August 3 - November 28, 2011

HIGHLIGHTS

* Beth Tosses Her Cookies

* Renting Paradise

* A Seven Foot Long Sea Turtle

* Burnt Offerings

* Ken Abuses Shakespeare

* A Race To NZ

* Noah's Ark, After The Flood

****************************************************************************************

August 3 - August 9, 2011

A Rough Start

Normally boats leave New Zealand in May for the tropics but this year we were REALLY late getting out of New Zealand. It took us until August to get EW back together after the refit. We almost froze to death.

But finally we were ready to go -- destination Fiji.

An ideal departure would have moderate winds on the beam or aft of the beam. And we'd order up a nice flat sea. We like to have fairly benign conditions to start so we can acclimate to the motion and get our "sea legs". We always take seasickness medicine (like bonine) for the first day or two and we usually get used to the motion pretty quickly.

This year was different. The sea state was confused and rolly right off the bat. And then the wind built quickly with gusts to 35 knots. We were going fast in the right direction, but easy it wasn't.

Within hours of setting out, Beth got very seasick. Cooking below was a BIG mistake.

For the first time since we left 7 years ago, Beth lost her cookies inside the boat. The deed happened as she was getting into the bunk. Fortunately the result was a messed up Beth and floor, as opposed to a messed up bed!

Scene of the crime -- fortunately there are no real time pictures...

Ken heroically saved the day and cleaned up without a complaint. If he hadn't come to the rescue, Beth would probably be still standing there, immobilized!

With a stomach of steel, Ken reads underway.

Beth recovered after about 24 hours -- but that first day was pretty unpleasant. And to top it off, she got completely drenched twice while venturing out of the pilothouse without proper foul weather gear on. That'll teach her.

We had a few gear issues during the trip. Our Frigoboat freezer packed up AGAIN. So it was back to the Glacier Bay. Probably another obstruction in the capillary tube. We tried warming up the tube and banged on it (hoping to dislodge whatever was stuck) but to no avail.

Operator error led to a failure of the control line on our Monitor wind vane. The Monitor was struggling to control the boat in the rough conditions and we thought we'd help it along by giving a little tweak to the wheel. (Ken admits this was his idea.) Our big wheel applies so much leverage that it put a lot of stress on the line so it broke.

When the control line for our Monitor wind vane broke, the boat jibed accidentally. A violent accidental jibe can break gear and damage the sails, but fortunately, the rail vang prevented any drama.

We were supposed to break in the new engine on this run to Fiji. But the wind was so favorable for sailing that we didn't turn the engine on until the 4th day out.

In 20 knots of wind, EW's smooth, clean bottom kept our sailing speeds in the 9-10 knot range for long periods.

 

Blasting along -- it doesn't get much better than this!

 

.. Or maybe it does! Pretty hard to top a double rainbow.

As the weather and water got warmer, the clothes came off.

Tropical Ken makes his appearance.

 

Getting close -- outer Fiji Islands.

The conditions were too rough to fish when we left New Zealand, but as we got into Fiji waters, the conditions improved. Ken threw out the fishing lines and was rewarded with a nice Mahi Mahi.

Ken with his giant Mahi. He looks rather fashionable in his vinyl apron.

August 10 - August 30, 2011

Back in Savusavu

We loved being back in Savusavu -- our adopted home in Fiji. Soon after we arrived, we heard that the Fijian government had, after many years, loosened the restrictions on cruising the remote and tantalizing islands known as the "Lau Group".

We were expected to pay an anchoring fee to the villages we visited, but otherwise it was wide open. Apparently somebody won or lost a power struggle over this issue.

We jumped at the opportunity and headed for a gorgeous group of islands within the Lau Group known as Vanua Balavu (also known as the Exploring Isles). We had heard that the local people were welcoming and that the waters had great potential for diving. Our friends, Steve and Lindsay, decided to meet us there on their boat, Jemellie.

August 31 - September 27, 2011

Vanua Balavu -- Renting Paradise

Vanua Balavu lived up its billing as a very special place.

Anchored off Daliconi Village in the Lau Group.

 

Samu and his wife Loka greeted us, in their role as leaders of the "tourism committee" -- a rather grand title, considering that the village only has about 120 people!

