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Building a Hard Bimini

Savusavu, Fiji
January 2013


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07 January 2013

As I've noted earlier, since Cyclone Evan tore up Musket Cove, the place just isn't much fun anymore. The (new) owners told me that repairs to facilities for yachties are at the bottom of the list. The Island Bar and the main wharf repairs will not even be started until May or June. That, and I'm the only yachtie left on the island. The others have gone elsewhere for the season.

With just a little urging from my friends at Savusavu, and the promise of a safe storm mooring, I've decided that I'll sail back and there spend the remainder of cyclone season. The route along the south coast of Viti Lavu is a bit longer than that around the north coast. And it's generally to windward. But it's open enough to allow sailing at night. And I want to get this passage over with as soon as possible.

I'm up at about 5:30, 8 January 2013, and I cast off from my mooring at about 7AM. I had to wait for enough sunlight to visually avoid the many patches of coral surrounding Musket Cove.

First problem I encounter is that Galena's engine is still starving for fuel... sometimes. As I motorsailed out of Musket Cove on Monday morning the engine sounded fine. For about 5 minutes. Then it started to surge and act like a diesel unable to get enough fuel. I thought I had resolve this. It was running fine yesterday. But today it's still 'broken.'

I thought about turning back and picking up my mooring and working on the engine to find the problem. About then it sorted itself out and began to run smoothly. Screw it, I'm going. I called s/v Stravaig on the phone and told Jose I was on my way.




Musket Cove is lower left, Savusavu is upper right, Track is red line


As soon as I motorsailed out through the opening in the reef I knew this was not really a nice day for a sail. The seas out there were 8-feet and the wind chop was another 3-feet on top of that. The wind and waves and current were from the southeast and of course I'm heading southeast for the first 30-nm of this passage. With wind and waves and current against me I really needed my engine to assist. But it would only run at about 50% power. Tacking back and forth I was only making about 3-kts through the water and only about 1.7-kts VMG.

The reefs around Fiji are nasty. The whole way around Viti Lavu I had reefs to my left. I wanted to stay at least a mile off but the further off-shore I go, the longer the trip.

I had planned on making the turn north at the southeast corner of Viti Lavu by dawn of day 2. In actuality it was the evening of Day 2 when I made that turn to the north and began actually sailing downwind.

Ahh, the evening of day 2. Tuesday. At about 5:30 I was watching the reef go by to my north when I suddenly realized that the water I was sailing through was muddy brown. Strange. I've been in deep blue water most of the past couple of years. Why was this water so brown? Shit, I wonder how deep it is. Now, Galena's depth sounder is very old. It only has a range of about 400 feet. After that it just goes a little nuts and starts throwing up random numbers. So for that reason I usually switch it off whenever I head off-shore. I switched it on and after a bit of start-up time it said, "42 feet." I was shocked! This can't be! The depth here should be over 1000-ft. I saw blue water to my front right. I had to get into deeper water.

I was about to turn toward what I thought would be deep, safe water as the depth sounder continued to read, "47, 53, 74, 68, 55" when my Raymarine Tiller Pilot (my electric autopilot) began making loud, clunking sounds. Within a minute the tiller was slamming stop to stop; the autopilot was suddenly broken. OK, have to replace it with my spare. Now, where is that spare... First, get Galena to deep water.

Just then there was loud noise from just over head. The mainsail boom suddenly swung around and smashed into the stays. I look and see that the boom bail has broken. The mainsheets were dragging in the water and the boom was swinging wildly about. I had to get that under control before it caused more damage. And I had to get to deeper water. As the autopilot was no longer steering Galena she had begun to swing away to the south. Then the 130% genny was backwinded and swung the bow completely around.

By now it's about 5:35. I dropped the mainsail and roped the boom in. I would have to wrap a bit of line around the end of the boom and attach the mainsheet to that. As I pulled the boom in I grabbed hold of the boom gallows at Galena's stern. The wooden piece with the notches for the boom broke off in my hand. Damn near fell overboard! The brackets that held the wooden gallows to the support bow had broken off. I threw the wood piece to the deck and finally wrestled the boom in and tied it off. Then I dropped the backwinded headsail to slow down Galena's motion toward the reef.

That's when Galena's engine decided to simply quit. So there I was, this is no shit, Wind and current pushing me toward a very nearby reef, no mainsail, no power, shallow water. I had had a bad few minutes.

So I got a bit of rope around the end of the boom and re-attached the mainsheet. Then I raised the mainsail. That gave me some motion and that gave me steerage. I turned Galena's bow south and headed toward deeper water and away from the reef. Then I raised the headsail and that gave me some speed (3 kts). I managed to get the engine limping again and that brought my speed up to 4-kts.

I'm looking at my chartplotter and seeing very little detail for this area. Should have been more info but wasn't. Just low-res charts. Then I remembered that I had not planned on heading back this way. I had removed all the charts of areas east of Musket Cove and installed the charts for areas to the west. I had just base-line charts for this area. Great!

Then I look closely at the depth sounder. Remember I said that after about 400 ft it just put up random numbers? It was actually saying four-point-two feet, five-point-eight feet. I was in deep water. I just had a demented depth sounder. And I was too groggy from lack of sleep to have understood what I was seeing.

It's getting dark as I make the turn to the north. With the reefs so close at hand I had not been able to sleep in the past 36 hrs. I was tired. I still had reefs to my left as I headed north toward Ovalau. I also had some shipping traffic to deal with. So again, I couldn't sleep this night, either.

By dawn I had passed through the cut in the reef at Makongai. I had 5-hrs of open water ahead of me. I went below, curled up on the port settee, and slept off and on for most of that five hours.

The passage around Namena reef was uneventful. Thankfully. I was approaching Savusavu and the wind was dieing away to nothing. I tried to start the engine. It didn't want to run. Finally it caught and chugged to life. Then it suddenly surged to full power and ran perfectly!

After about an hour of motorsailing I thought maybe I should save this 'good-running engine time' for my entrance into Savusavu. So I shut down the motor.

I came around the corner and into Savusavu harbor and called s/v Stravaig. The mooring field they were in is way back into the harbor. There's reefs back there that I was not familiar with. They were going to come out and guide me through them.

I'm having a fine sail into the harbor. No waves, nice breeze from a fair direction. Galena was prancing along at 6.5 kts. After an hour of this I start the engine and it sputters and dies. I try again. It comes to a stumbling life. I call Stravaig and say I may need a tow in. He and several others respond saying they were standing by with their dinghies. Nice to have friends.

As I approach the main mooring field at the Copra Shed marina the engine comes back to full power and I have no problem maneuvering through the boats and following Jeff to my new mooring. It's a convoluted route but it's sort of marked and if you stay off the coral heads the water is about 30-feet deep all the way in.



Galena's track for the final mile into the harbor at Savusavu, Fiji


I get tied off to the mooring and Jeff and Jose come over and give me a ride back to Stravaig. We have a beer and I tell them the story of my passage from Musket Cove. We play a little 'whatever-happened-to?" and decide to go into the yacht club for a beer.

It was very nice to see the old gang again. Pete, Bernard, Sheron, Leon, et al. But after only a couple of beers I needed to go home and get some rest.

Now it's 5AM and I'm ready to start cleaning up the mess inside Galena. The ride was so rough at the start that there's stuff thrown everywhere. You can hardly walk around inside. After that I have a lot of work to do on her systems; Starting with that engine.

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