Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 


 

October 1:

 

     Yesterday we finally said farewell to Manta Ray Island and sailed north to a spot called the Blue Lagoon.  It's a little spot of calm water surrounded by four islands.  I went ashore to make our sevu sevu and asked the first islander I encountered where to go.  This turned out to be a young guy named Sammy who happened to be standing in the shade of a tree talking to a friend.  Sammy looked at me and my sack of kava and immediately plopped down in the sand, recited his sevu sevu verse and clapped his hands three times.  "OK, welcome," he said.  "Here are the rules.  You can walk all the way around the island at low tide.  But only if there is not a cruise ship here.  Then the south beach is closed for them.  You can bring me your garbage for $5.  We have a barbecue at my house on Friday night--$20."  We exchanged pleasantries for a few more minutes before he took our bag of kava and walked back up to his hut.

      A stroll southward down the beach led me to a big billboard proclaiming much the same as what Sammy had told me:  Keep out when any Blue Lagoon Cruise Line ships are anchored here.  I headed the opposite direction where a little resort occupied the northern end of the island.  It was a smart looking place with modern brown bungalows lined up behind a grove of coconut palms decorated with hammocks.  A cozy lounge lay on the open tile veranda in front of the bar.  I ordered a cold beer and was about to settle into one of those comfy looking lounge chairs when I noticed the sign on the coffee table:  Lounge area reserved for houseguests ONLY.  "No problem," I thought, "I'll just head out to the beach."  Several signs were placed there also which took a softer tone:  Kindly remember that all beach chairs, furniture, hammocks, etc. are reserved only for the guests of the resort.  Thank You."

    I went back to the bar (that had no barstools, mind you) to inquire exactly where a non-guest was permitted to sit and was referred to a typewritten page of rules that, to summarize, apologized profusely but confirmed that we were most welcome to come and spend our money as long as we only sat in the back corner of the restaurant and presumably didn't talk too loud or breathe too much.  So on my way back to Uliad I reminded myself that this is the first place we've found in Fiji that was anything less than extremely friendly and welcoming.  So if that place happened to be way out in the outer reaches of the Yasawa Islands, well then all the better for the rest of Fiji. 

 

 

October 3:

     Nobody was feeling ready to rush back to "civilization".  We were having a great time poking our way through the remote Yasawa Islands.  The weather was good.  Our kava supply was still holding.  But Emmett's good friend Joshua was having a birthday party back at Musket Cove; so after holding out as long as possible, we got an early start yesterday to make it back in time.  I was up at sunrise and sipping my morning mocha in the cockpit while waiting for the sun to be high enough to make out the reefs around us.  By 7:30 the coffee was finished, the crew was awake, and the reefs were visible so off we went.

    The wind blew at 15 knots or so on a beam reach--about as perfect sailing conditions as we could get.  We were flying along at 8 knots having a lovely morning when I saw a whale spout off the port bow.  Icing on the cake, I thought as I called Kathleen & Emmett to see.  Our courses met with the whale surfacing about 30 yards from us--it looked to be a solo humpback and a big one!  We were all standing at the stern waiting to get one last look when it surfaced again.  Now it was directly in our wake and had changed course to head straight toward us!

    We had learned from our previous whale watching trips that humpbacks usually surface to breathe every 3-10 minutes, but this one was now spouting every 60 seconds.  And there were powerful swirls of water on the surface with each kick of its tail to convince me that this whale was now in an all out sprint to catch us.  Now I was getting worried.  What did this mean?  Was it a friendly whale that wanted to play?  Was it looking for a mate?  And if so, what would happen if a large whale tried to mate with our hull?  Or was this the next Moby Dick--preparing to ram us with all its fury?  As these thoughts ran through my mind, the whale surfaced again--now slowly gaining on our stern despite our speed. 

Humpback whale chasing Uliad

    That would be the last we saw of it.  Perhaps it gave up after a few minutes chase, perhaps it finally figured out what we were and lost interest.  One of Uliad's previous owners once told us that she was convinced that there was something about the sound of Uliad's aluminum hull in the water that dolphins and whales found much more curious than the average fiberglass sailboat out here.  I'm starting to wonder if that's true.  Whatever the whale's intentions were, it was all over now except for the additional time it took for my blood pressure to return to normal. 

