October 24 - December 31, 2006

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HIGHLIGHTS

A "short" 2000 mile hop to Fiji;

Our worst breakdown at Sea;

Scammed in Suva;

Military coup in Fiji;

Cannibalism in Fiji -- Eating well is the best revenge;

The most feared passage;

New Zealand at Last!

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October 24 - October 28, 2006

Last Days In Tahiti

We hated to leave Tahiti, with its clear water and beautiful weather. Not to mention the great supermarket. But the hurricane season had started early this year -- there had already been two hurricanes -- so we really had to get out of harm's way. We were still over 3000 miles from the safety of New Zealand. The Pacific is just really, really big.

While we worked to get ready, the Tahitians were out enjoying paradise.

Tahitians take their canoe racing very seriously, and the kids start really young. The kids in this picture could barely see over the sides of their giant canoe.

Little kids, big canoe

Moorea looming ahead

But finally, after 5 1/2 weeks in Tahiti, we raised our anchor and sailed off to the west.

 

October 29 - November 5, 2006

Magical Moorea

But we weren't quite done with French Polynesia. We wanted to stop for just a few days at Moorea, a smaller island just to the West of Tahiti.

The anchorage at Cook's Bay in Moorea was quiet and peaceful -- much less traffic than the busy waters of Tahiti. Colorful sky in Moorea  

 

Moorea produces pineapples, and we saw loads of pineapple plantations on the hillsides as we explored the island. Pineapple plantations make good use of the hilly terrain

 

Removing bugs We dunked these pineapples in the sea to remove any bugs that might be hiding in the leaves.

 

Ron playing modified string instrument

We lucked into a delightful musical performance by Scottsman Ron Falconer at a local restaurant. Ron is a former sailor turned musician and author.

Ron also played a duet with one of the waitresses. (Actually, she was probably a man. In Polynesia you're never sure.)

Ron in duet with waitress

 

We also watched a traditional Polynesian dance show at the Bali Hai club. As usual the audience got dragged in -- you can see Ken out there in the background.

After the dance one of the locals complimented Ken on his enthusiasm, but told him not to quit his day job.

 

Ken strutting his stuff

Research In Paradise

We got a real surprise in Cook Bay -- we stumbled on a research station (the "Gump Station") full of undergraduate college students from UC Berkeley!

These students stay on Moorea for several months, each with their own research project. A lot of the projects involved diving on the reef to collect specimens, often in the dark. The students said the sharks could be a little scary at night. We're prepared to believe that. These kids were pretty serious about their work.

The student with the crab (below left) is studying how crabs muscles are able to generate so much power. The young woman in the middle wants to understand why similar species of starfish regenerate broken-off limbs at different rates.

Student showing off nice crab specimen Student taking measurements of sea creature Fragile tiny starfish

 

Tiny octopus The student studying these tiny octopii finds them by collecting rocks out on the reef, putting the rocks in a tub and waiting for the little creatures to come out of their hiding places.

We found the Gump station pretty inspiring -- education at its very best.

Nagging Problems

We knew we should get going, but we had just a few little problems we wanted to solve first.

Charlie helping Ken with plumbing project

Watermaker air leak Since before we left Panama, Ken has been trying to fix a little air leak in our watermaker. Air in the watermaker can ruin the high pressure pump, and Ken has already had to replace the (very expensive) pump head.

Our new friends Charlie and Suny have been living aboard "Cosmos" for many years and provided a wealth of information. Charlie (left with Ken) spent quality hours trying to help Ken track the leak. No dice, unfortunately.

 

Genset Impeller Failures Ken also explored our Kubota genset's cooling and exhaust system, trying to figure out why we kept blowing impellers on the cooling pump.

He discovered that the exhaust hose had overheated and delaminated during one of our numerous impeller failures. With its protective inner coating gone, the reinforcing wire quickly fell victim to hot exhaust and seawater. This puppy was ready to blow.

Ken quickly installed a new hose. But he didn't find anything to explain the impeller problem.

Failed exhaust hose

 

Beth soldering connector onto cable

GPS Feed Finally, Beth tried to figure out why we sometimes lose the GPS feed to our computer. She thought maybe the cable connector had corroded.

So she tried her hand at soldering the tiny wires onto a new connector. Her new connection was much stronger than the previous crimped version. Unfortunately it didn't solve the problem.

Well, we were zero for three at fixing problems, but we just had to go anyway. These three problems would follow us all the way to New Zealand.

Storm Sails

We expected some heavy weather on the passages to Tonga / Fiji and New Zealand. The New Zealand leg, in particular, can get really dangerous. We decided to get our storm sails out of their bags and see if we could remember how to use them.

Flying gale sail off forestay

We use a small sail hanked around our furled jib (left) as a storm jib. We can also run a small "trysail" up a separate track on the mast (right) in really heavy conditions in place of our mainsail.

We've never actually used either of these sails, so we needed practice.

Testing the trysail

At last we felt ready for the long passage toward safety.

November 6 - November 19, 2006

On Our Way West

Finally we set out for the west. But we paid the price for lingering so long in the Galapagos and Marquesas and Tahiti -- we had to sail for 2000 miles without stopping -- straight past all kinds of nice places like Huahine, Tahaa, Raiatea, and Bora Bora. We were just out of time. Maybe someday we'll get back...

