January 1, 2013 - December 31, 2013

 

HIGHLIGHTS

* Our Mast Almost Falls Down

* How to Know if You Should Get Married

* A Scary Passage

* Tragedy At Sea

* We Up Our Game -- Underwater Photography With BIG Gear

* The Strange Voyage Of "Spirit Guide"

* Pitchpoled On The Reef: A Near-Death Experience In Fulaga

* Missing Dad

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January 1 - May 28, 2013

We Dodge A Big Bullet -- Losing Our Rig

So then, in early January, it was back to Whangarei, and back to work.

Every year we get a professional rig check. We figure it's very cheap insurance, considering the number of boats that lose their masts every year. It only takes one broken fitting...

Normally the rig check will turn up a few minor issues. This year we found a doozy.

Brian, our rigger, told us he might have found crack up near the top of the mast! When we sanded the paint off, here's what we found. This crack followed the line of the weld used to make the taper at the top of the mast.

Obviously the mast had to come down for repairs.

 

And when we brought the mast down and went over it with a magnifying glass, we discovered another crack -- this time at the weld that was used to extend our stick to make the "tall rig."

We were shocked. But after much consultation with Forespar and a number of marine engineers, we decided that the mast could be repaired.

Terry, who runs the stainless shop at Riverside, and Victor, who works for him, ground out each crack and re-welded it. And then we covered each weld with a heavy aluminum patch (tapered at the edges to reduce the "hard spot" problem), which was glued and screwed in place.

 

We ended up with four patches -- one on each taper weld at the top of the mast, one on the weld for the tall rig extension, and one just above the forestay tang, where there were some very small hints of stress.

 

 

Here's one of the finished repairs, after painting.

 

 

 

But we still didn't know what caused all these problems. Forespar thought the rig must have been loose, but we always run with with the shrouds very tight, as you must with aft-swept spreaders. And we keep the backstay tight, the baby-stay permanently mounted, and we always use the checkstays. So what the heck was going on?

And then we found the answer when we put the rig back up. Our forestay is covered up by the foil for the furling genoa. There's a turnbuckle inside the foil, but even with the rig off the boat, you can't see the turnbuckle. That turnbuckle had been professionally adjusted and tightened (not by Brian) back in 2006, and hadn't been touched since.

This time we checked it. And the turnbuckle had not been pinned! Which means that it could slowly unwind, which it did over the course of six years, causing the forestay to loosen up. This allowed the mast to move around -- causing the cracks. And when we found it, the turnbuckle was only hanging on by a few threads! It would probably have come loose completely in 2013, and we would have lost the rig! Forespar was right after all.

We feel really stupid. But the problem happened so gradually that we didn't notice the change. Racing sailors would have figured out that the forestay was too loose, but we didn't see it, and since we don't sail to weather very much, it didn't really affect our sailing. But it would sure have made a difference in 2013, because we would have been wearing it around our necks!

Wow -- it goes to show that even if you're really careful and experienced, sailing offers an unlimited number of ways to screw up.

We're keeping a very close eye on the rig now!

A Cruiser Wedding

Then some new friends of ours, Bob and Ann on "Charisma," invited us to their wedding.

It was a very moving ceremony, and almost everybody cried. The Maori Catholic priest who officiated even provided the music.

Bob and Ann set out on their voyage almost as soon as they got together. We recommend this idea to all new couples. If you can sail 10,000 miles together, and still want to get married at the end of the trip, then your relationship can stand anything!

New Batteries

We decided to put some new batteries into EW. This might sound like a small job, but these aren't just any old batteries. We use two industrial forklift truck batteries, each weighing about 500 lbs and each storing about 550 amp-hours of power at 12 volts.

Our batteries sit down in the keel sump, where they form part of the boat's ballast -- so their weight really doesn't work against us.

Beth hides behind the new batteries, each of which weighs five times as much as she does. Fortunately she has uses other than ballast! Steve Eichler contemplates the rig for lifting the old batteries out. We hired a crane to do the job.

 

Here's the new installation. Steve figured out that the old installation wasn't really right -- if EW had been knocked down hard the batteries would have wanted to rotate on their mounting bolts, and if we had gone upside down, the individual cells might have dropped out of the case. Steve used high density plastic to lock the cells in, and to support the bottom of the cases against sideways rotation.

 

Leaving Time

And by now it was early May, and time was getting short. For one thing, Whangarei was building a new bridge just downstream from our marina.

