11/02/2008, First Landing
We are planning to clear out tomorrow so we spent today taking care of lots of little things. Internet, email, paying bills (unfortunately these follow you even when you go cruising in remote places), coordinating with contacts at future ports, malaria planning and the like.
The Malaria research has been very interesting. While Africa is the source of the vast majority of malaria cases and deaths in the world, Vanuatu is also an infected area. When reviewing the south pacific malaria regions earlier in the season I noticed that the only place rated worse than Vanuatu was the Solomon Islands. I have talked to cruisers who have been through both without catching Malaria and I have talked to those who did catch malaria. Both groups loved the Solomons anyway. The only people we have talked to that didn't like the Solomons were folks who have never been there. We have a two month supply of Malaria meds so hopefully we'll stay clean. The US Center for Disease Control has been by far the best reference for us on health matters while traveling. The World Health Organization is ok but all references I have come across pale when compared to the CDC's Yellow book. ( http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/contentYellowBook.aspx )
Our batteries are having a hard time over the past few days. It has been cloudy so the solar is not kicking in. Running the engines for a few hours does not do much with the marginal 60-80 amp alternators pumping out on 13.4 volts. We really need a good charge with our charger but the genset is down for a couple weeks and the shore power is 220 (we need 110). We are trying to line up a transformer so that we can get a good absorption charge before we take off.
The weather is looking pretty flat for the next week so we will probably motor most of the way to Port Vila. This will give the bats enough time to top up. They are getting to the middle/end of their life span though. They cycle almost every day and they were installed in September of 2005. That's approaching 1,000 cycles which is the low end of the range you can expect. We try to only discharge to 80% which might give us as much as 2,000 cycles but we will have to see. Deciding which batteries to install next will be a big decision, for another blog.
We went to the First Landing resort for dinner tonight. A little path leads from the marina to the resort. For $5 Fijian a day ($2.50 US) you can use the pool all you want. Our friend Margaret has been spoiling us and bought us passes today so we enjoyed the pool during the hot afternoon. The restaurant is nice and seats outdoors by the water on clear days. Food is pretty reasonable (expensive for Fiji). They had some brilliantly colored lobster. Tonight we got lucky as they had a dance show. The dance troop did dances from all over the South Pacific including Tahiti, Tuvalu, Kiribati, The Solomon Islands, The Cook Islands, Fiji, and Tokelau. The big finale was Samoa with their well known fire dance. It was a lot of fun.
11/01/2008, Vuda Point
We had a relaxing day today. We enjoyed a nice lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe in Denero (yes it has come to that). They had some really cool memorabilia on the walls. Much of the Denero shopping/port area is new and it feels very western. We love exploring the remote parts of the world but it is nice to get a little taste of home from time to time as well.
Later we cleaned the boat up a bit, Hideko and Margaret went crazy with the local laundry facilities, we got caught up on the Internet, and enjoyed a rainy afternoon at the yacht club with Fiji beer and tasty pizza.
10/31/2008, Vuda Point Marina
We spent most of the day today wrapping up mechanical work on the boat. Our Yanmars have both had 1,000 hour services now and show no signs of age. Neither needed the valves adjusted, the exhaust water mixer elbows look like new. The 54 hp normally aspirated Yanmars are the most reliable engines I have run across and we are very happy with ours.
The jury is out on the SD50 Sail Drives. The starboard has given us no problems. If tightening up some bolts removes all phantoms from the port then I think I would give them a high rating as well.
On the genset front, all I can say is that I wish we had a MACE. The MACE generator has a Yanmar motor. I hear good things about MACE. A genset should run as reliably as your auxiliary and with as little attention. I am always anxious when our generator is running.
