Yep, after 6 years abroad we bit the bullet and returned to the US. Commuter cruisers have it a bit easier. They cruise for 6 months at a time. But 6 years. Whew.
After close to 24 hours in the air we landed in New York and were found by my nephew’s father in-law in a pack of cars. Truth be told: W/ had the greatest desire to visit family and friends. I’ve been of the opinion that they could visit us! That never seems to work out well. The only visitors we’ve had in 14 years of cruising have been one of my life long friends, Mike; and my mom. Both visited us twice! And Covid struck another friends list. Jim and Sue had tickets to Oz when the pandemic hit. Happily they didn’t lose any money and sadly they didn’t get to see Oz.
Anyway; after completing medical checks in Kuala Lumpur we made the two stop trip to NYC. Clearing in to the US was a non issue. We are after all US citizens. We left the plane and thankfully had wifi. I contacted my nephew. He was our ride. They were near and expected to arrive by the time we had exited with our luggage. Picked up our bags and attempted to contact my nephew again. Either the network was overloaded or the airport doesn’t have free wifi at the terminal entrance. We’re now in a pickle. A big one.
They knew what gate we were at; International arrivals. But the people. Whew! It was like we had been dropped in a can of living Sardines. We looked around hoping to see my nephew. We didn’t see him. W/ stayed with the gear while I looked for a phone card kiosk. Didn’t find one. Looked around for my nephew at the doors. Didn’t find him. I returned to W/ and told her I was going to do a sweep. I walked the length of the terminal inside then headed out to the pickup area. Wall to wall vehicles is all I saw. I wasn’t expecting to find them but maybe; maybe, he would see me wandering. As I made my way back to W/’s terminal exit weaving in and out of the cars, my nephews father in-law (FIL) starts yelling at me. Whew! He said he was looking for a tall guy and saw me wandering between the cars. Together we headed back to my nephew’s vehicle. Once located. Steve (FIL) and I headed back to the terminal; found W/ and hauled our gear to the truck. We have arrived. Tired and safe. Next I need to get a gun! We are after all in the US of A. Just kidding.
SIM cards tomorrow! At T-Mobile we pay $50 / month per phone. In Indonesia the cost was much less. And of course as we don’t expect to be dirt dwellers for long we are stuck with the pre paid plans. As far as internet for the computer and tablet, most every place we hang / friends families, AirBnB’s, or hotels have wifi.
The final order of business; was wheels. I researched while in Indonesia. There I narrowed it down to a Hyundai Tucson Limited with grey interior. There weren’t many around. I was scanning the Eastern US. Found one in Tennessee but lost it by a day. That set us back another few days. One was listed near by but then the dealership said it wasn’t certified and they would send it to auction. Found another in Western NY state. Bought that. Rented a car one way. Picked it up drove it back to our nephews. It has all the bells and whistles; meaning all the safety features I wanted. The learning curve is steep. After all, we will be doing another Eastern US circle.
Buying it was easy. Getting it registered and licensed and insured, that’s another issue. We have a lease on a place in Vermont so that is our new “temporary” abode. Back to Vermont twice to get the details taken care of. Finally with the Vermont license we discovered one more “Gotcha”. An inspection. After driving to Vermont the second time and getting the state paperwork completed, I needed an inspection. Damn! One more trip back this time. Maybe not. We will be returning here around the holidays for our families gathering. We can get it then.
Insurance: that was another thing. We’ve been traveling out of the US for 6 years straight. During that time we’ve owned two other vehicles. We bought one in NZ, insured, drove, no accidents and sold it. Same in Australia. But the US insurance market doesn’t care. If you don’t have continuous insurance they want to reach further into your pocket and get more gold. What can we do? With the crazy drivers in the US we need insurance. So I empty my pockets, bit the bullet and sign up.
And for those wondering where I’ve been with my blog; I’m not sharing the general life minutia in the states. I’m limiting the posts to how / what a cruiser could experience. Till then…
Cruisers exist outside of life. It seems that way. In our heads we know people go to work, they celebrate events, they vacation, marry, divorce, die; but as cruisers those events seem like ghosts in the night. Days become weeks, months become years and we move from one location to another.
There are times the outside world knocks on our Utopian (some would think that) room: Taxes, Bureaucracy, Mother Nature.
In Banda there were many individuals getting colds, or flu. People getting sick. While on the boat I am rarely sick, yet somehow I joined the Banda ill. I had a low grade fever, and lacked energy. After close to 3 weeks I was telling myself that I was now well. Physically well. Then I received an urgent email from my sister in the states. My mother had been taken to a critical care unit in the hospital.
Fortunately in the 21st century we have the internet and Apple’s FaceTime app. I contacted my sister. She was in the hospital with mom. Mom was not looking good. The hospital had run some tests, she had Covid, she had pneumonia, she was struggling to breathe and had a breathing tube. She was on multiple drugs to ease any pain. At this point mom wasn’t communicative. No Duh! I wouldn’t be either.
I left the phone on and connected to the internet so if there were any changes my sister would reach out. Three hours later she did. The Dr was going to remove the breathing tube from her. Mom was teetering on the edge. I spoke with her. She knew me. She knew my sister. My sister spoke with her. We all gave our love and pledged our support. Mom closed her eyes and rested. I tried resting too.
A couple hours later my sister called and we teared up together. Mom had passed; 97 years old. A life full of hardship and adventure. Many wonderful moments, many sad. A life well lived. If I make it to 97 I hope I am able to say the same. A life well lived.
Out here in paradise we often become immune to what others are going through. The day to day. Oh; cruisers have a day to day; many similarities and so many differences; enough that we often forget what all those friends and families back home feel, see, and do every single day.
I am in the Banda Islands, Indonesia. A very remote place. There are two flights per week in and out and they are fully booked a month out. If there is an emergency on the island those people get priority and someone gets bumped. Two guests of the island got bumped and they hired a long boat (fast boat-not what you would think) to take them to an island better connected to the outside world. The trip was expected to take 4 hours. The wx wasn’t looking good. They were young and invincible. They went anyway. Everyone on the boat was needed to bail water out of the boat simply to stay afloat. They made the trip in 9 hours. The trip was to take only 4! Luckily they lived to tell about it. Not everyone does. Last month Banda lost a fisherman. Never found the boat or him. Returning to Florida would take me a week if everything went perfectly. That plus leaving the boat in Banda would be risky. My sister and I decided that I could best help with what I could through email and FaceTime.