We had brisk winds and bright skies as we left Moorea behind. Next stop: Tonga or Fiji, about 2000 miles away! Leaving Moorea and French Polynesia

It sure felt great to be underway again. Life becomes much simpler on passage. Barring emergencies, we don't have to do any boat projects -- we just focus on keeping the boat running well, staying rested and alert and enjoying the simple pleasures of nature and sailing. Feels like we're on vacation.

Ken fixing staysail drum We try to inspect the rig each day. Here Ken jury rigs a part that loosened up on our furling drum.

Unfortunately, within 8 hours of starting the trip, we blew our genset impeller (AGAIN!). After convincing himself there were no water blockages, Ken guessed that the internal surfaces of the pump must be worn out, and decided that we had to stop using the genset for the duration of the trip. That meant we'd need to use the main engine to charge the batteries. We were glad we had redundant systems.

Strange shadow on bimini One afternoon we heard a "thunk" and noticed a strange shadow on top of the bimini.

 

Thinking of Shigeo's squid, we peered VERY CAREFULLY over the front of the bimini to see what exotic creature we had collected. It was a brown noddy, far from home and in need of a rest.

In port we'd have chased this guy away (don't like the poop). But at sea we like to help fellow mariners.

Brown noddy resting on bimini

 

Ken with 44 inch wahoo After a fast start, the winds died down and became very shifty. We reduced sail and motored for a day, taking advantage of the calm conditions to land a nice wahoo.

 

Array of colors painting the sky The shifty winds brought the threat of squalls, but also gorgeous sunsets as the clouds gathered on the horizon. We were approaching the South Pacific Convergence Zone and we expected bad weather. Dramatic sunset

 

Beth had her birthday during the passage and Ken thoughtfully offered her a scrumptious chocolate bar he had been saving. Ken knows the way to this girl's heart! Party girl

 

Waves starting to build Then, as the forecasts promised, the winds and waves started to increase. The monitor wind vane handled it all with no problem. Blasting along in steady winds and waves

 

Racing along at almost 12 knots

For four days straight we had 25-30 knots of winds on the stern. We saw boat speeds over 10 knots pretty consistently (left) and we sailed through some of the biggest waves we'd ever seen (right).

The high winds quickly caused the waves to build

Surprisingly the dreaded squalls never materialized -- just lots of steady wind. With the boat moving so well, we decided to push on by Tonga and head for Fiji.

We had heard reports of an imminent military coup in Fiji, but we consulted by radio email with some sailors on the scene who said that nobody was mad at foreigners. Ironically Tonga -- where we considered diverting for "safety" -- had riots that burned 80 percent of the capital city just about the time we would have arrived. Tonga is one of the last absolute hereditary monarchies on earth, and many young people are agitating for democracy. By burning things down. Sort of like the French revolution, but without the guillotine, at least so far. We will try to get there next year.

Breakdown At Sea

After four days of 25-30 knot winds we expected some minor breakage. But we ended up with the most serious failure we've had so far, as the result of a cascade starting with a more minor problem.

In the middle of the night, with the wind blowing 25 knots, Beth heard a "bang" and scrambled to find the source of the noise. She quickly realized that the steering was going bezerk -- not a good thing when you are going downwind in 25 knots! Before she could get the boat back under control, we had an accidental jibe, and the boat shuddered as the boom came crashing across the boat. We didn't find out until the next day that the jibe had caused serious damage..

All that remains of windvane control line bracket

We lost steering control because the plate holding our monitor windvane control lines had fatigued and sheared completely off after about a million steering cycles. (Broken bracket at left.)

The control line sheave assembly dangled like a puppet in the cockpit (right).

Monitor control line assembly out of operation

Beth wrestled the boat under control and hand steered for a while. With the boat skidding along in big wind and waves, she didn't want to leave the helm to grab the autopilot control -- so for only the fourth time since leaving Chicago, Beth used the whistle to rouse Ken. Ken leaped out of bed and arrived on deck stark naked except for his lifejacket. (Fortunately for you, no pictures.)

Traveler car without turning block The next morning, Ken noticed an alarming sight -- the double pulley block that should sit in the center of our traveler was missing. (Picture at left shows the broken car, picture on right shows it after we fixed it in Fiji) The traveler controls our 950 sq. foot mainsail, so this failure potentially was very serious. Traveler car working properly with new block (installed after we got to Fiji)

Fortunately, the mainsheet bridge (the big piece of shiny stainless steel with holes in it) held everything together. But instead of running through the missing turning block, the traveler lines were chafing against the lashings that hold the bridge down. We couldn't expect this rig to last long.

Broken traveler car We did find one sheave and plate from the turning block, but we couldn't fix the broken pins or replace the missing sheave.

We were pretty worried. If the lashings holding the bridge to the traveler car failed, the big mainsail would be uncontrollable. We still had about 400 miles to go to Fiji.

We "hove to" and made repairs -- basically adding more lashings to the bridge-car joint. Heaving to and making repairs

We also used our satellite phone to email our friend, Rich Larsen (formerly of Manitowoc Marina) at Yacht Works in Sister Bay, Wisconsin for help. He arranged delivery of a new traveler car to Fiji. Later when we received the new part, we saw that it used a stronger design which took most of the load off the turning block.

We've seen this kind of thing before in the marine industry. The small market doesn't allow proper testing budgets -- so customers beta test the products. The failed traveler car had been a cutting edge product four years ago when we bought it, but it obviously had a design problem, now fixed.

