[101022; 0324 UTC, Nananu I Thake, Fiji; 17°18.75'S / 178°13.67'E]
Naigani Island, from where we last wrote, was one of our many stops on our way towards Vuda Point, Fiji (pronounced VUN-da). At Vuda, we would begin a boatyard haul out to take care of what we thought would be minor jobs on Carina. From Naigani, we sailed approximately ten miles through rough and shallow waters littered with hazards, before slipping inside Viti Levu's barrier reef on its southeast shore. From here to Lautoka, we navigated a narrow channel bordered on our south, or port side, by the beautiful, yet spare, rocky mountains of Fiji's largest island and, on our north, or starboard, by a nearly impenetrable barrier of reef and rock. This lightly inhabited part of Fiji is very dry, sere even, and the hills and mountains reminded us of Montana, without the bears and wolves but studded with palm trees.
Once inside the reef, we enjoyed great sailing on flat water as the trade winds wrapped neatly around the mountainous island, keeping the warm fresh breezes always astern. Reaching and running northwest and around the tip at Nananu I Thake before turning southwest, we breezed along at nearly hull speed with a bit of genoa pulling, averaging 35 miles per day and were safely anchored each day long before reef spotting became more difficult with the sun's decline. Jibing leisurely every so often, we'd almost forgotten the feeling of sailing in protected waters from our Puget Sound sailing days.
Fiji is not a place for sailing if you are faint of heart, however. Uncharted rocks, reefs and small islands abound and many boats come to grief plying these waters. This season, many of our friends admitted to bouncing off or grinding onto reefs around Fiji. We figure that our reef is out there somewhere, we just hope Carina's husky little hull is up to the bump. We'd rather not test her, though, so during most of our sailing time we post one of us on the bow trying to spot obstacles. Then too, in Fiji we only sail during daylight hours and try to be safely anchored by mid afternoon.
After a few days of this easy existence, we reached the port city of Lautoka where we checked in with the Customs officials to obtain clearance to proceed to Vuda Point, about 6 miles further. Lautoka is a "sugar" town and the waterfront at the commercial port is dominated by the aging sugar mill. Down the street is the Bounty Rum plant. Rattling by is a narrow gauge sugar train that toots through the countryside hauling 50 or more miniature flat cars stacked with cane. Lautoka's neat downtown is lined with palm trees that grace a branch of this sugar train line. Next door to the sugar mill, adjacent to Queen's Wharf where container ships call, and the Bligh Water Shipping ferry landing, is a mill-sized pile of Fiji pine chips, ready for export. Lautoka bustles; its Indo-Fijian women dress in colorful, shimmering clothing, many with equally lovely head coverings. Oftentimes you can hear the worshipers alerted as the muezzin calls from the mosque. Ethnic Fijians, men and women alike, dress in tropical patterns of brilliant colors. All women wear long skirts; shorts or even capris are unacceptable for Fijian women, though we tourists get away with it if we do so modestly. The public market is large and filled with piles of fresh fruit, veggies and kava; the fragrance of colorful spices and burning incense fills the air.
The reason we stopped in Lautoka, other than to wallow in its markets and resupply our pantry, was to check in with Customs. Fiji attempts to tightly control yacht movement and requires constant check ins even for yachts traveling within the country. Processing a yacht does not cost money, but tedious piles of paperwork are prepared to document or plan for every anchorage. To put the process in prospective, if, as a visitor to the US, you wanted to drive from Boston to Philadelphia, this is what you would have to do: First you check in with an official in Boston who asks you why you are making the trip, when you will leave (date and time), where you might stop along the way and when you will arrive. After arriving at your destination in Philadelphia, you must check in with that city's officials to tell them you've arrived, what time you arrived, when you left and where you've stopped. At both locations, you will need to fill out numerous carbon-copied forms. The amount of paperwork that needs to be processed for each visiting yacht is staggering. Still, the individual officials with whom you have to deal do not make the rules and are unfailingly polite, courteous, trained to do their job, and efficient. We've found Fijians to be amongst the warmest people we've met during our journey. It's impossible to walk anywhere without being accosted by smiles and sing song greetings - "BUUUULA" or "YAAANDRA"
After Lautoka, it was a short hop down to Saweni Bay a small anchorage on our way to Vuda Point. We were driven by stiff northeast winds and a bit of heavy wave action and the anchorage faced directly into both wind and waves. We didn't have much of a choice, however, and dropped our anchor in about 30' of water between the entrance reefs and in front of two sailboats already in the bay. Even with over 200' of anchor chain deployed, we were dismayed to find Carina rapidly dragging her anchor towards the other boats; we decided to re-anchor. While pulling up our anchor, one of the sailboats decided to leave and we ended up taking that boat's spot, anchoring in about 15' of water with an anchor-sucking muddy bottom. This time our anchor held though Carina's bow pitched in the 5-6' swell.
