May 19 - May 31, 2012



* Boat And Body Problems

* Albatross Alley

* Our Biggest Mahi

* Back Again In Savusavu

* Life On The Edge

* And Ken Posted An Update To Ken's Blog


May 1 - May 18, 2012

Getting Ready to Leave

Some years it's kind of hard to tear ourselves away from the comfortable life ashore in New Zealand -- a car, supermarkets, good hardware stores, and such -- to go back to sea. Especially since it's usually cold, dark and stormy when we leave.

But this year we were pretty psyched up. We're planning to spend the whole season in Fiji, doing lots of diving and trying to take some good underwater pictures with our fancy new camera rig.

Beth thinks that any fish that sees this thing coming at him is going to go the other way fast. But Ken is hopeful.

So, this year, we wanted to leave in early May, contrary to our usual practice of spending half the winter in New Zealand.

We got right down to our final details, like filling up with diesel, putting hydrochloric acid into the heads, ...
...and cleaning the bottom of the boat. (This was really cold. Ken wore a pile suit, a thick wetsuit, another wetsuit over the top of the first one, and two hoods. And he still got cold.)

But the Sea Gods didn't want us to leave.

Boat Problems

First, Ken's fuel polishing system developed an obstruction, just as we were making our final preparations.

Ken loves this thing -- it takes fuel out of a sump in the bottom of either tank, runs it through a big filter and then back into either tank. Ken likes to run it for days at a stretch when we're getting ready for passage, and he also runs it at sea, when the crud gets stirred up in the tanks.

OK, so fuel polishing is not exactly critical to sailing, but it has prevented us from ever having a fuel problem, and Ken hates to go off on passage without it. We know lots of boats that have had to limp back with dirty fuel. Ken finally got the system running again after several diesel-soaked days of work. He's thinking of marketing a new line of men's cologne: eau d'engine.

Then Beth went up the mast for our standard rig check, and found this alarming crack on one of the upper shroud tangs (see left). Close-up at right.

So we got a rigger to take the tang off, and had Alloy Stainless make us a new one. And missed a pretty good weather window.

Then Ken decided to fix a small leak around the transmission heat exchanger on our main engine. He figured that he just needed to tighten a fitting...

But instead we found that the hose had split (see left). Close-up at right.

So we had to get new hoses made up. This could have been bad, if this had blown up on passage, as it would have dumped all our transmission fluid.

Then our problems REALLY started.

Body Problems

We're used to boat problems. But this year we found a whole new category of trouble -- body problems.

First, Ken discovered that he couldn't stand up for more than ten minutes at a time without a lot of back pain. This may have had something to do with the 400 liters of diesel fuel that we had just jerry jugged from the gas station to fill our tanks.

Fortunately, our neighbor Frank, on "Laika," had been a massage therapist back in Switzerland. So he went right to work on Ken. That helped a lot.

Then in quick succession, Ken talked to a surgeon, got some help from a physical therapist...

...and went to an acupuncture clinic.

Some combination of all of these treatments managed to get Ken back on his feet.

Then Beth started seeing "squid ink" inside her eyeball.

Kind of looked like this ("artistic rendition")....

She went to an optometrist, who told her she was having a "vitreous detachment," but that everything looked ok. Turns out that vitreous detachments are "normal" for old people (or for people who are very near-sighted) like us.

But then a few days later she got more "squid ink" and went to see an opthomologist. That extra "h" and "l" and "g" really means something, because this guy had the gear to see more area inside her eye, and he found the source of the bleeding. The vitreous was still attached at one point to the retina in the "forward hemisphere." The vitreous was peeling away from the retina but has still attached in one spot (called "tenting") and had torn a small vein on the retina. Scary stuff.

The Doc said he would normally just watch this thing -- chances are it would be fine. But since we were about to sail offshore to remote tropical islands, he thought he should play it safe. So he used his laser to make 114 little "welds" in a circle around the tented bit of retina, so that if it tore, the tear wouldn't spread (and turn into a detached retina). The spot is outside Beth's field of vision, so she hasn't lost any eyesight. Except for all that squid ink, which will hopefully get reabsorbed.

Never Put Off Till Tomorrow...

Tim Parker, a good friend of ours, came up with a concept he calls "the time value of time." You know how the time value of money is "interest" -- so if you put off spending money, you will have more money later and will be able to do more stuff. Well, the "time value of time" says that if you put off doing things, you may not be ABLE to do them later. So there's a value to doing stuff right away, while you can. Our troubles this year have brought home the wisdom of Tim's idea.

