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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Day Two to Vanuatu
11/06/2008, Coral Sea

We had wind yesterday from nowhere and everywhere but as soon as there actually was some wind over 5 knots it was from where we were going. This was as forecast but when you're crossing the Coral Sea in November you can't be too picky or shy about running the motor. At the end of the day we were motor sailing under main alone and making about 6 plus knots with the engine in 1,750 RPM max fuel for knots mode.

Hideko made a yummy pistacio crusted mahi mahi last night. It was delicious, I felt like I was at a restaurant. We still have a lot of fish in the freezer but we're making progress with Margaret's help.

We found a lot of different nuts and dried fruit at the market in Denero. They were expensive for Fiji but fair for the rest of the world. Nuts and dried fruit make great boat snacks. They stow easy, don't go bad and are healthy.

At around 11PM we hit a little squall with 25 knots of veering wind in it. We had the full main up (the forecast said no squalls until tonight) so we reefed just to be safe. As expected as soon as we stepped out from under the Bimini it poured. Squall rain is cold. The seas went from placid rollers to a little choppy after the squall but not too bad.

It was a lovely night all in all and cleared into a bright morning. I spotted what I think was a fishing boat at 3AM. I heard two guys on the VHF but I couldn't tell what language they were speaking. Maybe Korean or something in that neighborhood. If you can hear them on VHF they are typically within 20 nm of you. I only saw the one boat and he headed off to the south pretty quickly.

We pulled the jib out before dawn and shut the motor down in the afternoon. We had a nice sail at 7 plus knots with 10-15 knots of wind from 150 to port true (apparent was a nice 120). We are missing the genset (which is down until we get the new fresh water pump and heat exchanger). We have to run a motor to keep up with the power consumption of the fridge, freezer, auto pilot, running lights, cabin lights and radar. The Yanmar alternators are only 60-80 amps so if the inverter is on (which it is as I type) you're barely charging.

As forecast the wind has come astern at 5 knots so we are motoring almost dead down wind. We put the jib up and reefed the main at sunset to tuck in for a quiet evening of motor sailing. The wind is supposed to go back to the southeast tomorrow so hopefully we'll be able to sail in the rest of the way when not charging bats.

The boat is on Fiji time (UTC +12 hours) until we anchor in Efate. We're looking good for a Saturday arrival in Port Vila.

Hideko Says: Yeah less than 300 miles to go!

Margaret Says: I love fast boats.

283 nm to Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu

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.


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