Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A short cruise in the Mamanucas

After getting several boat issues squared away, we decided to take a short cruise through the neighboring island group, the Mamanuca Islands. Sieg and Barb on Sorceress, along with their friend Chuck, joined us on the first leg. And I need to mention here that Chuck very kindly brought us some boat parts from the US, which really helped us to get out of the marina. The Mamanucas are one of the most intensely touristic parts of Fiji, but it is still relatively pristine compared to most parts of the world. The resorts are small and low-key. Our first stop was Musket Cove, on Malolo Lailai Island. The anchorage is protected but the water is 20m deep, so we picked up a mooring instead of dropping the hook. For about US$10, we became members of the Musket Cove Yacht Club, which entitled us to shoreside privileges such as showers and use of the resort's salt water pool. We enjoyed walking around the island every morning, a peaceful change from our morning walk at Vuda. Along with a number of fine homes, we came across this pretty chapel on the hill overlooking the resort. After riding out a 40-knot windstorm, it was time to move on. Sorceress headed east, bound for Savusavu. It might be the last time we see her. But Inca soon arrived, with Aaron and his two new crewmates, Ali and James. We made a plan to cruise north in company with them. Our first destination was only a short ways away, the small lagoon at Mana Island, which was well protected from swell, but wide open to the wind, still blowing pretty strong after the previous low pressure system of a few days ago. Vicki did a great job conning us through the winding passage through the reef. We dinghied ashore and explored the resort. Vicki even won some money playing bingo at poolside. The next day we had a nice sail north to Navadra. There was enough wind that we only needed our genoa. We managed to stay ahead of Inca until she raised her mizzen. She is a fine looking 58-footer, designed by Gary Mull. Navadra is my new favorite anchorage in Fiji. Of course we were lucky in that prevailing weather made for a calm anchorage. We've talked to others who have not had very good conditions there. But it is one of the few uninhabited islands we've seen with decent protection, beautiful beaches, and excellent snorkeling. In hindsight, we should have stayed longer at Navadra. But we elected to head north to the southernmost island in the Yasawas, Waya. While it has a beautiful skyline, somewhat reminiscent of the Marquesas, we found the anchorage to be rolly in these conditions. A stern hook gave us a good night's sleep, but we were more than ready to leave the next day at first light. Unfortunately, the winds were still blowing hard from the south, so we had a pretty tough beat for the first few hours, until we came into the lee of Viti Levu, at which point the winds died and we motored the rest of the way to Saweni Bay. This is a peaceful anchorage under most conditions, and we stayed 2 nights here. While the cows enjoyed walking the beach, we enjoyed walking the nearby country roads. The second day, we were happy to see David, Angelina, and Natalie steam into the anchorage on La Fiesta. We had met them briefly in Mexico, and again in Moorea in 2012. David kindly helped me sort out a few of the boat issues that were still unresolved. He tore down the autopilot gearbox, cleaned and greased the gears, and got it all back together and working. Nevertheless, we have a few more boat issues to address, so now we have returned to Vuda Point, where we will get the boat ready for passage to New Cal and on to Australia. We may still fit in a few more short cruises before then, as we will probably not leave Fiji for at least a month.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Southern Cross is for sale

We've always known this day would come; we've just never known when. But we have decided it is time to move on to another chapter. Southern Cross is on the market, listed with a Sydney broker: http://au.yachtworld.com/boats/1988/Ericson-38-2721327/Fiji#.U3kiDmthiSN

A variety of factors brought about this decision, but it basically comes down to recognizing that our combined physical abilities no longer provide us with a comfortable margin for dealing with the various challenges of cruising. Also, our financial picture will be changing in the next year or two, and we don't want to wait until the point at which boat ownership and maintenance become problematic. Finally, we have accomplished the basic goals which brought us this far: bluewater passages, remote islands, and exotic cultures. While we could continue to savor new destinations, there are other experiences in life that we don't want to postpone much longer.

Southern Cross has been our home and our magic carpet for 12 years, and is part of our family. We've discussed various ways of bringing her home to the Pacific Northwest, but none seem feasible given our physical and financial limitations. So we are hoping she finds a new home in this part of the world.