The "committee" asked for a $100 anchoring fee, an additional $50 "contribution" to the village, and additional fees every time we went diving or snorkeling. (These fees are in Fijian dollars, worth about half of a US dollar.)

Samu had obviously been drafted to this role, and was quite uncomfortable about it. He and Loka, along with all the other Daliconi villagers, are really very nice people, accustomed to offering generous hospitality, and quite unsure of how to capitalize on "tourism."

Dealing with these requests posed a complicated question for us. First of all, cash anchoring fees aren't the norm anywhere. Second these weren't small fees -- the average Fijian wage in the "big city" of Savusavu is only $100 per week. (Again, that's $50 US) This is a bad precedent for cruising.

But villages in Fiji own their surrounding waters and reefs -- each village knows exactly where the property lines are. Aside from the hills where they grow taro, the reefs (and their fish) are the villagers' only asset.

After all, what would happen if a busload of Fijians set up camp on some farmer's land in Wisconsin and stayed for a few weeks, picking some corn when they got hungry, or maybe milking a few of the farmer's dairy cows?

So we negotiated a $10 per day anchoring fee, with unlimited diving and snorkeling, and an invitation to visit the village anytime we wanted. We expected to stay for about ten days, but in the end we stayed for a month, so we would have been better off with a fixed fee.

Samu showed us where to dive in the marine reserve on the outer reef -- with no fishing pressure there, the fish life should be spectacular.

He also showed us his massive scar from when the tiger shark bit him out on that reef!

 

In some ways life in Daliconi is very simple -- people grow or catch most all of their own food, and make electricity only a few hours a day, with a village generator.

On the other hand, many of the kids leave for other countries, so most families had children living around the world. In that sense these villagers have more experience with the outside world than many Americans.

 

Isireli, one of the village elders, and his wife, Elenoa, invited us into their home one Sunday and shared their lunchtime meal with us and the Jemellies. Traditionally, they insist the guests eat before they do! We hope we left them enough...

Isireli spent many years working overseas (including Japan) for a technology company, Technics. But he decided to come back to his village of Daliconi when he retired..

With a total population of about 120 people, it is a very tight knit community.

Many of the young adults (including Isireli's and Elenoa's children) have left the village for jobs in other countries. People do what it takes to survive and thrive.

The village does not produce anything that can be sold for cash and it needs money to buy fuel and other goods. So the government is helping them develop a black pearl farm in the bay off the village.

Kids playing hide and seek with the soon-to-be pearl farm equipment.

 

We sat in on a meeting where the villagers discussed the best strategy for laying out the "spat" (baby pearl oysters) collectors.

The villagers needed to put the spat collectors at the right depth, but they didn't have an accurate, easy method for determining the depth in their bay. So we offered to use our portable depth sounder to help them map their waters.

We tied off our dinghy to their skiff and drove around the bay, calling out depths, which they recorded.

Villagers laying out pearl farm float and spat collectors after locating the ideal spot. Hopefully this venture will produce a sustainable livelihood for the village.

(In addition to "tourism.")

The Bay of Islands

Then we moved to a remote anchorage in Daliconi waters, called the Bay of Islands.

At 88 feet of depth, this was the deepest we'd ever anchored. The Rocna held like a champ on about 3 to 1 scope, in up to 40 knots of wind from all different directions.

We didn't move the anchor for 26 days.

For much of our stay, we and the Jemellies pretty much had the waters to ourselves. We expect it will get more crowded once cruisers start taking advantage of the newly opened status.

Depending on what happens with the anchoring fees, that is. Cruisers are some of the cheapest people in the world, and many would consider $5 US per day to be far too much to pay for anchoring in paradise!

Super Yachts

Here's one clue about the expectations of the "tourism committee." Until this year the only boats with regular access to the Lau group have been super yachts.  

During our month in the Lau group we saw about ten other boats. Five of these were "super yachts." The term might sound ambiguous, but there's no question when you see one of these things -- big enough to be an ocean going naval vessel, with probably at least 50 people on board. These boats belong to some of the richest people in the world, and they can offer gifts to the villagers that swamp anything a normal cruising boat can bring. One of these boats gave the village 1000 liters of diesel!

"Cupcake" Islands

Words can't do justice to the beauties of the "Bay of Islands" cruising grounds in Daliconi's part of Vanua Balavu. But hopefully these pictures will give you an idea of the stunning beauty.

