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Musket Cove, Fiji01/29/2013
Done now with Suva, I headed out for another overnight sail. This time it was a bit further. Actually a day-nigh-day sail. And there was absolutely no wind. And none was forecast for the next few days. I ended up motorsailing most of the way with only a couple hours of actually sailing.
The passage along the south coast of Viti Lavu, Fiji's main island, was uneventful. No wind most of the way. But that also meant calm seas, which is always good.
I was a bit apprehentious about the entrance to Musket cove. The area if full of reefs. The reefs are easy enough to see in good lighting so I had to time my arrival to have the sun over my shoulder. Between the reefs the water was deep; over 200 feet in most places.
My Garmin chart plotter had been pretty accurate so I was trusting it to get me close and then trusting my eyes to make the final adjustments to my course.
However, about one mile out just as I was motoring between two reefs, the engine sputtered. It had been running perfectly for about two years and now, when I could least afford it to have a problem it decided to act up.
I ran down into the cabin and opened the engine compartment. I switched the fuel supply valve from the port tank to the starboard tank. That should fix it. But it didn't. The engine was still running, but sputtering and surging as if starved for fuel. I looked at the reefs close by. I looked at the depth sounder. It read 180 feet. Too deep to anchor. But maybe I should prep the anchor for a quick release. Maybe I should raise a sail to at least give me some semblance of control if the engine dies.
I went forward and prep'd the anchor for a quick drop. I pulled the sail ties off the staysail and released the hold-down at the stay.
The engine continued to sputter. Wait... It sounded a little better for a second. Then better still. Finally, slowly, it smoothed out. I was back to speed and heading in to the harbor.
Passing the last reef mark before turning in toward the yachts moored in front of the Musket Cove Resort I called on the VHF and asked for mooring instructions. "Just pick up any mooring you like and come in and see us when you get settled." I found one that wasn't too close to the other boats. Which meant it wasn't too close to the resort, also. I had no problem picking up the mooring. There was no painter just a heavy loop and about three feet of line above the mooring ball.
Once I was secured my friends Ernie and Charlene (s/v Lauren Grace) came by to say, "hi." After a brief chat they gave me a ride in to shore and Ernie took me around to introduce me to everyone and show me what was where. Having been up all night I barely remembered what he was saying. So I soon went back to Galena to put her to bed and then do the same with myself. After a nap I launched my dinghy and found my way to the little island bar at the entrance to the marina.
There I immediately felt I had found a home.
Ernie had shown me where they park yachts for cyclone season. It looked very safe to me; sort of a mote around an artificial island surrounded by hills and trees. And the cost was very reasonable. I made the decision to stay for the cyclone season. This place had everything: bars, restaurants, pools, hiking trails, small store, laundry. And the ferry to the main island ran four times a day. On the main island one can get just about anything; within reason and for a price.
I decided to stay here for the cyclone season.
One of the comfortable places to hang out at Musket Cove is the Trader. It's the small cafe and general store. A large porch surrounds the building with nice views and constant breezes.
Musket Cove is very nice for a Pacific Island resort. Musket Cove is one of three resorts in the cove. Further along the beach to the south is the Plantation Resort (more family-oriented) and then there's Lomani (strictly adults only). But Musket offers a nice level of pampering and class.
There are two ferries that make 4-times a day runs to the mainland (near Denarau, Fiji). While I was there they hauled Cat II out for maintenance.
They are building a new one near the airfield and expect it to be ready for next tourist season.
While the modern Malolo Cat ferries are fast and comfortable they haul only passengers. The small island trader m/v Bili Bili is the workhorse of these islands. This little ferry is almost constantly making cargo runs between the islands and the mainland.
Patrick, the man who runs the marina assigned me to a spot that I would move to in case of a cyclone. We walked around to the hurricane hole and he pointed out where Galena would set and where I would tie lines to the shore. Everything was arranged. I would stay out on the mooring until a storm threatened. At that time I would move into the lagoon and tie up to the central mooring and to the shore. It was a nice arrangement. And interestingly they don't charge for that reservation for the storm mooring until/unless I actually go in and use it. I'm not complaining.
Then, a week later, a huge power catamaran came in to the resort (m/y Safari Swell) and John, the owner, wanted to leave it here for the cyclone season. Under their agreement with me the marina would be able to charge me a pittance for just the few days Galena might be in the cyclone hole. But if they put that big cat back there they would make a bundle each day for months. So I was out. I was told, "So sorry. we seem to have 'overbooked.' I told Patrick, well and good but we had an agreement. He said he would find a place for me. He did. Not as good and maybe not as safe. But not bad, either.
Practic Run into the Cyclone Hole
On the 18th of November 2012 we received word of a possible cyclone heading our way. Forecasts were calling for winds over 40 kts. I told Patrick I wanted to come in and asked where my new position was. He said he'd put me up against the walkway bridge leading to Armstrong Island. This was the place normally reserved for the BiliBili barge. But he was not coming in for this storm and I was welcome to tie up there.
First we moved s/v Lauren Grance into position. Ernie had done this before so I just assisted by handling lines for him.
Then we moved Galena into position.
Once I had her in position Ernie helped tie her up to the bridge and I put out an anchor off the port beam.
The only problem with this arrangement was that the bridge is static and the tidal range is about six feet. Soon I was unable to climb up from Galena's deck to the bridge. I had to use the dinghy to go over to the nearby floating dock. Also, at low tide Galena was firmly aground. She was sitting in soft mud so I had no worries about damage. But it made living aboard a bit strange as she sat bow-down and listing to starboard.
As it turned out the storm was nothing of note. Winds were a little brisk but not too bad. Still I was happy to be where I was rather than out on the mooring. At least here I was able to get to the bar without using my dinghy.
Within a couple of days I was back out on the mooring and everything had returned to normal. All in all it was just a nice practice run. Although now Patrick says my official spot will be just outside the drawbridge at the Malolo Cat dock. Good enough I guess.