Of course, accidentally jibing didn't help.

Shirt showing lots of wear and tear We also suffered a wardrobe malfunction. With all the scrambling around, Ken shredded one arm of his shirt. He finally just tore it off completely. A new fashion statement?

Threading The Needle

The wind was still blowing hard, it was getting dark and we were going fast as we approached the barrier islands and reefs of Fiji (Lau Group). The barrier islands are mostly submerged reefs, so a ship could sail right into them without much warning. Of course the GPS should keep us out of trouble -- assuming that it matched the map perfectly. But sometimes it doesn't. We hove to until morning, so we would at least be able to see breaking surf. The next morning we passed carefully through the strait, without ever seeing a visual landmark until we were through.

Navigating these waters really made us admire the early explorers. Imagine sailing through this treacherous area without charts -- you wouldn't even know there were dangers lurking just below the surface. With no engines. And ships that couldn't sail upwind to get off a lee shore. Wow.

The picture shows us crossing the international date line, where today becomes tomorrow (or yesterday, depending which way you're going.)

Beth was glad our crossing didn't mess up her birthday (it's possible to miss a day completely if you cross the line at midnight.) She might have missed out on that chocolate bar. Which leads to the question: What happens to your birthday if you lose it crossing the dateline? Do you skip your birthday and stay the same age for another year???

Crossing the International Date line

 

Huge island of Viti Levu Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji, is not nearly as dramatic as the islands of French Polynesia -- particularly the Marquesas. But we were ready for landfall and we were anxious to get busy with repairs.

After all of the well-marked navigation channels in French Polynesia, Fiji was a bit of a shock. We needed half an hour to figure out the confusing entrace to Suva harbor. And we were sobered to see at least two ships stranded on the reef -- including one that had missed the pass only a few weeks earlier.

November 19 - December 4, 2006

FIJI -- Welcome Back To The Real World

French Polynesia was such a wonderful place that it never seemed quite real. Prosperous, happy, friendly, beautiful people who seemed to make a living out of thin air, government that worked, and a beautiful pristine environment.

Fiji was different. The people were friendly to us, but there were a lot of underlying ethnic tensions. There was garbage on the streets and in the water, many people were poor and on the make, and the politics were pretty much of a mess. Sort of reminded us of Chicago. We felt right at home. :-)

(Actually they've cleaned up the water in Chicago.)

To be fair, we only got to see the capital city of Suva during our short stay, and the outer islands are supposed to be very nice.

We got our first introduction to Fiji when we anchored near a group of Chinese (or Taiwanese) fishing boats that were rafted up to a mooring. The crew on one of the boats gave us a friendly wave as they casually threw styrofoam packing material into the bay! Their boat trailed a long string of white garbage as the tide carried the stuff deeper into the harbor. A very different mentality-- nobody would do that in Tahiti. Foreign fishing boats rafted together near the anchorage

 

We don't want to know what this stuff is

Later an ugly scum rolled back up the harbor and surrounded our boat. Yuck!

To make it worse, we had to make fresh water here to build up a supply for the trip to NZ. We picked our watermaking moments carefully, depending on the state of the tide.

 

We saw lots of large Asian fishing boats in Suva Harbor. Fiji and other Pacific island countries have a hard time managing their fisheries. There is just too much water area to patrol and many of these foreign vessels fish illegally.

(Also some Fijians have accused their government officials of selling "legal" permits in return for bribes.)

Fishing boats in Suva harbor

We learned that some of the boats anchored near us were impounded, as they were caught fishing illegally in Fijian waters.

Garbage and litter tolerated in Suva Garbage on a typical sidewalk in Suva.

 

Adding to our sense that things were slightly out of control here, a Chinese fishing boat, which had recently gone aground at the poorly marked harbor entrance, caught fire and burned shortly after we arrived. No one intervened while it burned to the waterline. Fishing boat burned for hours

Scammed In Suva

Then, to make matters worse, we got scammed. As we walked around Suva, lots of genuinely friendly people would say "BULA!" meaning welcome. Often they would stop to talk or ask us if we needed directions. (Guess we didn't look like natives.) That was nicer than Polynesia, where everybody was polite enough, but a little reserved.

So we didn't think it was strange when this nice fellow came up to us, said "BULA!" with a big smile and asked us where we were from. When we said the US, he smiled with delight and said he had spent some time in California. What a concidence!

Then he said he wanted us to have something to remember him by, and pulled two carved, lacquered wooden knives from a small bag. He asked us our names and proceeded to carve our names into the lacquered surface on each knife. He even invited us to visit his village and gave us his name and phone number. Wow, what a great guy! We took his picture and he wrapped the knives right up for us and we put them in our backpack. We started to think about what we could give him in return. Maybe give him a nice print of the picture?

Getting scammed and liking it Beth with Apenisa, our new friend.

We needn't have worried. He hinted somehow that he usually got paid for his artwork. Can't remember exactly how he phrased this, but it was very clever. We felt awkward -- as if we had been greedy to expect to get something for nothing. Anyway, long story short, we ended up giving him $30, which was half of what he "expected," and maybe fifty times what the knives were worth. It took us about ten minutes to realize we'd been scammed, by which time our friend had gotten scarce.

