Monday, June 12, 2017

Fixing, Sewing, and Repairing in Paradise

Vava’u is a beautiful inner harbor, known locally as the Port of Refuge, that is protected in a 360-degree circle and is as calm and placid as a New Hampshire mill pond. We couldn’t have found a more perfect bay to recover from the storm. It was so strange to be sitting in such quiet and peaceful place after having huge waves booming into the boat and throwing us everywhere but Sunday. 

There were only about 25 boats in the harbor when we arrived. It is a very  deep harbor so most boats use commercially available mooring buoys that rent out for between $7 and $15 a day (depending on season).

Our first task in any new port, which was made much easier by Wolf and Kathi, was 1) finding the dingy dock, 2) finding a garbage drop off, 3) finding Internet, 4) finding a good grocery store, and finding guys to help us fix things. The Aquarium, a waterfront cafe once owned by an American couple but now owned by Tongans, satisfied the first three of these needs.

We walked down the short main street of Vava’u to the Digicell office where we got local SIMs and Internet for our iPhones. During our first week in Vava’u the Internet was surprisingly fast (it later changed with the arrival of 22 ARC Around the World Rally boats).

Our friend Franklin with his new wife Tila and her two nieces.
It's been wonderful to be able to talk with Tila to get the inside story on local customs and traditions.
Driving the dingy back to Flying Cloud, I noticed a familiar boat just behind us and yelled out:  “Franklin.”  It was our Texas good ole’ boy computer programming friend Franklin who we’d met in Apataki in the Tuamotus almost a year ago. He had been on his way to the Philippines to find a wife. Well, he lucked out and along the way met a beautiful Tongan woman named Tila who had been working as a waitress at the Aquarium.  Did I say beautiful? Typical of Tongan women, she was tall and quite regal. They had gotten married some time back and are now expecting their first child. We got together with them for dinner that night and got caught up on the last year. So wonderful when you run into old friends unexpectedly in these exotic locations.

Our next priority was getting all the storm-damaged items repaired. The number one focus were the solar panels. Luckily Plastic Plankton delayed their departure by one day so they could help us with the seeming impossible task of remounting the panels. Wolf, a tall and strong Austrian, came over and we analyzed the problem. The four solar panels were still (miraculously) attached to their frame, but the frame had been lifted off the support brackets by a big wave and was now in a vertical position attached to the radar pole by a series of lines and straps. We managed to get a three-point bridle attached to the frame and held from above by the main halyard. Slowly Kathi lowered the panels with the halyard while Wolf, Meryl and I guided them into place on the support brackets. Amazingly it worked! We were missing only one vertical one inch stainless tubing piece, but we substituted a wooden handle from our Plumber’s Helper. Any port in a storm, as they say.

Sailing in a storm for three days with our "sports car spoiler" solar panels was a definite challenge. How they survived all that is beyond me.
Unfortunately we weren’t getting any electricity from the panels, but I figured we’d fight that battle another day.  We took a cab down to the boatyard and found a Ken, a Kiwi fabricator, who had one short piece of one inch stainless tubing, which interestingly enough had been salvaged from a Columbian drug boat that went up on the reef with a 800 kilos of cocaine on board and one dead Columbian. It took us a couple trips back to get it ground down to the right diameter, but we finally got it installed so now the panels where structurally sound. While at the boatyard I also gave Travis, an expat Texan, the carb off our Yamaha Enduro 15hp dingy engine to try and repair (we only get about 75% power from the engine). It's so nice speaking English when you are trying to explain something technical like gunk in the carb.

The next day I took the junction box covers off the bottom of the solar cells so I could read the voltage to see if we had a damaged panel -- which I suspected since one had a couple of small holes in it. Surprisingly all the individual panels checked out. When I took the cover off the last panel water came pouring out (not good) but all the connectors looked clean and non-corroded.  I cleaned them with electrical cleaner and explored some more, finally just barely spotting a third wire hidden beneath two ground connectors that had come disconnected from the terminal. I hooked it back up and instantly we had full power from the panels. Eureka! It was very timely since I had spent the previous day emailing Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, and the US trying to find a replacement panel and having no luck. We really, really dodged a bullet on this because those panels are our main source of electricity on the boat and they would be very expensive to ship to Tonga.

The next project was taking down the main sail and repairing the broken battens. This one really hurt because we had just replaced those two battens (at great expense) when we returned to Raiatea a couple of months ago. They tend to break in heavy weather right near where they enter the car on the mast. I think the angle there is too severe and the sail is not sufficiently reinforced to handle the stress. We put the two old battens back in and reinforced the ends with self amalgamating silicon repair tape, the only thing that might work in the circumstances. If I had some carbon fiber tape I could wrap it around the battens and epoxy it in place, but that stuff is very rare in these parts.  We’ll see how it goes but we’ll probably have to replace them in Fiji.

While at the mast we also reinstalled the 5/8 inch by 2.5 inch stainless gooseneck bolt. The nut now engages with all threads (after I took off the second reefing plate) and we got two spare nuts so I feel much better about that. Having the boom come loose in a storm is a worse case scenario.

We still have to repair the tears in the luff protection cover on the staysail, but will save that project for when we’re in the outer islands and can get the sewing machine up on the deck.

We’re also going through the boat to better secure and stow all the miscellaneous items that become guided missiles when we’re in heavy wind conditions. If it’s not bolted down it will become airborne in a storm.

We also lost a boat hook overboard that we’ll try to replace in Fiji, and have some minor gelcoat damage to the bow from our anchor that we’ll fix in Australia, but other than that the boat came through the storm very well. 

There’s a lot to say about having a heavily constructed boat with strong rigging if you are going to sail the South Pacific.

And we thought we had lots of boat maintenance to do. This 160 ft. former Australian navy research vessel now called Plan B belongs to Brad Pitt (we think). He hasn't come over to say hi yet.

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