Erie was sailing over to Denarau (on the mainland) and asked if I wanted to come along. Sure, why not? I was going over to buy some heavy line to use during the cyclones and he would be able to bring it back with ease.
We had a very quiet motorsail over. This marked the first time I was ever on a catamaran while underway. Very different motion compared to a monohull. And Ernie, having been here many times was eager to show me all the features of the route between Musket Cove and Denarau. When we got to the mainland Ernie guided me to all the boat chandleries and hardware stores in Denarau and Nadi. Finally we took a taxi out to Manaka near the Nadi Airport. We finally found a store with the 20-mm yellow polypropylene 3-strand rope I wanted. But the store wanted F$6.80 (about US$4.20) and I needed 100 meters. With a lot of haggling my taxi driver got him down to F$6/m. Still a lot. Then I saw some of the same rope in white rather than yellow on another spool nearby. The spool said it, too, was 20-mm. The only difference was that it was white. My taxi driver picked up both to compare them and in so doing twisted the yellow against the lay (it expanded in diameter) and twisted the white with the lay (it tightened up). The result was that the yellow looked a lot larger than the white. He showed them to the store keeper and asked how much this 'thinner' rope was? The guy said, "Oh, that's a lot smaller and is only F$4/m" "I'll take it," said I.
I hung out at the main tourist center at Denarau and partied a bit during the following weekend. They have the standard attractions such as a Hard Rock Cafe.
And along the harbor is the boardwalk with all the tourist traps one might want. Everything from bars to pizza shops to fried chicken fast food to cafe's with nightly fire-dancers.
The mooring field at Denarau only has about 12 moorings. And they are not rated for cyclones. But nearby (about 1km) are two creeks that carry 7-ft at the entrances and go back several kilometers into the mangroves. During a recent cyclone there were 40+ boats back there and not one sustained any damage.
Back at Musket Cove I'd go for walks along the beach. Well, that's not entirely accurate. I'd walk to the various resorts' bars on the beach. While walking near The Plantation Resort I happen upon Tom Hanks' raft from the movie, "Castaway." The island scenes were actually filmed on Monuriki Island, about 12 miles NW of here.
Look closely and you can see that the raft is completely stainless steel and fiberglass. In fact, everything that looks like wood is actually fiberglass.
Another bar on the beach, between Musket and Plantation is Ananda's. It's just past the airfield and has some of the best food on the island. The beers are also a little cheaper than the big resorts. Ananda's was the first bar up and running after Cyclone Evan. With the demise of the Island Bar it became my favorite bar. But it was a far cry from the Island Bar. And a far walk from the dock.
Walking along the beach between Musket and Ananda's you crossed the end of the airstrip. The end of the strip ran right into the ocean. The sign wasn't kidding. Sometimes I'd be about to walk into the path of a landing plane. They were still a hundred feet high, but it's scary none the less.
And on some mornings, waking up and looking across the mooring field I'd be presented with the most wonderful sights.
One thing I've not really gotten use to here in 'The Islands' is the absence of OSHA. Here we have the problem of trimming trees that are well out of reach from even the highest forklifts on the island. What do they do? The build a scaffold and lift THAT with the forklift. Works fine. But it's a little shaky.
Cyclone Evan - Monday, 17 December 2012
On 5 December I started seeing signs of a storm developing over the Solomons, several hundred miles west of here. The usual path for these storms is right down the island chain and then between Vanuatu and Fiji. Then they turn east and blow themselves out well south of Fiji.
This storm showed a different path. It was going to head directly west toward Samoa passing north of Fiji. Strange but it would still have little effect on us.
By 7 December the projected track showed a disturbing twist: The storm would hit Samoa and then stop, turn southwest and move directly toward Fiji. This was not good. Everyone started checking all the available web sites and weather sources. The projections said it would hit us on or about 16 December.
As we watched the various forecasts I noticed that the US Navy site (The Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center (FNMOC)) was the one the other sites followed. During the next few days the forecast changed constantly from
- it's going to pass just west of us
- it's going to pass right over us
- it's going to pass just east of us
The forecasts wind speed and directions from WindGuru looked like this:
My assigned spot was where the ferry docks. They were going to run that ferry until the last possible minute. I didn't want to be out on the mooring when the winds started building. So I moved Galena into the main dock. There was no one there and the dock master didn't mind. That also got me very close to the island bar. Cool.
Patrick, the dock master, was on vacation. He was supposed to come back and manage the movement/placement of all the boats in the area. The other resorts send their support boats (dive boats, excursion boats, party boats, et al.) to Musket Cove for shelter and once they start to show up it's a serious Charlie-Foxtrot. Well, Patrick decided not to come back. I understand he had his own home and family to worry about. But he also had responsibilities here.
Anyway, one of the expats, Dave, who runs Musket Cove's excursion boats took charge. He began directing who goes where. When I said I was worried about getting back to my spot if I waited too long, Dave understood. He directed me to a position just a few hundred feet down the dock from my assigned spot. As the ferry made it's last run evacuating the last of the tourists I moved into position and started securing Galena. I hauled my metal dinghy up on shore and put it behind a hedge and tied it to a tree.
The forecast at that time called for winds out of the NNW. I was pointed N with the floating dock on my starboard side. I strung most of my lines from Galena's bow to the trees on shore and the dock pilings. At the stern I just put a couple of lines to the dock and a tree on shore. The Malolo Cat I was going to stay on the dock directly in front of me and that would block some of the force of the wind from that direction. Also, at low tide Galena's deck was below ground level. That would help too.
The forecasts kept getting worse. This was now a Cat 3 and coming right for us. But the day before the storm we had a lovely sunset as we partied at the Island Bar. Little did we know that it would be the last party at that bar.
By mid-afternoon on the 17th of December the winds were picking up. The radar forecasts were looking bad.
