Maskelyn Islands

The crossing to the Maskelyne archipeligo off Malekula island goes well. Good wind and no one ill. The arrival was dodgy however.

There is a bit of a bay and we could see the village. But as we entered the bay it became very shallow. Spill the Wine draws six and a half feet and I was reading 8 feet on the depth sounder when we decided it was time to turn around. Our rudder scraped on something as we made our turn, so ya, shallow.

We exited and turned the corner looking for another bay to anchor in. it’s about 4 pm. It will be dark soon and we need to find a place to park Spill The Wine. Maybe 15 kts of wind and water choppy. Less than ideal for anchoring.

I have hoisted Kat up the mast so that she can get a bird’s eye view of the water looking for comfortable depth. I think it’s her favorite place on the boat. She reports that there is a small fishing canoe pursuing us.

One of the men from the village has come out to tell us that indeed we were almost in the anchorage and we just needed to go a little bit further. Martin offers to show us the way.

A bit of a leap of faith here but we decide to trust local knowledge. We follow Martin through the pass and he was right. It once again became 8ft deep and we draw 6 1/2. Aggghhh! But then it went to 30 feet and we can anchor quite nicely.

I put the dinghy together and went to shore quickly to thank Martin for his help with our passage. He invites us to shore the next day for a tour of the village.

The next morning we wake to find Pirates in the anchorage.

They look friendly so I invite them aboard. This thing with the hand signs is all over the South Pacific.

We go ashore for the village tour with Martin.

One of the local kids shows us how to climb trees for coconuts.

So the locals set a bad example and the siblings are sucked in!

There are wells on the island for drinking water.

Folks still collect roof water for other than drinking purposes. This we saw all over the South Pacific.

I spoke to the principal of the school. They have a large capacity water maker. He explained that the high pressure hose blew out. Asked if I’d take a look. Something broken? That’s my thing.

Nice install. Well organized. Good tool supply. Whoever did this even thought to leave behind extra high pressure hose.

And yeah that hose below looks ready to be retired.

I was able to use the sealing ferrules over again on the new hose and soon they we’re back in the water business.

New hose looks happy.

I spoke to Lynn. She’s the person that put this system in. She wants to know what the specific gravity of the various battery cells is. She is in New Zealand and wants to know ahead of time so she can get new batteries shipped in before she arrives. She says there should be a hydrometer present in the tool kit. Well maybe there was, but no longer. What to do… I don’t have a battery hydrometer. But I do have a beer hydrometer! Let’s try it.

Extracting some battery acid for testing.

And here is the result. Being a beer thermometer it’s not calibrated for battery acid. But the first photo shows the hydrometer sinking. Almost all the cells showed the hydrometer floating like in the second photo. So Lynn thought there were some dead cells and she was right. Anyway she is happy to have advance information so she can plan her next maintenance visit.

The boys got to play more soccer here. And left a couple gift balls behind. Yay!

We did eye examinations on the siblings just for fun. They passed!

We also did something Kat called the dinghy challenge.

he boys both were able to launch the dinghy from Spill The Wine, start the motor properly, run to shore, deploy the dinghy wheels, beach the dinghy, relaunch, stow the dinghy wheels, and land the dinghy on Spill The Wine’s stern. They did a fine job on all points. Nice work Lukas and Simon!

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Nguna, the Village of Utanlangi, and Lamen Bay

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One more thing. A number of people have asked me if I’m worried about piracy. Well I was not until those scallywags Lukas and Simon came on board and fomented a Mutiny. STW was transformed into a Pirate Ship!

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It all started innocently enough. First there was an unusually shaped bamboo stalk/root that looked like a dragon’s head. After it was installed on the bow, morale on STW took a turn. And one day when I went off in the dinghy. Upon my return I was presented with the above insurrection! I had to threaten to cut off the chocolate rations in order to regain command. The keel haulings were tough. The boys submitted to their punishment but they were scared. I had to be keel hauled too. Times are tough on the high seas! After the keel haulings peace was regained in time for an orderly anchoring at Utanlangi.

I dinghyed ashore to ask the chief permission to anchor and come ashore with my (unbeknownst to him) mutinous crew. He seemed to think that was fine. And it was fun to catch up to Alex and Sarah again.

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This photo is significant for two reasons. One is the elegant photobomb on the part of Sarah in the back right of the picture. The other is the “stickmeat” I am nibbling on that I purchased at one of the booths on the beach. Not my usual but tasty enough kebab.

Nguna has 13 villages. As it turns out they have all converged on Utanalangi for a big soccer tourney and general independence celebration. The players are quite skilled. There is a program of musicians. One player recognizes me. I saw him busking in Port Vila. I supported his efforts there and now here he is in Nguna. Along with a number of other awesome players.

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The stand up bass is an unusual element for me but common in this neighborhood. The musician in the blue hat is working it. It is a cubic box with a fretless neck. The neck is jointed so one of the variables in the playing of it is how much you stretch the string with that neck. However it works, it works fine.

Notice the wire barrier enclosing the stage. This place must get rowdy from time to time! Actually no. This is so they can lock it up. There are quite a few buildings without doors and walls here.

Simon and Lukas get to play soccer and we all played volleyball here. The snorkeling and diving here was some of the best. The village has set aside half the cove as a no fishing park reserve. Good stuff.

Something about a dinghy and kids. Everywhere I go there seems I get a dinghy full of kids. And the sand that sticks to them accumulates… In the dinghy! Oh well! But it’s hard to photo them IN the dinghy. As soon as I approach they all jump out. Lukas and Simon left a few soccer balls behind for this crew. Nice kids.

I asked the chief if it would be good to do an eye clinic here and give away reading glasses. He liked the idea. Chief gets the word out. We set up in the local first aid center.

One of the chief’s sons is the medic. He helps out with the clinic as translator.

Here is one of my earlier patients sporting her new spex watching the show. We saw quite a few folks then cleanup. There is more music that night. The eye team sleeps well.

The next day Alex, Sarah and Kat go for a dive in the marine park we are anchored in. It was impressive by snorkel. And just as impressive by scuba. Some of the best so far.

Thank you Nguna island. Our next is Lamen Bay on Epi island. We leave at midnight. The anchor it was tricky to recover. Many rocks below and those rocks became rather attached to my anchor chain. A little push and pull gets it loose.

The boys get the Scopolamine patches. Night passage goes smoothly. Good wind. Nobody gets seasick. The next day we have dolphins joining Spill the Wine. Cavorting at the bow for 20 minutes. The kids dig it!

Kat has a go at swimming with them. Being towed behind the boat here. Dolphins were unimpressed.

Lamen Bay turns out to be awesome. Right after we anchor we are on our way to shore.

We encounter a fellow fishing out of a dugout canoe in the bay. And we meet Masing. He and his wife Ruth became our guides for our visit.

These people really live in paradise, and they know it. Sunset finds them together on the beach. Why not.

is village has a bottomless well. And there are always little kids looking to help you with water. Masing tells me in a bad dry season this well continues to deliver when others fail. Apparently Australians came and drilled this quite deep into the earth. Fed by rain in the mountains I suppose. The odd bit is this pump is less than 50 meters from the beach. Who knew. We take advantage and get ready to wash clothes in buckets. This offends one of the village residents. They lend us a proper washtub. They also invite us to use their clothes line. Nice!

This village is well groomed. They all have been.

Even the pigs are clean. The pigpens are not full of poop. Pigs kill me!

The soil is worn smooth by foot traffic. Vegetation debris, leaves etc gets raked up and burned.

This burning was in process when we purchased some fuel.

Top photo above is the fuel depot. Note that in the background of the photo there are brush piles on fire. Bottom photo is a close up of the fire. Maybe 15 meters from the fuel depot. Struck me as unusual.

Masing’s dad measures out a jug of gasoline for our dinghy motor. Dig the fire over his right shoulder. Don’t try this at home.

Masing’s dad also grows cacao.

This is the opened beanpod. There is a fleshy covering over each bean. You can eat that part and spit out the bean. Like you might eat pomegranite. Quite citrus flavor. I tried the bean raw and would not recommend eating this. Really needs roasted to become chocolate as we know it.

Snorkeling was great here. Impressive reef. Lots of big Green turtles. Even a Dugong (think manatee).

Before we left, Masing, Ruth and their daughter Leisale joined Spill the Wine for dinner. Beef au Egg was tasty.

Thank you Masing and Ruth. Thank you Lamen Bay. Long may you run!

Port Vila and onward

We arrive Port Vila Vanuatu at 10am. Awesome. We can see where we are going. Radio in to the marina. They have plenty of mooring bouys. Their work boat leads us to one and we are tied. It’s Friday morning and we have customs/immigration work to do. Kat is flying out tomorrow and will be returning with her siblings in 4 days. Minors age 10 and 12. We need some govt paper from Vanuatu to be sure her arrival at the Vanuatu airport is smooth. So I am off to the Govt offices. I still have not paid for our port fees from our check in out at Port Resolution either. That’s another office. On the other end of town. What did you expect!?

We find out way to the immigration office and get things moving on the permission letter for Kat to arrive in Vanuatu with her siblings. The official helping us tells us to come back on Monday to pay. Oh Kay… I’m figuring this out. Anything you need done requires 3 visits. One to start. Another to pay. And last to pick up your document. Distributed about town to keep it interesting. And it is. The market is in the middle of all this. And a proper market it is! Kat stocks up.

Its been a travel and I’m done for the night after dinner on shore. Kat and Bas head out for some clubbing. They have a blast and find that they are the only white people in the disco. A young woman walks them back to the marina to be sure they don’t get lost.

Saturday Kat departed for Australia. All paperwork in hand or in progress. Its complicated as she is going to be traveling with minors, even if they are her brothers. I get my bicycle out of its storage sack and put back together for a trip to get a few boat supplies. It is a brilliant day to go for a bike ride in Port Vila.

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I rode out to the end of town to visit a marine supply guy that helped us on the phone with our fuel pump questions. Nice guy. We end up watching some old video from the Tea Clipper races on YouTube. Think Cutty Sark. He had a friend visiting in the shop that does solar installs for the out islands. They tell me where I can buy a courtesy flag for Vanuatu. Strangely enough it is not easy to find one. But I do. The shop guy gives me a bonus small flag. I fix it to my handlebars.

I went shopping for something appropriate to toast on the Big Green Egg. I find a place to cut us some thick steaks. Something they call a Scotch Fillet is a US Rib Eye. Kat crossed the Pacific on a boat called La Pita. As I mentioned last post we shared some of the crossing from Tanna with them. And they are here in the Port Vila anchorage. Kat is gone to Australia to collect her siblings. And Bas and I will host owners Klaus and Tilly on Spill The Wine. Nice people.

I had time the next day, so I decided it was time for a haircut. I think the last was somewhere in NZ and its been awhile.

Kinda weird. The short haired guy has blonder hair. Hmmm….

The harbor here is pretty interesting. There are a number of derelict boats wasting away on the shoreline.

The remains of some cyclone no doubt. I’m not buying any of them! Too bad about the photo exposure. The boats were backlit at low tide.

Sunday night the Soccer World Cup happens. France vs Croatia. Vanuatu was formerly a French/British territory. I had no idea how seriously they take Soccer. Or maybe they just take a party seriously. France wins. And the party starts at 11pm. And is still rolling until just after dawn. Traffic Jams. People hooting and hollering. The thrill of Victory. I did not get in the middle of that as it started so late. But impressive. “Go France Go!” indeed.

On Monday it is time to go back to pay the immigration fees. I ride through town. Bike is way faster than a car because of the usual heavy traffic. The road turns one way against me. And it is hot. As long as I am moving its comfortable. But when I stop it is Hot and Humid. I park my bike and enter the govt office. No AC. Same helpful official as last week. She sorts me out quickly. The sweat pours off my body in the enclosed space. Hurry! I feel like a levee is about to Iet a torrent of sweat loose. I feel a drop roll down my spine and another accumulating on my nose. And I’m done and off not a moment too soon.

