Slipping free, scraping sealife
20 August 2018 | Nukobuco Island, Fiji
We finally shrugged off the bonds of Suva Harbour!
Yesterday we pulled up SCOOTS' anchor, and after spraying off several pounds of thick, gooey mud from her anchor chain, headed out of Suva Harbour. It was the first time we'd left the harbour since arriving under sail seven weeks ago.
We didn't plan to go very far, just around the corner, inside the fringing reef, about five miles to a sand spit with the fun name of Nukobuco Island. Our plan was to anchor here so that we could scrape SCOOTS' hull and run our watermaker. Suva Harbour, which has many redeeming qualities, does not include clean water among them. Diesel, trash, human excrement, paint, logs, twigs, dead fish, and many other lovely items of flotsam daily floated past us there. It's not a place you'd want to jump in the water and clean the bottom of your boat, or make water.
So out we went to Nukobuco Island. Our friends, Steve and Paula, who own the boat Exodus, and keep her in the Royal Suva Yacht Club marina, told us about this place; it sounded ideal for our purposes.
Powered by the smoothly-running Yanmar the Magnificent, SCOOTS moved through the well-marked passage in the reef. The best she could do was a wimpy 3.8 knots...quite a bit slower than she usually cruises at the same RPM, her speed diminished by what must be some significant growth on her hull. Eric and I were happy to be moving again. On our way out of the harbour, we passed rafts of rusting fishing boats, anchored barges and tugboats, and even some sad-looking reef-bound wrecks – the traditional reef markers in Fiji, according to Eric.
Arriving at the island, we dropped SCOOTS' anchor in about 50 feet of water and readied our hull-cleaning tools: masks, snorkels, fins, a large drywall scraper, gloves (to keep from cutting our hands on any sharp objects on the hull), and our hookah rig: an air compressor with a long, floating hose ending in a diving regulator. We use the hookah to dive deeper and stay under longer than we can with our masks and snorkels.
Though we were expecting a lot of growth to have taken root on SCOOTS' hull during her nearly two months of inactivity, we were shocked when we dove in the water and saw the magnitude of the ecosystem that had made SCOOTS its home: an astonishing assortment of aquatic organisms two inches thick at its minimum, and swelling to a luxurious carpet of twice that depth in some places. The bottom of our keel even sported its own soft-coral reef. Wow, we had our work cut out for us.
For the next two hours, swimming back and forth along both sides and underneath the hull, and along the keel, we scraped and scraped and scraped, removing all sorts of tufty things and squishy things and blobby things and branchy things and sessile aquatic organisms of many other shapes (are you detecting my broad knowledge of marine biology?). A marine biologist would have loved the diversity.
We decided to leave the coral garden on the bottom of the keel for another time, as this job would take another few hours, and we were beat after scrubbing the hull.
Back on board after a freshwater rinse and a clean change of clothes, we moved on to our next task: determining whether our ailing generator would be able to run the pump that powers our watermaker.
I'm happy to report that yes, it ran our watermaker just fine, and in fact, leaked less oil now, after its second oil change. Fingers crossed that this is a trend.
In fact, at the end of the day, all of our mechanical devices had performed well, allowing us to be self-sufficient again. We went to bed that night with a clean hull, full water tanks, achy muscles, blisters from our flippers, stars overhead, and the sound of the waves crashing on the reef a mile away.