I attended the funeral by FaceTime. Spoke with many of my relatives I’ve not seen in decades. Thanks to my sister who had the app working on her iPad I was able to watch. Partaking would have been too much. Watching was enough.. for me.
When the weather improves we will move to Bali (we expect it to take about 6 weeks), haul Elysium out for safe storage and fly back to the states. By then, mom is in the ground. Life for many will be back to the routines people craved. And then I would be able to find some closure. She is buried with my Father (who passed when I was 4) in Iowa. I will visit them again, as they once were.. together.
Yep, we were stuck. Elysium wasn’t going anywhere. Mike on Natsumi stopped by and we connected an extra line to a winch. With him cranking and me using the windlass all we did was pull the bow down. We wouldn’t pull the bow under but we would at some point break the chain. Time for more help.
I hopped in the dinghy and headed to shore. There I found Nellow (A dive master and guide in Banda) and hired him to dive the anchor and free us. I was thinking tomorrow, he was thinking right now. Not to put off what needed. I said… OK.
Nellow slipped into his wet suit, grabbed his BC, tank, regulator, weights, and his dive computer. We hopped into the dinghy and off we went. On the way over he said he wouldn’t dive below 35 meters. Our anchor is close to that limit. . There is no Nitrox on Banda and no decompression chambers. We arrived at the boat and he was the show. Like a fish returning to the water he was in and heading down before I even tied the dinghy up. Like ghosts, the bubble from his regulator floated to the surface. Undulating and creating etherial shapes. He was down for a bit and we could see the chain being pushed and shoved. Five minutes and he came to the surface, said we could pull in some and he needed a hammer. We had snagged and globbed onto a sunken steel ship. Working back and forth the chain cut into part of it and that is what now lies free. We pulled in a bit more. He told me that we had also wrapped the chain around the wreck’s bow a few times. He would need to use the hammer to knock it off and free it. He went back down and we could hear the pounding on the chain. We were not free yet. We could see him rising to the surface following the bubble trail. He made a safety stop and we waited. At the surface he told us his computer was beeping at him and time to head up. He needed another tank. Back in the dinghy, back to the dive shop, he grabbed another tank and we sped back to the boat. There he rested.
At 30 meters or so one can’t work without decompressing. Luckily we were less than the 35 meters, not much and he was an excellent diver. Thirty minutes later he was heading down again. He asked us to ease the chain out so he would have more to work with. Banging away seemed to work. A few minutes later he was again at his safety stop and when he popped to the surface he said we were free. We hauled the chain and anchor in. Whew!
We wanted to pull it up so we could move to the Maulana Hotel. We still planned to do that as the wx seems to have moderated in expectation of the SE trades beginning. We headed across the harbor, dropped the hook and passed lines ashore. Nellow again dove to check the anchor. He made sure it was clear and sat point down on the bottom. You’re good; he said. Lines tied ashore we adjusted Elysium’s stern and settled in.
I loved being here. We could enjoy the waterfront activity, have easy access to the hotel restaurant, and not worry about swinging around on the anchor and snagging on other trash on the bottom. I marked in Zulu Waterways exactly where the sunk boat was. No need for other cruisers to snag the same thing. If someone wants to attach a chain mooring line to it; well, it will be solid and better than the concrete moorings that are used throughout Indonesia.
On the Spice Island town side there was a constant parade of Indonesian ferries. Additionally two cruise ships came through. Thus the tourist board in Banda put on a show. Kora-koras went out with their 20 odd crew dressed in full regalia from the time of Dutch colonialism. They sang and created quite a show. We watched as the tourists were brought ashore next to us and were herded like cattle towards various tours. A quick trip to the forts (there are two here), the church, the museum, and maybe some went across to the plantations. It was like watching Disney at work, keeping them hydrated, fed and entertained.
The week went by without incident, the wx benign. The greatest effect was from tidal current. One night the winds blew from the N; not strong but pushing us back into the little wood dock. I checked the anchor and made sure we had some tension thus keeping our stern away from the dock. All looked good. Until it wasn’t. Around 4 am I woke up. I went up on deck and saw that we were about 1 foot from the dock. We ought to have been about 10’. The boat was bouncing from the small chop off our starboard beam and we kept inching closer and closer. I started the engine which got W/ up immediately.
The hotel night security came out and helped to push / keep Elysium off the dock. W/ put the boat in gear but the lines ashore were holding us. Unfortunately we had coiled the lines on the boat and that created an issue casting them off. It took me a minute to free our port line and in that time we “tapped” the dock. Just tapped it, Once free I cast off the starboard line and we motored away from the dock. Next step pull in the anchor. Once up it was decision time. Stubborn me, I wanted to stay. W/ wanted to return to the other side. I didn’t want to get anywhere near that underwater wreck. We tried once to drop the anchor off the hotel and once the wx abated we would again connect to the shore. We dropped it in 90’ of water and all it did was slide around. We weren’t holding. We picked it up again and headed across the bay. With navigation lights on, our deck light on and the AIS on we idled across the bay. We were waiting for enough light, waiting to choose a better spot.
A couple days earlier True Blue V had left. I was hoping to get close to their spot. They didn’t wrap any coral nor a wreck. As the sky lightened up we dropped the hook in 25 m of water. If we needed Nellow again at least he could dive that. Anchor down and we’re secure. I had charted where the wreck was and we were closer than I wished. Mike on Natsumi told us TrueBlue V was over a bit farther and N some. We discussed it (W/ and I), she wanted to stay and I was afraid of swinging around and connecting with the wreck again. The safest thing was to move. We did. The anchor came up fine and we dropped it where we thought True Blue V was. There we sat for a couple of weeks.
It wasn’t perfect. We had more wx events. Nothing huge, just uncomfortable. I had our AIS on anchor watch, had our chart plotter map the paths we took as we swung back and forth on the anchor. At night it would look like we were close to one of the local fishing boats or close to shore. I watched the depth sounder and we were never in less than 50’. Although 50’ from shore it was still 35’ deep.