Off to Customs. This is at the other end of town. I find my way there and the same guy that helped me check in at Port Resolution on Tanna is taking care of me again. Get the port fees paid, cruising permit in hand and off we go.

As I fly through town I realize. I am the only white guy on a bike in this town. Hell I am the only guy on a bike in this town. And there are not many white guys either. No idea why bicycles are not common here. They seem a perfect fit. I get back to the marina and it is time for another shower before heading to the boat. Maybe that is why bicycles are not more popular…. I fill a couple of my Jerry jugs with water to top up the tanks. Not a great idea to run the watermaker in a harbor. Filters last longer on the open sea. Although I would have to comment that the visibility in this harbor is amazing. The first harbor I would consider running a watermaker in if I had to. But the water on shore is good and free so no need to consume the battery power. The tide must flush this waterway thoroughly to make the water so clear.

More Bislama fun. I do not know why I find this so amusing. German isn’t funny. hmm.

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Above would be a youth center.

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And this is to remind you that every drag from tobacco accumulates to kill you.

I have inaugurated my new outboard.

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I picked up a two stroke gas Mercury in Fiji. I grew weary of the unpredictable availability of Propane. The new one works. And it is smelly. There is extra oil in the fuel just now because that is what the manufacturer recommended for the first tank as part of the running in process. Next tank should be less smelly. It is a 9.9 hp unit just like the 9.9 Lehr propane motor. Performance was weak until the running in period was done. Couldn’t have anything to do with me peeling the 9.9 off and putting one 9 back on upside down so it says 6 now would it? Nobody wants to steal little motors. At first the new motor would not plane out the dinghy. Which seemed really weird to me. The good news us after the run in period it planes out the dinghy just fine. And the odor improved.

Kat returns to Vanuatu on July 19th with her siblings, Simon and Lukas, in hand. Along with plenty of associated gear. And Spill The Wine wept. Bas departs for shore accommodations and I deliver our new crew to their Vanuatu home.

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We have a couple more days of chores and provisioning to take care of. Trick is how to keep two young weasels entertained? Or do I assault the job list? We plan some outings to local attractions. We visit a swimming hole. Another fabulous Blue Lagoon (Number Unknown). But what kid does not love a rope swing? The pool was big enough to swallow a herd of cruise ship passengers. But the good news is there was no cruise ship in port today. 🙂

For that matter, what kid does not dig driving a dinghy?

Kat wants to go to the boat supply store to shop. We have life jackets for the boys but she is looking for a particular sort for them. Store has a few but they are nothing like we seek. Reality is nobody wears life jackets in the south pacific. So no one sells them either. The only ones they have are the orange ones for insurance purposes. Maybe…

I take a bicycle trip up the hill to find a French butcher. They have good meat and French wine with corks!! Not that it matters but NZ and AUS wines are predominant in most of the south pacific and they use those screw caps. Corks are just novel. And I witnessed A Miracle! There was another bicycle in Port Vila! The guy was even wearing a helmet. Definitely not from around here. There are no motorcycles either. Odd.

We decide to take a very short cruise over to a neighbor bay. We get anchored and relax and a big green turtle floats by. The attraction here is a restaurant that does a fire show. Think Cirque du Soleil but a bit more minor league.

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Turns out to be a great attraction. And the photo does not do justice. Hundreds of people show up to watch. And after the show the audience is welcome to come play with their fire tools. Adults and kids both. What could go wrong? Well nothing does. Its fun.

It is time to go back to Port Vila for last provisioning. Beyond here no grocery stores be! At least for awhile. Green groceries collected. A couple liters of yogurt at $15 each (ouch!). But imported is imported. I stop in to the local LP Gas depot and they fill me up presto. And all they have is Propane…. ARRRG!! If I’d a only known! Actually I’m still happy to have a gasoline motor in hand. How nice they have propane here, but there are plenty stops yet to go and my expectation is that butane, not propane, will still be the only fuel in many of them.

We dose the boys with half patches of Scopalamine to ward off sea sickness. We are late on this, we should have done it the night before. Exit the harbor and start sailing North. And the boys turn green.

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But they had their reasons. Apart from late meds the seas as we turn North were quite lumpy and random. Perfect to make one sea sick. And Kat did some research. Turns out your seasickness potential peaks at age 12. We hit their sweet spot.

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But they recovered quickly as we moved behind the island and the seas calmed down a bit.

Whales came along to cheer Lukas and Simon up. Kat spotted them on the depth sounder. The depth was erratic and she was sure it was a whale. I wasn’t convinced at first, but it’s hard to argue with a whale when they show up.

We are heading for Nguna island. A small island associated with Efata island. On our way we are passing a small bay on the west side of Lelepe island. Looks appealing. Ok maybe that is enough sailing for our little crew-lings. I head in. With no plan. This is my mistake. This was not our intended destination so our normal preplanning is yet to be done. And we are about to arrive. And the crew-lings are getting excited, running around, asking questions. Its very distracting. Kat is looking at the google earth images to see about a reef. I note visually that we are coming up on a reef. Kat is back on deck and it is time to reverse course and drop sails. Maybe overdue time. We get the motor running and we gather our wits. Still time to make a plan.

lelepa google image

The satellite images show a pass about the middle of the reef that would be best approached from just south of west. And we start looking for it. Visibility is pretty good but the pass does not reveal itself. Another cruiser is snorkeling in the reef zone and indicates where we should enter. So we try it. Very skinny water under our keel but it will do. Anchoring in 12 feet of water with nice sand bottom. Good holding as the sun goes down.

The google images we used quite a bit and we found to be a powerful tool in poorly charted areas especially. Kat figured out how to integrate them with a charting program called Open CPN. They are much more useful than the charting in many cases. And used together with charting you have a very useful tool. On the other hand, sometimes clouds happen and the images are not so clean as this one is.

The next day we note beachy palapas onshore. And there are tourists on the beach! Turns out the village on the south end of the island brings tourist day trippers out in skiffs to Lelepa island for various activities and this is their lunch spot. After they leave a woman comes out in a kayak to share the leftover snacks with us.

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And she stayed for tea. And damn my eyes I lost track of her name. ARRGGG!

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Here is the view off the beach. STW and a neighbor. Reef invisible! Those sneaky reefs…

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The Batcave had a Guardian!

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C’mon in! We did not leave a light on fer ye!

STW Cave Bats

Those little black dots are bats. They are small but small ones are more scary, right? Hey! Show fear! Bats are scary! Actually they were flying all around us during our minor spelunking. None got caught in anybody’s hair.

At this anchorage we meet Alex and Sarah. They are English people touring on a boat named Bob. Sarah shared some awesome photos with us. Like the above Batscape. Or Below…

STW Cave Skulls

Or this one. If the bats didn’t scare ye, the Skull on the right will!! Or might anyway.

STW Kayak

Its a fine day for a kayak said Kat.

At the end of our Batcave shore hike Simon stubbed his toe on a root. Earning his sea name “Simon Nine Toenails.”. Peeled that sucker right off. Both boys ended up with trouble of this sort. Even Kat got a splinter. Trick in life is to know when to wear something like shoes. And playing soccer shoeless with a raw toe is a good way to keep it from healing. But I suppose we all have things to learn.

S/V Bob (Alex and Sarah’s boat) left yesterday and now our time has come as well. Our postponed visit to Nguna Island is next. Spill The Wine is off for the village of Utanlangi to help them celebrate Vanuatu’s independence day. 11 miles. No provisioning required.

Tanna to Port Vila

I got up early and started to pack the dinghy. Stow the motor. Bail out the water. Install the bridle. These things make noise. So not long and my crew is rousted. It’s a bit cool but quite humid. If you move at all it’s going to get you hot. After all those departure preparations it is time for my last bath in this bay followed by a swimstep shower.  No photo available… Then coffee.

We weigh anchor at 0800 and exit the bay. We are bound for Port Vila 120 miles to the NW. Bas makes eggs served with baguettes, butter, and honey. I love breakfast! The wind fills in and we are making 7 kts on a broad reach. It is a good day.  Followed by a good night.

Another boat LaPita exits just behind us. She is a 75 ft ketch. Kat crossed from the Panama canal to French Polynesia on this boat last spring so she is well acquainted with these folks. They caught up with us but couldn’t quite get past. Neither could we leave them behind. It was fun to travel in company.img_20180712_0944224762202690972750051384.jpg

She is a beautiful boat.  Classic photo with someone nearly naked at the bow.  Shake it Klaus!  img_20180712_1412284935821381641215056486.jpg

Kat is making bread and curry for dinner.

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I get to skin the husk from the coconut on the swimstep. Curry wants coconut meat and water. We are trolling. Will this be fish curry?

No. The fish here are too smart for us apparently.

Winds were kind to us. Good speed on a beam reach. But not more wind than we could easily handle. img_20180713_061211553_burst000_cover_top2571312224303276685.jpg

Kat and Bas share the dawn watch.

!Almost on the Road to Vanuatu

When we visited Denarau marine complex for supplies we met another Katharina. She helped us acquire Kava for the Lao tour. She invited us to dinner at her house when we returned. Fun. We met her dad and her children. And we had some kava with the Kava dealer! Her dad runs a kava shop in the market.

Katharina takes a mean selfie.

People here name their houses. Kinda cool.

She served us lobster curry with all the fixings and of course, coconuts! Thank you Katharina for sharing your family with us.

We adjusted our crew list to include Bas a couple days ago.  This entails a paperwork shuffle with the Immigration authority.  I scheduled a 10am final signing out for Friday the 6th of July. The officials came at noon. So we had plenty of time for lunch! Nancy and I and Bas and Kat. All my Fiji dollars are spent. They are not so useful out of the Fiji. Vanuatu wants US or Australian dollars I’ve been told.

I sent Vanuatu customs the required advance notice today and lo, this time they didst respond. I tried a few days ago and their web site was Offline. We said our sad goodbyes to Nancy. She is off to Seattle to chase necessary evil dirt details.

The homeland is loath to surrender it’s young (or not so young). And devises all sorts of ways to keep us tethered in boxes. There is a price to pay to finally achieve your freedom. Nancy and I are close to that goal.

We’ve fueled, groceried, watered Spill the Wine. It’s time to go.

Some of our favorite staff come by to seranade us with the Fijian goodbye song. It’s beautiful.

And we are off. Kat, Bas and I for the salty road to Vanuatu and Nancy for the jetstream east and north to Seattle. I’ll join her later after the boat is laid up in Australia for cyclone season.

Days at sea give me time to reflect.  Below is STW’s first crew.  Hot to go to sea out of Seattle bound for San Fran and San Diego.  Above is NZ to Fiji 2018 crew an d Mexico West 2017 crew.  I need more crew photos!!  I’m missing too many people.  So many priceless friends have sailed on Spill The Wine.  Thank you all for sharing.  I have learned so much on the path.  Some things that are good to know.  Some things that I should have known already.  If I keep at it, some day I might be smart.

STW Coho crew

But back on course to Vanuatu.  25kt winds on the beam and seas as large as 15 feet to match. We sail 6-7 kts through the afternoon and night. Mine was the first watch until 0100 then Kat takes over. Just before dawn I’m back on. Stars were brilliant for the first hours of the evening. The moon came up late and was its own show. With sunrise I am greeted by a thousand diamonds on the deck. Fresh sea salt people!

Bas is learning fast but there is a lot to learn. It’ll be awhile before he can stand a solo watch. Great fun to have him on!  He is great at identifying where he can be helpful.  And clever enough to know when he might be in the way.  Key skill set!

We ran the motor to charge the batteries. The autopilot really soaks up the electricity. Mid day we put the windvane, Mr. Sulu, to work. This device steers by the wind and is powered by the wind. So we should do better on electrical consumption.

Tonight it’s beef on the green egg.  Nobody is seasick today.  Bas and I are using Scopolamine patches. Kat tried Stugeron for seasickness. Backfired. Side effects were kinda like seasickness. Clearly not her tool going forward.

