We left Savusavu almost a week ago and sailed, well motor-sailed, to the island of Makogai about 45 nautical miles south.
Makogai was a leper colony from 1911 to 1969. There were over 4,500 patients here including many from other Pacific Island groups. In 1948, an effective treatment for leprosy was introduced and then the colony was phased out over the next 20 years.
The day after arriving, we went ashore and did 'sevu sevu', which is presenting Kava root to the chief. He accepted and gave us a tour of what remains of the facilities of the former colony. Today, the island has a clam farm. They raise giant clams and reintroduce them into the wild.
Makogai is truly a beautiful island. Very lush with a protected anchorage. The kids have been doing school in the mornings and then kayaking, snorkeling and exploring the island and beaches with their kid-friends on s/v Solara. Michael and Liam have done a bit of spear-fishing, but haven't had a lot of success. We've all done a good amount of snorkeling and have seen lots of live and stunning coral and fish. The coral here in Fiji is in a much better state than anything we've seen so far - anywhere in the Pacific!
Today, we will leave here and sail about 17 miles to the nations former capital: Levuka. It is situated on the island of Ovalau, which sits just to the east of Fiji's biggest island of Viti Levu.
When I have internet again, post some pictures.
Sunday, October 9 - Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Early Sunday morning, before the crack of dawn, Michael and I got up and pulled anchor and watched as the island of Niuafo'ou grew smaller and smaller behind us. In front of us were 300 nautical miles to Fiji.
Not far from Niuafo'ou Island, we noticed that there was quite a swell coming from the south. At anchor, we were on the northwestern side, so we were basically in the lee of the island, protected from swell and the predominant trade winds that come from the east/southeast.
The farther we got away from the island, the brisker the winds became. We were surprised, because our weather information was different from what we were experiencing. We were happy to have the wind, but the seas were confused with the swell and wind driven waves that were hitting each other from different directions. As the hours passed, the wind settled in to a nice breeze of about 6-8 knots and the swell lessened, so we sailed along pleasantly for the next 36 hours.
Late on Monday afternoon, we noticed some menacing clouds behind us and realized that there were squalls on our heels. We checked our radar and it showed that they were heading for us! We battened down hatches and prepared for the rain and changing winds that squalls bring along. Usually, they are relatively short lived and pass quickly. Well, these ones didn't. In fact, they turned from squalls into a storm. The gentle breeze turned into a 25-30 knot wind and whipped up the seas in no time. This was now a problem for us because we were within 50 miles of the Nanuku Pass, which is a safe, reef-less passage from the Pacific into the Koro Sea of Fiji.
Of course, we had no idea how long this storm was going to last. We had reduced our sails to slow down, but still we were moving too fast and as a result we were in danger of arriving at the pass entrance during the night and even though the pass is very wide, we try never to arrive anywhere at night!
We turned from west to north hoping to just hang around in the area, but we soon saw by our speed, that we would get too far from the pass in even a few hours, so we had to do something different. Michael suggested that we turn Gromit about 180 degrees, retrace our route for a while and at the same time, stay at least roughly at the same angle to the pass. As we did this, by luck and good fortune, we found a new way to 'heave to' -- this is the process of setting up the sails and rudder so that forward movement of the boat is minimized. We remained hove-to throughout the night and in the morning, the winds lessened and we turned Gromit back 180 degrees and set our course for the pass.
Again we had wonderful conditions during the day and made good progress. However, around 1 am, Wednesday morning, our wind completely died, so we started the engine and motored the last 12 hours.
As we were approached the town of Suvasuva, we called the Harbour Master on our VHF radio, but got no reply as we were still 4 or 5 hours away. When we radioed again an hour later, to our surprise and great pleasure ,we heard the voice of our dear friend, David, on s/v Rhythm, a Canadian catamaran with David, Peggy and teenagers, Olivia and Joey aboard. Zoe, Maia and Liam were thrilled - - yahoo, Rhythm is in Savusavu!!!!!!