The last forecast indicated a direct hit of the eye over Musket Cove. Winds in they eye-wall were 120-kts. Rain heavy.
The barometer was dropping fast. Everyone was doing last minute checks of lines and fenders. I walked over to the cyclone hole behind Armstrong Island. Everything looked good on the couple of boats I was 'watching' for friends.
Gradually the winds climbed as the barometer fell. But the winds were from the SE. Throughout the afternoon they continued to build and slowly clock to the East. That put the winds on Galena's starboard quarter. The one place where I didn't have as many lines as I might have had. Galena rocked hard over with every gust. Remember I was below ground level. The wind hitting the rigging was rocking her 20-degrees!
I started to see leaves, coconuts, palm fronds and then whole trees blow by. The water was whipped to a mist in the little lake that made up the inner harbor (it was only 250 meters across and it was rough as a small lake).
The big ferry also on the dock just in front of me started to pull the dock away from it's mooring poles. I saw the crew out on the dock and on the land frantically passing more lines around trees and using 'come-alongs' to pull the bug boat back against the dock. I was concerned since I, too, was tide to that dock. If the dock let go, I knew my few lines to the trees wouldn't hold Galena, the dock, and the big ferry. We'd all be swept out of the harbor and out to sea. I went out to help them. We were wearing dive masks so we could see. We got a couple more lines to the trees and managed to coax the ferry back into position.
About then one of the few lines from Galena's stern to the dock exploded. It was about 16-mm 3-strand nylon. But it was a bit old and it was way too short (no room to stretch). I wasn't too surprised by it's failure. What surprised me was the way the other lines (much longer as they went up to the trees on shore) stretched and let Galena swing about eight feet from the dock. Too far for me to jump off and run another line. I was seriously considering abandoning ship when the crew from the ferry ran up and tossed me a line. I secured it to Galena's stern cleat and they pulled us back to the dock. I was so thankful they were there to help.
Finally just before dark the wind suddenly let up. The eye of the cyclone was on us. The sky was bright white. The air was almost completely still. The barometer read 945mb. I've never seen it anywhere near that low before.
I went for a walk to check on things. The devastation was pretty amazing. I met John, the guy who runs the dive operation for Musket. He was checking his shop and surrounding buildings.
The rain started and as I hurried back to Galena the wind started to pick up. Within just a couple of minutes it was blowing hard again. Now from the NNW.
With the wind on Galena's port bow she was being pushed against the dock. Now Galena was pulling on the bulk of her lines which went from bow to shore. She was also somewhat shielded by the big ferry in front of her. She was also not healing over nearly as far. I knew her hull paint wouldn't look good in the morning, but, she needed a repaint anyway.
I curled up on the port settee and fell asleep. I awoke many times and there was no change. Winds howling from the NW and Galena rocking against the fenders on the dock. Back to sleep.
At dawn I got up and surveyed the damages. Galena was in good shape. One solar panel had a broken hinge. The plywood steering vane had snapped off (I was unable to loosen the bolt that held it so left it) and one of her lines had snapped. I walked around and took a few pictures of the damage:
After a bit of cleaning up those of us who had been on site for the storm got together in a small hut near Galena and had a drink. This is the picture from that survivor party.
The main wharf leading out the Island Bar was damaged. The power lines to the island were cut. So there would be no island bar drinks for a while. And I had to move right away since the Ferry had to start service. So I went back out to my mooring.
I talked with the owner of the resort, Will Smith, and asked when the docks and Island Bar would be repaired. He said Yachtie support was at the very bottom of his list. Maybe he'd get around to that stuff in May or June. This made me feel very unwelcome. I was no longer happy in this little corner of paradise.
I called my old friends Jeff and Jose on s/v Stravaig. They had recently arrived in Savusavu, Fiji. I expressed my displeasure with Musket Cove. They suggested that if I came back to Musket Cove the owner of the marina would put in a new cyclone mooring for me. I decided that I would head back to Savusavu as soon as I had a reasonable weather window.
Savusavu, Fiji Part 201/29/2013
As well as seeing Vavua Levu (the island on which Savusavu sets) by motor scooter I took a mini-bus to Labasa (pronounced 'Lambasa') with cruising buddies. Rob and Pauline (s/v Changing Spots) set it up.
Savusavu, Fiji Islands08/01/2012
There was a time when setting out on a five-day voyage would give me pause. Now I think of it as just a short sail to the next island.
Once the decision to leave was made (And I can readily understand why some people stay here longer; even years!) I started looking for a weather window. I figured the trip was about 400-nm and would take about four days. I ended up sailing 426-nm in 5-days with the engine running for the final 80 hrs straight.
There was the additional problem of the fact that the main islands of Fiji are protected by a row of reefs and islands along the eastern side. And that these reefs are about 120nm from the main islands. That causes a navigational/timing issue. I wanted to sail between the reefs in daylight, then had to stay pretty much awake for the transit to the main island, a full day further West.
An alternative was to head further North and go around most of the reefs and islands. But that route was at least 25nm (5 or 6 hrs) longer.
The wind was forecast to stay up around 15-kts until the weekend of 28 July. Then it would go light for the next several days.
I made the plan to clear customs and immigrations on Wednesday, 25 July, depart the main harbor and anchor at one of the out islands and actually depart Tonga on Thursday. My good friends, Rob and Pauline of s/v Changing Spots were currently out island and, if they were somewhere convenient I'd visit with them Wednesday night.
While doing the final preparations for going to sea I noted that my Icom SSB radio would not power-up. It's probably a loose connection. Or it might be that the thing has finally given up the ghost. That radio been splashed with seawater so many times I'm surprise it has lasted as long as it has. Just one more thing to work on 'tomorrow.'
As a happy little coincidence my friends James and Julie were leaving on the ferry to Tongatapu at midnight Tuesday. We had had an official going away party a week or so ago, but there was planned another, final, going away party at the Sunset Grill for Tuesday. That little gathering gave me the opportunity to say goodbye to all my friends, too.