I take watch until 0200 then Kat takes over.  Bas splits his awake time between Kat and I to make sure the on watch doesn’t get bored. Thank you Bas.

More sleep on and off during the day for all of us. Seas are down to 10 ft waves. Wind 15 to 20 now. Still plenty. It’s starting to look like our planned 4 day crossing will only take 3 days. Better wind than expected!

 

Tonight we roast a chicken on the Egg. Which came first, the chicken or the sunset?  By color they really look related.  Kat made a big salad. Pomegranate chocolate ice cream after. Times are tough on Spill the Wine. Wind dying so we motor up for speed, electricity, and water.  Shower Time!  Only mildly overdue.

It’s a bit cool tonight. Long pants called for. I had to dig but found ’em. I hope shoes and socks don’t become necessary anytime soon.

Just as we departed Fiji we contacted customs Vanuatu. Can we check in at Port Resolution? Why not? Captain Cook checked in there so long ago. Customs says no. They don’t have enough staff. They want us to go all the way to the west side of the island to their regular office. We’d rather not. Bummer.

As we approach Tanna island we make contact with Vanuatu customs. Ask the same question regarding where we must check in. And Lo! The answer changes! We set a course for Port Resolution. Only later did we find out why that answer changed…

Wind expired on us as predicted. Which means we approach Port Resolution in the dark under motor. Easier for the boat to hit things in the dark, darn. Also easier to see Tanna’s volcano, Mt Yasur. It has a perpetual steam cloud. And that cloud glows red in the moonless dark. Then as we watch it goes Boom! Then hot lava flys into the night sky. Imagine. Fireworks not made in China!

The engine is feeling neglected. I am aware of this because I am the Engine Whisperer. She speaks to me with a voice not heard by ordinary ears. Today she was moving us along nicely and then she said to me, nothing at all! As in she sputtered and stopped. Very subtle. This impressed me as a fuel problem. Maybe air in the system? We sail along slowly and do some assessment.

First I look at vacuum. There is a pump that sucks fuel from the tank through a filter. If the filter is clogged the vacuum goes up. Well vacuum is normal and maybe even low. Next we peek into the last fuel filter before the fuel injection pump. Hmm. Kinda half full. That seems like air. From where?

There is a little primer lever on the fuel pump. If you work it a few hundred strokes you should be able to bleed the air out of the filter. But it does not work. Are we sucking air into the fuel system from somewhere? Fuel pump faulty?

Never mind getting started on a full repair. We are losing daylight and need to get moving. I look into the spares bin and pull all my hose bits. Kat and Bas dig (I mean that, they’re at the bottom) a 5 gallon Jerry can of fuel out of a lazarette in the cockpit. We rig the Jerry in the companionway over the engine. The hose siphons fuel into the filter at the injector pump. Bypasses the questionably functional fuel lift pump. Not pretty but we are under power once again.

 

 

We have studied our charts and Google Earth images. Following waypoints Kat set up we limp our jury rigged way into the anchorage and join about 4 other boats. Sleep will be welcome.

The next day we wake to find 15 new boats and see more on the way. The bloody WorldARC has found us again. That is the bad news. The good news is their presence is what changed Customs tune. Because of the number of boats it was worth their leaving their office and coming to Port Resolution.

Time to get serious about the fuel issue. img_20180710_112005431_hdr556616008504430087.jpg

We remove the pump from the engine block and take it apart. Looking it over it seems there is nothing wrong with it. Apart from a gasket I shreded in the dismantle process anyway.

Ok. Let’s reassemble. I make a new gasket out of some handy gasket material (a beer carton).

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Then we whack it back together. And the primary pumping function seems to work fine. Strangely enough the priming lever should move fuel too. And it did not before we removed it. Interesting, but that is not likely to be what broke us down.  What can it be??

Now we tested the pump on a jug of fuel. Works. Next we tested it pulling fuel from the tank.  Not work. Has to be an air leak. And it is. The vacuum gauge Ts into the fuel line. Leak identified at the connection to the gauge and resealed.  Last we reinstalled the fuel pump and boom we are back in a properly motorized condition.

Next day we escape the madding crowd for an excursion to the major (relatively) village on the other side of the island. We need local cash and a Sim card for internet. We go to shore and seek out transport. Joe with a truck will provide. We take our seats on the 2×8 inch benches in the bed and hold on tight. Much of the way is definitely a bush road.

As we travel everyone shouts greetings as we go by and offers us their best smiles. These people have way better (more) teeth than the Fijians. I wonder why? We pass a number of other trucks and note they all sport flags of various countries. Our truck has a French flag and we are greeted with enthusiastic cries of “Go France Go!” img_20180711_1525422877425785932591031928.jpg

And then they laugh. Not sure when I’ve seen such exhuberantly happy people. We fly down the dirt road through dense jungle. Floating on the unbearable lightness of being on Vanuatu’s Tanna island.

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The ride was windy enough to be chilly.  Who knew?

One of the other passengers in the truck tells us there are 20,000 people on the island. And there are 24 different dialects. He fills in a few details about the Volcano just as the jungle we have been traveling through is replaced by a vast volcanic desert. Are we impressed by Tanna? Hell yes!img_20180711_1316217837687524306521057743.jpg

Lenakel town has a small produce market with first class product. We bring some home. Find Sim card shop. Even find gin. Our Tonic water has been getting lonely. Kat finds a truck sporting a German flag.img_20180711_143518423_hdr7838167648217035764.jpg She chats with the driver and we learn that the flag indicates what country’s soccer team they favor. They take this seriously.

As we wander through town we see signs in English but it isn’t quite. It is Bislama, the official language of Vanuatu.  If you look at it phonetically it can be decyphered. img_20180711_1457398483266012349581088284.jpg

Last stop was the lemonade stand style kava shop. One for the road!

We take our places on the 2×8 benches. Our bums will be happy when the ride is over. School just let out and we are treated to many calls of Go France Go! from the students as they run laughing after the truck. As happy as these folks are they should live forever.

One the way back we stop at the volcano for a tour. It’s borderline cool so I put on long pants. It’s been awhile! Hike is coming so I went for shoes and socks as well. Felt kinda weird.img_20180711_1610571181230601324006342928.jpg

The Tannaans showed us some dancing and song. They did a fair bit of stomping which reverberated through the black volcanic sand, and up from the sand into your chest. From time to time the volcano would also speak, similarly shaking your bones.  Booms and shrieks of steam escaping the bowels of the earth complimented the songs and dancing profoundly.

The WorldARC comprise much of the audience tonight. Our hosts load the lot of us out for the short trip to the volcano… in a small fleet of pickups with… 2×8 benches! My bum knows fear.img_20180711_1654120106552797514938385554.jpg

The jungle fades as we enter a lunar landscape. Hiking up to the ridge the ridge we look down into… The Fires of Mt Doom! Time for Frodo to pitch “The Prescious” into the Lava stream! I know that’s not how it really happened but cut me some slack here.

The Booms and steam venting are louder now and are a great soundtrack for the occasional shower of lava that Mt Yasur sends into the sky. Thankfully we don’t see any lava showers that are as big as the one we watched as we approached Tanna last night. Really don’t need to be close to a big eruption like that…

With each boom you can watch the shockwave propagate through the clouds of steam. The visual is caused by the air pressure increase the shockwave delivers. Puts the micro droplets in the cloud back into a vapor state briefly. The vapor becomes cloud again after the wave passes. Like you are watching the sound of Boom!

After the tour we catch our truck, they waited for us. Nice fellows. Back to Port Resolution. Sarah runs a small restaurant in the village. She is closed but gets word we are looking for dinner and opens for us. And we were hungry too. No lunch!

Next we find our dinghy in the dark. Find deep water and we are on our way to STW. But now to find her. Seems I neglected to leave the anchor light on. Not that hard really.

As we relax in the cockpit we note that the neighbor boat is swinging dangerously close and there is a collision with STW!  Minor but this can’t continue.  This is one of the WorldARC boats that arrived after us. I thought the fools anchored too close and the consequences are manifest.  As there is no one on that boat we reanchor STW.  Then sleep joins the crew.

Up next.  Bas and Kat an I sail for Port Vila on Efata Island.  120 miles to the NW.

Taveuni

We are anchored with Phil from Parotia off the beach at Somosomo town on Taveuni island. First go is a taxi ride to the gas depot to see if we can get Spill the Wine’s propane tanks filled. Can’t do. This location does not have fittings for my tanks. And they have butane only on which my outboard does not run well at all. They recommend I check Savusavu. But I’ve been there. They had the fittings but still butane only. Have to wait until Vuda point on the South island, Viti Levu. We have enough fuel to get by.

Back to town to get supplies. Some groceries, some veggies, some beer. Taxi back to the beach and load the dinghy.

Spill The Wine’s next leg is into the Lau Group. Nancy thinks that sounds like too much sailing for her taste and would prefer to relax on Taveuni island for a bit and meet us in Vuda Point after the Lau leg. I will miss her but she’s right, the Lau leg is a lot of sailing. She’s happy that Kat is on board to share in the deck work and watches.

Nancy and I taxi up the coast and check into a really cool placeimg_20180604_122045568_hdr

But they have coconut issues.  There a dozen bungalows on a hill looking over the Somosomo channel between Taveuni and Vanua Levu. Nice pool. Nice fellow guests. We met Seamus and Sarah. A lot Irish in a fun way.

The next morning I return to STW and we get ready to make our way to the Lau group. img_20180606_172635818-effectsPhil will be traveling with us on his boat Parotia. We make it to the other side of Taviuni. Anchored in a quiet cove that turned out to be fairly well influenced by ocean swell. That’s Rock and Roll people! The next day we go ashore and Rajan is waiting for us.       “So and so told me you wanted a ride to the waterfalls.” Well we do. And we are in the middle of a sparsely populated zone. It’s like we rubbed a magic lamp or something. He tells us he was born on Taviuni and lived all of his 58 years here. Why not? It’s called the Garden island. So named for it’s lush foliage fueled by plenty of rain.img_20180609_152513366_hdr

Rajan is ready to haul us off to the Tavoro Falls in Bouma Park. Decent dirt road.

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The path to the first fall is practically lawn.

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The first falls are a short hike in. Great to swim in but we passed for the moment.  There are some cruise ship leftovers from the small cruise ship nearby. We had passed quite a few of their passengers on the trail hiking back down to their transport. Some were quite ancient and still doing it. We were impressed. The second falls are further on and the path more challenging. IMG_20180609_114513138

Ford river on slippery rocks with dodgy rope to help you. After the second falls Ford again.

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Third falls had the best swimming hole but all were awesome.  Falls number two and three require quite a bit of elevation gain but we’re certainly worth it.

Phil is a bird watching guy. There was one sort of bird he came to Taveuni to see. A Silktail. Only on Taveuni. AAA Silktale

Stop squinting.  The photo really is blurry.  On the hike we saw two pairs and noted a nest as well. Phil got photos and video of them and their nest. He was in birder heaven.

After a few hours of that we came down and there was Rajan. Thanks for waiting man! If you ever need a ride to Tavoro falls ask for Rajan. Tell him 2 meter Chris from Spill the Wine sent you.

Rajan takes us back to our boats and after dinner we napped until midnight. Then we got up and headed out the channel making our way towards the Lau group. Goal was to time our departure so that we would arrive Lao  decently before dark. Wind was pretty good but not quite in the right direction the whole trip so we motored a bit as well.

We investigated a small island on the way pretty close to our destination. Cool reef, nice beach, no people. But the pass was marginally deep. I need 2 meters and it was barely there. I’ll come back some lonesome day at high tide when I’ve had more sleep.

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We carry on to the anchorage at Bay of Islands.  Phil captures Spill The Wine at anchor with his drone camera.  The setting was magazine cover spectacular.