Once they got it working, this thing would be a very nice lifting bridge. But, to finish construction, they were planning to close the river!! For a week in the middle of May, right as all the passage-making yachts were trying to leave!

And of course, it would be a week if everything went right... We decided to work really hard to leave before that deadline.

Beth does some last minute winch maintenance -- in her official role as "winch wench."

 

And then we raced down the river to Marsden Cove, to wait for a weather window. Ken says that looking at these pictures from Marsden makes certain of his "parts" tingle -- because being here means we are about to leave the safety of NZ, and launch ourselves onto the big ocean.

Our decision to hurry was a good one. After the bridge closed, the engineers broke some stuff and had to order some new bits. From China! So the bridge stayed closed for weeks -- trapping a bunch of boats. Eventually the protests got so loud that Whangarei agreed to use a crane to lift the center span for an hour so that people could escape. But it all caused a lot of heartburn and late departures.

 

Anyway, we got our weather window and it was time to say goodbye to Whangarei Heads and GO!

 

 

 

May 29 - June 6, 2013

A Scary Passage

This passage wasn't quite as easy as our last one.

As usual, we left NZ on the leading edge of a big high. The highs spin counter clockwise, so the leading edge has south winds. In this case we rapidly got into light winds in the middle of the high, so we expected to motor for about two days and then pick up the trades. Looked like a good trip.

And then, about two days out, we received a weather forecast over our Iridium phone. The following series of 10 "grib files" show the forecasted weather at twelve hour increments, going out six days. The little boat icon shows where we would be if we kept sailing at our current course and speed. (It really helps to view these picture full screen -- which you can see by clicking on the image).

 

Here, above, you can see that the predicted storm has intensified a lot. That wind barb with the little triangular flag in the picture on the left -- that's a fifty knot wind barb. Which would mean sustained winds of fifty knots, with 60 or more in the fronts and gusts. That's pushing 70 mph. No fun.

 

And we are headed uncomfortably close to it.

 

And above, as the forecast moves further out in time, you can see the next problem start to develop. If we turn west to avoid the storm in front of us, we'll be sailing right toward the next storm coming off Australia.

 

And that next one doesn't look like any fun, either. The deep red color in the center of the new storm means wave heights pushing ten meters. This is the storm which sank the Nina, which we'll tell you about later.

 

So we kind of have to thread the needle here.

For one of the very few times we've had to do this, we made storm preparations. Here Ken sets up the fourth reef lines for the main -- you can see what a small sail area that gives us, as Ken tests the setup. We also keep the trysail hanked on in its bag as a last resort.

 

Ken installs the dorade storm covers. You really don't want ten big five-inch holes in the boat if you go upside down!

 

 

 

And then we had nothing left to do except keep the albatrosses company. And come up with a strategy.

 

Actually, we did see another sailboat, off in the distance -- a very rare event on passage. He was making more NE than we were, and we tried to call to see if he knew about the storm. But no answer on the radio.

Strategy And Tactics

Most of the other boats turned west, following the advice of the same unnamed weather guru who had offered such dubious advice the previous fall. Some of these boats sailed almost 200 miles due west. We didn't think that made much sense, especially with another storm coming from the west.

We considered turning back -- no shame in that -- but figured that we had a better alternative.

We decided instead to slow down, turn a bit northwest, let the storm slide by in front of us, and then try to pick up the southerly winds on the backside as it went by. This was a bit of a calculated risk, but these storms almost always track toward the SE.

The key is that we weren't trying to cross in front of it. So as long as we stayed south and west of the track, we were pretty safe. If it turned south, the first winds to reach us would be easterlies and we would take those and follow the rest of the boats going west.

 

Here's our track on the chart about 24 hours later, showing our turn NW. Without the storm, we would be following that thick red line slanting up to the NNE, toward Fiji. On the right you can see the current weather situation -- the storm still hasn't really formed up, but we're starting to see some reasonable wind.

Here's how we hoped it would play out, based on the newest forecasts:

As the storm forms up, we hope to stay on the West side, in moderately strong south or southeast winds.

 

 

And then, at this point or maybe earlier, we would turn NE, rather than continuing NW as shown here. Turning NE would keep us in better wind, and also point us for Fiji, rather than off into the weeds.

 

 

If we played this right we would see winds in the 25-35 knot range, but not storm force. And nothing forward of the beam.

At this point, Ken said to Beth " You know, if we pull this off, we'll look pretty smart. And if it doesn't work, we're going to look like complete idiots."

 

 

Fortunately, it worked out. Things never got too exciting on board.