The winds in Banda harbor are often fluky to say the least. We were on the lee side of the volcano. One day / evening the winds were blowing strong out of the W. But, on the lee side of the volcano the winds reversed. As they blew over the volcano they came down to the water and back filled.
After a couple of days in a better spot but not exactly where I wanted to be we moved the boat. Farther away from the wreck but closer to shore and the fishing boats. On anchor we swung up and down the shore and stayed away from the local boats. We also varnished.
For the last 9 months we’d been sick of our epoxy / varnish job. It was smooth but the epoxy which we had been told would last 5 years and look beautiful didn’t. There were places where the bare wood was showing through. That and seeing that the white epoxy (people call it blush), we weren’t happy. Actually, we were really, really upset by it. As an experiment we tried the Signature Finish top clear coat. W/ was leery. As a test we only coated one item. A dorade box. We first washed with soapy water, rinsed and dried. Then we used denatured Alcohol to prepare the surface. Tape the areas we didn’t want varnish on and used the Signature Finish top coat. It looks fantastic! We watched for a few days and everything still looked great. Even after rain, it still looked great. That gave us a new lease on our teak coatings. We began to coat the rest of the boat with what we had left of the Signature Finish.
In the midst of this I had volunteered to read at Mita and Alisa’s home school. I was reading aloud children’s books in English. The four children from 3- 6 years old were already bi-lingual. Unfortunately, my 3rd time I had to cancel. Somehow, I came down with a cold, flu, or allergy. In the am I had a fever. Not a high but enough to know I did not wish to risk others getting sick. I hit the meds we have on board. Hit them hard. When I was feeling like doing something; anything, it was varnishing or prepping to varnish. I could tape and apply. W/ could wash, rinse and clean with Alcohol. It worked, while I recovered we were able to varnish the rest of the teak on the deck. And finally, FINALLY, Elysium looked good again!
It is amazing how when the boat looks good we feel good. My temporary respite from being healthy was over. However for my mom it was just beginning. She; at 97 years old went to the hospital. In Critical Care. Things weren’t looking good. There are times when cruising isn’t anywhere near to what the magazines tell you. This looked to be one of those times.
We carry a lot of spares. I had once teased a co -cruiser that they needed a sailboat trailer to carry their spares; but I think we are at the same place now.
Yesterday one of the lenses fell out of my good new glasses. I tried that magic stuff: JBWeld to fix them and that lasted one day. Thus, I began to search through our spare glasses.
I found some new spares. Wow. I also found a new spare pair of Sunglasses that are prescription. How lucky that was?
As I’ve now had glasses for a few years on the boat there is one critical observation I’ve made. Do NOT get any of the additional coatings the shops want to sell you. Polarized, no, glare, no, anti red eye, no. The reason is that over time; it has been about a year for me, the coatings begin to wear off or the glue degrades making the glasses unusable. For a cruiser out and away from the big city where one can easily spend few hundred and get some new ones, this can be a dangerous issue. Ok, so you can’t see into the water as well, get some big polarized glasses to fit over your prescription ones. Be more cautious in shallower water. Yet the worse case is that reading charts could well cause one to make a bad decision. Do yourself a favor, get several good pair of prescription glasses, some tinted, some clear and avoid any of the coatings they want to sell you. In the end you’ll be able to safely cruise where ever you wish to go. And…
In NZ, at most every marina entrance ramp they have this poster with this comment: “Nothing is faster than Disaster!” In Panama when we were moving from Linton to Colon I was removing the main sail cover. I stepped on the corner of the aft cabin and slipped. Usually when I fall I’m aware of what’s happening and what I need to do. I fell about 2 meters off a sea wall in Sanabel Florida. I saw exactly what I needed to do, where I needed to land and roll and I did. No injuries not even a bruise. In Linton before I even realized I was falling i was already on my butt. No warning, no time. Luckily then too, the only injury was my pride.
Last week W/ was not so lucky. We were finishing up the windlass project. When we refurbished the boat I had installed a high density, high strength plastic base for the windlass. Over the years I watched the windlass move and stretch the 1/2” stainless steel bolts as we pulled in anchor and chain. In the Pacific the anchor is often stuck 20 meters below the surface. The pull on the windlass from the anchor and chain was minimal. When you add in an 18 ton boat jerking on the end of a stuck anchor. Wow! . Over time I worried about the windlass flying off the boat as the bolts pealed away like a zipper.
In NZ we had a new- strong stainless steel base made. In Fiji we pulled off the old base and installed the new. The windlass fits on top. The last step was to install the windlass motor inside the boat. The motor is a big heavy honker. It needed to be aligned with the gear teeth in the windlass and then secured to the tube extending down from the windlass. To align it I put the winch handle in the windlass so W/ could slowly turn it until the teeth from the motor aligned and I could lift it up into place. The Windlass is a Lighthouse and has a kedging fitting on top so I can use the windlass handle to slowly crank the boat off of any obstruction. Luckily we’ve never needed to use the kedge function. I am wedged in the anchor locker. The locker is furthest forward in the boat; on the other side of the sail locker/ garage. I had crawled in there so I could lift the motor into place. Crawling and worming forward is the how I was able to get in and under the motor. For the most part I was in a rather precarious position. Getting in wasn’t easy; getting out would be even more difficult. I thought I had the windlass motor in place and asked W/ to turn the breaker on to power it up. W/ switched on the windlass breaker.
Back top side we started to check the motor connection to the windlass. I had already loosened the gypsies so the anchors wouldn’t move. (Does anyone see what I missed?) Wendy activated the switch that feeds pays out the chain. Perfect. All seems to work! I then asked her to check the retrieve chain foot switch. She did. Immediately I heard a double clunk and everything went quiet.
Thinking something might have happened I hollered up and asked if she was ok! No reply would have been bad, swearing would have been better but hearing a “No” was scary. Like lightening I wormed my way out of the chain locker then the sail locker. I ran out of the cabin and up on deck. It was NOT pretty. My heart sank.
W/ was laying on the side deck with her hand to her head, blood all around and in tears. How do you comfort someone in this situation? I reached her as fast as possible and began to check out the source of blood. I held her. She cried, my heart was in my stomach.
