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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Batteries and Baguettes
Randy
11/10/2008, Port Vila

We have been monitoring the batteries closely since Fiji. The house bank consists of 6 x 115ah AC Delco S2000 sealed flooded lead acid no maintenance batteries. We have a seventh as our starter battery. I love the sealed-no maintenance bit. They have nice little hydrometers that you can inspect visually and have been good batteries so far. Unfortunatly they have lost enough capacity over the past three years that we are having to charge them too often now to keep them up.

I began detailed inspection of the batteries to determine whether we should live with the lower capacity or start looking for a new set. I realized that these batteries are 115ah rated at 100 hours. Most batteries are rated at a 5 or 20 hour discharge rate. A 115 ah battery at a 100 hour rate (it fully discharges 115ah in 100 hours) is probably only going to rate 95 ah at a 20 hour discharge rate.

I was skeptical as to whether we would find anything in Vanuatu or the Solomons. After that it only gets worse for us until Guam or Singapore (PNG, Pohnpei, Truk...). As I looked around town I ran across Van Global, an alternative energy shop. I was shocked. They had 12 high end Tojan Deep cycles. They were the exact right size to fit my battery box and they were rated at 115 amp hours C20.

I was shocked a second time when they told me the price was 38,000 each (about $380 USD). I spent the entire day trying to get customs to let me buy them duty free. The Duty with Vat is about 35%. They would but only if I ordered them and had them shipped in. I tried seeing if I could order them and just take the ones in stock. No would be the concise answer.

Back at Van Global I was torn. Pay a mint for good batteries now (perhaps my only opportunity for some time) or limp along with the exiting S2000s (which should have probably lasted another 3 years had we not had charging problems early in the boat's life). Shipping batteries (which weight about 70 pounds each) is not cheap. I certainly would not have chosen batteries that need maintenance given a selection. I try to do as much cruising and as little maintenance as possible while still keeping the boat in top order. Like Mic says, You can't always get what you want...

After vacillating back and forth for an hour or so I bought the Trojans. I will report in as we live with them. It took a good four hours to install them. This is largely because we had a lot of clean up work to do on the battery terminals. They weren't heavily corroded but there was a little bit of corrosion on a couple of cables. The big problem was that the connecting cables had some divots and ridges that kept them from lying totally flat against the adjacent conductor. Not good. It took a bit of filing to get a perfectly clean and flat connection. This is a place the factory could improve.

We did the change out at night to avoid issues with he solar charger. I received a manual for the solar charger with the boat but it is in German. I just downloaded an English copy but haven't had time to read it over yet. My task list is long at the moment.

Before I accepted the batteries I checked their state of charge. I took the best seven and all but one were over 12.6 volts. The shop received them less than a month back. You really have to watch batteries on the shelf too long. Very few shops charge them up and keep the electrolyte topped up. It is easy to buy a great battery that has been ruined from sulfation after sitting unattended for 6 months. These were all low on water but none were near plate exposure (a non starter...). It took me about three liters of distilled water and a good hour to get all 42 cells filled up.

I took a break from battery recon mid day with the girls at the French Cafe, Au Peche Mignon. They have great pastries and coffee here. They also made me a great milkshake (hard to find in the tropics).

We took a run around the harbor to check out the boat yard afterwords. The boatyard has a nice gradual slipway but not a lot of space. I'm not sure that they could haul us if we needed to come out but maybe. the place was packed though and not real well staffed (you would need to track someone down to arrange a haul).

While we were there a lot of locals were hanging around the beach. The kids here are real entertainers and did their best to get a laugh out of us. We are really enjoying Vanuatu.

Vanuatu
Walking Around Vila
Randy
11/09/2008, Port Vila

We took a tour around the harbor in our dinghy today. This is a good way to see the waterfront, and most things you might want to see are on the waterfront. There are two good spots to tie up your dinghy. The best is perhaps the Yachting World dinghy dock at the Waterfront Restaurant at the south end of town. The other is the small dock at the Nambawan Cafe on the north end. The dock at the Cafe is used by the dive shop so you can't tie up there but you can unload or load, and the wall has bollards in the area that are good for tying up.

When the US was here in World War II they had three radar stations, #1, #2 and #3. Now the districts of town are named after them, thus the Nambawan Cafe. The Bislama (Pidgeon English) spoken around here (and variations of in the Solomons and PNG) is really fun to try to translate out. The currency says, " Long God Yumi Stanup". Which more or less translates to, "We will always stand for God", akin to "In God We Trust".

We did the 2 hour Lonely Planet walking tour of the town in the afternoon. We had to make a few modifications. The great breakfast place they identify is no longer in business. Nambawan Cafe is very good though. The Court House had burned down but they are working on rebuilding it. Other than that it was a nice walking introduction to the town.