Exploring the Bay of Islands by kayak.

 

 

 

 

Shoreside Beauties

We took a day hike up to the privately owned Nabavatu Plantation on the NE side of Vanua Balavu.

The stunning vistas took our breath away.

 

 

Scary looking giant spiders. And just to give you an idea of size, Ken made Beth stick her hand up there...

Diving

We spent many glorious hours exploring the reefs with the "Jemellies", interrupted only when Beth broke a rib in a fall on the boat. That put her out of commission for a few days.

One of the great things about Fiji is that the villages actually own the reefs, and also have strong village governments that can make and enforce decisions. Therefore they have the means to set up no-fishing reserves. Without reserves, even a small village will eventually kill every big fish on the reefs -- as we saw all over the place in Tonga. Fishing reserves guarantee the breeding stock and give the villages a continuing supply of large fish (as they move off the reserve.) And they also make for great diving!

Here are some of the underwater wonders:

  The outer reef was very sharky, although we never saw anything more dangerous than gray reef sharks.

The Tiger that bit Samu didn't make an appearance, fortunately. Sharks have gotten a lot less common in inhabited areas, as people kill them to sell their fins, so it was nice to see them doing well here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

While all of the fish seemed very LARGE, none could compare with this giant sea turtle. If you look closely, you'll see a shark sucker underneath the turtle. The shark sucker was at least 18 inches long -- so that makes the turtle more than 7 feet long from head to tail! We were seriously worried the turtle might turn US into soup!

 

Even snorkeling along the rock faces and in the meandering lagoons cut in the small islands yielded a startling variety of fish and creatures.

The water was a bit murky in the lagoons, but that added to the mystery and delight when we saw many species new to us.

 

 

September 28 - November 2, 2011

Back "Home" in Savusavu

After almost a month in Vanua Balavu, we had to head back to Savusavu, as Beth was flying back to the States for a month to visit her Dad in early October.

We love Savusavu -- it's a natural gathering place for cruisers, and we now know lots of people on shore as well. Plus, we get to visit the fresh fruit and vegetable market -- something we couldn't do in Vanua Balavu. The market has practically everything -- including Green Bay Packers fans!

Beth and her new friend discuss the finer points of Green Bay's season.

 

We like to soak fruit in sea water first to get the bugs off. Steve from Jemellie was a good sport and helped Beth clean a massive bunch of spinach in bleach water. What a guy!

And even though the outer islands are spectacular, Savusavu and the nearby shoreline have their own unique charm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back To Work On Eagle's Wings

The most pressing issue Ken resolved to tackle during Beth's absence was getting the Frigoboat system back in operation. The Glacier Bay system works very well, but it is a huge energy hog and cannot be run off the solar panels alone.

We think we have gotten these obstructions because we had to cut the coupling off the end of the Frigoboat high pressure line in order to pass the copper line into our freezer box without drilling a hole in our vacuum insulation panels. A technician brazed the coupling back on inside the box, but that joint is probably dropping small bits of metal when it gets thrown around at sea. Even the smallest bit of debris will block the capillary tube.

 

Ken ordered a new evaporator panel to replace the clogged one and also planned to install an additional filter dryer to capture any future debris.

 

Unfortunately, when we unwrapped the plate back at the boat, we found that the tubing coming out of the plate had been damaged, allowing all of the refrigerant gas to escape. Someone probably dropped the package on its end. So, back to the drawing board -- we had to order ANOTHER plate.

A good lesson for the future -- always open packages at the post office before collecting them. Ken didn't do that, and the shipping insurance wouldn't pay off.

 

With Beth out of the kitchen, Ken spent many productive hours fine tuning the system after the new (intact) plate arrived.

 

Even though we were in a fairly civilized place like Savusavu, we couldn't get our computer fixed when the fan stopped working. Here Ken dives into the innards to check out the problem. After it worked for a while, it finally gave the ghost forever.

Burnt Offerings

While Beth was gone, the Indian Fijian population celebrated the Diwali festival (also known as the "Festival of Lights"). The festival has many meanings, but the main theme is a triumph of good over evil. It celebrates the return home of Prince Rama and Princess Sita to the Kingdom of Ayodhya after 14 years of exile. They returned on a moonless night and the people of Ayodhya put out lamps to light their path home.