If the Westerbeke runs into another large failure I will create an artificial reef with it and buy a MACE and install it with double isolators. The Westerbeke has given us continuous difficulties, many minor, but all time consuming. We don't like things that take us away from seeing the world we have spent so much effort to visit. I have sent emails to Westerbeke direct and through the web site with not one answer. The spares kit had the wrong impeller in it and after having impeller problems we raised this issue with the dealer (and tried to with Westerbeke). No help there. We ended up figuring it out on our own by accident while shopping at a chandler in Panama. I now suspect that the heat exchanger may have been defective from the get go, worsening along the way, and this combined with repeated impeller failures (and on occasion subsequent overheating) has made the generator less than reliable. It is also singly isolated (an installation issue) and vibrates quite a bit more than I would like. This could be a contributor to the SD50 issues, seeing as how the SD50 is located just in front of the genset.
We are dealing with Brown's Engine in Southern California for Westerbeke parts now. Shawna there was very responsive and is moving things along as quickly as she can.
It is Halloween even here in Fiji, though the Fijians don't know it. We got some candy together to fill up our Kava Bowl for the little gremlins wandering about from the other yachts. The Fijians think we're nuts.
10/30/2008, Vuda Point Marina
So we were looking good for our planned Sunday departure. "Were" is the operative word. We got up this morning ready to knock all of the final todos off of our list before we made our final run out of the cyclone zone.
The guys from Baobob Marine came by at 8AM to do a 1,000 hour service on the Westerbeke Genset and the Port Yanmar. The Starboard Yanmar had its 1,000 hour in Panama, a 1,100 hour small service in Raiatea and I'm going to do a 1,250 hour medium service on it while the pro works on the other stuff.
Hideko and Margaret took off after breakfast to do Malaria research, get dentist appointments set up, check us in to the Latoka jurisdiction (we were still under Savusavu surveillance until today) among other items. I stayed at the boat to help out with the service and deal with the inevitable issues. Well the issues were several.
Our port engine has only 997 hours on it. This is because we bias usage to starboard for a few reasons. One, the tanks are usually separated and the genset runs off of the port tanks, making the starboard aux the preferred fuel consumer. Two, if these engines have a time bomb built into them, I'd like them not to blow up at the same time. Three, the port engine was missing its prop for a couple months. Four, the starboard engine makes hot water.
We had run the port quite a bit between here and Maupiti. Mostly due to the SPCZ band soaking up the wind at regular intervals. I had started to notice the engine revving a bit higher than expected and then dropping rapidly in tone with an accompanied increase in acceleration. This concerned me. I was thinking that perhaps the Propspeed we put on in Raiatea was a little sticky and the prop wasn't opening until some revs were applied (this turned out to be the case).
When we opened up the engine room today there was a bit of oil in the bilge and some water. When we checked the oil in the SD50 it looked a little foamy and green. There are various ways water can get in this area (the lazarette is not water tight) and various services that could have put some oil under a motor that subsequently ran into this area. I try to keep everything clean so that things are black and white but there are always things to clean up in an engine room.
I recalled having similar concerns back in Bonaire. After our Grenada haul out I was worried that there might be water in the sail drive oil. Another sailer and I decided it was alright.
I changed the sail drive oil out in Raiatea when we hauled there and it seemed like things were ok, I didn't notice a big problem with the sail drive oil. It may have been due to the lack of running the drive though, seeing as how there was no prop on the port engine for most of the pacific crossing. We had used the port engine for a lot of hours in the windless crossing from Tonga to Fiji.
We changed the oil out as a precaution (the SD 50s are the first Yanmar saildrives that allow you to change the oil out while it is in the water). The old oil looked new upon inspection. The only way water can get into the gear oil is through the shaft seal, which looks fine, or through one of three O rings that seat between the drive leg and the mounting plate on the back of the bell housing. We tightened the saildrive housing down a bit and I will tighten the underwater bolts when we get to clean water if I can. We will watch the oil and the area around the saildrive closely to make sure things are ok. We use the Yanmar recommended Quicksilver (now Mercury High Performance+) gear oil which is designed for drive legs and advertised to protect parts even if small amounts of sea water are mixed in.
There is no good place to haul a boat of our width in Fiji. To inspect the leakage in the sail drive further we need to get the drive leg out of the water and drop it down. The saildrive gasket alarm is not complaining so we will wait until we can verify that there is a problem to take further action. Our next annual will probably be in September, Thailand or Singapore.