David had heard us hailing and explained that there is no Harbour Master and that the marinas take care of incoming vessels. David gave us instructions on how to get into the anchorage and he let the people at the Copra Shed Marina know that we were on our way.
Upon arrival, around 1 pm, we were led to a mooring ball by one of the marina staff. The marina also arranged for the quarantine officer, customs and immigration and the health officer to come to the boat to get us checked in. By about 5 that afternoon, all formalities were finished and we were free to go ashore.
David and family aboard Rhythm, who were living ashore for a week in a house they'd rented, invited us for dinner that very evening, so after our showers at the marina, we jumped into a taxi and spent a wonderful evening getting caught up on all our adventures since we had said good-bye more than a month before in Pago Pago, American Samoa.
We lost track of time and when I finally asked what time it was, I couldn't believe that it was nearly midnight! We couldn't get a taxi that late, so the very kind owner of the house lent David his truck to drive us back into town. We were all pretty tired and had a great sleep, becalmed and securely moored!
Niuafo'ou (50 square km) is a collapsed volcanic cone once 1,300 metres high. Today, the north rim of the caldera reaches 210 metres. The centre of the island is occupied by a crater lake, Vai Lahi, nearly five km wide and 84 metres deep. It is 21 metres above sea level. From this lake rise small islands with crater lakes of their own -- lakes within islands within a lake with an island. Two days ago, Friday, Michael asked me if, I'd ever imagined that I'd be kayaking around a crater lake on an island in the Kingdom of Tonga. I had to admit that, no, I'd never imagined this. When we checked in here in Niuafo'ou, a couple of days ago, we asked about the lake and the police officer who was taking our info said he could get us a ride to the lake that very day. The kids and I jumped into the back of the shortbed truck that pulled up a little later and Michael sat inside with the driver and the police officer. The main roads are quite rough here on the island. When the driver turned off the main road to head towards the lake, I had serious doubts as to whether this old truck with completely bald front tires could manage the rough, rocky, coconut strewn road, but it did. We were dropped off around 10am and set a pick up time for around 3pm. It was a fantastic day of relaxing and kayaking. The weather was warm and sunny and we had picnic lunch overlooking the crater lake on a sort of land bridge that cut the lake into two parts. The sand was pure black and hot! On our way back through the main village, the policeman gave us a basket full of mangoes as a thanks for the flour, sugar, pasta and diesel fuel we had given some of the villagers. The monthly supply boat has not come to Niuafo'oa in over 3 months and the people are very low on many supplies.
It is whale season in this part of the Pacific. They come from Antarctica to calf because the water is too cold for the babies to survive there. We had not yet seen anything other than a flipper sticking out of the water or bit of water spraying up. But, yesterday while we were eating lunch in the cockpit, Michael said that it would be nice to see a whale and guess what, within 2 minutes about 200 feet from Gromit along came a whale. It stayed at the surface for a couple of breaths and then it dove down. It did this 3 times very near the boat, so we all grabbed our snorkeling gear and floated around behind the boat. The current was causing us to drift away so we thought we'd better swim back. Everyone was facing Gromit swimming when I took a look behind and down low in the water and saw a whale coming up towards us. I can't describe my excitement. I started yelling to Michael and the kids to look down because the whale was coming to check us out!!!! It was as interested in us as we were in it. He swam by and then came back for a second pass. We guessed him/her to be about 30 feet long and we have yet to check our book to see if we can identify him/her. This was so exciting. Not only did we see a whale, but we swam with one!
We prepared the boat for leaving around 5pm, but the wind died down again so we thought we'd get a good night's sleep at anchor and head out early in the morning. We got up at 5am and were on our way by 6. The wind was stronger than the first half of the passage and the seas were quite bouncy. Not bad, but not nearly as nice as our first three days. We expect to be in Fiji by Tuesday (Monday for you -- we've crossed the international date line).
