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Voyaging to Fiji
There was a time when setting out on a five-day voyage would give me pause. Now I think of it as just a short sail to the next island.
Once the decision to leave was made (And I can readily understand why some people stay here longer; even years!) I started looking for a weather window. I figured the trip was about 400-nm and would take about four days. I ended up sailing 426-nm in 5-days with the engine running for the final 80 hrs straight.
There was the additional problem of the fact that the main islands of Fiji are protected by a row of reefs and islands along the eastern side. And that these reefs are about 120nm from the main islands. That causes a navigational/timing issue. I wanted to sail between the reefs in daylight, then had to stay pretty much awake for the transit to the main island, a full day further West.
An alternative was to head further North and go around most of the reefs and islands. But that route was at least 25nm (5 or 6 hrs) longer.
My routes and track between the islands of Vava'u, Tonga and Vanua Levu, Fiji
The wind was forecast to stay up around 15-kts until the weekend of 28 July. Then it would go light for the next several days.
I made the plan to clear customs and immigrations on Wednesday, 25 July, depart the main harbor and anchor at one of the out islands and actually depart Tonga on Thursday. My good friends, Rob and Pauline of s/v Changing Spots were currently out island and, if they were somewhere convenient I'd visit with them Wednesday night.
While doing the final preparations for going to sea I noted that my Icom SSB radio would not power-up. It's probably a loose connection. Or it might be that the thing has finally given up the ghost. That radio been splashed with seawater so many times I'm surprise it has lasted as long as it has. Just one more thing to work on 'tomorrow.'
As a happy little coincidence my friends James and Julie were leaving on the ferry to Tongatapu at midnight Tuesday. We had had an official going away party a week or so ago, but there was planned another, final, going away party at the Sunset Grill for Tuesday. That little gathering gave me the opportunity to say goodbye to all my friends, too.
Wednesday morning I went to Immigrations, Port Captain (paid $15 TOP harbor fees for two months), and finally Customs. I paid my mooring fees and was finished with it all in about 30 minutes. Then a final goodbye to Sandy, Lisa, and Greg over at the Cafe Tropicana and I was off.
I called Changing Spots and found them at a convenient anchorage just a few miles south of town. I motored down to anchor near them. We drank rum, ate popcorn and told stories. The usual cruiser evening. It was a perfect night with a clear sky full of stars and a gentle, warm breeze blowing off the island.
I went back to Galena a little drunk and ready for my next adventure. I didn't know it would come so soon.
I awoke at 2 AM to find Galena bouncing around and the wind howling. The wind had clocked around so it was blowing parallel to the shore with a fetch of a couple miles of deep water. That made for three foot waves that were streaming by and giving me a very uncomfortable ride.
Then I heard a growl from the anchor chain. I watched as Galena lurched back first 20-ft, then another 60-ft. I had the Rocna anchor down and 150-ft of 3/8-inch chain in 30-ft of water. The chain made an awful sound as it scraped over the coral while Galena danced back and forth. I was sure I was dragging. But I hoped it would catch on something before I either went into deep water or onto the beach.
At about 0330 I started the engine and was preparing to motor out into deep water and away from the island. There was no moon and I could just barely make out the island. But I had breadcrumbs on my chartplotter that would get be back to deep water. I waited. The wind continued to blow and then the rain came down hard. And Galena moved back another 30-ft.
I decided if she moved again I'd haul anchor and just head to the lee side of this island and motor around till dawn. Not a desired action but better than dragging back into a coral head. But Galena held. And from the way she was pulling on her anchor I felt she was set again. I shut down the engine at about 4AM and tried to get some sleep.
After dawn the wind died a bit. I was about to go over to Spots for coffee and to compare notes when Rob swam by and said he had just looked at my anchor. He said it had not moved at all! That I was apparently just straightening out my chain along the bottom. But he also said that my anchor's tip looked to be buried into the side of a rock. He said I may have some trouble getting it out. Not the kind of news I wanted to hear.