Harisen and his wife Tala, who run the little restaurant at Waitui invited Ken and several other cruisers to their home to celebrate the holiday.

 

Harisen and Tala make a burnt offering. Turns out that Hindus, like the ancient Hebrews, burn food as an offering. But Harisan's sect burns vegetables, as opposed to goats, so there isn't any killing involved.
Inda (Harisen and Tala's son).

 

Here's a close up of the little plastic temple that Harisen used in his ceremony. At first glance, to jaded western eyes, this appears the height of kitsch. Taken by its own standards, however, it's a thing of beauty. And a close inspection shows that it was finished with a huge amount of fine hand painting, so it isn't a cheap, mass produced item.

November 3 - November 7, 2011

Squeezing Out One More Diving Adventure

After Beth's return, we set out with the Jemellies to revisit Namena, the marine reserve about 20 miles SW of Savusavu.

 

Anchored off Namena Island. We like to really protect our sail from the UV and put a tarp on under the sail cover. Sunbrella lets in a lot of UV.

Once again, these no-fishing reserves are fantastic. We only spent a few days at Namena, but the diving and snorkeling were superb. We even saw 3 Napoleon wrasse's at one time! For comparison, we had only seen four of these giant fish in our whole time in the Pacific. Sorry -- no picture. We'll try to get one next year.

To give proper credit, Steve and Lindsey took some of these pictures with their nice Panasonic.

 

We loved the "Chimneys" dive site.

 

 

The Chimneys are 50 foot coral pinnacles, surrounded by sand and coral flats that are 60 feet deep. So, since we didn't want to anchor on top of the pinnacles, (which would ruin the coral), we had to anchor the dinghies in 60 feet of water. This was a first for us, but it worked ok. However we've decided that we need a windlass on our dinghy!

Clouds of fish over the reef.

But, all the while we dived amongst these wonders, there was a big foreign fishing boat cruising up and down outside the reserve, taking the pelagics. We never saw its flag, but Chinese would be a good guess.

Fiji has a military government -- a complicated story, with lots of subtle issues. We might talk about it in a future update. Let's say, for example, that the present dictatorship is a big improvement over the previous, "democratic" government, which was hell bent on ethnically cleansing, or at least suppressing, Fiji's 40% ethnic Indian minority.

And since the local democracies, like NZ and Australia, have come down hard on the dictatorship here, Banimarama's government has gotten closer to the Chinese, who don't have those scruples.

And one issue with non-accountable government is, well, lack of accountability. So it's anybody's guess exactly how those Chinese boats get access to Fiji's crown jewels -- its pelagic fishing rights.

November 8 - November 16, 2011

Getting Ready For Passage

The season was quickly drawing to a close and we felt the pull to get moving back to New Zealand.

But you need patience. We don't want to set off in something that looks like this...

November 17 - November 23, 2011

Heading Back To New Zealand -- The Land of the Long White Cloud

We made sure to set off in better conditions than for the trip up. Beth wasn't keen to repeat seasickness. So we waited...

Apologies to Shakespeare

Some of our cruising friends were also waiting to leave for New Zealand, but it's becoming more and more popular to avoid the punishing passage down there by leaving one's boat in a "hurricane hole" in Fiji. The Vuda Point Marina offers some very strong moorings behind a seawall, as well as storage on the hard with the keels of the boats down in holes in the ground, to keep them from falling over.

We think this practice will continue to grow in popularity until the marina actually gets hit by a major cyclone. At which point it will become less popular.

While we waited for a weather window to head for NZ, Ken wrote the following ode about this earth-shaking dilemma. With apologies to William S.

 

To go or not to go, that is the question
Whether 'tis wiser in port to suffer
The winds and rain of outrageous weather
Or to go forth into a sea of troubles
And by running like hell, avoid them

To stay, perchance to get a cyclone -- ay, there's the rub
For in that storm of death what surge may come
When we have waited too long in this snug harbor
Must give us pause -- there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long a hesitation

For who would bear the winds and waves of passage
The storm's wrath, the nasty motion
The cold wet, the broken sleep
When he himself might his quietus make
With a mooring in Fiji?