Later we opened the package and saw that the knives not only had our names carved, but also several other names! And further names that were scratched off. Names of people who had obviously been a little more tough-minded than we were. Our friend had carefully covered those names with his hand as he wrapped the knives up, and of course we hadn't looked too closely as we thought the knives were a gift.
Cheap knife with Kens name carved
Cheap Fijian knife with Beths name

We felt really, really stupid -- we haven't been scammed like this in about 30 years (or at least that we know of). We intend to keep the knives, though, as they will actually make a great souvenir. And after all, they have our names on them.

Anyway, the next day another fellow came up to us with a hearty "BULA!" We talked pleasantly for a little while -- turns out he had just come back from California. Imagine that! But when he started to pull something out of a little bag, we suddenly remembered we had to get going.

About this time we realized that we were virtually the only foreigners in Suva, probably because most sane people had been scared off by the political situation. So basically we were the only game in town!

Political Power Grows Out Of The Barrel Of A Gun

Unlike French Polynesia, Fiji chose independence from its European colonizer (Britain) in 1970, and has struggled ever since with the problems of freedom, democracy, and ethnic diversity. You have to admire Fiji for not taking the easy road of dependence, because independence sure hasn't been a picnic. While we were there, Fiji teetered on the edge of its fourth coup since 1987. The army finally seized power the day after we sailed away.

Fijian army truck with troops on board An army patrol on the steets outside Suva.

The Australian and New Zealand governments have roundly condemmed the coup, but really it's not so easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys without a scorecard. Here's a quick scorecard:

1) Almost half the people in Fiji are ethnic Indians, brought in as indentured servants by the British to work the plantations. Most are tenant farmers on land owned by ethnic Fijians, and most are very poor. We saw Indian women begging on the streets in Suva.

Fijians and Indians working side by side to sell their produce in the local market. Abundance of food at Fijian market

2) Ethnic Fijians own about 90 percent of the land in Fiji, but the land rights are tied up in tribal trusts, can't be sold, and are used communally. Most ethnic Fijians are also quite poor.

3) Meanwhile, some of the Indians have turned to commerce, since they can't buy farmland. Indians (and other foreign ethnic groups including Chinese) own about 98 percent of all businesses in Fiji. As a group the Indian population earns about 70 percent of Fiji's income and pays 80 percent of the taxes.

Some of the Indian-owned businesses in Suva:

Indian shop More Indian shops Indian shops line the streets

4) And even after more than 120 years of living together, the Fijian and Indo-Fijian communities remain quite distinct, with their own dress and customs, and with little intermarriage.

Woman in traditional Indian dress Stylish Indo-Fijian woman (left center). Beth buys Mangos from an ethnic Fijian woman (right). Buying produce from Fijian woman on the streets of Suva

5) Now, having said all this, the people we saw all seemed to get along just fine. And the two really legitimate elections that Fiji has held since independence have both produced multi-ethnic coalition governments.

6) Unfortunately, both those governments have been overthrown by ethnic Fijian nationalists who want the Indians out of the country, or at least out of power.Some of these groups get pretty nasty, terrorizing Indian neighborhoods and the like. Consequently Indians have been emigrating in large numbers, and the Indian population has dropped substantially in the past few years. We visited the New Zealand embassy in Suva to ask about visas, but gave up because the place was swamped with Indians applying to emigrate.

7) During the previous coup, in 2000, a radical group seized the parliament and held the ministers hostage for several months. However the ethnic Fijian general running the army (Commander Bainimarama) refused to support the coup. After lengthy negotiations, the coup plotters tried to assassinate Bainimarama. He survived by diving out a back window, gathered his troops, counter-attacked, and the coup plotters were arrested and jailed. (Some were killed, possibly after they were captured.)

Suva prison across street from Suva Yacht Club

Suva prison. Despite the colorful artwork, one look at this place will keep you on the right side of the law in Fiji.

If you can figure out which side that is.

8) Unfortunately the elected government never got back into power, and a group of "moderate" ethnic Fijians ended up in control. This government held two elections to legitimate itself, both of which it won, but neither of which followed the rules laid out in Fiji's constitution.

9) Finally this government started to pursue a hardline agenda, including a law providing amnesty for the 2000 coup plotters as well as other laws changing property rights in favor of ethnic Fijians over hotel owners of other nationalities.

10) Bainimarama objected to these moves and overthrew the government when it refused to withdraw the legislation.

OK. Confused enough? Who are the good guys?

All of this made us appreciate the U.S., where the much disputed 2000 election at least played out according to the Constitution.

Daily Life

Our description makes Fiji sound like a terrible place. But it isn't, really. We found most of the people to be friendly and sweet, and almost pathetically happy to see that some foreigners were willing to overlook their troubles and visit anyway. Everybody knows that the economy depends on tourism, and that the coup won't help. We even found a fantastic Indian restaurant which we visited several times during our stay.

Young men wait with wheelbarrows outside the market to help with heavy loads. Young Fijians waiting to help customers at the market

 

Young Fijian girls enjoying after school outing School girls on an outing.

 

Fijians waiting at the bank. Note the bald guy in the gray skirt. In Fiji, lots of the men wear skirts, a traditional form of dress known as lava-lava. Some men also hold hands in public. Local people in line at bank

 

Beth with kids at Suva museum On a visit to the Fiji museum we ran into a group of schoolchildren on a field trip, who were really more interested in us than in the museum. They were totally sweet, and much better behaved than the rather aggressive Polynesian kids.