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In fact I spotted our anchor spot on a Fiji Magazine back cover.  Very interesting topography here. Like the moon with water.AAA hats.JPG

Kat and I put on silly hats and set off to frighten the neighbors. Unsuccessful. A couple invited us to movie night on the foredeck of their catamaran. Fun. We met Hugh and Olga there and toured their catamaran after the movie.  More fun people.

The following day we note a number of new boats in the anchorage. A rally called the WorldARC has arrived. We joined a group of about 25 of them to go visit a half submerged cave with bats. Pretty cool but I have to say I have become quite unfamiliar with crowds like this. Claustrophobic. Not a big deal but I noticed.

Phil and I dinghy over to the village of Daliconi to pay our respects. This is important. If I have not mentioned it before if you visit an inhabited peripheral island a gift of kava root is traditional and we bring some. We offer the chief the amazing opportunity to have a goofy eye Dr and crew take a look at his population to see if they need spex. I think there are 130 people living in the village. They won’t all show up. Which is fine. We don’t have a big enough team to see them all in one day. We only have reading glasses but that is the most frequent problem that causes people to be interested in an exam.

He thinks that’s a fine idea. Phil and I dinghy back to our boats. His outboard’s gear shifting lever breaks. Making it hard to…., well…., shift! Into fwd, reverse, and back. The process is: start the motor in neutral, then shift into gear. If you can’t shift, its a long walk back to the anchorage. As it happens this failed in a very narrow shallow pass. So we really could have walked home. We figure out a way to make a lever out of a bailer. It won’t last long but it gets us home.

That night after fabulous chicken burritos and some libations I was able to recruit an eye team. Phil, Katarina, Hugh, and Olga will head to the village tomorrow for the Eye-Invasion.

Lazy morning. AAA Paddle1.JPG

Olga convinced me to try stand up paddle boarding. A brilliant way to see the anchorage. And my legs were only a little sore afterwards. Let’s just say this is a skill I am still acquiring.

Then to work. Hugh’s dinghy is large enough for all of us and gear to make the 5 miles to the village.AAA Israel

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I’ll interview and examine, even though I have really bad dinghy hair.

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Phil and Kat work dispensing readers.

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Olga and Hugh are photographers and and prove to be quite capable of entertaining the crowd.

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Phil did some juggling which fired up the small ones.

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Then Hugh started to juggle the children. One at a time granted but this was very popular.

The clinic went well. Lovely people. Mostly glasses related concerns and one foreign body removal. “My eye is sore and red for two months now doc!”. Well there was a reason.

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One of the village elders, Israel, invited us back the next day for dinner. Kat and I brought Spill the Wine over in the afternoon. Extracting ourselves from the anchorage proves interesting. Another friendly reef caresses the keel. Not on my chart. Even Google Earth doesn’t show much there. There was a recommended course line that Kat had loaded. It’s hard to follow those precisely by hand and I was close but not close enough. Too soon old too late smart. No damage as we were going slow.

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We anchor off the village and go ashore to Israel’s house. Lobster with spinach and kasava greet us. Israel’s cousin attends. She lived in the US for much of her life. She is moving back to the village now. She was born here. As her English is flawless she is able to tell us quite a bit about the mechanics of life in Fiji. Tomorrow a truck will come and take people to the larger village of Lomolomo for supplies. We sign up to go and head back to the boat. Many thanks to our very generous hosts! Besides being tired from too much sun today, the invisible mosquitoes get about half a pint. Time to retire.

Through the Lau Group

This morning we dinghy’d in to the same village where we had dinner yesterday.

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Plenty of time to relax with the rest of the folks waiting for the truck. It will be here sooner. Or later. But right on Fiji Time. Time has a different meaning here. Quite a few villagers are going. The chief (on my left napping) and Israel among them. Maybe the truck holds 20.

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And off we go. The road is mostly dirt. Steeper bits are paved with two strips of concrete, one for each tire. You could say lumpy ride, but the scenery was very interesting. There were forests of some sort of strait tall evergreen tree. Until cyclone Winston.

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Now the ones that remain vertical are dead and branchless. I have to think these were an introduced species. They seem quite unsuited to the cyclone zone.

When we get to town the post shop is the first stop. Supposedly where you can get cash from a debit card. But not today. The cash is supposed to arrive from somewhere by noon. Hmm. Noon. Fiji noon… Could be awhile. Anyway I’m not out of cash yet so we get some eggs and milk and carry on. This becomes an inconvenience later.

We catch the next truck and head back to the boat. Say goodbye to Israel and company and dinghy back to Spill the Wine. We expect winds close to 20 knots. So Kat thoroughly ties down the kayak on the foredeck. I deflate the dinghy, bag it and it gets tied down to the foredeck.

We had thought to go to Falanga. But it’s quite far, upwind, and probably populated with WorldARC boats. That was enough zoo at our anchorage yesterday. There is an island called Namuka nearby that we can reach in daylight hours that looks like it might have a passage through its reef. But it is hard to find out for sure. We’ll look.

Passage went well. We had to motor a bit as our destination is quite directly up wind. But we arrive to what appears to be an uninhabited island. Reef pass worked. Cove with dramatic limestone shoreline. A couple of beaches. Sand bottom 12 feet under Spill the Wine. After we anchor and start to unwind a fishing boat shows up. Not a lot of English happening here but they gave us some kind of fish.

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A Salala and a Kasika.  Of Course!  Whatever.  They were quite tasty.

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We cooked one on the Egg and one became sushi. We had gifts for the fishing guys too.

The next morning we met Atu. He motored through the cove with one of his daughters. He offers to take us around the corner to the village and introduce us to the chief. Turns out Chief died as of the beginning of the year. Voice of Chief is still with us. Kind of like a vice president. He welcome us and tells us we are the first Yacht to come this season. We present him with the kava and offer to do some eye work at his village. Seems quite open to our project. We head back to Atu’s house for some bread they bake in an Earth oven.

 

We meet his wife and daughters. And just visit for a bit.

The Methodist Church next door is having services. Lots of singing. Beautiful. Atu is 7th day Adventist. They worship in a different building on a different day. Religion is a bigger part of life in Fiji than I am used to seeing.

Then Atu takes us for a tour of the village. There are about 300 people here.

AAA School

We stop at the local school to use their internet. Thank you! We made a donation to their children’s school uniform fund. They have English words painted in the rafters and elsewhere. It will become their second language. Schools where I come from use bells for lunch etc. Here it’s drums. A traditional large tree trunk carved into a drum. Way more fun than a bell.  I should have taken photos of the students darn it!  Awesome uniforms!

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Even dogs go to school here.  Their English needs work too.

There are a couple of very limited inventory shops.  A nurse’s office.

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We encounter some women making Tapa. It’s between cloth and paper. Made by hammering wood fibers pulled from just under the bark of a particular tree.  Very traditional.

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Further on they are processing copra. I’d heard of this many times but never quite understood what it was about. It’s about coconut oil. They dry the coconuts and extract the oil from the coconut meat.  This is a large industry.  Coconut oil is sold in every Fiji market and shop it seems.

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This is a poor photo but you can see how water is collected from the roofs and diverted into a cistern beyond the tree.  Water is precious. No fresh ground water on this island.  There are no land vehicles of any kind here and if there were, washing them would not be popular.

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Cyclone zone.  A building with round ends is less likely to blow away in a cyclone.  This building is built like that and is one of the older structures in the village.  Strange thing is they don’t make the round ended ones anymore.  Recent buildings are square.

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If you would like to bathe there are two choices. Two caves. One on either end of the village. Which contain pools that are a bit salty but less than the sea. They have been in use as long as people have lived on this island. No one was able to tell me just how long that might have been.

There is electricity from a diesel generator from 6 to 10 pm. But we pass a house that has its own generator. They have a freezer. The fishermen store their fish here and when the supply ship comes the fish enter the supply chain for the main island. 4 hrs a day of power is not enough to keep a freezer happy, hence a dedicated generator.

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Atu guided us down the trail to the cove where we anchored. Along the way is his garden. Sweet potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant. Further on is the coconut grove planted by his grandfather. He tells me that all the coconut trees on the island were planted. He shows us how to knock the fresh ones out of the tree.

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He whacks one and we drink it. It’s been a long walk.

He shows us a trick for tying coconuts together in pairs to make them easier to carry. Spill the Wine needs a coconut machete.

Next day Atu comes to pick us up for the eye clinic at 0815. We head for the village against the wind and waves. And there is plenty of both even inside the reef. But there is no hurry.

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My hair still looks weird.  We set up in Atu’s house. It wouldn’t be a Fiji thing to do counting patients. So we don’t. But there were probably 50 patients like at the last village. There usually are not many nearsighted ones, but maybe a few more than usual in this village. I did not bring many nearsighted spex but was able to give a few of what I had out.

 

We spent the afternoon snorkeling.  Atu took us to their Clam Garden.  The villagers have collected 120 giant clams outside the reef and brought them into the lagoon.  And they are as big as good sized dogs.  Without legs I suppose.  And they have begun a program of propagation.

After clinic we Atu takes us back to Spill the Wine. I sat on my transom to remove the husk from one of the coconuts with a cleaver. Success there leaves me with fresh husk debris all over the swim step. I learn that the juice from the husk leaves brown stains on my fiberglass, aieee! There will be some boat polishing in my near future.

It’s “No Schedule Wednesday.”

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Check the reef under the dinghy!  Photo credit Kat.  A good day for a dinghy ride up the north shore of the island and look for caves.

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The NW shoreline is dramatically vertical rising to perhaps 600 feet. You’ll see isolated coconut groves about 75 feet up where there are flat spots. Those coconuts did not get put there by the sea.  Some ambitious hoser planted them.

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There is a beach protected by isolated rocks whose strange erosion patterns make it possible to imagine that they might be lots of different things. It’s kind of like looking at clouds.  Notice the shoreline and lots of the rocks are undercut by the water.

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The root patterns on these trees are amazing!  And apparently need climbing.  I hope Kat never grows up.  We are thinking of our friend Oceana just here.  She is a climber too.

Kat snorkels and declared our own anchorage to have superior snorkeling. We round up some plastic beach trash and a machete I found as well. Just when I was thinking STW needed a machete. I should have asked for a not so rusty one… Our ride north was against the wind and waves. The ride back to STW is much smoother!

As we approach the anchorage we spot Atu. He was planning to join us and take us ashore to hunt for coconut crabs. We find a couple. Odd critters. And yes they do make their living eating coconuts. Atu tells us they get as large as 5lbs. Rare though. They get hunted. Smaller ones are more common.  but they are quick.

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Here is the best photo I got of one of those coconut crabs.

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Here is a photo of a not-coconut crab that actually sat still for the photo.

The life cycle is such that hunting coconut crabs is not terribly sustainable. Their habitat is a small fraction of this 6 x 2 mile island. And there are 300 people. If they start exporting them it’s over. Many South Pacific islands no longer have coconut crabs. This is obviously short sighted but I’m not convinced people on mainlands behave anymore thoughtfully. Overfishing, overforesting, over consuming, overpopulating. Color us all a problem.

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Thursday we have invited Atu to bring his family on board and Kat will make pizza for them all. That will be Atu, his wife and her sister, and 5 children.

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We planned a three hour tour but there is no wind. And I forgot how it goes with children. A little bit of swell goes a long, wrong, way. It was not too messy but it was time to head back shortly after we started.

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Putting this one in the hanging chair proved to be a less than good idea…   🙂

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This is the only daughter that did not get seasick.  Maybe she will grow up and be my crew.

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We had a picnic on the beach and then did the pizzas at anchor.

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The kids introduced me to “Fiji gum”. This is a berry as big as my thumb. You peel it and chew. It seems unlikely that this stringy mass will turn into gum but it does. And it sticks to your teeth. And everything else. Beware Fiji gum!

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Kat has a trick ball that bounces on the water.  The kid on the right had the best attitude on the planet.

 

And Kat’s kayak is very popular.