Her ear was bleeding inside and outside. Blood was on the deck. Between sobs she could talk. She could move slowly. I helped her to the cockpit. She laid down. I got some sterile wipes to clean her up as best I could. It was a slow process. W/ can tolerate a great deal of pain anywhere – except on her head. There was a gash behind the ear and there was a 10 mm split inside in the middle of the ear. A few days later a bruise appear on her check. Luckily we have a freezer aboard and we put an ice wrap on the area hoping to slow the blooding and ease the pain. I cleaned her ear some more. Trying not to make anymore pain for her it was slow going. I cleaned what I could and what she could tolerate with Peroxide. There was no way to micro bandage any of the cuts. There were a couple of extra indents / cuts / openings in the ear lobe where her earring is. As gently as possible we / she removed the earring. We cleaned more and iced more. We talked about what the hospital might do. It was Sunday; the Dr’s office is closed.
I didn’t think they could stitch any of the areas up. The one cut on the cartilaginous portion of the ear and the other in the fold behind the ear. While the hospital here was an option it wan’t high on our list. At this point it doesn’t appear life threatening. Luckily. There is a vet at the marina and if need be we could consult with him. After all we all are animals anyway. W/ decided and I supported her that we didn’t need to do that yet. We iced. we cleaned what pain would allow. She laid down with that side of her head up. I ran blue tape (almost as good as Duct Tape) around her head holding some cotton swabs to the effected area. The rest of the day she couldn’t lay on the effected ear. Way to much pain. As it slowly stopped bleeding and we cleaned carefully I painted Second Skin on the wounds. Unfortunately Second skin stings so it was slow going. As we covered the wounds with second skin and they were protected I could paint more on area. It is only the first layer of second skin that stings. The entire time she is completely lucid. It alleviates one worry but doesn’t make any of her pain or my anxiety go away.
Showering would be a problem but the ear simply wouldn’t get washed. By the end of the first day she the bleeding is minimal. Touching the ear was not as painful. I took photos every day so we could look at the healing and she could see exactly what I was describing.
When W/ pushed the retrieve chain foot switch she was down on her hands and knees activating it with one hand. The winch handle which I had forgotten about and W/ wasn’t ever much aware of swung around striking her upside the head. The blow upside the head knocked her off her knees onto her side. The handle hit with such force it flew out of the windlass with the adapter fitting. Had she been standing it may well have struck one of her legs and broke it. While the foot switch is well away from the swing of the handle the other leg could be in range. Had her head been in a different position she could have broken a jaw, knocked some teeth out, broken her nose or damaged an eye. Worse case she might be dead if it struck her in the temple! As unlucky as she was, she and I were lucky. By day four she was able to sleep on that side of her head for a bit. From the cleaning we did and the second skin she had no infection. By the end of the week she could shower and get the ear wet. Now about two weeks later only an ENT might notice that there was some trauma to the ear. No one can look at it and see any damage. Her hearing is fine ( sometimes when I’m mumbling something her hearing is too good!). This time she and by extension we were lucky. Out here cruising we try to think of everything. We try to run scenarios through our head and think of what might go wrong. At anchor, in a beautiful place I may have become a bit too complacent. In 10 years we’ve never needed to use a winch handle in the windlass. I don’t think I would ever have thought the motor running would turn the handle too. I wasn’t aware if it was a direct drive or racheted. When the motor pays out chain the kedge winch handle doesn’t move. It only moves while retrieving the chain.
With the new base installed, W/ healed we’re on to the next project, a stack pack. The only physical damage I can do here is sew a finger. Let’s hope I can avoid those stitches. Nothing … is faster than disaster.
Yeah, I know I am lucky. I am living life to the fullest, born as a privileged American, worked for an organization that had a defined benefit plan, kept all my fingers while refurbishing a boat, knowledgeable and bold enough to figure I can fix and maintain most issues that crop up on a boat all while exploring the world. And sometimes luck just has to hit you in the face to accept it.
While leaving Musket Cove for the big city, Denarau, I had a chunk of my tooth fall off. I was chewing a little ice or having a small piece of chocolate and felt a little pain in my jaw. Oh-Oh. But as I continued on with the chocolate I didn’t feel any more issues. I drank some water and didn’t have any cold spots so I thought it was only a warning sign. So… I had another piece of chocolate. Oh-Oh! This wasn’t “Chunky Chocolate” but I believe there was a definite “chunk” in there. Gently I masticate until I came across the small solid piece. I removed it from my mouth and discovered a piece of my tooth. Tongue exploring I went; and yep, the piece was off a back upper molar.
I was lucky, I had no pain. I was lucky, we were heading to the big city where I could find a dentist.
After checking in to the marina, the first thing I wanted to know is where is a good dentist? The attendants both said Shortlane Clinic in Namaka. While we could not find a phone number for their office I did come up with an address.
Monday W/ and I went to the dentist. Informed that if I arrive by 10 am I would get in to see him we made our way via public transport. From the bus stop we needed only a short walk to reach the office. There I / we waited. We had met some other cruisers whose daughter and significant other needed the same dentist and he was told to arrive around 9 ish. We waited about 2 hours and he about 5 minutes. Well, as I say “go slow” and that was the morning for us. Fortunately there was no pain and we waited patiently while at times chatting up the other patrons. By noon I was in the chair and speaking with the dentist. He agreed, a chunk of tooth had broken off. Too he didn’t feel I was yet in need of a crown for that tooth telling me to keep an open mind for the future. Approx 3/5th of the tooth will now have been repaired. He added a composite filling and sent me on my way. Perfect… and the cost…. all of $45 F. About $23 US. The rest of the day went smoothly, I was singing because I had no pain with the loss, no pain with the filling, and no pain with the cost.
The following a.m. I discovered no more filling. It had fallen out. I wear a night guard to keep from grinding my teeth away and obviously the two didn’t like each other. Back to the Dentist. Luckily a cruising friend’s daughter and partner were heading back to NZ and had a ride to the airport which was passing right by the dentist’s office. I globbed on with them and by 9 ish I was back in the office awaiting the dentist. He confirmed the filling had disappeared and we couldn’t find it in the mouth guard. (W/ found it later on the counter in the head). He replaced it this time adding a Dovetail in the filling underneath, acid etched it, tucked it in, cured it with UV light and then ground it to ensure that there was no more problem with my night guard. Bingo. All done. I asked what the bill was today and he said….. get this…. NOTHING. Where can we get service like that now a days? Fiji!