During morning radio nets Rob found out that the wind had been clocked at 47-kts that morning. Yep, a little windy. There was absolutely no warning of this little weather event. Every forecast had called for 15 or so knots.
Just before noon I said goodbye to Spots; Rob was heading back to Vava'u. After he left I hauled anchor and headed toward Fiji. The anchor came up without much of a problem. Just a little straight-up pressure and it popped loose. Sp I guess it wasn't as 'jammed into a rock" as Rob thought. With only a staysail and a double-reefed mail I was making good speed in the still fresh breeze. The wind was from the SSE at about 15-kts and I was heading West.
At 11AM on 26 July Galena's sails filled and she headed toward Fiji. As usual it took about 20 minutes to get her settled down and on course. I had decided to keep the Yankee jib attached (but not to raise it just yet). I had hoisted the main with a double reef that I had set up before I weighed anchor. Once I had the staysail up and adjusted Galena settled into a well rehearsed rhythm. Only a few minutes later I had Harvey the Helmsman (my Aries wind vane) properly adjusted and holding a steady course toward open water.
One hour after anchor-up Galena passed South of Hunga Island, off of the Tongan Banks and into the deep ocean water.
Sea conditions were excellent. An eight-foot swell with three feet of wind chop on top. All from the SE nudging Galena gently directly toward Fiji. This lasted almost exactly 24-hours.
Midday on the 27th the wind backed a bit more to North of East pushing me several miles north of my course. And while doing this the wind speed decreased until Galena was down to 1.5 knots. Now, I know I always say that I'm in no hurry, but come on! This was almost drifting.
So I fired up the engine and except for a couple of brief maintenance inspections that yanmar ran for the next 80-odd hours.
You can see that point on the track above. Galena is wandering around a bit and then, BAM! she takes a direct course toward Fiji.
It was about this time that I changed my route from a very safe, up and around the reefs plot to a more direct, right through the reefs and islands route. This would save me about 6 hours of travel time.
So the 27th through the 30th of July was spent going a bit crazy listening to the drone of the engine. Also, with no wind I had to disengage Harvey and revert to Tilly (Raymarine Auto Tiller Pilot).
Some readers may remember way back in July of 2011 when my Tiller Pilot failed. I had just left Panama and was heading toward the Marquesas. Harvey wasn't working well and with the loss of Tilly I almost gave up and turned back to Panama. But of course I didn't. But replacing the electronic auto pilot was a top priority while cooling my heels in Pago Pago. I replaced the burned out unit with a new one (a couple thousand bucks there). This was the first time I really relied on it to steer Galena for any length of time. Tilly worked fine.
I was still using the old drive unit. The drive unit consists of a motor and a ram each contained in an aluminum tube. These two elements are held together by a threaded collar. That collar is made of plastic! Several years ago I had accidentally leaned on the unit and snapped that silly piece of plastic. So I aligned it, wrapped it with duct tape, splinted it with PVC tubing and held the whole thing together with a couple of hose clamps. Looks like shit but has worked fine for about 4 years now. Oh, it was the electronic controller that burned out back in Panama; the drive unit was fine.
Tilly the Raymarine Tiller Pilot in place between the tiller and the gunnel.
Oh, and Tilly's power plug is all broken up, too. But it works. When it finally craps out I'll pull out the new drive unit from the new system I bought while in Am Samoa.
All during day two I had only the Staysail up. It was sheeted in tight and was only there to mitigate Galena's rather violent rolling motion. The wind had died but the seas were still acting up. Galena was rolling so much that I actually put a cushion on the floor of the main saloon and slept there. That is the point around which Galena rolls and pitches so the motion is minimal there.
By the morning of day three the seas were flat. They had that glassy look that says, "Boy, you aren't sailing anywhere today." so I dropped the staysail and just motored along at a slow, steady, fuel-sipping 3.5 knots.