Unfortunately this was only the beginning. After pulling the belt cover on the genset we noticed a lot of water solids crusted down from the weep port on the fresh water pump. Not good. There shouldn't be a lot of water leaking from the fresh water pump and there certainly shouldn't be salt water residue. So we pulled the fresh water pump.
Next we got ready to pull the heat exchanger to test it. After disconnecting the fresh water hoses we waited for the fresh water to drain out. Water kept coming out of the heat exchanger though. It kept coming right up until I shut off the seacock that feeds the raw (salt) water side. Not good. The fresh water is supposed to stay on the engine side and the salt water is supposed to stay on the ocean side. This was a case of free mingling and the hole was not small.
The Baobob shop is well equipped. They have a new facility with a great set of tools and machines. They do stainless, woodwork, and of course mechanical. I also have come to really like the crew there (I wish I didn't know them so well!). Unfortunately the Westerbeke way is to build things that can not be repaired. The heat exchanger does not have a core that can be removed, it is all one piece. The fresh water pump shaft is corroded enough by the salt water that it too will need to be replaced.
Westerbeke is also fairly behind the game in parts distribution. New Zealand reports two weeks as the fastest possible delivery of a new Heat Exchanger and Fresh Water Pump. Los Angeles was a little faster. So we are laying the genset up until we get settled in the Solomons in a couple weeks. We'll have the parts shipped there and do without the luxury AC items in the mean time.
We are now set to clear out Monday...
After a lot of provisioning at the nice Latoka fresh market, Margaret and Hideko returned with directions to a Japanese Teppan restaurant. Just what the doctor ordered. We drove into Nadi and had a great dinner at Daikoku
Today was he first day we had to get services and shopping done. There is an outfit here called Baobob Marine that I visited and they hae a great shop. I was also impressed by the director, Brian. Brian is a South African expat and really knows boats. As the last opportunity before Singapore/Thailand (or Japan if we make it up there) to consult experienced mechanics I booked a 1,000 hour service for our genset and port auxiliary.
Our friend Wolfgang on Galatia (we were rafted to Galatia coming through the Panama canal) arrived while we were doing internet stuff at the cafe. Wolfgang has paying crew join him every couple of weeks as he sails around the world. Wolfgang is a sailor's sailor and all of his crew report a great time had. It was great catching up with him.
As we talked we met Britta from Munchen. She was flying home that night but had the afternoon off. We invited her to dinner and she joined us for some wonderful Indian cuisine in Denero. Hideko and I told her how much we loved Munchen and Garmish (we hae often though o living there for a time). Britta agreed to help us out if we make it there.
One of the best things about cruising is all o the wonderful people you meet!
We stocked up at the grocery store while in Denero. One of my favorite finds was the dried fruit and nuts they had. These were packaged in snack sized bags and make awesome underway bites. They last forever and are easy to stow, not to mention healthy. What ore could you ask for?
We picked up our friend Margaret from the airport today. The Nadi airport was nice and easy to navigate. It is also the big hub in this area. If you want to get to anywhere in this area, you're likely to fly to Nadi first. I was surprised that Nadi is the hub as opposed to something closer to Suva, the political and population capital.
Today is Diwali and a national holiday in Fiji. The Hindus celebrate their new year today. The holiday has religious tones and many lights of various colors can be seen as you drive through town at night. Lots of things are closed by you can still get things at the resorts.
After getting Margaret loaded into the boat we ha a little Christmas opening all of the things she had brought for us. We now have electronic charts of our complete path around the globe, new topsiders and a host of other little bit that are hard to come by in the islands.
We spent the rest of the day enjoying the air conditioning in our rental car and driving around Nadi, Latoka and Denero.
Denero is a great little resort town. It is fairly contrived but fun to visit and you can anchor right in the center of town, which I would highly recommend. There's a golf course (looks nice) a Sofitel, Hilton, Westin and Radison resort and a little mall area near to port. We visited some of the resorts, ate lunch and shopped at the stores for a nice afternoon.