Fiji's Past

Fiji's past deserves a whole chapter by itself, (which we might write next year when we return to visit the outer islands.) For now just a few examples. First, in 1867 a missionary named Thomas Baker got eaten on the main island of Viti Levu. Well, the Fiji museum has the actual utensils and dishes used for the dinner!

The museum also has recipes for sauces and side dishes commonly used when eating people. The gift store sells replicas of the special four pronged forks used at such dinners. (Of course Ken had to have one.) Ken looking hungry

Also, Fijian society revolved around war and cannibalism in a way that seems hard to imagine, although it's quite well documented. People from competing tribes could get snatched, killed and eaten just to initiate a newly made war club, or because a special event called for a feast. As a result even the smallest settlements of a few hundred people would have elaborate fortifications -- with moats, earthen walls, and wooden palisades. Full scale wars could erupt over the smallest slight, and whole villages would sometimes be captured, cooked, and eaten. (Baking seems to have been preferred to boiling, contrary to the usual cartoon of the western explorers standing chest high in a pot of water.)

In contrast to our view -- that "Living well is the best revenge" -- the Fijians viewed "Eating well" as much more effective. One famous chief on Viti Levu claimed to have participated in eating 872 of his enemies. (The Fijians were also big on keeping score.)

The rest of this stuff, especially regarding the treatment of prisoners, is just too graphic for this web site, so we'll stop here. For those of you who want read a pretty good account of all this, "Fijian Weapons" by Fergus Clunie has a careful presentation with lots of source material.

Of course Western history isn't so pretty either, with almost constant warfare for centuries, tens of thousands of people burned for witchcraft, and lots of fortified cities and castles with moats, and high walls. Not to mention all the horrors of WWI and II. And lots of Western wars have been fought for reasons that no one can quite figure out afterward. And then there are those passages in Deuteronomy 20:10-18 and Joshua 6:20-21, which seem startling by today's standards.

Sometimes it makes you want to change species.

Still, reading about Fijian history will make you think that the Fijians were particularly off the deep end. And you won't get any argument from them on that point, as they have now completely changed their religious views. The tribe that killed Thomas Baker recently held a ceremony with Baker's descendants to ask forgiveness (which the descendants granted).

Don't know what they served for dinner at the ceremony.

Protius -- A Really Unique Sailboat

A few weeks before we got to Fiji, the harbor had been full of cruising boats headed for New Zealand. But by the time we got here there had already been two hurricanes in the South Pacific, and almost everyone else had gone. Except for oddballs like us. And Protius.

When "Protius" first showed up, we thought she looked pretty sinister -- like the black schooner in the movie "Dead Calm." (If you haven't seen the movie, it makes a good introduction to the cruising life.) :-) Imposing looking Protius

 

Eric and Judith have made a Protius a comfortable home

Eventually we finagled a tour from Eric and his girlfriend Judith. Eric is French originally, though you'd never guess from either his accent or his appearance. He bought "Protius" about 12 years ago for $14,000 in Holland. Built 60 years ago, she used to be a Dutch fishing boat, but he converted her to a sailboat by adding masts. Protius measures 125 feet (38 meters), counting the bowsprit (which Eric also added), and weighs TWO HUNDRED TONS, making her easily the biggest, heaviest, owner-operated sailboat we have ever seen. Eric handles her almost entirely by himself, as Judith is pretty new to sailing.

 

Beth meets the ship's dog, "Idefix" (named after a character in the French comic series "The Adventures of Asterix"). Eric and Beth with Idefix

 

Giant engine on Protius

Eric shows Beth Protius' 900 horse engine. Unfortunately the engine uses so much diesel that Eric and Judith can't afford to run it except to get in and out of port. They operate on a shoestring, having arrived in the Marquesas with less than $100 in the kitty. But Eric was able to find work, and now they have three TONS of diesel on board.

Which would not nearly get them to New Zealand

 

How's this for a belt-driven generator? If something breaks on "Protius", Eric just goes into his machine shop and fabricates a new part, using the 220 V power from this generator. Giant alternator in Protius engine room

Because her engine uses so much fuel, Eric and Judith have to SAIL "Protius" to get anywhere. And she's slow because she weighs so much. (Not to mention the drag from her four-bladed SIX FOOT DIAMETER propeller.) So the trip to New Zealand that ended up taking us 9 days could easily take them a month. And since "Protius" doesn't point into the wind very well, Eric just shrugs and says "If we can't get to New Zealand, maybe we'll go to Australia. Or maybe around Cape Horn."

Eric and Judith didn't have decent charts of Fiji when they came into its famously tricky, reef strewn waters. But they made it. They also don't have any way to get weather forecasting at sea. But Eric has been through one hurricane already without too much trouble. Protius is a pretty strong boat.

We were just in awe. Eagle's Wings will never again seem like a big boat. And our mechanical issues just pale into insignificance. Not our style at all, but wow!

Time To Go

We spent about two weeks in Fiji, mostly waiting for our new traveler car to arrive from the States. Once we got it in, we just needed diesel.

Using the dinghy to ferry diesel from shore Unfortunately, we couldn't get "Eagle's Wings" into the shallow fuel dock at the Suva marina. And the big ship dock, where they sell diesel by the ton, from huge fire hose size high-pressure hoses, wasn't practical. So we jerry jugged about 90 gallons, or well over 600 pounds, of fuel, in three trips using our dinghy as a ferry. We used to think this kind of thing wasn't possible -- now we just do it.

