110519; 0258 UTC Malolo LaiLai, Fiji; 17°46.32'S / 177°11.18'E
Please excuse us, it's been a busy time for us here in Fiji - you'll soon understand - and we haven't been able to write for a while. After returning to Savusavu in March, we prepared once again to get underway, this time for Lautoka and Nadi Waters. With cyclone season winding down and only a month and a half left on our visas, we set our sights on the boatyard again and trying to resolve our cutless bearing and drive shaft issues. It was most disconcerting when sailing over 4.5 knots or when surfing down a wave to hear the drive train "knockknockknockknockKNOCK".
Savusavu to Vuda Point is only about 150 miles but the passage is easiest done over 4-5 days. We left each morning before the breakfast dishes were done and anchored before 1500 (3pm) in order to avoid sailing (or motoring) under low light conditions. We hoped for an unexciting trip - no mechanical failures, no bumping into jagged reefs - and this we got. We did have one tiny bit of excitement during our brief 5 hour sail during our Bligh Water crossing, where we suddenly came upon a marker far offshore that was exactly like those unofficial ones used by locals to mark reefs. Worse still, it appeared to be attached to the bottom. We made a quick course correction and steered a wide circle around it all the while watching our depth sounder, which thankfully never registered a bottom.
After checking in at Lautoka and stocking up on a few veggies, we set sail for Vuda Point and anchored just off the entrance in an open roadstead that, due to degrading weather conditions, was bouncy and seemed vulnerable.
The next morning at about 0800 we hauled the anchor, just as a steady tropical rain began to fall, and motored through the narrow (dynamite-blasted) cut in the coral shelf into the Vuda Point basin en route to the boatyard. George, one of the boatyard guys, a big burly Fijian, welcomed us with a big gap-toothed smile, saying "Bula! Welcome back, Carina!" and directed us to the TravelLift for haulout. Les, driving for this trip, did a masterful job of guiding Carina to the exact spot before stopping Carina's forward progress with a judicious application of reverse power. The delicate extrusions of Carina's roller furling genoa came to a rest about 8 inches from the massive steel beam of the TravelLift.
George, bless him, carefully placed wide woven straps under Carina's cutaway forefoot and on the aft end of the keel by diving into the (yuck) marina water, while Mo, the TravelLift operator stood by, gently taking up the slack. Lots of careful conversation went on in Fijian and soon Carina was swinging in the air in the TravelLift, we were taken off, and our little ship yawed back and forth, swinging in the slings as she was driven to a waiting cradle.
There were two cradles available in the yard and both stood in 4" deep ponds of water the color of a Dunkin' Donuts regular coffee and we (George and Mo and both of us) just looked back and forth until Mo decided we'd be snuggled into the corner between a monster steel boat (undergoing grinding) and the tin work-shed from whence a cacophony of sound emerged.
As soon as Carina was secure, we rented a ladder and boarded her and almost slipped and fell on the slick deck. As it turns out, the TravelLift had a hydraulic hose leak that had spewed hydraulic fluid all over Carina's topsides from stem to stern. Les got a bucket of soapy water and began to swab Carina down. And the rain continued to fall...
Just as Carina was set down in her cradle, Brian of Baobob Marine inspected our cutless and concluded, as we did, that there was something radically wrong with the installation. Almost immediately, two of his guys showed up and began the project.
We supervised the workers as they emptied both cockpit lazarettes and stored the contents down below. Both men were of slight build and we had to laugh when Nazim casually reached into the bottom of the lazarette and grabbed the handle of the sewing machine and as he began to stand up he came to an abrupt stop as its weight registered in his brain. Philip smiled (with him) and reached in and helped him haul the beast into the cockpit and then down into the cabin where the entire (dark) main salon was filled with sails, tools, boxes of supplies, bags of fabric and hardware; moving about down below became difficult.
