Fiji August 2011
(This is a revision of our passage from Nelson to Savusavu and includes details of our time exploring the islands.)
We were embayed for 21 days with northerly winds holding us in Tasman Bay. After a wind shift we set sail from Nelson on the 18th of May 2011.
Our crew of 14, arranged by nationality, were: 3-Yanks, Evan, Megan & Dan, 3-Swedes, Anton, Jonas & Eric, 2-Germans Franzi & Ulf, 2-Brits, Dai & Shelly, Belgian Jay, French Canadian Kim-Danielle (aka Kanuk), Frenchwoman Kim-Loan and a Kiwi named Lachlan.
Our 'weather window', as the yachties like to call it, was fresh on the heels of a sou- westerly gale. Thirty-five knots and a 4-metre sea is the sort of weather suited for Alvei, especially when it is pushing us in the right direction.
Three days later we were out in the Tasman Sea, 180 miles nor- west of Auckland. We were headed by a moderate nor-easter. This turned into a northerly gale. The thing to do in this sort of situation is to tack off shore, heave-to and wait for a wind shift. Or as a lands man would say, 'Find a safe direction, hold on and wait for things to get better'. (This tactic may also be used for a variety of social dilemmas.)
Four days later, the wind backed to the west and died away we had been blown around in an elliptical circle some 70 miles in diameter. After the gale died away our tall German lad asked me to call a helicopter to take him back to land. I explained that since it was not a medical emergency, the cost of a helicopter would be in the area of $2000 dollars an hour and to count on a 4 hour round trip. He decided to stay for a while.
Another 3 days we were over the top of Three Kings Islands sailing close hauled into a fresh sou- Easter. At 31 degrees south we were again headed by a nor-easter. The wind turned into a northerly force-8 gale with 6 metre seas.
By this time most of the crew was used to the weather. No other choice but to heave to and ride it out.
If your ship is well found, there is a delightful majesty in a force eight gale. It was a fine showing of the power of Mother Nature in survivable conditions. The following paragraph describes an event that happened over a time period of 4 to 5 seconds and was preceded by the waring, 'Oh shit, hold on!' It was an hour and a half after sunset. The on-coming watch was in the galley having dinner. I happened to glance forward to see a wave, with a nearly vertical face, towering over the galley. If a person had been standing on deck next to the galley they could have leaned out and touched the face of the wave. Its height was half way to the lower yard. If it had broken it would have dumped tons of water on the galley. But as it was, Alvei heeled over about 45 degrees and rose up over the top of the wave. (I just love it when she does that.)
There were shouts and crashing sounds coming from the galley. Poking my head in to survey the damage I found Johan was tossed into the sink and rest of dinner ended up on the cabin sole, otherwise little the worse for the experience. And again we were blown around in an elliptical circle with a 60-mile east-west axis. (This same weather pattern would happen twice more before we found the trade winds. Only the following two times were caused by light head winds.)
The next two weeks were calms and light headwinds. This is the southern ocean's version of the North Atlantic horse latitudes. We used the motor for 4 days. During this time, one of the crew, who had been on medication for a bi-polar disorder, began showing signs of schizophrenic delusions and paranoia. After he told me the CIA or aliens were spying on him; we had a chat about his medications. I learned he had altered his medication schedule, then stopped taking his meds altogether. After nearly falling overboard, he then told one of the female crew, 'This is the knife you are going to kill me with'. There were concerns that he might hurt himself or other members of the crew by his erratic behaviour. He was taken off watch and placed under 24-hour observation.
Our registered nurse, Kim-Danielle, got him back on his meds and somewhat stabilized.
We finally found the trade winds at 20 degrees south as we entered the Fijian Lau Group. Then motor sailed the last 3 days to Savusavu on Vanua Levu. Our voyage north to the tropics was a 37-day passage with 3 gales and 17 days of headwinds totalling 2003 nautical miles sailed noon to noon. We ran the engine 268 hours and consumed 2881 litres of diesel. This was more than twice the normal amount of engine running time for this passage.
After clearing in our divers got to check out the reefs at the Cousteau Marine Reserve. Everyone found themselves a favourite pub/restaurant and a place to do e-mails. After 9 days in Savusavu we set sail for Suva.
Four hours out of Savusavu while doing the 10:00 engine log the forward injector parted a mounting stud and started blowing a cloud of vaporized diesel around the engine room. The engine was shut down and the next hour used setting all the fore and aft sails including the gaff-topsails. We were surrounded by coral reefs with only one way out to the south.
When starting the Hobart welder to make electricity, the engine started shrieking and smoking. The water pump had seized. It only took a push to free the pump, but the v-belt had been damaged.
It took 4 hours to extract the broken stud, find matching half-inch National Coarse threads on another bolt and weld a new end on the old stud. As I was putting it all back together the other of the two studs parted in the same place. (That collection of nuts and bolts we salvaged off Marara and Kat organized so well, has been a constant resource.) It only took an hour and a half to repair the second stud. Just as repairs were finished the v-belt on the Perkins flew to bits, rendering the welder useless.
It was a long day.
In Suva we had to buy 3 tons of diesel and another 200 litres of lube oil. The yacht club raised the daily rate from $8 FJD per boat to five dollars per crew per day. So, was costing us $50 dollars a day.
We had our 25th anniversary Potluck BBQ to mark the time since buying the boat back in July of 1986. We collected about 60 yachties and yacht club staff. It was a good get together with laughter and numerous photographs.
After Suva we used a couple of days to explore the reefs around Beqa Lagoon on the south coast of Viti Levu. Joining us for this short leg around the south coast of Viti Levu was Laura Dekker, a 15-year old solo circumnavigator. We had a fine overnight sail from Beqa Lagoon to Navula passage anchoring till morning in Momi Bay. Then we used a couple more days hanging out at Musket Cove to party with the other yachties, before sailing on to Lautoka to buy some good Fiji raw sugar and clear customs.
Events at Lautoka generated a change of plans.
The part for the outboard engine finally arrived. While I was in Denarau picking up the part, one of our new crew managed to drive the tinny across a chunk of coral, thus destroying most of the clamp that attaches the engine to the transom.
Along with that, the new fuel pump didn't fit. I returned the pump and ordered parts to replace the damaged engine mount.
After a Saturday afternoon breakdown in communications with the Mercury dealer, we learned the cost of the parts to repair the engine amounted to about half the cost of a new engine. So we ordered a new engine.
After some discussion with the crew we decided to skip New Caledonia and sail directly to Vanuatu.
We have a good full season crew this year. Franzi has become our purser. Jay is bosun in training. He seems to enjoy woodwork the most. Dai and Kim are doing their Castaways reef ecology program and have had most of the crew as students so far. Young Meg is our second engineer in training and plans to stay long term. Leaving us here were Shelly a British graphic designer and Kanuk our French Canadian nurse. Both of them have gone to Aust. to work. PNG Pete has returned to Australia and his daughters wedding. And from Nelson 'Copy Machine' Gary has returned to New Zealand.
Joining us was Bob from the UK and Kim from Oz. Yes, the rum flask comes out as often as not in the evening when we are at anchor in port. From sunset till dinner there is a regular group on the aft settee, for a tup of grog and a discussion of the day's events.