     The wind calmed down throughout the day and we certainly couldn't outrun an angry whale by the time we pulled into Musket Cove.  But Emmett made it to his birthday party the next day and a good time was had by all.

 

October 5:

     If there's one thing I hope to never forget about Fiji, it is the evenings.  With remarkable constancy, every single night, there is the most perfect evening breeze of a temperature just right for sitting out in the cockpit in a bathing suit or a pair of pajama bottoms or, dare I say, nothing at all if there are no neighbors about.  Overhead are the constellations of the southern hemisphere, brilliantly shining in the clear sky.  The hot tropical sun is gone, and this gentle cool breeze is absolutely perfect as it drifts past your skin.

     The evening hours begin, of course, with sunset.  This is nearly always a garish display of red, orange and pink clouds as the sun drops into the ocean.  Since the trade winds blow out of the east, we're usually anchored off some sandy beach resort where all the guests are looking out past Uliad to see the pretty sunset.  From out boat, we can watch the dozens of flashbulbs popping along the shore as the tourists rush out with their cameras to capture the scene.  We feel like moviestars being attacked by distant paparazzi. 

     Then the skies go dark and the evening breeze fills in, rustling the palm leaves and carrying the dinner music from the resort out over the bay.  For a few hours, everything is perfect:  the air temperature, the gentle breeze, the twinkling skies, the music in the distance, and the gentle rocking of the waves.  This all lasts until I finally fall asleep.  Sometime in the early morning hours it gets just slightly cooler and I reach down to pull a sheet up over us.  By 6:30 that blazing sun is peeking up over the hills to the east and that cool, magical breeze has disappeared.  And by the time I'm warming up the espresso machine it has already turned hot again.        

     The standard advice to people in pain or peril is to close their eyes and imagine themselves somewhere else.  Somewhere warm and safe and beautiful.  If I should be that unlucky soul someday, I'm going to visualize an evening in Fiji.

 

October 7:

     The countdown to our passage to New Zealand has officially begun.  I've been watching the ocean forecasts each morning and trying to sort out the steady stream of highs and lows that drift across the Tasman Sea and constantly change the weather in the thousand odd miles of ocean between Fiji and New Zealand.  Aside from a brief trip across the equator, we've been sailing through the steady trade winds ever since we left the Bahamas nearly three years ago.  While there can be rare calms or locally intensified winds, for the most part you can count on the trade winds:  12 to 20 knots blowing out of the east.

     It is almost shocking now to watch the great variations in winds from one day to the next when you go south of about 25 degrees latitude.  Depending on where those blobs of high pressure or low pressure sit on the daily forecast chart could mean 30 knots on our nose or flat calms or anything in between.  Even worse for us, as we get closer to New Zealand, the weather has the potential to get more extreme.  So ultimately we'll have to leave here, trying to guess what the weather will be like a week from now north of New Zealand.  And weather forecasts 7 or more days in the future tend to not be very reliable anyway.

     So....we tend to those things we CAN control.  We made an inventory of our food stores and decided to make one final run to the market.  We sailed to Port Denerau, which is the main ferry hub for all those tourists that are coming and going to all those island resorts we've been sailing past.  We needed to top off our fuel tanks because, yes, days and days of calm weather is one of the more appealing scenarios for our crossing and I plan to have no hesitation at running the engine to get us there quickly.

     A good rule of thumb for a yacht skipper is to always try to buy your diesel from a place that sells a lot of diesel.  The longer diesel fuel sits in a tank or a steel drum, the greater chance it will get contaminated with dirt and water--both of which can cause major headaches if they plug up your fuel filters or get in your injectors.  So even though Port Denerau is a pretty busy place, it's fuel dock is the best place to go for fuel.  We anchored outside the marina and I took the dinghy in to scout out our entry.  Then we called ahead and got permission to proceed to the fuel dock, only to arrive and find it full with several other boats.  We circled around and spoke to another sailor on the dock who spoke with the fuel guys.  Eventually one boat left and we tied off, only to be told that we had only 15 or 20 minutes to fuel before one of those big ferry boats would be pulling in for the night and need this dock space.  Well, we took as much diesel as we could before they chased us off while a giant ferry stood by behind us impatiently.