At that point we disconnected and removed all five batteries, the battery tray and the muffler in order to get access to the drive shaft and PSS bellows. Soon enough the cutless bearing and shaft were free and Philip accompanied Brian back to the Baobab shop where, after careful analysis of the cutless bearing, he apologized, saying he didn't know quite how but they had "mucked up" (or similar wording) and they would make it right. And the rain continued to fall...
Since we had had to remove our batteries, we had no DC power to keep our refrigerator going or power the propane solenoid of our stove (no cooking) so as the light faded, and while tired, dirty, and sweaty, and soaked from the constant rain, we re-installed the battery tray and all five (65 lb.) batteries. We made a hasty supper, washed the dishes in a bucket in the tin shed next door, all the while mosquitoes nibbled at any exposed parts of our anatomy, and we watched as cockroaches flew down from nearby trees to land in our cockpit eager to find a way down below. (Before we came to Fiji we didn't know cockroaches could fly.) We then collapsed into bed to sleep while dodging the couple of mosquitoes that were able to find their way past our mosquito netting. And the rain continued to fall...
This basic pattern of removal and re-installing our entire battery bank amongst mozzies and cockroaches and oozing muck was followed at dawn and dusk for three days, only interrupted by the pleasure of applying anti-fouling paint and crawling in the bilges. That isn't exactly true, we had one lovely evening out, splurging at the Sunset Bar over supper with friends John and Linda of Mad Hatter. And the rain continued to fall...
Any of you who know Leslie, already know that she should never be allowed to work with paint. On day 2, Philip returned from a bus trip to town for supplies to find her with a bucket and scrubby washing down Carina's hull of biological material and seawater. Her shirt and pants had started out white but were now completely soaked and stained with red bottom paint and there were red blotches adorning her face. (This doesn't say much for the International anti-fouling paint that had been applied six months before.) As soon as the hull dried (a difficult thing to achieve given the weather), we worked as a team and Philip applied the bottom paint while Leslie followed him around, diluting paint and refilling the paint tray every time it was empty. Everyone who wandered by had a good chuckle at the vision of us.
Our re-launch was uneventful, even if there were a few tense moments after splashing when we peered in the bilges afraid to see water pouring in. We backed out (not Carina's forte) without hitting one of the dozens of med moor lines hidden in the muddy water of the marina's basin, and then motored to a tiny opening in the boats and nuzzled our way in to med-moor to land. We were exhausted but happy as we had gotten a lot accomplished and managed to get back into the water after just 3 days of frenetic activity. And, it was Friday afternoon, so we had the entire (quiet) weekend to re-organize and re-stow the hundreds of things still laying about cluttering our living space. And the rain continued to fall...
The memory of our difficult haul out already fading we headed out for sea trials to the Mamanuca (mah MAH noo THAH) and Yasawa islands to relax and experience a part of Fiji we had yet to explore. Our first stop was popular Musket Cove, about 15 miles from Vuda Point. There was no wind so we motored all the way (testing our new cutless bearing) and dropped our anchor in 60' of clear water outside of Musket Cove's mooring field off the island of Malolo Lailai (Little Malolo).
There is a resort and marina here that hosts a yearly regatta which is famous (infamous?) for the rum-soaked camaraderie of all who participate. We know a few sailors whose livers are probably still trying to recover from last September's regatta, which we missed (without regret). Musket Cove has a "yacht club", which for a mere $1 FJD (about 55 cents USD), visiting sailors, who have arrived at Malolo Lailai having sailed from a foreign port aboard a yacht, are allowed a lifetime membership. We joined. At this time of year, Musket Cove was nearly empty but we did catch up with Kevin of Teri Haua Nui (we forget what it means other than it's something "big"), on a "K-Mart" catamaran (his description) an entertaining, slightly crazy and very funny architect who we met during cyclone season in Tonga.