 

Atu gives us a parting gift of some fruit and priceless leafy greens. It’s been awhile. He gets to take some leftover pizza back home.  I call this a Fiji briefcase.  A woven bag from palm leaves.  Its what they used before those wonderful plastic bags that are choking the Earth were invented.

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Looks like the Captain has some sort of rash?  Or is that a mysterious tuber Atu gave us?  We’ll see about this…

We sat down with Atu to review our week. The village would like to attract more yachts. They currently export coconuts (copra), coconut oil and frozen fish. They just launched a program to create a clam garden of giant clams. There are now about 120 of them in rows in one part of their lagoon. For $25 they will take you there for a snorkel. It’s pretty cool. But really, a nice reef with giant clams as a natural part of it would be more fun.

When we arranged to have Atu tour us around I explained that we were short of cash. My next adventure on the big island will be to send him some Fiji dollars via the post office. Like Western Union, just local.  This proves to be pretty easy.

They are puzzling over what sort of handicrafts might appeal to yachts that might provide income for the island. Some of the inhabitants have worked away from this island in the tourism industry and have seen this sort of trade in action.

Cruise ship passengers are more likely to buy things to take home. Yacht dwellers try to avoid collecting things.  Boat gets full soon enough.  So shelf stuff is not what will bring them or impress them.

We recommended they provide opportunities for experiences. Maybe a dinner at the village cooked in their Polynesian earth oven. Maybe the clam garden. Although it kind of did look like a clam parking lot. Reef snorkel tour. Also groceries. This is Big Deal. If they fatten up their gardens so they have veggies to spare they will be the most popular island in Fiji. Off the main islands veggies are home grown. So for traveling yachts there is no access to that. And we miss our veggies. But number one asset is really the communal culture of the village. And the friendly nature of all the citizens that live there. Turning Namuka I-Lao into a theme park and a casino would be the end of all that. It would no longer be a unique place to visit. But I suppose you could hire a advertising firm to promote the world’s largest giant clam parking lot.

After Atu said adieu Kat and I got busy putting Spill the Wine in order for passage. Tie the kayak to the rail. Drop the fishing spear point. Dive for it. Fail to find it. Clean the dinghy hull of growth. Remove/stow the outboard. Hoist dinghy onto foredeck. Deflate. Put into storage bag. Tie down. The handheld depth sounder got water into it. Again.  This is my second one of these.  The first one died of water ingress too.  Tear that up and dehydrate it with fingers crossed. Check weather. Make waypoints and route. Load same into chart plotter. Man it’s a bit of a job to get ready.

Depth sounder proves to be unrecoverable this time.

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I finally find its special purpose.  Handy popcorn container/shaker for musical moments.

After a nap we are up at midnight and weighing anchor. This should have us arriving at our Kadavu island destination about noon in a day and a half. Always best to have light to navigate a new destination.

Making your way through a reef pass, precise navigation is critical. Especially at midnight. And as we approach the chart plotter loses its fix and does not know where we are. No GPS data. And so it is not able to guide us through the pass with the precision necessary to avoid the big crunch in this case.

Hold on. Before you deploy the liferaft I should tell you that Kat has spent quite a bit of time getting acquainted with OpenCPN.  (OpenCPN.org)  This is an open source chart plotter program for your computer. She brings her laptop to the cockpit and we carry on through the pass.

Our course is plotted for Kadavu island. Should take 36 hrs. Kat takes the first watch and I take over at 0415. She takes over shortly after dawn.

The chart plotter has been misbehaving for quite awhile. Raymarine E120 vintage 2006 for all you marine electronics geeks out there. Infrequent loss of GPS position. It’s been an annoyance mostly. Until it craps out in the pass. Really need to do something about this. Of interest I was talking to some friends recently who have the same equipment on their boat that I do. And theirs is failing exactly like mine. There is something going on here…

I’ve spent a bit of time trying to figure this out. Checking connections, rearranging the connections, updating operating software for the various components in the system. No help. Problem slowly becoming more frequent. Grrr….

Maybe I should interrogate some industry people that have more experience with the equipment in question. So I did. They all seemed to lean towards the data networks, there are four, as being the most likely source of trouble. Good place to start. And it’s a difficult question given that these experts did not have the luxury of examining my navigation system in person.

There is nothing more challenging than tracking down a problem that occurs monthly. But this one started monthly and got worse to the point that it pretty reliably reboots the chart plotter every 3 minutes. Now maybe we can figure it out.

Kat and I review the behavior and what to investigate. How to sort out device problem vs network related problem? I disconnected the different networks one by one. Until the only wires attached to the device were positive/negative 12 volts. And it still crashed. Houston, I think we have a device problem.

Kat has a strong software background and starts poking into the submenus of the device. Diagnostics menu shows the hard drive is 99% full. That might be a problem.

Execute factory reset, delete all data, and the old bugger performs normally. No more crash. Couldn’t be happier about the outcome here. This means the device doesn’t need replacement. Immediately anyway, I know better. 12 years is certainly living on borrowed time for a bit of marine electronics. Even better, I’ve a spare for this one for when it eventually meets its destiny.

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Um, Kat?  I think we are a little over powered here…  We are having great wind today. 15 to 20 on the port beam. Same tack all day at 7 knots, reefed main and jib. Never mind noon arrival. Could be more like dawn. Earlier even. We reduce sail further to cut more speed and control the degree of heel.  Finally got it down to less than 6 kts.

Shortly after 2am my watch was done and Kat took over. I got 15 minutes of sleep and she wakes me up because there is a strange navigation bouy off our starboard. Flashing white and red. No bow or stern lights.

I am totally not in love with this development. The last time I had a reef to my port and left a lighted marker to starboard I ran into the reef. Don’t wanna repeat.

Reverse. Boat is stopped. Go around the mystery mark leaving it on my port side. Almost certainly we are not close to the reef. Boat’s chart says no. My phone chart plotter says no. Atlas for Fiji Mariners app says no. But we leave the mark to Port just to be sure.

A few miles later we see another white and red flashing mark just like the first. In my coursework for my Coast Guard boat captain license, I recall flashing to be reserved for navigation marks. Channels. Rocks. Anchorages. Headlands. But this we are almost certain is not those things. What is it? Later we discover that the most likely thing is a drift fishing apparatus of some kind.

We leave the second one to starboard. Nothing bad happens. It’s 4am and we are back on our track. Kat takes over and I get some sleep. After a few hours I get up and the wind is allowing STW to sail. Awesome. Great wind.

I take over watch and Kat is due for a nap. I work us towards the pass we need and we tool into a cove where there is a village. We think it’s the one we need to visit to ask permission to tour their neighborhood.

We anchor. Relax. And a guy shows up driving the school boat. This is Fiji world’s version of a school bus. We invite Issac on board for a beverage and he ties alongside. He tells us many things. Number one being that his village is not the one to ask for permission to tour the manta spot. Draviuni is. We head for there.

We look over at Draviuni and there is a cruise ship there. The idea of going there is totally not appealing. Crawling with people. On the way we stopped at a place where we had planned to anchor. There is a lot of wind there and the seas are rough. We will not be anchoring there.

What to do? I ask Kat to check the cruising schedule of the cruise ship on the internet. She does and it says they sail at 6 pm. We can live with that.

We sail up and anchor. The last cruise ship shuttle is loading and gone. I go ashore to seek the chief’s permission to tour their waters a bring the traditional gift of Kava root.

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They have a helpful sign to keep the tourists in line.

This village has a proper floating dock on their beach so the cruise ship shuttle can land. Makes it easy for me.  I walk up from the dock and a lot of the village is under a palapa singing and drinking Kava. I’m not sure they are happy to see me. They just kissed a cruise ship load of tourists good bye and are relaxing and here comes one more. I find the chief, give him the Kava root I brought and ask permission to tour and anchor. He says sure, welcome and show me your cruising permit. I’m kinda surprised. Nobody asks for that. But ok I’ll bring it in tomorrow. Back to Spill the Wine.

The next morning Kat and I both dinghy in. Find the chief and give him papers. He’s happy.

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They have good dogs here.

This island has some pretty good vertical.  We ask some folks about a path to the top.

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They are in the middle of making an earth oven to cook some chicken but set us on the right path.  We hike up to the top of the island. Early on the trail we meet Sailasa and Sefania.  Sailasa lives here and Sefania is visiting from the central mainland.

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We tag along with them for a bit and they tell us about the island.

There is ground water here. Not so for many of the islands. And they have a well and a pump to bring the water to a central water tank.

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Powered by a large solar array.  But something is not working.

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They power on the unit and it sounds like the pump is choking on debris. I really want to tear it apart but we leave tomorrow. No time for that.

Next we walk down to the beach. Large recycle collection from the village. The neighboring island’s resort picks it up periodically and transports it to the mainland.  That resort leased the neighbor island they are built on from this village for 99 years.  Helicopter pads etc.  Oh My.

Kat and I resume our hike up to the top of the island.

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The view is predictably awesome.  You can see the reef behind Kat.  Back down we come on the steep trail.

We meet Sailasa and Sefania again. Talk a bit more then invite them on to Spill the Wine for a snorkel this afternoon where the manta rays might be feeding. I’ll pick them up at 1:30.

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I come ashore and they are ready. Another fellow Tomasi wants to join. Why not?

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We load our new crew and sail off to the next island.

Anchor in the tidal current and head off in the dinghy. Every body in the water. It’s a cloudy day so the reef colors don’t pop but this is a healthy ref. Lots of soft coral.

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Sailasa finds a couple large conch like mollusks.

I’m watching Sefania. He did not promote himself as an experienced snorkeler. And he isn’t. Never done it in fact. So skills he needs to work on. But he keeps his cool amid the challenges. Sucking salt water through his snorkel. Leaky mask. Moderately choppy sea. Really inefficient fin technique. He takes advice well and none of this gets to him. Nice. Later I learn he has never been on a sailboat before. Big Day Sefania!

 

Sailasa and Tomasi got busy with the mollusks. Hammering them out and hammer tenderizing.

 

Then slicing, seasoning with lime and chili pepper. Turned out quite tasty!

No molusks complained about being harmed in the making of this hors d’oeuvre.

Back at the village I dinghy to shore to deliver our guests home.

 

They invite us to come drink Kava with them.

Kava session was fun. There were 14 men there. I brought my guitar, Kat her ukelele. The instruments got passed around a lot.  Ricky has mine in the second photo. But we play very quietly. It’s Sunday. No work allowed. Making music somehow is considered work and forbidden. But drinking Kava is ok. 🙂

The next morning we go ashore to get a chicken and some eggs. I bring some tools to look at the chief’s generator.  Tomasi meets us and we get 30 eggs. Then to Chief’s house to see about the generator.

I don’t know a lot about generators. But the wire connections really look corroded. I disassemble them and clean them. Kat looks it over and wonders if the alternator coils need to be wound with new copper wire. Next start the motor and check the terminals for voltage, amp flow. As I prepare to do this, the coils start to arc to the case. Nice lightening bolts. Conclusion is alternator is dead and maybe rewinding it with new copper really would help it. Wish I’d thought of that!

As we are moving through town a woman approaches us and invited us to tea. That sounds nice.

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We follow her and she and her friend Unaisi treat us to tea and biscuits with butter and jam. We invite them back to Spill the Wine for a tour and eggs. We have plenty of eggs now. We pick up a frozen chicken on the way.

I row everybody out to Spill the Wine. Dinghy was full. The girls were having a blast. They had never been on board a yacht before. Unaisi’s husband Anasa comes along in his fishing boat and joins us. Then a guy, Pete, I recognize from last night’s Kava session is paddle boarding out from to beach and he joins us too.

The night before I had mentioned to the group that I could take a rider to Vuda Point marina the following day. Now Anasa and Pete are on board and both want to go.

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Ok then, they are both going. Pete brings a small bag and Anasa brings nothing but the clothes in his back. Life is simple in Fiji.