String bands are big in Vanuatu and Fiji. They consist of a few guys on guitar and uke, a few percussionists (drums, tambourine and maybe bottles tuned with different levels of water) and Bush bass (which is a big wooden box with a broom handle and a string). We saw a couple of good acts around town as it was a music festival week.

We wrapped up the day with dinner at the waterfront. They have a micro brew here in addition to the Vanuatu mass produced Tusker. The micro was nice. Dinner was pretty good too. It is a nice location right on the water and a few yachts and sport fishers tie up to the wall stern to here.

We had a great introduction to Port Vila today.

Vanuatu
Port Vila
Randy
11/08/2008, Vanuatu

Our passage from Fiji to Vanuatu wrapped up today. We had planned the 510nm trip as a triple overnight for several reasons.

The first and foremost is that the cyclone season has officially started and we want to be out in the open ocean for the shortest period possible. Three day forecasts are very accurate these days and in early November during a neutral southern oscillation year it is pretty easy to get a week long window free of tropical disturbances. In fact the long range forecasters are suggesting that mid December is the likely first opportunity for a cyclone.

The second reason is that we will arrive on Saturday and the officials are around in the morning from what we had heard but they shut down until Monday thereafter. No fun sitting on the boat for two days when you really want to see the island, and have to move on quickly anyway.

It was a light wind trip. We had a stint or two with the wind coming up to 20 knots but for the most part it was 5 to 15. The majority of the trip was dead down wind. We did a lot of motor sailing to keep pace.

We arrived at around 1PM, a little late. As we came in we hailed Port Vila Radio several times with no response. The cruising guides and sailing directions suggest that Port Vila radio should be called before entering the harbor and that they will dispatch the officials. No such luck.

Next we tried Yachting World. Yachting World rents moorings in the inner bay and they can arrange stern too hook ups at the little wall that runs along the bay near by the Waterfront restaurant. Hideko heard someone on the VHF with them but it seemed they needed a relay (maybe using a hand held?). No one answered when we hailed.

We followed the transit into the harbor and located the quarantine buoy. Sailing directions and cruising guides suggest you anchor here while waiting for quarantine. This also appears to be a primary anchorage as many yachts that are already cleared are anchored about. After anchoring and raising the Q flag we set about dropping the dink so that I could make a run for customs should they fail to show up.

Suzanne from Cheshire stopped by to let us know that things are pretty shut down on the weekend officialdomwise. She is from Olympia Washington, near Margaret's home town of Pacific. There was a large freighter on the dock back in the bay though so I decided to try the main shipping port since usually there's someone official around when big freighters are in port.

After a short trip across the bay I tied the dink up in the shadow of a 300 meter freighter. We were in luck. The customs guy was in the office and he was very friendly and helpful. He cleared the yacht in and gave us permission to go ashore as long as we left everything on the boat until Monday when Quarantine could arrive to inspect things. You couldn't ask for more. On Monday we'll also have to go ashore to clear immigration.

Back at the big boat we packed up our 80% deet and sunscreen and went out to explore the bay and find a nice place to eat. The Waterfront Restaurant has a nice dinghy dock so we tied up there. We set out to find a Japanese restaurant that Hideko had identified but they had moved and when we finally tracked them down they were not open until 6PM. Our plan was to try to get back to the boat before mosquito prime time so we passed on the Japanese. We ended up eating at Le Cafe du Village, a little cafe just down from the Waterfront (the Waterfront also opens at 6PM). The cafe was ok but I wouldn't recommend it.

The Waterfront was happening as we returned to the dink. They were burning mosquito coils all over the place. We'll have to give it a try. As we motored back to the big boat I tried to gauge the height of the power wires over head. These lines run from Port Vila to the little resort island that forms the west side of the inner bay.

The wires are listed in some of our guides as 70 some feet over the water. Our stick is 72 feet off of the water so without some specific local knowledge we're staying on this side of the bay. I think I might like it out here better anyway. As long as the wind doesn't come strong west the out bay is perfect. Still close to things but with more space and breeze.

After the two week crossing from the Galapagos to the Marquesas, no other passages seems long. All the same it is nice to get a good night's sleep at anchor after a few days at sea.

Vanuatu
Day Three to Vanuatu
Randy
11/07/2008, Coral Sea

It was as event less a day as you could have. Perfectly fine weather, light wind and mild seas. All wonderful except the wind speed and wind angle. The wind came all the way astern in the afternoon so we were back to motor sailing dead down wind with an apparent wind of 5 knots at night fall. Lots of sleep and lots of reading accomplished. Starting to see more sea birds as we get closer to land.

Hideko Says: I'm looking forward to visiting this country that I had never heard of until we found it on our route.

Margaret Says: Less than a day to Vanuatu!

111 nm to Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu

Vanuatu
Day Two to Vanuatu
Randy
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

Vanuatu
Day One to Vanuatu
Randy
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

Fiji
Muskat Cove
Randy
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.

Fiji

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