A few days later, we had hiked the cart paths for the views and explored the island's three resorts. The resorts were filled with very white, but soon to be sun-burnt, Kiwi and Aussie families on Easter holiday break. We then pushed on to tiny Mana Island and its small lagoon, home of three, count'em, three, backpacker "resorts" (tatoos at bargain rates and the beer flows freely) and a POSH alternative that is separated from the undeserving backpackers by a big ugly fence.
In the middle of this mess is a fairly good sized but poor Fijian village, where we presented "sevusevu" and then visited a village gathering during a "field day". Here we saw kids skipping rope, a first ever in the Pacific, and a big group of both adults and children playing a game we could not identify, though it seemed to be a cross between cricket, rugby and tag and was played with a wicket of stacked coconut shells and a well used tennis ball. There was a lot of gleeful running and ducking and dodging and it was fun to watch even as we were gently interviewed by a small set of kava-inebriated young men.
From Mana, we pushed on to an island called Eluvuka by the locals, that is packed shore to shore with the Treasure Island resort, and is now called, you guessed it, Treasure Island. They do not accommodate yachts here and we had to wiggle in to anchor between bommies and moorings, even as fast ferries threw up six foot wakes and the parasailers drifted by with their cables coming uncomfortably close to our mast. Next day, we pushed on.
Our next adventure was to the Yasawas, where we found almost the perfect spot (for us) in a patch of sand in a lovely bay on the south end of Waya Island. Waya is the southern-most Yasawa but has the highest peaks and, though only 28 miles from Lautoka, feels like it's on a different planet. The village here is Yalobi (Yah LOAM bee) where stately Chief Tom accepted our "sevusevu" (of tea, sugar and crackers) and invited us to stay as long as we desired. "Stay a year!" he said, with a wide smile. The village sits in a lush valley that stretches up towards the island's peaks and is shadowed by the rugged 1,650' peak called Vatunareba. Our first evening in the bay, a small cruise ship, the Reef Endeavor, came in and anchored behind us. Tom had explained to us that each week the villagers perform a "meke" (a traditional dance) for the tourists and are paid $150 FJD in return. We were invited to see the performance. This isn't a lot of money, but it surely helps to pay for the fuel required for the large village punt to travel once weekly to Lautoka to gather supplies and to collect the secondary school children who stay the week in the city. (At $2.60 FJD/liter for gas/oil pre-mix, this amount of money would buy about 14 gallons of fuel.)
Unfortunately, the village did not receive any funds this week as a weather front passed through and dealt us driving winds and torrential rains and turned daylight into darkness. Though close by, the Reef Endeavor disappeared into this darkness, its blazing lights slowly fading into the falling rain. Despite the miserable conditions, we were snug and dry and in awe of the face of Vatunareba as cascades fell down nearly every crevice on its massive stone face and created a melodic, relaxing melody of falling water.
We only stayed three days in the village but had many pleasant walks and chats amongst friendly villagers who lived in a full range of homes… from thatch, to wood, to (more modern) concrete structures. Chief Tom explained that they were trying to replace all homes in block construction to prevent as much destruction of homes from cyclones.
The children of the village were on holiday during this time, so each time we went ashore we had an entourage of children following us around. Visiting Yalobi was much like visiting the villages of rural Vanua Levu or Taveuni and made us wish we could push on further up the island chain. That was not to be, as we had packages waiting in the Lautoka Post Office and a deadline to be ready to leave Fiji. Saying our good-byes, Tom and Lolo presented us with a shell necklace and a lovely pandanus fan, as we gave fish hooks and ribbon and canned peaches. This being our last village stay in Fiji, it was the perfect finale to a nearly-perfect year.
After an amazing sail of close reaching almost all the way to Lautoka, we anchored off the wharf next to friend Joe on Jubilee. Content now that our drive shaft and cutless were performing well, we hunkered down and prepared for our passage to Vanuatu, giving each system a check while restocking our larder. Now ready to go, we are awaiting improved weather before once again going to sea.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake