Saturday, September 28, 2013

Savusavu Rocks

This was our view of from the mooring in Nakama Creek where we've spent the last week.  You're looking at the very heart of our port of entry - Savusavu.  It's a one-main street, no-traffic light kind of place.  And we loved it.  The convenience for getting yachtie errands done was incredible.  I went ashore at 9 one morning and, after getting money from the ATM, bought: beer and kiwi fruit at the grocery store, yaqona (kava) at the market, an internet voucher at the wireless kiosk, a bula shirt at the bula shirt store, had my hair cut poorly for $2.50 US, and was back on board for a cup of coffee by 11.  We yachties are a very practical lot, and nothing is more endearing to us than a place where it's easy to get things done.  Plus the people were invariably friendly and engaging, plus the setting is beautiful - I would just look out the portlight at odd moments during the day to watch the different shades of green on the volcanic hillside shift in relation to each other as Galactic swung around the mooring.

This is our third season in the tropical South Pacific, and we're still discovering low-hanging fruit like Savusavu.  How are we ever going to leave this ocean basin?

We have, though, at least left Savusavu.  After a quick jump three miles out to an anchorage in Savusavu Bay and a day spent finishing up a research proposal before we leave internet access behind, we are now poised to launch out into Fiji...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Good Travelers

I find myself enjoying the company of all sorts of people who happen to be sailing around the Pacific on their own boats.  There are those who burn for the limitless space of the ocean and pour themselves into epic passages one after another.  There are the family crews, of course, balancing navigation and engineering tasks with bedtime stories and nappies and home schooling.  There are the mellow retirees, happily not working while they follow the trades on a life-long dream realized.  And every now and then there are the mad adventurers, who are tilting at windmills of vast ocean and seemingly inadequate boat, perhaps because these challenges are more tractable than the ones they find in their own heads.

My very very favorite sort of sailor, though, might be those ones who are obviously just good at traveling.  They extend themselves, they put themselves in interesting situations, they interact with the locals, they make friends, they understand something of the places they visit.  Marinas bore them to the point of anger.

We had the good fortune of crossing paths with just this sort of sailor here in Savusavu, an American singlehander who has just gone back to the States for the birth of his first child (there's a long back story).  This guy has found nothing better to do with himself in recent years than to sail everywhere in Fiji, well off the beaten tradewind path, and to vigorously get down with the people in every village along the way.

So, for us, sitting down in the cockpit with this guy and a chart and letting him just talk about Fiji was quite a treat.  We regretted our short season here, and started to wonder about our chances for just one more season in the southwest Pacific so that we could start to do Fiji and Vanuatu justice.

No idea if that will happen, of course.  But, more immediately, listening to this new friend talk about how good Fiji has been to him has done serious damage to my desire to want to sail to Australia this season.  We could flog ourselves to get all the way to New South Wales before we turn around and sail to New Zealand - or we could just enjoy an extra month in Fiji...


We so rarely leave the sight of water on our travels.  So it was a pleasure to load the kids into a cab the other day...

...for some highland eco-tourism.

We managed to behold the collared lory (that's an endemic parrot of Fiji) and the Fiji green tree skink.  And we heard heaps of barking pigeons.  That's a pretty good tally when you're birding thick forest with a three year old...

It was also our 12th wedding anniversary.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

From Wallis

We're  in Fiji, and a whole new world - Melanesia - has opened up before us.  

The differences from Polynesian Wallis and Tonga are many, and immediate.  Most obviously, Fiji, even the provincial town of Savusavu where we cleared in, teems.  There is a hustle and verve here that is completely absent from Neiafu.

Of course, sometimes you're not looking for hustle and verve.  But so far it has made a nice contrast.

The boys had their post-passage ice cream cones the day we arrived...and a second round the day after. After eating out once in the seven weeks that we were in Tonga, we've already had dinner out twice here.  The prices of Fiji (say, $3.50 US for a lamb curry) have us acting like sailors in port, treating ourselves at every turn.  And they have also engendered daydreams of ending our sailing years (when we do) by moving ashore in some place where you don't have to earn a bucket of money every year to get by...