We are flying our jib and mizzen sails and making about 5 - 5.5 knots; about 300 miles to go. Michael will be posting a position report in a bit.
Please check out the new photo album in the Gallery entitled: Niuafo'ou Island.
We had a great 3 day sail to Niuafo'ou. To stop here was not in the plan. We had thought, because of our time constraints, that we wouldn't have time to stop in Tonga, but the weather decided for us! The winds were lighter than expected upon leaving Pago Pago, so we were not able to make the distances that we'd hoped, so we knew we would not make it to Fiji on a weekday to check in.
We arrived yesterday around 4:30 pm and spent over an hour anchoring. The sun was pretty low in the sky already, so it was hard to see what kind of bottom we were dealing with in terms of having our anchor set. Our chart shows an area of shallow water, shallow being a relative term around here, so we did about 4 exploratory circles around the 'shallow' area and tentatively decided on a spot. I was not satisfied with not knowing what our anchor would land on so I put my mask and snorkel on and went down our swim ladder at the back of the boat. Michael was at the wheel slowly driving around while I hung on to the ladder, face in the water, looking at the bottom. Black, it was all black. Black sand and black lava. Niuafo'ou is a volcanic island but is presently dormant. In 1853 and 1929, lava flow emanated form fissures on the outer slopes of the caldera and destroyed the villages of 'Ahau and Futu. In 1946, which really isn't so long ago, the main town of Angaha disappeared under lava, so the government evacuated the 1,300 inhabitants to a neighbouring island. This explained why I was seeing only black. It wasn't a huge surprise, because the whole shoreline is black volcanic rock. With my mask, I was hoping to find an area of sand, which I did. So, Maia got on the wheel, Michael was up at the anchor, Liam was on the back deck and I was in the water hanging onto the swim ladder. When I saw a patch of sand, I yelled to Liam, my relay guy, to tell Maia to put the engine into neutral. Then I yelled to Liam to tell Maia, who was wearing a head set to tell Dad, who was wearing the other head-set, to drop the anchor. By this time, we had already overshot the patch of sand, so Liam had to yell to dad to stop the anchor, which had not yet reached the ground and then yell to Maia to reverse Gromit. She did and when we were over the sandy patch once more, I had Liam relay that message via Maia who relayed it on to dad and down went the anchor. It was to late in the day to go and check the anchor to see if it did in fact land in the sandy patch, so we'll do that today. Michael tied a buoy to the anchor, so that if it gets caught on coral hopefully we'll be able to free it.
Here's a little snippet of island history from our Moon's Handbook; Pacific Islands:
Niuafo'ou is Tonga's northernmost island. Despite the airstrip that opened in 1983, Niuafo'ou remains one of the most remote islands in the world (I'm not sure I agree with this, but that's what the book says!).The supply ship calls about once a month, but there's no wharf on the island. Landings take place at Futu on the west side of the island (this is where we are presently anchored). For many years, Niuafo'ou received its mail in kerosene tins wrapped in oilcloth thrown overboard from a passing freighter to waiting swimmers or canoeists, giving 'Tin Can Island' its other name. In bad weather, rockets were used to shoot the mail from ship to shore. Early trader, Walter George Quensell, doubled as postmaster and brought fame to Niuafo'ou by stamping the mail with colourful postmarks.
Today, we plan to get the dingy in the water and get to shore to check in and explore a little. We hope to be able to see the crater in the middle of the island, that I described in my last post. Also, I want to go to the post office, if there is one, and see if there are stamps. I'm not sure if an island of roughly 700 people will have a post office.