Wednesday morning I went to Immigrations, Port Captain (paid $15 TOP harbor fees for two months), and finally Customs. I paid my mooring fees and was finished with it all in about 30 minutes. Then a final goodbye to Sandy, Lisa, and Greg over at the Cafe Tropicana and I was off.
I called Changing Spots and found them at a convenient anchorage just a few miles south of town. I motored down to anchor near them. We drank rum, ate popcorn and told stories. The usual cruiser evening. It was a perfect night with a clear sky full of stars and a gentle, warm breeze blowing off the island.
I went back to Galena a little drunk and ready for my next adventure. I didn't know it would come so soon.
I awoke at 2 AM to find Galena bouncing around and the wind howling. The wind had clocked around so it was blowing parallel to the shore with a fetch of a couple miles of deep water. That made for three foot waves that were streaming by and giving me a very uncomfortable ride.
Then I heard a growl from the anchor chain. I watched as Galena lurched back first 20-ft, then another 60-ft. I had the Rocna anchor down and 150-ft of 3/8-inch chain in 30-ft of water. The chain made an awful sound as it scraped over the coral while Galena danced back and forth. I was sure I was dragging. But I hoped it would catch on something before I either went into deep water or onto the beach.
At about 0330 I started the engine and was preparing to motor out into deep water and away from the island. There was no moon and I could just barely make out the island. But I had breadcrumbs on my chartplotter that would get be back to deep water. I waited. The wind continued to blow and then the rain came down hard. And Galena moved back another 30-ft.
I decided if she moved again I'd haul anchor and just head to the lee side of this island and motor around till dawn. Not a desired action but better than dragging back into a coral head. But Galena held. And from the way she was pulling on her anchor I felt she was set again. I shut down the engine at about 4AM and tried to get some sleep.
After dawn the wind died a bit. I was about to go over to Spots for coffee and to compare notes when Rob swam by and said he had just looked at my anchor. He said it had not moved at all! That I was apparently just straightening out my chain along the bottom. But he also said that my anchor's tip looked to be buried into the side of a rock. He said I may have some trouble getting it out. Not the kind of news I wanted to hear.
During morning radio nets Rob found out that the wind had been clocked at 47-kts that morning. Yep, a little windy. There was absolutely no warning of this little weather event. Every forecast had called for 15 or so knots.
Just before noon I said goodbye to Spots; Rob was heading back to Vava'u. After he left I hauled anchor and headed toward Fiji. The anchor came up without much of a problem. Just a little straight-up pressure and it popped loose. Sp I guess it wasn't as 'jammed into a rock" as Rob thought. With only a staysail and a double-reefed mail I was making good speed in the still fresh breeze. The wind was from the SSE at about 15-kts and I was heading West.
At 11AM on 26 July Galena's sails filled and she headed toward Fiji. As usual it took about 20 minutes to get her settled down and on course. I had decided to keep the Yankee jib attached (but not to raise it just yet). I had hoisted the main with a double reef that I had set up before I weighed anchor. Once I had the staysail up and adjusted Galena settled into a well rehearsed rhythm. Only a few minutes later I had Harvey the Helmsman (my Aries wind vane) properly adjusted and holding a steady course toward open water.
Sea conditions were excellent. An eight-foot swell with three feet of wind chop on top. All from the SW nudging Galena gently directly toward Fiji. This lasted almost exactly 24-hours.
Midday on the 27th the wind backed a bit more to North of East pushing me several miles north of my course. And while doing this the wind speed decreased until Galena was down to 1.5 knots. Now, I know I always say that I'm in no hurry, but come on! This was almost drifting.
So I fired up the engine and except for a couple of brief maintenance inspections that yanmar ran for the next 80-odd hours.
You can see that point on the track above. Galena is wandering around a bit and then, BAM! she takes a direct course toward Fiji.
It was about this time that I changed my route from a very safe, up and around the reefs plot to a more direct, right through the reefs and islands route. This would save me about 6 hours of travel time.
So the 27th through the 30th of July was spent going a bit crazy listening to the drone of the engine. Also, with no wind I had to disengage Harvey and revert to Tilly (Raymarine Auto Tiller Pilot).
Some readers may remember way back in July of 2011 when my Tiller Pilot failed. I had just left Panama and was heading toward the Marquesas. Harvey wasn't working well and with the loss of Tilly I almost gave up and turned back to Panama. But of course I didn't. But replacing the electronic auto pilot was a top priority while cooling my heels in Pago Pago. I replaced the burned out unit with a new one (a couple thousand bucks there). This was the first time I really relied on it to steer Galena for any length of time. Tilly worked fine.
I was still using the old drive unit. The drive unit consists of a motor and a ram each contained in an aluminum tube. These two elements are held together by a threaded collar. That collar is made of plastic! Several years ago I had accidentally leaned on the unit and snapped that silly piece of plastic. So I aligned it, wrapped it with duct tape, splinted it with PVC tubing and held the whole thing together with a couple of hose clamps. Looks like shit but has worked fine for about 4 years now. Oh, it was the electronic controller that burned out back in Panama; the drive unit was fine.
Oh, and Tilly's power plug is all broken up, too. But it works. When it finally craps out I'll pull out the new drive unit from the new system I bought while in Am Samoa.
All during day two I had only the Staysail up. It was sheeted in tight and was only there to mitigate Galena's rather violent rolling motion. The wind had died but the seas were still acting up. Galena was rolling so much that I actually put a cushion on the floor of the main saloon and slept there. That is the point around which Galena rolls and pitches so the motion is minimal there.
By the morning of day three the seas were flat. They had that glassy look that says, "Boy, you aren't sailing anywhere today." so I dropped the staysail and just motored along at a slow, steady, fuel-sipping 3.5 knots.
