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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Day One to Vanuatu
11/05/2008, Coral Sea

We were sad to leave Muscat Cove. It was perhaps the coolest place we visited in Fiji. Savusavu was great too but in a totally different way. Savusavu is very quiet. Muscat Cove is mellow but has more going on. We followed our track back out of the reefy cove and then headed out Wilkes Pass. The pass was pretty obvious though unmarked. Curly's waypoint for the pass was right on. As we exited the Fiji barrier reef we saw lots of boats in the area. Then we began to see little pink things on the waves. It was a perfect surf day and lots of folks were taking advantage of it.

On one side off the pass there is a little resort island. I think several of the surfers originated here.

We had the main up all the way and are leaving it full up overnight. The conditions are calm and the forecast is for gradual reinforcement from the southeast. So if the forecast works out we'll be able to sail tomorrow. We had the motor running all day today with real wind well under 10 knots all day, usually under 5. We did get the fib out a few times but at sunset we had the wind on the nose so the jib is rolled up.

Hideko Says: I see big clouds over Fiji with lots of flashing inside them. This is great entertainment if you're far away! It is actually pretty from here.

Margaret Says: Happy to be here.

453 nm to Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu

Muskat Cove
11/04/2008, Fiji

It was time to leave Vuda Point and make way for Vanuatu. Past time perhaps but we had spent it well, investigating mechanical maintenance issues and getting repairs lined up. Our genset is disabled until we get the new water pump and heat exchanger (with shipping this will be around $1,000 US). Not what you like to find in a 2,000 hour 3 year old genset. That said it should be in top condition when we get the new parts installed. We hope to get the parts sent to Gizo in the Solomon Islands but we have not been able to get a hold of the yacht club there so we don't have a place to ship to yet.

We have a long list of minor projects but the only thing that is possibly significant over the short run is the minor oil leak in the port sail drive. We'll be keeping a close eye on that and favoring the starboard engine for locomotion.

Hideko and Margaret did last minute laundry at the dock (no genset means no washer/dryer on board). We filled the starboard tank with dock water which seems to be of pretty high quality (I might drink it in a pinch). We grabbed a final late and blueberry muffin from the wonderful little cafe and said goodbye to all of the nice folks we've met here. To wrap up I went around and paid all of our tabs and said goodbye to the Baobob Marine folks. Brian there runs a great shop. He and Kent from Just Catamarans in Ft. Lauderdale are two of the very few folks I would trust working on my boat unsupervised. They're both South African and so is the boat, maybe there's a connection?

We had a hand on the dock and one in a dinghy to head out. Getting out is almost as tricky as getting in. We dropped all the lines except the windward stern line and the windward bow line. Once set to go I had the girls bring in the bow and the stern at the same time with the guys from the marina helping on the other end. I gave it a burst of forward to get steerage way and to drive out of the port-ways slide the wind was dishing out. Then back to neutral as we drifted over the moorings (and rather close to the bow lines of the boat we were sliding down on). Once clear of the circle of bow moorings it is a simple task to drive on out. We waved goodbye to everyone again as we motored out of the narrow reef cut that leads to the over sized Fijian lagoon.

Once out in the deeper water (70 feet) we put up the main and pulled out the jib. We promptly passed another sail boat who had left a bit before us and headed for Muscat Cove. The rhumb line takes you directly over two little sandy islands that are below water at high tide. Keeping to port as we left them to starboard we homed in on the south point of Muskat Cove. It is easy to follow the markers in but nice to have a good chart and some way points your first time because there are reefs everywhere.

The Cove is the loveliest place we've been in Fiji. There are sandy beaches and coral around the perimeter and a couple resorts on the island with restaurants, pools, water sports and scuba shops. The anchorage is triple protected by the outer Fiji barrier reef, the island barrier reef and the inner reefs in the anchorage. Needless to say it is flat. The depths are 50 feet plus but the Muskat Cove Yacht Club has moorings everywhere for $15 Fiji a night ($8 US). The yacht club also has a nice little stern to dock with power and water. If you are on a mooring or the dock you can use all of the Yacht Club and Resort facilities including the pool. It would be a wonderful place to spend a week.

Once tied up I hooked up a scuba rig and quickly checked the port sail drive. I was hoping for clear water but the water here is a little murky with lots of clumps of algae floating by. Vis was about 30/40 feet max. The sail drive leg looked secure. I was hoping to be able to tighten the bolts underwater to see if additional pressure on the three O rings in the sandwich would sort things out. Unfortunately Yanmar provides a template for the drive leg hole that is rectangular and the drive leg has a circular ring that it attaches with. So you can not really reach most of the bolts from below nor can you drop the leg down through the bottom, it must come out the top. I am going to email Yanmar and find out what the reason for this is. A small one inch crescent at the mid point, coming to a point three inches from the one inch center, cut from each side of the hull (maybe 8 square inches of total material) would allow you to get to the bolts and drop the leg down. Everything was very secure and I left it at that.

We saw Enki as we came in and chatted with Christoff on the VHF. We have been running into Enki on the route since Panama. Christoff is going to NZ but then West to Patagonia! The mooring collector came by and we bummed a ride from him to the shore so that we wouldn't have to drop the dinghy down. He was a nice guy and everyone at the resort was very friendly. There's a cute little bar out on the point and they fire up a BBQ nightly. Cruisers can buy chicken, salad and a potato at the shop and BBQ their own food while taking advantage of the bar (very cost affective). This was a popular option. We decided to hit the resort proper though so that we could get back to the boat before dark. We did, after all, have to swim or bum another ride.

The resort is a nice collection of individual bungalows back in the palms. We made our way down the beach to the pool which has a small sail boat wrecked in it. Nice touch for a Resort and Yacht Club. The main restaurant wan not open at 4:30 but we got a great cheese burger from the snack menu and finagled some chocolate cake and ice cream out of them as well.

Back on the dock we met up with Spectacle, a yacht with folks Margaret met in sailing school. She also line handled for them going through the canal. The bar was lively and packed with folks from the anchorage. We had a nice time mingling as the sun set.

It was no problem catching a ride home with all of the friendly cruisers about. A young couple from Hawaii, Amber and James on Mai Miti Vavau, dropped us back at Swingin' on a Star. They were delivering another yacht to NZ and then coming back to spend the season in Fiji.

Back at the boat we brought Roq forward and spread out on the trampolines to watch the clear starry night revolve overhead.

Final Prep Day
11/03/2008, Vuda Point Marina

It often takes us a day with no activities planned to get the boat ready to go. So it was today. We paid all of our bills, cleaned up the boat, caught up on weather and internet and said goodbye to all of the wonderful folks we have met.

Island Dancing
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. ( )

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.

Pizza at the Yacht Club
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.

Maintenance Wrap up
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.

The Westerbeke Saga Continues
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


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