Anyway, since Ken could barely stand up, and Beth had just had laser surgery on her retina, we decided not to leave on Thursday, and left on Saturday instead...

We had a pretty nice window, and we were probably better off sailing in calm conditions now, than waiting and getting beat up later. We were right, too, since the boats that didn't take that window were still waiting in New Zealand four weeks later.

May 19 - May 28, 2012

A Slow Passage

We normally make the 1200 mile run from NZ to Fiji in six to seven days. But this time we sure didn't burn up the race course. We spent nine days at sea.

For the first part of the trip we had light air right on the tail.

You're supposed to fly a spinnaker or at least a reaching sail in those conditions, but it was squally, and we're conservative for the first few days, as we get used to sailing again. So we jibed all over the place, and only covered about 120 miles toward Savusavu on the first day.
But it was a very pleasant sail nevertheless.

As we were skirting the middle of a high pressure area, we saw winds all over the map.

Albatross Alley

We didn't mind going slowly, because the ocean gave us a great show. Normally we might see one or two albatross on a voyage. But this time we saw at least a dozen, including four different species.

Ken got his camera going and managed to get some decent pictures -- shooting fast moving birds with a long telephoto lens, freehand, on a rolling boat, while trying to keep the camera out of the salt spray. Here are a few details from the pictures ("mollymawks" are a type of albatross).

Buller's Mollymawk


White-Capped Mollymawk


...More White-Capped Mollymawks


Black-Browed Mollymawk


Juvenile Black-Browed Mollymawk


Juvenile Wandering Albatross

This guy isn't supposed to get north of the Southern Ocean, so we shouldn't have seen him. But we guess he was wandering...

We couldn't get enough of these majestic birds -- and they were with us for several days. We can't resist sharing more pics...

Here's a landing sequence...

Getting into position to land...
Landing gear down....


Albatross just make flying look so effortless and joyful.


Joy of flying...

We think we had a fifth species -- a big royal albatross, but we didn't get the picture.

We saw other species as well. We think this bird is a grey-faced petral.

And then nature gave us a sunset that just wouldn't quit. Usually we would just post one of these pictures, but we couldn't choose among them...

By the end, it seemed like the earth had opened up and given us a view into Dante's Inferno. Fortunately, it closed back up and let us go, so we guess it isn't our time yet!

The Monitor Blues

Squalls are always an inconvenience, because they can increase the wind from ten knots to 30 knots in about two minutes. We can see rain squalls on the radar, but we can't tell how much wind they have. So you either reef down and go slow in the calm bits, or stay powered up and risk breaking stuff when it blows.

We're pretty conservative, but we still got caught once or twice. And we ended up breaking our Monitor self-steering windvane AGAIN. Twice.

Here's what the Monitor looks like in operation...

Eagle's Wings pushes the Monitor pretty hard. Most cruising sailboats go maybe 7 knots max, but we can go 10 and 11 knots when it blows hard. And there's a squared term in the equation, so the forces go up exponentially as your speed goes up. Which may be why the Monitor keeps breaking.

Although operator error may have something to do with the problem.

Our first breakdown happened just after Ken managed to get his leg caught in the control lines and really stretched one of the lines hard. It broke about ten minutes later. (The line, that is, not Ken's leg.)

Ken demonstrates his mistake.

And then, after we had repaired that break, we got hit by a squall with winds up to about 39 knots. With the boat screaming along at 11 knots, the monitor had trouble holding us, so we took it off duty and put the autopilot on. But we left the Monitor's rudder down and the wind paddle on. So the poor Monitor was maxed out, hard over, trying to steer the boat, and just getting hammered. And we stayed in those conditions for about two hours.

Following which the airvane weldment looked like this...
...and the crush tube looked like this.

Now really, we should have known better.

Here's what we should have been doing -- paddle off and rudder up.

We ended up heaving to for four hours just north of Minerva Reef as a series of squalls packing 39 knots hit us.

Anyway, after we got to Fiji we got the broken fitting welded back up, and replaced the crush tube. And ordered a bunch of new parts from the US .

And when the new airvane weldment arrived from Monitor, wouldn't you know, it had been strengthened to prevent this very problem! We've had that experience a lot with marine parts.

Fish On!

We fished the whole way from NZ, but didn't even get a hit. (Well, actually we got one hit, when a juvenile Albatross tried to take our lure. Thank heavens he didn't get hooked -- that would have been terrible.)