 

 

 

Except when a gust really heeled us up, requiring an emergency leg brace. Notice how Beth can do this without waking up.

 

 

 

 

This barometer drop would have been scary if we hadn't known exactly where the storm was.

 

 

In the end, the storm didn't move off quite as fast as predicted, which actually kept us in those nice strong south winds for a little longer. But eventually it disappeared to the SE, and it took ALL the wind with it. There was barely enough air to breath.

So the engine came back on -- we certainly couldn't wait around for the next storm to come get us.

Light air is nice for fishing, however. On the right, Ken uses our fish cleaning station -- on the ramp for the old liferaft platform.

We caught this big Mahi in broad daylight, immediately after we put the lures in. And it wasn't just us -- everybody reported good fishing on this passage. We think that maybe the floating pumice, which by now had attracted lots of marine growth, was supporting a whole temporary ecosystem where there would normally just be empty water.

 

 

That fish came off the gaff on the swim platform, and Ken had to go mano to mano with him, stabbing away like crazy with an ice pick. Ken ended up with a sprained thumb, which still bothers him a year later.

But you should see the other guy!

 

 

And here's how things looked as we finally motored into Fiji, after almost eight days on the water. We could see the next storm coming -- in both the forecast and in the clouds -- but it wasn't going to get us.

 

Back in Savusavu again. Yay!

 

 

 

 

Loss of the "Nina"

And now we have to talk about a tragedy. The "Nina," a 70 foot wooden, American-flagged schooner built in 1928, left New Zealand for Australia on May 29th, the same day we left. She was last heard from on June 4th, about 425 miles WNW of New Zealand.

Here are a few pictures of "Nina," which we found on the internet:

 

 

Her position means that the reddish area shown here would have gone right over "Nina," with around 26 foot waves. The winds don't look that strong in this snapshot, but they probably reached 50 knots. (The boat icon in this picture is EW, not "Nina.")

 

 

Her last message read ".... STORM SAILS SHREDDED LAST NIGHT, NOW BARE POLES. GOING 4 KT 310DEG WILL UPDATE COURSE INFO @ 6PM."

"Nina" had an EPIRB emergency satellite beacon and a sat phone, but the beacon was never activated. She was an old boat with some structural problems, and most of us think she probably blew out a plank or broke up, and went down very quickly.

"Nina" had 7 people on board, including one person we knew, Evi Nemeth, a 71 year old computer scientist and single-handed sailor, and a tough lady.

This is the worst sailing tragedy we have been anywhere near, and it makes us very sad.

R&R In Savusavu

Savusavu is a great little town.

Here are two different versions of fishing boats. On the left we have a "billi-billi" made from bamboo poles lashed together. And on the right some larger boats, used for open ocean fishing. They look pretty small to us!

 

Getting into the dinghy to go out to dinner at Harisan's restaurant -- an all you can eat Fijian buffet for $5.00 US per person. You sit at a big table with whoever else shows up. Everybody is friendly and talkative, and it's a great way to meet other cruisers and some of the low-budget resort guests. There are plenty of fancier places, too, although it's tough to spend more than about $25 US per person.

And there's always stuff going on.

One day we saw this police marching band going down the main drag.

 

 

So we followed along, and ended up at the fair ground, where the town was having a "crime prevention fair."

 

 

 

Buses brought kids in from all around.

 

We stayed into the evening, when there was food and music.

 

And all sorts of games.

 

But Savusavu can be a bit of a trap. It's protected and comfortable, and there are lots of good restaurants, and other cruisers around for company. We know cruisers who have come to Fiji and spent the whole season in Savusavu.

This year we were determined to get back in the water soon, so we packed up for the great reserve at Namena after only a week.

Getting Fantastic Underwater Pictures. It Takes BIG Gear!

Part of our urgency is that we really wanted to try out our new underwater camera gear.

 

We originally started taking underwater pictures with little point and shoot cameras, using the internal flash.

 

 

 

 

In 2012 we graduated to a "monster" rig, with big external strobes. But it was still based around a little Canon PS100 point and shoot camera. (Beth kept using the old rig.)

 

 

Here's Ken struggling to use the new rig. We had the strobe positions ridiculously high, because we didn't know what we were doing. But also, the PS100 just focused way too slow underwater. By the time the shutter finally clicked, the fish had moved. Or Ken had turned upside down!

So in early 2013, we finally decide to buy some really good gear. We have a unique chance to do some serious work underwater, so we decided to do what it takes.