 

And then we sailed out, past the scorched hulk of that Chinese fishing boat. Leaving Suva harbor

We felt a little sad leaving Fiji without having contributed much to the economy except by buying some diesel and a few Indian restaurant meals. But we plan to come back next year, to explore the outer islands. We will avoid Suva harbor as much as we can, for obvious reasons.

Oh yeah, we also contributed by buying some great lacquered knives. We know how to get more if you're interested...

December 4 - December 13, 2006

Fiji To New Zealand -- The Dreaded Passage

South Pacific cruisers all fear the run to New Zealand. It's about 1100 miles if you leave from Fiji, and the really bad, unpredictable weather comes in the last 300 miles or so, as you approach NZ. (Assuming you don't have a hurricane chasing you from the north.) But that means that you can't time and avoid the bad weather, because by the time you've crossed the first 800 miles all the forecasts will have changed. Forecasts just aren't reliable for more than a few days.

So, anyway, everybody expects to get hammered on this leg, and everybody spends the whole trip through paradise talking about it and worrying about it.

We didn't even have a very good window -- the weather was predicted to get bad around New Zealand. But we also knew that the "Julian-Madden oscillation" was entering a hurricane cycle, and that in an El Nino year like this we could be in trouble from hurricanes real soon. Fiji sits right in hurricane alley.

So we really had to go, like it or not. Here comes the big test!

Beautiful Fijian sunset We set off late in the afternoon, and headed south, with a great sunset off to starboard. Gorgeous sunset on first night out

 

This stretch of water isn't as fertile as some of the other areas we've sailed through. We saw few flying fish and the ones that landed on our deck were itsy-bitsy (like the one at right). Sea life was sparse, except for this tiny flying fish

The weather was fine (high seventies) for the first few days but we heard that a low was brewing off New Zealand and would likely clobber us in a few days. We took advantage of the nice conditions to make the boat ready for rough weather.

We tied everything down below (didn't want any gear flying around if we got knocked about) and we rigged the line for the 4th reef in our main.

Ken stringing clew line through 4th reef cringle Ken climbed on top of the pilothouse (left) to string the clew line for the 4th reef. This job has to happen ahead of time or not at all -- no way we could do this in storm conditions.  

Finally we rolled up the genoa and hanked our "gale sail" storm jib around it, just like we had practiced in Moorea. From now on we would either use the staysail or the storm jib.

Mainsail reefed down to 4th reef point

The mainsail sure looked small (left) when we tested the 4th reef point. As a last test, we "hove to" with the staysail and reefed main to see how the boat sat with this sail combination. It worked great! .

We felt very seamanlike making these preparations. Come what may -- we had done everything we could to be ready.

Heaving to with the 4th reef in place

Ken also replaced our light air wind vane paddle with the heavy air version. You can see the seas have start to build (below left) as Ken works on getting the monitor set up. Sometimes a big wave would wash over the stern platform (below middle) --but Ken was strapped in nice and tight. The water temps steadily dropped as we headed south and BRRR!!! -- that water was cold!

Getting monitor ready for heavy conditions Ken getting a bath Putting on monitor paddle

 

Waves starting to build As the wind and waves built into the 30 knot range, the wind turned southerly -- right on the nose. Big waves building

The wind vane steered fine, but it couldn't make the fine adjustments necessary to avoid pounding into the big waves. We got going too fast -- flying off the top of the wave and crashing down the backside.

So we took turns hand steering for a while, and had loads of fun in the biggest waves we'd ever seen (12-15 feet).

Beth steering in big waves

And all I ask is a windy day

With the white clouds flying

And the flung spray and the blown spume

And the seagulls crying

--- John Masefield

Ken (right) is singing at the top of his lungs in this picture -- luckily we don't have sound on this web site.

Ken breaking out into song while tackling the big waves

Actually we didn't have any seagulls, as we were too far from land. But we did have an albatross!

It's hard to do these guys justice with a picture. But they look like no other bird. The have a wingspan of almost 12 feet, and the largest ratio of wingspan to body length of any bird.

Majestic Royal Albatross keeps us company

 

Royal albatross gliding effortlessly through the air

An albatross can fly in raging wind and big seas with utter calm and serenity, hardly ever flapping its wings.

Sometimes they would skim the water, touching the surface with their wingtips.

We were just awestruck.

Albatross glides effortlessly

 

Boat slidiing through the water while hove to, leaving slick

Finally, with the winds blowing 30+ knots on the nose, we decided to "heave to" until the winds and seas subsided. We could have kept going, but we didn't like to beat up the boat (and us).

Everything quiets way down when you heave to. The boat points a little bit off the wind and slips sideways at about 1-2 knots. You can see a smooth slick of water (left) created by the keel as the boat slips leisurely along.

The slick disrupts the waves and keeps them from breaking against the hull (usually.)

We were in a high pressure system that was getting "squashed" up against a low, so we had nice sunny conditions, but lots of wind and waves.

Ken enjoying snack while hove to For 30 hours we sat nice as pie while it blew like crazy all around us. The world inside our pilothouse stayed amazingly placid. Beth toughs it out in bad conditions

Actually we got a bit lucky, since the low pressure that squashed our high went on to become quite a big storm after it passed us, contrary to the original forecasts. We would have been OK in that 50 knot storm, but it wouldn't have been a lot of fun.