     Next to the ferry docks is a small marina for big boats.  We decided to splurge on a slip at the marina.  That way we could be sure the fuel dock was free with our own eyes before attempting to take on fuel again!  Also in Port Denerau, we found old friends aboard Coquelicot and Sugar Daddy, whom we hadn't seen since Panama and the Galapagos respectively.  Then a New Zealand family that we'd met back at a resort in the Yasawas saw our boat and came by to say hello.  So it was fun to catch up with old friends again, and soon we had forgotten all about our stressful fuel fiasco. 

 

October 9:

     We caught a cab into town and found the last groceries we needed.  That got everyone hot & sweaty so I volunteered to put away the groceries while Kathleen and Emmett accepted an invitation from our new Kiwi friends to go swim at the Hotel Sofitel pool.  I had finished my chore and was enjoying a rare afternoon alone on Uliad when I heard a knock on our hull.  One of the dockboys stood with an apologetic look on his face and explained that, despite having rented this marina berth for two nights, another boat had arrived a day earlier than expected and also wanted his usual slip (ours).

     So I hear this noise behind me and suddenly, there's a big motor yacht called Elvis Lives or some dumb thing idling nearby and an aging skipper with peroxide bleached hair down to his shoulders and a personality about as annoying as a turd that won't flush.  He's swearing at the top of his lungs from the flybridge telling the poor dock boys to clear out his berth now because he hasn't got all f---ing day!!!  I turned around, smiled, and politely declined to move.  I sat down with my book and explained to the dock boy that my crew was not onboard, and it wouldn't be safe to move Uliad until they get back.  More hooting and screaming from the idiot ensued as I opened my book and leaned back.  There were certainly other places that Elvis could go at the marina.

     Some negotiations must have ensued and soon the henpecked dock boys were back offering to come on board and help me move the boat.  Or perhaps they could just warp Uliad down a few berths with handlines.  "How unfortunate that only squeaky wheels get the grease," I thought.  But the polite midwesterner in me just couldn't muster the energy to huff and swear like Elvis.  So I poked around and got more fenders and docklines out and moved two slips down the row so dingbat could park where he wanted.  What an ass.  Two dock boys and one Fijian crew from Elvis later came by to apologize and shake their heads at what a jerk this guy was. 

     Kath and Emmett returned and managed to find Uliad in her new location.  The following morning we went back to the fuel dock and finished our job there before leaving Port Denerau for good. 

 

October 10:

       An incident like Port Denerau would make it easy to just say that all powerboaters are blustering idiots and sailboaters are nice, but of course that's not true.  We have also recently gotten to know some fellow Minnesotans on a beautiful Nordhaven trawler called Oso Blanco.  Anne and Eric and their son Bear had us over the other night to their luxurious boat and I soon started thinking to myself, "y'know, I could see us moving up to something like this someday when we get tired of cranking sails and heeling over in the wind."  I had been getting a little depressed lately that it seemed that many of the boats we know well are heading in different directions now at the end of the season.  Some are heading to Australia, others north to the Marshall Islands...but it seemed like nobody was planning to go to New Zealand.  Now we've finally found that Oso is heading there, our old friends on Giselle will be going there, and perhaps another boat or two that we know.  So now it doesn't seem so much like we're saying goodbye to everybody we know.

 

October 11:

    Today is Fiji independence day, and there was a long schedule of festivities at Musket Cove.  The day began with a reinactment of Fiji's chiefs ceding their islands to Great Britain (three guys in native dress paddle ashore and shake hands with a white guy).  Followed by a reinactment of Fiji regaining it's independence (same white guy takes down British flag and Fijian honor guard from local school marches in and flies Fiji flag.)  OK, a bit hokey, but not any more so than your average 4th of July parade.