On the left Ken shows off his new rig -- a Nikon D800 with a Nauticam housing and two Sea & Sea strobes. Beth wanted something a lot smaller, so she got a Sony RX100 in a Recsea housing, with just one strobe (at right).

We find you need two cameras. Otherwise the person without the camera will eventually strangle the person with the camera, who refuses to move as he/she obsesses on some tiny little fish.

 

The inside of the Nauticam housing -- you can see how complex these things are. It's like a swiss watch.

 

 

 

These cameras really made a difference.

Here's a small collection of some of the RX100 pictures. These are all from Fiji in 2013:

 

 

 

 

 

We're impressed with the resolution on this tiny camera. And the strobe really helps with color. But you'll notice that it does best with either wide-angle shots or else critters that aren't moving real fast. The focus speed is better than the PS100, but still a bit slow.

Now here's a collection from the D800:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We took all of these pictures (above) in our first four days of diving with the new gear! Wow!

And here are some more Namena pictures from the D800:

 

 

 

 

Working with the big Nikon is just a whole different ball game. With point and shoots you take a picture and then say "I think I got a fish in that one." With the DSLR, you say "Good -- that one focused on his eye!"

We got even better pictures later in the season -- which we'll show you as we go. Anyway, considering that this was our first season trying to do this, you can see why we're excited to get back and do some more.

 

So we were happily enjoying the tranquility and beauty of Namena, anchored in the lee of the island.

 

 

 

 

Interrupted only by the occasional poisonous "banded sea snake" taking a snooze amongst our lines... What could be nicer?

 

 

 

And then "Spirit Guide" arrived.

The Very, Very Strange Voyage Of "Spirit Guide"

We don't usually comment about other people's sailing, as we make plenty of our own mistakes. However, sometimes journalism demands the hard truth, so we're going to make another exception.

It was getting toward dusk -- too dark to see the reefs -- when we heard their radio call. They were inside the lagoon, asking for help finding the Namena anchorage.

 

 

Here's the normal approach to the anchorage.

 

 

 

The other boat in the anchorage got to their radio first and told him to come straight in. We thought this all was just a bit strange, because there's only one place to anchor in Namena, and it's perfectly obvious on the chart. Of course we didn't know yet that "Spirit Guide" WASN'T USING CHARTS.

 

 

The Amel Super Maramu "Spirit Guide"

 

 

 

A few minutes later we saw "Spirit Guide", about half a mile away, sailing parallel to the anchorage, and headed for the outer reef.

So we called, and asked what he was doing. He said he wanted to come to the anchorage but he was afraid he would "hit the reef that he saw on the transducer." Turns out that he was looking at the ISLAND on the radar, and mistaking it for a reef. We told him to hang a left and come straight in, that there were no reefs anywhere near him.

When he got close, he radioed that he didn't have a depth sounder, so we went out in the dinghy, with portable depth sounder and helped him anchor. Hmm, ok, sailing around Fiji in twilight with no depth sounder and no charts...

 

Here's "Spirit Guide's" owner, Billy. You can tell he loves his boat, because he has the name tattooed on his chest!

 

 

 

Billy said that all of his instruments, including his chart plotter, had quit, and that he had to make it to Denarau (completely on the other side of Fiji), as fast as possible, where somebody would fix everything for him. He said it was an emergency and he had to take some risks.

Ken pushed back on that idea, but Billy had his mind made up.

Next morning early, he called and asked if we could give him a compass bearing to the southwest pass, more than a mile away. It was calm and raining at the time, so there was no visibility on the reefs, and no breaking waves to show where they were.

To put this in perspective, trying to find a narrow pass a mile away in zero visibility with just a compass bearing would be like trying to find an exit ramp on the freeway with your eyes closed.

We convinced Billy to wait until after breakfast, and said we'd guide him through the pass in our dinghy, since we had a GPS track on our handheld GPS.

After breakfast we guided Billy to the pass, and got him safely through. (And by that time the sun had come out, anyway, so we could see the reef.)

 

As we said goodbye, we noticed that Billy's crew, Leon, had a really nasty, red, infection that had swollen up his leg and foot. We told him he had to get help right away, and offered antibiotics. Billy turned us down and said he had antibiotics, and would take care of it.

 

 

So we watched Spirit guide sail off...

 

Now, fast forwarding, we caught up with Leon about six weeks later in Savusavu, where he lives. Leon is an engineer, and a non-sailor, who says he doesn't know anything about navigation. He had just agreed to help Billy move the boat as a favor.