First things first. Obviously we needed to do the normal boat / personal clearance stuff and with those tasks completed we looked for refreshments that others will serve us, cool things to do, markets with fresh goodies, and the stores where we can buy parts to keep the boat ship shape.
Luckily we were anchored next to sv Hotspur who had already been here a week or so. We flagged them down on the our first day here and they came by for the required sundowners. There were shared stories (some lies) about what we’ve each been doing since we last were together (American Samoa). But we also had another motive: pick their brain about the area.
With new info we set about creating some consistency again to our lives. W/ was going to do morning walks with Meri, W/ and I would do some of our own walks seeing the Hot Springs that were just on the edge of town, we would attend Curley’s Fiji Cruising Seminar and maybe arrange a trip with the sv Hotspur crew to visit the Sugar Mill in Labasa.
Curly’s seminar is probably the best insurance value you can have in Fiji. He has years of confirmed waypoints into and around all of the anchorages in Fiji. Having lived here for most of 40 years his stories reinforced the need for solid sailing / navigational skills when moving the boat. While we find Fiji much easier then sailing in the Bahamas and the San Blas it is ALWAYS important to be reminded of what one misstep can do. A couple of days ago a Swan 57 went up on a reef and last we heard was breaking up! Care must be taken. After the seminar he hawked some hand made fishing lures on everyone with a “guarantee that if you put it in the water” you will catch fish! W/ couldn’t resist; always a sucker for a good story, so we bought 2.
Every am at 8 Curly (who is also the SSCA cruising station here) runs the VHF net on channel 68. There cruisers can connect with other cruises and share needs and parts, acquire information on the area and hear the latest advertisements for Savusavu enticing cruisers to the various places that will gladly exchange services for our money. We of course love having others do our work; primarily cooking. But; there was one service we had been missing for the last several months; messages. Curly mentioned a therapist about 5 minutes out of town and W/’s ears perked right up. She copied the phone number down and before the Sun had risen over the mountains she called. Damn! No answer; but she did leave a message.
A few hours later the Una called back and I arranged massages for each of us two days forward.
The hot springs are very….. interesting. Carolyn (Princess on sv Hotspur) had decided to see how warm the water was when it had already flowed the 100 meters to the bay. There she stuck her toe in and yelped a bit as she came very close to being burned. While we were at the springs there were two ears of corn in the husk someone was cooking and another bag in a meal being cooked. Next time I go I’ll take the infrared thermometer and check the temperature of the water. I will NOT stick my toe in it for a check. 🙂
While out and about Dan and Sara on sv Brahminy showed up. We had met them in Tonga awaiting the arrival of the King. They had skedaddled over here to Fiji to meet up with Dan’s parents for a weeks cruise before we left Tonga so we had more brains to pick. They rowed over. His outboard was in the shop being repaired and as we had a spare 2 hp not being used we loaned them our un-trusty little Yamaha. Yep the one that I have cursed and sworn about off and on for the last three years. However; after some sweet talking to it Dan was able to get it started and off they both went smiling all the way, Sara because she didn’t have to row, Dan because Sara didn’t have to row. Two days later it quit and wouldn’t start. I gave them a new spark plug and the little finicky engine started right up …again. The 2 hp Yamaha seems to eat spark plugs and guzzle gas but again Dan and Sara were happy.
We spent time with them discovering that they were gamers and had just learned to play Cribbage. Sweet. We love Cribbage, especially with 4 people and two teams so we played some on the boat and even went up to the Hot Springs Hotel for a night of dining and Cribbage. Just to be clear, when they left to head out sailing the rest of the way to Australia where they live, the guys were 3 games won to only one victory by the women who just happened to fall across the line first. Actually the games were so close with both teams being one count away from victory. NOTE: As guys we had to let them get close but Win! Uh-Uh, No Way. We just couldn’t do it. I’m guessing that when W/ edits this post she may actually add something. Wow, I only received a sly comment from her and she’s not adding any rebuttal. Sorry.
One day the 5 of us Carolyn, Meri, Jim, W/ and I rose early to catch the van to Labasa. W/ had called and made a tour appointment at Fiji Sugar Corporation. The van arrived at 7:30 and we climbed in. He waited, and waited, and about 8 ish he began to move with almost a full van But…moving slowly he was able to pick up one more fare. Off we went. By now the timing was going to be close. FJS had called the day before and asked us to arrive an hour earlier then we had planned. Meri, who is the slickest of people, had brought the driver a muffin to start the day off with. He was all smiles when she offered it to him. Now it was time to ask him if he would be kind enough to drop us off at the Sugar Factory. Fortunately he obliged and our anxieties of being later were reduced to zero.
At the factory W/ and Meri stopped in at reception and acquired our passes, we then walked to meet the tour guide, Lindsey, at the employee gate and he went over the process of making cane into sugar. He went through the entire process because it was loud in the plant and it was easier to tell us here than yelling over the machinery. In the time it took us to take the tour and we had watched them dump 3 tons of Sugar Cane onto the conveyor, that cane was converted to about 1/2 ton of pure sugar and molasses. The pulp (called Bagasse) is saved and used in a power plant that is also operated by FSC. The power plant has 2 – 10
megawatt generators. The Sugar refinery uses about 3 megawatt to power itself and the extra is feed and sold back into the Fiji Power grid. Cool! They even go so far as to recovering the dirt that comes in on the Sugar Cane. The dirt is then dried and filled into bags and sent back the farms that grow the cane. The relationship with the farms I was not entirely clear on. FSC communicates with the farms in each area and tells them how many loads they can bring to the mill. This avoids the confusion and problems associated with 100’s of tractors and trucks carrying cane to the mlll and having to wait hours to unload it. By the time our tour was completed and we walked back to Labasa our driver called to tell us we needed to be at the van in 30 minutes. There are no seat guarantees. We quickly grabbed some snacks and headed off to the bus where we didn’t get our favored seats but they were not the worst either. Luckily I had a seat with some leg room and as the driver loaded up the bus he noticed I would be in a bit of hurt. He moved the individual sitting in the front passenger seat to mine and me to the front seat. An improvement but still not perfect. The vast majority of vehicles in the world are not made to accommodate someone 6’3″ tall with legs that stretch from Canada to Florida. Two hours later we were back in Savusavu and hungry.
We’ve already tried several restaurants and found a couple much to our liking. This one however is a wee bit different. It’ s NOT fancy. There is no sou chief, the view from the porch would be awesome but from inside the restaurant it makes the average kitchen / dining area look wonderful. However, the owner and the food are awesome. I wanted some Prawns in the Thai dish and they were out of them a few days back. The owner said he would call me when he had them and I gave him my phone number. In the US I would most likely never have received a call. Two days later my phone rang and he said the Prawns were in. Bingo! The following day we arrived at the restaurant for lunch and I had a delicious meal for just about $6 US. So the 5 of us traipsed to Paradise and had great food with more lies than one could guess.
We followed the tasty meal by returning to the boat for some R and R. Tomorrow a massage would greatly aid in our recovery. We were going to walk there; it was less than an hour to walk, but time crept up on us and we didn’t know exactly where the place was so we grabbed a taxi from town. Up over the hill to the airport and we went and were dropped off at Una’s for all of $2.30 US fare. She lead us through a tropical garden to her home / office and there we were rewarded with massages in the jungle with birds singing and the breeze blowing gently through her home. She had a wonderful sturdy massage table and both W/ and I were rewarded with an excellent session. Una found knots in my muscles that I never knew I had. When we were through both of us felt another appointment was needed and proceeded to arrange it. I think we’re in Heaven!
I should have known. I felt a wee bit of a scratchy throat and the next day I definitely had a sore throat. Had we been traveling we would have had no choice but for us to leave for Huahine; a 100 nm trip, with one of us sick was not in our cards. If we had to we could have. But; it was not required. And besides the weather just didn’t look exactly the way we wanted it to look. There was no need to rush, the stars were not aligned right so we didn’t hurry. I needed to get well. I started taking care of the symptoms and the sore throat had eased a bit when W/ commented on the same thing.
Now both of us are sick. It is a good thing we are at a safe quiet anchorage with supplies near by. We hang on the boat for an extra day and then both feel well enough for a walk. We walk for food and to the pharmacy to replenish our cold supplies.
Two days later we’re ready to go and at noon we up anchor and motor out of the harbor heading NW. The wind is looking good; about 10 kts and the seas are to be about a meter or less. But one thing we don’t really get info on is a cross sea. We cleared the coast of Moorea before nightfall and saw no more whales. We don’t wish to come across any at night as we hear they do sleep and we’ve also known of other boats that run into them. Not a good thing for either the boat (us) or the whale. My guess is – if they do bruise it’s one hell of a bruise having a boat strike it while sleeping and I also have heard of the whales getting rather upset and attacking the boat at times doing some damage.
We fly our geriatric sail and settle in for the night. Our watch system has been working well; 3 on 3 off, then 2 on and 2 off. We try to go a little more giving each other time to prepare for sleep and prepare for getting on the deck. So we would ideally like it to be 3 sleeping, then 2 sleeping. We can do further sleep time during the day but if either of us can really get 5 hours at night then we seem to be quite good for doing what is needed the following day.
The night goes well and I actually email some of my shore side team bragging that this passage is rather “uneventful”. And again the future makes a liar out of me.
The seas are a little confused and the boat is moving in some odd directions, not a lot but enough that neither of us is really comfortable. We gybe in the middle of the night finding we are making to much N in our track and even still the boat’s motion is a little uncomfortable. I describe it like a washing machine set on “delicate”. Still we’re getting shaken up a bit but we are making progress and as the Sun rises we see Huahine.
I come up on deck and look over everything. Oh-Oh. Something isn’t right. The geriatric sail (Yankee Jib) has a lot of scalloping in the luff. No way should that be there. Something is amiss. I go forward and see immediately what is up. Our roller furling track is made up of 3′ sections that screw together. Two pieces about 5′ up parted and that’s letting the sail drop down, tensioning the halyard where it should not and
wearing on the luff line on the jib. Nothing is good about that and really, I can’t effect a repair here and only 4 hours away from harbor. We furl it. Luckily it still furls as my fear was that it would not. I was so busy checking out what to do I forgot to get a good look at why the pieces parted. Did the screws back out or did the heads pop off them. Knowing which will effect how we need to repair it. The furled sail ain’t pretty but she is no longer in trouble. I hoist the staysail jib and we slow down only 1/2 knot and continue on course. In the end this means that we make harbor about 30 minutes later than if we had had no problem. Fortunately we had timed this crossing right and before noon we hope to be anchored.
The reef around the SW side of Huahine is sometimes out a mile from shore and with the new moon and tides up we are fascinated by the huge breaking surf; glad to be off enough that it bothers us not. But; the surfers love it and as we clear the pass we watch as they mount the waves and some ride them to a sweet exit while others make a grand tumble up over and into the water. Clear the pass we check out the anchorages. A group of boats are anchored on the reef but we just don’t like doing that and don’t feel comfortable doing that. We instead head up the bay and anchor in the shallow (20 m ) water there. With wind gusting down the mountain we sit for lunch and watch as our boat sails back and forth on the anchor all the while digging it deeper and deeper into the mud. I love sailing on the anchor! The boat is calm and we have a good breeze. The following morning we’ll launch the dinghy, explore the town and the other anchorages. We hope to be here about 7-10 days. But again….we just don’t see the future very well.
After 2 nights, maybe 3, we choose to move S a bit. We needed a calm place to fix the sail and of course we were getting a bit tired of the constant gusting out of the mountains. We choose Port Bourayne which was described as closest to a Scottish Highlands as anyplace existing S of the equator. We motored down inside the reef and another problem appeared. The surging of the engine that we had before is back. Damn! But the surging didn’t cause us to change where we were going only that I needed to be aware more of what was around us, have the windlass turned on and be ready with a sail. The surging was pretty regular and indicates an air leak in the fuel system, why again it would surface was any ones guess. Add to my list to contact my mechanical shore side support team. We turned the corner passing into the bay and headed to the NE corner where another catamaran was. As we closed in on it we discovered it was our friends Werner and Kristina on Windance III. Sweet. Maybe we’ll be lucky and they’ll be here a day or so and I can beg his help.
And lucky we were; they would be here a couple of days and tomorrow he would assist in fixing of the furler. In the am we expect it to be calmer and we can do it then. But ma nature if anything is not good at consistency, nor does she read weather maps and predictions. In the am we didn’t get the calm we expected but as the breeze was less then 10 kts we decided to go ahead anyway. The plan was: Send me up the mast, unfurl the sail and inspect to see if the screws vibrated loose or the heads popped off. If they were gone it would be a good thing because we could loosen the jib halyard, pull up the track, put the pieces back in place and add new screws with locktite. And that is what we did. Since the track has an internal halyard we had to first loosen the halyard for the reefer and then I used a halyard to pull the track back up in place. However I had forgotten that this system if free floating and as I pulled the upper track up it pulled the lower with it too. Werner was below and once we discovered this he had to pull down the lower section. Finally they were far enough apart that he could fit the two pieces back into place and then add the screws with my favorite; Duralac – a coating that has not failed me yet. However, some of the jib halyard and some of the luff wire of the sail had worked it’s way out of the track so once Werner put the pieces back together he had to gently tap the wire and the luff back into place. All the while I was useless at the top of the mast where I had control of the halyards that separated the track. W/ found a piece of wood to tap with so he would not distort the wire and eventually they lowered me so I could help. Once back in place we rolled the sail back up correctly and congratulated ourselves on a job well done. Back to one issue.
That afternoon I tooled down to the S end of the harbor and met Eric on Maritea. He’s a French sailing expat who bought a place here and he with his family use this now as a cruising base. He invited us to use his spare mooring if we wanted and when Windance III leaves we’ll most likely move down and share some cruising stories with he and his family. Till then, I’m off working on solving the engine surging again and we’re hanging with Werner and Kristina before they disappear East to Apitake for hauling the boat and doing a family filled event back in S. Africa over the holidays.
We are outta here! Yep, left Antigua and Guatemala. I was a bit disappointed but also looking forward to our next adventure. W/ has us on a trip to Peru.
Since leaving Guatemala I can talk about the good and the bad. The good was quite a bit, good friends, good beer, good food, good restaurants, and a good Spanish School.
The bad; and it’s not much, was the small vehicles we had to travel in, a few of the restaurants that we didn’t believe played fair, 3 Roosters, Volcanic dust, and my iron stomach was tenderized while here, but due to politics we were having to leave before we’re really, really, really, fluent in Spanish. (I say politics because even if one has income a foreigner can’t remain in Guatemala for an indefinite period of time and two when we bought the tickets for our flight they wouldn’t sell a one way, we had to choose a date and a return flight).
We ate at two restaurants that clipped us a bit (one was Fusion and the other, Sabe Rico – the worst). At Fusion IB and Becca ordered some wine by the glass and Fusion didn’t have the wine listed on the menu so without advising anyone they took it upon themselves and poured the more expensive wine. Now truth be said, I’m guessing either of them would have said “OK”, but no one likes to be blind sided and we / they were. The other restaurant; Sabe Rico delivered “uncorked” wine to the table and didn’t provide anyone a taste test. Thinking this was the wine the “girls” ordered I kindly poured. It wasn’t the wine ordered and they wouldn’t do anything about the “switch” they quietly pulled on us. We paid the bill and left.
The smallish vehicles I’ve written about – so enough said. The Roosters too. But; the volcanic dust, it is over most everything and for the most part of our stay there, at the end of the day the bottoms of our feet were the color of lava. No mater how much the floors were cleaned or when, our feet changed color ever day. And remember, we’re cruisers, we like bare feet and clean decks. This was, to say the least, a bit irritating.
Since I left the boat in mid November I’ve been sick now 4 times. Four months; 4 times under the weather. Three times in Guatemala. I don’t know if it’s the food or because I was living with more people or the water I drank. We tried to always drink bottled water and I can’t say bottled water helped much – but I wasn’t going to stop. It could be the “jet” setting around, could be in how some food is prepared, could be in the closer proximity to other people; I don’t know, but those times being sick were not part of my planned adventure. To put it in perspective; in the last two years on the boat I was sick once; and that was when I went to Panama City.
Leaving San Jose El Viejowas bitter sweet. However; we need to practice our new language skills more, we need to let the words we know ferment in our brains, we needed a break from the formal study. We both miss our teachers; W/ had gotten quite close to Erika, they exchanged some gifts on the final day; and I thoroughly enjoyed working / learning from Isabel. Her laugh is infectious, and with me she was patient and a little pushy all at the same time. My day started with talk for about an hour or so (all in Spanish but sometimes I had to ask for the correct word or look it up) and during that time she would then identify an area I needed a great deal more work on. Then we corrected my assignments and depending on the day we discussed my numerous and other times rare
errors. After a break we would talk for another hour with Isabel patiently waiting for and forcing me to use the words I know. At times she would let loose with this infectious laugh because of the stories we each told and I’m sure too because of some of the ways I used in structuring my spanish voacabulary. About 5 minutes before the end of the morning she would ask if I wanted to do any homework. I was there after all to learn Spanish so I would always acquiesce to some..more….homework. She was kind in that what she assigned me I usually could complete in under 3 hours.
So we left Antigua after learning much about the people, enjoyed teasing our palate with an abundance of different food combinations, suffered with some bugs we could never see, and have a 1,000 or so more words in Spanish that we can use. Of course putting them together in the correct order will always seem to be a challenge. If the winds of our life provide any justice we’ll again return to Antigua and spend some more time learning the poetic language of Spanish.
Veteran cruisers will tell you that an overnight passage is just as tiring as say a 3 day passage. You spend a day getting ready, you leave and your sleep schedule is out of whack, your feel for a moving boat is out of whack, and your eating style is disrupted. Then you arrive, same anxiety with one’s landfall in a day as one landfall 3 or more days down the line, you find a place to anchor and you spend a day resting and getting the boat back to a comfortable livable condition. You clean up and put things away. Wash the boat if you can, wash the jacklines, the foul weather gear, the safety harnesses. Fold and cover the sails, coil and store the sheets. We wipe down the cabin floor as no matter how we try, salt from the feet seems to work it’s way to the cabin sole.
So we made it to Snug Harbor where we dropped the hook in 40′ of water. A long way down.
On the way across we started out motoring the first day as the winds were light out of the NE. About 5 hours outside of San Bernardo’s, Colombia we felt we had enough breeze to put up some sails. We shut down the engine and heaven descended upon us. The quiet, the movement for all intents and purposes of a boat mimicking life. The sails are doing their job and pulling approximately 40,000 lbs across a 150 nm stretch of water. We were sailing about 4 kits but we didn’t care. The water was relatively flat like a lake and we were going towards our destination at a comfortable speed with an easy motion.
I put out two fishing lines. It was time to feed the Mahi-Mahi. For the last 1,000 nm’s they’ve been attacking and taking my plastic lures. I was hoping on this trip to catch one at the theft and haul their rainbow colored bodies aboard to feed the ships crew for a few days.
As the day wore on and we continued to pull away from the South American Continent the breeze slowly increased to a pleasant 10-15 kits. So too did the boat and we were now in the Indianapolis speed zone of 5-6 knots, the speed of a good runner. Once we reached the 5 kt range we heard a zing of the line on our reel. I race as fast as I can on a moving boat to grab the rod in hopes of landing this one. The Mahi makes a couple leaps out of the water trying to shake the hook free and then peels off more line, and I’m excited. W/’s been cranking in the other line; although two fish landed would be great we have enough difficulty landing one fish at a time. She’s a large one! I let the line run out and then just about the time W/ has the other lure cranked in my line goes slack. DAMN! There goes Dinner, Lunch, Dinner, Lunch, Dinner, etc. She would have fed us for a few days.
So after a few of my selected choice words issued towards the kingdom of fish I put the one line back out and crawled below to grab another lure. I’ve now given the fish about half a dozen of the plastic lures to feed on. I wonder if I have heavy enough line (80 lb test) and I’m wondering if I should replace it a little more often. RIght now the line has been on the reels for about 3 years. But this is not the place to do that so I file that info in my dusty cranium and dig out another lure. Rig it and release it. We’re cruising along now about 6 kits and the lures are doing their wonderful dance to the surface and then they dive a foot or so beneath it trailing a stream of bubbles a couple of meters long. We both go back to our tasks, reading, day dreaming, and just watching in awe the deep royal blue of open water. We’re settled in for the afternoon.
Zing! Zing! One reel runs out quickly and then stops, 2 seconds the other line takes off. Another fish. Again the same dance, I race and try to make sure we don’t loose this one. The line is peeling out faster then ever and I’m afraid it will get to the end and then snap. Slowly I increase the drag on the line as the Mahi endeavors to steal more and more of it. Feeling like I’ve been at this 1/2 an hour but knowing that it’s been most likely 5 minutes, I have him stabilized with about 10 wraps of line left on the reel. Since W/ now has the other line pulled in she’s at the helm. As we’re traveling too fast and the fish is fighting for his life (Yeah, it looked like a Bull Mahi – Mahi to me when it jumped) she points the boat into the wind a bit to slow it down while I begin to reel the beast in. We spend close to twenty minutes more, luffing the boat, falling off, luffing, falling off and all the while I’m inching the line in and bringing the succulent dinner to the boat. He makes a couple of more runs and peels out some line but I’m slowly winning! Or so I think.
As we finally get him closer to the boat I can see his figure down in the water and W/ has the gaff ready. She luffs the boat up a bit more so I can reel some more line in and he takes off across the stern dragging the line to the other side of the boat. I carefully hand the pole across the back of the boat to myself not wanting to get the line tangled in the windvane or rubbing across the backstay.
He’s now swimming beside the boat about 40 feet away and I have W/ turn the boat to bring him more astern, he obviously hears me and shoots off towards the bow and under the boat. I feel the line drag across the bottom of the boat and fear the worse. Another fight lost with a fish, another lure gone and one tired puppy; me. But; he’s still there and pops up by the stern and I still feel him on the line. Hurray! I begin to keep the line taught and he makes another mighty stab towards freedom.
The line goes slack, I scream, and we begin to sail towards Panama again. What have I to show for all this effort; 5 blisters on two hands and a long story to tell.
I’m so tired the rest of the day we don’t trail any more lures. With the blisters on my hands I don’t think I could actually reel the fish in and with as much as Mahi’s fight and no fighting chair I don’t want to risk losing the pole, and I don’t want to risk losing W/ over the side.
We have a delightful sail till about midnight when the breeze starts to abate and by 3 am we’re again using the Iron Genny (engine) and motoring towards Panama.
As the sun rises we begin to search for land. We’re scanning the waters edge intently when I see fish leaping out of the water. Yesterdays loss is becoming a distant memory and with a new day comes new visions of capture. More fish jump (Black fin Tuna) and so I trail just one line. Less then an hour later we hear a zing of the reel and I go to crank in what ever we have. I don’t know what this one is, I suspect it was another Mahi- as it peels out line quite fast and then boom it too was gone. I may be stupid but I don’t like giving up. I dig out another lure (I’m going to need to get some more) and sent it back into the deep blue. We spot Land and yell the required mantra “Land – Ho”, we’re motoring, we’re fishing – maybe best to say we’re feeding the fish plastic lures. and we’re hopeful. Hopeful that we’ll soon be cleaning a nice catch and then look forward to rest.
Zing! Again we go through the land a fish dance. Since we’re motoring it is easier for W/ to slow down, motor forward, and turn the boat. We don’t need to be concerned about the sails and gybing or luffing and popping as the wind fills them in. I slowly make progress and we bring the fish to the boat. W/ has the gaff ready but as I see it’s a Black Fin Tuna and only a few pounds so he’s close enough to the boat I swing him aboard. W/’s ready with the Rum (we kill the fish with kindness – He dies in a drunken bliss) and we pour it directly onto his gills. I filet him and toss the carcass back to Neptune for further consumption. Nothing goes to waste in the ocean.
By noonish we’ve made landfall and are motoring towards Snug Harbor hoping that the name fits. We find a calm place to anchor, drop the hook, take care of some projects on the boat and immediately begin our R n R. We’ll clear in when we get to Porviner in a couple of days. For now the stars are calling and the cow is ready to jump over the moon.