded and would need to be replaced. Again, trying to find parts would be a challenge, time consuming, and expensive. We found we could buy a new engine out of New Zealand for about US$700, but they called the next day and said it would only be $500 since there would be no GST tax as it was being shipped out of the country. We can’t pull our dingy up on a beach with the heavy 15 hp Yamaha, so this was a no brainer. Should arrive next week. Frances boxed up all the parts of our old 2 hp motor and we took them with us.

Meanwhile we called Frances’ buddy in Vuda, a guy called Tom, who could work on our 15 hp motor, which had not run right since it was stored for four months at Raiatea Carenage. Tom quickly found that the problem wasn’t a clogged carb like we thought but a defective coil (which had to be ordered from New Zealand and whose price you don’t want to know). When he brought it back we tested it on the dingy and we went flying out of the marina. Since previously we were just put putting along it was a huge improvement. We gave Tom the old 2 hp Yamaha as a gift for helping us out.

Sandeep and Brakesh carefully glue the new headliner in place.
The old headliner was puckered and hanging down.

Many of the panels were Velcro'd to the ceiling and dropped down for access to the wiring. I had to redo all the wiring with quick disconnects for easier access.
 Next we arranged with Marshall Sails to replace our headliner. The bid wasn’t cheap but I have to say they are doing an incredible job. Everyone else we talked to said we’d have to remove all the teak trim in the inside our boat, which I figured would be at least a $2,000 job alone. These guys have been able to carefully remove the old headliner and install the new material without removing the teak. The original problem was the headliner has a foam backing, and the foam disintegrates in the tropical heat. The actual nylon backing on the foam tenaciously stays stuck to the wall, however, so it has to be sanded down to give the new stuff something to bond to. It’s taken over a week but what a difference the new stuff makes. Previously we thought we’d been living in a Bedouin tent with our saggy ceilings.

Ever since we were in the South Pacific large yellow wasps would slowly cruise around the inside the boat. We later found that one had set up house keeping on the back of our curtains.
As far as the bimini/dodger goes, they won’t be able to start on the bimini and dodger until next week, and it will take three weeks so we’re stuck here for longer than we had hoped.

The other projects, replacing the high water alarm, the engine room light, and the command mic, were quickly accomplished once I received the parts from the States (nothing seems to be stocked here in Fiji). I was shocked when I placed the order with Fisheries Supply in Seattle on a Thursday and the package arrived on the next Monday. I guess we just got lucky for once.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Port Denarau and Civilization

We got another early morning start from Robinson Crusoe Island, fortunate that the tide was low so we could easily see the adjacent reefs. The sail north west up the coast was wonderful with a 15-knot wind tailwind so we could fly our downwind sails. As we entered through Navula Passage were now inside the reef and could breathe a sigh of relief (for awhile). We still had another 14 miles to go, but it looked like a no brainer as we had waypoints from a trusted source (Curley) in Savusavu. 

We rounded Pt. Denarau through a narrow passage and began to see the vestiges of society:  large resorts lining the shore and jets skis zooming by. We became a little to engrossed in all this because when I looked down at our depth sounder (remember we’re still following the trusted waypoints) I saw our depth was only eight feet, leaving us only two feet to spare. A quick turn to the north got us in a little deeper water but we realized the whole bay was fairly shallow.

Port Denarau is the home to super yachts and cruise boats that service the tourist industry.
The very high-end marina at Port Denarau was full with boats so we anchored outside with about 20 other sail boats and took the dingy in to explore the port. I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the layout of the marina and promptly dinged the bottom with our prop, but luckily it was just mud. That made the depth less than one foot. Got to be careful around here.

We spent the afternoon exploring the marina and shopping for some much needed parts. We found a yacht chandlery that had the exact Shurhold boat hook we’d been searching for (lost ours in the storm off Tonga) and another store had some dive masks to replace my leaky one. We then had a great lunch at Cado's Restaurant, enjoying the leisurely time to just sit and enjoy watching the tourists. Port Denarau is close to Nadi Airport (pronounced Nandi but spelled Nadi) and most tourists come to Denarau to board fast ferries out to the resorts in the Mananuca and Yasawa Islands.

Jacks of Fiji is much like the ABC shops in Hawaii, but actually has great prices on "bula shirts" and other items.
After lunch I patiently tagged along as Meryl shopped in the various stores in the Port Denarau Mall where she bought presents for various people back home. We even managed to find some good ice cream at a local shop, somewhat of a treat when you’re on a cruising sailboat.

A wonderful hour.
Still not ready to go back to the boat, we casually walked into the Oasis Spa just to look at the prices (very reasonable) and ended up getting a “Couples Massage” for one wonderful, blissful hour. I can’t tell you how much we both needed that. Our poor bodies get so banged up sailing the boat and maneuvering around tight places that I’m sure the masseurs thought we beat each other given all our black and blue spots.

We then (carefully) motored the dingy out of the yacht basin and back to the boat where we enjoyed a good dinner and a beautiful sunset.