 

 

Turns out that Leon had brought a hand held GPS along, although neither he nor Billy seem to have used it. But it had been turned on, so it recorded Spirit Guide's track.

 

 

Here's what the whole three-day track looked like when it was printed out later. (It's NOT the straight line running from the top right and making a kink just below Namena. That's the route they were supposed to follow. Their actual track is the other line. The squiggly one.)

 

 

 

 

 

Here you can see their visit to Namena, and the exit through the pass. They were supposed to head southwest, but they seem to have been playing blind man's bluff with the reef for a while first.

 

 

 

 

We thought that EW had perfected navigation by bumping into things, but we were amateurs compared to "Spirit Guide"!

 

 

Then there was this strange bit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And a few more close encounters with reefs.

 

 

 

 

 

The track finally ended with "Spirit Guide" firmly planted on a reef near Tailevu Point, about 50 miles from Namena.

They managed to get the boat off with the help of some Fijian fishermen, but Leon abandoned ship at that point and caught a bus through the mountains to a hospital, where he finally got IV antibiotics for his life-threatening infection.

Leon wasn't real happy about the whole affair, to put it mildly...

Billy somehow found some new crew and ultimately got to Denerau.

All we can say is that Amel builds a very tough boat.

Going Remote In Fulaga

The Eastern islands of Fiji, known as the "Lau Group" had only been opened to yachts two years earlier.

 

 

So we decided to visit one of the gems of the Lau, the remote island of Fulaga.

 

 

 

We sighted Fulaga early in the morning, after an overnight passage.

 

 

And squeezed in through the narrow pass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fulaga has an enormous protected lagoon with lots of nooks and crannies to tuck yourself into, and great holding in deep sand. It's a cruiser's dream once you get through the pass.

By the time we got there, there were about 14 sailboats. That's a lot for this remote place, but the anchorage could have held 500!

We went right ashore to pay our respects to the chief and deliver the mandatory gift of kava -- a root that can be pounded and turned into a mildly sedating drink.

On the left, a villager shows us how they pound the kava. On the right Ken tries his hand -- looks like he's trying to go right through their pot!

 

 

We drank some of the kava with the villagers. It never does much for us -- looks like dishwater, and tastes kind of like chalk with a hint of pepper. But it's absolutely central to island cultures in the South Pacific. Probably more important than beer in Milwaukee!

 

 

Fulaga's only source of cash -- wood carving. The artists here use traditional tools. They create the basic shapes for bowls and ceremonial objects like clubs, which are then shipped to Suva for finishing work. (The artists in Suva have power tools!) The fellow working here had just gotten his reading glasses as a gift from one of the cruisers.

 

The kids were just beside themselves with giggles at all the strangers. They love to mug and make hand signs for the camera. Kids make these hand signs all over the South Pacific -- we don't know how it got started.

 

And they love to see the pictures of themselves.

 

 

 

 

The little ones were a bit more reserved.

 

A Near Death Experience -- Pitchpoled On The Reef

And then we had one of those experiences that can change your life completely in a heartbeat. We could have died on the reef.

It was a great photo op, and we had our cameras, but we didn't get the pictures, for reasons that will be obvious.

 

 

We mentioned that Fulaga has a long, narrow pass entering the lagoon.

 

 

 

It's a bit of a challenge coming in -- you really want good visibility, and you want to wait for the tide to slack off a bit. But it makes a great spot for drift diving, if you can solve the problem of getting back to your dinghy.

We decided to dive it with a group of other cruisers. One guy would collect all the dinghies as people went into the water, and would then wait with the dinghies at the end of the pass. Seemed like a great idea.

When we got to the pass, the tidal current was just starting to run. BUT, there was a very strong wind-driven current running across the pass, from SE to NW. That meant that the dinghies wanted to drift across the pass and onto the reef on the downwind side.

 

 

The red arrow shows the wind, the green arrow shows the waves. The red splotch shows where we went "splotch."

 

 

 

Of course we knew the wind driven current would push us across the pass -- we just didn't figure on how FAST that would happen. We set up on the windward side of the pass, to get our gear ready. Ken shut off the outboard so that it wouldn't tangle in the lines as we put the cameras overboard. That may not have been the smartest idea.

Anyway, we took Ken's camera and strobes out of their bag, set them down and zipped up the bag. Took about 25 seconds. And by then we had drifted across the pass and over the reef, which was covered with about three feet of water. And then a wave broke on us! Ken immediately started the engine, and put it in gear, but a second wave caught us before we could move. And flipped us stern over bow. The technical term is "pitchpoled," or less formally, "ass over teakettle."

