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. 

No comments:

Post a Comment