But then, just at dark, as we entered the fertile waters around Fiji, we caught our biggest Mahi Mahi ever...

It took us about 45 minutes to land her.


Here's Ken working the reel.


And then she was so big that Ken (in his newly delicate condition) didn't dare lift her.

Beth snapped this picture while the fish was still alive, so you can still see the Mahi's gorgeous colors. Mahi's flash iridescent golds and blues when they are in the water. And then, when you kill them, they go grey, like they've turned off the lights. It's heartbreaking.


Here, just a minute later, the Mahi has gone mostly grey. Also notice the circular "cookie cutter shark" scar.


Ken had quite a fight on his hands when he tried to kill the fish by driving his porcelain fish spike through it's brain. He ended up going right through the fish, putting a nice hole in the swim platform, and breaking his spike.


And she wouldn't fit on Ken's fish cleaning station, so he had to fillet her down on the swim platform, which gets constantly swept by waves. Ken said it was like cleaning a fish in a surf zone.

She made 12 two-person meals.

Bobbing Around

And then we stopped and hung out. You see, we didn't want to check into Fiji on a weekend, because the fees would about double. So we ended up heaving to for about 20 hours in Fijian waters, so that we could come in Monday morning.

The extra weekend fees would amount to maybe $130 US. We can remember a time when Ken valued his time at his exorbitant consulting rate, and the idea of having two people bob around for 20 hours to save $130 wouldn't occur to us. But that was then, and this is now... It's amazing what you will do when your wage rate is zero.

No cruiser would think there was anything odd about stopping. Have we mentioned that cruisers are the world's cheapest people?

Besides, it's not like we were suffering out there -- just reading and listening to music, without the need to work on projects. Kind of a luxury, actually.

We cheated and worked on a few projects... like sewing.

(We're still trying to integrate this idea into the "time value of time" concept. Obviously we don't have all the philosophical bugs worked out.)

May 28 - May 31, 2012

Back Home In Savusavu

So here we were again in Fiji, in the very nice town of Savusavu, with a harbor full of friendly boats, good beer, great restaurants that are cheaper than cooking for yourself, and a snug anchorage. (Well, moorings actually.)  

Approaching mooring area at Savusavu.


Sure was great to see Asiri, of Waitui Marina. He's got a boatload of officials, ready to check in another cruising boat. We were one of 12 boats that checked in that day.

Asiri's very unreliable outboard had quit, so he was making the officials paddle the boat!


We saw many cruiser-friends, like Rudee on "Belena," already safely tucked up in Savusavu after the passage from New Zealand.


Our friend Michael, who runs Waitui Marina (with his wife Kendra), greeted us on our arrival. He also runs Bebi Electronics, which is famous for making high quality LED lights for cruisers. Michael is an orthodox Christian -- hence the beard.

We sure love Savusavu. Even though it is a busy place, you can look out and see spectacular vistas.

Local on his way to a favorite fishing spot in Savusavu harbor, paddling a raft made of bamboo logs.

Life On The Edge

But there are always reminders of how close cruisers live to the edge.

First, we saw this new addition to the shoreline in Savusavu. This Canadian steel boat burned and then blew up last summer, probably because of a propane fire. Both people on board were killed.

And then two cruising boats hit reefs and sank within 50 miles of Savusavu. (Nobody died in those wrecks.) And that's just in the two weeks since we got here.

A week later, as we sailed along the east coast of Vanua Levu, we visited the remnants of one of those boats -- "Touche." She had started taking on water from an earlier grounding and finally went on a reef in Waikava Passage, as she was trying to head for safety.

After one week, this is all that remained -- the engine and a few wooden ribs. A reminder of the awesome power of waves crashing on a reef.

Then in mid-June, a cruising boat hit the island of "Late" on the way from Tonga to Fiji. The two-man crew managed to get a distress call out, but an extensive search, mounted mostly by other cruisers, failed to find them. The search found their wrecked boat, life raft, and dinghy -- so it seems that the sailors must have died in the fierce waves breaking on the reef.

These islands are intensely dangerous places to sail, with volatile weather and uncharted reefs. Lots of boats are lost every year. Close to the islands, smart sailors only move around (outside of well charted shipping channels) in good weather and between about 10:00 am and 3:00 pm, when the sun is high and you can see the reefs.

But, to put this all in perspective, you can also get killed watching Batman.

Anyway, we're very glad to be alive, and here, and we're looking forward to a season of diving. While we still have the time!