Beth got thrown clear. Ken ended up under the dinghy. His first thought was that the propeller was still turning, and he didn't know where Beth was. Then he realized that he was also underwater and trapped between the boat and the reef.

But Ken got out, somehow, Beth got back to the boat, and the propeller stopped turning on its own as the engine sucked water.

Unfortunately, our very nice Mansen dinghy anchor dropped out of the boat, hooked in the reef, paid out the rode, and anchored us firmly in place, in the surf! Upside down! It was tied to the boat with a bowline, and there was no way to untie it under pressure.

A number of the other cruisers swam out to help us, at considerable risk to themselves, and we righted the dinghy. Ken borrowed a knife and set to work cutting the anchor rode while the others gathered up our gear.

Unfortunately, the rode was "spectra," which is a high-tech line that is as strong as steel. Unlike steel, you CAN cut spectra with a knife, if you have a serrated knife and lots of time.

It took Ken about 20 minutes, getting bashed constantly by the surf, to finally free the boat.

And then Rankin from "Gypsy Heart" brought his dinghy into the surf, over the reef, and towed us out (after rescuing Beth who had gotten bucked free from the boat and was floating across the reef)!

Amazingly, we got away unhurt -- partly because we were wearing heavy wetsuits, boots, gloves, and hoods. Although Ken thinks that the pounding he took while cutting the line may have started the rotator cuff problem that developed a few weeks later.

And, thanks to the determination and courage of our friends, we actually got almost all of our gear back, including two cameras and housings, and our tanks and BCDs. Ken's big camera (in its housing, of course) and strobes got bashed around in the surf on the reef, and came through without a scratch!

 

 

Ken holds the spectra line that took so long to cut.

 

 

 

 

We even went back a few days later with friends, and retrieved the anchor and rode. (If you ever want a very reliable dinghy anchoring system, we can recommend the five kilo Mansen with a spectra rode. We can vouch that it will hold you in anything!)

All we lost were a hand-held GPS, one swim fin, Beth's prescription sunglasses and a dinghy oar. Not bad, considering all the kit we had on board.

 

And, with some coaching from more experienced two-stroke mechanics from the fleet, Ken got the outboard running again. It looks a bit battered, but it's run fine now for six months.

 

 

We especially want to thank Mark, from "Blue Rodeo," who got some bad cuts helping us out and Derrick from "Idle Island," who swam out to help, lent Ken the knife -- and found it again after a huge wave ripped the line and the knife out of Ken's hand. (Ken now always carries a knife when we're diving.) And Jon of Evergreen, who also swam out to help. And Rankin (of course). And also John of "Midnight Sun" and Jock of "Just in Time", who weren't at the scene of the crime, but who helped afterwards with the outboard. And Bob of "Charisma" who helped us retrieve and anchor and chain.

Sailing Doesn't Suffer Fools

We consider ourselves very careful, conservative sailors. We pay attention to details, we like to have backup plans, and we don't take stupid chances.

Yet, within the space of a year and a half, we made three very dangerous mistakes. We hit a reef, we almost lost our rig, and we got flipped in the dinghy.

The bottom line here is that you can do everything right for ten years, and do one thing wrong for ten seconds, and you're dead, or hurt. This is just a very demanding business, and you can't let your guard down for a second.

You also need some good luck. And some good friends.

We will keep going. "A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for."

Another Watermaker Failure

We stayed in Fulaga for about a month, doing lots of diving and socializing. But strong trade winds made diving outside the reef very difficult. And the water inside the reef was not very clear.

 

Of course we took many hundreds of pictures, but got very few keepers.

 

 

 

But we did take this very funny video, which we call the "March of the Hermit Crabs." You can see it here on YouTube. We have no idea where all those critters were going.

And then, for the second time in two years, our watermaker quit. It doesn't rain much in Fulaga, so we had to run for Savusavu.

This time the big pump that powers our system just lost its oomph. Looked like maybe a brush problem.

But first Ken had to get the pump out of its incredibly inaccessible location, with a lot of other systems in the way. It took him two days, some carpentry, and a blown rotator cuff to get it out!

Ken hurt himself because he had to support the heavy pump assembly in an awkward position with his right arm, while he worked on screws and nuts and bolts with his left.

 

 

With the pump finally out, we could see that the brushes were indeed worn down.

 

 

 

But Ken also noticed that the plastic frame which supported the brush holders had a hairline crack -- probably allowing the brushes to move around and wear out faster.