We were able to avoid the worst of the low by sailing west before we hove to, putting some distance between us and the low forming to the east.

Low sliding to the east doesn't look too fierce on Dec. 9

We were "hove to" at the "X" (left) as a low formed to the east. (The low is the small closed circle just to the right of the "X".)

Within three days, the low moved to the southeast and developed into a major storm (right). But we never got hit, and actually had calm conditions as the high passed over us.

Low developed into a serious storm within a few days

If you know how to read weather charts, remember -- everything rotates the opposite direction down here.

Nice to be underway again! Finally the winds and seas calmed down and we got underway again. We started to really get excited about our New Zealand landfall -- we were looking forward to gorgeous countryside and better chocolate chip cookies (to replace the really BAD ones we got in Fiji (right)). Our rations are getting desperate -- we're resorting to eating REALLY BAD cookes

 

Light winds near New Zealand

From riches to rags -- the center of our high passed over us and left us with about 5 knots of wind. We still had lots of fuel left so we cranked up the "iron genoa".

We kept the engine on even when the wind came back up, because we had almost 3/4 ton of fuel on board -- too much to haul the boat out of the water for bottom painting in New Zealand. Having too MUCH fuel on board is NOT a standard complaint on a cruising boat!

 

LAND HO NEW ZEALAND!!! What a thrill to see the "land of the long white cloud" (translation of "Aotearoa" -- the name the Maori call New Zealand). This landfall has been a major goal for us and we felt a great sense of accomplishment getting here in one piece!

Even a mile offshore we could smell the flowers.

Land ho New Zealand

December 13 - December 14, 2006

Landfall In New Zealand's Bay Of Islands

We pulled into the special Quarantine dock at Opua, which has no access to shore. Around here quarantine really means what it says, unlike the French Islands where you can usually waltz ashore for dinner and then clear in the next morning. We stayed on the boat.

Friendly, professional Opua officials

The next morning Deborah (Customs and Immigration) and Mike (Agricultural Inspection) boarded our boat -- the first customs/ immigration officials to ever board us. These folks were incredibly friendly, but very serious about their jobs.

Mike took all of our fresh vegetables (carrots, peppers, tomatoes, and onions), beans (all those great beans we bought in Panama), frozen hamburger, frozen egg beaters, and sausage.

But the crowning blow came when Mike confiscated four dinners worth of Beth's best chicken casserole -- cooked, vacuum sealed and frozen. Now really! Even he admitted that was a bit over the top, but the rules were clear.

Of course, when we later flew back to the states, the airport security in LA confiscated our toothpaste. We're not sure what's more of a threat -- toothpaste or chicken casserole.

Opua was hopping with all of the newly arrived cruisers, combined with the locals coming up from Auckland and other cities for the holidays.

But we planned to only stay a day before heading further south to Whangarei, where we had a reservation for the season.

Anchorage near Opua Harbor

We were blown away by the friendly and trusting New Zealanders. For example, one of the local hiking trails follows an easement right through people's yards. Rather than ignoring us or scowling at us as we tramped across their lawns, the homeowners would wave, ask us where we were from, and bid us a good day!

We've also repeatedly had New Zealanders invite us to their houses after ten minutes of casual conversation. That doesn't happen much in the rest of the world.

Hike To Paihai

We took a short hike to the nearby town of Paihai.

Walking along narrow part of trail

Parts of the trail wound along the side of the hill next to the shore so we had stunning views of the bay. The weather was just perfect for hiking -- sunny, but slightly cool and not humid.

Beautiful view of boats in Opua Harbor

 

And we couldn't believe the flowers... Gorgeous New Zealand flowers

More flowers....

Beautiful flower Beautiful flower Bird of paradise flower

 

Flowers along trail near marina Delicate flowers Flowers of all shapes and sizes could be had

After the two hour hike, we ended up in Paihai, a busy tourist town. We stopped at a little bistro, and had a delicious dinner. Their chocolate mud cake dessert was fantastic and Ken thought the wine was the best by-the-glass wine he'd ever had in a restaurant.

Beautiful flowers draping over the path

Let's see -- friendly, trusting people, lots of good boat craftsmen and mechanics, a very nice climate, great hiking, great sailing, good food, good wine, and flowers as big as your head.

Brilliant flower

Oh, and they give the kids a day off from school to watch the America's Cup sailboat race. (When New Zealand's in the finals.)

And they speak English!

We could learn to like this place.

December 15 - December 16, 2006

Trip To Whangarei, Our New Temporary Home

We loved the Bay of Islands, but we had to hurry on to the marina in Whangarei, which had been patiently holding our reservation, even though we were almost a month late and the marina was full to the brim. (We offered to pay for the month, but the marina owner Ray Roberts refused. Another example of Kiwi niceness.)

So we sailed about 100 miles down the coast to Whangarei.

Hole in the Rock, Bay of Islands We passed the picturesque "Hole in the Rock" near Cape Brett in the Bay of Islands. We read that you can take a sailboat through the hole, but no thanks!  

 

Ken took advantage of our quick jaunt to Whangarei to snag a nice albacore tuna. Even a tuna this small has a lot of meat. Landing meaty albacore tuna

 

Kayak drafting in our wake As we motored up the river toward Whangarei, a local Kiwi drafted us in his kayak. He kept up a friendly conversation, all the while paddling at six knots, until he finally got bored with going so slow, and passed us. These Kiwis are tough.