The end of day three, with the sun sinking into a still ocean
I turned the camera around for a shot of yours truly. I'm generally a mess after three days at sea with no reason to shave, or pursue most personal hygiene regimens.
About 4 AM on 30 July I looked at the moonlight dancing on the calm ocean and was surprised to see land! Off both my port and starboard bows were low land masses. The moon was about to set and these land masses were just dark lines on the horizon. I turned on the radar. I took compass readings with my binoculars. I drew lines on my paper charts. Everything seemed to agree with what the chartplotter was telling me: "Galena is where she should be and so are the reefs and islands."
During the few minutes I was below plotting bearing lines on my paper charts the moon set. When I looked out again I saw only black, featureless ocean. No division between ocean and sky. Just black.
Yeah, I know (intellectually) that I could just proceed onto the banks and slide between the islands and around the reefs. All I had to do was stay on my plotted route line. Easy. The gaps were 3 or 4 miles wide. Not exactly threading a needle here.
We're talking about possibly hitting a reef. This is my home. This is my life. And, hey, the sun will be up in two hours. Maybe I should just drift out here for two hours and then eyeball my path.
I didn't feel comfortable driving onward when a two-hour wait would make me so much safer.
So I shut down the engine and drifted till sunrise.
Monday, 30 July
Showing where I drifted waiting for daylight and about where I was 12 hours later a sundown
When the sun came up on Monday everything looked perfect. Except for the continued complete lack of wind.
So I light off the engine and moved on to the banks. Understand, gentle reader, that I sill had over 120 miles to go. A full 30 hours of motoring until I reached port.
Morning, 30 July. The islands and reefs were right where they should have been
While motoring through the outer islands of Fiji I was impressed by the number of islands. These are much higher than those throughout Tonga. And they are all topped with the obligatory cloud.
Every island had it's own little cloud cap
As the day wore on I noticed I was no longer alone. Four boats that had left Tonga on Saturday were now about a mile south of me and passing me quickly. As it turned out I was number 5 into the harbor of 5 boats that Monday.
It was about noon on 31 July 2012 when I made the final turn and headed in toward Nakama Creek (the area between Nawi Island and the mainland (which, of course is also an island)).
The final approach to the mooring field at Savusavu, Fiji
31 July 2012
Savusavu, Vanua Levu, Fiji Islands
S 16 46.691 E 179 20.155
Trip: 426-nm/Total: 8940-nm, Eng Hrs:2870
I radioed in to the Copra Shed Marina for a mooring assignment and assistance with Customs and Immigration clearance procedures. They sent a small skiff out to guide me to a mooring ball. The guy took my line and passed it through the mooring pendent and I was secure. He said, "Welcome to Fiji, my friend. I'll bring the officials to your boat as soon as they are done with the other boats." So I waited.
Four official eventually worked their way through my paperwork. First was the health inspector. She asked a lot of questions about the state of my health, declared me fit, gave me a form and told me to go up to the hospital and pay a F$173 processing fee.
Next came customs and immigrations. Lots of forms to fill out. But no fees.
Then the Biosecurity officer came aboard. He charged me F$89 to take away my refuse. But he didn't take away any refuse. I'm not sure what the fee was.
Since I had to stay aboard until all the forms were filled out I had no local currency. They all said it would be OK to pay tomorrow.
I immediately went downtown. I found the ubiquitous ANZ bank ATM and got local money. I was walking past a bar with I spotted Kim and Tamara. A couple of Aussies I had first met on Moorea way back when. I stopped for a drink. I was completely wasted by the time I got back to Galena.
My big sister, Nancy, has a birthday next week. I have not seen her in a few years. She lives in Las Vegas and is holding my car for me. I checked the prices for airline tickets and booked a flight. I'm leaving Monday for two weeks in the desert. We'll continue this when I get back.
-- 3 August 2012, Savusavu, Fiji Islands
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