 

 

Ken removed the frame, intending to glue up the crack until we could get a replacement. But when he turned it over, he found it was badly cracked on the other side.

 

 

 

And a closer inspection showed that the frame had already been glued up -- badly, with the pieces not even fitting together! This pump hadn't been out of the boat since it was originally installed in 2004!

The frame had obviously broken when the brush holder was riveted on, and then broken again when it was screwed into the motor. And both cracks had been repaired with glue -- probably on the assembly line at Bodine, the company that made the pump for Spectra. Instead of just replacing the fifty cent part!

Amazingly, the thing worked for ten years like that. But eventually one of the cracks had worked through to the other side, causing the brushes to loosen up and vibrate. Of course the brushes were old and need replacement anyway.

We contacted Bodine and told them what we had found, and they didn't argue -- they just sent us a new plastic frame.

Then it was time to put the pump back in -- and Ken could no longer use his right arm to lift heavy loads.

 

So he decided to use his head instead of his muscles. (Beth would say it's pretty much the same thing, just a different location.)

Anyway, he slid an uninflated fender in under the pump, added a few odds and ends to get some more height, and then pumped the fender up until the bolt holes lined up. And then used both hands to bolt the thing back together. Necessity is the mother of invention!

 

 

 

Ken was very proud of himself, though a bit rueful about his good right arm...

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, it was a few weeks before we were back in business again. So then it was time to bid goodbye to the rickety docks in Savusavu and head out to go diving again.

 

 

Makogai And Then Across To The West

We headed to the island of Makogai to meet up with our friends Steve and Lindsey of Jemellie. Like us, they are keen divers and underwater photographers.

We think diving with another couple is safer, not to mention friendlier. Gives you two dinghies and two outboards when you are far away from the mother ship. Plus, you're more likely to outnumber the sharks. And when the current is really strong, you can take turns, with one couple driving both dinghies, and picking the other couple up downstream. We use four foot inflatable yellow "sausages" to make sure we get seen.

Anyway, we dived our brains out in Makogai. Here are some of the results:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also visited the village on shore. No store-bought toys here -- you have to make your own. This seems to be a cross between a wheelbarrow and a chopper bike.

 

 

 

We stayed at Makogai until we had explored pretty much every dive site there. But eventually we and the Jemellies decided to make the passage across the top of Viti Levu over to the west side of Fiji. Ultimately we were headed for the infamous cruiser hangout at Musket Cove. (Where the "X" is.)

 

 

The passes between the two big islands are called the Bligh waters, in honor of the famous captain, who passed through on his way from Tonga to West Timor in a LIFEBOAT! (After being cast adrift by the mutineers.) That's over 3600 miles in an open boat. Bligh didn't want to stop in Fiji for fear of being invited to dinner... as the main course.

 

On the trip across we stopped in Voli Voli so that we could dive on the exotic dive sites known as E6 and Mount Mutiny. These spots are out in deep water 20 miles away from any anchorage, so we (and the Jemellies) actually paid real cash money for a dive charter.

 

We felt like we got our money's worth, though.

 

 

 

 

 

But we were now in a bit of a hurry, as Beth had reservations to fly out of Nadi, on the west side, to visit her Dad. So we pushed on toward Musket Cove, where Ken could comfortably spend three weeks alone on EW.

 

 

First we stopped in Lautoka, a nice working town on the west side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By our standards, eating is cheap in Lautoka -- that bowl of hot and sour soup was an appetizer.

 

 

 

 

 

But lots of people are very poor. These Indian farmers had their crops wiped out by the cyclone of the previous summer. They had come to town to take advantage of a one-time food distribution by some international aid agencies. It seemed like an example of aid actually getting to people who needed it.

 

 

We don't have much to say about Ken's stay in Musket Cove. He enjoyed himself, but said that it was a bit like the Caribbean. Comfortable and fun, but really just a tourist experience.

 

Although watching the America's Cup with a crowd of avid sailors was a lot of fun. The mostly Kiwi crowd was very polite generally -- even applauding when the American boat won a race. But they got progressively grouchier as the Americans staged one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, winning 8 straight races to take the Cup 9 races to 8 after being down 1 to 8.

Of course, calling it an American team is a bit of a stretch. Of the 11 sailors on "Oracle," only one was actually American. The rest were Kiwis, Aussies, Brits and so on.

 

 

And Ken also got a bit of excitement when the island ferry lost its steering as it was coming through the reef in 25 knots of wind. Ken was holding his breath as the giant ferry (those are people up on the bow) passed just upwind from EW, under tow from a small launch.