 

And finally Eagle's Wings settled into her new home at the Riverside Drive Marina. And, for the first time in a year and a half, we could plug into shore power and put city water in our tanks. What luxury!

Docked at Riverside Marina

Actually it would have been luxury, except that our Mastervolt automatic voltage transformer, that should sense 220 Volts and convert them to to 110, didn't transform anything. Just kind of sat there.

It took Ken two days to sort the problem out, during which time he almost burned up the boat by making a bad connection. (See fried connector at right.) But eventually he found a work-around and got the lights back on.

Melted connector and wire for shore power conversion

December 17 - December 29, 2006

Settling In And Exploring Whangarei

Ken scrubbing the bow We got busy with our first priority -- making EW look pretty again. Here Ken demonstrates a new way to clean the topsides. He's not harnessed in -- he's actually standing on the dockline.  

 

Celebrating Christmas at Riverside Drive

We missed not being with our families for the holidays, but we enjoyed sharing a Christmas party with fellow Riverside Drive Marina cruisers.

The people here are all long distance cruisers, from all over the world, and we heard some amazing stories. The couple in the center (Pam, seated, with her husband Scott standing behind, are the first legally blind people to sail across the Pacific Ocean by themselves. Check out their web site at http://www.blindsailing.com for their inspirational story.)

And the hiking around Whangarei, all within easy walking distance of the city, was just fantastic.

Strange, exotic-looking ferns were everywhere Most striking were the trees and ferns. They gave the place a prehistoric feel Tree-sized ferns towered overhead

We couldn't believe the variety and stunning beauty in a park within a stone's throw of the bustling city of Whangarei.

Everywhere you looked, the trees were unusual You could swear you were in the middle of a secluded wilderness Many of the trees almost seemed alive

Most striking of all are the giant Kauri trees, a type of ancient pine.

Towering Kauri tree looms over path The Kauri are enormous (and we haven't even seen the biggest ones yet), soaring straight up into the canopy. The bark is unlike any we've ever seen -- it looks more like snakeskin than bark. Strange, leather-like bark of the Kauri

 

Sharing path with cow

Part of the trail traverses a cow patch and we did some smooth talking to get the cow to share the trail with us.

The lush growth was also hospitable to parasitic growths, like the ones hanging from the tree at right.

Unusual parasitic growth on tree

Anyway, if the local "town" hiking is this good, we can only imagine what the wild South Island will be like when we get down there in March.

Standing above Whangarei Falls fan-like fern Another falls along trail

December 30-31, 2006

Trip To Auckland

We ventured south to Auckland, the sailing mecca of New Zealand, for the New Year's holiday weekend. This is the first time Ken has been off the boat overnight since the summer of 2005 and the first time since Beth has been off since last February.

The Auckland waterfront shelters a wonderful collection of boats of all shapes and sizes and has a fantastic maritime museum.

New Zealanders pay homage to KZ-1, their entry in the disputed 1988 America's Cup  

Kiwis are very easygoing, but they still get mad about the 1988 America's Cup race. Taking advantage of a loophole it the rules, New Zealand mounted a surprise one-on-one challenge to the U.S. with a huge sailboat "KZ-1" (left) that was about twice the size of a normal AC boat,.

Dennis Connor answered the challenge by building (horrors!) a CATAMARAN. Connor won the race, but the fight dragged on in the courts for months afterwards.

To the Kiwis this affair is right up there with the time French commandos sank the Green Peace ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbor.

These folks take sailing very seriously.

 

Instead of a leisurely outing on a tour boat, you can sign up for a brisk ride on NZL40, a boat built for an America's Cup race. America's Cup class boat takes off with guests

 

Looking east from the hills above Auckland Auckland spans the narrow peninsula between the east and west coasts. From a high vantage point, you could see the ocean on both sides: East (left) and West (right). Looking west over Auckland

 

Catching up with old friends

We really went to Auckland mainly to see Ellen from "Kika". We first met Ellen and her partner, Nick, in Curacao and caught up with them later in the San Blas and Panama.

Ellen was staying with friends and treated us to some wonderful home cooking during our visit.

Then we ventured out into the streets of Auckland to watch the New Year's eve celebration. Kiwis don't dress up very much, so they aren't really used to it. We got a kick out of all the strange get-ups. The women sported very "interesting" color/style ensembles. Some of the women obviously weren't used to wearing high heels and we saw a few minor disasters where women slipped and fell off tall spiky heels.

New Zealand women boldly making a fashion statement Being somewhat fashion impaired ourselves, we felt right at home. Pretty much anything goes fashion-wise

 

Hari Krishna dancers mesmorized the crowd The real stars of the street were a band of Hari Krishna musicians and dancers. Their hypnotic dancing and chanting drew an ever-increasing crowd as they moved down the main street, practically creating gridlock.

 

Just before midnight, we saw people looking up toward the Sky Tower. We followed their gaze and at midnight the tower erupted in fire and light. We'd never seen fireworks launched from a building high up in the sky and it was a dramatic sight. Fireworks blasting from the sky tower

Upcoming Plans

And so we have finally arrived in a place where we don't have to be quite so self sufficient for a while. We plan to travel home and then explore around the South Island. And work on the boat, of course.

We're very pleased to be in New Zealand -- sailing here was a big goal and it feels great to be here!