The Chief arrives to Fiji Day celebrationsFlag Ceremony at Fiji Day

     Then came some Fijian dance troupes, followed by games.  First was Fiji vs the rest of the world in a kids kayak relay race.  All the foreign kids were lined up on the beach first, ages ranging from 4 to 10, and then came out a line of Fijian boys--none younger than probably 14 years old.  We could see how this was going to end up.  After the first lap, the foreigners were already hopelessly behind.  Then with spirit and pluck (or shameless cheating, depending on your perspective) the white kids started running down and holding the back of the Fiji kayak long enough to let "the rest of the world" catch up.  Soon things degenerated into both sides paying more attention to disrupting the other team than paddling their own kayaks and the race sort of fizzled out.  Victory Fiji due do disqualification of the foreign kids.  Then came the women's competition which was much more lawful and the Americans actually won thanks to some powerful paddling at the finish by Kathy from Love Song.  Finally the men's event where yours truly led at the first mark before being overtaken by a strapping young Fijian with better stamina in his shoulder muscles.  We ended up winning the event, thanks to a Fijian ringer who joined our team at the last minute and came from the back of the pack to win in the final lap.  So I guess Fiji sort of won that event too.  

Team Fiji sizes up the small competitionTeam "rest of the world" defeating FijiKate, Kathleen,Tanya,Kathy, and Ann--cruisers and part of Team Rest of the World on Fiji day

     Next came the tug-o-war where the larger Fijian kids again put ours to shame.  But "the rest of the world" came back to win in both the women's and men's events.  Finally came volleyball where the Fiji team earned a narrow victory.  Then in true South Pacific fashion, it was time to stop playing and start feasting.  The lunch barbecue was just wrapping up when they started loading the underground "umu" oven for the dinner feast.  The dinner feast was then followed by more singing and dancing, with each department of the resort coming forth in costume to do choreographed native dances "in a competition", the emcee stated in jest, "for $200,000!"  As in Polynesia, the Fijians take their dance contests very seriously.  The ritual can be bizarre to outsiders, though.  As a group is dancing, the audience will occasionally jump up from beside the kava bowl and show their appreciation by shoving candy in the dancers mouths, by tucking 2 dollar bills into their costumes, or even more inexplicably, by shaking a handful of baby powder over their head! 

    The whole day was fabulous fun, but I can already tell I'll be needing some ibuprofen in the morning from those Fiji vs. the world games. 

 

October 14:

     I'm writing this quick post from an internet cafe in Lautoka.  We usually can get what internet we need from a long range wifi antenna on the boat, but for some reason there are no signals to pick up where we're anchored.  So to make sure we had one last, most up to date weather forecast, I lugged the laptop in here.

     Our last couple of days have been filled with a combination of getting Uliad packed up and ready for the big crossing, and entertaining the friends who stop by to say their farewells.  We have met lots of great new boats here in Fiji so, as usual, it is sad to be moving on. 

     But the passage to New Zealand is not to be trifled with, so when the forecast says go, we go...despite the fact that it has been pouring down rain for the past couple of days and it's not easy to pack when things are damp.  Kathleen gave serious consideration to flying down and having me find some crew to make this passage.  We even thought about sailing somewhere else with Uliad and all of us just flying to New Zealand for a vacation.   But in the end, here we are, all together and setting sail, wondering if we'll come to regret it!

     So we figure it will take us 8-10 days to cross the 1200 miles to New Zealand.  We've had longer passages, such as the 3000 miles to the Marquesas...but that was fairly pleasant trade-wind conditions the whole time.  I've sailed into higher latitudes before...but on our trip up the East coast, one could always duck back into shore if conditions got bad.  (And we did!)  Here there's real likelihood of misery, and noplace to hide when it comes.  So nobody's really looking forward to the crossing, although we're really excited about all the great things we've heard about New Zealand.  Hopefully those thoughts will pull us through.

