We celebrated our 20th year of bliss in an interesting fashion. While we had hoped to celebrate it with a new stamp in our passports, Neptune had a different gift for us.
As many of you are aware, every 18 months, Tanga is required to leave Fiji to renew her visa. We arrived in SavuSavu to depart for Futuna, which lies about 250nm to the northeast. On the morning of October 26th, we met with customs and were officially cleared out of the country and underway.
The first day of sailing, was crossing the Koro sea bound for the SomoSomo straits. The wind was 20kts just between a close haul to a close reach and a beat into the choppy wind waves. It was messy and slow so we had to fight at the helm to keep pointed toward the narrow entry into the straits. We made the straits and all went well as we laid into the lee of Taveuni and had a nice safe motor in no wind thru the straits. Once we cleared Taveuni, the winds picked back up to 20kts and we had a great sail to and through the northern islands and reefs of Fiji.
After sailing clear of Fiji, we were able to point directly at Futuna and sail a close haul in that direction for 24hrs between 5-6kts made good. The seas were uncomfortable and lumpy, but nothing we haven't done before and all was well and safe until...
Just after sunset and 74.4 miles from arrival at Futuna, 150nm out of Fiji, Monica had just taken the watch and Tom was in the cockpit discussing stratagies for making the ride a little more comfortable when we heard and felt a very violent bang and all 15tons of Tanga got spun about 15 degrees to port as she shuddered from the impact. Tom immediatly ran below to check for a hole in the boat while Monica tried to correct the course to take the seas easier while we delt with whatever damage we would discover.
As Tom assumed the collision would be at the bow, he started emptying every locker and hold to inspet the hull. He did this until he reached the engine room area (roughly amidship) and then heard a terrible racket coming from the stern. He pulled the bilge cover, that also allows inspection of the propeller shaft, and found that we were not taking any water but that as the propeller was freewheeling (the motor was off), the shaft was banging into the hull.
Tom went back to the cockpit and explained the situation to Monica. She slowed the boat and tried to minimize the rolling from the rough seas, so Tom could go below and rig up a brake to get the shaft to stop spinning and banging. He was able to do this in about 15 minutes and still no water was coming in, sweet.
Now we have no motor and no chance to safely go over the side to inspect the external damage, given the rough seas. We started discussing options; Futuna has no repair services and a poor small anchorage that wouldn't be a viable option to lay and recover anchor while under sail. Vanuatu was about 400nm to the west and downwind and was discussed as a probable option, but we had no idea if our situation would deteriorate during the 4 additional days of expected rough seas, also running with the seas would put additional water pressure on whatever problem existed in the stern area. Returning to SavuSavu, Fiji was an option but we were really worried about sailing though the various reef passes and islands that were in our way, not to mention we do not consider ourselves very skilled sailors that have that ability, and there is no way to haul Tanga out of the water to effect repairs. We also discussed trying to get around the eastern side of the big island of Fiji to make Suva, but this meant trying to go directly into the wind and that was not going to happen. We looked into trying to make it to Wallis Island, which was roughly 170 miles to the NW, but we had very limited knowledge about repair facilities and the anchorage, so we ruled it out.
We decided to go with SavuSavu. Our thinking was, that if we could get as close to Fiji as possible, prior to sinking, that it would be easier to effect a rescue. Yes this may seem a little melodramatic, but at this stage of adrenaline and lack of sleep, we had no idea if the situation would deteriorate or not. We felt that if we could make the first narrow reef entry at the top of Fiji, that we should have enough wind to sail the remainder in a safe fashion, or possibally get a tow to a safe anchorage.
We had already been doing 2hr on, 2hr off watches becuase of the difficult sailing in the rough seas, but due to our situation, we reduced that to 1hr rotations, while checking the bilge for water every half hour. We were already very fatigued and our adrenaline reserves were depleted, so every decision we made we started discussing at length for fear of making things worse with stupidity.
To make the first reef pass that was roughly 80nm south, we had to try and point into the wind and fight for easting miles. This required constant focus on the jib and compass and voyage made good reading on our Chartplotter. We would try to round up, until a little luff hit the jib then fall back off to get speed and round again. Each time we did this, we would make a few more feet to the east, but then every few minutes a swell would hit us and slide us to the west and take back much of the east that we just fought for. We did this for 24hrs.
As we approached the pass that we had left from a few days ago, we realized that we could not make it, and turn in the right direction because it would put us into the wind amongst the reefs and islands. We looked at the chart and decided to try a pass more to the east. But this meant we were not going to make it with the easting we had been fighting for. About 10nm out from the pass we turned around to build more east miles (we needed about 7nm more). After two hours of trying to get NE we thought we might be able to make it and spun around to lay the pass. After another 2hrs and 8nm from the pass, we realized we still couldn't make it, so we turned around again and tried to build a better angle. A couple hours later we felt we had it right. NOPE!! While we were very frustrated and fatigued, we resigned ourselves to another try, thus we turned around again and fought for our easting miles. This time we made damn sure to get a heap of east before turning. We got a little squall near us that helped move the winds and gave us some brief easting (Neptune decided to cut us a little slack and not be a complete jerk). We turned back toward the pass. At dawn we were able to make the entry. As we went through, we had some anxious moments as the pass narrowed, somewhat unexpectedly, but we did make it through.
The morning and afternoon brought us a wonderful sail in 15knots of wind and a sea state that wasn't too bad. At this point, we felt if the conditions held, we would make it safely during the next 24hrs. Wrong!