On the horizon I see a large catamaran approaching our anchorage. Hey it’s Hugh and Olga on Wayfinder. We met them in Bay of Islands Lau group.  Unfortunately after a brief Hello, Spill The Wine has to get moving.  We want to catch up with Nancy in Vuda Point.  It’s a 24 hour run.  Our new crew has a lot of boat experience.  Sailboat experience not so much.  But they learn fast.

Minutes after we depart we see a fishing boat chasing after us. It’s Anasa’s wife Unaisi. She left her flip-flops on Spill the Wine and has nicked out to recover them. And I’m not sure she is too pleased about us hauling off her husband Anasa.

We navigate the lagoon with our new crew providing local knowledge. There are rocks out there waiting to kiss the odd keel going by.  Exit the pass and head North for the West side of the biggest island, Viti Levu. Destination is the marina at Vuda Point.

The wind is weak for the first 10 hours of the trip so we motor. Then the wind picks up and we sail so fast that we have to slow down to avoid navigating shallow water in the dark. Successful. No friendly reefs make contact.

New crew turns out to be great crew. Experienced boat people but no sailing experience. They are eager and interested students and Kat and I do our best to make sure they go home with more sailing mojo than they had when they arrived.

Docking at the marina about 11am. Plenty of cleaning up to do and we get to it. Nancy arrives about an hour later. Hello Nancy! It’s been too long. And now you are here and it is good. I am in love with this woman.

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Cheers Mate!

Nancy has brought Bas with her.  She met him in Taveuni and he wants to sail to Vanuatu.  No sailing experience?  Gonna get some!

We take our empty propane tanks to get filled. No propane readily available but the gas Depot staff offer to make a fitting that will make a propane fill possible. They are set up for butane, that is the common liquid petroleum gas in the South Pacific. But my outboard needs propane. Mike McCaughan told me it was a bad idea to take a weird propane motor out of the US and he was right. Much more useful in the US where propane is the most common LP fuel.

Pete and Anasa do a fantastic job cleaning the deck and then set to on polishing the stainless. Another amazing result, thanks gentlemen!

The next day Pete and Anasa depart for their island. Kat leaves to visit fellow La Cruz boat Me Too for a few days. And it’s just Nancy and I. We are ready to have some quiet time together on Spill the Wine.

AAA Pfew

Whew!  That was one long winded post.

Return to Fiji

We are wrapping up a three day crossing from Minerva to Fiji. The wind has been generous. The sea state was building across the days but that is what happens when the wind blows! Closing in on Midnight as we work our way through some of the many Fijian islands on our way to Vuda Point marina. We should arrive tomorrow morning, Thursday the 10th.

We pull up to Vuda Point at the appointed hour. We tie up to a mooring and radio in.

Biological Security comes on board first. They primarily are concerned about whether we are healthy enough to be allowed to enter Fiji. We Pass.

I recognized one of the women from last year when she confiscated our contraband bananas! She remembered me and seemed to be in a better humor than last year. I assured her that I had no bananas this year and she was amused.

Next was customs and the details of officially “debarking” Brad, Grant, and Roddy so they can fly out.

I had an interesting conversation with the woman working me through the customs process. She told me that she was trying to get a visa to visit the US for a family wedding. And that the fee for a visa application was $600 US. That is a lot of money for a Fijian. And is you are not approved it is not refundable. Keep that in mind next time you get hassled by a customs official in your travels. The US customs process does not treat people so well that wish to visit. Especially if they are from a non-white country. She was being so kind to us and I was ashamed that my country was not showing her the same respect.

Last step in our process was applying for a “cruising permit” so that we can sail about in Fiji waters. It’s Thursday. We are told we might get that permit Friday. This matters as we want to visit a few islands before B, G, and R fly out on Tuesday. Well we did not get a permit. And now won’t until Monday at the earliest.

Permit? We don’t need no stinking permit! We go anyway. Risk is life.

We round up some last supplies. Saturday we depart. Mana island is our first stop. It has a good reef and a well protected lagoon. The pass into the lagoon is a little twisty but not bad.

The island is kinda closed. This is one of the primary places where Survivor is being filmed. So the resorts and restaurants have all been shut. No guests. Makes for a peaceful lagoon. Which now contains yet another pair of my sunglasses. Another sacrifice to Neptune.

We next head for Musket Cove on Round island. No “Survivor” nonsense here. Restaurant and grocery open.

We’d been here last year for an event. Lots of people! This year very different. More staff than guests. But it is early in the season. Grant takes us out to dinner as B,G and R leave tomorrow. Ferry to mainland then shuttle to airport. After they depart Nancy Kat and I just chill at anchor for the day on Monday. Nice to have more space on the boat. But that lot gets invited back. Great crew.

The next day (Tuesday) we head back to the mainland to pick up our cruising permit. It just came in, thank you! And we are off to Port Denarau, a nearby marina that has more vendors. I need something welded and we can get more supplies and fuel.

We need some Kava. This is a root used ceremonially in the peripheral islands. We met a woman named Katherine in a Fijian restaurant who tells us her dad sells kava. And he is from one of the little islands we will be visiting. She fixes us up. We need to keep in touch with this one, she might make good crew..

Welding gets done, dive gear gets sorted out, other supplies acquired. Successful mission!

We want to go to the Lao islands in eastern Fiji. A few folks have told us the way to take best advantage of the wind is to go clockwise through the northern Fiji islands ending up in the Lao.

So off we go winding our way North for Sawani bay where we will stop for the night. Just before sunset as we get ready to turn into the bay… Bonk! Another one of those friendly reefs reaches out and spanks my newly painted keel. As the kiwis would say, Bugger! We reviewed our myriad navigational aides and none of them really shows the rocks we met in such a way as to call them a hazard. Bugger again! I just need to be more paranoid.

But we move on and get anchored. We are meeting folks for dinner. Shanise and Stuart. We dinghy to shore (not hitting anything else on the way) and they carry us off to a restaurant in their truck. Shanise might join Spill the Wine for a bit. We’ll see about schedules.

This morning (Saturday the 19th) I went under the boat to see if there was any real damage from that rock. Bottom paint on the keel took a whack but otherwise is all looks ok. Inside shows a tiny crack in a frame. So nothing needs doing immediately. The frame will be an easy repair. Even for me. The paint whack will have to wait until the next haul out. At least a year. Time for breakfast.

And we continue to wind our way up the coast dodging numerous huge reefs successfully. Kat sends the day sorting out a navigation program called Open CPN. And she makes way more progress than I ever did. Damn youts! (That’s “youths” in Jersey speak). We anchored about 4pm on Saturday by Volivoli point. Time to roast a chicken. Tomorrow we exit the reef through Nananu pass and cross to Vanua Levu island. It’s about 35 miles. We should get there before dark.

Unless we decide to stay put for a couple more days. It’s a beautiful bay!

Nancy and I go ashore to see about some supplies. Mangroves on the shore. So where to access shore is not obvious. We pick a spot. It was pretty shallow for the last 100 yards. That should have gotten my attention. More on that later.

We wandered up the hill through some sugar cane fields, dodging the odd cow grazing along, a couple goats. We met the woman in charge of the land and she very graciously directed us to the path that led to the road.

We followed The Google’s directions to the grocery. It was described as opening at 8am. Well I’m thinking it has not opened at 8 in quite some time.

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We look up the road and spy a little vendor. And smells like smoke. Best go look.

They have lamb BBQ with cucumber, kasava, rice, and a hot dog. I’m in. The proprietor gets my a glass of water and a chair in the shade. I’m really in Fiji now. Super nice people. First there was the woman running the stand. Then her man came along. Then a small girl and a grandmother gravitated over from the house. This was a happening. Two people from the US just wandered into our BBQ stand! Inconceivable! Fun.

They tell us there is a bit of a store just down the road. Just keep walking. Nancy did. I sat down to enjoy the BBQ. But I did catch up to her as she bought some eggs and a liter of milk from the little store.

The owner invited us to relax for a few. A small girl with a beautiful smile (that she won’t share with a camera) comes along.

Then the proprietor wants in. Why not?

Then a little boy jumps in and you can see a local fisherman behind us. He tells me he is heading to Alaska to do some cold water fishing. Get ready for cold my young friend!

We walk back towards the bay. Get some more BBQ to take to STW for Kat who continues to work on the Open CPN project. Then there was a horse… Of course.

“What do you mean you mean you went to the store and didn’t bring me a carrot???”. Honest dude! They did not have any veggies. Cans only! Horse unimpressed.

We find our way to the same path through the canefields as before. The woman who guided us previously is not about but we left her a couple of eggs for her kindness. Navigate the goats, the cows, the bushes, and there is the dinghy.

And the tide is out. And we are 100 yards from the water line. And the dinghy + motor + fuel is a bit too heavy to drag 100 yards. Learning. Beachest thou not thy dinghy after crossing 100 yards of shallow water on a falling tide. So we strip the dinghy.

Stack the bits on a rock at the water line. And carry the empty dinghy to the water.

C’mon Nancy! Try to get more excited about portaging the dinghy! Actually Nancy was a great sport throughout. And hoist the dinghy we did. Remounted the motor and returned to STW.

That was a lot of work. Time for a nap. I love not having a tight schedule. My blood pressure just went down.

Nancy suggests we visit Volivoli Beach Resort for dinner. Why not? It’s Sunday. Everything else is closed.

Great idea. Super sunset on their beach. We had smoked pork, spring rolls, and sushi. All awesome. Staff was awesome. They were Fijian after all!

Monday comes and we dinghy ashore to a different part of the bay. The Fijians on shore are happy to help us land. We explain that we have come for groceries. Hmmm… Groceries. Several miles to to go to Rakiraki town. One of the guys asks if we want him to call us a cab. Before that happens a guy pipes up and says our cab is here, and he is it.

So we walk to Lau’s car at the foot of the jetty. He unlocks it and pulls some wires out from under the dash which he twists into the doors to roll down the windows. On the road to Rakiraki town!

Where there are several grocery stores. We round up some supplies in one store. Then our crew went in several directions. And I did not know where my crew was. Neither did Lau. How hard can it be to find the only two Caucasian women in Rakiraki town? Finally did of course. Then it was time to go… Or was it? Lau wants to make one more pass through the market. Not sure why, but he’s driving.

They have everything green here. Grocery stores not so much it turns out. He introduced me to some Fijians he knows here. They ask me if I want to drink some Kava. How to respond? Are they being polite? Is it impolite to decline? It’s not like I have to drive… Sure. Next thing you know my tongue is numb. It’s what Kava does. But I’m honored they wanted to share numb tongues with me.

We round up lunch to go and head back to the wharf. The locals help us launch the dinghy and we head back to STW. Stow the groceries and trot out lunch. Tomorrow we depart for Vanua Levi, Fiji’s other major island. But first we must pass through the many reefs…

Vanua Levu’s Dolphins

We weigh Anchor at 0715 and begin our crossing. Miles of open water as far as the eye can see. But there is a deception at hand. All that water is not so deep as Spill The Wine. Most of it is 3 feet deep. Study the chart we did. Verified the chart with Google Earth yes we did.

We were anchored by my finger there at the bottom of this photo. You can see our planned path through the reefs. Plenty of them Mon! Following this route I get a vague view of the reefs only. The sun is rising on the bow. But we sneak out unscathed.

Nice south easterly coming up Vatu-I-Ra Channel on our beam at about 12 kts. We are motorsailing because we need to charge batteries and make fresh water. The sails stabilize our roll. Sea state is pretty smooth today.

About halfway across we meet a school of dolphins.

A dozen or so decide to play at our bow. Mind the anchor mates!

We enter the reef and anchor by Nabouwalu Jetty. The Ferry stops by here daily and freight carriers too. Which makes it maybe not the best place to anchor.

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EASY big fella! It was interesting watching the docking process. Ship approaches the jetty. Drops an anchor while still making forward progress. Then the anchor grabs and the ship pivots on it ending up stern to the jetty. Then they tie up and load/unload. On shore there is a small grocery and a post office. Its enough, we don’t need much yet. But we did buy a couple lobsters on the jetty one morning when the fishing boats came in.