Beautiful, beautiful sailing. Winds are between 5 and 12 knots and the sea swell is between 1-2 metres. We left Pago Pago, American Samoa late Saturday afternoon and the winds were so light that our speed during the first night was only around 1.5 to 3 knots, with dips to .9 of a knot. Our first 24 hours got us only about 100 miles along. After our last two blasting, boisterous passages, this one seems like a dream. Later in the day on Monday, the wind began increasing. Our boat speed increased to between 3-5.5 knots. Michael downloaded a weather file which is showing that the winds are going to drop off substantially tomorrow, to the point where we would need to motor for a couple of days. So, as a result of all this, the timing for arriving in Fiji is off. We had planned to arrive on Thursday, having Friday as a buffer, but the winds have been so light that we won't arrive until the weekend. Therein lies the problem. If we arrive on a weekend, we will have to pay overtime charges. To avoid these charges, we have decided to make a 2-3 day stop at one Tonga's most northerly island called Niuafo'ou. We hadn't planned on stopping anywhere in Tonga, even though it is en route to Fiji, because we are running late in the season. We need to be in the Solomon Islands at the beginning of December and they are still quite a distance away. I'm happy though to be stopping at Niuafo'ou, so that we will be able to see a tiny bit of Tonga.
The following is copied from our MOON HANDBOOKS: South Pacific, travel guide:
Niuafo'ou, 50 sq km, is a collapsed volcanic cone once 1,300 metres high. The centre of the island is occupied by a crater lake, Via Lahi, nearly five km wide and 84 metres deep. Within this lake are small islands which have crater lakes of their own -- lakes within islands with in a lake within an island. Presently, Miuafo'ou is dormant, but the southern and western sides of the island are covered by bare black lava fields from the many eruptions earlier this century.
Apart from the lave fields, the island is well forested. Incubator or megapode birds (malau in Tongan) lay eggs one-fifth the size of a grown bird, in burrows two meters deep in the warm sands of the hot springs by the lake. Natural heating from magma close to the surface incubates the eggs, and after 50 days, the megapode chicks emerge fully feathered and ready to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, the malau eggs that aren't collected by the islanders for food, are dug up buy free-ranging pigs and the birds are facing extinction.
So in about 28 hours, we should be arriving at Niuafo'ou Island in Tonga and doing some exploring while waiting for wind, weather and perfect timing to arrive in Savu Savu, Fiji.
Adventure or Ordeal - A Matter of Perspective
Time can sometimes make any ordeal seem like an adventure!
Before leaving French Polynesia, Liam had said that this year he wanted to spend his birthday at Beverage Reef, and since that decision, the Reef had been our goal.
Beveridge Reef (9.5 X 7.5 km / latitiude: 20º00S longitude: 167º47'W.) is a lagoon in the Pacific Ocean which is actually an undersea mountain capped by a coral atoll. It does not emerge like a raised atoll, (which offers a build-up of coral above the water), but remains submerged. This reef is still being built by coral organisms that need to stay submerged in order to grow. The reef only barely extends above the water (at low tide), and as such, is a navigation hazard, witnessed by a trawler wreck on its eastern side! (Wikipedia).
Nevertheless, it is apparently a gem in the ocean and by all accounts a must-see.
At Suwarrow Island though, Liam changed his mind about where to spend his birthday and understandably so! We stayed and enjoyed a fun filled day - see the blog post written by Liam.
We sailed away from Suwarrow on the Saturday after his birthday, direction Beveridge Reef.
Saturday morning was filled with last minute preparations for our 4 day passage to Beveridge Reef. Around 10am, we went dingied into shore to say our final goodbyes to James and John. These two gentlemen are what make Suwarrow what it is; an oasis in the ocean!
The winds were strong and we were sailing beautifully with 4 sails up; a triple reefed main, a reefed mizzen, a full jib and a storm sail. We were moving at a good speed and the ride was quite comfortable. We set our wind-vane self-steering and began our watch schedule. I was on from about 8pm to 12, then Michael from 12 to about 4 am.