Of course the conditions didn't hold. As we approached the SomuSomu straits,in the middle of the night, the wind continued to drop. We slowed to just 1-2kts, essentially fast drifting. As the reefs narrowed, we started to slow even more as we hit the lee side of Taveuni. We would cheer any time we reached the blistering pace of HALF a knot! We need at least 2knts to have steerage, and drifting through the pass at 3am is not an option. A less viable option discussed very briefly was to get the dinghy oars and attempt to row Tanga thru LOL.
We decided we would launch our dinghy with its 5hp motor and try to tow Tanga through. We checked the tides and determined that we may get a favorable current, but we were unsure as these straits are often unpredictable with tide flow. We lashed the dingy to the side of Tanga and started up the outboard, hoping beyond hope that this hairbrained scheme would work. As we got her up to 2kts, we realized that this could work, but it required Tom to stand in the dinghy with a foot on the outboard to keep the propeller in the water as the swell would rock Tanga and attempt to lift the propeller out of the water and over rev the motor. So Monica is at the helm trying to drive a course within 2 degrees and no room for ANY error, while Tom is in the dinghy holding the nose down by pulling on the toe rail of Tanga and his left foot stepping on the outboard as each wave lifts it. None of this was fun or safe for either of us or the gear, but we felt we were commited, so for the next four hours this is how we proceeded. Did we mention that this really sucked and we were fatigued? However, as dawn approached, we made it safely through the SomoSomo Straits!
Once thru the straits, we "knew" that we would have a great sail once we cleared the lee of Taveuni because the Koro sea always has wind. Wrong again. As we cleared the lee and got to where the winds should have built, they disappeared completely. We shut off the tow dinghy and started our half knot drift in the general diection we wanted to go, while trying to stay at least 3nm off the land of Vanua Levu. This was very frustrating because after all the prior challenges, we were looking to get this ordeal over with.
We were able to get a cell signal, and when we thought the hour was reasonable, we called our friends on S/V Moondance and described our situation and asked them to be on standby for our anticipated arrival around 3pm that afternoon, to assist us with negotiating the anchorage. Doug was absolutely a wondefully positive and re-assuring person to talk to. He even asked if we had a fishing line in the water. This may sound trivial but you can't imagine what this did for our attitudes. Moondance said they would be ready and also recruit another boat of friends on Interlude IX, and not to worry about the anchorage, they would be ready.
After a few hours of drifting, we got about 5knt of thermal wind and started making about 3knts. Nicer than drifting, but still wouldn't get us to the final reef pass till around midnight. We called Moondance again and told him we would be outside the anchorage at first light. He said no problem, they'll be there.
Through the night, we continued to lose speed as the winds dropped. Again, fast drifting at 1-2knts. As we approached the final reef pass outside of SavuSavu bay, we started discussing strategies. We knew we would be unable to sail through the pass without wind, and the water was a little to lumpy to use the dinghy tow stratagy, but we decided the dinghy was our best shot.
As we approached the reef pass, we prepped the dingy as before. The water was much lumpier than the earlier effort, but all went well and we cleared the reef at 0330. Once clear of the reef, we still had no wind and had to run the dingy to get clear of the ferries that were coming through. After we were clear of the ferries, we proceeded to tow ourselves towards the anchorage.
As promised, we were met just outside by the smiling faces of Doug and Carla from Moondance, and the lovely ladies Karen and Cheryl from Interlude IX!! An immense sense of relief washed over us as we dropped the sails and prepped lines and fenders to attempt the dingy tow docking manuveur. With the two other dingy's giving the occasional bump and ours giving propulsion, we hit the dock almost perfectly; we were a little fast but the lines and cleats stopped Tanga dead.
Conclusions and random thoughts:
We still have no idea what we hit. It was big, but thats all we know.
Under various levels of stress and massive fatigue, we are now patting ourselves on the back for how well we worked through this as a team. We were always able to talk out all issues and neither of us let the fatigue, challanges, and frustration break us, even when the liferaft was being prepped.
We have developed a greater skill level of sailing and are very confident that our sail to our beloved Vuda, where we will make repairs, should go well. Through necessity, we learned how to trim our sails so Tanga sails most efficiently.
Adam, get Mr. Jack stocked up!
After getting some long deep sleep, Tom dove and discovered the the cutlass bearing is destroyed and the shaft is most likely bent, but we won't know about the shaft until we pull it. The propeller looks fine, but again we woun't know till we balance spin it at a machine shop.
Mercury outboards ROCK!! 5hp versus 15 tons of rolly fun for hours and hours without a single cough.
The rings on the dinghy are held on by glue, we want lots of that glue!! It held in very harsh conditions that it was not designed for and took massive loads without failing. Kudos to Zodiac dinghy's!!
Moondance and Interlude IX are two of our favorite boats on the planet with very knowledgable and happy people onboard!!
Fiji Customs and Immigration were very understanding and accomodating with the high seas clearance. Jeez we Love Fiji!! Kai Viti.
Our plan is to sail around the eastern side of Viti Levu then around the southern end, through the Momi pass and hopefully sail straight into Vuda Marina. We'll update with anything notworthy after that trip. Right now, we're just waiting for good air and direction to do it.
We have not been fair to Tanga over the past few years. We have always said she isn't that great of a sailing vessel, BOLOGNE. She points to wind better than we ever imagined once the crew learned how to trim a sail.
We apologize for the length and jargon, but over the past few days, these were some of the details that were requested of us, so we wanted to be as complete as possible. We also wanted to mitigate the embelishments that tend to get generated by the coconut wireless (Fiji gossip mill).