But that the dread of something after November
The named storm, the 150 knot winds
The giant surge
From which no breakwater, no mooring line, no hardstand,
No hole in the ground protects
Puzzles the will

And makes us rather bear the risks we know
Than stay with those we know not of
Thus conscience does make heroes of us all
And thus the native hue of resolution

Takes us once again to sea
An enterprise of great pitch and motion
Where unknown currents turn awry
Toward the land of the long white cloud

Finally it was time to leave.

Racing to New Zealand

Our friend Roger on "Sea Hawk" had proposed a race. We don't really like to race cruising boats, because you can end up doing stupid things.

Besides, we might lose.

As it turned out, "Sea Hawk" left about 4 hours ahead of us (it takes us forever to get ready for sea). We just sailed like we normally do and figured if we caught them, great, and if not -- well, we weren't racing anyway...

 

We caught them in about 16 hours. Just after we passed them, we had a fish hit one of our lures. So we stopped, fought the fish for an hour, and then passed poor Sea Hawk again...

 

Boat Gremlins

Passages are never boring, and this was no exception. We had great weather for the trip, but boat gremlins reared their ugly heads.

The first failure happened on the 3rd day when the Monitor wind vane crush tube broke (if you'd read our logs in the past, you may remember this seems to be a repeated theme). Luckily we have an electric autopilot as a backup system. We don't like to use it, though, as it uses a lot of power.

Before Ken could even attempt to fix the wind vane, problem, he had to disable the system and remove the big stainless paddle attached to the broken tube.

 

Not a very fun job with the wind blowing 20 knots and the boat screaming along at 9 knots!

 

  Ken uses brute strength to loosen some very tight screws.
Ken with broken tube.  
Fortunately, we carry a ton of spare tubes, so it was easy to fix.

 

Ken reinstalled the paddle assembly and we were back in business.

And none too soon. A few hours later, when the wind died, we wanted to turn on the motor and use the autopilot. But now the autopilot died!

 

Ken diving into the steering compartment to check that the autopilot was getting voltage. It wasn't!

We pretty quickly traced the problem to a loose connection at the main electrical panel. Once that was tightened the autopilot worked like a charm!

Here's a close up picture of the loose terminals. You can see melted insulation and a cracked terminal on the breaker. This could have been really dangerous. It has inspired us to check all these connections on a regular basis.

Passages to New Zealand are infamous for their bad weather. But, for only the second time, we never saw wind over 25 knots on this passage.

Ken took these shots of Beth at the winch. Nothing very dramatic, but he liked the light. (And the subject.)

 

  Mostly we had great conditions...

 

...and beautiful sunsets.

 

And then there are the sunrises...

 

  And on the last day, Ken put out the fishing lines

 

And soon we had two albacore tuna on the line. A perfect way to end the voyage.

We got to New Zealand in the middle of the night, so we hove to for about 5 hours before venturing in to the Bay of Islands early in the morning. Many boats arriving at night come right down the bay.

We just don't feel comfortable going in at night, so we waited for dawn to head in to Opua.

November 24 - November 27, 2011

We stayed in Opua for just a few days before heading south to Whangarei.

It was great to meet up again with "Sea Hawk" and her crew, when they arrived... They had a good trip except right at the very end when a line got tangled in their prop.  

Noah's Ark, After The Flood

While we were in Opua, we met up again with George and Kathleen on "Kalalau", some cruisers we had met a few years ago at Whangarei.  

They told us a harrowing story of what happened to their boat while it was up the Burnett River in Queensland, Australia during the historic flooding in late 2010. George and Kathleen had left their boat at a Bundaberg marina to go back to the States. Catastrophic flooding wiped out the marina and their boat (along with about 30 others) went missing.

After some searching around, they found the boat lying in the middle of an island! Kind of like those pictures of Noah's ark after the flood receded. Amazingly, the boat was intact and a local crew was able to winch the boat back to the water where it re-floated almost good as new.  

November 28, 2011

As we headed to Whangarei from Opua (a day trip), we met Dietmar and Suzanne on "Carinthia", who were continuing onto Auckland.

  We took pictures of each other's boats underway.

 

 

These are the ONLY pictures we have of Eagle's Wings under sail in salt water! Too bad we were reefed down, (the wind had been quite strong a few minutes earlier.)

 

 

It was great to return to New Zealand again.

Anyway, that brings us up to last November, so now we're only six months behind!