During his watch, Michael noticed that a bolt on the wind-vane had loosened. He disabled the vane fearing the increased vibration might loosen the other bolts. We went back to using our autopilot self-steering. The first night out is always the most difficult and some of us were feeling a little sick.
The winds had picked up during the day and the swell was building, but it was more or less an uneventful day until around 5pm when Michael accidentally tripped the main power breaker, which turned off all the power in the boat. This normally wouldn't have been a problem, but we suddenly smelled a very strong burning smell. When he switched the breaker back on, only seconds later, we no longer had a functioning autopilot. I quickly took the wheel and began steering; figuring Michael would soon get the auto-pilot back on. I wondered what the burning smell could be.
Michael tried without success to trouble shoot the auto-pilot. It was showing an error message and there was no convincing it to get back to work. We figured something got fried while the breaker was off.
The winds were strong; around 25 knots, and the waves and swell were definitely bigger than the previous day. It was quite a challenge to keep us on course. I have to give credit to our wind-vane and auto-pilot. They really keep us on course with only about 10 degrees of swing. I, on the other hand, was having a difficult time keeping us from swinging and often found myself having to recover from a 20 to 30 degree swing, when every 30 seconds or so, a big wave pushed us sideways. If I got too far to one side the jib would backwind, if I got too far to the other side we risked jibing the main sail. Hand steering required constant, unwavering attention.
We were 190 miles from Suwarrow, 300 miles from Beveridge and about 300 miles from American Samoa.
With the reality of hand steering, we realized that we had no choice but to get to a place where we could order parts and do repairs. We had to make a decision. Michael and I discussed our options.
There were only two. Continue on hand steering to Beveridge Reef, Niue, Tonga and then Fiji, where there might possibly be able to have parts shipped in, or change direction towards American Samoa, where parts could be ordered and easily shipped from the US. Well, after a few hours of hand steering in rough conditions, the decision pretty well made itself! With heavy hearts, we turned the boat from a south-west tack to a north-west tack and headed towards American Samoa.
It had been a really long time since I'd had to hand steer for an extended period of time and I was surprised at how difficult it was. Not having a self-steering device meant that we'd pretty well be tied to the wheel. We decided to try 2 hour shifts. Man was it blustery. While one of us was at the wheel, the other one lay down in the cockpit to rest. The weather deteriorated to the point that we had to put on our heavy duty foul weather gear. Front after front began passing through bringing stronger winds and rain, making the steering even harder. We continued doing two hour shift until about 3 or 4 in the morning when I suggested we do one hour shifts. We were hardly getting any sleep in the cockpit and we were both feeling very exhausted. I told Michael that I thought, in the morning, we'd need to heave to, so that we could get some proper rest. 'Heaving to' means setting our sails and rudder in specific positions to stop us from moving forward, yet keeping us safe and steady in relation to the waves and wind. This technique works amazingly well. Gromit was sitting sideways to the waves creating smooth water to his starboard side (it is like sliding sideways down the waves instead of moving forward. This action tames the waves and reduces the movement of the boat) We were making only about 1.5 knots forward. The best thing was, that the 1.5 knots forward was in the direction of Pago Pago harbour still over 200 miles ahead of us.
It was Monday morning and we still had 230 miles to go. We began getting the sails ready for heaving-to, but when we started the motor to turn Gromit into position, we saw that there was no exhaust water exiting the boat, which meant that the engine would soon overheat. I immediately turned off the engine and Michael went below to investigate. Michael found the problem; a broken impeller and within an hour we were able to run the engine again. We hove-to and with great relief, went below.
We stayed hove-to for about 6 hours at which time we rested and ate. Michael and I hadn't been eating enough because of the sea conditions and exhaustion. During the time that we were lying down and supposedly resting, I slept but Michael lay awake thinking!!! He was thinking up a way to do a temporary fix on the wind vane to get us away from the wheel.