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Nancy butter poaches them. And we had lobster rolls. Then we get moving. There is a nice cove up the coast a few miles. Looks good and our chart says “Anchorage”. We pull in and find the cove quite populated with buoys. Kinda weird. Oh well. We find room to anchor between the buoy pile and the reef. And it was a great reef. Lots of fish and tricky lobsters that we could not catch. There were some little squid off the swim step.

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These things are bizarre to watch. Regular fish only go forward. These things have a reverse as well. So they will swim along and then reverse direction for whatever reason and go back the way they came without turning their bodies. You might have seen these on a plate. At which point they are called calamari. There was also a crab trying to stow away.

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We are the only boat in this anchorage. Kinda nice! But then there are not a lot of boats like ours on this coast anyway. The next morning Kat and I go out to look at the reef some more and maybe catch one of those sneaky lobsters. A couple guys in a panga come along and explain to us that indeed, this is a pearl farm. Hence the many buoys. And the reef is closed to snorkeling. Not quite an “anchorage” after all. Darn that chart!

Ok. Lets go to Namena Island. It is also a marine preserve, no fishing. But snorkeling is allowed and so is anchoring.

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Cute little island surrounded by a reef. Waves wont be too big for our visit. We cruised by the Dive Resort on the island. In ruins. Cyclone Winston crushed this area a few years ago. The wind is coming from the SE so we anchor on the NW shore out of the wind. No fishing here so the reef is fairly healthy and there are a lot of fish. We spent a couple very nice days here. And strangely enough we had cell coverage here in the middle of nowhere. Which we used to watch the weather. And that proved to be a good idea. A low is passing through and our 10-15 knot SE wind is predicted to clock around to the North about midnight and crank up to 20 knots. The midnight part of this is the problem. All we would need to do would be to weigh anchor and re-anchor on the south side of the island. In the dark. Bummer.

Or we could leave today for Savusavu. Kind of a late start, but off we went. And as soon as we got out of the reef the seas were kinda big. Gusting to 30 knots. Definitely not the 10-15 knots predicted. We are towing the dinghy because, late start, did not want to take the time to deflate/stow it on deck. Good day for Nancy to use seasickness meds…

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We finally get behind the reef close to Savusavu about sundown. Seas get smooth and wind becomes much milder. I try to avoid night approaches to anchorages but today weather has forced our hand. As it turns out Savusavu is a pretty easy mooring field to get into in the dark. Narrow channel and mooring balls on both sides of the river. Streetlights make it not so dark.

Nice little town Savusavu. It is the largest town on Fiji’s second largest island and has a population of about 4500 people. We get some diesel, some groceries, and just relax for a few days. We met a guy from New York. He was formerly employed by Welch-Allyn. They make medical instruments. Many for the eyecare field. He introduced us to Linda, a local Rotarian. The two of them are working on getting some medical equipment together for the local hospital. Which could use an eye clinic among other things…

Soon it is time to move on. We visit the green grocer and head for Viani Bay further up the coast. Nice spot that has some good diving. There is a dive shop where Kat and I want to do a free diving class. Free diving is a three dollar word for snorkeling with more emphasis on spending time below the surface holding your breath.

Nice enough place that we spent a few days. Snorkeling and img_20180604_215429642_ll

drinking Kava on shore in the evenings with the Fijians. Our friends from La Cuz, Sky Blue Eyes, show up. Things got more musical.  img_20180604_134518410

The dive outfit had awesome dogs there that liked to fish in the shallows.

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The last night there were a few bugs.  Time to go.  Taviuni, the garden island is calling us from across the channel.

Moving on down a salty road.

April 30 2018. We departed Opua at 2pm. Crew is myself, Kat and her boyfriend Roddy, Brad Tower and Grant Nelson. Yesterday Brad and Kat went to town for provisions. Color matters.

One more trip up the mast. Inspect the cables that strengthen and center the mast. These cables and the mast are collectively spoken of as “the rig”. Brad and Grant took care of the hoisting.

Grant and I sailed out into the bay to put the watermaker back into service. And learned a lesson. Sea state rough and random. Just right for seasickness. And we got a taste.

We have departed Opua after clearing with customs. Today we are using scopolomine patchs to avoid illness. Which is working. We are definitely feeling better than yesterday.

The sea state is still rough and random. Wind 17 to 22 gusting to 25. The moon is full. 3 meter seas try to board us but Spill The Wine foils them. They roll harmlessly under the stern. Our course to Minerva reef puts the wind and swell on our port rear quarter. Sometimes a rather large wave hits our stern and pushes us around and off course. The automatic pilot recovers our course pretty quickly.

Sunrise is the appetizer, and sunset is the dessert of the day.

Kat is running the galley. The meals are fantastic. I’m betting her culinary skills were not picked up in her Yacht Master program.

The first day out the seas were rough. To avoid freaking out our stomacs Kat served an awesome pasta dinner. The next night we were feeling quite comfortable with the seas and took a chance on T bone steaks. Successful.

Today maybe the anti seasick drugs are wearing off. Some discomfort among crew. I hope they don’t mutiny! We did take another chance on a lamb roast. But it worked.

There was about an hour between sunset and moonrise. Oh My was that ever dark!

After moonrise we study the squalls that surround us. One’s bound to get us.

The little black boat looking thing is us. The purple bogey on the radar is the squall. Keep the foul weather gear handy mateys!

May 3. This morning conditions were right for a nice asymetric spinnaker run. Kat and I do foredeck and Brad controls the halyards and sheets. This goes very smoothly. Soon we are smoking down the bounding main at 9 kts.

Afterwards we get most of the crew into a photo. And we are facing the stern with beautiful spinnaker in the background. Brad hoots “Fish On!” And a nice mahimahi joins the crew of Spill the Wine.

Edible hitch hikers are the best!

Roddy is a very experienced fish dude. He identifies the fish and demos filleting on half of it. Kat did the other half. Lunch will be soon!

Great wind until the afternoon of May 1st. Time to do some motoring. In the early morning of the 3rd there is some rain. Dawn brings a fantastic sunrise. And some rain. And squalls on and off all day. Wind varying from 7 to 25 kts as the squalls come and go. Pretty typical for these latitudes.

May 4. We ramble on and the wind builds slowly. The seas build too. Now 4 meter swells are coming from behind. Some breaking but nothing but spray gets into the cockpit. And not much of that. We are making 6 to 8 kts on a storm jib and a bit of main.

My scopolomine patch is exhausted. Good thing. I was having vaguely conscious dreams. And when it was time for me to participate in any dialog I would catch myself doing it out loud. Kinda weird.

We cooked a chicken on the Big Green Egg last night. I was almost surprised it went so well. Boat was being tossed about in the large swell like it was a toy. STW was heeling to 25 degrees in gusts to 33 kts. And the vertical chicken stayed that way throughout. We rejoiced with tacos.

Still 250 miles to Minerva. But we make good speed in spite of the lumpy sea state. You might recall in a previous post I got hit in the eye by a flying fish that tried to jump over the cockpit back on the Pacific crossing. Brad joined the ranks of the “Fish Eye Brotherhood” last night. He says he needs reading glasses as a result but I’m not so sure that’s the cause. He has 45 other problems… 😉

I’m starting to be bothered by a low grade fever, 99.5, and some real headaches. Hmmm. Aspirin not much help. Ibuprophen and Tylenol similarly not helpful. Maybe I’m seasick? I get this so rarely that I don’t recognize the symptoms. I try some anti seasickness stuff and it seems to work. Must have been the perfect sea state to do me in.

Nevermind our crew. We have other stowaways.

Two little stowaways disguised as sparrows or some sort. Proverbial bird in hand!

They liked the interior of Spill the Wine.

One tried steering but the autopilot took it for a ride.

As you can see they are very shy. There are more than a few fearless birds in NZ. I have to assume that’s where these are from as we just left. After about a day they flew away. Hope they know what they are doing.

The sun has been down for a couple hours and the sky has been pretty clear. Great night for a starshow. Just now the moon rises. Welcome back my friend. We are 50 miles from Minerva reef. Strange reef kind of in the middle of nowhere. 300 miles from any land. So of course we want to go. Should arrive at dawn.

Kat and I had intended to see Minerva on our way down from Fiji last November. The weather turned on us and we needed to make for New Zealand with all due haste to avoid trouble. And did. But so far this crossing looks like we will be touring Minerva easily.

May 6. We arrive about 9am. The pass is 75 feet deep. No worries there! Some snorkeling. Napping. Then it’s dinner time.

Kat and Roddy go for a walk on the reef. It is walkable at low tide.

And they recruit three lobsters to join the crew of Spill the Wine!

Here is satellite photo because it’s hard to photo an atoll. It’s all underwater. Most remarkable is the absence of swell after you sail through the pass seen on the photo above at about 10:00. It’s about 3 miles across.

We depart about 1300 hrs on May 7th. Crew notes. Kat and Roddy are both quite experienced. Brad and Grant less so. This is their first time on an ocean crossing. And they are loving it. They may be ruined for life on land forever. They are starting to shop for boats.

Once I was an Island

What is an atoll and how is it formed? Every time I try to explain this I confuse others and myself. So I tried a different approach after our visit to Minerva Reef, which is an atoll.

Once I was an island. And I did things that Islands do. I relaxed in the Sun in the middle of the sea.

Sometimes there were strong winds. And shortly after I came into my volcanic existence the winds brought me birds. And the birds and sea currents brought me vegetation.

After a time I grew weary of the sea errodng my beaches and I decided to grow a reef of coral. It never dawned on me what would happen if I had a reef of coral. Coral is a living thing you see. And it will grow. And erosion will not stop it. I did not have this power.

Many thousands of years passed and erosion from the wind and rain slowly took its toll and I melted into the sea. Do not be sad. I was very old.

My reef that I loved so dearly carried on, as it should. I’m sure it thinks fondly of me sometimes. And now it has a new friend, The lagoon that has come to be in the space I once called my own. I hope they love each other and the sea for a very long time.

Atolls are magical places. Their story deserves telling in prose that is not clinical or scientific. I had a go.

Minerva is a republic. Human population is zero. The land mass above the sea is nothing more than a few rocks.

We passed by Minerva south in the dark of late morning and arrived at Minerva reef North about 9am. The reef was once a complete circle. But now in the NW margin there is a break in the reef. This is called a pass. It is 85 feet deep. This sort of depth is unusual for a pass. But WWII was an unusual time. At that time Minerva was made over into a harbor for ships of war. Which need a deep pass to accommodate their draft. Let’s just say dynamite was involved. In time the ships were taken away. And Minerva was once again a lovely atoll 300 miles south of Fiji. Now with a pass.

Pass matters. Now boats like ours can get into the lagoon. This affords us a tremendous amount of protection from the swells and waves of the southern ocean. It’s like a calm lake in the middle of an active sea. The lagoon is 3 miles across and we are alone here. Surrounded on all sides by waves breaking on the reef that cannot disturb the rest of Spill The Wine and her sleepy crew.

We went snorkeling on a shipwreck. Probably a WWII remnant. Whose demise has created a place for sealife to thrive. Shipwrecks in tropical waters are invariably bejeweled with a dizzying array of fish and chorals of many colors. The ships death creates a lively, cheerful, and beautiful seascape.

When the Tide is low one can walk on the reef. And we did. Kat and Roddy found 3 fat spiney lobsters. Who soon joined the crew of Spill The Wine on the Big Green Egg. Accompanied by a lamb foreleg.

In the morning we moved our boat to the reef pass. Snorkeling in a pass is usually great and we are not disappointed. Grant does a scuba dive.

While we were out the last lobsters pooped in the refrigerator. Bummer. Minor time out to do some clean up.