We ended the passage from Wallis like this.  A flat sea, and two reefs in the main just because we didn't want to arrive in the middle of the night.  A mahi mahi has just come aboard and the crew is content - the best of tradewind sailing, the ineffable peace of the sea.  Notably, Eric didn't get seasick, and I didn't get a migraine.

And, the flip side - the ineffable pain in the neck that can be life in port.  I won't bore you with the details of how it happened, but we shipped a big slug of diesel into our port water tank.  Luckily, the tank wasn't feeding into the water system when it happened - we always keep the two water tanks isolated from each other at sea - and I realized what had happened before the contamination could spread beyond the one tank and the water cooling for the fridge.  But it's been a tedious couple of days to set things right - scrubbing, rinsing, flushing, repeat.  That's me, shoulder-deep through the access port at the top of the tank, trying to scrub the fuel out of the far corner so that we can provide ourselves with clean water.

Lord Jim: "There is no life like the sea where reality falls so short of romantic expectation."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Slowly into Fji

We're in easy striking distance of Savusavu, but are going as slowly as possible and will heave to for the night in order to check into the country during office hours. Fiji does not have the reputation for being relaxed about official matters the way that Wallis & Futuna and Tonga do, so we're making the effort to do things correctly.

The last 24 hours have been languid sailing, ruined only by the accidental introduction of diesel fuel into our port water tank. I'll have a mess to deal with in Savusavu, and redoing a bunch of poorly thought-out plumbing will be high on the list in New Zealand.

But! We ate fresh Mahi Mahi for lunch, and Alisa will tempura-fry the other half with fried banana for dinner. It looks like Eric will accomplish the passage without being seasick, just as he did the much rougher passage from Tonga to Wallis. Things may be improving on that front.

And we're out here, sailing the Pacific with the family. Even the regular days are pretty good.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On The Beam

All well on board. We left Wallis yesterday at high tide, at what we thought would be slack water for transiting the pass. As it was, a knot or two of current spat us out of the lagoon. Since then we've had fresh winds on the beam. So the decks have been wet, the cockpit has occasionally been invaded by spray, and the motion has been just short of comfortable.

But on this second day out we've all gotten our sea legs. Even with two reefs in the main we've been moving along at 7-8 knots. It was too rough to fish yesterday, and today after four bites we have yet to bring a fish on board - everything has been too big for our gear.

I'm fighting off a migraine - hopefully successfully. The autopilot that gave us a little trouble on last passage has (touch wood) been working flawlessly. A new chapter in Fiji awaits.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

We're Not In Futuna

Wallis is, of course, half of the French possession of Wallis and Futuna - two widely separated island groups in Polynesia. We were in Futuna two years ago and had a great time. The wind was in the correct direction to make the dicey anchorage work, it was a short dinghy ride to town, once ashore you were right in the thick of things, the people were over-the-top friendly, and fewer than 20 yacht had visited during the whole year. a little different. With the trades booming, the only tenable anchorage appears to be this little bay in the reef that is home to us and the other nine yachts that are currently visiting. Shore is a long way away, and once you go there you're just on a little road 10 km from the main town. No beach for the boys (always a primary concern for us) and the snorkeling is rotten.

The people, though, are just as friendly as the people in Futuna. And we did get to see the closing ceremony for the Pacific Games.

But aside from that, there's not much to hold us here. That's a big part of traveling - you give a place a try, and it holds you or it doesn't.

It looks like we'll be heading off for Fiji in a couple days.


Remember? I said to Alisa.

Remember all those months and years and centuries and millennia and aeons, all that endless time before you were alive?

No, said Alisa.

Me either. So before we go back to that, before this waking dream ends, aren't you glad we're doing this with our time?


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Oz Is So Far

It really was quite a good passage up here from Tonga. In particular, we all got our sea legs quickly, and took the somewhat lively sailing on the second day well in stride. But the passage did real damage to the chances for a crazy idea that we had been cooking up - to finish our season in the tropics by sailing directly from Fiji to Australia, spend a month in Iluka (our spiritual home) and then sail across the Tasman to New Zealand.

It all sounded so doable in the cozy anchorages of Vava'u. We find that we have grown very fond of Oz, and would love to have just one more month in Iluka before we shift ourselves away from the southwest Pacific.

