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.