 

October 16:

     Spending the last of our Fiji dollars at the market turned out to be harder than I thought.  With a liter of fresh squeezed OJ costing $1 and fresh made roti for $1 each, it didn't take long for my bags to be full even though I had barely made a dent in the $82 we had left.  I ended up walking across the street to the hardware store and giving my taxi driver a generous tip to make up the difference.

     We finally got cleared out just in time to clear the final pass through Fiji's reefs at sunset.  The lights of Fiji faded in the distance and we haven't seen a single sign of humanity in the two days since then.  Despite our apprehension about weather, we've had a great sail with gentle trade winds on the beam until around noon today we had finally slowed down enough to turn on the motor.  I was having trouble with our High Frequency radio all day yesterday and was getting worried.  We depend on that radio for long-distance offshore communication and without it we'd have no way to get weather forecasts or send position reports.  And despite my HAM radio license, I honestly know nothing about radio electronics.  But today the seas calmed down enough for me to check the wiring connections back to the antenna and sure enough, I found a connection that was all corroded because it was never sealed against water when first installed.  So I re-spliced all the connections and wrapped them all up in self-amalgamating tape and sure enough, everything is working fine!  Thank goodness it was only a simple wiring issue.

      So I celebrated my success with a cold beer and a download of the latest weather files only to find that sometime tomorrow night these gentle breezes are going to turn into strong headwinds when a cold front comes through.  Some celebration.  Now I have to go tell the crew to enjoy the pleasant conditions while they last.

 

October 19:

    The first few days of the crossing were great: moderate tradewinds, reasonable seas, slowly dying out into nearly calm conditions.  But the forecast was for things to deteriorate, so we didn't hesitate to run the diesel engine to keep up our forward progress.  We read, we watched movies.  We even did a couple of school lessons with Emmett.  Sadly, there would be no fishing on this trip.  With our days limited before putting Uliad in storage, we are now trying to empty out the freezer, so that's one less thing to occupy our time at sea.

    On Sunday we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn at about 23 degrees of latitude.  For the first time in nearly three years we were no longer sailing in the tropics.  Emmett started to wear his favorite stocking cap in celebration. This would soon be accompanied by other warm clothes. 

Emmett crosses the Tropic of Capricorn

     As predicted, a sudden gust of cool breeze from the southeast heralded the passing of a cold front on Monday morning.  We were ready for this.  A second reef was taken in the main and jib as the wind began to build.  A cold rain started to fall and we retreated below.  When the wind reached a steady 20 knots, I furled the jib and set our staysail--which like Emmett's cap had been packed away throughout our time in the tropics. 

    Huge rolling swells, about 10 feet high, were coming toward us from some distant southern ocean storm.  These slow swells are not particularly uncomfortable.  It's like the boat is slowly going uphill for 5 seconds, then slowly downhill for 5 more.  But with the wind building, I knew it wouldn't be long before short, steep wind driven waves would start knocking us about in a much more violent and random way.  So one more check throughout the boat was made to be sure everything was in order and tomorrow's food was prepared in anticipation of the worst.

 

October 21:

     By Thursday the wind was blowing a steady 23 knots, with gusts occasionally higher.  The seas had deteriorated into chaos:  steep walls of water regularly crashing across the bow and occasionally spraying into the cockpit.  Our desired course has us close reaching into this madness, heeled over 20 degrees much of the time.  Moving about the boat required moving from one handhold to the next.  Every so often, Uliad will launch herself off the top of a wave into empty air, then crash down again broadside into the water.  This happens with an enormous crash resonating throughout the boat as if someone had struck the port bow with a sledgehammer.

     Kathleen is below in her bunk with her eyes covered, listening to an audiobook to distract herself from the sheer awfulness of these conditions.  We learned of a new combination seasickness medicine from New Zealand called "The Paihia Bomb" and so far it has been working great for her.  Even so, she finds it nauseating to look at the seas swirling around.  So our watch schedule has evolved to Kathleen taking the majority of the night watch where the darkness is much easier for her to tolerate looking around.  I do dawn and dusk and much of the daytime.  Emmett also takes a few hours of daytime watch when I take a nap.