10/27/2008, Vuda Point
Up with the sun again today we found ourselves pleasantly anchored in a much more windy Fiji. The sky was fairly overcast but not dark and threatening. We pulled up the anchor with no problem (we were wondering how things would go last night when we set the hook). We put the main up just outside of the anchorage with a reef in. Things in the anchorage said full main, but the sailors in us said reef one.
It was a reef one day. We had wind from the northeast to north at 20 - 30 knots. The trouble being that the route to Vuda Point winds around reefs and causes you to have to jibe frequently. We're cruisers, jibing every half hour (sometimes in rapid succession) is a lot to ask! It was one of the most lively sailing days we've had. We ran wing and wing, port tack, starboard tack and typically with a scrap of jib but sometimes with no jib at all.
We passed by Latoka in the early afternoon. As we neared curly's Vuda Point waypoint we began to wonder what was up. We were headed right into an oil tanker mooring field, complete with oil tankers. The only coastline feature was a reef with a nice break on it about a quarter mile from shore. Hmmm.
We crept forward until we began to see masts sticking up in shore. The entrance to Vuda Point is far from obvious. The marina is fairly new also so the chart simply shows a solid shore and reef line. The two ponds that they used as the marina basin are on the chart though. As you come right up on it (and very close to the coastal reef I might add) you will be able to make out a narrow fairway with wooden markers on either side with white painted tops.
We hailed the marina on 16 about an hour out and they responded right away saying to call back when we were on approach. When we called back no one answered. Except some folks we had chatted with earlier on the VHF who were headed for Vanuatu. The yacht Barbara Ann (from California of course) has been cruising for a few years and they suggested we go to Denero. If we weren't doing maintenance and the like it would have been the best tip yet (see future blog). We thanked Barbara Ann and hope to see them in Vanuatu. They are heading south to Oz as we move North so perhaps in Port Vila.
We made our way into the marina unaided by staff and finally got someone's attention as we entered the circular docking area. It is really advisable to contact the marina before hand in hind sight. The fairway coming in is blasted out of pure reef and there is not a lot of room (especially with catamarans involved) for two boats to pass).
In the marina there is a large mooring buoy in the center of the "pond". It is designed to tie up to while you sort out where you will be tying up. Unfortunatly thee is no painter and with 5 feet of freeboard there was no way Hideko could pick it up. It wasn't too windy in the marina so we just stayed on station until a guy came to help us stern to the dock between a couple of other boats.
Parking a catamaran is much easier than parking a monohull, unless there are lines in the water. The marina at Vuda Point is a circular basin with moorings around the circle and little stubby one meter square docks along the shore to use for ingress/egress. The problem with a cat in these scenarios is that the moorings are fairly close together and it is difficult to position the boat with both screws clear of hazards. In this situation I focus on using just the prop under the helm so I have the best vis. Even so you have to avoid moorings on the other side because they can still snag the drive leg or rudder.
A guy from the marina came in a dinghy to pull the moorings to one side as we backed in and some helpful cruisers took the stern lines from Hideko. In short order Hideko had the bow lines to the guy in the dinghy and we had two lines off the bow to moorings and quarter lines on the stern. We spent a while tuning the setup and ended up putting cross ties on the stern to align the starboard swim step with the little dock for getting of the boat.
The tide here runs up to 6 feet so the swim step is handy some of the time, the swim platform is handy some of the time, and you have to jump the rest of the time. We could have put out the pasarelle but we were to lazy to drop the dingy.
Ashore there is a nice restaurant near the coast, usually with a good breeze to keep the mosquitoes down. The marina office is laid back and the main building has a general store, a chandler and a great little cafe with internet.
In water berths run 50 cents per foot per day, $3 per foot per week, $10 per foot per month, $50 per foot for 6 months. The hard runs 80 cents a day per foot and $65 per foot for 6 months. Electricity is 240V and runs $3.50 a day. All prices in Fijian of course. The water and the cock roaches are free and there's a lot of both to go around.
Abdule the cab driver set us up with a good rental. The Rav4, 4 door 4wd has come in very handy because everything is a good 20 minute drive from here. Nadi is about 20 minutes to the south and Latoka is about the same to the north. Abdul is very helpful and is just about the nicest guy you could meet.