 

 

Then Ken jumped into his dinghy to help get the ferry into the narrow harbor mouth and down the channel. There were at least 10 or 15 cruising dinghies involved in the rescue, and they got the job done. Turns out that inflatables with 15 hp engines make excellent tugboats. We didn't even scratch his paint!

And Ken also did a bit of diving. Musket Cove was probably spectacular 25 years ago, but the resorts must put a lot of nutrients into the water.

 

 

The reef was pretty beat up, and the water was murky. But Ken was happy shooting little sand dwellers. By the time he finished here, we had shot about 5,000 underwater pictures for the season.

 

 

And finally, Ken found this warm and fuzzy guy to keep him company. These things have "praying" in their name. But if this guy has religion, it would probably be right at home in the Spanish Inquisition!

 

 

You've Got to Know When to Walk Away, and Know When to Run

So then Beth came back, and we began the leisurely process of getting ready for a passage. A pretty nice weather window came along, but we had at least two weeks of work left before we could sail. (Mostly installing all the new goodies that Beth brought back from the "land o' plenty.")

Beth hard at work on the electronics and computers.

And then, suddenly, the most important weather model began predicting a major tropical storm in about five days, headed straight for Musket Cove! The best refuge would be in the big port of Suva, but the trade winds were going to fill in tomorrow, making it almost impossible to get there.

So we just lashed everything down and left that afternoon, ready or not.

 

By the time we finished the overnight passage to Suva, the models had calmed down and the "storm" had turned into a bit of rain. And suddenly we realized that we were all packed and could still catch the end of this very nice weather window.

 

October 17 - October 23, 2013

Fast Passage

And so, about 24 hours after we got to Suva, we were checked out and on our way to NZ.

Here's what the window looked like. You can see a nice big, slow moving high -- strong enough to have some structure, but not strong enough to be dangerous, with isobars extending all the way from Fiji (where our track starts) almost to New Zealand. The wind would blow almost parallel to those isobars, so this is a very nice trade wind scenario for us -- wind on the port beam practically all the way down, gradually weakening, but only running out when we hit the center of the high.

 

And that's what happened, more or less.

Conditions were a little bumpy at the start. Here EW shows one of her bad habits. When waves break forward, the water can get trapped against the cabin top, and run all the way down the high side until it gets to the cockpit -- and then Niagara Falls. But we have two 1.5 inch scuppers and two 3 inch scuppers (visible in the second picture.) So the water goes right out.

 

And then, as the wind lightened up, some more of that great trade wind sailing.

 

 

 

 

 

Beth enjoys the ride.

 

 

 

 

And sunsets. And albacore tuna.

In the end, we made it in just under six days -- our fastest time ever, with several days over 200 miles. A really nice trip, courtesy of the storm that never materialized.

October 24 - December 18, 2013

New Zealand And Then Back Home

We've already talked a lot about New Zealand, so we won't dwell there. But we need to mention another change. In previous updates,we've told you about the two geese who have lived at Riverside for the last six years.

 

They were a totally faithful, committed and affectionate, if slightly confused couple -- both were girls. Every year they would lay eggs, which never hatched, for obvious reasons, and they would defend their nest even after the eggs cracked and rotted, until somebody finally stole them so that the geese could get on with their lives.

 

Anyway, this year a big mastiff attacked them on their nest. The white goose, Squeeky, stood her ground, and was mauled beyond saving. Braveheart called for Squeeky day and night for days after her mate was taken away. It was heartbreaking.

(As a postscript, we got a replacement goose for Braveheart to buddy up with, but they didn't get on, and the new goose left. But we've just gotten news from NZ that the new goose finally came back after four months, and they seem to be dating. The new goose is a girl, of course.)

December 19 - December 25, 2013

Dad

We hurried home to visit Beth's Dad, who would turn 101 years old on December 27th. We arrived on December 19th, and enjoyed a few great days with Dad.

 

 

Beth plays cribbage with her Dad on December 21.

 

 

 

Then, on December 22nd, Dad had a stroke. And three days later, on Christmas morning, he died.

We were devastated. But we were very grateful to be there for him. For ten years, since we left in 2004, Beth has lived in fear of not being there for her parents. And now she has been there for both of them.

He had a very full and happy life, and lived it well right up to the last moment. He played golf until he was 99, and he was playing bridge and going to exercise class with his friends the day before he had his stroke. He died two days short of 101. We all should do so well.

We are going to miss him.