     Emmett has been taking full advantage of the unlimited movie and video game time that we allow only on stormy days.  Anything to distract and pass the time.  But even then he grows bored and goes looking for an unread book in his now dwindling supply.  The movement is less severe in our cabin than his, so he has moved in with Mom--the two of them lying sideways across the bunk to keep heads slightly higher than feet and to keep from rolling out of bed as would happen with 20 degrees of heel if one lay fore and aft.

     I am alternately in the cockpit or the main salon, looking out at the nasty conditions.  The waves are so steep that they often pound into the bow and slow us down from a reasonable 5 knots to a paltry 2 or 3 knots.  Then it takes a minute or two to regain speed before the whole thing happens all over again.  I find that running the engine at slow RPMs gives us just enough power to keep up our speed through the waves without wasting fuel.  So add the noise of the engine to the noise of the wind and waves and spray.  I worry frequently about something breaking in conditions like these.  But so far so good aside from a few annoying deck leaks that drip salt water onto our kitchen table.

    The bright spot in my day is spotting my first albatross.  This enormous bird glides effortlessly and seems to enjoy this wind.  For minutes he swoops and dives and banks around without a single flap of his wings, curving around just inches above a wave and then shooting up off its crest.  For him, these conditions are just another routine day, so I try to adopt the same attitude.  Albatrosses and sooty terns would be the only things I saw on watch for the entire crossing until finally around late afternoon of our 8th day out, Kathleen shouted "Land Ho" just like in a pirate movie.  By sunset we were closing in on New Zealand's Bay of Plenty and the land was now shielding us from the violent seas.  Our albatross escort gave one last swooping farewell and turned back out to sea as we steamed into port feeling a mixture of relief, triumph, and anxiety over now having to navigate around the rocks in the dark before getting a well deserved good night's sleep.

Albatross at New Zealand landfall

 

October 25:

    After 8 days at sea and most of them rough, Kathleen jumped down to the dock only to find her legs not quite ready for land.  She fell hard on her wrist and side making a most ungraceful entry into New Zealand.  Fortunately it was nearly midnight when we landed on the quarantine dock in Opua, so nobody saw it except Emmett and me.  To her credit, Kath jumped right up and managed to get the dock lines secured despite her initial fears that she may have broken her wrist.

    With that excitement behind us, we could turn off the engine and take a moment to enjoy silence and stillness for the first time in a loooong time.  But then we suddenly noticed how cold it was so we all hustled below and crawled under every blanket we own.  The following morning, we were visited by the customs officer who inquired about firearms or drugs onboard, then the biosecurity officer who inquired about pets or bugs onboard.  Due to the Kiwi's stringent regulations, we ended up forfeiting one bottle of Fiji honey, two onions, and some frozen meat of questionable provenance.  It was a small price to pay, given that there are otherwise no entry fees.  So after moving to a marina berth, we were finally free to move about the land!

     And what marvelous land it is.  Daylight revealed green hills and lush forests surrounding the town here.  We hiked the 5km beach trail into the nearby town of Paihia and loved every bit of scenery.  A celebratory dinner at a waterfront cafe followed before catching a cab back to the marina.  We spent a total of three nights here resting up and cleaning up after the long crossing.  Being in a marina with an unlimited water supply was a real change; and since so many other sailors are around, we quickly decided that Uliad really needed a good washing.  Other than the occasional rainfall, we don't bother much with this while cruising.  But then neither does anyone else, so we don't notice it.  But in a marina full of show pony yachts, the salt crust was really showing on Uliad's hull.  Guess this is why most sailboats are white.  You'd think that salt would dissolve with a good spray of a hose, but it turns out that it takes hot water and/or acid to do the job.  I wiped the whole hull down with dilute muriatic acid, followed by a fresh rinse, followed by a polish with Awlcare.  The before and after photos speak for themselves and now everyone is commenting on what a beautiful boat we have again.  Tonight we'll sail down to our final destination of Whangarei to see if we can amaze them there too with our shiny, pretty sailboat.

before and after acid washdown to get rid of a season of salty grime  

 

 

 

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