The current plan is to prepare for a voyage to New Caledonia, and on to Australia, leaving Fiji about the middle of June, when spring quarter is over and my teaching responsibilities will no longer require daily Internet contact.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Underway at last

Sieg's friend Chuck flew in with the last of our new parts a couple of days ago. Now, with new batteries, wiring harness, solenoid, safety switch, and fuel water separator installed (and pocketbooks correspondingly emptied), we are finally ready for action. Despite no wind and a forecast for rain showers, we "braved" the 15nm passage to Malolo Lailai island. The reef-strewn waters give you a clear idea of why Moorings gave up on bareboat chartering here. We picked up a mooring in front of the Musket Cove resort, rather than anchoring in 60+ feet of water. This is low season, and there are less than a dozen yachts here, including friends on Inca and Sorceress. Most of the fleet has not yet arrived from NZ or the east. In late August, boats will start massing here for the Sailing Rally to Port Vila, Vanuatu. We're happy to have it to ourselves for now. Its quiet ashore, and easy to find a table at Dick's restaurant, a seat at the bar, or a lounge chair by the pool. The first night here, there was traditional Fijian dancing in front of the restaurant. Not nearly as sensual as in French Polynesia, but still fun, and a good reminder that in spite of the touristic trappings, we are a long way from home. As is our custom, we were up before dawn for a vigorous walk before the sun heats things up. We walked through the resorts and up to the hilltop for a view over the bay. Along the way we passed this picturesque chapel. We hope to relax here for a week or so. Its one of the few spots in the Mamanucas and Yasawas with reliable 3G internet, and I need to stay connected until the end of spring term in a few more weeks.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Still in the marina

Thanks to the help of some local electricians, we got the damage from the electrical fire sorted out. There was apparently a short in the preheat solenoid that burned the wire between it and the starter. We were grateful this happened while we were so close to help. The entire wiring harness had to be rebuilt because of melted insulation on neighboring wires. We went to the office in Lautoka to settle the bill. They gave us a grand tour of the premises, including this impressive heap of alternators. I've also finished getting the boat commissioned for the season and repaired a number of small issues. I replaced our house batteries with two new 150Ah AGMs. We are still having a problem that I thought I had sorted out last season - a small air leak in our fuel/water separator. One of Sieg and Barb's friends is flying in with a replacement bowl, so we are biding our time here in the marina. We go for a 2 mile walk before dawn, have breakfast, do schoolwork and boat chores, cool off in the afternoon with a swim at the pool next door, watch the sunset (often accompanied by a green flash), eat dinner, watch a movie. For the last couple of evenings, the Russian superyacht "A" has been anchored a few miles away. Vicki went to a church service in the nearby village. There's no rush to leave, as I have to teach another 4 weeks before we can get too far from the Internet. Other than shopping, the only highlight of this past week was being invited to dinner at the home of our boat caretaker, Mr. Bharos. His son is a yaqona (kava) dealer at the local market. This is one of the most impressive bundles of yaqona I've ever seen. Once we get the new part installed, we hope to sail out to nearby Musket Cove, and perhaps on to the Yasawas. Once spring term classes are finished, we'll head back to Savusavu and the eastern side of Fiji, which is less touristy and thus more interesting to us.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Afloat and... afire?

After several days of hard work, with help from local contractors, we were ready to be launched today. All seemed to be in readiness - we had run the engine for a minute or two yesterday to make sure it would start. But once in the water today, nothing happened when I turned the key. Going below, I saw smoke coming from the engine housing, so I switched off the batteries and grabbed the extinguisher. There were a few small flames near the starter, and near the fuel pump at the top rear of the engine. Once they had been extinguished, I could see some fried insulation. Seems like a classic short circuit. Tonight is our first night sleeping aboard. Hope we can get rid of the smell of burning insulation before bedtime, and hope we can figure out what went wrong...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ready to start a new season in Fiji

We flew in from Brisbane this morning, after a sleepless night. Sieg from Sorceress kindly picked us up at the Nadi airport. The boat looked pretty good considering she has been sitting in the tropical sun for the past 8 months. No bugs, very little mold ("Bounce" sheets tucked in among fabric works wonders at preventing mold). Unfortunately, our house batteries were nearly dry, as the caretaker had ignored our request to top up the water at 4-month intervals.

It is nice to be in Vuda Point again, which feels like a real crossroads for cruisers. We are running into boats we have previously seen in Puget Sound, California, Mexico, and French Polynesia. We're also meeting some interesting cruisers, like the super-adventurous crew of Wizard's Eye, and the environmentally conscious crew of Research Vessel Llyr, on their way to help villages in Vanuatu with sustainable development projects.

It will take us a week or so of work to get the boat back in the water. One reward after a hard day of work is happy hour at the "Boatshed", watching another beautiful Fijian sunset with friends.