But sailing Fiji-Australia-New Zealand instead of Fiji-New Zealand would add a hell of a lot of passage time to our itinerary. And the coming season in New Zealand is already looking full - with the science work I have to finish up, with a trip back to the States to see family, and with the inevitable round of boat preparations - there's a lot that will have to happen if we are going to be ready to leave En Zed in March or April. And this last passage reminded me, at least, that passagemaking requires a bit of effort. Not sure if it would be wise to try to squeeze in a visit to Australia...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Actually, It Was a Good Passage

We pulled into Wallis before noon today. Though not without a bit of drama at the end ("the sting is in the tail", we used to say in my climbing days) it was a fine passage.

Most notably, Eric didn't get seasick, in spite of some fairly booming winds and three meter wind waves. And I, for my part, came through without a migraine.

There was the small tuna that we caught on the first day out ("thank you, fish"); just the right size, and at the right time, for dinner. Something primally big took our lure an hour later, but was gone after a few jumps to show us just how big tropical pelagic fish can be.

The boys got along fine, and I re-read them most of the first Narnia book. Elias commented on what a great time we were all having.

The wind vane gave up on the second day out, apparently unable to handle the loads imposed by our 18 tons on a booming beam reach, so we switched over to the autopilot. The massive wahoo that we caught that evening ended up, after it was dead, being a massive barracuda, a much less palatable choice for ciguatera-phobics like us.

Then, this morning, with Wallis in sight, the usually stalwart autopilot stopped playing nice. Alisa hand steered while I consulted various computers to figure out the state of tide and our chances for still waters going through the pass. Then, with that sorted out, I fired up the engine.

Except that it didn't fire up, really. It just sputtered at lowest RPMs, and would produce nothing more when the throttle level was moved.

A quick inspection showed that the bracket holding throttle cable to engine had come adrift. Accidental engineer that I am, I had put the recent appearance of odd behavior in the throttle on the mental "fix it in New Zealand" list, instead of inspecting it immediately. So as penance I got to do the job on the fly after we tacked away from the entrance to the pass - pool of sweat collecting around me on the engine room sole, dropping my wrench under the engine in my haste, wondering if I was using the right set of holes on the bracket.

Then, the long troughs and white crests of the trade wind swell coming ashore, and ourselves through the pass at full RPMs.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Finally Leaving...

That's it for us and Tonga...

Tomorrow we set sail for Wallis, and a new chapter.  There are plenty of stories from Tonga that I never got around to sharing on the blog, but time, and bandwidth, have not allowed.  So I'll make do with a final dump of pictures...

And tomorrow, the solace of the open sea...

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The World Opens...and Closes

I was looking at during our last trip, getting information for clearing into Wallis and Fiji, when I saw a story about yachts attempting the Northwest Passage that had become stuck in the ice, with the seasonal ice minimum apparently past.

I don't know any more details than that, and I don't mention the situation in order to get on my soapbox and derive lessons from other people's distress - I always find it faintly reprehensible when people do that.

Instead, I mention it because we have (well, I have) entertained notions of having a go at the Northwest Passage ourselves - it's the ocean route through the Canadian Arctic, and has a Moitessier-esque appeal as the logical route to get us from the Atlantic (assuming we get that far) back home to Kodiak.

We've never gotten to the point of planning on the trip seriously, but the incredibly low Arctic Ocean ice minimums of 2007-12 definitely caught my eye. We've met a few people who have been through the Passage, and during a good year it's quite an "easy" proposition compared to the epic struggle that the trip presented a few decades ago.

And the Northwest Passage is part of a global trend - as yachts and gear have improved so dramatically, and navigation systems and weather information and communications have improved at an exponential rate, plenty of places that used to be off limits to most private yachts - like the Antarctic Peninsula, and South Georgia Island, and even the Tuamotu Archipelago, have become more or less routine to visit. But the huge year-to-year variability in Arctic ice reminds me that all of these places, more or less, still involve an incredible adventure to visit. And, as always, we choose our adventures with the the children on board as our foremost concern.


Meanwhile, the clock is rapidly ticking down on our time here in Tonga. We're having one last visit to the "Blue Lagoon", with a like-minded family the only other boat in the anchorage. Yesterday was likely our last family snorkel in Tonga - and we saw our first-ever lion fish. This afternoon we'll proceed up to Neiafu to be well positioned to water up and check out for Wallis tomorrow...