About 4 AM on 30 July I looked at the moonlight dancing on the calm ocean and was surprised to see land! Off both my port and starboard bows were low land masses. The moon was about to set and these land masses were just dark lines on the horizon. I turned on the radar. I took compass readings with my binoculars. I drew lines on my paper charts. Everything seemed to agree with what the chartplotter was telling me: "Galena is where she should be and so are the reefs and islands."
During the few minutes I was below plotting bearing lines on my paper charts the moon set. When I looked out again I saw only black, featureless ocean. No division between ocean and sky. Just black.
Yeah, I know (intellectually) that I could just proceed onto the banks and slide between the islands and around the reefs. All I had to do was stay on my plotted route line. Easy. The gaps were 3 or 4 miles wide. Not exactly threading a needle here.
We're talking about possibly hitting a reef. This is my home. This is my life. And, hey, the sun will be up in two hours. Maybe I should just drift out here for two hours and then eyeball my path.
I didn't feel comfortable driving onward when a two-hour wait would make me so much safer.
So I shut down the engine and drifted till sunrise.
When the sun came up on Monday everything looked perfect. Except for the continued complete lack of wind.
So I light off the engine and moved on to the banks. Understand, gentle reader, that I sill had over 120 miles to go. A full 30 hours of motoring until I reached port.
While motoring through the outer islands of Fiji I was impressed by the number of islands. These are much higher than those throughout Tonga. And they are all topped with the obligatory cloud.
As the day wore on I noticed I was no longer alone. Four boats that had left Tonga on Saturday were now about a mile south of me and passing me quickly. As it turned out I was number 5 into the harbor of 5 boats that Monday.
It was about noon on 31 July 2012 when I made the final turn and headed in toward Nakama Creek (the area between Nawi Island and the mainland (which, of course is also an island)).
I called in to the Copra Shed marina for a mooring assignment and assistance with Customs and Immigration clearance procedures. They sent a small skiff out to guide me to a mooring ball. The guy took my line and passed it through the mooring pendent and I was secure. He said, "Welcome to Fiji, my friend. I'll bring the officials to your boat as soon as they are done with the other boats." So I waited.
Four official eventually worked their way through my paperwork. First was the health inspector. She asked a lot of questions about the state of my health, declared me fit, gave me a form and told me to go up to the hospital and pay a F$173 processing fee.
Next came customs and immigrations. Lots of forms to fill out. But no fees.
Then the Biosecurity officer came aboard. He charged me F$89 to take away my refuse. But he didn't take away any refuse. I'm not sure what the fee was.
Since I had to stay aboard until all the forms were filled out I had no local currency. They all said it would be OK to pay tomorrow.
I immediately went downtown. I found the ubiquitous ANZ bank ATM and got local money. I was walking past a bar with I spotted Kim and Tamara. A couple of Aussies I had first met on Moorea way back when. I stopped for a drink. I was completely wasted by the time I got back to Galena.
My big sister, Nancy, has a birthday next week. I have not seen her in a few years. She lives in Las Vegas and is holding my car for me. I checked the prices for airline tickets and booked a flight. I'm leaving Monday for two weeks in the desert. We'll continue this when I get back.
Tonga Update #2
A little more background on exactly where I am. Or rather, where Tonga is.
This is the Big Picture. I've labeled Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji. You can see where they are relative to Australia way over on the left.
Also, here is a link to download a Google Earth track of Galena's course from Key West, Florida to Fiji. It runs from December 2010 through August 2012.
Click here to download Galena's Track Key West to Fiji
Tonga is really three main groups of islands spread out over 170 miles and running north-south. I was at Vava'u, the northern-most island group.
The main harbor of Vava'u is well protected.
I've been on Vava'u, the Kingdom of Tonga, for two months. And I have had a wonderful time here. Tonga is so different from American Samoa. I think I've mentioned somewhere that Pago Pago, American Samoa, is a working town. The Starkist Tuna factory employs about half of the working population with the local government employing most of the rest. That just leaves the shop keepers and restaurateurs who support those workers.
Compare that with Vava'u: Nothing here but tourists, sport fishermen, and those that cater to them. The tourists come to watch the humpback whales and the sport fishermen come for the fantastic deep sea fishing available just outside the harbor. Most of the visitors are from New Zealand and Australia.
Essentially this is a playground. The expats here are also mostly from Australia and New Zealand with a few Brits and Yanks thrown in for a good measure of diversity. They mostly run the shops, bars and other services.
For the yachtie community there is the main town and the "Out Islands." The main town, Neiafu has all the amenities one needs. Notice I didn't say "wants." Moorings out front are available for US$10 per day but there are a few spots shallow enough to anchor for free. There are ten or twelve restaurants serving a wide variety of foods from Tongan to Italian to Asian. And there are just as many bars to crawl among.
Then there's Out Islands.Just south of the main island are forty or fifty small islands. Each is worthy of visiting to enjoy the beaches, the snorkeling, or just the solitude.
My modus was to stay in town for a week or two, then head out to the islands for a week. Then back to town to see if it survived without me. It usually did
It wasn't long before all the bartenders and waitresses knew my name and I could walk into just about any place and get a warm "Hi, Bill" and be handed a cold Maka beer.
For example Doug who runs the Sunset Grill. He always played the best music and served the coldest beer. He also had really good food. I found myself heading there almost every day just to hang out with my friends.
Another place with character is Tonga Bob's. They had the drag queen show each Wednesday, the trivial quiz on Thursdays, and... I don't remember the others. But something was happening there almost every night.
While out island I spent quite a bit of time swimming and snorkeling around the beautiful coral and caves.
The Wreck of s/v Nevillus
Last night at about 1130 an EPIRB went off 40nm WSW of here. A Bavaria 50 hit Late Island. A short distress call was made by one of the two-man crew to his wife. He said that the boat was breaking up. Nothing else was heard.
At dawn a P-3 Orion from NZ was on station reporting a 5 mile long debris field near the island. Two sport fishing boats took off from here and were on station 2 hrs later. They searched the debris field but found no one. Two men were on board. They are presumed lost.
It's a reminder to everyone to be careful out there.
My friend, Rob, on Changing Spots is a retired doctor. He went out with the rescue boats. This is Rob's take on the rescue mission:
On July 26, as I sailed toward Fiji, I took a picture of Late Island.
It's a big island. Hard to understand how anyone could just sail into the north face. I guess we'll never know what happened to cause the accident. There's a lot of speculation. The weather was bad that night.
I did notice one thing.
Jimmy Cornell's book, World Cruising Routes, has a 'preferred route' from Vava'u, Tonga, to Suva, Fiji. The route takes you just north of Late island before turning you south. If you remove that waypoint from the route, the route goes dangerously close to Late Island.
The Parting of a Mooring Line
There I was. This is no shit. Thought I was gonna die...
I spent the last few days visiting the little islands south of Neiafu (the main village on Vava'u, Tonga).
As I came into one anchorage I see a couple of mooring balls. Some of the villages put out moorings so the cruisers don't drop anchors all over the coral. And to make a little money.
A few hours after I picked up the mooring, sure enough the village elder comes out and collects the fee. I planned on staying two days and paid him the whole $12 US.
After a very quiet night the wind came up with the sun. Soon it was blowing 20 kts and the anchorage was pretty bouncy. I considered moving but decided against it. All day and all the next night the wind blew between 10 and 20 knots.
The second morning I was again considering moving. I was on deck drinking coffee when I suddenly realized Galena was adrift. I looked down and the mooring ball and chain were coming with me. The mooring chain had let go or broken. With the wind still blowing 20-kts and the rocky shore just a few hundred feet away I fired up the engine and, taking care to keep the trailing mooring lines, ball, and chain clear of the propeller, maneuvered for sea room. Once I had some distance from shore I ran forward and cut the mooring loose.
When I got back to the cock pit and had Galena heading out of the anchorage I suddenly realized how close a call that was.
If that mooring chain had parted just a couple of hours earlier I would not have been in the cockpit drinking coffee. I would have been below and asleep. Galena would have hit the rocks before I had any idea there was a problem. It was just plain luck that saved me and my boat.
From now on I anchor when I'm out there.
I told this story on the local morning net. Immediately three other islands/organizations came on saying that their moorings were safe. Yeah, well, that's what the guy who took my money said, too.
Then on July 12, on the morning cruiser's net there was an announcement that caught my ear.
One of these "professionally installed, government sponsored" moorings let go. Again, and fortunately, the crew of the boat was able to get control of the situation and anchor before any damage was done to their boat. The island/village has asked yachties to stay off the remaining moorings until "a full investigation is completed and an understanding of the failure is determined." At least they are taking a responsible position. Kudos to them for that.
The anchorage involved is at: S18 43.356 W174 06.028
Ben and Lisa own an island.
It's a small, two acre island named Fetoko.
For some time they have been designing and building a small restaurant and resort. They recently complete a major portion of the roof of the main building. An event worthy of a party. All the permanent palangies were invited along with a handful of cruisers. My friend, Sandy, invited me along. Since it's a few miles from town we sailed Galena over.
Their first structure was a metal home to shelter them from the frequent rain.
The large tent they lived in is now left for the almost constant visitors. They've named it the CondoMinimum.
They have also built a nice generator shed of concrete block. It blends well with the island's landscape.
The new roof on the main structure is concrete. I'm not sure how it's actually constructed but it looks great. Of course it's also the main rain water catchment system.
The party started somewhat relaxed. Here Sandy, Lisa, Billy, and Bubu relax before the main party.
As soon as I arrived, Billy "Snips" gave me a hair cut. Billy is one of the interesting ex-pats on the island. From England, he's about to open a theater and start with one-man performances. He's also a professional hair stylist. After cutting my hair he had others lined up for his services.
Of course, they have a very nice beach on which to play, or just lie about.
The anchorage West of the island is perfect in that the water gently shoals to about 20-ft making dropping the hook easy.
Vava'u Harbor Racing
Each Friday Martin, manager of the Moorings fleet here on Vava'u, organizes a race for the cruisers in the harbor.
Usually about eight boats participate. I thought it might be fun. It was.
For this demanding 3.2-mile race I took on crew: friends Carol and Sandy agreed to join me. Sandy had sailed with me once before when we went down to Ben and Lisa's island party. But Carol didn't know much about boats and even less about sailing. We were starting with the 'how do I operate a winch' level of instruction.
That meant that I had to do most of the actual sailing. But it was fun having a couple of lovely ladies on board. And I figured if anything went wrong, I could blame them.
To cut to the end we came in last. But had a blast. And Galena looked good out there in the harbor.
After the race my crew and I relaxed with a beer or two.
Unfortunately Carol was taking all the pictures as well as handling the starboard jib sheet so I didn't get any pictures of her on board.
My passage from Pago Pago to the Kingdom of Tonga
I arrived Vava'u, Tonga on the morning of May 26, 2012 after what was probably the most exhausting passage of my life. Galena took 5-days to go a scant 380-nm.
For those with the Google Earth application click here for Galena's track from Pago Pago, American Samoa to Vava'u, Tonga.
The weather forecast called for 15-20 on the beam with 6-8' seas. The reality was 25-30 knots almost on the nose and seas of 10-12 feet.
On arrival in Vava'u my good friend Rob (s/v Changing Spots) was on hand to help me pick up a mooring in quite adverse conditions, even in this protected harbor.
The rough passage was due to the fact that I was in way too much of a hurry to do a really proper weather assessment before I left. I took the time to visit the local grocery store and buy a few hundred dollars worth of food. Also I made a couple of runs to the gas station to load Galena with fuel (diesel fuel costs more than $8 a gallon on any island west of here).
But as for weather forecast I just gave it a cursory look; I didn't want to see a reason to delay.
What I saw in the forecast was one day of light winds followed by several days of rather strong winds. The winds were to be 15-20 kts just south of east. The seas were to be 6-8 ft and from the southeast. Since my course was to be southwest I looked forward to a fast comfortable run with winds on the beam. The seas on the beam might make for a rolly ride but it would be OK.
I didn't notice that the winds were forecast to swing to the south after a few days. It didn't occur to me that if I didn't make it to Tonga in 4 days, or if the weather pattern accelerated I would be facing stiff winds from the south or even southwest. I didn't see that because I didn't want to see it. I wanted to go and to go immediately.
As predicted Monday, 21 May 2012, was clear and calm. I completed my out-processing (customs, immigrations, port captain) by about 10 AM. I said my goodbyes to a few friends and motor sailed out of the harbor.
The sea was calm. I had the sails up just to mitigate the rolling caused by the 6-ft swell coming in from the southeast. I thought it was a nice start to what should be a fast, uneventful passage.
A couple of hours out of American Samoa I spotted s/v Pilgrim. She is a French boat that I had met in Pago Pago. She had left early on Monday morning en route to Fiji. She was adrift and rolling in the swells when I saw her. I changed course a little to intercept and called her on the radio. They said, no, they didn't need any help. Just that there was no wind and they didn't want to burn any fuel. So only a couple hours outside of the harbor they had decided to drop their sails and drift.
I wished them well and went on my way.
Shortly thereafter and while still motoring on calm seas I came upon a huge oil slick. Brown oil covered the water for about a mile in all directions.
By about midnight the wind started to fill in. I secured the engine and began sailing into a gentle breeze. I do mean into. The wind was coming from almost dead ahead.
While motoring I had kept my course a little to east of the course line. I figured I could easily make it up and having a bit of easting to play with might make final approach to Tonga a little easier. I was 5-nm east of course when I started sailing. Two days later I would be 45-nm west of course.
The wind gradually increased throughout that first night. By dawn I was pounding into winds of 25-30 kts from 165-degrees. With a course of 205 and waves and swell from the south the best I could track was 225-degrees with a velocity made good of only 3-kts.
For the next 3-days I sailed as high into the wind as a Westsail could (about 55-degrees off) and made speeds of only 3 or 4 kts while pounding into and through 12-ft seas with 5-ft wind waves on top. Water was leaking into the cabin from the usual (read: known) spots along the hull-deck joint. Everything was wet and a few of the lockers had come open spilling their contents onto the cabin sole.
I kept hoping that the wind would back around toward the east even though I knew the forecast call for it to veer more south. Then, late on day 3 with Galena tracking 45-nm west of course my track did, in fact, start to turn more to the south; toward the course-line.
Galena runs with an Aries wind vane steering system. Wind vanes steer a course relative to the wind. That is, you set it up to steer, say 110 degrees off the wind and that's what the boat will hold. As the wind direction changes so does the boat's course.
When I saw that Galena had turned a bit to the left and was only 39-nm off course, I decided to wait another day before starting the engine and pinching closer to the wind.
Late on the forth day I was directly north of the harbor entrance. So I fired up the engine and headed south. All evening I pounded south finally getting some relief by getting into the lee of the island. Relief from the seas if not from the wind waves and the wind itself.
I decided to heave-to to get some rest. I had slept only a couple hours when the AIS alarm sounded. A ship as heading toward me. Since I was in the channel on the lee side of the island meeting a ship should not have been a surprise to me.
I fired up the engine and began motor sailing due east to get away from the ship's course and closer to Tonga's Vava'u harbor entrance. By about 3 AM I was only 5-nm from the entrance to the harbor. I considered entering the harbor but decided against it when I found that my radar wasn't working. It had worked fine when I had arrived at Am Samoa some 6 months ago. I had taken the radar down while I rebuilt the boomkin and had not tested it after reinstalling it. I assumed it was a bad connection. But whatever the cause without radar to confirm the chartplotter information I would be foolish to enter in unknown harbor at night, with not even a sliver of moon to help me.
So I drifted again and slept for a couple of hours.
At 5AM, two hours before sunrise, I started Galena on her approach. I was now only 6-nm out of the harbor. But I had drifted west-southwest of the harbor. That put my course almost dead to windward. I struggled to keep Galena making way into the wind and waves as we entered the wide open entrance. Once inside I found that the wind was accelerated down the entrance channel by the islands on both sides. The wind was blowing again in the 25-kt range. With limited tacking room I was making at times only 1.5 kts over the ground with much less made good.
Finally around 10AM I rounded the final bend in the twisting entrance and called for the harbor master on VHF 26. Throughout the Vava'u group of islands in Tonga boats use channel 26 to communicate. There are repeaters set up to allow longer than usual range communications on this channel.
Who answered me was Rob on s/v Changing Spots. He said, "Bill, you won't get an answer since it's Saturday. You'll have to wait and check in on Monday."
I had crossed the geopolitical dateline. While I had though it moved me back a day actually I had shifted ahead a day. I had left on Monday. I had spent 5 days at sea. It was Saturday in Tonga (Tonga is GMT +13hrs and American Samoa is GMT-11).
So I motored in looking for a mooring. The harbor is very deep (almost everywhere it's over 120-ft) and anchoring is therefore at best problematic. There are many moorings available at about US$10 per day. Rob came out in his dingy and led me to one that he had been 'saving' for me. It was within 100-ft of the dinghy dock. Perfect for a cruiser who liked to row his dinghy ashore.
I picked up a mooring and then went over to talk with Rob and Pauline. To do that I had to launch my dinghy. This is something I've done many, many times. I carry my 9-ft aluminum dinghy upside-down on Galena's coach roof. To launch her I first lift her up. Then flip her over. Then I hoist her high enough to clear the lifelines and swing her over the side to be lowered into the water.
But due to the wind, and quite probably my exhausted state, I started to lower her (indeed I sort of dropped her) before she cleared the lifelines. She came down hard to the top of a stanchion.
After a bit of fortified coffee courtesy of Rob and Pauline I went back to Galena to get some rest and to start the cleaning up process. I had much to put away, wash down, repair. All that would wait until I had relaxed a bit. I found a bit of free Internet and posted a short "Made it to Tonga" note to just let people know I was safe.
So Saturday was spend in a bit of a fog. I did some chores on board (technically since I had not yet cleared customs I was under quarantine and was not allowed to set foot on shore). Sunday was likewise somewhat of a blur. But I did make progress with getting Galena back into at lease livable shape.
I was surprised at how much colder it was down here. While in American Samoa I was sleeping nude under a fan just trying to keep cool. Here I was sleeping under a blanket to stay warm. And the wind never let up.
Sunday I noticed a bit of water in the dinghy. I bailed it out. Monday there was more water in the dinghy. It hadn't rained and the water tasted salty. I think I punched a small hole in her when I dropped her on the stanchion. It's only enough leakage to require bailing every couple days. But I should haul it, find the problem, and either epoxy it or have it welded (I've already found a welder). Or, in my usual lazy way I may just say to hell with it and bail it out every other morning. We'll see.
Monday was just as windy and cool a day as it had been all weekend. I was required to motor over the customs wharf to check in. I waited until about 0900 after the local cruises' net was finished. By then three other boats had already made their way over to the dock. Again my good friends Rob and Pauline dinghied over to the wharf to catch my lines. I left my dinghy tied to the mooring so no one else would take it while I was checking in.
With the wind out of the east it was easy to put myself along side the wharf. I simply pulled to a stop about five feet off and let the wind blow me along side. But it was going to be impossible to get myself off. That's why Rob came over. He would be my tugboat and pull Galena's bow away when it was time to leave.
There are four people you have to see when you check in here. They all come to the boat when you tie up at the wharf. They all are very friendly and professional.
First I had the agriculture inspector. He wanted to know about foodstuffs and trash. Second came the health inspector. He wanted to make sure I was not sick. Then came immigrations. He wanted to stamp my passport. Finally came Customs. He wanted to do an 'inspection.' I've never had my boat inspected in any of the counties I've visited so far. In fact this was the first time any official has even boarded Galena. This customs inspector had me fill out some forms, asked a few questions, ate some cookies, drank some 7-Up, asked for (and received) the gift of a spare flashlight (torch) for his daughter and then left. No real inspection. Just the usual paperwork.
Total check-in fees were US$ 74 and it took about one hour for the process, not counting motoring over to the wharf. All of the officials accepted cans of warm soda and helped themselves to bunches of cookies (I had bought a tin of Royal Dansk cookies just for them).
Pauline helped me untie the dock lines while Rob pulled my bow away. I motored back to the mooring with Pauline aboard. Pauline picked up the mooring line from the dinghy and I was back to being securing moored.
Then it was time to explore the city and by that I mean the pubs.
Now that I've been here a week I can say without doubt that there exists a huge difference between Vava'u and Pago Pago. AmSam is a working town. People are either commercial fishermen or they work at the Starkist plant or they make a living supporting those in the fishing industry.
Vava'u is a tourist town with a big ex-patriot community. The population of Pago Pago is much greater than here. People here party. Having fun is the main pastime. People here live to enjoy the sun and sea and each other. This is very much a happier place than Pago Pago. On lady from London said it has a 'hippy sort of feel.' I think that's not a bad description.
I mentioned early that I had noticed seawater in my dinghy. After much examination without finding the hole I raised it up with the main halyard. As soon as the water inside sloshed to the stern it came pouring out; I'd found the hole. The hole was at the bottom of the transom just where it bends to join the hull/keel.
I mixed up some JB Weld and smeared in over the hole. Of course I cleaned the area with wire brushes and sandpaper first.
The JB Weld goo immediately started oozing out. I used some duct tape to dam up the goo and hold it in place till it hardened. We'll see how long it lasts.
I've begun to do a survey the town looking for a good bar. So far my favorite is The Balcony. It's owned by a lovely Australian lady named Trish.
The Sunset Grill is right downtown. Doug has the best fishburgers on the rock, bar none.
Of course there's The Cafe Tropicana owned by Greg and Lisa. They have the best Internet available and arguably the best coffee. Keep in mind that fast Internet is a relative term. Back in the States everyone is use to high speed Internet. Out here one gets use to the old dial-up speeds. And we're grateful to get that!
I was surprised to see another Westsail 32 arrive in the harbor. She's named Evangeline and she is the very first Westsail 32 built. Daniel and Michelle own her and hail from Maui, HI. I would have though her hull number would have been "1" but no. In the whimsy of the early seventies, she's number "32."
Last Thursday the World ARC boats began to arrive. These are boaters that have joined together to sail around the world in a group (rally) and intend to make it around in about 15-months. From what I gather they each pay something like $20,000 for the privilege. To be fair I think that covers most of the official fees they will encounter on the trip. Things like the cost of the Panama Canal and whatnot. Still a lot of money.
They will stay here for a few days before moving on to Fiji. I've talked to a few of the local ex-pats who say once the ARC leaves things will be quiet for a few weeks while they wait for the "class of 2012" to arrive. That's what they call the current season's crop of cruisers. The class of 2012 went though the Panama Canal in March and are currently working their way through French Polynesia. They will be here next month.
I plan on cruising around the many islands that make up the Vava'u group of Tonga. I'll be heading out to the small islands that make up this group and enjoying the solitude of the more remote anchorages and peacefulness of the small villages. And probably the bars of the resorts at some of the more popular spots. I'll come back to Neiafu on Vava'u to re provision and to avail myself of the cold beer and Internet. Eventually I'll clear out of here and move on; Fiji still awaits.
Till then I'm relaxing in paradise again.
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