Finally depart at 2pm. 300 miles to Fiji. It’s getting warmer. The sea is now 75 degrees. The wind is weak. But we need to charge batteries and make water. Perfect timing. Motoring towards Fiji at 330 degrees. Kat makes cucumber salad and we dine on the last 2 lobsters.

Weather predictions are for wind behind us all the way to Fiji. So after dinner we rig the boat for downwind sailing. Pole the jib out to windward. And secure the main out to leeward.

No sooner do we have the sails arranged when we have a fish. A yellowfin tuna joins the crew of Spill The Wine. Let there be sushi! Roddy and Kat fillet the new crew member. I should tell you that this is not how we treat all new crew. Just the ones that are lobsters and fish.

Sails set, dinner over, and for dessert we have the Milky Way. Best star night yet. Late moon rising, and clear. It’s been a fantastic passage. Too soon it will end.

Last Details before Departing NZ

I’m alone on the boat just now. Which makes it easy to get things done.

The dingy has served some rough miles. This is the bow. It appears to have met too many rocks on beach landings. Poor dingy. I’ve some old epoxy resin. Let’s hope it still works.

First I need a “sterile field”. I hope this old pizza box is sterile. Just so I don’t dribble resin everywhere.

You are looking at three layers of fiberglass cloth saturated with epoxy resin. Which is a funny color. Rust? It was in a steel can that looked rusty… Who cares, it set.

I used a funny cloth that you lay on the surface of your resin before it hardens. You smooth it out by hand. After the resin sets up you peel off the fabric and you are left with a pretty smooth surface. One of the guys in the boatyard told me about this fabric. I was impressed. Made sanding short work. Then paint.

Shadow man says…”Like it never happened!” Next I patched a few leakys on the dinghy tubes. They were not bad but it is annoying to have to reinflate the dingy too often.

The transom has brutal rust stains. Maybe from marginally stainless bolts. So I get new bolts. But the rust… I just painted the bow repair, Paint the transom! Worked great.

The dinghy has stern wheels to facilitate beach landings. They have parts that don’t float. Personal experience. 😁. So I visit the machinist that did some work on the cutless bearing. He made the missing part presto.

And the dinghy goes back in it’s bag for travel.

One of the hatches has a broken handle. I fix that up with a new teak handle I made from a scrap I had on board.

The teak trim on the companionway needs refinished. Got that. The battery on the autopilot remote control expired. Nancy brought a new one of those too. I’ve an eye on the front of the mast. Said eye is undersized for my spinnaker pole. So I ordered a new eye to be welded on.

Here we are looking at the old ring and the new above. The old ring will be removed from the plate and replaced with the new.

Parts ready for welding here. Sunglasses in the frame for scale. Kiss them goodbye. They have joined the legion of boat bits that did not float. Begs the question… How many pairs of sunglasses does it take to tour the South Pacific? Four and counting…

And the finished product courtesy of Chris the welding guru. Back on the mast before I lose the parts!

A friend scavenges an old sail from a dumpster for me. I set about sewing it into a bag for my bicycle. I sailed down here from Seattle with bike hung from the stern arch. Very exposed. Hopefully the bag will protect it from the elements enough to slow down Death by Rust! I think it’s going to work.

Steering wheels run on greased ball bearings. There is a grease seal on each wheel. These seals have failed. And rust begins. And rust bleeds down the steering posts.

That will never do. New seals ordered and in hand. And I dismantle the steering assembly. Remove rust stains. Install new seals, and ready to go.

Other chores. Diesel cabin heater exhaust started to leak. Fumes in cabin. Not acceptable. Local chandlery ordered a replacement presto. Fresh paint on the big green egg shelves. Oil the little bit of teak on the boat. Wash the windows I also sent the liferaft off to Auckland for service. The certificate expires every 3 years. They need to be inspected/certified every 3 years if you want to be able to count on them.

One more trip up the mast to inspect rigging and to install the storm jib stay. Look close and you can spot the ground crew that put me up here. Thanks Brad Tower and Grant Nelson! Seriously excellent crew.

All above is a lot of little things that add up to lots of time consumed. But there is absolutely nothing quite like a boat that is ready to take you anywhere you want to go.

Last NZ Tour

Nancy is coming back from Washington where she was helping her mom sort out her future. Maybe it would be nice if I picked her up at the Auckland airport.

It turned out to be a great idea!

We spent a couple rainy days in Auckland’s awesome museums. Monsoon rainy. With wind that stripped branches off more than a few trees. Then rounded up our rental car and headed for the Coromandel peninsula east of Auckland.

You can’t tour NZ without being struck by how incredibly beautiful this place is. And the Coromandel peninsula is just like that.

It was largely logged off a hundred years ago. But some 600 year old Kauri trees survive.

So we went for a visit. Nice hike on really well maintained trails. NZ takes their natural treasures seriously. Don’t expect they will be selling them off any time soon.

Our friend Lynn Ringseis recommended the B&B of some friends of hers. Steve and Marilyn’s Hush Accommodations just outside Coromandel Town. Good call. Super people in beautiful Coromandel Town. Lynn met them years ago when they were all managing charter sailboats. They have certainly not forgotten how to do hospitality!

It was a beautiful day for a drive across the Coromandel range. You can see forever from this pass.

Another must see is the Hobbit village from The Hobbit movies. Fun! We had a beer at the Green Dragon Inn. But there were no Hobbits about. No doubt they were all abroad having Adventures.

Behind us is the party tree from the movies.

Brad and Grant have just arrived in NZ. Nancy and I head for Opua to meet them. They are having a blast with NZ. Hard not to, it’s a great place.

Nancy has brought a bag of boat parts. Time to get to work on them!

X-Ray Vision

This post is a bit out of order. Pretend we are back in the yard briefly. Then we’ll get back to the water and more.

I looked at my yard bills and decided I’d beaten my deductible to a pulp. It was time to call on Novamar my insurance provider to cover some of the repairs as much of the work here was necessitated by the grounding in Fiji 5 months ago. This was a new experience for me in boat world.

Novamar’s adjuster Scott Labadie seemed to grasp quite quickly what was up. This was not his first grounding case. He referred me to Captain Kristoffer Diel, a marine surveyor in New Orleans. Well sort of from New Orleans. Turns out he spends a good deal of the year bouncing around the globe doing inspection work like this. Kris and I get on the phone and he tells me that he is “not going to be sanguine about the finished repairs” unless he gets his hands on Spill The Wine for his own inspection. Short of that he tells me to organize an infra-red scan of the hull structure. Sure! I know all about that!!

I ask around the yard and called a local boat surveyor. This technology must be a new application in the marine industry. At least this yard was not familiar with it. They all thought this guy was from the moon and had never heard of anyone doing this to assess a hull for damage. So I asked The Google. There is a company in Auckland (3.5 hrs drive) that has this technology. and they have done some marine work. A few days later they are on site at 7:30am.

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They have a monster propane burner that they use to warm up the hull. They film in IR as it cools down. Differential rates of cooling tell tales. Hull thicker (near beams it will be) or thinner or delaminated….. ew!

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Here you are looking at the IR guy with a ball cap on (face is white) and he is holding a maybe 12″ diameter hose blowing the hot air from the propane burner up at the hull to heat it up. The red spot top center is the front of the keel. I think…

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The right image is the IR image. Lighter is warmer, darker is cooler. The left image is for reference so you know what you are looking at. You can see that the technician has highlighted a few odd results but they are not conclusive. He explained to me that delamination really screams at you with this technique.

Anyway the report comes back as…. might be ok. But further investigation required. Captain Kris makes plans to come to NZ. He is currently in Cartegenia Columbia on a similar project. So I have a few days to Chill. In my own odd way.

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This is a winch. Its a handy thing when it comes time to tightening up a line with some serious tension. A lot to it on the inside. You put a handle on it and crank one way with whatever horsepower you’ve got and you can tighten up a line pretty quick. Reverse rotation with that crank and you will tighten up more slowly but with a lot of leverage. And thus control your sails that may well be under a great deal of tension. I have 4 winches. Nancy and I already too care of two of them, already done. And I’m going to tear apart the next two. Notice the roof behind the winch. Yes I really am still up in the air in the dang boat yard. I have really enjoyed working with the people here, but Spill the Wine needs her some Salt Water! Soon I suppose, but first…

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So now we are looking at a couple racks of roller bearing racks that need to be cleaned in solvent and regreased. That how it starts.

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And that is what she looks like with bearings removed. The Big Green Egg watches closely… But what is that wrench up to??

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Oh yeah. This thing comes off too. And there’s more bearings and gears.

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Here is the center axle. Do you have any idea how hard it is to clean and grease one of these things and take photos along the way without greasing your phone? If you live right you’ll never need to know.

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More stuff is probably going on under the gears in the base.

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Yeah there’s greasy bits. Assembly and disassembly take about 30 minutes. The parts cleaning and re greasing…. a couple hours. Probably would have gone faster if I’d skipped the photos.

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Here is the lot of the parts. Clean and ready to get together again.

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Clean parts are more fun to work with for sure. Can you spot the dental pick? My dad mailed me about 20 of those things about 15 years ago. And damn it those things are handy more often than I had ever imagined. Even the little wooden toothpick is handy sometimes.

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The keel got removed after the bottom paint went on. Kinda backwards but sometimes that’s how it goes. So I come along and touch up a few spots that got ding’d on project Keel Removal. And I noticed that the paint is not quite the same color. To I tagged my keel. Can you see the primitive image I made? Next time I need to get Nancy involved and give her a proper contrasting color. She has abilities in this realm that I do not.

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A couple other boat yard images. The rainbow speaks for itself. The boat photo above that is probably a work in progress but I think it needs to be clear coated at is. Industrial Art indeed!

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Captain Kris gets to New Zealand and I pick him up at the airport. I know his eyes are closed in the photo. And I know that Roddy’s were too in a previous post. Not sure what this means. If I find the hidden message I’ll post it here. I invite Kris to spend his NZ time on board STW and he likes the idea. Boats are boats and hotels are hotels. We all have our preference.

For the next few days he goes over the boat with a fine toothed comb. I always learn quite a bit during a survey. And this survey more than most. Very experienced and informative cat. Good news is the keel repairs pass. Which means STW can go back into the sea. There is no bad news. Kris’s tour of the STW reveals a number of things that could be organized more functionally in general. Nothing like the voice of experience far greater than mine.

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One suggestion was that I should have a fair chunk of a sail I can use to bandage a hole in the hull should I ever have that sort of issue. If you ever hit an underwater obstruction above the keel you can sling a hunk of sail over the hole and slow the water ingress way down. On a not so bad day your bilge pump might be able to keep up. And there was our neighbor whacking up an old sail! Perfect opportunity. Bandage acquired. Steve and Julie were awesome neighbors. Only sorry we were both in the yard long enough to meet the neighbors.

And it was a blast spending a few days with Capt. Kris. Thanks for coming aboard and yer invited back mate!

And Spill The Wine Returns to the sea.

Mom

We were in Mexico when I told Chris I had to go back to Washington.

Some of you know my mother. She is pretty amazing, especially at 92. She has lived alone for 19 years, since my dad died. She takes care of her house, drives, cooks, shops, gardens, and has a vodka & tonic every evening before dinner. She walks erect without a cane and with no osteoporosis, hasn’t turned all grey yet, and has no major health issues. But she had a bad fall, and I needed to come help her while she healed.

Despite her obvious independence, she needs to move. She has no community and is dependent on my sister & I for her needs. Since I am on the other side of the world, and Linda wants to retire and spend her time with kids & grandkids, I made it my goal to convince her this would be for the best.

Amazingly, she surprised all of us by finding a senior community near my niece and her family in Portland that she says feels “home-y”, and we put her on a waiting list. Although she is a bit overwhelmed, we have assured her we will help her through the process of going through her 4-bedroom house to manage her stuff.

I will return to help facilitate when I am needed. For now, I’ll be heading back to Chris in New Zealand, where he has planned a couple of weeks of fun for the two of us. I’m more than ready to be there!