His idea was to tighten the nut and bolt that had loosened and then clamp it with a pair of vice-grips which would keep the nut tight in its place. This idea would require him to lean out over the back of Gromit because the offending loose nut was about 5 feet over the back of the boat at the waterline.
Michael gathered the required tools and we both made our way to the back of Gromit, safety harnesses and double tethers clipped into the jack lines. We spider-webbed Michael into place and I stood by to hand him the extended wrenches he had fashioned to be able to reach the loose nut. Once the nut was tight, the next challenge faced him. Already he was leaning from his waist up over the back of the boat - picture his legs on the deck and his upper body hanging at a 90 degree angle over the back of Gromit! Now he needed to lean over even more, to clip the vice grips onto the tightened nut and bolt. I tied an extra line through the back of his harness and secured it onto Gromit, just in case he got too far over and couldn't pull himself back up. Good thing I did, too!
Well, it worked!!! Michael and the vice-grips saved the day. We were overjoyed and so relieved. No more hand steering. What a guy!!!!! I call him my 'hero'. Later in the day, re-energized and somewhat rested, we set our sails once again direction American Samoa. The vane worked beautifully and we sailed all through the night without incident.
We sailed all day Tuesday without any problems. I suggested we have rice with dinner so we started the engine to run the rice cooker and charge the batteries, only to find that again the engine exhaust wasn't expelling water. Back to the engine room for Michael. He worked and worked until 11 pm to find a solution while I stayed on watch
worrying and worrying how we were going to be able to get into port in American Samoa without an engine. He decided to re-route the hose that feeds sea water into the water maker and use the water-maker pump to run water through the engine.
We tried it out as soon as it was light on Wednesday morning, to make sure that it worked (it had to be light outside so that we could see if water was coming out of the exhaust). Again we felt a huge surge of relief as we saw water spewing out the exhaust hole on Gromit's port side! The volume of water was less than usual, so I worried that the volume wouldn't be enough to keep the ideal engine temperature.
I know it may seem extravagant to have a rice cooker on board that requires us to run a generator or the engine, but it saved us! We would not have known that there was a problem when we started our engine just off shore at American Samoa. This could have been a very bad situation!
In the harbour at Pago Pago, were a lot of boats we had met in Suwarrow. They had left for American Samoa before us. We had sent out an emergency email on Tuesday evening to a few of them to let them know of our predicament. When we got closer to American Samoa, we radioed and our friend Mike on s/v Infini helped guide us in with descriptions of how to get to the harbour dock. We came in very slowly, so as not to over work the engine.
We had thought we would go and anchor, but the anchorage is very, very bad here. 10 boats had dragged on their anchors the night before we came in due to the high winds. Our friend, Rich on s/v Slipaway strongly recommended that we not anchor with our engine problems. The poor holding in the anchorage necessitates a properly working engine and when he told us that some of the boats had dragged 3-4 times the previous night, we agreed! We asked if someone could radio the Harbour Master to see if it would be alright to tie up to the dock.
We had been unable to reach him with our VHF radio because of our distance off shore. We also asked if any boats could stand by with their dingies to act as 'tug boats' in case we needed a little nudge.
We got the 'OK' from the Harbour Master and at around 10 am, in blasting winds, we came around the end of the dock, did a 360 degree turn and pulled up alongside our friends on Yaringa, with 4 people aboard waiting to catch lines and with two dingies standing by, ready to act as tug boats; thank you Far Fetched and Chakira!
Docking is stressful at any time, but it was especially difficult in the blasting winds and with the exhaustion I was already feeling. When Michael gave me the thumbs-up from the front deck saying we were securely tied up, I turned off the engine and I found myself shaking. I sat down and was overcome with tears. The tension that had been simmering for days had to come out somehow. Our lovely friends, Sue and Gary on Yaringa, gave us big hugs and invited us into their cockpit for very welcome cups of tea and coffee.
At the time, I felt that the whole situation was an ordeal, but now that time has passed, maybe I can say that is was an adventure.