The next day we dinghied to the shore and walked the one kilometer up the road past parched drought-scarred fields to the main road, called Queen's Highway here, where we caught a rattling local bus to Vuda Point. We wanted to check out the marina and boatyard and make arrangements for Carina's haul out the next day. The marina is actually a horseshoe-shaped bowl where boats are tied to shore med-moor style with stern lines sent out to anchor points in the middle of the bowl. The marina has a travel-lift for hauling boats and many boats sit in cradles or in "graves" on shore around the basin in a dusty, dry, unpaved yard. For long term storage, boats are placed in pits in the ground and supported by piles of used auto tires, making them almost immune to any of the effects of cyclones. The disadvantage to such a storage site is the potential for all sorts of vermin to enter your boat: rats, mice, cockroaches, ants and spiders while the pits collect water and allow mosquitoes to breed. Still it's an effective storage method, albeit unsightly. The next day, after a mostly uneventful haul out, Carina was placed in a cradle which allowed us to work on her hull.
Our first inspection of Carina's bottom quickly showed that our cutless bearing was badly worn and needed to be replaced. This bearing is the brass tube lined with rubber that sits inside the stern tube and through which the prop shaft passes. The propeller also looked like it needed replacement as galvanic corrosion had attacked the metal, turning it a sienna, coppery color. (We had recently found a failure of our bonding wiring; this probably caused the galvanic corrosion to our prop.)
We decided to enlist professional help from a local firm called Baobob Marine in replacing our cutless bearing since this was a chore we had never tackled before. The company is run by an irascible old salt named Brian Smith, hailing originally from South Africa. A former cruiser, Brian came recommended by friends who had had much more extensive and delicate operations successfully accomplished than we intended, so we figured we were in good hands. Unfortunately, Brian didn't work on Carina, and the well-meaning, polite young guy they sent didn't seem to have ever tackled a cutless bearing either. And, even though Philip tried to watch his every move and his manager swung by a few times to offer suggestions, he soon chipped and cracked the propeller while trying to remove it from the shaft and also chipped a part of the rudder. He was eventually able to get the propeller off with a gear puller while heating it with a torch.
After the prop was off, we disconnected the shaft from the transmission coupling and slid it out the stern tube past the rudder. Upon inspection, we noted that the shaft was badly scored and shiny where it was riding on the worn cutless bearing and we feared (rightly) that the shaft would also have to be replaced. Ringing cash registers sounded in our heads. At last the workman had access to the cutless bearing but his bungling attempts at removal proved fruitless as he gouged the outer edges of the stern tube. Exasperated, Philip suggested he use a hacksaw blade to gently saw through the old cutless bearing so it could be removed easily and after a half hour of work was able to relieve the pressure on the bearing and slide it out of the stern tube. He seemed as relieved as we were that his job was done. In retrospect, except for the removal of the propeller for which we had no tool, we could have and should have done the work ourselves.
This pretty much set the tone of our haul out which lasted 33 days, 21 hours, 42 minutes and 15 seconds (not that we were counting). Still, in the end and after much anguish, countless toxic mosquito coils burned, never ending trips to the ATM and a frightening credit card balance, we accomplished quite a bit in that period of time. Our list of to dos done would bore you. Baobab's expertise did come in handy when replacing our cutless bearing as they machined a custom bearing of an amazing composite material normally used for the cutless bearings of tiny boats like the QEII. Brian was also instrumental in re-designing our shaft to accommodate, with only a fraction of an inch to spare, a much-needed propeller zinc. He was the guy who got to argue with the shop in Suva who fabricated at least one version of our shaft completely wrong, costing us a whole week of yard living during the Fiji Day independence celebrations.
The bright spot of our Vuda Point stay was the visit from friends Lance and Karen on the eve of our wedding anniversary. They had been vacationing in Fiji, where Lance was moon-bouncing with his ham radio to other amateur radio operators, and decided they'd rent a car and come to us if we couldn't come to them. It had been five years since their last visit in Puerto Vallarta, but we picked up our conversation where we'd left off, and jabbering for hours, we filled the boat with laughter.
Back afloat and back near Viti Levu's rural northern tip, the long boatyard sentence seems like a nightmare we'd rather not recall. For now, it seems like a luxury to wash dishes in our galley sink rather than in a bucket lowered to the ground and carried to a water spigot. Too, now when we wake at night we don't have to lay in bed and contemplate whether we have the gumption to extract ourselves from our mosquito-netted cabin, climb down the ladder, shake out our shoes in case they have been occupied by tiny biting vermin seeking squatters rights, and shuffle off to the public WC in the dark, all the while being careful not to trip over softball sized toads.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake